Do not go gentle into that good night
Old age should burn and rave at close of day
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
-Dylan Thomas 
No, I'm not dying. I mean, we're all dying, but I hope to live a good while longer. My running career, on the other hand, is in its last stages, and that's difficult for me to deal with. It's difficult because, for the past 15+ years, I've defined myself as a runner. Labels are dangerous, but runner, or more specifically, "trail runner" was a label I was happy to take on. I wrote about running, I made a dumb Youtube video about stupid things that trail runners say, I planned vacations around running. Running connected me to some of my closest friends. Through running, I experienced some of the best moments of my life, and also one of my greatest disappointments. 
Dealing with not-running, with the slow death of that part of my identity has been difficult. I am self-aware enough (just barely) to understand that this is about as a first-world problem as poor wifi. Even though I tell myself not to be so dramatic, that sentence up there at the top of this paragraph shows how well I listen to that inner voice.
About four years ago, while hiking the High Sierra Trail, I started to notice pain in both of my heels. The pain would be pretty bad in the morning, but after a few miles on the trail, it would go away, only to reappear the next morning. I figured it was a side effect of hiking the High Sierra Trail. 
I thought the pain would go away with time off, but it didn't, so I just dealt with it. 
I took up yoga, I stretched, I bought and used a variety of weird looking devices that gather at the foot of my bed, and I'd hide them from the housekeeper if we had one. I went to chiropractors, massage therapists, physical therapists, ART specialists, and I decided not to punch one of my running partners who asked if I'd tried stretching. My wife got me to try some capsicum cream which is basically like rubbing habanero peppers on your skin. God help you rub your eyes or worse with that cream on your hands. CBD cream, with all its hype, actually really helped with the pain and inflammation (it worked so well for me that I became a rep). None of this stuff cured me, but the combination helped mitigate the pain. I would run one day, take the next day off. On those off days, I limped, and inevitably would be asked why I was limping. Usually, I just said I was getting old. 
Finally, I went to a podiatrist and was diagnosed with Haglund's deformity in both of my heels. I hate that they call it a deformity because it's just a bone protrusion on the heel. I love feet a little too much, so it's hard for me to deal with a deformity in my own feet. The podiatrist said it's also called "Pump Bump," and that just sounds so much worse. I mean neither would work on an online dating profile, so when people ask why I'm limping, I usually just respond that I pulled a calf while weeding the yard, or something that sounds slightly less embarrassing than, "oh, this…this is pump bump." 
The doctor said he could open it up, detach my Achilles tendon, shave down the bone, then reattach the Achilles. He would have to do one heel at a time with months of recovery between the surgeries. He told me, with a smile, that with a full recovery I would be able to run 3–4 miles pain-free. One of the hardest parts of all of this is that I have goals that will be unfulfilled. I tell my kids they can do anything. They can overcome the greatest odds, but sometimes that's just not true. I will never run a 100-mile race. I'll never break 3 hours in the marathon. 
In trying to minimize the pain, both the physical and the kind in my head, I've tried to stretch out and do new things. I signed up for the Belgian Waffle Ride. It's a cyclocross race, so it's not quite road biking and not quite mountain biking. The full version has a 60–70% finish rate and it bills itself as one of the toughest bike races in America. I'm doing the half this year, and if I survive, I'll do the full next year. Any ride that starts with waffles and ends at a brewery can't be that bad. 
In training for the ride, I've been risking my life in the hopes of keeping up with my daredevil son on the mountain bike. Luckily, I'm done having children, because certain body parts have taken more of a toll than others. Yes, I'm talking about my balls. 
My son has an amazing sense of comfort on the bike that I just don't have. He flows through the turns and flies over the jumps with grace. He doesn't fight the bike. On the other hand, I'm not allowed to break the first rule of bike fight club, so let's just say I'm not quite as graceful. It's been fun to watch him develop this passion and to be able to share in some of his rides. He's still at the age where he'll occasionally ask me to join him for a ride or to take him to a different trail system than the ones we have within biking distance. I've always told my kids that I'll never say no if they ask me to do something active with them. I may regret that soon. 
Glad I didn't say no to this ride
I'm still running, just slower than usual, and with more pain, but as they say on Brokeback Mountain, "I just can't quit you." Maybe it's the simplicity of covering long distances with minimal equipment, or it could be the hours spent talking through histories that I can't get anywhere else. I'll be sitting in the lineup talking to a guy about how he is struggling to communicate with his daughter, and this is something I can relate to, and if we were running, this could turn into an hour conversation, easy, and we would bare our souls to each other and expose our fears to the dirt, the trees, and the wind. But this is surfing, and a set wave is coming. He stops mid-sentence and we both paddle for it. He has a better position, closer to the peak as it builds, a nice right. He says he's going right so I paddle hard towards the left, and it's a great wave. We both catch it, going different directions and ride it close to the shore. It's a great moment, and we both paddle back out with huge smiles. I head north for more lefts and he stays south. The conversation hangs there unfinished, but there are more set waves, it's glassy, and this is a lonely hunt. 
I ran a few days ago with two friends. We did a 6ish mile loop. One of them pushed their baby in a stroller. We walked the steepest parts of the climbs. We talked about our upcoming trip to Boulder, we talked politics and hate in the world, and of course, boobs were mentioned, mostly our own. I came home happy and full of energy. My heels hurt, but it was worth it. I wouldn't quite consider it "raging against the dying of the light." It's more like watching the sun slowly fade with the memory of that bath of color in that sweet spot that we don't like to talk about that pulls from both joy and sadness.


  1. I've had this same long, hard goodbye, as I've opted not to replace my knee, yet, at the fairly youngish (so I think) age of 56. It's especially hard when, as you say, "runner" has been part of your identity for years. But - as you'll also discover - channeling your energies and passion into new pursuits quickly fills in the empty spots. :)

  2. I am so so sorry to hear this, and wish all the miracles and rainbows to help heal this condition.

    I have been suffering from Plantaar Fasciitis(in both heels) and heel spurs for over a year now. Your words resonate with exactly how I feel. I've seen numerous chiropractors, physio, sport docs.. bought every kind of paraphernelia out there.. socks, inserts, orthotics, arnica gel - everything. I have not been diagnosed with Haglunds disease yet, but that's probably because my family doctor does not know of such a condition (who knows?)..but I HAVE to keep the faith, and hope that one day, I will be able to run pain free.. I have lots and lots of dream races and destination runs that I need to accomplish.
    The higher powers that are can't be that cruel to us.... can they?

  3. This explains why I haven't run into you in quite awhile. Hang in there buddy. I've had a few friends retire from trail running and come back a few years later when some new treatments becomes available. Hope to see you at a SD100 aid station.


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