Ever since the 2009 Shore Run 5K, when the plantar fasciitis spiked my left heel at the Lake Washington Boulevard/McGilvra Boulevard intersection, I have been on a long road back to race fitness. Having to walk and limp the last two miles to the finish line, in my own neighborhood, was not only humiliating, because this has been my home course for over forty years, but also discouraging because the daily heel pain didn't seem to be getting better. Already covered in my 9/11/09 post, the injury was diagnosed, treated and has been in pretty good shape for the past year. It was a drag going through the drill of getting back on the road, getting my rhythm back, being able to breath normally while on the move, getting past the "heavy leg" point and losing the few extra pounds I had acquired. On the day of April 30, 2010 another gear kicked in and finally I had reached another level of strength and suddenly I was back to my dream world of Willie Boy closing on the former Olympic champion with the crowd willing me forward and into the lead.
The whole time during my comeback I was shooting for the next Shore Run 5K on June 13, 2010 that runs from the Leschi boat basin on Lake Washington to Madison Park, two blocks from my home. The route is one that I have run for years and while being mostly flat still has a substantial hill after the first mile that runs about a quarter of a mile. During my training I had gotten in the habit of pushing the pace on the hill and after awhile the hill became less of a challenge; still a butt-kicking hill but not as daunting.
Then on Monday May 10th after having upped my weekly mileage over the previous three weeks to 17, 18 and 18 miles I set off confidently and rolled my left ankle after having only run a block. I felt like I had been hit from behind and in a flash I thought of having gotten back on the road again, the Shore Run in a month, the work I had put in during my comeback and wondering if I could manage the pain that was ready to hit the next time my left foot touched the ground. I muttered an oath and continued across 41st Avenue East favoring my left foot as I headed up Garfield Street. It hurt but after a few strides I knew I could manage the pain. On the high/low ankle sprain chart this was a #2 roll. For the next six miles I gutted it out with the pain receding somewhat but always there on every other foot plant.
When I got back home I broke out the family ice bag that is always stored in the freezer for exactly this kind of emergency. After fifteen minutes of icing the outside of my ankle and fifteen minutes on the inside I was gimping around the house OK. Then I downed a couple of aspirin, took a warm shower and was feeling even better because I could tell the injury wasn't going to keep me off the road. That night I wore my handy ankle brace which I had worn religiously during my plantar fasciitis treatment and with an extra pillow supporting my ankle I slept fine. The next day it was black and blue and sore but I put in five tender miles with an uneventful seven on Friday. It still hurt but I was back on the road for the Shore Run.
Because my ankles are skinny (I can encircle them with one hand) I have had a history of spraining them that dates back to playing basketball with my brother Terry when we were kids. Back then a sprained ankle would set me back a couple of hours as it loosened up with our daily running around the neighborhood. Then over the years, as long as I was wearing my high-top Converse All Stars I never seemed to have any problems until I hit the court wearing a pair of my hot new running shoes. (With low tops and no ankle support.) I think I wore them partly to show off the cool looking Adidas or Pumas I had just spent a whopping $30 on along with feeling like the new shoes made me faster and able to jump higher. Whether that was true or not whatever I gained in coolness and perceived athletic benefits I lost in support for my spindly ankles.
I can remember specific ankle spraining occurrences with a cringing grimace: driving home one night using only my left foot, my right foot blown out in a meaningless park league basketball game; having to walk home to the top of Queen Anne Hill after popping an ankle while running near Gasworks Park; getting lucky and hitch-hiking with a neighbor after biting the dust under the I-90 floating bridge three and a half miles from home; landing on my face in front of the Seattle Tennis Club while running on a perfectly flat sidewalk; and finally tripping on a curb and sliding elbows first in a driveway on E. McGilvra Boulevard.
One thing I've noticed when an ankle sprain falls into the "blowout" stage is that besides the outside tissue, ligaments, muscles and cartilage being negatively impacted the inside of the foot above the arch and below the ankle bone (I don't know what it's called) is jammed together in a compression sort of injury also. As in, the force of the leg bone jamming into the foot does something to the bones that hurts just as much as the outside damage and takes as long to heal. You find that when you stride forward with your heel landing on the running surface your foot rolls forward over your arch with your big toe landing next to be followed by a cascading effect running down your remaining toes. When that compression injury is still healing I have found that as soon as the big toe connects with the running surface stress is transferred back to the sore area above the arch and you tend to favor your foot by running more on the side of your foot to avoid the stress transferred back by the big toe. Got all that? Doesn't matter because anyone who has ever blown out their ankle knows what I am talking about and probably had an unconscious shiver of recognition in my description.
Somewhere along the line, probably after reading an article referencing: SPRAIN, ankle, in Northwest Runner, Runner's World or Running Times, I decided I had to do something about my predilection for for this injury that is a bane to all serious runners. It's not that it's chronic or that I end up in the hospital getting "scoped" or that it's stopping me from running but it just seemed like the issue was something I could deal with and possibly stop from ever happening again. I started cutting out articles and over time integrated my own personal daily regimen for preventing my sprained ankles.
My solution is a series of foot and ankle manipulations and massages that I do every evening before going to bed and every morning before I hit the floor as I sit on the side of the bed. Bending my right knee I take the front of my right foot in my hands and, without resting it on my left knee, I push into my right heel pad with my right thumb and rub back and forth. (The reason I don't rest my right foot on my left knee is that after I had originally started this regimen the outside of my right ankle developed a tenderness that never went away. After figuring out what was causing the problem I didn't see any reason why I had to rest my foot on my knee so I just adapted the method and it has worked fine.) After rubbing the heel for about twenty seconds I work my way up my foot to the arch for another twenty seconds and then continue to the ball of my foot making sure I rub hard enough to feel the bones underneath. Then I take my right foot in my right and rub down the outside of my foot with my left hand and work down the tissue until I reach my heel again. Keeping that same grip, I then rotate my foot in a clockwise motion ten times in an exaggerated slow rotation. When I started this motion years ago I noticed both of my feet would jerk as I rotated them and I remembered reading something about "muscle memory". As I recalled that is where during the rehab you have to "teach" the affected area to work again in it's proper motion. Over time this rotation smoothed out along with the muscles, tendons and cartilage becoming stronger and the joint smoother operating. Then I would finish up by squeezing my achilles tendon between my thumb and forefinger and work my way up my calf and press both thumbs into the muscle and rub up and down and then finish up with a massage back down my calf and achilles. This also had me a little more ready to go in the morning instead of gimping around on my sixty-three year old feet.
So there I was the Sunday morning of June 13th jogging around the Leschi boat basin getting warmed up for the 33rd Annual Shore Run. Since the sprained left ankle of May 10th my training had been going well with my weekly mileage increasing to a max of 18 miles and the intensity increasing along with my dedicated push up the lake hill on every run. I had always looked at hills as a necessary evil during a run or a race but after reading Roy Wallack's terrific niche book Run for Life recently I have been following his advice to use hills as an anaerobic opportunity for your training instead of having to run on a track. The sun was out and with a few clouds it was a perfect day for a race. Since we head north along the lake the sun is behind us, a comfortable hint to a pleasant day.
Around 8:10 I finished my stretching and jogging and headed for the starting line for the 8:15 gun. As I jogged down the sidewalk bordering the marina area I moved over for a mother and her stroller. Suddenly I was face down on the grass with a stabbing pain exploding in my right ankle. I had rolled my foot over the edge of the sidewalk where it meets the grass! I couldn't help but utter a four-lettered oath as I clutched my right foot in my hands. Someone near me said, "Jeez did you break your ankle?" The work that I had done the past year to come back from the plantar fasciitis; being able to run in the race and getting off my butt were all images that flashed through my mind. Damn maybe if I could get up and start jogging I could shake it off like I did the sprained left ankle from a month ago. I forced myself to my feet and tried to jog down the sidewalk but it hurt too much and I had to stop. I continued to walk toward the Blue Water Bistro Restaurant but the pain was unrelenting. Then the announcer informed the runners that there was two minutes until the start. Trying not to look like a weenie, I limped toward the starting area just in time to see my friend Steve Wood and his daughter Ellie who greeted me cheerfully and said, "Hi Will are you ready to go?" I grimaced and said something like, "Yah, except I just blew my ankle out." They both looked shocked, glanced down at my feet and immediately left me behind as the gun sounded.
I limped forward and the pain continued to stab into my ankle but I pushed forward trying to convince myself that I could run through the pain. At the entrance to the north Leschi marina parking lot I had to stop and I stepped up onto the sidewalk and began to walk. As I limped forward I realized that if I continued at this pace I wouldn't be home for an hour and that Gwynne and Charlotte, who were waiting for me at the finish line, would probably be ready to send out for the cavalry. I have never in my life not finished a race, they knew it too and would be concerned. With the course closed off to vehicles there would be no way for them to track me down. Gritting my teeth I stepped forward and against all normal reactions I limped forward. Damn it hurt but I knew I had to get home anyway so I forced myself forward, it hurt when I walked so why not try to jog and get home sooner?
The good news is that I continued down Lake Washington Boulevard, the bad new is that every-other step pierced my foot and ankle with pain. Finally I reached the lake hill, my increased fitness keeping my breathing under control but doing nothing for my injured ankle. As I gutted it out the pain became something I was familiar with and not the shocking jolt I had received on the sidewalk. I had reached a rhythm that was inefficient and painful but it kept me moving forward. The rest of the race was an unpleasant blur, my only thoughts were of being able to stop, going home and propping my foot up covered by the family ice bag.
The quick ending to this story is that I was greeted with shock and sympathy by Gwynne and Charlotte, I hobbled the two blocks home, iced my foot and ankle, took a couple of aspirin and a warm shower and drank four beers later that evening. My time was 24:28 for the 5K which far slower than the 21:58 I ran in 2008, but faster then my plantar fasciitis run and walk of 26:30 last year in 2009. Yah look at the bright side, obviously it's faster to limp a 5k than to walk and limp it.
So as of today my running log, which has been my walking/'running log for the past couple of weeks, shows that I took the Monday off after the Shore Run then walked around the neighborhood every day for about a week then gradually inserted longer and longer jogs into the mix. Today in mild/overcast weather my right ankle was still tender but I ran down to the infamous Leschi marina (while cringing at the sidewalk area where I fell) at an "OK" pace and pushed on the hills. Prior to my five mile run I walked a 1/2 a mile to get the ankle loosened up.
So once again all is right in the world; another treatable injury is healing, I am back on the road, the wind is in my face, the water is lapping at the shore, my breathing has smoothed out and Willie Boy is making his charge over the last mile for the lead.