A return to running
By Marlene Farrell
Editor’s note: Leavenworth’s Marlene Farrell is recovering from a broken ankle suffered while running. This is the fourth in a series of blogs she is writing, detailing her recovery.
I circled the date — Feb. 21 — on my calendar, 12 weeks post-surgery, the day I was granted the freedom to run. In my mind, it was more important than my birthday, equivalent to an anniversary, a day to be reunited with what I love.
And then I cheated. I “ran” before that date. I was feeling so normal. My physical therapist, Joe Aponik, had given me lots of ankle strengthening exercises and he’d measured my progress. My ankle hadn’t returned to full strength, by far, but it could withstand hour-long walks and going up and down stairs and had a full range of motion.
So, a week early, while the kids and husband were out, I put on running clothes that had sat in drawers for a few months. Running is such a part of me that I knew once I took the first step, I would fall into a rhythm, a cadence.
I quickly discovered my limits. My good foot — my right one — was ready to reach out and pull me along, like nothing had changed. But my left foot was afraid to go beyond an invisible boundary, preferring to take small steps with utmost control. So my right foot and leg and the rest of me had to compromise. My run turned into a shuffle, and my thoughts hovered around my ankle. Was it staying straight and not turning out? Was I landing too hard on it or pushing off too hard, straining the still sensitive soft tissue?
I enforced a regimen, 2 minutes of running, followed by 2 minutes of walking, over and over. I should have been happy to be out, covering ground. I should have remembered that first impractical walk with crutches on the side of the road, when drivers stopped to ask if I needed help.
But I wasn’t “running;” I wasn’t free. I was still solidly connected to the ground.
I had also imagined, once the shoes were tied on, I could run every day. My ankle told me otherwise, and I reined in my desire. My next two runs were spaced out every four days. By the third run I had graduated myself to running for 10 minutes at a time, with 2-minute walking breaks.
There is still no rush of endorphines, no freedom in those slivers of time when both feet are airborne. My pace is held back by short strides. It is like gravity has a stronger pull than normal, keeping my feet skimming just above the surface.
I felt my running rhythm on my fourth run on a trail that usually isn’t snow-free in February. The soft surface cajoled me into running continuously. I craved that impact through my foot with each foot strike. Wobbling side to side, however, wore my ankle out after awhile. I took it as a victory with a caveat — don’t do this every day or for too long at a stretch.
I can increase my mileage by 10 percent each week. I want to be a good patient and relish progress. In the meantime I’ll also bike, swim, water jog, and hike. I can work muscles while resting my ankle, and find myself breathing hard and get my heart to thud.
It’s my running breath and heartbeat that perhaps I miss the most. They are tokens of possibility, reminders that I can accomplish anything with a strong healthy body. Even as I shuffle my way down the road, I catch glimpses of my imminent full recovery and return to the trails.
Marlene Farrell, a Leavenworth resident and long-distance runner, helps coach the Peshastin-Dryden Striders kids running club. If you are interested in helping out the Striders in some fashion, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.