Friends, it is fast approaching four months since hobbled my way into surgery and woke up with a remodeled heel. A friend, who I actually met through this blog (Hi, Rhonda!) will be having Haglund’s surgery this week, four months to the day since I had mine. She is already the lucky recipient of my insights and advice and has been able to watch my progress every figurative step of the way. For the rest of you curious readers, here are some thoughts from the four month point.
It’s All About Physical Therapy Now. Since around eight weeks post surgery, physical therapy has become the dominating issue in this recovery process. Time is no longer spent waiting for Uber rides or planning how to get around. Doctor’s visits stretch to 6-8 week intervals and Husband no longer has to take time off work to drive me there. Now however I go to two physical therapy sessions a week that last 90 minutes or longer when all is said and done. As the weeks have gone by and I have gotten stronger, more and more exercises have been added and the difficulty has continually increased. Other patients in the clinic are lying down getting heat packs and massages while I sweat my way through multiple sets of kettlebell squats and lunges on a squishy pad. I have virtually stopped doing any lower body lifting in my own strength workouts because I am working so hard at PT. In addition there are exercises that I have to do at home on all the other days. All this has been tremendously beneficial and I have regained so much strength and stability much earlier than I thought possible but it does require a fairly significant and ongoing time commitment. The time spent doing PT already far exceeds all the time spent on surgery and follow up doctor’s visits of which there were certainly a few. Something to bear in mind for those contemplating this surgery.
You Won’t Be Running Yet. If I could give only one piece of advice to any fellow runners considering this surgery it would be to become a triathlete prior to surgery. Running will still be a dream at this point in the process. The beginnings of it might be happening as soon as tomorrow for me if I can get on the Alter G and run at some meager percentage of my body weight. I know however that actual running, the kind I used to do in large amounts and with great ease, is still months away. On the other hand, I have probably never been so bike fit in my life. I’m doing workouts on the trainer with Zwift and I’m riding with friends outside several times a week. After a decade gathering cobwebs, my mountain bike has emerged from the shed and I’ve been riding some easyish trails through the woods. This last activity is also something that Husband has joined me on which has been wonderful. Although I still have not organized myself back into doing regular swim workouts yet, I’m in the pool or the Gulf several times a week generally living my best Florida life. All of this serves well at filling the running void. Life is pretty great right now but if I was only waiting around to be able to run I would be pretty depressed about the whole situation. At my last appointment, I was expressing this thought to the doctor who agreed and said he had performed the same surgery on a professional runner shortly before me and that while this person was healing well, they were mentally struggling with the length of time it took to return to running. It probably helps that I was unable to run for large swaths of last year as it moved me along in the grieving process before I got to the surgery.
Looking back, I really haven’t found the last few months that difficult. Everything in fact has been much less difficult in terms of keeping my spirits up than I expected. In very large part, this was due to being able to get back to swimming and riding my bike within weeks of the surgery. Importantly though, those were activities I already had substantial experience doing with friends and enjoyed. Although to some degree they started out as poor substitutes for running, by the time of surgery they no longer felt that way. At some point last year I realized that I had friends who had never known me as a runner (and still don’t). I’ve been able to keep those friendships alive while most of my running-only based friendships have temporarily withered from disuse.
You Won’t Be Walking Miles Either. The most difficult thing at this point is that I still cannot walk around a tremendous amount. Every week I can tolerate more and my heel is swelling less and less but the idea of a leisurely 30-45 minute walk still does not sound appealing. While I can navigate daily life on foot generally just fine now, I really miss being able to go for a long walk. Or even a medium walk. Evenings during daylight savings time are wonderful in Florida and I have always liked to walk down to the bay and wander around by the water looking at birds. I could physically do this now but my heel would be sore by the time I got there and would be swollen by the time I got home and need 24 hours of rest to calm down.
My current lack of walking endurance also means that I’ve needed to change strategy for trip planning. In a normal year, Husband and I usually take a couple of long weekend trips somewhere scenic and remote. We hike up mountains and sometimes backpack our way into the wilderness and camp for a night or two. Typically, we go somewhere in the southwest states in February over President’s Day weekend which is a federal holiday for Husband and serves as something we do together in lieu of Valentine’s Day. Husband is the envy of some men for this setup. As one of his colleagues once remarked, “You mean you get out of Valentine’s Day and you get to go on a trip?!” Husband, for his part, likes to maintain that these trips are more like “Ranger school situations” than a holiday. Something of an exaggeration as we usually finish them off with a night in a nice hotel and expensive drinks but it’s true that my idea of a good time includes hours and hours of walking around in the wilderness wearing a backpack.
We missed this February’s trip obviously but I was hoping to be able to plan something in the mountains for this summer, ideally for my birthday. I may well be able to handle a long day or two in the mountains by late August but unfortunately Husband has two work trips in August which has made a birthday trip logistically difficult so instead we’re going away over 4th of July weekend. At this stage I just can’t predict how much and how well I’ll be walking in seven weeks. No doubt much better than I am today but I can’t imagine that I’ll be ready to hike up a 14er in the Rockies by then. Initially, I was searching around for ideas involving water but not really coming up with anything that exciting. We had a nice trip to Turks and Caicos last year where I did an open water swim race and we went snorkeling but I ended up a bit bored by the third day there. I wasn’t feeling especially inspired about anywhere else in the Caribbean. Then I remembered that Husband will happily ride a bike if we’re in the woods and he doesn’t have to wear lycra. So, we will riding this rail trail in the Black Hills of South Dakota. The plan is to ride the whole trail but I’m going to be flexible on it as it’s an interesting area with lots of history and things to see like buffalo and caves if the weather isn’t good. Until that time, I’ll be on my bike.