Saturday, October 3, 2009

The Summer of my Discontent Made Glorious Autumn by a Sock?

Best Laid Plantars of Mice and Men
What I had planned as a season of interesting and unusual running events turned into a frustrating summer of soreness and annoyance. After my painful and disappointing DNF in the Comrades Marathon in May, I was just getting back to full strength running at the end of June when I was stopped dead by a serious case of plantar fasciitis. As very little within our lives is not connected to something else, I theorize that the one incident led to the other, directly or otherwise.

I last suffered through this nasty injury about twelve years ago. Back then I had tried to run through it, and ended up lame for months. There are palliative treatments to this insidious inflammation, but no matter what anyone tells you there is no universal cure for it except patience, time, and abstinence from running. Years ago one perceptive but honest doctor told me: “No one knows how to fix this. Whoever treats you just before it gets better will take credit for curing it.” As someone once said, the task of the physician is to keep the patient amused while nature heals the ailment.

Aside from one small 25k trail race at the beginning of July, I have not run in any events at all this summer. I have tried to fill in the gap with more cycling than usual, but as any runner would know, this is like trying to fill in the Grand Canyon with a teaspoon.

At the moment though, I am starting to feel some hope. This morning I didn’t notice the usual twinge in my left heel – or rather I noticed its absence – for the first time since Canada Day. And it might well be The Sock that is to be credited.

The Sock?
I ran for the last time for about 45 minutes, at the beginning of July. That day I was chatting with a running mate at the gym and I confided that I was off for a trial run to test out whether my plantar fasciitis was really as serious as it seemed (of course it was, and as a result of my trial run, I was in pain for the rest of the week). Six weeks later I ran into the same friend and admitted that the injury had kept me from running a step since our last meeting.
“You need The Sock!” he said.
“The Sock?”
“The Strassburg Sock.”
He explained that this strange device was the only thing that had cured his inflamed fascia many years before.

The Strassburg Sock looks like a cross between a surgical sling and a scale model of a ski jump. As its name implies, it is a long sock that comes up to your knees, with a small metal D-ring at the knee end and a long Velcro strip attached to the toe. You pull the Velcro strip gently up and through the D-ring and fasten it, and the whole affair keeps your toe from pointing downwards. This in turn should serve to keep your arch and accompanying fascia in a slightly stretched attitude. “Slightly” is the operative word; you don’t want to try to get your big toe to touch your kneecap, you just want a gentle pull. One is supposed to wear this to bed overnight - our feet like to point down when we sleep, apparently - but I had visions of having to run outdoors in case of fire and then explain its presence to my neighbours (my neighbours are not runners; if they were, they would understand wearing a sock with a Velcro strap to bed). So I use it mostly when sitting in front of the TV. I use it as an excuse to sit in front of the TV.

Aside from the obvious benefits of prolonged stretching, I have little idea why this invention is supposed to work. I know there are no magic bullets in physiotherapy, and I would not tout this one as a panacea, nor am I in a position to recommend it to anyone else. However at the moment, based on my own results I am loathe to look a Gift Sock in the mouth. Or in the toe.

The fact is that I don’t really know whether the sock had anything to do with my recovery or whether the recovery was just an event whose time had come, and the sock just happened to be along for the finish, like the last doctor who treated me 12 years ago and took credit. At least though, it did no harm, thus fulfilling the first requirement of the Hippocratic Oath. And it gave me the feeling that I was actively participating in my recovery, even if the tissue in my heel had its own agenda.

I have tried three short, pathetically slow runs of no more than 20 minutes each in the past week, with encouraging results. Having been laid very low by this vicious injury before, I will get back to running slowly, but at least there is a small glimmer of daybreak on the horizon.