Diana’s Story :: One Runner’s Journey

Thank you to our friend and colleague, Diana Painter, for sharing her story with us.

When I was 6 or 7 years old I’d often go chasing my grandparent’s dog through the woods at their cabin in the Upper Peninsula. I always felt so carefree and happy.

Every year my family would spend time at my grandparent’s “camp”, which was short for deer camp in the UP. It had cold rusty water and no plumbing for a toilet. My parents and grandparents would tell me to “chase the dog to run out some of your energy”. Of course, I didn’t mind, I thought of it more as a game really. I know I was young but this is where I experienced my first “runners high”. An experience in which I felt free, invincible, and like I had endless energy- not quite what my parents had in mind.

As I look back on life overall, I’ve had so many wonderful memories connected to running. In elementary school we had to run a timed mile in gym class.  I was secretly excited for the day – I already knew who my competition would be and I was ready to come out on top. By the time I was in middle school I was thrilled to finally be old enough to join the track and cross country teams. These memories typically consisted of my friends and I trailblazing through woods and finding a lake to jump in. We’d come back from our “long run” dripping wet, but boy did we have a blast. I gradually built my endurance and became a little more serious by high school and could easily run our 5k races. I would complete the weekly 6 mile runs but still come back from an easy run dripping wet from a lake my friends and I found, which we couldn’t resist.

A New Chapter
College brought on a new chapter of running, including lots of hard work; 2x/day running sessions, weight lifting 2-3x/week, 12 mile runs at a time, and running 50-60 miles per week. By this point, I loved the competition and I felt so privileged to be able to travel to different states to discover where the race courses would take us. I had wonderful coaches and great teammates that encouraged me to be the best person and runner I could be.

My First Injury
It was during my second year of college that I experienced my first real injury – an excruciating pain near my first MTP joint, aka, the “big ball under my first toe”. My foot hurt so bad at times I wasn’t sure I’d even be able to drive. I continued to run through the pain, actually competing in Cross Country nationals for my first time ever. I then took some time off for several weeks, which turned into several months. I wore a walking boot, tried a steel insole, got custom orthotics, had a cortisone shot, went through physical therapy, and even tried a bone stimulator. During this time off I had to continue to stay in shape to be able to compete when my foot healed. I would cross train (bike, swim, elliptical) several hours per day. But cross training meant exercising for twice the amount of time running did. So if I should have run 12 miles, which would have taken me 11/2 hours, I now had to cross train for 3 hours. Cross training consumed my life. I remember one Friday night while aqua jogging alone in the pool, I could hear the announcements of the football game being played outside, and my friends and fans cheering. I really began to question whether running and competing again was worth this time and effort. After several physicians, 2 MRIs, a CT Scan, bone scan, and countless Xrays my physicians were unable to diagnosis why my foot was constantly in so much pain. I actually had a physician tell me “ It’s simple, your foot is not a runners foot; it is kinda like a fat person trying to be a ballerina”. I was appalled and now even more determined then ever to get back to running.

A Ray of Hope
Months turned in to years before I was eventually referred to another orthopedic surgeon who took a very awkward) Xray of my foot and was finally able to determine the source of my pain – I had a necrotic sesamoid bone. It basically meant that one of the tiny floating sesamoid bones in my foot had broken and died. I had surgery nearly 2 years after my original pain had started. With even more hard work and determination I was able to come back for 1 final year of collegiate running and compete in nationals one last time.

Diana, running the half marathon in the Charlevoix Marathon

Now, 10 years out of college, I am a wife, a mom to 2 beautiful boys, a physical therapist, and I am still a runner. I still am able to feel the burst of energy and giddiness I once had as a child when I complete a hard race or a fast, long run. It has not been easy and I’ve had challenges as an adult as well, to get back to this place of enjoyment. I’ve had to work hard to return to this point after having my 2 boys via c-section and taking a long time off from running with each baby. As an adult I now have a new outlook on my running goals; one that doesn’t necessarily take into account achieving my “fastest” race time. I have long term goals that include improving my overall strength, endurance, and speed in order to maximize my health and to be able to run for as many years as possible while staying injury free.

I have learned so much through running that I can apply to my profession as a physical therapist, including the frustration towards medical professionals, the inability to do what you want to do, the time and effort it takes to come back from an injury, the loneliness at times of recovery, and also the knowledge of the health benefits that running and a healthy lifestyle can provide.  To me, running has always been such a liberating experience. A place where I can be myself, a way of showing people who I really am and what I’m made of. My past drives me to help my patients achieve their dreams and meet their goals, all the while knowing this journey will be challenging and may push them to their limits. But I can say firsthand, it is worth it in the end.

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