At least that’s what I’m bracing myself for. My knee is feeling better, but some say the key to satisfaction is to set one’s expectations low. I’m not doing that for the long term, but for now, for the summer that lies ahead, I’m going to take what I can get and be happy with it, because, well, what’s the alternative?
Before I go any further, I want to interject with a haiku. Yes, a haiku. Why a haiku? Well, I was out to dinner with my friend Jeff a couple weeks ago and he told me (a bit sheepishly and after a few glasses of wine) that while he usually started reading my blog posts, he could never get through an entire one. So, as a courtesy for Jeff, and readers like him, I’ll provide a haiku that sums up the key points I’ll be making. So here it is:
went to the doc and
x-rays show no bone-on-bone
I’ll rest, wait, and see
But that’s not quite the whole story. Maybe one more:
Nietzsche training plan:
that which does not destroy it
only makes stronger
I admit these are pretty bad haiku. But they’re getting job done. And I’ve left out one very important topic. But you can stick it out, Jeff, it’s only 17 more syllables:
on the track the kids
are running faster and I
feel faster too
Okay, so thanks to all of you who have read this far. If you pressed for time, you’ve got enough information for this installment. Back to work! For the rest of you, well, I’ll try to be concise….so I went to the orthopedic doc to get some insight as to the cause of my pain. I mean, pain itself is bad enough, but it’s worse when you don’t know what’s causing it, or what to do in response. I was pretty pessimistic and ready to throw myself back on the operating table and let them have another go at it. But he examined my knee, had me do some deep squats in the office, pressed on it, and then took x-rays. Good news: though x-rays don’t show cartilage (I’d need an MRI for that) we could see that the bones had good distance between them, the space was actually the same for the left knee as it was for the right. What this means is the microfracture was successful, to an extent at least, and the cartilage that was supposed to grow after the procedure did.
So why did it hurt so much when I tried to run? He said it was most likely just inflammation, which is very general term but I understand it like this: after an injury, the body reacts with substances that cause inflammation, which instead of helping, exacerbate the injury, causing more inflammation, et cetera and so on. The more inflammation, the longer it sticks around, the worse the injury gets. He said this was the most likely diagnosis because even though it hasn’t swollen, it’s stiff after inactivity and loosens up the more I do. So what I need to do is reduce the inflammation, which will reduce the pain and limit damage to the joint.
Of course, he said I should consider not running, if that’s what hurts, and though that makes sense, for now I’m going to operate under the assumption that it’s not the running that causes the pain, it’s just that running reveals the pain. The real culprit is the inflammation. So what will I do to attack this inflammation? Maybe a better question is what won’t I do? Since I saw my doctor I have been taking daily doses of: ibuprofen (1200 mg), krill oil supplements (2000 mg), and turmeric (1500 mg). I’ve been rubbing Arnica lotion on my knee 2-3 times a day and 2-3 days a week I eat a can of sardines.
And the result? My knee is feeling better. It’s not pain-free. It still hurts walking up steps, though not as much or as often, and the reduction in pain could simply be from not running, not from me becoming an anti-inflammatory junky. I won’t know that until I try to run again. And if the pain does go away, I’ll have no idea which anti-inflammatory did it. A good scientist would have made only one change at a time and waited to see which, if any, was effective. But I’m no scientist. I’m a runner and I want to run again. So if my knee feels better I’ll keep taking everything. Why not? Because of the nature of my surgery, I suspect running, even the limited workload I envision, will always lead to some inflammation, so I guess my goal is just to cut it back to a manageable level. I mean, so many other things in my life are so good I can handle a little pain, you know, to help keep things in perspective, keep me grounded.
While I’m waiting for the inflammation to leave, I’m also redoubling my efforts to strengthen my knee. I’ve been good at this since the surgery, but not great. In the fall I started running again partly because it seemed like the only way to really strengthen the running muscles again. But I still unconsciously favor my right leg, which means my left is not as strong. The doctor and I discussed the possibility that my knee pain could be from running on it before it was really strong enough, which led me to run with a slightly off kilter stride, and some other kind of injury. Either way, I figure (à la Nietzsche) anything that doesn’t destroy the knee, will make it stronger, so I’ve been working the weights, doing squats, cycling (alternating one leg on my trainer for 50 pedal strokes is my new killer workout), box jumps (I can do these now with no pain), as well as the elliptical and Nordictrak. Even when I walk I sometimes adjust my stride to activate all the muscles, either taking long, forceful steps with a strong push I can feel in the back of my knee or bending my knees in front of me to do a truncated version of the Chuck Berry duck walk. I’ve cut back a little on my swimming, but when I do go to the pool, I do a lot of kicking sets. My kick is weak compared to other swimmers so it will help my times in the pool, but when it gets tough or even hurts a little bit, I tell myself to keep kicking because it’ll help strengthen my legs and get me back to running.
So my running blog has turned into a not-running blog again. But the funny thing is over these last few weeks I feel like I’m getting in shape, like I’m getting faster! The reason is because of my coaching—the outdoor season is in full swing and the kids are starting to run fast times. I’ve had a number of kids run pr’s in the last week, making big jumps from indoor season. When I used to run track meets, I’d do one race, or maybe two. But now it’s like I’m doing 9 or 10 races per meet. Every time one of my runners competes, it’s like I’m doing it too. I get nervous ahead of time, my adrenaline kicks in, I’ve got high hopes, fears, I’m bracing myself for the pain, but telling myself it’s the only way to run a good race. Now of course what I’m experiencing is not as strong as what they are, but it’s a lot different than just watching a race like I’ve done so many times in the past. It’s because I know what their goals are, what they’ve done in training, how hard they’ve worked, and I feel responsible for their performances. Not in the sense that I give myself any credit if they run well, but if they don’t, well, then I feel it’s my fault.
Our first outdoor meet was a bit disappointing. It was cold and windy and a relay meet, which meant the races were spread out and most of our runners were not racing in packs but by themselves. Still, times were slow. Too slow and I wondered what I’d done wrong. Too much of something? Or not enough? I could see the kids were disappointed too. I told them not to worry, but I was worried.
The next few meets, though, their times began to drop. Now none of our guys are fast enough to compete to win in any of the big meets, and that’s out of my control. I’ve got to work with the times they’ve run in the past and the fitness they had at the start of the season. I actually don’t pay much attention to their places and don’t care if a kid is running a mile in 4:50 or 5:40 because I know a good race means competing from the gun, sticking with a pack, hitting goal times, staying focused when it gets hard, then kicking at the finish. If my runners do this, I’m satisfied. And they are satisfied too. I mean, they can’t do more than their best, right? Of course, the great thing about racing is the fact that it gives them an opportunity to test their boundaries, push their limits, do even better than what they thought was their best. And when they do this, it’s pretty glorious, pretty satisfying.
I’m invested in all the runners on the team. I coach them all the same, but when a runner is more emotionally invested, I do follow suit. I hope I’m helping the newer and younger runners, the kids who have come out for track to see what it’s all about or because it’s just something to do, learn to appreciate running, but I’m a more attuned to those that come to practice every day, work really hard, and have made running a priority. And my son, of course, well, I’m invested in him in multiple ways—and he’s been running great, has made by far the biggest improvement since last year. And to see him run like he did last night, breaking 5 minutes in the mile for the first time ever (last year he didn’t come close to breaking 5:30), I was literally tingling with excitement.
But I get excited for all of them–when I see our 800 meter runners sticking with that group that’s passing the 200 mark in 31 seconds, I can feel myself flying along at that speed. When I see one of our milers catch up to the lead pack because the pace has slowed and go by them and try to run away, I can see the open track ahead of me. When I see one of our distance guys sprint a lap in the 4 by 400 at the end of the meet, I can feel myself fighting through the heavy arms and legs that inevitably come on the homestretch.
Coaching has been great, though I know that by planning all the workouts, watching the guys run them, and then race, I’ve kind of fooled myself into believing I can run fast too. But it’s all happening in my mind, not in my body, not in my legs. When I do run again, whenever that happens, I’ll be slow and it’ll be hard and probably pretty painful. Of course, if my knee doesn’t hurt, I’ll take what I can get. And I’ll be happy to do the work to get back in shape. Though I’m not young like the runners I’m coaching, I know what it takes to get fit and fast.
Well, I see I’m almost at 2,000 words so I better stop myself. But hey, Jeff, if you’re still there, I’ve got one more haiku for you:
getting in shape to
run is no secret: just work
I hope I can do…