Sunday, November 6, 2016

Running with bunions

Four and a half years ago, I started walking daily. It soon turned into jogging, which I found I was enjoying tremendously, and much to my surprise, in November 2012 I participated in the 6K 16th Annual Larnaka Run. In October 2013 I ran again, pleased it was only 5K that year, as I had quite a bad cold and it was a hot day. I barely finished, but I did it, running the whole way. In November 2014, I ran yet again, the officially 6K run being only 5 1/2 kilometers due to construction along Makenzy Beach.

"Running," by the way, is a term I use strictly by definition, in that while I propel myself forward, both feet are off of the ground in between steps. I'm very slow, slower than some people walk (hello, Tim!), and have no desire to push myself any faster. I'm not racing, just running. Sort of. :-)

So, by that definition of running, I continued running virtually every single Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and some Sundays, from summer 2012 all through 2013 and 2014. Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays I walked (and still do) with my friend Sue. Sundays I sometimes run, sometimes walk, sometimes ramble with awake children, sometimes go for a bike ride, and sometimes stay in bed. I call it my "wild card day."

However, various circumstances led to me running much less in 2015. Several unconnected, but traumatic-to-me, events occurred at the end of 2014 and the beginning of 2015 and it rained a great deal in January and February 2015, and I was not in a good place emotionally, which got itself into a vicious circle with my physical well-being. In September 2015 I finally decided to metaphorically kick myself in the rear and get running again, to be able to participate in the 19th Annual Larnaka Run. A couple of days after I started doing so,  however, I found out that the run was later than usual that year, not until November 15th. On November 15th, we were in an airplane on our way to the United States. So I quit running.

February this year, I decided to start up again, following (as I had several times before) the C25K program. This three-day-a-week, nine-week program is meant to get someone from sitting on the couch ("C") to ("2") running five ("5") kilometers ("K"), and it's pretty awesome. The first time I did it, I was struggling at the beginning to complete the first week's plan of alternating jogging 60 seconds and walking 90 seconds for a total of 20 minutes. When I started in February this year, I easily did that the first day for 30 minutes, and was pleased at the end of nine weeks to be easily jogging 6-8 kilometers three times a week.

Except that my right foot hurt.

It had started hurting the first day I jogged, and I tried to ignore it. After a week, I got new shoes, which seemed to help some, but it kept hurting. Sometimes little twinges, sometimes sharp, shooting pains that made me gasp and almost stumble. I thought I probably should quit running, but I didn't, and sometimes it didn't hurt much, so I tried to ignore it. But when I got to the end of nine weeks, in April, I quit running again. My foot didn't hurt as much when I walked (which I continued doing three times a week with Sue, until the weather got too hot for her), and sometimes didn't hurt at all, and sometimes hurt a great deal at random times when I wasn't even walking.

At the beginning of July I finally stopped by the office of a podiatrist who is just around the corner from us, and she listed to my description and said no, she wouldn't give me an appointment, but recommended an orthopedist, so that's where I went. He pretty quickly diagnosed bunions (both feet) and sent me to have an x-ray. He was actually surprised that my right foot hurt and my left one didn't, because apparently, the x-ray indicated that the left foot was worse. The right toe looks worse to me:

(The dark mark, by the way, is the shadow of the camera, not a tan!) Either way, I was surprised. I thought bunions were what old ladies who wear terrible shoes get. Nope: according to this orthopedist, I was born with them, and it was surprising to him that I'd never before had any kind of pain. When he heard that I go barefoot a lot, and that when I don't, I NEVER wear high heels or pointy shoes, and that my favorite shoes are Birkenstocks (not that I've had any for three or four years, but I do wear wide sandals), he said that that was likely the reason I'd never had problems. When I started running in February, in old, thin (but oh, so comfortable!) shoes, I'd probably hit a stone just right (or just wrong, rather) and "caused trauma," and it was inflamed and wouldn't get better without treatment.

Happily, he didn't recommend surgery, saying that he prefers conservative treatment, and prescribed anti-inflammatory medication and told me to try to avoid walking, and to cool the painful area with ice. Yeah, right. A week later we were going to Germany, and I knew that on that Saturday we'd be going to the zoo with friends, walking all day. So...I stuck it out for another week, and the day after the zoo visit, I started taking the anti-inflammatory, and it was easy enough to stay off my feet for a lot of the time of our conference (Family Camp) that next week. By the end of the next week, my foot was a LOT better, and I'd also bought a new pair of running shoes at Aldi around the corner. The new shoes are technically a bit too big for me, but they tie snugly while leaving my toes plenty of space.

The orthopedist also mentioned that there a lot of products on the market which claim to help against bunions. In his opinion, none of them "fix" anything, but some of them may relieve some of the discomfort for some people. The gel pad I bought that day did help considerably, although it wasn't all that comfortable to wear.

And then I started thinking about running again. The doctor wasn't too supportive of the idea, telling me that swimming would be the best sport for me. I don't WANT to "do a sport," nor "go exercise," I just love running. And I don't like to swim when it's cold, or in the sun, or in a pool, so even though I live five minutes from the beach (by car), I don't find swimming to be a very practical thing very much of the time, whereas I live 350 meters from a beautiful four-kilometer-long Nature Trail next to the Salt Lake, with convenient markers every 500 meters. I also don't find riding a bicycle that exciting. I like using it to get someplace, and an occasional bike-ride for fun is okay, but my knees hurt and my bottom hurts and besides, traffic here is SCARY. I was starting to feel pretty miserable again, discouraged and sorry for myself, because after more than 20 years of no sport whatsoever, I'd finally found something I liked, that was good for me, free (except for shoes), and convenient, and I was being told I'd "never be able to do it again." I walked twice in July (with one friend), twice in August (with another friend), and in September started walking three days a week with Sue again, but no running.

But this is 2016 and there IS the internet...

Googling "running with bunions" brings up 1, 790, 000 results. So I'm not the only one who has thought about this, by far. The main conclusion I drew from the few articles I read was that running would NOT make the actual deformation I have any worse, it was simply a matter of treating the symptoms and dealing with it. Encouraged, I stopped by the pharmacy again about six weeks ago and decided to get "toe separators," as they appeared to be highly recommended and not very expensive. (Why they come THREE in a box, I don't know. I only have two feet. But three of them for about 6 Euros doesn't seem too bad to me.)

I was skeptical. I never could stand flip-flops or any other sandals with a strap between the first two toes, finding them extremely uncomfortable. However, these things are made of silicon, and besides, I'd discovered that just HOLDING my big toe out to the side relieved the pain, so I figured it was worth a try.

NO PAIN!!! And no discomfort from these weird-looking things, either. And I've been running, occasionally, for six weeks, and have NO PAIN. I participated in the 20th Annual Larnaka Run. My time was the slowest ever (even slower than last Sunday, when I ran six consecutive kilometers for the first time since April), but I did run the entire way, and of the 600+ participants, there were at least a dozen or so who finished after I did. (And there might have been four more if I hadn't teased unmercifully those fit-looking teenage boys from a local private school, telling them that they should NOT let a fat old lady beat them, and to GET MOVING. I passed them about 20 times, and they passed me about 20 times, because either they were sprinting or creeping. I just kept going. They sprinted the last couple of hundred meters and did finish before I did.)

Incidentally, four of my children participated today as well: Helen and Elisabeth in the 500-meter run:

Waiting at the starting line, Elisabeth is under the "E", in the bright pink shirt and being held up by Lukas, and Helen is next to her under the "H."
There were way too many children crowded together for me to get a photo of them finishing, so I took this photo afterwards. They were very proud of their participation medals.

Katie in the 1000-meter run:
Waiting to start, Katie under the "K."

Katie walked most of the way, only sprinting the last 50 meters or so after I'd gone to meet her to encourage her to finish, and since I was holding the camera, that meant that I didn't get a photo of her finishing, either, so took one afterwards. Two or three children did finish after she did...

And Lukas with me in the 6000-meter (doesn't that sound more impressive than 6K??) run:

Jörn took this photo of us, together with two friends from church who were running in support of Oasis Project. They both finished well before I did!

Lukas running the last 100 meters or so, after walking over half of the way, finishing about 10 minutes after I did, but not last...
This is the first time Jörn has been there to cheer us on, as he was out of the country all of the other three times I participated. Which also means that there's a rare photo of me, as Katie ran to meet me just before I finished:

And to finish it off, the photo Jörn took before the race, before we were all hot and sweaty, and while Katie was still considering re-considering: