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Strange Feet

Coming to terms with a 20 year-old injury.

Words by Lyndsay Harper
Photos by Emily Maye


My right foot is throbbing. It’s elevated on a fortress of pillows, hidden beneath a clunky boot, an ace bandage, and what appears to be several miles of gauze. I’ve just had two bones screwed together, a four-inch-long incision, and a quarter-inch of bone shaved off. They call it a “Lapidus Bunionectomy.” 

It’s not a sexy procedure by any means — like an ACL repair from a skiing accident, or shoulder surgery from too many hardcore tackles. It’s a fix typically associated with old age and poor shoe choice. At 32, I’m a bit of an outlier. 

I’ve known since I was 12 that I’d eventually have to get this surgery done. Thanks to genetics mostly. Stuffing my bony feet into narrow spikes, and turning left at high speeds for a couple of decades also didn’t help. It wasn’t a burst of pain, or a single moment that made me opt for surgery. It was 20 years of achy, awkward feet. 

Every trainer and physical therapist throughout my high school, college, and post-collegiate career told me to hold off until I was pretty much done with serious running. But in my mind, that day would never come. Over the years, though, my approach to “serious running” has evolved. Instead of trying to get back to the Olympic Trials, I now run because it’s just something I love to do — for fitness, for scratching a competitive itch, and because I love ripping 200s with old teammates. Not serious at all. And that’s why I love it. 

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When the world hit pause — and travel, racing, commuting, and most other worthwhile weight-bearing activities were suddenly off the table, it dawned on me that now would be the perfect time to finally get it over with.

It took me a while to find the right doctor, thanks to the geriatric nature of the issue. When I finally found myself in the waiting room of a podiatry office with a signed Marshawn Lynch jersey on the wall, I knew I was getting warmer. A digital frame surrounded by golf magazines and hand sanitizer flashed local sports heroes across the screen. Knowing those guys had been treated there was far more comforting than some of the phone calls I’d had with other offices. Responses like, “Oh, we don’t treat that here. But my Grandma has them and they look really painful.” 

When the doctor told me it was going to be six weeks of zero weight-bearing, and three to four months till I could start running, I hesitated. I’ve never gone longer than a few weeks without running, let alone the use of an entire stabilizing limb. But after years of knowing this was coming, I’ve had plenty of time to wrap my head around it. And there’s never gonna be a better time than now.

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We scheduled my surgery for February and it wasn’t until a couple weeks out that things started to really sink in. Every run I went on began to feel a little more significant and a lot less routine. Instead of getting up early to run, like a chore, I started waiting for the best time of day — opting for 60 degrees and sunny over 35 degrees and early.

Instead of running the same few routes over and over again, as sleepy morning runners do, I found myself wanting to explore new trails, new neighborhoods, new routes. I actually started to go on walks and solo hikes — something most runners don’t make time for, when you can cover more ground at 7:30 pace.

I slowed down, stopped caring as much about fitness, and started caring more about spontaneity. I said yes to everything. I said yes to a training camp in Joshua Tree. I said yes to extending that trip. I said yes to getting up at ungodly hours to surf. I said yes to planting tomatoes. I said yes to anything that would get me out the door. Because pretty soon, I was going to have to learn to start saying no.

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A few days before my surgery, I got a call from my doctor’s office. “Your doctor had an emergency appendectomy, and won’t be able to perform the surgery this Friday. She’s not feeling 100 per cent, so we’re gonna have to move it to February 26.” I screamed internally, then cried, then laughed. “You’ve got to be kidding me.” After 20 years of waiting, that two-week stretch felt like an eternity. (Don’t worry, the doctor is a-okay.)

Now as I sit here, with my right leg up and a ridiculous — but very helpful — knee scooter by my side, I’m beyond relieved it’s over with. I’ve had this on my to-do list for over two decades, weighing on me every time I glanced at my strange, painful, pointed feet. Like seeing your check engine light come on, but putting it off because it’s probably big and scary and expensive. Well, I finally went to the garage and had it handled. And now it’s done. Finally crossed off that list. I can finally begin moving on from this 20-year old injury.

Next up? The other one.