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Coming Back after Plantar Fasciitis

Coming Back after Plantar Fasciitis
Coming Back after Plantar Fasciitis

It’s MONDAY!! What a chilly weekend it was too.  My husband, my two oldest children and myself all ran in a 10K on Saturday and I think it was my coldest race to date! Race report on that one coming soon…

I decided I was finally ready to write my plantar fasciitis comeback post… If you’ve been following my running at all the past six months or so you know I was plagued with this dreaded foot injury.  Months ago while I was in the thick of rehab I promised a comeback post and (knock on wood!) I finally feel healthy and confident enough in my training to write about this process. I’m still not 100% but I’m heading in the right direction and have seen major progress the last few weeks.

*Please note that I do not claim to be a medical expert so please take this for what it is- just one runners account of coping with plantar fasciitis.  Hopefully I can offer some hope to someone dealing with this injury.  There have been plenty of times during the past 8 months when it felt hopeless!

The Injury, The Recovery and Coming Back…

Plantar fasciitis is something I thought just happened to other runners.  I cringed when it was mentioned because I didn’t even want to hear about it.  It came on so suddenly and out of the blue.  The first time I experienced any symptoms was two days before the Germantown Half Marathon in mid-March this year (eight months ago).  Walking around my house my heel felt a little off but I didn’t know if it was just race nerves, training paranoia or the start of something.  In the back of my mind I wondered, “could it be plantar fasciitis?”  but I quickly pushed the idea out of my head.  I didn’t want to think about that.  After all, my racing calendar was packed through the spring and summer.  I didn’t have time for an injury like this.  During the Germantown Half my heel hurt for the last half of the race.  It wasn’t incredibly painful but I knew something was wrong.  I took a few days off and then jumped back into running.  I had a pretty busy racing calendar in March (2 half marathons and four competitive 5k’s) but my heel pain was pretty manageable.

Two 5k’s in one day? Why not?!

In April I was in the thick of marathon training and I put in a lot of miles.  I also raced another 5k, 10k, and half marathon.  My heel cooperated for the most part but I knew it was off- especially on my longer runs.  In the morning I felt the most pain so I stretched it out and usually by a mile into my runs it felt better.

Photo Courtesy of Nicholas Norfolk

In May I was very focused on making it through my marathon.  The taper phase really helped and surprisingly enough my heel was not an issue during the Poconos Marathon.  I took off 6 days after the marathon and had high hopes that the heel pain would not start up again when I started running again but it did.

At this point what I should have done was rest. I had made it through my big A goal race- the marathon.  But to me- I still had two big races left that I really wanted to run: go!Mile (a one mile race) in June and the Fast Firecracker 5k on July 4th.  They were short distance races so I didn’t think it would be too much of a problem.  I was wrong.  Training for shorter distances actually aggravated my heel more than anything.  I was doing short, fast, (hard) interval speed work two days a week and it pushed me over the edge.  By the end of June I was limping after every speed workout and I knew that after the Fast Firecracker I would HAVE to take a break from running.  And I did.  My heel never hurt as bad as it did during that 5k and I realized it was not worth it.  Why had I been so obsessed with making it through that race?!  Yes, it is a fast course and my current 5k PR is from there but when you’re injured- you’re injured.  I could have started my rehab much earlier if I would have been smarter about it.

In July I took off three weeks from running completely.  I also started sleeping in a night splint which made a HUGE difference.  I had put off doing this for months because I thought it would be annoying and uncomfortable.  Honestly, it is small, lightweight and I forget it’s even on at night. 

During my break from running I cross trained almost every day.  I would swim or bike or both.

I also went to the doctor for x-rays just to make sure it wasn’t a fracture.  Thankfully, it wasn’t and my doctor recommended physical therapy so I started seeing a PT once a week.

At physical therapy I learned a few different stretches to do at home.  My PT also tortured aggressively worked on my calf muscle and heel.

At every PT visit I also ran on the Alter-g treadmill.

Then I started back with a few easy runs a week ranging from 5-8 miles.  My foot did alright but it was still not healed.  I ran a 5k in early August and decided afterwards that my foot needed another break so I took off another week.

In August I continued to cross train a lot.  I ran one or two days a week and biked or swam the other days. 

In September I built up to running 3 days a week.  I was not doing any speed work and running on the treadmill seemed to be easier on my heel so that’s what I usually did.  At the end of September after I graduated from physical therapy I had the bright idea to run a 20k to see where I was fitness-wise.  Big mistake.

In October I focused on speeding up some of my “easy” paced treadmill runs.  I couldn’t do typical interval rep speed work because this seemed to aggravate my foot so on many of my treadmill runs I would start on the slower end of my easy pace (just under 8:00) and pick it up a notch every half mile.  By the last mile I was running just under a 7 minute pace.  I also started running 4 days a week which meant doing some days back to back.  During this month things just started to click.  My foot was feeling much better.  I ran in two 5k’s and continued to train.  By the end of October I had built up to 15 miles and completed a 10 mile (6:40 pace) tempo run so I felt like I was ready to race a half marathon in November.

On November 1st I ran in my first half marathon in six months.  It wasn’t a PR time by any means but it was a smart, well paced race.  I met my pace goal and did what I set out to do.  I felt my foot the last few miles but it was very manageable and when I stopped running after the race it didn’t hurt to walk or jog.  Months ago it was at the point where the pain would last the entire day, even when I wasn’t running.

This month I have built up to running about 5 days a week.  I am biking at least one day and taking a full rest day one day.  My easy paced runs are back to where they were before the injury.  I am still not doing interval speed work but I am doing some longer tempo work.  The majority of my runs are in my easy pace range but I’ve been trying to work in some speed one or two days a week.  Two weeks ago I had a 10 mile treadmill workout with 6 miles @ 6:15 avg. (I started at a 6:27 pace and each mile bumped up the pace until the last mile was right under a 6 minute pace.)  Last week I did two sets of two mile repeats with one mile recovery jog between. (Set one- 12:00 min., Set 2- 11:55 min.)  I am still doing about 75% of my runs on the treadmill.  I will start to phase this out as I gain more confidence in my foot.  This seems to be working and not aggravating it as much so for right now this is where I am. 

Am I 100% healed?  No, but I’m getting closer.  I don’t even feel it on easy runs and really only feel it towards the end of a hard run or long run.  It’s very different from how it felt this summer and even earlier this fall.  I’ve noticed the biggest change within the past month.  I am still stretching my calf and heel for a few minutes after each run and every night.  I am also still wearing the night splint to sleep.  Hopefully it will continue to heal as I train.  I just need to train smart!

Below is a short summary of what helped and what made it worse:

*These are pretty obvious but when you are in the thick of training it is easy to ignore the obvious and live in denial!

YES
NO
Stopped running and took a few weeks break
Ignored the pain and kept running
Started wearing a night splint to sleep in
Fast interval speed work (pushing off foot hard aggravated it more)
Cross trained by biking and swimming
Tried to start back running too much too quickly
Went to Physical Therapy
Stopped wearing racing flats (more minimal shoes)
Stretched calf muscles and both heels daily after running and at night
Slowly started coming back to running
Treadmill Running
Mostly easy paced runs
Longer tempo speed work introduced as foot improved

Advice to someone dealing with this injury:

  • Stop and evaluate the level of pain.  Is it manageable?  Is it annoying?  Is it painful?  Depending on the level of pain you may need to take some time off from running.  As frustrating as it may seem it is better to stop when the symptoms start than letting it drag on for months.  Trust me!
  • Look into physical therapy.  There may be build up or issues going on in other areas (calf muscle, etc.) that might be affecting your heel.
  • Invest in a night splint and try wearing it at night.  This provided immediate morning pain relief!
  • When you do ease back into running don’t overdo it.  Cross train every few days and keep it easy.  Do not attempt short interval speed work! 
  • If you start to feel pain just stop and back up.  There will most likely be more than one setback along the way.  It seemed like I had several weeks/ months of a few steps forward and a few steps back.  Don’t let it get you down.  
  • Re-evaluate your running shoes.  I decided to go back to Asics Gel Nimbus because I love the cushioning and support that shoe provides.  I think it’s helped.  I also put an orthotic insert in them so extra cushioning.
  • Having plantar fasciitis (or any injury for that matter) is NOT the end of the world.  You WILL get through it. 
This bunch keeps me in line and I am constantly reminded what matters most.

Questions:
If you’ve dealt with PF, how did it last?  How did you treat it?

Did anyone else race this weekend?  What was your racing weather?

7 Comments

  1. I love a good comeback story! So glad you figured some things out (like Be Kind to Your Body). Thanks for the great update!

    My plantar fasciitis story wouldn’t be very helpful to your readers – mine has been much more mild overall. Rest seems to be the biggest help. 🙂

    1. Thanks Deb! It was probably a little too detailed! I read a lot about PF recovery online and it can be very discouraging… Hoping this offered a little encouragement! 🙂 Thanks for your comment!

  2. This was very helpful (and timely!) to read – thank you! I took a month off recently after an ultra to recover, but then I spent that month walking around in “regular people” shoes – aka without my usual orthotics. When I started back into running, I immediately got hit with PF. It’s been about three weeks so far of cross-training, no running and constantly wearing good, supportive running shoes with my orthotics 18 hours a day, plus stretching out my calves and heels and rolling my foot on a golf ball. I’ve definitely noticed improvement and cannot overstress the importance of proper, supportive shoes/orthotics! It was really interesting to read about your success with the night splint. Best of luck in the rest of your recovery!

  3. Man, it’s encouraging to read your PF journey. I have been dealing with it since April 2015. Started in my right foot and moved to my left! I have had to drastically cut back running, changed my shoes, sleep in a Strassburg sock, and have taken a few weeks off running. It’s been a booger. I am trying to ease back into running and I’m trying not to get frustrated at how out of shape I feel after weeks off. I have been cross-training though (lifting, swimming, cycling). I’m hoping this time off will pay off!

    1. Hi Ashley, sorry you’ve been dealing with this injury. It DOES get better but I remember being right where you are thinking it would never go away. It sounds like you are doing all the right things so just hang in there and know that it will pass and you have many more pain-free running days ahead of you! 🙂
      Tia Stone recently posted…CASA Half Marathon 2015 Race RecapMy Profile

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