My Left Foot

So, I haven’t been able to run for a while. Since September.

It’s my fault.

Obedience is better than sacrifice, the prophet Samuel said to then-King Saul. It’s true.

I hurt my foot running. Not sure what exactly I did but that’s when it started hurting. I got some of those vibram fivefinger shoes early in 2012. Between an REI voucher and a good sale, I got them for free. And I started using them soon after.

We were house sitting the first half of 2012. It was a house in a hilly neighborhood that was not far from a large hilly county park. That makes for some of my favorite runs. Ups and downs, from the house to the trails. Downs and ups and downs and ups, from the trails to the house. A mix of incline and decline, some relatively steep inclines and more gentle declines. About 4 mile loop. The shoes were great. No problems at all from the time I started using them. A few times a week and I was a happy dissertation writer. A wonderful run. Loved it.

We moved at the end of July. Almost directly north of the hilled home. To the bottom of the hill. But the roads being what they are, the 4 mile run became a 7 mile run. The move being what it was, I had packing and unpacking and arranging to do. The weather being what it was, it was hot! About 3 weeks of 100+ degree days.

Running is a release, mentally and physically, so I missed it, body and soul. My three times a week dropped to zero times a week.

I missed running. It had been a few months. So, I went running. Same shoes.

The ups and downs, ups and downs became long ups and long downs rather than a nice mix. Four miles became 7 miles. A challenge I felt I needed to face. To get back into motion.

The most difficult stretch is a run up a long steep hill. The house we had was about halfway up, so I’d run up half at the beginning, half at the end.

Now it was all in one shot.

The run started great. It was nice to be out. About 3/4 the way up the hill, about 2 miles into the run, my left foot started hurting. I thought I was sore. Had to keep going. The pain got worse. Got to the top of the hill and it was hurting so bad I had to stop and walk. It hurt to walk. I walked a bit, then started running again, ignoring the pain, ignoring the signals my body was giving me.

I finished the run, all seven miles of it, but the last mile I could only walk. Each step was very painful. I said to myself, I’m so out of shape, I’m a wuss. Meanwhile, my foot was telling me all sorts of things. When the pain started, my foot told me, I should have stopped running and walked home right away.

It was a weird pain. I’ve sprained my ankle numerous times, stubbed my toes on countless occasions. This wasn’t those. It hurt on the top of my foot whenever I bent my toes. The Vibram shoes force a person to run differently, to no longer run on their heels, but to run on their toes, like humans do when barefoot. I found out it’s something that can happen when a person pushes too much at the beginning of using them. The foot isn’t ready. I thought because I had run before I was ready.

It had been a long time. The run was different. The run was longer. None of that mattered to me. I didn’t care if it mattered to my foot.

I had the goal, the goal was all, something to prove to myself, and maybe post on Facebook that I was back at running and a harder run at that. Hurting to run became hurting to walk. Walking became limping, limping the last mile stretch and 1/4 mile up my gravel driveway to the house.

It wasn’t that I was just out of shape, I realized.

I should have listened to my foot when it started hurting, when I was getting all the warning signals that despite my intentions and goals, the way of obedience was for me not to run as much as I did, or the way I did.

That was early September or so. In mid-October my foot wasn’t hurting. I sometimes felt sore but I could jog a bit. I wanted to run. I wanted to get my body in motion, to do something besides staring at a computer screen, typing long sentences and preparing for constant classes.

I put my regular running shoes on, my heavier, black traction-control shoes. Didn’t want to run seven miles, or even a couple of miles. I did sprints up and down the quarter mile gravel driveway.

My foot hurt a bit. Enough to feel it. I ran out of breath and ran out of energy went inside. My foot hurt more and more over the next few hours, then the next few days and has been hurting fairly consistently since then. Standing and teaching doesn’t help. When I walk fast it hurts more.

I’m not going to try to run again for a long time. I’m not even walking fast. My intentions to prove something to myself, to get myself into motion, came at the cost of my foot. Now I realize if I push it again too early, I might cause some pretty serious damage.

I’m pretty sure it’s a strained tendon on the top of my foot. Could be a hairline fracture but I don’t think so as the pain is more general. I lost my good insurance last summer and now have what is really only for emergencies. So, I haven’t had it looked at. This isn’t an emergency. It’s just a frustration.

I should have listened to my foot instead of listening to my goals and listening to that incomplete part of myself that wanted to prove something. I had angst and anxiety from an overload of tasks and I wanted to run. Good reasons and not so good reasons.

Because I pushed it so much, because I didn’t listen on that first day, and then the day in October, I ruined what could have been more gentle runs, less pressing, less breaking, just as invigorating. In trying to do too much, I broke what little I could do. Now I can’t run at all. I can’t walk fast. I can’t go hiking. All the outdoors adventures that were balms to a parched soul, are now put on hold.

Obedience is better than sacrifice. That’s what the prophet Samuel said to King Saul.

I think a lot of ministry is like this too. People want to serve God. They want to prove something to themselves and to others. Good reasons and bad reasons. They force situations and over-extend, straining and breaking, pushing themselves beyond the point at which they should stop. Pushing themselves because they think that’s what needs to be done, something needs doing, someone has to do it. Sacrifice is more self-validating than obedience.

Then it strains, breaks. What might have been a good – a calling – a way in obedience no longer is possible. They burn out, burn out others, interfere in the calling.

Like my left foot. I’ll get back to running someday, but it might take a year because I’m not willing to re-injure it. And I’m worried, honestly worried, that it’s something that is going to bother me the rest of my life.

I should have listened when my foot said to stop. I wasn’t obedient. It was a meaningless sacrifice.

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