Runner’s knee sucks. There, I said it. Frankly, there is really no way to say it better unless I throw in a few curse words to spice it up. But, I’d rather refrain from adding superfluous words that will only fuel negativity. Well, maybe I will say just one curse word, “Fudge!” (On my ice cream? Yes please.) Whenever an injury occurs and derails my training I always get upset. I am not one to quit anything I start so I think it’s understandable to be a little angry. I am usually not mad at anyone in particular. Well, no, wait, ok, so I am usually mad at the running gods, those little bastards. After the initial panic of a running injury occurs and I am done feeling sorry for myself I begin to finally have hope. “Perhaps,” I say to myself, “I can recover in time for the race.” What I forget about is the long road to recovery.
The past three weeks have definitely tested my patience. I am sure many people have suffered their own perilous feelings of self-doubt during an injury. Trust me; I know exactly how you feel. You begin to wonder if you will ever run again and you spend days walking around and focusing your energy on deciphering your pain level. Constantly you ask yourself, “Has the pain subsided? Can I run tomorrow?” Usually the answer is, “The pain seems to have diminished a bit but I might be pushing it by running so soon.” All the articles you read and every form of advice you can find says the same thing, “Rest.” What does that even mean anyway? To a runner that advice is almost laughable. No, in fact it is absolutely laughable. You are in training which means there is a schedule you adhere to and stopping to rest for over a week is usually not an option. But, you listen to this advice, be it halfheartedly. You tell yourself that you probably need the rest and that maybe it would be good for you, all while your legs are twitching and begging to play outside again. “No,” you say, “You need this.” But, like children your legs are defiant. They attempt to jog when you are walking, even when a slight pain is apparent.
You will spend nights waking up at 2:30 in the morning and begin moving the body part that has suffered the injury, trying to feel if four hours of rest have offered even slight progress. You may even get up and stumble around the room just to see if the pain is gone. In the morning you will awake feeling renewed, refreshed and healed. You will press the area where the pain was most apparent like an idiot and you will exclaim, “It’s gone! I feel no more pain!” You will start to wonder how many miles you should run because it’s imperative you start training again. Unfortunately, it has only been about four days since you suffered your injury and after being up for half an hour you realize the pain is resurfacing. Rest, you notice, is really the only option. You tell yourself every single morning that you accept the pain and that everything happens for a reason. Basically, you lie to yourself. The problem is that you know you’re lying to yourself, which makes things worse.
You begin to realize how much you love running. You yearn to do it again. You become obsessed with the calendar, marking off the days until your race. Each day is another run lost and the race begins to feel like it is approaching at lightning speed. You try desperately not to panic, but the realization that your training has been compromised fills you with an overwhelming sense of fear. Your legs, they want to move but your mind fights to keep them in place. Cross training becomes your best option, but you feel it may be pushing it too much.
You start cross training but it is definitely not the same as running. You no longer feel as free. You find yourself pushing through slight twinges of pain because you desperately want to get better. You ice, while slowly morphing into an Eskimo. The cold, you know, numbs the pain and for brief moments you feel healed. Once again, like an idiot, you start pressing the area where the pain is most apparent. Of course you feel nothing, it’s frozen, but you keep pressing because it’s nice to feel nothing. After all, that’s the goal.
More than a week later the pain surprisingly starts to diminish more rapidly. One day you wake up and the pain feels completely gone. A miracle, you hope, but honestly you haven’t run in a while and your body is finally showing signs of healing. Running begins to seem logical.
You know it is best to start off running slowly, probably just ten minutes or less, but you want to run three miles. “Jog slowly,” you are told. You get on a treadmill because you know running outside on pavement or a street can do more damage, especially when you are already injured. You want to put the treadmill on your normal speed or faster because there is someone running beside and you will be damned if they are going to think they are faster than you. But, you know better. You jog slowly trying not to look at anyone else’s speed. When you reach ten minutes you want to keep going, because you can’t tell how your injury feels. However, you stop because, well, you’re supposed to. You stretch. You ice. Most of all, you pray.
The next day, hopefully, you are somewhat pain free. You check the calendar again. The race is less than a three weeks away. “Is it possible,” you wonder, “That I will be able to run?” But, you don’t want to get ahead of yourself. The day before was just a short run. You go about your day running your fingers across the injury searching for any remnants of pain. If there is none, you begin thinking about your next run.
Finally you reach the day when running outside is a possibility. The hills, you know, are the hardest part, but necessary to get you prepared for your race. You strap on your new contraption to protect your injury (in my case a runner’s knee brace).
You start your run feeling like every step could be your last and your hopes of running the race will be all but lost. Soon you are approaching the last mile of your run and surprisingly you are going to finish seemingly pain free. But, you know the pain probably will not surface until later. You are grateful to finish a long run outside, but you are still skeptical of running the race, because the training run was harder than expected. Your endurance must be built up again.
In the middle of the night you wake up to pain, but you get out of bed and feel nothing. You know that it’s likely you have thought about it so much that your mind has created the pain while you were dreaming. You can’t help but feel it was real. You get up and walk around, bending, twisting, and curling. You lie back down, but now you can’t sleep. You start to run through your training in your mind. “I haven’t done enough?” you say. You obsess over everything that pertains to your training and suddenly sleeping is the last thing you are thinking about. It hurts to think, but you can’t stop. There’s a chance you can wake up tomorrow in pain. You know that a lot can happen in the next week and you may not be able to run the half marathon, “But,” you tell yourself, “At least I am running again.” You smile before saying, “Who am I kidding? I want to run this damn race!” Then you close your eyes and pray. You pray hard.
Perhaps not everyone goes through this, but for me it has been a long road to recovery. I am less than a week away from the Cowtown Half Marathon in Fort Worth, TX and I am hoping my knee holds up. I know it is most important to listen to it and to be aware of any significant pain. It is one thing to be runner. It is another thing to be a responsible runner. For all of you out there suffering with an injury you must realize that many people are going through what you are going through. Remember that tomorrow is always another day closer to recovery.
Always start to finish. Never finish with regret.