Training for an event like The Hillary 80km requires a lot of putting one foot in front of the other. As Eugene tells us that simple task becomes mightily difficult when one foot screams in pain each time you put it down.
I’d convinced myself it was nothing more than a stone bruise. The morning after the Tarawera Ultra a few weeks ago, the first step I took out of bed it felt like I’d been stabbed in the heel. It hadn’t been as bad since then. It would be a serious stretch, though, to say it had gone away.
I suspected what it might be. But I counted on the ignorance is bliss mantra. In fact, I chose that as my treatment plan.
I’m not unusual like that – most runners I know are terrible (or should that be brilliant?) at ignoring aches and pains in the hope that they’ll just go away. I have a prolonged joke with a mate who has had recurring knee pain for years now about his imaginary friend the physio…
But when it came to my heel problem, I was proving to be just as bad. Ignorance is bliss. Owww. Ignorance is bliss. Ouch. Ignorance is bliss. Sad Face Emoticon.
What was holding me back from getting treatment was The Fear. You see, as I say, I’d suspected that I knew what it was. And if I was right, I feared it would stop me from running The Hillary. I’d had friends who’d had it before and had had to stop running for months.
And so I continued to convince myself that it probably was just an old stone bruise and it would go away. It won’t surprise you that it wasn’t…
And so I finally took the plunge and tentatively edged myself onto the bench at the Waitakere Foot clinic for a podiatrist to take a look.
“It’s probably nothing,” I said, trying to convince him to give me the all clear as he prodded my heel and asked me about the symptoms.
And then he said it. Damn it. As he started to utter the words, I almost shouted, “no, don’t you dare say that!”
Plantar Fasciitis. He may as well have said he was going to hack my foot off with a buzz saw there and then.
Ok, I’m being a drama queen – it is, after all, one of the most common running injuries. But, based on what had happened to friends who’d suffered from it, I was truly terrified that he was going to tell me that I couldn’t run The Hillary.
The plantar fascia is, according to Podiatry NZ, a long band of connective tissue running from the heel to the ball of the foot. It acts like a bowstring, working in tandem with the Achilles tendon to store and return energy.
Increased stress on the arch (I guess that could include training for and racing in an ultra-marathon) can cause microscopic tears – which explained the tenderness in my heel.
When the podiatrist had issued his dreadful diagnosis, the blood had immediately drained from my face and so I hadn’t heard him for a few minutes. And so I’d missed the important bit.
So as he started strapping my foot and telling me about things to do after training runs, I said, “Wait, you mean I can keep running?” “Um, yes… that’s what I said,” he replied. “It’s probably at a stage where we can manage it.”
I nearly started blubbing like a baby. I nearly hugged him. I nearly jumped up and danced a jig.
In fact, I didn’t do any of those things – for starters, dancing a jig is probably not the best idea when you’ve got plantar fasciitis. Also, my beard (the one I’ve promised not to trim or cut until I finish The Hillary) is quite out of control now and I’m sensing that no one wants to come near it in a hugging situation.
Instead, I just started listening intently, mentally taking note of every detail which would help me deal with the injury so I could run. Strapping, massaging my foot with a golf ball, rest where possible, and icing (not the top that goes on top of a cake, unfortunately…he meant applying ice to the heel after I’ve run on it).
He also talked about stretching. I know, weird right? For as long as I’ve been running I’ve been terrible at stretching. I always have great plans to do it. But life gets in the way…which is a pathetic way of saying that I’d rather run than stretch. What I should really be doing is cutting my runs a little bit shorter so that I have time to stretch afterwards. But in more than 30 years I’ve never really got around to it…
Now it was coming back to bite me. The podiatrist told me that the problem in my heel was probably connected to my tight calf muscles and short Achilles. I didn’t even know I had tight calf muscles and short Achilles. There you go.
If I started stretching them properly, it would make things easier on my plantar fascia. I considered myself Officially Told Off. There were also exercises I could do to strengthen my foot muscles.
So from now on, I’m going to be a stretching master. I’m going to be as lithe and supple as a gymnast. Alright, maybe not that much.
And I will admit it’s not the first time I’ve promised to start stretching regularly. (The last time was when a friend and I were engaged in an early morning yoga session – my first and only, so far – with a famous and cool Kiwi musician on the lawn of a Vanuatu resort. But that’s another story…)
So, all is not lost. I’ll still be on the start line of the 80km of The Hillary.
And I’ve learnt some valuable lessons: stretch often and stretch well. And when an injury starts to appear, get it seen to.
Ignorance, it turns out, is not always bliss.