Okay, so it is no secret that I have been uncharacteristically absent from social media. Not only have I not posted anything, I just simply haven’t had much interest in logging in.
This has been a tough year for me mentally and physically. It’s been a year of far more downs than ups.
Let’s start at the beginning.
My left foot began bothering me in late February of this year. My mileage was higher than it’s ever been and I was training harder than I ever had so I expected little aches and pains here and there. I was also in the bulk of marathon training so I really didn’t think much about the subtle pain in my foot at first.
I was slated to return to Boston in April. I had my eye on a huge PR and I was in arguably the best shape of my life. While I knew nothing short of a miracle would have to happen for me to finish in 6th place again, I was determined to show myself that Boston 2018 was not as much of a fluke as it felt like it was.
As my Boston training progressed I was noticing my left foot was bothering me when I was walking, standing, and even laying down. Although the pain was not unbearable it was a near constant dull ache. I tried to keep my mind off of it but I knew I was past the point of “normal” pain or soreness.
Since the Olympic Trials are in February 2020, my worst fear was to run on an injury and further injure myself. I didn’t want to think about anything even potentially keeping me out of running the Olympic Trials in my hometown of Atlanta, Georgia next year.
I went in for an MRI in early March. The MRI revealed two stress reactions on either side of my Fibular sesamoid bone.
I wasn’t necessarily surprised or upset with the results. I felt a sigh of relief knowing I didn’t have a full blown stress fracture. I also felt a little comfort in knowing I had a bone injury* rather than a soft tissue injury.
*stress related bone injuries are typically (not always) easier to heal that soft tissue injuries. Most of the time they require time off instead of the trial and error with what helps a soft tissue injury heal. As an added bonus after the bone heals, it recalcifies and becomes stronger. The recalcifiying of the bone makes the probability of a the same injury happening again incredibly slim.
Pete and I made the tough decision to scratch from Boston. Although I was mere weeks away from the starting line and my injury was “just” a stress reaction, we were unsure if I was one step or 100000 steps away from cracking the bone completely through.
I was okay with everything that was happening so far. I was disappointed I had to pull out of Boston, but if an injury was going to happen this timing was “perfect”. I still had plenty of time to run a fall marathon and get back into shape for the Trials.
I took recovering from these two stress reactions like it was the most important thing I had ever done in my life. I knew the sesamoid bone only gets a small amount of blood flow, so it was crucial that I limited movement (even in a boot). I basically spent 7 weeks sitting on my couch back at home. It was boring, but it wasn’t the worst thing in the world because I had a ton to look forward to.
After 7 weeks I began non-impact cross training. I was working my butt off in the pool and on the stationary bike at zero resistance. It wasn’t running, but it was a hell of a lot better than sitting around.
I spent about 3 weeks in the pool doing strict pool workouts and finally began to run (no workouts yet) in mid June. I cannot express how excited I was to run again. I think this injury gave me a new perspective on life. It was a sort of reality check that I subconsciously needed.
I allowed myself more forgiveness in this period of my life than I had in a long time. I accepted that I was starting from scratch and I was okay with my runs and workouts being slower than I wanted. I was honestly just happy to be healthy and doing what I love.
I got into a nice groove and I started to slowly but surely get back into shape. On top of that, I was lucky enough to be running the New York City marathon in November.
Ever since I started marathon running, New York has been THE ultimate marathon goal for me. I love NYC, I love that the course rolls, and almost every runner I have talked to about the race says it is one of the best running experiences they have ever had. I consider the moment it was confirmed that I would be racing New York as one of the highlights of my running career.
This is also around the same time that USATF announced the new rules to make the team in 2020. I could go into detail, but I will just give a little brief overview.
Traditionally the top 3 finishers at the Olympic Trials were the three people that would be going to the Olympics. The revised rules stated that the top finishers must have met a certain time OR finished top 10 in a marathon major. The time for women was 2:29.30.
The revised rules for women were not too crazy. However, my marathon PR is minutes slower than the standard and getting a top 10 at New York was going to be tough. I knew I could train as hard as I could and make one of those (hopefully both!) happen. Given the timing of the announcement and how out of shape I was, I felt a lot of added pressure. (So did a lot of runners)
I kept chugging away at my training. I was feeling a little bit stronger every day and I was proud of how my workouts were progressing.
Around mid July my foot pain came back. This time the pain was much worse than it was in February. It was a constant ache that was often times so bad that it would give me a migraine.
I had a sinking feeling in my heart knowing I was running out of time before the 2020 Trials. I had no idea what this foot pain was, but I knew it wasn’t just a stress reaction this time around. I went in for my second MRI in five months at the end of July.
This round of MRI results revealed a “mess of a sesamoid bone”. At the time I was unclear about what that meant. The only answer I received was that I had a full fracture in my sesamoid bone.
My options for this diagnosis was 7-10 weeks of the same recovery I did back in April (no impact/limited walking in a boot). After I took my 7-10 weeks I would start training for the trials and hope that the injury doesn’t reoccur. My second option was to get surgery to have my sesamoid bone removed.
In that moment neither option sounded good to me. I felt like there was so much at stake with both options.
On one hand it sounded like I would just wait it out and try again. If the injury came back I would be out of time for the Trials.
On the other hand I get a full bone removed from my foot. If I chose surgery it would be possible the nerves around that area of my foot wouldn’t work properly, it would be possible that the tendon in that spot never heals, it would be possible my entire left foot would simply never the same. (among about a million other potential complications that go along with surgery)
After talking to dozens of other runners, Tyler, doctors, coaches, basically anyone that would talk to me, I ultimately (and somewhat timidly) decided surgery was the best option. I figured that if I had this injury twice in a row, the likelihood of it occurring a third time was high.
To emphasize how much of a whirlwind this decision was, here is the timeline:
8/6 I get my MRI results, 8/13 I am at home in Atlanta, 8/15 I am on a plane to California, and on 8/16 I am in a hospital in Palo Alto California.
I was laying on the hospital bed in hospital gown and my hair in a hair net still doubting my decision to have the surgery done. I wanted to get up and leave more than anything in the world. Getting surgery just seemed like such an extreme decision and I honestly wasn’t sure it was worth it.
During my pre-surgery briefing with Dr. Amol Saxena I told him I hadn’t gotten a straight answer about the specific diagnosis on my foot. Dr. Saxena said that my fibular sesamoid bone was completely dead and completely shattered. Since it was dead/shattered there was absolutely no chance that the bone would have ever healed on its own.
I felt more peace in that moment than I had in months. I knew right then I made the right decision. Sometimes that’s all you need.
So here I am, 10 days into my 21 days of pure rest/recovery. The protocol is that I cannot put any weight whatsoever on my left foot for three weeks. If I want to move I need to use crutches or a wheelchair. I can’t do much by myself in case of an accidental fall. If I fell or put any weight on my left foot I risk destroying the healing tendon and having to have a possible second surgery.
After the three weeks of not moving I am allowed to limit movement and pressure on my foot for another 3 weeks. I will still be in a boot and using crutches, but I will be allowed to put a small amount of weight on that foot. I’m excited for this step, but I was warned that it will take me about a day or two to “remember” how to walk.
After those three weeks (6 weeks total) I will be able to start doing a small amount of cross training and walk without a boot.
Overall, the recovery isn’t much longer than it would have been to just wait and see if the bone healed on it’s own.
Unfortunately with this timeline, I will not be able to race New York this year. Naturally, New York was the first thing I thought about when my foot started hurting. I wanted to race more than anything in the world. I was really hoping I was having some sort of random lingering pain from my previous stress reaction and not a full blown injury.
While I am devastated about New York, I am looking at my build up for the trails as a fresh start. My foot bothered me for most of this year. Now after I had a dead bone removed from my body I have peace of mind knowing that I will never feel that pain or have that injury in that spot again.
I’m excited for the next chapter, and I am thrilled I will be able to compete at the 2020 Trials. (Because what’s better than the Olympic Trials in your favorite distance in your hometown????)