Let’s rewind back 11 years ago. I was 19 years old and had been running for exercise since I was just about 18. On this particular day, I was running up a rather steep hill nearing the end of my workout. At the top of the hill it suddenly felt like someone had stabbed a blazing hot knife right into the top of my ankle joint and twisted. I had about a mile to go and was suddenly in the most pain I had ever felt in my life. I stopped and screamed, cried, and somehow hobbled home. I think that mile took an hour. When I woke up the next day I thought it would feel the same, but it was as if it had never happened.
Over the years that same excruciating pain would come off and on out of nowhere. It would go away as quickly as it would appear. By the time I moved to Seattle in May of 2015 I had seen about three different doctors, had countless x-rays and one MRI. Guess what they found. NOTHING. No doctor could seem to pin point what my problem was or even give me a slight idea of a possible diagnosis. It was incredibly frustrating, but at that point I could still easily train around the pain when it did appear and everything was great when it wasn’t there. Life moved on.
I started to see another new doctor during the summer of 2016. More x-rays and another MRI. Once again, he found nothing. We decided to try a series of steroid injections to see if that would help. The results of the first set of injections was absolutely amazing! It was as if I was suddenly healed. I was so excited! I felt like a new person. Suddenly I had so many possibilities in my training because my ankle was magically healed!
I started training for my first 50k ultra marathon in November of 2016. I had wanted to do a 50k for quite sometime but was always hesitant to sign up because of my ankle. Anything that included a lot of vertical gain tended to piss it off more commonly than running flat. But I had been running trails all through late 2015 and through 2016 and figured I could work my way around the pain when it did flare up. Or just go get some more steroid injections. Right? WRONG. I started to be in pain ALL of the time and was even struggling just to walk. Pain became a way of life for me. The injections stopped working. I developed a fun new fear of needles (getting a long needle injected into your ankle joint capsule is awful, FYI). Don’t ask me how I continued to run at all because looking back now and knowing how much everything hurt, I have no idea.
I decided I wanted to focus on road running. I thought that I was running too many trails and all of the vertical gains in my training was making my ankle worse. So I switched over and planned for a late spring marathon. On Super Bowl day in February of 2017 I did my last long-ish run. 14 miles and the majority of it was excruciating, but of course I kept running through the pain thinking it would just go away at some point. I cried at the end. I couldn’t walk the next day. Or the day after that. I decided to take some time off and stop training. I quit training with my coach and just decided to focus on trying to only run easy miles. I obviously had just been running too many road miles and that was what was making my ankle worse. Right?
After a few months and some slight improvement I started running regularly again. I got excited about racing. I told my coach I was healed and ready to go. We got back into training and only about a month or so later I was back to not being able to walk. Once again devastated, I gave up. I had to take more time off to just be able to function and walk like a normal person.
In June of 2017 I started seeing a new physical therapist. He was wonderful and listened to my incredibly long story and took notes. He watched me cry out of my frustration with my body and with all of the doctors, tests and injections I had had that hadn’t worked. We made a plan and started right away. Two appointments a week with ART (Active Release Technique) and Graston treatment with physical therapy at home. Once I was feeling better I started running shorter distances and much slower. There were a few times I thought I was getting better but then there were also a few fun mornings when I was out running and the pain would come back so suddenly so excruciatingly that I couldn’t even stand up. At least twice I sat down, called an UBER (before 6am btw) and cried in the car on all the way home. Back to my physical therapist. More crying in front of a doctor.
At this point (it was late July by now) it was finally time for my appointment with a new orthopedic sports medicine doctor at the University of Washington Sport Medicine Clinic that I had been waiting almost two months for. I met Dr. Blahouse and purposefully did not take any previous doctor notes or test results. He listened to my whole story and took his own notes. We did more x-rays (of course) and he told me he thought we should do a bone scan. Depending on the bone scan results we should then do surgery. I went and had the bone scan shortly after that and waited impatiently for a few days to get the results. The result was an Ankle Impingement (of course), this means that basically there was something in my ankle joint. He said it was most likely “garbage tissue” or a piece of bone that had been causing this mysterious and random impingement all of this time. He said it could’ve been there my whole life or something could’ve broken off or gotten stuck from some sort of previous ankle injury at some point in time and that running and other exercises that involve a lot of ankle bending (even walking) can make it worse because whatever was in the joint was getting pinched (or impinged). I was ecstatic. FINALLY, a glimmer of hope! Something that felt definite and like there could be actual real results! We scheduled the surgery that day.
To be continued…