Saturday, October 29, 2011

Confessions of a Born Again Racer

A Dhia,
deonaigh dom an suaimhneas
chun glacadh le rudaí
nach féidir liom a athrú, misneach 

chun rudaí a athrú nuair is féidir,
agus gaois
chun an difríocht a aithint.
O Lord, 
grant me the Serenity
to accept the things
I cannot change the courage

 to change the things I can,
and the wisdom
to know the difference.

Driving home from my 10k this morning I had the uncomfortable, though necessary, realization that I will have to work a lot harder to accomplish what I want to accomplish than I had to work 20 years ago. Perhaps my memory is skewed. My recollection is that in my 20s I did not work super hard for a sub-40 minute 10k. Now, I know I did work for it and I raced a lot, but I didn't work really hard and my training was somewhat haphazard. Now 20 years later I feel just as strong physically, and stronger mentally - but it just seems that I'm falling short of what I want to do.

I took a long hiatus from racing - from about the time I was 27 until 45! I still ran a lot, but I focused my athletic energy on rock climbing (which, quite honestly, I'm probably naturally better at). The truth is that I got burned out on racing in my 20s. I put too much pressure on myself. I started to hate racing and the anxiety it brought with it. And just like that, I quit. I never looked back...until my mid-40s.

After having my daughter (at the ripe old age of 43) I developed a tenacious case of calf tendinitis which didn't seem to respond to any sort of treatment (my theory is that it came from pushing the baby jogger 50+ miles a week). My PT recommended an MRI to rule out any tears - and the results of the MRI were grim. I was told by the very nice nurse on the other end of the telephone that my running days were over. Bamm. Fini.

Like that, I'm standing in a store and someone tells me that my life as I've always known it is over.  Like that, I am no longer a runner. Like that, everything around me begins to blur, literally, and I think that I might just collapse, right there in the store - and I don't care what anyone else might think. Like that, I am thrust deep into an identity crisis. Like that, some central part of me is given a terminal diagnosis.

I am then told, very matter-of-factly, that there is nothing that can be done for me. "You're too young for a knee replacement" the nice nurse assures me. Knee replacement! Knee replacement! I've never had a bloody ache in my knee, ever! Not ever! I want to scream at her - This can't be. But an MRI is an MRI - and so it must be true. Oh my God, it must be true.

Immediately, it occurs to me that there are many, many (running) things I have put off until later. I always had a picture of myself running until the day I die - or at least way into my senior years. There were races I always wanted to do...someday. But now what? Someday would never come. I always wanted to run New York - since I was a child - but now I can't, ever.

For the next few months I vacillated between feeling inconsolably depressed and resigned, to feeling stubborn indignation, determined to make sense of what made no sense. Perhaps it was just wishful thinking, I chided myself. But the fact remained: My knee didn't hurt.  And so I set off to find some answers that did make sense. However it turned out, I just wanted it to make sense.

What the orthopedic surgeon at Stegman Hawkins in Denver told me, is that my knee wasn't the problem. Oh sure, my knee was/is not perfect. Sure there's small tears, and some thinning of articular cartilage, and delamination (yum) etc. but those things are asymptomatic. He said that after the age of 30 most of us don't really want to know what's going on in our joints: Our knees, our backs, our shoulders, our hips - because those changes aren't causing problems, and they may never cause problems, but knowing about them can cause problems because we worry.

Ten months after this all began, I was running again - slowly. I had, quite by accident, stumbled upon a treatment (dry needling) that finally worked for me. The diagnosis that made sense: Tendinosis. The reason it made sense is that it was consistent with my symptoms and it responded to appropriate treatment. 

And yet I feel I am running on borrowed time. I do worry.  Every time I feel the tiniest twinge in my knee I think: There it is, I'm done. It does cause worry, but it also drives me to do what I can while I can do it. And so I realize that I must work harder - and perhaps harder than I did when I was younger because, well, I'm older but I'm really not satisfied with using that as an excuse. I really do want to see what I have in me - what I can do. I never really pushed myself when I was younger, and so I must now or perhaps lose my only chance to see what I have in me. I am racing no one but myself and time and the desire to do what I can do while I can still do it. I will never again take this for granted. I wish I could have made my younger-self understand this. But perhaps that's just one of the lessons we learn along the way, if we're paying attention. Better late than never.

And so 2012 is the year I will run Boston and NYC. I've qualified for both. Now's the time.


  1. ...bravo!!!!....I so enjoy all of your blogs!!...I have the vision of running until the day I die as well...I just started distance running in June of 2010...have been racing and training ever since!(7 marathons and a plethora of other distances)I'm 52 and turn 53 in April..."better late than never" indeed!!!!'re such an inspiration to me---thank you!!

  2. You inspire me. Amazing. I (hopefully) will be able to run until the day my heart stops. I didn't start running- didn't even KNOW I had it in me to run, until I was 24. Now at 29 it's such an intrical part of my life, my very person, that to be told I couldn't run again would DEVASTATE me. I say kudos to you for finding your truth and for continuing what you love to do!!! GO YOU!

  3. What an incredible blog post! I set a modern day 10K PR today beating my old one from 2005 so it felt great. While I can't turn back the hands of time I'm more focused on nutrition and running efficiency as I age. The day may come when I can no longer run or cycle and I hope I accept it graciously, but for now I try to take advantage of every day. I took up indoor rock climbing for a winter cross-training activity so I enjoy when you write about climbing too.

  4. I can't say much about my first 20 years running -- didn't do it for the first or second 20, and just began doing it last year (4 years before I hit my third 20). It's bringing out a part(s) of me I've never known. Recent grappling with achilles tendinosis (or bursitis, the podiatrist isn't 100% either way) has me worrying if my body will take my new-found door into myself away from me, prematurely. So I appreciated your thoughts at the end of a 12+ hour day. There's a good deal of mulling them around to be done when my brain is less full. Thanks again, CR.

  5. I am 35 and have had knee problems since High School. Was ready for surgery (just to smooth out the jagged edges in there) and the insurance denied it told me to take anti inflammatory meds..That was 13 years ago. Still same stupid thing..take anti inflammatory meds, but this time I am very serious about running, it makes me feel really good about myself and helps with my figure..I love the races, though I am not all that good I run to run. Now with my knees still causing me problems, I am on a mission to find out what exactly is causing my pain. First stop it PT, so far it is helping a little, might try the smoothing thing again...knee replacement is TOTALLY out of the question for ever and ever (my dad just had 5 surgeries to fix the knee repleacmement..)I just keep running and don't do what hurts..squatting..that's what my kids are for :)


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