Ballad of the Injured Runner

Before I get started on this post, I have to say thanks for the response to my High Rock Challenge photography. It’s by far the biggest event I’ve covered in any kind of official capacity, and I’ve been flattered to receive some very kind comments. To hear that I’ve captured the essence of the event (you know who you are – thank you!) is the greatest compliment I could wish for. If they’ll have me back next year, I’d love to do it again.

The end of each month brings a regular ritual for the dedicated endurance runner, totalling up how many miles have been logged that month. Marathon training might result in 200 miles or more, a more normal month may see a solid 100+ mile accomplishment, money in the bank in the pursuit of a greater annual goal.

Less fortunate runners are confronted by something like this:

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I wasn’t able to find a solid consensus figure for the percentage of runners who get injured in a given year (I’ve seen anything from 24% to 74%, but then we all know that 46% of all statistics are made up), though you only have to look at the elites of the sport, who have access to the finest training and medical advice, to see that marathon running in particular is a lottery when it comes to staying healthy.

My own problems started as I was just starting to rebuild mileage after a winter break. I joined a Sunday group run with my running club, which I would normally consider to be an easy workout, a good way to get in a long run (14 miles) without it feeling too difficult. I found it harder than usual, but out of a sense of pride and feeling that I belonged in the front group, pushed a little more to keep up. I finished the run but began to experience knee and foot pain later in the day. In hindsight, it may also have been a bad idea to do my longest run of the year in a pair of unfamiliar shoes that I’d won for finishing second in a local 5k race last year.

Injury is a new experience to me, and it took some time to accept the reality of it. Last year I ran for a few months with what I believe was piriformis syndrome. I had tried backing off mileage for a couple of weeks, it didn’t help, so I went back to my training plan, threw in a few token pigeon poses, ran the two best races of my life, and concluded that I could run through pretty much anything.

So it was only after a few stubborn weeks of alternating rest, ice, compression (which absolutely did NOT help) and tentative rehab runs that I had to admit defeat with my knee, and seek medical advice.

I’d watched this video a week or two earlier, about Desi Davila’s injury that forced her to pull out of the 2012 Olympic Marathon.

Watch more video of Desiree Davila on

I’ve admired Desi since she famously came 2 seconds away from winning Boston in 2011, wearing the same model Brooks T7 racing shoes I’d worn for my own personal triumph (first sub-90 minute half) in DC a few weeks earlier. There’s a blue-collar toughness to the way she runs that speaks to me – gutting out every ounce of performance possible from the talent you have. I like to think that’s what I bring to my races too (at least the longer ones), a stubbornness that allows me to overachieve compared to my training performances.

From the video: “This is a picture, this is something real, you are hurt”.

That’s what I needed to see too. So last week I found myself sitting in an orthopedist’s office, staring at an x-ray of my leg, waiting for the physician’s assistant to come in and give her verdict. I noticed a white oval shape lurking menacingly above the knee joint, and knew that had to be something to do with it.

The initial diagnosis? Calcium deposits below the quadriceps tendon. That certainly makes some sense in terms of the location and the nature of the pain – I can be fine for a while, but flexing/twisting the wrong way triggers the pain, almost as if something sharp is digging into me. The PA gave a couple of possible options for how they might proceed to treat this condition. Removing the growth through arthroscopic surgery is one option. Another is a course of injections that the PA described as an “oil change” for the knee. That sounds attractive, take me in for a service and send me out good as new!

Joking aside, they did seem concerned at the general state of both my knees, particularly how they much they crack when I flex them. Arthritis does run in my family, so I’m likely getting a preview of what’s to come as I get older. Looking at it that way, I can’t help but feel slightly blessed: it takes a lot to get me to go to the doctor, but this injury has put me on the books of a specialist who I’ll likely continue to need for years to come. Better to start getting help sooner than waiting until there’s not much that can be done.

In addition to the x-ray I was sent for an MRI. I get the results back tomorrow afternoon, and hope I’ll then really know what’s going on, and more importantly, what I can do to help myself and how long I have to wait to get back out on the road. Before seeing the doctor, I was admittedly in denial about my injury, but I’m now feeling hopeful. Plenty of time to get better, whatever the verdict tomorrow.

Keep your fingers crossed for me!

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