All I want for Christmas

A guy stood in front of me, gesturing something. His shirt? I was confused. I was on the elliptical at the gym, headphones on, surfing three channels of nightly news. I popped one earbud out to see what he wanted. “The race? I ran it too,” he said, pointing at our matching shirts. Ugh, the race.

Some races are memorable for a challenging course, others for the scenery. The Providence Rock and Roll half marathon last summer was run in a monsoon. And it ranks as one of the worst running days I’ve had. Ever. In, like, 30-something years.

The hills, chilling rain and other factors conspired to tighten my IT bands to a very painful degree. I’d never dropped out of a race before, but considered it that time as I hobbled the last couple miles in exquisite pain. Afterward I went home, took Ibuprofen and got back into bed. I avoided questions from friends about how it went. That night at the gym, months later, was the first time I felt comfortable talking about it.

It had made me feel old, to wonder if my body had enough and was punishing me. Or if I were doing something wrong. You see, I love running but running doesn’t always love me. And I’m still looking for a happy medium.

All I want for Christmas is two new feet.

When I was training for the 2010 Amica Half-Marathon in Newport, RI things looked really good. I was back to medium-distance running and loving it. But strange stuff started happening with my feet. First, I ruined a newish pair of sneakers because I was dragging the outer heel when I ran. The race itself went okay, but something happened to a toe, I guessed it was a wrinkle in my sock, which made the final few miles challenging. Then my good old hamstring stopped cooperating around mile 11, but that was expected. The result was sore feet, and “baby” toes that looked like someone tried to hack them off with a dull knife.

Winter was fine: more skiing, less running. In spring it seemed like a good idea to sign up for another half-marathon in August 2011. Plenty of time to plan and train, I thought. But it backfired. On training runs, those “baby” toes were now consistently curling under my other toes and getting chewed up in the process. And other foot pain was becoming an issue.  Wrong shoes? Oh crap, I liked them so much I’d invested in several identical pairs to guard against them becoming discontinued.

yes, I will walk away from this investment in running shoes if it's what's messing with my feet

Meantime, the image of my sister’s toes, each with a tiny silver wire sticking out of it, constantly flashed in my mind. She’d had major, painful surgery that broke and re-straightened all of her toes, requiring an extended period of immobilization (no driving, no walking). Scary stuff.  More recently our very active sister-in-law started getting shots in her feet to relieve painful neuromas. She’d done the 10-mile Tough Mudder successfully but sat out much of the rest of the summer in pain. Maybe it is something as simple as the shoes, but at the same time I’m afraid to find out if the solution isn’t that simple.

So I’ve been trying everything. Nix the high heels. Trail running seems to do less pounding than road running. And less running, more biking overall is even better. Then there are the toe spacers. Injinji toe socks. And even swimming (or a reasonable facsimile) and a boxing class.

Maybe what I really need for Christmas is snow, so I can give my running feet a break.

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