I have bunions. I don’t even like saying it because a) bunions seem like an old lady thing and b) “bunion” is not a nice-sounding word (which is strange, because I have no problem with the word “onion”). It turns out that I’ve always had bunions – which are bony growths on the lateral and medial edges of the foot, usually located at the proximal joint of the big and little toes – I just never knew that that’s what they were. Most people only get them on their big toes, but I’ve had them on both sides of my feet (of both feet!) for as long as I can remember. The only reason I’ve started caring about them recently is because they’ve started hurting.
It started about a year and a half ago in SF. I was doing a lot of walking (at some point, I calculated my average on-foot mileage to be between 5-6 mi/day while living in the City) and wearing shitty shoes. I assumed the pain I was feeling in my left big toe at the time was some sort of tendonitis, or other stress-related injury from marching up and down all those hills all the time. Every now and then, this toe pain would be accompanied by extreme cramping in my arches during yoga, usually when I was trying to balance on one foot. Sometimes the cramping sent pain all the way up the inside of my calf. While worrisome, these aches and pains went away with rest and since I was unwilling to pay for a doctor’s visit with no health insurance, I never got it checked out.
When I moved to New Haven, the pain went away, which fit in with my “I walk too much” theory (average daily New Haven mileage? About 2-3 mi/day). Recently, however, the pain has returned. I took a break from running on the treadmill and switched to the elliptical, to no avail. I moved from the elliptical to the stationary bike, but that was just boring. The final straw came while transitioning from hasta padangusthasana to vira III, when my foot cramped up so bad, I could no longer stand on it. I recalled that I have health insurance now, made an appointment to see the NP, stopped going to the gym and started hitting the pool instead.
I used to really like swimming, but there are quite a few humps to get over:
1) Start up costs. I think most people own “gym” clothes. By gym clothes, I mean old T-shirts and sweats. Swimsuit and goggles on the other hand? Thanks to living in SF for the last three years, I wasn’t even sure I owned a bikini, let alone a one piece.
2) Time. Going to the gym took me a grand total of an hour and fifteen minutes. This included walking to and from the gym, a 30 minute workout, 10 minutes of stretching and a shower once I got home. Going to the pool takes me a full two hours and involves walking to and from the gym, renting a locker, changing into and out of my suit (which for some reason takes longer than changing into and out of gym clothes), showering (which for some reason takes longer at the gym than it does at home) and caring for my wet things (which for some reason always reminds me of dealing with a wet cat).
3) Schedule. I like to go the gym immediately after class, which is around 3:30-4:00 pm. The pool isn’t open then. This means figuring out when it is open and when my schedule allows me to go. I’m sure we can all relate to the phenomenon of the inversely proportional relationship between amount of time we have to think about going to the gym vs. the amount of time we actually spend at the gym.
4) Wearing a swimsuit. I can run around in what is essentially my underwear at a beach, but donning a swimsuit and heading to the pool for a workout is super intimidating. The first couple of times I went, I awkwardly tried to figure out how to get into the pool without actually removing my towel. Now I’ve adopted a fake-it-till-I-make-it kind of attitude and pretend I have zero insecurities about my body as I try to resist the urge to run from the bench where I’ve left my towel to the lane.
5) Sharing a lane. If anyone has any tips for making this a less painful experience, I’d love to hear them. I’m no longer insecure about the speed at which I swim – that’s what the outer lane is for – but I’m still working on swimming in a straight line. I know there are lines to use as markers on the bottom of the pool and the ceiling, not to mention a wall and a lane divider in the pool itself, but I inevitably end up drifting no matter how hard I try to stay on my side of the lane. Freestyle is okay, but backstroke is completely out of the question if I’m sharing a lane. Breaststroke is another good option, except that I end up kicking the wall or the person I’m sharing a lane with, or (as is more often the case), stopping in the middle of the pool to wait for the other person to pass. Usually, I’m the weaker swimmer in the lane, but the other day I shared a lane with someone who didn’t know how to swim at all. She spent most of her time cutting me off and stealing my kick board.
6) Actually swimming. If I have bad form while running, I don’t notice it. While swimming, on the other hand, I’m acutely aware of how poorly I’m doing it. It just feels awkward and ungraceful. Then there’s the whole breathing thing. If you start to get out of breath while doing land-based activities, you can just breathe faster. Not so with swimming. With swimming, you have to wait to breathe. It’s a small thing, but it creates a huge psychological barrier for me (i.e. the “OMG, I’m going to drown” barrier).
Despite these obstacles, I have managed to get to the pool twice/week over the last two weeks. The pain in my feet has improved, but the bunions on my left foot are noticeably bigger. The NP told me that my bunions are as a result of having freakishly flat feet (thanks Dad!) and a lack of supportive footwear (this is also apparently the most likely cause of my cramping arches). I bought insoles, but replacing all my shoes with wider, more supportive shoes isn’t really an option right now, so I think I’ll continue to swim to reduce the amount of impact and pressure on my feet. Each time I go to the pool, I’m reminded of when I learned to snowboard. I was terrible at snowboarding. It didn’t come naturally (still doesn’t) and I spent my first day either face-planting or getting the wind knocked out of me every fifth heartbeat. But, as I hobbled back to my car, I realized I couldn’t wait to go again. That’s how I feel about swimming – it’s hard, awkward and time-consuming, and I’m not particularly good at it, but I’m excited about doing it in a way that I never have been about running. It makes me hopeful – hopeful that I’ll get stronger and improve, hopeful that my feet will heal, hopeful that this could be sustainable.