Mother's day 2011 was an anniversary of sorts for me, but not the good kind. On this weekend ten years ago, my left Achilles started hurting. I'd had a torn miniscus, broken big toe (runner error) and some minor arthritis (non running-related) but other than that, nothing more serious over the years than the ocassional muscle pull to dampen my then 8-year-old running career. The day after Moms On The Run 2001, I woke up to an angry heel. By June, I'd be done running after an attempt at physical therapy, and by July, I was on the cutting board, so to speak. Really, it was a tiny hammer and chisel (after the scalpel of course) to remove the sharp new addition to my calcanius that was causing my tendon to tear. Although it took a little longer than planned to be able to bear weight and walk, recovery & post-surgery PT seemed to be going as planned, if a little slow, until it wasn't. Sudden unexplained drops in strength & range of motion were accompanied by more pain. Anyway, my 6-month recovery would last nearly 4 years, during which I developed insomnia and food allergies(!) and I wasn't exactly my old self when I finally did come back.
It seemed like I'd lived a whole 'nother life during those years. I met and married Abby, my lovely wife of 5 years (just kidding dear - keeping you on your toes). Eight years in July. But I had little contact with my running buddies of old. For me, it was a moderate form of torture to be around the running set when I couldn't do it myself. And really, I didn't know if I ever would again. I took up softball and really enjoyed it. I even got back some decent speed on the bases and in the outfield, but I could never jump off the left leg without pain and weakening of the tendon. Eventually though, that led to warming up before games, which led to really short runs, and eventually, longer ones. By 2005 I could push off my left foot reasonably hard without pain, though it was, and probably always will be, weaker. I ran the YGBC 5k run in Verdi in 2005 in 19 & change, then promptly blew out my knee playing centerfield the very next day.
6+ months later, I was back at it again, and by Spring 2006, I was in decent enough shape to run the first of the Gold Country Grand Prix races. I was able to keep it together, if a bit slower, til June, when the imbalances in my left side caused too much compensating on my right, and I had to stop running for most of the rest of the year. In 2007, I was back at it, though, to my surprise. I thought once again I was done for good. The comebacks are mentally, emotionally, & physically draining, especially after several of them. I ran through the summer in 2007 (the only year since 2000 I've been able to do so), in part because I was still getting into shape in the spring. At the end of 2007, I got the marathon bug, running four (only two of them really hard) between October 2007 & March of 2008. By spring, the training was paying off at the shorter distances too. 17 & 18 minute 5ks were now mid 16's, and I was able to hold close to 6-minute pace in a marathon before blowing up a little at the end. Once again, though, my body could only hold up for so long. Just as my long runs were starting to resemble my marathons pace-wise, I had to take another summer off. This one was tough. I'd signed up for the Tahoe Rim Trail 50k (I'd fallen in love with it the previous year though I was ridiculously undertrained for it) in the hopes of contending. That race had become my focal point, but I never made it to the start. In the fall of that year, muscle memory helped this latest comeback go rather well at first. I ran my best time to date at the Run Through the Colors in October and was cruising along, but another side-injury due to the Achilles (this one in the form of a pinched nerve in my lower back/hip area) caused me to end the year on the mend yet again. The latest break, though, was measured in weeks, not months. Each time I started up again, I'd tweek some manner of my training to try & compensate for my...um...lack of structural integrity. The problem with the experts is (experts being doctors, specialists, rolfers, physical therapists, massage therapists - you name it, I've probably tried it) is that none of them agree on anything. You want to trust them all, but end up trusting none of them completely.
The first half of 09 went ok, but I was out again come June, just like clockwork. My first hint that something was getting better was at the Davis Turkey Trot. I'd still been getting back into shape in October, but come November, things were looking up. I got an early lead in that race and ran scared, constantly waiting to be passed while trying to hold it off for as long as possible. Well, I ran a then post-surgery PR of 16:10. I never quite matched that the rest of the year, & in Winter/Spring 2010, my knee was acting up enough to keep me from re-peaking, but not enough to put me out of comission. Running through that would pay off in April and May. I was able to run my 3rd fastest ever 10k in Reno (33:01), my 3rd fastest 5k ever at No Excuses (15:51) and a 5k PR at Avenue of the Vines (15:46). In the 4 1/2 years since I'd started running again, never did I realistically think a PR (at a previously ran distance) was possible. I'd forgotten what running without pain was like, though I enjoyed it nonetheless. I just reset what 100% meant to me. It was not to last, however. On the very next morning, the familiar Achilles pain had returned, this time in the form of partial tear #2 on the right (non-surgicaly repaired) tendon. So, no summer for me.
This one was a blow. I's say the hardest, mentally and physically, but I think it's just an accumulation. Each time I have to do this will get harder til I finally crack and say to hell with this...but that's a long ways off, I promise you that. Summer in a boot, but I was counting down the days.
At first it seemed like this comeback was going to go just splendidly. A stronger than expected showing at the Kokanee 10k in October just two days after the old snip snip, and I thought I was back on track, but I pretty much struggled to find my speed, endurance, and any semblance of consistency until a couple months ago. In March my miles became more steady, and by the end of the moth, my times took a somewhat unexpected drop back to respectable (34's and 16's). I've since added some time back on (my last 5k notwithstanding) and am still trying to figure that one out, but will do so...eventually. I recently got a new collagen building presecription for the Achilles/knee but I've got to be really careful with the dosing due to some "adventurous" possible side effects. Hopefully you'll all see me running this summer, and I'll revisit this again in...oh...another ten years.