Strike Ten: At a Running Crossroads
I started my improbable run journey at the age of thirty nine. I never ran in high school, or any level for that matter. In Jr. High, I was diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondylitis which isn't the "card you want to pull out of the deck" as a runner of any distance. I've largely ignored the arthritis and grown to love the sport of running and triathlons. Perhaps too much. One year I ran four marathons in over sixteen months (I realize there are twelve months in a year.)
|Contemplating my run future|
I have defied the odds and have done pretty well. 2013 was my "defining year" running in my third (of eventually five) Boston Marathons. I broke twenty minutes in a 5k, and qualified for the New York City Marathon with a 1:29 half marathon that same year. 2014 is perhaps when the "wheels started to come off." I crashed (hard) in the Rocky Mountain State Games triathlon that summer and nearly died in the hospital (HERE.) I recovered, and added to the list of my injuries over the years which include;
Stress Fracture of the tibia
Torn Hip Labrum
Femoral Acetabular Impingement
Torn Shoulder Labrum
Fracture 5th Metatarsal
Each time, I was stubborn and determined so get back to the sports that seemed to define much of who I am. The good news was that each injury had either a recovery period or a physical therapy routine that I attacked as vigorously as I attack my sport. Each time I bounced back. In 2016, I dealt with two foot fractures and once again rebounded to start training for the New York City Marathon. A month prior, I had likely the funnest destination race weekend I've ever had at the Runner's World Half Marathon and Festival in their home town of Bethlehem, PA. I was an ambassador for Runner's World at the race and everything seemed to be going well including a podium in my age group in the half marathon. Somewhere towards the end of the half, my knee felt a little "wonky." Something I've never had on my list of maladies are knee problems. It didn't hurt and I dismissed it no doubt numbed by beer, the fun, and the elation of winning at such a prestigious race.
A couple of weeks after the RW Half, I had my last long run before New York City. I was on the road in Seattle and planned an extra day to get in my run on the waterfront. Once again, my knee felt odd, but went from wonky to uncomfortable towards the end of the run. The following day, my knee swelled up and I feared that perhaps I "tore something." "Oh god, not again," I thought, would injury "bounce me" for the second year in a row from the New York City Marathon. Before New York, I had another personal trip to San Diego to finally meet my run buddy Liam. I limped up to meet him and iced my knee all weekend before booking (yet another) visit to my ortho at Steadman Hawkins in Denver.
|Finishing strong at RW Half--1st effects of sore right knee|
The good news was there was no tear. The other good news was he said I could run New York. Whew! The bad news was there was a look of concern that seemed greater than normal and he shared that I had deterioration of the cartilage in my right knee (Osteorarthritis.) There was also a bonus of a bone spur. Dr. Jeremy is a runner himself and knows how much I love the sport, but for the first time, he asked me if I'd consider cycling instead of running. (Perhaps he forgot about the Rocky Mountain State Games.) I slightly discounted the conversation except for the fact that he said I could race NYC. At that point, I was in "taper mode" and ran very little the couple of weeks prior to my third world major. Two days before New York City, I felt "ready" as I logged my last short run in D.C. en route to the race. I had a contingency plan (to simply head home vs heading to New York) as the weekend before, I was unsure if my knee could handle 26.2 miles.
Instead of flying home from D.C., I went on to complete my fourteenth marathon (race recap HERE.) It wasn't pretty, but it was beautiful. Not pretty in that my knee was surrounded by KT Tape, yet beautiful in that, I loved the race, I loved the experience, and I was jubilant. Other than the fact that I pulled up like a gimp horse in Central Park around mile 24 with a hamstring. No doubt due to all the tension in my entire right leg. Once again, my knee was sore afterwards, but the medal and being able to finally wear the finishers jacket overshadowed any pain I felt.
From there, I took time off to rest my body thinking that this would somehow go away. I've slowly added some miles in the last few weeks and felt an itch to wear a bib again so I raced a 10K this last weekend. Ironically, this was my first 10K ever...yeah, I know. Hard to believe. I've raced over sixty times and this was my first 10K. I wore my KT Tape and added a Zensah knee brace. Once the gun went off, adrenaline "kicked in" and I raced (not ran) 6.2 miles. I sensed that the really fast guys weren't out there this morning, and with an "out and back" course, I could see who was ahead of me and who was behind me--dude behind me was a "heavy breather" and never caught me. Ha! Take that!
Once again, I had the same combination; jubilation and sore and swollen knee. Shit! (at least on the second part.) Jubilation in that I came in third overall in the race and first in my age group. The swollen knee was once again a concern. I've been googling the topic and it aligned with my Doctor's prognosis. It's not great. You can heal a bone, or use physical therapy to heal many things, but you can't grow back cartilage.
|Pulling up "gimp" at NYC Marathon|
I've tried to be an inspiration to others in the sport of run racing and triathlons. I had an inspiring conversation with a young boy who was all of ten or eleven years old on Sunday at the race. He was looking at the race directors race results printout taped to the plywood sandwich board next to the coffee trailer. The young lad found his name, but wasn't sure what he was looking at. I helped him discover that he too came in first in his age group. I literally patted him on the back, and congratulated him, "you came in first!," I told him. His smile looked familiar as it looked like mine minus a few wrinkles. I'm hoping this will inspire the young lad to take on the sport and embrace it as I have.
I'm not sure why I share his story other than it is diametrically opposed to my situation. I'm starting to think for the first time that I have to think about what I'm doing to my body and how I want to live out the rest of my life. I'm not ready to give up sports, but I have to start thinking differently about it. Perhaps that means shorter races and a heavier focus on triathlons. Tactically, it definitely means running fewer times a week and alternating with swim and bike which isn't such a bad thing. I'm a big fan of Altra shoes, but also the Hoka One One Cliftons. The later has a much cushier (is that a word?) than other running shoes. Running on natural running paths versus road running will also have to happen.
|My last race and 1st 10k|
Lastly, I may have to rethink marathons. I may have to be content with accomplishing five Boston Marathons and "tacking on" the accomplishment of running Chicago and New York City. I'm holding out hope that perhaps I can find a way to complete the World Majors, but it will perhaps be running them versus racing them, but even that seems unlikely today with my knee unable to manage six miles. I also need to realize that perhaps I'm being selfish as there are some that would do anything to run Boston just once. I have an online run friend (Gelcys from Runner Unleashed) who has a brain tumor and scoliosis; yet she always has a smile and a positive attitude every day. My knee seems trivial compared to the battles she wakes up to each day. I also want to be able to bend over and pick up a grandchild when that day comes (hopefully, not until my kids graduate.)
Right now my emotions are all over the map (kinda like this post.) I fluctuate between reflection, resolve and depression. It's tough to process. Once again, thank you for reading and hearing me rant. As usual, I will find a way to pick myself up again and lace my run shoes. If anyone has dealt with similar knee issues, I'd love to hear from you. Post comments below or email me: firstname.lastname@example.org. I (k)nee(d) the support.