It happened again. The numbness in my feet. First my right foot went, then it crept past my ankle to the lower part of my calf and repeated with the left leg.
I was almost home, just made the ninety degree turn around Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. The rich condos of Key Highway approached me on the right. The sunset illuminated the green water to my left. I wondered if I could finish the rest of my run on numb feet.
This was the second time in a month, the first time in 10 years.
It first happened in high school at the end of cross-country season. I was training for the next season, running on ice and snow in the Highland neighborhoods of Louisville, KY. It only happened when I ran on pavement as opposed to the green grass of cross-country. But there was no bluegrass to run on when winter arrived.
I managed the winter season on numb feet. But with track season approaching and my problem ceasing to disappear, I approached my coach. I was far from the fastest runner on the team, but that season I had trained harder in the hopes of surpassing my goal of a nine-minute mile.
My coach didn’t care that I wasn’t the fastest, that I would not contribute to the team’s ranking come state finals. He cared that I did well. That’s why after each race when he announced who he thought the MVP’s were, sometimes they would be slower runners who had shown determination and major improvement even if that improvement was the difference between a 30 minute and 28 minute 5K. We loved and respected him for it.
I hated running before I started cross-country in high school. So why did I join? Peer pressure. My friend at the time asked me to. But being a part of that team changed my perception of running. I love it till this day no matter how many injuries I sustain. I don’t know what I would do if I ever tore my ACL. Knock on wood.
My coach was more concerned than me about my numb feet. We went to the trainer. He was a middle-aged man, but friendly in the non-creepy way.
“You know, you’re the first girl who hasn’t apologized for the smell of her feet,” he remarked.
“I just figure you deal with it all the time,” I said.
He told my coach he didn’t see anything wrong, just recommended a few extra stretches to ensure I paid equal attention to the strength of my calves and shins.
By springtime, the numbness had gone away. I continued to do these stretches for the duration of my cross-country and track career, especially when running on pavement.
So where does the numbness come from? The most obvious answer: lack of circulation. In fact, years of high blood sugars can affect the nervous system. That’s why one of the consequences of mismanaged diabetes is loss of circulation, which leads to a lost limb. The feet are usually the first to go.
I considered this when I was diagnosed with diabetes five years after my numb feet episode. Was it a sign? Doctors tell me it’s unlikely considering numbness usually results from years of neglected blood sugars.
But 10 years later, when that same numbness returned, I was more concerned. This time, I wasn’t just a runner. I was a runner with diabetes.
Again, my doctor tells me to stretch more – it’s probably a result of running on pavement. I just started running again. My body’s not used to it. My blood sugars are in control. My A1C has been below 6.0 for the past two years. There’s no reason to suspect that diabetes has anything to do with it.
But when you have a chronic condition at your back, it’s your first scapegoat. It’s the first place you look when anything in your body shuts down.
I have a hate-love relationship with my body. I listen to it more closely now in the hopes I can prevent further complications, but I still don’t trust it. After all, my pancreas gave up for no apparent reason.
I stopped my run before I reached home and the interminable climb up Federal Hill. I stretched against a black metal bench. I loosened my calves and reached for my toes. Feeling returned first to my left foot, then my right. My toes tingled as I started my run again.