My Left Foot

Posted: August 7, 2013 in Injuries and Owies, Run
Tags: ,

Triathlete’s are hard on their feet.

And while I still use the term ‘triathlete’ loosely in reference to myself, I am as guilty of this particular bodily abuse as anyone.  I mean think about it, we shove them in shoes of all sorts and literally beat the living hell out of them over long distances, often through extreme conditions and terrains, over and over and over again and then just kind of ignore them.  Perhaps later, if we do think to invest ourselves in some sort of ‘recover’, we’ll pay particular attention to stretching out our calves, glutes, hams, shoulders what have you, and wrap just about every conceivable body part in compression wear but, still, we’ll pay little attention to the very things that genuinely carry the brunt of the workload – our feet.  Why?  So while I truly believe that we do severely neglect our feet, I’ve never really done anything about it…until now.

The past few months, running-wise, have not been kind.  The mind is willing but the flesh is weak, per se.  Since April/May, I’ve been experiencing an ongoing issue with my left foot and, subsequently, the muscles in my left leg.  It gets better so I begin to run, then it begins to hurt and so I take a break and it goes away…so I start to run again…and the whole vicious cycle begins to repeat itself.  It sucks, but ‘ol Thunder and Lightning just haven’t been the same since Ironman Wales.  Whatever it is, it sucks, and I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but:

I MISSED RUNNING!

I know, take a minute for that to digest.  Lord knows I never figured that those three words would ever escape my lips but, c’est la vie I suppose.  In the meantime, all the doctor prescribed x-rays and ultrasounds have come back negative, so it’s definitely not a stress fracture, or something equally serious, so I’m taking that as a green light to get back on the program, despite being so late in the season.  So the real good news is, for the first time in weeks I’ve finally felt ‘run ready’, so I’m starting myself on a strict recovery regime to regain my former run fitness.

Step one was to try and find some answers about what the real story with what lingering soreness still remains.  I’m running relatively pain-free, but all is not ‘perfect’, and I’d like some explanation about what’s been going on as well as what to do about it perhaps.  To this regard, I’ve started on something of a rehab plan coordinated by Dr. Kristin Burr at the ‘Legacy Health & Performance’ clinic in St. Catharines.

Now, for me, this is a huge deal.  My past experiences with chiropractors and physical therapists have not been positive.  My original impression of ‘rehab’ is to be left in a cold, dank, prison-like room for 45 minutes with creepy yellowed anatomy posters while hooked up to a machine that looks like a throw away from the Cold War.  Any requests for detail or possible explanations on my condition would be met with the same reluctant disposition that Bumble the Beadle might have reserved for hungry orphans requesting more gruel.  At best, a vague diagnosis would be offered that might include anything from a pulled muscle to, say, myelofibrosis, before they hurriedly vacated the room to hook up their next unwitting victim.  Seldom were there any improvements or offered insights, and the whole process was about as frustrating as trying to masturbate with a catcher’s mitt.  Just show up, shut up, get hooked up, and bring in your cheque afterwards.

Enter Dr. Burr.

First off, the clinic has less of a Russian gulag feel to it and more of an actual healing center.  Of course, this is probably largely in part to Dr. Burr being female and actually caring enough to decorate her office and lounge with things other than People magazines from the turn of the century.  And, hey, when you’re greeted at the door by a friendly Springer Spaniel, that doesn’t hurt either in my opinion.

After an initial meet and greet we had already formulated a strategy for not only what might be happening, but how to address and treat it.  Now, don’t get me wrong, nothing is certain in physical therapy.  I get that.  But given her ability to relate to the constant ouchies and owies I’ve been experiencing and her explanations (complete with pictures) suggest to me that we’re definitely on the right path to recovery – finally.  To paraphrase from the ‘Six Million Dollar Man’:

Feet, we can rebuild you. We have the technology (and the approved doctor appointments). We have the capability to build the world’s next successful Ironman marathoner. You will be those feet. Better than you were before.  Better, stronger, faster.

Yeah, you can say I’m a bit jazzed.  Well, as jazzed as one can be when getting back into long distance running anyway.

So here’s the skinny or, rather, what we figure might be currently happening with my left foot.  And, no, I don’t mean the Daniel Day Lewis movie either.  All pain seems to emanate from the ball of my left foot, which scared the bejesus out of me as I have been thinking that my plantar fasciitis might be coming back.  Thank God, that is not necessarily the case.  More correctly, it may be that my ‘quadratus plantae’ has been the source of all the trouble.  The quadratus plantae is a muscle in the foot that extends from the anterior of the ‘calcaneus‘ to the tendons of the ‘digitorum longus’ or, in layman’s’ terms, from the heel to the toes.  It assists in the flexing of the toes and foot muscles (‘lumbricals’) to, basically, keep the normal bio-mechanics of the foot working properly.  With this particular muscle not working successfully, the normal bio-mechanical movement of my foot (my gait) has been all wonky.  Sorry to get all technical on you there.

As explained to me, the body has this incredibly innate ability to adjust itself to avoid pain and injury, often at the expense of itself.  For example, since my ‘quadratus plantae’ muscle is not 100%, my foot (and body) has unconsciously readjusted its natural movement to avoid further aggravation.  As a result, the other muscles in my body have been suddenly thrown out of whack and, therefore, suffered the consequence.  This explains the constant pain I had in my left shin and calf when I tried to run through the pain, as both muscles were attempting to work in a way that they were not originally designed to do.  Likewise, in favoring my left big toe, the ‘sesamoid’ bone has been bearing more than its fair share of impact and has subsequently become inflamed and painful.  So, if one were to focus on the sore area (the sesamoid), and not on the root cause of it, then one could misdiagnosis the issue altogether and concentrate on the wrong solution or fix…which, of course, I have been doing.

So, the focus now is in treating the root cause; that pesky ‘quadratus plantae’ muscle.  Besides regular weekly treatments to breathe some life back into muscles that have otherwise ceased to function properly (literally, I can’t bend the toes on my left foot at all), I have also started a strength conditioning program at home to try and strengthen them.

As I understand it, you should be able to move your toes like you do your fingers.  In this regard, my toes are lifeless slabs of meat that just extend from my foot.  To fix this, I have to practice lifting them off the ground and spreading them wide.  This was something I saw the girls do in my yoga classes and I just assumed that the female foot was more flexible.  Compared to my poor immoveable piggies, these girls had monkey feet.  I want monkey feet.  To assist with this development, I am rolling my feet over a small tune-up ball* daily and practicing gripping it, and moving each toe (albeit, unsuccessfully at the moment) over and around it.  If I can encourage the tension in my foot to loosen up, in doing so, I will also increase the width of my foot.  If I can successfully do this, I will also increase my base of support and, by proxy, my natural stability while running.  Dig?

Think of it this way, there are 26 bones and 33 joints in the foot.  If you are holding tension in the foot muscles (as I am), the joints won’t be able to move properly (they aren’t).  But if you can get the joints to be really mobile (I’m working on it), it’s like having 33 little mini computers telling the body what’s going on when you touch the ground and how to adjust.  How can that be bad?  At the moment, I am simply putting one foot in front of the other and hoping for the best, which lately, has not been good enough.

In all honesty, I am relearning how to run; starting from scratch.  And given that I have other Ironman competitions, as well as other long course events on my horizon, learning to run smoother and more efficiently (not to mention acquiring the super monkey feet) now, will be a huge key for my future success as running is still my Achilles heel as far as triathlon goes.  I have always maintained the belief to train to your weaknesses, so the next few months are going t be spend addressing just that:  my weakness.  The fly in the ointment.  The wrench in the machine.  Whatever you want to call it.  Once I can reestablish this strong run base, form and all, I will begin to build up my endurance again to reestablish myself as a strong runner.  And as long as I can simply maintain my swim and bike fitness to the level they are at now (if not, improve even a little), I will be a force to be reckoned with.  I want to be strong in all three disciplines, not just hanging on to survive the run.  This means lots of hard work, a few steps backward but, hopefully, lots of forward progress as well.

It all starts now.  I’ve set up a new blog (Music in Motion) to chronicle my progress as it relates to the music I listen to (hey, I’m a blogger after all!), I’ve stocked myself up on tubes of Traumeel and the old man corn pads, and I am currently establishing a new running plan (with Dr. Burr) to get back on track.  I’m not sure what my next running endeavor will be in 2014 yet but, whatever it is, I want to be confident that I will do well and be happy with the end result heading into the next triathlon season.  2013 was about fun and recovery; 2014 will be about reestablishing myself as a contender.

*Seriously, how often do you get to walk into a yoga store and ask to purchase a set of ‘blue balls’, and really mean it!

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