image

My last run for a while couldn’t have been more beautiful. Found an alpine ski race course half a mile from my hotel in Umeå, Sweden. I smashed it, doctors orders.

Yesterday I got surgery on my Achilles area in a foreign country by one of the leading tendon specialists in the world, and today I am a new woman.

Not just because he fixed a bunch of broken shit that I didn’t even know was there, (although he did, and it was a shocking amount of broken shit), but because for the first time since I had heel pain on that five mile trail run back in February 2013, I feel 100% confident I am on the right path to running pain free and fast again. I’m not just convincing myself, using the power of the mind to make it so, which I’ve tried countless times, but I actually know it in my bones.

I’m not saying that positive thinking doesn’t have it’s place, and isn’t a powerful tool, I’m all about it as you probably know. But you can’t positive think a frog into a prince. And as I learned from my consultation with Dr. Alfredson, based on the Doppler ultrasound images he showed me, there was simply no way around it. No amount of PT, no workaround tools, no experimental training was ever going to overcome the warty frogs he was seeing.

Even eight weeks into an extremely controlled, every-other-day return to running program, I was getting pain again, and enough stuff lit up on his screen to make you think I’d been running marathons. His diagnostic approach was different than anything back home. He used the same ultrasound machine I was introduced to when pregnant, and took photos of various angles of all the tissues in my ankles. Yes ankles…as in plural. Because that was the other thing that was different: in the USA I’ve never had formal imagining that compares the healthy side to the injured side. Not once for any extremity injury in my 12 years. Instead your injured side is compared to a data set. If you have something super obvious that’s fine, but a lot of athletic injuries get underestimated this way. As we know from physical therapy and body work, there’s nothing quite like comparing yourself to yourself.

There was a lot of good news on that ultrasound. For one, my left foot and ankle are perfect. Amazing. No deformities or defects or weird genetic bony protuberances. No pain either. The other good news, great news in fact, was that there was a ton of bad news on the images of the right foot. There was no hemming and hawing, no scratching of the head, no weighing of options. The doctor clearly saw several pathologies that were making it impossible for my Achilles and ankle to function properly, and there was only one solution. Finally. Just one.

And that’s the other reason I am a new woman. Outside of my new foot I also have a free heart and mind. No more decisions to make based on blurry information and weird symptoms. No more doubting my commitment as an athlete because I can’t get myself to follow a protocol I know in my heart isn’t solving the problem. I have not felt this peaceful living in my own head in over two years.

imageSo what did Hakån find? Lots of stuff. He cut out 7cm of the plantaris, removed a bursa, detached a fat pad from infiltrating my Achilles, chiseled of a bone spur and a non-traditional looking haglund’s deformity, and took the entire sharp edge of my calcaneus that was impeding my Achilles and ground it smooth. For more details and gory photos click here. He did all this without compromising my actual Achilles at all, or detaching any part of it, which means I don’t have to be in a boot, and while it will be 12 weeks before I can run again, I can bear 50% body weight using crutches starting today, and will be walking normally in 2-3 weeks.

Oh yeah and we did it all with local anesthesia, so I was awake. And yes, it was weird. Especially the bone chiseling bits.

image

It took a super human effort to get the family from Wales to Sweden for the time slot the doc had available. My injury has weighed on me for a long time, and has affected everyone in my family and my support crew. Nobody has been anything but 100% supportive of whatever I needed, but I find it hard to put my needs first when it involves such great expense and diverting our family vacation, all for what could be another dead end.

There was a moment after my first consultation with Dr. Alfredson, after seeing all the problems with my foot clear as day for the first time, when I got pissed. Really pissed. Thinking about all the things I tried that were doomed from the get go is a thought I only allow myself to think for an instant before pushing it away, because all you can do is the best you can with the information you have at the time. That goes for me and everyone who has gone above and beyond to try to get me well. The thing is, nobody else at home does a diagnosis in this way, so I couldn’t have known without coming here, and couldn’t have jumped into surgery with confidence otherwise. And while my running has been a piece of shit for me for a long time, everything else has been incredible, and most of that incredible wouldn’t have been discoverable had I been healthy. So no, I wasn’t really getting steamy about the lost time. It was never lost.

What was pissing me off was all the time I spent tearing myself down for not being more committed to exercises that weren’t working, or for not believing enough, or for feeling defeated. For entertaining crazy theories that I was inherently weak, or fundamentally under-developed when my past performances and experiences told a completely different story. I spent way too much time inflicting self-harm emotionally, when the reality was my intuition was working perfectly. I couldn’t buy into the wrong track with all my heart because in my heart I knew it was the wrong track. We are wiser than we know.

image

Photo by Hew Fairclough @shortandrounduk.

Watching Jesse win Ironman Wales last Sunday reminded me that you don’t get to choose your moments. Two weeks prior, a bogus penalty robbed him of the performance of a lifetime on the stage he coveted most: the 70.3 Half Ironman World Championships. He was devastated. A mess. But he knew he had something great that had to come out. Two weeks later, he picked himself up, signed up for the hardest Ironman race in the world for his debut at the distance, and won the fucking thing. I waited for him in the finish area and watched him cross the line. Lift the tape over his head. Collapse into emotion when his eyes met mine. I felt all nine lives of it.

 

I don’t know what my victories will look like in the future, but I’m having a big one right now.

 

Thank-You’s

imageimage

Special thanks to the Alfredson Tendon Clinic. Thank you to Dr. John Ball , Mary Cullen, and Renee Metevier-Baillie for the referral. Thanks to Jesse and my mom for all the help making this happen. Thank you to everyone who has worked so hard to help me when I was adamantly against surgery. The wild goose chase has uncovered a lot of ways to improve my strength and mobility and I am confident it will pay off when I’m back running again. Ellie and Jay I can’t wait to get back to work when I get home. Thanks to all my sponsor partners for standing with me, and for supporting unique opportunities to make an impact and develop professionally: Oiselle, Picky Bars, Roka, Jaybird, Stance, thank you for the support. Thanks to “Runner’s World” and Strava for the opportunities to develop as a writer during this time. And thank you, from the down deep, to my family, my team, my friends and to everyone reading this for all the support during the ups and downs, and especially the extended downs. Your messages of encouragement and personal stories helped me keep growing up when I was slowing down. I’m excited to start writing a new story.