In the beginning was the burn – and the burn was sore.
A sharp, annoying type of sore, which radiated through the joint of my left big toe. First I felt it while running, then while walking. Eventually I couldn’t shake it off, it stabbed at me as I lay in bed at night.
So what did I do?
I ignored it, at first. Until it got so bad that – in a chain reaction of injury that doctors warn about but those who know better, like me, disregard – it kicked off a bout of plantar fasciitis.
That was over two years ago. At the time I reckoned – as did my then physio – that I’d sprained my toe and that rest, stretching and incorporating some cycling, would be fix me.
It didn’t. After two years of stretching, bathing, ibuprofen, heat rubs and an increasing sense of annoyance, all the while running less and less, I found myself with a new physio and the same old pain.
This time the news wasn’t good. She didn’t need an X-ray to diagnose hallux limitus, a form of early onset arthritis which leads to (the far more debilitating) hallux rigidus (two words that may eventually stop me running). Fun fact: ‘hallux’ is Latin for big toe. Less fun fact: ‘limitus’ translates as ‘oh dear’. (‘Rigidus’ is unprintable.)
Now that we had a diagnosis for the sharp needle jolt through my joint we could go about trying to stop it. But hallux limitus goes beyond just physical discomfort.
As I started treatment I found (correction: I still find) myself looking at 40 and 50-something runners in the park now and thinking – jealously – how can you still do that?
Of course, they may ache too. They may, while lacing up, wince and curse God, or their antecedents, for handing them shaky knee joints, tight hamstrings or a weak left ankle. But still I look at their feet, particularly their big toes, enviously.
And so began the last six months – a period of painful massage, podiatrist appointments, endless fiddling with inserts and, finally, the arrival of spanking new orthotics.
This culminated in a command from my physio – no running for 10 days.
Did I feel better? Am I limiting the limitus? It’s too early to say. My mandated 10 day break ended this week with a meekly-jogged 5k.
Of course this is the point at which I feel duty bound to warn of the dangers of not seeking treatment quickly for running injuries, the benefits of rest and the advantages of gentle walks.
But I can’t. In the past 18 months I’ve been lucky enough to experience solitary, mind-clearing dawns break over some wonderful places – Tokyo, Bordeaux, London, New York City, even Galway – something I could never have experienced without running – or without feeling that old familiar burn.
Lesson learned? Not yet, I’m afraid.