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When will I trust my ankles again?

Out for a run. Little recovery run. 10 kilometers, that’s it. I can still feel my left knee from last Sunday’s Brabantse Kluis Trail. Yet, my ankles are feeling fine. No pain, no numbness, nothing. Just fine. It’s strange, but it remains my first worry the morning after a race. I’m curious when I will trust my ankles again.

I told you, I got injured almost 30 years ago, but I haven’t given you the full story yet. As a child I already had flat feet. I had to wear special shoes to give my feet some support. In hindsight a stupid thing, a very stupid thing. A stupid thing that is still happening. See, I shouldn’t have been given special shoes, I should have been given strengthening exercises to create a better arch in my feet.

But in those days, and still now, medics focus on the outcome of a problem, not on what causes a problem. It’s one of the valuable lessons yoga has taught me. I think I’m the living proof. More than 25 years ago I had to stop running, because of ankle problems. Last Saturday I ran 32 kilometers and today my ankles are fine. What has happened in the meantime? Yoga. Balancing exercises. Standing a lot on one foot to make my feet stronger. That’s why I can run today.

Football match

Okay, let’s get back in time. When I was 18 I got fouled during a football match. My opponent slided in, planted his foot – studs first – full on my ankle, and I strained my ligaments. The doctor told me I was out for a minimum of 6 weeks. Our next match I watched on crutches.

We lost. The next match was a tie, and we lost our lead in the competition. My teammates asked me to play again. Not that I was any good. I was better without the ball than with the ball. However, I was our only defending midfield player, and our captain. So I did the stupid thing. I started to play again, after only 3 weeks of rest.

Torn ligament

We lost the title, by one point, but my ankle was holding on. Up until the last tournament of the season. One I didn’t wanted to miss. An international tournament in Belgium. My first international tournament. The last game – I was playing central defender – a high ball went over our defense. I turned around to chase after it, but my studs were stuck in the mud. I tore my ligament and – as I discovered years later – damaged more than that.

Scar tissue formed in my ankle as a result of that injury, and started to press on the tunnel of the Posterior Tibial Nerve, resulting in pain and numbness. Especially after a run. I went to see different doctors, but they all just said what every doctor says. If you have pain running, just stop running.

I don’t think that’s typical Dutch. I’m reading Christopher McDougall’s bestseller Born to Run, and what does his doctor tell him, when he goes to see him with a running injury? “Running is your problem. Buy a bike.”

I love running

Well, you know by now an operation didn’t really fix my ankles. Yoga did. I am running again. I have been for the last year and a half. Last weekend I was even running for more than 3 hours. Yet, the fear stays. I love running so much, I don’t want to stop again. That’s why after ever long run, after every race, I first check how my ankles are feeling. Maybe, maybe one day, I will trust my ankles again.

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