Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Gift of a Broken Toe

Last month I managed to fit in a different run/hike every week through hilly and mountainous terrain (usually climbing as much as 1000m) over a 13 to 15km distance. That’s a lot of boring numbers, I know. But man, oh, man was I proud of myself! It took me at least 2 hours for each stretch up and down across the hilly trails.

Trail running is my absolute favourite. Sometimes I feel as though I could go forever. Yet as I’m getting older it does cross my mind that one day I might not be able to anymore. But while I can, I will. Because the happiness it brings breezing alongside the trees, rocks, the deer, the tiny plants pushing out from the leaves while the sun pushes through the canopy, periodically shining on my face. It can’t be beat.

Last week I dropped a Thomas the Train flashlight from neck height straight onto my foot (it fell out of an armful of toys I was cleaning up, the flashlight literally tucked under my chin). Hours later my son dropped a metal truck on the other foot. Somewhere in there my 80 pound dog jumped up to lick my face and landed funny on my toe. Then I went to play a tough game of squash which involves forcefully lunging oneself across a court for 40 minutes.

The result? One very sore foot. I wasn’t quite sure which event caused what or what had happened to my toe. I also had a plan to do a hike with a friend I was really looking forward to. So on I pushed. Many kilometers later I began to limp a bit and then finally a lot through the final few kilometers. Not smart? You bet. Would I do it again? Um, probably.

You see that month was coming close to being the best shape I’ve been in since I had my babies. All of my life I have been able to integrate fitness into my day out of the sheer enjoyment of it. Somehow farming, and then babies managed to take priority over something that made me who I was. Built me and held me together, in fact. How I could have lost sight of this in those years, I’ll never know.

One thing I’ve never been able to do is limit the amount of food I ate. My general method of staying lean was to eat a mountain of food and burn it off in the mountains. All fine and good until I ran out of time, will and creativity for getting myself in motion once children were in the picture.

Ironically, before I even realized the extent to which I had damaged my poor wee toe, I had committed to go without sugar in my diet for 5 weeks. That included anything that contained sugar and anything that metabolically resembled sugar (eg. white bread, white pasta etc.) 8 days in and I am AMAZED that I have made it this far.

Oh, I’ve had a few moments of weakness. Moments where the deprivation was heading towards an all out landslide in a way that a small bowl of real ice cream was willing to act as the finger in the dam. Mother’s Day brunch with the family likely won’t look very clean but I’ve decided to fare it without deserts, added syrups or jams and cope with the odd pancake that can’t possibly take my resolve away for the future. When I began this I knew I had to be realistic about living my life alongside the commitment.

So here is the thing. Right when I changed my diet in a restricted way for the first time in, well, a century it seems, I have been unable to exercise. Not in the way that I was exercising.

And as these things go, a light has come on. I have done some modified yoga for the first time in months. I have done more stretching, more holding, more careful bending, some lifting, but in all ways move slowly, more intentionally, always quietly. I found my 5:30am time slot again.

It has become clear to me that I had fallen into a pattern of feeding two addictions. One was sugar. And one was long trail runs. Nothing wrong with long trail runs. But the manner in which I was approaching them was getting obsessive. I was pushing through pain. I wasn't listening to my body anymore.

And now I spend my evenings with Arnica, foots stools and ice. I have worn nothing but flipflops as I have had to tape my fractured toe to its neighbour, having it act as a splint. At one point I had a band of duct tape wrapped around my whole foot to take the pressure off my little toe. It worked but it didn’t look pretty.

A week later my foot is feeling a lot better. And one week without sugar and I feel as though I have far more power than any distance or mountain could provide me. I’m certain my health is better – I feel lighter and less as though I’m on a mood roller coaster.

The greatest feeling is knowing that I can trust myself. That I am making the effort to take care of myself. Knowing that I can commit to something and see it through. There is nothing more debilitating than letting yourself down after making a commitment. There is nothing more empowering than following through on what you say you’re going to do.

The broken toe has given me kindness again. The ability to give my body what it needs. The opportunity to recognize the strength in stillness. In knowing when to take a break, slow down, do things differently as needed.

I do miss my trails. I have plans to do a certain trail end to end in the fall. We’ll see where my toe takes me. It will have to be about the journey this time and not the destination.

But for now, I feel as though I’ve climbed the biggest mountain of my life. I’ve kicked that sugar thing off the edge of my world. 4 more weeks. A nice round number. Care to join in?


  1. Happy for you that you are learning to listen to that body of's the only one you've got! Treat it like gold :)

  2. You have amazing determination. Both in challenging obstacles that come your way and pursuing balance. Great encouragement Wife. I wish you much success in staving off sugar. I'm inspired to join, but my bag of dark chocolate wont let me just yet! ;)


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