It has also been a really long time since I wrote an update which is a sure sign of my ongoing reintegration back into normal life. So friends, here’s what things look like six months after having my Achilles tendon split down the middle and a piece of my heel bone cut off.
Running! I’m now able to run on the Alter G at 95% of my body weight. Even more significantly, I’ve been doing short running intervals at full gravity outside. It started a couple of weeks ago when Husband and I were walking the dog. I suddenly threw in a few short steps of jogging. My Achilles did not explode and I woke up the next day feeling unscathed. Some days later, I tried this again, and once again nothing bad happened. Then I tried running for 30 seconds at a time and walking for 90 seconds. This has now morphed into 1:30 run intervals with 1:00 walk intervals for a duration of 25 minutes. Sometime in this coming week, I’ll be pushing it up to 2:00/1:00 intervals. I’m going super slow outside, much slower than the Alter G since load on the tendon = weight x speed. But there it is, I’m not quite six months post op but for 1-2 minutes at a time you wouldn’t be able to pick me out as Knee Scooter Lady from a few months ago.
I won’t lie, things do not feel normal or even nearly normal yet. Running doesn’t hurt but my heel just feels “there.” I do have some pause about running when something doesn’t feel 100 percent. Whenever I had any sort of injury in the past and tried to “run through it,” I developed a (much more serious) compensation injury. Apparently other people can run through certain niggles and minor injuries but for me it’s usually a disaster. It seems that my body does an overzealous job of altering my biomechanics to protect a sore spot. For those reasons, I’m firmly in the “not running through it” camp these days. You can’t do much damage from running 25 minutes every other day (at most) though and I actually have to run some so my tendon can get strong enough to, well, handle me running. Anyway, it is truly wonderful to be doing any form of running outside and I’m cognizant of how good my recovery has been thus far. Interestingly, while my heel doesn’t feel totally normal running yet, I actually feel much less discomfort running than I do walking. Which brings me to….
Hiking Hilly Trails! Over 4th of July weekend, Husband and I went to South Dakota. If you thought South Dakota doesn’t sound especially exciting, then you thought wrong. It’s absolutely spectacular, or at least the parts we visited were. The first day we did an epic gravel ride on the Mickelson Trail. I’ve been riding a ton since surgery so I expected my heel would hold up just fine and it did. On the second day, we drove to Custer State Park to explore. This contains some absolutely beautiful wilderness in the Black Hills and is replete with roaming buffalo and big horn sheep.
Although typically on lists of places to visit in South Dakota, I had never heard of this park before I started researching this trip. It’s certainly not on the level of renown as Badlands National Park which we explored on our last day. It contains some of the most impressive and beautiful scenery I have been to in this country (and I’m something of a connoisseur of impressive and beautiful scenery). I could not spend time in such a beautiful place without hiking up some trails. Heel be damned! We ended up picking a relatively short trail but one that comprised of a fair amount of steepish rocky terrain. It was exactly the kind of thing that would have had me limping later in the day pre-surgery and certainly not anything I’ve tackled post-surgery. Perhaps it was the views, but not only did my heel not hurt during a gorgeous 1hr 15 mins on the trail but I was no worse for wear later. This was an incredibly encouraging and joyous development. Ultimately, I think this hike was the highlight of a very awesome trip (which deserves and hopefully will get its own post.)
Better Shape Than Ever! True story: Every time I’ve been injured from running, I emerge from injury much more athletic. As a runner, all you really want to do is run, so that tends to be all you do. I would dabble in some strength training or yoga but seldom did anything consistently enough. Frequently, many weeks would pass and I would only run. Even with perfect biomechanics, which I certainly don’t have, that’s a recipe for an unbalanced and not very athletic body. When injured from running, however, my inability to cope with life without a daily workout means there is no sitting on the couch eating bonbons and drinking wine. I’m fond of describing all other sports activity as “methadone to running’s heroin” but the truth is, doing other stuff is really pretty good for you and keeps everything working better. My year has been spent riding bikes (road, trails & trainer), swimming (pool & open water), strength training (a lot), and doing yoga (regularly). There’s a much wider variety of muscle recruitment and energy systems that goes along with all that than with just running. I feel great, my resting heart rate is still in the 40s, and I am crushing all kinds of advanced balance moves at PT while people throw balls at me. I feel like I’ve aged backwards.
Enlightenment and Gratitude! OK, a little melodramatic (and let’s face it, “gratitude” is fast going the way of “mindfulness” these days, seminars and all…), but I’ve definitely made some gains here too. I’ve mentioned several times here (and many times in real life) that nothing after the surgery has been as hard as I expected it to be. But what dawned on me when I was in South Dakota was that, if given the choice to go back to February 2018 and avoid this very long and uncertain running hiatus and its associated grief, I wouldn’t change anything. Last year definitely was hard. I really suffered for a while with the loss of running as both a physical activity and a mental and emotional support. It was compounded by the loss of community and the weakening of ties that comes from no longer being able to participate in an activity with others. The grief is real but at some point you have to start living a new life rather than hanging around in the shell of your old one. I think finally having surgery, which I dreaded and delayed for so long, was what actually enabled me to move on. I haven’t felt any sort of bitterness or grief since that time. I certainly hope — and have every reason to expect — that I’ll get back to running at something approaching the level I used to be at, but in the interim life really has filled up with other things. I wouldn’t trade any of it. I am however glad not to be Knee Scooter Lady anymore.