I've seen friends absolutely devastated by injury, seemingly just as they are peaking in their training. It's a bizarre feeling of helplessness: "I'm in the best shape of my life, except for this lousy [insert body part here]."
For me, the injury didn't even come as a result of pushing myself too hard in training or a race. I was cooling down after last Saturday's race, at a triumphal moment, having won my first-ever 5K race. Rob and I were running an easy 8:30 pace, staying on the sidewalk to keep out of the way of 10-milers who were still finishing their race.
In my defense, this was a really lousy sidewalk, with huge chunks of concrete lifted up, and barely enough room for two runners side by side (although arguably this should have motivated me to be even more careful with my running). I had just spotted Richard Hefner heading toward the finish and was about to wave to him and yell a few words of support when -- BAM -- suddenly I was on the concrete. I fell so quickly that I didn't have time to extend my arm to break my fall. I landed on my left elbow and left knee.
My running jacket was torn and my elbow was bleeding. But I could tell almost immediately that the knee was the real problem. I tried to bounce up as quickly as possible, to jog it out, but I could tell that jogging wasn't going to be an option. I told Rob to go ahead and finish his cool-down while I walked back to the finish line. After a minute or two I tried jogging again and this time it seemed all right; I jogged another three-quarters of a mile and went back to celebrating with my friends at the finish.
I even snapped a picture of Chad on the course and then managed to beat him to the finish line to get another shot of him as he finished:
|Chad's in the yellow shirt...|
The next day I ran with DART as I had planned -- over 13 miles. The knee hurt a fair bit as I started, but after I warmed up it was fine, until about 12 miles in, when it started to be painful to run faster than about a 9-minute pace. I limped home, iced the knee, and planned on taking it easy on Monday morning.
Far from taking it easy, after running less than a quarter-mile I realized that running was too painful to continue. I made my way home and wondered if it was time to visit the doctor.
I've often wondered why injured runners don't want to face facts and do what is necessary to get better. Time and time again I've seen them leap into recovery too quickly, only to aggravate an injury. Now suddenly I found myself in a similar position. I turned to online forums and Facebook for advice, and the message was near-universal: VISIT A DOCTOR. The few exceptions were jokes of the "rub some dirt on it" type.
Fine. I visited the doctor. I got an x-ray. The x-ray confirmed that there was no evidence of broken bones (though I'm aware that small cracks in bones can often go undetected for weeks). The doctor, as expected, prescribed rest.
Rest? But I've got a half-marathon on Saturday!
I think I had told the doctor that she would have laughed me out of the examining room. She did say I could do any exercise that didn't cause pain in the knee.
Yesterday I decided to try the "elliptical" machine at the gym. I have such an aversion to this sort of device that I had never even tried one. I couldn't figure out how it worked. I pressed the "start" button but nothing happened. I tried "pedaling," and some lights came on, but my knee also hurt. Maybe this wasn't the ideal machine.
The doctor had mentioned "power-walking," but I feared this wouldn't give me enough aerobic benefit. But there was the treadmill -- maybe I could set it up with a steep incline at a walking pace.
I ended up settling on 15% grade -- the maximum -- and a 3 mph pace. This actually seemed to work. My knee didn't hurt, and yet I could tell I was exerting a similar effort to an easy 8:00 running pace. Somehow I managed to keep it up for an hour, after which my knee didn't feel appreciably different from when I started. Sure, it was boring, but at least I wasn't going to get out of shape while I recovered.
Today I did the same workout, but remembered to bring an e-book. Much less boring, and I managed to pass another hour on the "dreadmill."
My plan -- perhaps a foolish one -- is to do another walking workout tomorrow, then on Friday, try running. If I can run four miles and pick up to half-marathon pace for one of those miles, without pain, then I'll give the race a shot on Saturday. If I can't, then I'll resign myself to cheering on my friends. Fortunately the knee does seem to be getting better every day, so hopefully, if I'm careful, I should be back up to speed in time for my target race of the fall season, the Kiawah Island Half Marathon on December 14.