We were in the first quarter mile of a Monday evening Achilles workout in Wash Park and I turned to my running buddy Jessica and asked, “You know when I like running?” She turned to me and responded, “When the weather’s nice?” “No,” I said, “I like running when I’m not running.”
That statement pretty much summed it up for me; I hated running. I tried to run when I was in middle and high school, but running on a stiff prosthetic foot that’s designed for walking is no easy feat. Not realizing what a big difference a running prosthesis could make, I designated myself as a non-runner and accepted the fact that I’d never be a runner like my mom who ran cross-country for Colorado State or my aunt who completed two Ironman Championships in Kona.
Then, in late 2010, everything changed when I got a running leg. I started running with my then boyfriend (now husband) and I couldn’t believe what a difference the new leg made.
I wasn’t doomed to be a non-runner for life, I just hadn’t had the proper equipment!
My excitement was short-lived, however, because I started having piercing pain in my residual limb about two months later. After seeing numerous unhelpful doctors who had never seen an amputated leg like mine before, I finally hunted down the surgeon who did my original amputation in 1986.
I was in luck because he was at a hospital in Pennsylvania and was willing to look at my leg, x-rays, and multiple other medical documents in order to provide a second opinion about what a doctor in D.C., where I was living at the time, had suggested as my best option.
It was determined that I had a neuroma (basically when your nerves bundle up into a painful ball and send shock waves of pain up your leg when pressure is applied to it—a situation that is inevitable when you wear a prosthetic leg) and I needed some bone shaved off the bottom of my tibia because it was quite sharp and causing my skin to be in a constant state of anger.
So, there I was, in my first year of law school and about to spend my Spring Break on Percocet and unable to wear my prosthesis for at least 2 months.
The next two years or so were filled with ups and downs as we struggled to find a comfortable solution for fitting my “new” residual limb. I struggled with new kinds of pain and it seemed like the surgery had only moved the sensitive places on my residual limb rather than eliminating the pain. I was frustrated that I had gone through the surgery and months of recovery without seeing any positive gain. I exercised less and complained more. It had a deep impact on me and I started to feel like I didn’t really know who I was anymore.
Fast forward to March of 2013. I had moved to Colorado and my friend Jessica convinced me to walk a 7K with her. I hadn’t attempted running since 2010 because I was afraid that the increased impact on my residual limb while running was what had caused the neuroma in the first place, but I knew I could walk that distance. The excitement of race day got to me and I decided right then and there that I wanted to give running another shot.
When I first started running, I ended up walking most of the time, but Jessica stuck with me and encouraged me to push myself a little more each time. I found Achilles and we started “running” with them consistently on Mondays. There are many weeks I would have skipped running altogether had it not been for Achilles. Knowing that I have a group of people who expect me to be there and support me no matter what really helps keep me motivated.
When I first started “running” with Achilles, I probably walked over half of the 2.5-mile loop around Wash Park, only running in short spurts because that was all I could handle. On a Monday Run in October of 2014, Jessica and I were tired from the Hot Chocolate 5K the previous Sunday so we decided not to push ourselves too much at the Achilles run. I could hardly believe it when we ran the entire 2.5-mile loop without a single walk break and we held a pace of 10:27 minutes/mile. After 6 months of consistency, I felt like I’d overcome some invisible barrier that was holding me back from being a real runner.
What’s even better is that I finally felt like I could call myself a runner! My neuroma has not returned and my residual limb has started building muscle, which has actually made my prosthesis fit better. Rather than causing pain, running has actually decreased the pain I tolerate on a daily basis because of my prosthesis.
The bottom line is that I hated running for 6 months, but kept with it anyway because of the support and encouragement of my friends at Achilles. Without them, I never would have overcome that invisible barrier and I wouldn’t be able to call myself a runner today.
I run for the typical reasons people run (fitness and so I can eat more pizza), but I also run because there have been times when I couldn’t.
My journey to becoming a “runner” continues to evolve as I put in more hours and complete the sets my coach writes for me to get both stronger and faster. Some of you know that I started doing triathlons so I would have a challenge without running terribly far (my idea was to do Sprint & Olympic triathlons, so the longest run would be a 10K). Ironically enough, I’ve worked up to longer & longer distance triathlons, and am signed up for my first Full Ironman in Boulder this summer – so much for not running long distances, but I’m apparently a glutton for punishment (in the best way possible)
Even more than this increased confidence in my own strength, running has given me a whole community of women who truly support each other, through the good and the bad. Nowhere has this been more apparent than with my Skirt Sports Sisterhood. When I’m with my fellow Skirt Sports Ambassadors, I am energized and rejuvenated by their support and energy. Running brought me to this community, and for that, I am extremely grateful. Because of the support system I have around me (including my coach, my husband, my family, my friends, my coworkers, and my fellow Skirt Ambassadors) that helps to build me up and keep me going when I get tired, I think I finally actually really believe that I am a runner, and I’m proud to carry that label.
Follow Emily and her amazing running and triathlon journeys…you also may find a fun rap or two!
On Facebook: @AmpTriLife
On Instagram: @emharv8
And on her Blog: AmpTriLife