It would have helped if I'd had some experience, but I had never run before (if I don't count a one-mile run in high school PE). I began with the understanding that I might have to stop, and at forty-one I wouldn't be able to run past my forties, but, until my knees or whatever gave out, I would give it my best shot.
The first day I covered a half mile, which was way further than I could actually run. I walked more than half that distance. I rested the next day. This would be my pattern, run a day, rest a day. Through that spring I gradually increased my distance. By August, I was still running every other day and between three and six miles for each run, three or four days a week, about 12-15 miles each week. When I showed up for cross country in late August to run with the teams, I could keep up with pretty much everyone except the varsity boys.
I ran with the team for the next six years, coaching for several years until my mother's health deteriorated to the point I couldn't spare the time and had to quit.
When I turned fifty I was still running. By then I'd experienced shin splints and a stone bruise, but I hadn't missed more than a couple of weeks of training. I'd completed the distance of a half marathon (13.1 miles) by running from my home to the north end of Cannon Beach on highway 101 and back. There are some tough hills on that run and my time was 2 hours, six minutes. Not bad for a woman of my age and experience. I ran Race for the Cure several times, the Hood to Coast five times, the Bridge Crossing, and won my division in a Manzanita 5k without even trying. When I was in San Francisco helping my mom clear her sister's apartment, I ran in Buena Vista Park. I took my gear everywhere.
Early runs were all about distance, but soon enough I concentrated on pacing. I wanted to run the six miles to my mom's house in less than an hour and I did this many times. I could manage a steady nine minute mile for an easy run on the flat, closer to eight and some seconds if I pushed. On hills my best run was four miles in about 34 minutes. I did that once and my speed was because the weather was miserable and I wanted to get it over quickly, and I was racing the clock. It was a great run, and one I will always recall with pride.
On 10/10/10 (October 10, 2010) my husband and I ran the inaugural half marathon in Portland. We trained for months,running four to five days a week and completing long runs each weekend, and gradually building to 12 miles. We were in great shape. But on the day my time was slower than the last time I'd run that distance, 2:17, and I felt lousy, probably because the weather was the worst they'd ever seen for that event. We came in exhausted, soaking wet, and I had red welts chafed into my skin along every seam of my gear. Gary swore never again, but I registered for the half for the next year, determined to do it better now that I knew the course (and hoping for better weather).
At the start of the school year in the fall of 2011, I ran fifteen-plus miles from my house to school on the first day of inservice. I had trained with long weekly runs as I had the year before and I was in good shape, I thought. There was still the half-marathon in October, but I figured I had about 6 weeks to recover from the fifteen mile run to school and I wasn't racing the clock.
My run started in front of our house on hard packed sand to Cannon Beach, a six mile run I have managed a hundred times. From midtown, most of the run would be on pavement, and I had trained on Cannon Beach hill and already allowed that there was a hundred yard stretch I would have to walk because it was too steep.
The dawn was an hour off when I left home. The beach was lovely, but my feet were a little sore. Then I realized the moment I ran off the beach that my shoes needed replacing—I had a new pair I was saving for the half in a box at home—but there were another nine miles ahead of me and I was determined. I was stupid. I barely managed the last couple of miles.
I was happy for the run, but it was a mistake I would not repeat. I damaged my feet that morning, and it's probably the last good run I will ever have. I had to drop out of the Portland Half, and cut my training.
The following autumn and winter and I was still managing three and four-mile runs, though my feet were giving me trouble. But by spring I had to admit to myself that things were not going well.
One day we had run in the morning on the beach and then drove to Portland for an event. I had to sit on the sidewalk, tears standing in my eyes because it hurt too much to walk the two blocks from where we parked the car. I've given birth, so I know pain. This was a close second.
That spring I stopped running altogether. Walking was painful. Over the next few months I saw a NP and an orthopedist. Each took Xrays and diagnosed different problems. Each had only one piece of advice: Stop running, maybe it would get better. Or probably not.
I'd already stopped running for weeks or months by then and my feet still hurt. Walking hurt.
This summer I've begun seeing a podiatrist and he seems like a smart guy. He's also a marathoner. He took a third set of X-rays.
"What do you want to accomplish?" he asked me.
"I want to be able to walk without pain," I told him.
"That sounds reasonable."
After examining me and my records and many Xrays, the good doctor had five pieces of advice with reasons for each:
- new and bigger shoes, Brooks Dyad 7. I am usually a 6.5/7 in a dress shoe, a 7.5 in a runner, but the shoes I must wear till at least Thanksgiving, are 8.5 double wide. The store special-ordered them for me. I am told I am lucky the current color was a subtle gray—but to me they feel like boats on the ends of my legs.
- Be fitted for orthotics. I've done this and the surprise is that orthotics hurt at first. I expected a magical improvement, which I did not get. However, every time I go in, he adjusts them, and I have to admit, my feet feel better standing in them and not.
- Take calcium and vitamin D3 for my bones. I am doing this and I know it's good advice, especially since my mother had crippling osteoporosis and now I do too. (He ordered me to have a bone density scan.) But I am also skeptical of supplements, having taken my mother to the ER twice (twice!) when she collapsed from overdosing herself with vitamins.
- Take glucosamine and chondroitin for my joints. I am only taking glucosamine because I couldn't find vegetarian chondroitin, which is made from beef. My doctor is okay with this. I am skeptical here too since my mother took these supplements for a decade and saw no improvement.
- And a last recommendation, which he prefaced with a long story and which clearly made him anxious to bring up: lose five pounds. Most doctors are fearful of mentioning weight. I laughed and told him I knew I needed to drop weight, that I had already lost four pounds and meant to lose a lot more. This morning the scale shows I have dropped thirteen pounds. I have at least fifteen to go. He kept saying, "I know it's hard..."
My feet hurt. It's true, they still hurt even when I am not standing up, but more when I am on them. I think I've come to accept the pain, but I also know that since the last adjustment of my orthotics, I have not had the stabbing overwhelming pain that was intermittently bringing tears and which could put me right on the ground.
It might only be larger shoes that help, or the orthotics, the year of rest from running, the supplements, the lost weight? Or maybe I am getting used to walking with pain? Probably everything is contributing. I can walk. That's what matters.
So I am better. I have to wear ugly shoes every day and I hope not to have to do that for the rest of my life, but I can walk. My feet still hurt, but I can walk. For a while there, it looked like I might be headed for a wheelchair. I try to get off my feet whenever I can while I teach—which goes against my style. I like to walk around the room touching base with students. I even had a rule for myself that I was not allowed to sit during class except while freewriting with my students. Now I perch on the corner of a table. I sit. I take the load off my feet. But I can walk.
This morning we saw the pair of oyster catchers who sound like squeaky toys to Yeti and her ears practically meet on top of her head. I picked up a couple of sand dollars, three flat pebbles, and a bit of beach glass. The sky was porcelain blue overhead, and though because it's the weekend we could start late, we were still home before the sun rose from behind the coast range. We talked about plans to clone passenger pigeons (extinct in the wild in 1900) and whether the bird calls we heard might be from a young hawk. We didn't see a soul for three miles, but close to home we waved and friends waved back.
It was great morning for a walk.
That's a taxidermy passenger pigeon at right. The last wild bird was hunted and shot in 1900. The last bird died in captivity and U.S. scientists are now working to develop a wide enough gene pool to reestablish the beautiful species that once existed in the billions in North American.