My long road to recovery

I'm back.

I exhaled and let out a quick "Woooo!" as I completed my run this morning. I looked down at my watch. 16km. 10 miles. 1 hour and 11 minutes. No matter how you slice it, I was stoked. Holy crap. I'm back!

I've said this before, and regretted it. I've wanted to say it again for weeks - months, really. But I've been too scared, nervous, and anxious to let myself admit it, or rather embrace it. I'd been burned once before, and didn't want that to happen again. But I'm ready now. I'm back. 

2017 has been a pretty tough year for me running wise. Coming off a stellar 2016 in which I ran my first Boston Marathon, competed pretty well at a few trail races, and set a half marathon PB, I put some pretty strong goals on the table for myself in 2017, including a marathon PB in May at the Ottawa Marathon. 

At least, that was the plan. One thing I've learned about running, and well, life, is that things don't always go according to plan. You can go so fixated on your goal that you don't see the walls falling in around you. You neglect the warning signs. You run through them. You put your blinders on. You're a marathoner, right? You're tough. You know how to handle pain. Where's your grit? Where's your perseverance? Don't show weakness.

Looking back, I shake my head at this short-sighted attitude.

Yes, marathons have made me strong. They've made me tough. But they've also made me stubborn. Stubborn enough that I self-destructed 6 months of training, forcing me to pull out of a race for the first time ever. 

Rewind to December

A few weeks before I began training for the Ottawa Marathon in December of 2016, I was in really great shape. I had built up one of the strongest bases I had ever had going into a marathon training cycle. But I had this nagging pain in my heel. It only bothered me in the morning and had minimal effect on my running, so I ignored it. One night I mentioned it to Katie in passing, and she immediately urged me to go to the doctor, which I obviously put off until the new year. So there I was, running 10, 12, 15, 18 kilometres on this nagging heel pain all December long and into the new year. 

When I finally saw my doctor in mid January, she wasn't entirely sure what was going on, so she referred me to a foot specialist. It wasn't until February 1st that I finally discovered what was ailing me - plantar fasciitisA common runner's injury that I had been running through for over 6 weeks.

Most of you know about my struggles with this stubborn injury - an injury that has proven to be even more stubborn than yours truly once was. I quickly began to hate plantar fasciitis. It's an extraordinarily frustrating injury. The hardest part about recovering from it was that the pain didn't stop me from running, but it would rear it's ugly head in the late evening and especially first thing in the morning. At times, it was completely debilitating. I remember one morning almost falling over as I took my first step out of bed as the pain was so bad.

After a few weeks of what I thought was adequate treatment and recovery, I was ready for my comeback. I had about 12 weeks until race weekend and was determined to catch up on lost time and training to reach my PB goals. False start.

Finding acceptance 

That's when I got real with myself (thanks to some sage advice from my lovely wife) and wrote this blog post as a declaration of my disappointment, acceptance, and outlook moving forward. I truly needed to lay it all out there. 

It was honestly the best thing I could have done. Writing this post was the catalyst that brought me to the acceptance phase of my injury. I had already endured denial, anger, and depression. This is the point at which I looked at the big picture and decided to cancel my spring race and focus on what was really important. Getting healthy.

It's been over 3 months since I wrote that post. During that time I have poured all of my mental, physical and emotion energy into getting myself healthy. I stopped hating plantar fasciitis and learned to respect it. It's not the enemy. It's a result of my own neglect and poor decisions. It has shown me weaknesses in my gait, running form and posture. It has taught me to take care of myself. Wear the right shoes. Stretch. Strengthen areas of weakness. Work on my mobility. Gain some freaking perspective. Listen to your damn body.

The long road to recovery

It's been a really long road. Those of you who know me know that running is my favourite thing to do in the world. So trying to stay sane without running these past few months has been a challenge to say the least. But I've managed to get through it, and I couldn't have done it alone.

Katie is obviously my biggest supporter. She checks in with me every day and makes sure that I don't do anything stupid. Love you, babe. It was also insanely cool to play supporter and spectator for Katie as she trained her ass off and ran her first marathon in Ottawa this spring. Couldn't be prouder of her and that amazing achievement.

Family, friends and coworkers - thanks for always asking me how my foot is doing and giving me an encouraging word or two along the way. My boss always says to me "You'll get through this. This is just a blip on the radar for you." Perspective. Those words have really stuck with me these past few months.

I've also surrounded myself with some incredible professionals who have spent so much time and effort helping me get better.

  • Coach Dave - knowledgable, calming and always available when I need to vent via email or over coffee about my struggles. Thanks for keeping me grounded and assuring me that I can get through this.
  • Jade & Jenn at 360 Centre 360 Physio - no chance I would be where I'm at without the treatment, advice and friendship of these two. Together we slowly but surely got me back on the roads with superb treatment and fantastic exercise routines. If you've got something nagging you, check these guys out.
  • Freya at Elgin Massage Therapy - best massage therapist in the city. Katie and I have ruined this secret and now have to book Freya a month in advance just to get an appointment. She's truly the best.
  • Dana at Solefit - at Coach Dave's advice, I went and got a full assessment, including a gait analysis, done at Solefit. This was extraordinarily helpful for me to understand the root cause on my injury and how I could correct it.
  • Elevate Yoga - these friendly folks have the loveliest little yoga studio in Ottawa and are always there for me when I need to bend things out. Thanks Lizl and the gang.
  • Seb at Spin City - what do you do when you can't do a long run, but need to get a good sweat and burn on? Go to Spin City's 90 minute endurance class with Seb. Thanks for keeping me fit and sane while I couldn't run, Seb.

Where I'm at now

I'm back to running. Continuous running. Beautiful, continuous, summer running. And I've never been happier. Back in April, Jenn from 360 Centre 360 set me up with an 8 week "return to running" routine that had me running 1 minute on 1 minute off type workouts. The distance and repetitions slowly increased until I reached a point where I could run for 40 minutes without stopping. That was a huge milestone.

I then met with Coach Dave to talk about my marathon plans. Remember Chicago? Yeah, that's coming fast and I need to start my training. After an hour long discussion over coffee about my injury, recovery, and plans moving forward, Dave agreed to give me a 3 week "test" plan to see if my body was ready for marathon training. If all went well, he would give me a full 12 week plan for Chicago.

Today, I wrapped up week 2 of that 3 week plan with that tidy 16km run right on my long run target pace of 4:30. I've got to admit, things feel pretty amazing. Sure, my foot still suffers a bit of nagging tightness, but nothing compared to what I was dealing with earlier, and nothing that should to of concern. I need to continue to focus on my stretching, foam rolling, and strengthening those areas of weakness that lead to this injury in the first place.

So with that, I'm ready to kick off my training for Chicago. 92 days away. Let's do this. 

Before I go, I'm just going to leave this here. It's my marathon commandments that I wrote prior to my injury. Even though I thought these out and put them down on paper, I didn't listen to my own advice, especially #3.  Have a read. I hope you find them helpful.