Owning it: a relationship with running and pain

Artist Unknown

NB: This was originally written for Like The Wind magazine

It’s my heel. My right one.

Deep inside the muscle has been worn down from overuse. I’m not sure of the exact nature, and the specialist I’ve been seeing won’t be pinned down on anything too technical. It’s not plantar faciitis. It’s not bone spurs. It’s my thing.

When you’re first told you can’t run for three months, you go through different stages: anger, frustration, depression. I’m not someone who runs particularly far, but I need to get out most days; it’s a mental thing.

Three months is a long time.

It started with a dull ache, ignored, and slowly turned into a hot pain after each run. Ice helped a bit. Different stretches didn’t. I did the usual routine of search engines, forums and self diagnosis. None of this resolved the issue, before finally seeing a specialist. One that actually liked running.

This is important.

My GP wasn’t interested in my forum theories, my chiropractor sighs when I tell him I’m back running. Running can be tough on the joints and a strain on the muscles. But it’s a compulsion.

I had managed to stop for a week before I was able to see the specialist and get the news. From then it was about working out what my body would allow, and substituting what running gives me mentally. Yoga was good for relaxation, but lacked a rich muscular glow. Swimming lacked the feeling of flow and momentum. Cycling was good but needs more time for a proper work out.

Right now, I’m back running. Three months later it’s still about post-injury management.

I’ve slowly felt out what’s possible: I can walk in these shoes, stairs are tricky that way, warm up a lot before riding the bike. Sometimes something will catch you out: walking boots on holiday, sudden shooting pain. I had to sit down for 10 minutes before I could carry on.

I’m able to to run my distances again, but it’s still there. You negotiate the complications and address the new problems that these injuries create.

Back on the road I consciously run less, but appreciate the days I am able to. For me, nothing replaces the flow and stillness, and if it means running less, it must be preserved.

It’s still dark when I get up. As soon as I stir, I start to move my ankle. Muscle memory from careful conditioning.

This is the start of a conversation with my body. Before I get up I’ll usually know if I’ll be putting on my running shoes. Each day is about making deals. Sometimes you break them. Sometimes they hold. I hate getting up but I know I can’t skip warm ups. It’s part of the deal.

As with anything in such close proximity a relationship develops. It’s Stockholm Syndrome embodied. I feel a sense of responsibility.

It’s mine.

If I need to feel it, I can just tense up my foot and lean forward. The pain is there, the stretch eases it, but it’s always there. In my mind as much as my foot.

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