It seemed strange this week to be writing about running on Stu Holliday’s Sport Psychology and Coaching Blog. The post was all about what to eat when you’re running long distances, but the thing is, it’s been YEARS since I’ve run more than 5 miles in a stretch, mainly due ankle and knee injuries I’ve been grappling with since late 2004. So I felt a little funny giving advice about running when I in fact can no longer run due to poor training. It’s just as well Stu asked me to write about what to EAT, not how to train, because I’m way smarter when it comes to food than when it comes to training or recovering from an injury.
Or am I?
The injuries have been a huge mystery for me over the past few years. I’ve been to numerous doctors, physiotherapists, sports injury specialists, and podiatrists. I’ve tried numerous non-invasive therapies, such as massage, stretching and strength training. And just as I feel like my body’s feeling good and I try running again, the old pains come back. I’ve had many MRIs, x-rays, ultrasounds and blood tests, but most doctors remain stumped.
It was only recently that a doctor at a sports injury clinic questioned something in one of my x-rays: my bones looked thin for someone my age. He ordered a follow-up bone density scan which revealed that my bones are just under the “normal” range for a healthy woman of my age. The phrase is “osteopenic” – and when I got the news, I couldn’t have imagined a scarier word.
As much as the news made me choke up with worry and sadness that this body I try so hard to treat like a temple might be crumbling from within, it was also a massive relief to learn something real and definitive that may partially explain why I’ve had trouble recovering from my injuries. More tests are on their way to check for vitamin and hormone deficiencies. And there are things I can do to potentially reverse the situation – get more calcium and vitamin D, do resistance training, and we’ll see what else. I really love that I don’t currently take any prescription medication, and I don’t want to start. But I also don’t want to break my hip when I’m 45.
All of this news was revealed at the Bath Royal Hospital for Rheumatic Diseases a couple of weeks ago while my mom was here on her visit from Chicago (didn’t I say that I’d be writing about highlights from my mom’s trip? I don’t know if this was a “highlight”, but it was certainly a moment).
After the appointment, I went outside to meet up with my mom, who took the opportunity to see a bit of Bath. I had a few minutes before finding her to get over my initial blahs, and comforted myself by thinking about all the good things that have been going on recently in the health and injury department:
- I’ve been seeing great progress with my current physiotherapist, who has me doing running drills to strengthen my legs. Running to treat a running injury? Well, it’s a different kind of running than I’ve ever done, and far more challenging, but the great news is that I’ve been at it for over a month and I’m still pain free. AND I’m running again, which is such a thrill.
- I’ve also been doing resistance training at the gym twice a week for… quite a while now. Early this year the gym updated its equipment with lots of “functional training” stuff – kettle bells, medicine balls, that sorta thing – and I’ve been really trying to push myself to get stronger. I’m definitely seeing progress, and I have a hunch it partially explains why I’ve been pain free for so long.
- I’m young, and there’s plenty of time to undo the damage.
- If the test results do show a calcium deficiency, this could mean a lot more wonderful things in my diet like milky tea, wonderful English cheeses, Greek yogurt and maybe even the odd scoop of ice cream.
When I found my mom I explained the situation and all of the strikes and gutters around it. As we walked and talked, we happened by a running shop that I’d been meaning to go into because they sold Nike Frees and Vibram Five Fingers, two shoes recently popularized by the whole “barefoot running craze” a craze backed by some strong science, might I add). I wrote about Vibram Five Fingers in July 2009 when Tim got a pair in Austin. Since then, he’s run his way through a few pairs of Five Fingers, and has said that he hasn’t the ankle pains he was getting running in regular shoes.
So I asked mom if she’d mind popping in so I could compare the two and find out my sizes.
We had a long talk with the very nice sales lad about the merits of these shoes – an educational experience for mom. I explained that I wanted to use the shoes for resistance training, no so much running, because they’d force me to use more muscles to balance myself when doing any exercise that has me on my feet (to put it succinctly). In this case, the Five Fingers were the ultimate choice, because the Nikes, though flat, still hold the toes together and wouldn’t give me the best chance for muscle development. At the same time, the Nikes are admittedly very stylish – but really, how stylish can you possibly be with a big Nike swoosh on the side of your foot? This is, after all, about function, not fashion.
So given the day, and my utter crapulence with making purchase decisions, my mom sprung for a pair of Five Fingers to help bring me into my new stage of recovery. I’ve worn them five times to the gym so far. The first two trips left me VERY sore. That kind of deep muscle soreness that comes from using muscles you didn’t know you had.
But the last three workouts have been remarkably easier. Moreover, the shoes are surprisingly comfortable – I thought I’d hate having stuff between my toes but I don’t mind it at all.
I’ll write a proper review of the FiveFingers in a few weeks after I’ve spent a bit more time in them. I know they’re just a pair of shoes, but they make me excited to get my body and bones in shape for life. And after so many disheartening visits to the doctors, I feel like it’s time for some positivity. There have been times when I’ve felt resigned to never running again. But lately, I feel promise. Thanks, mom.