Sunday, March 8, 2009

My Knee Injury

Last June, two days after Western States was cancelled, I went out on a 56-mile consolation run by myself on the McKenzie River trail. The trail is always beautiful, but I had a terrible run; I ran out of water and salt, and ultimately, injured my knee. It was a good thing I hadn’t raced at Western States. After some time off for healing, I still had a fair amount of pain on the inside of my left knee. Finally, in October, I’d had enough. I made an appointment with a well known running/sports doctor in Eugene. He had some ideas, but wanted to do an MRI to be sure. The MRI was somewhat inconclusive, but he thought the meniscus had torn. This brings me to the real subject of this post. I’ve been running and racing since age eleven. I run because I love to, because I have to. It is good for my mental and physical health, and probably feeds a good chunk of my self esteem. However, I always told myself if I ever got to a point where my running was causing long-term damage or was in some other way bad for me, I would be strong enough to shift my energy and focus. I would view it as an opportunity to challenge myself in different ways, and try activities I’d never attempted or had time to do, wrapped up as I was with running. “Well, it looks like you might have a torn meniscus,” the doctor said. “Every runner has 30 years or so of good running in them, so you’ve had a great go at it.” He continued: “You might want to consider transitioning to lower mileage—you’d be surprised how well you can still race on 30 miles a week!” So this, it seemed, was it. Surgery might be an option, but did I really want to consider that option if ultimately I might be damaging my body more by continuing to run? A whole world of physical activity exists—I wanted to be walking around in the woods at age 90, and I wasn’t willing to sacrifice that in order to feed my addiction at age 37. Right? OK! Time to get out on the bike, swim laps at the pool, get out to go rock-climbing… I would be having so much fun I wouldn’t even notice when the running reaper came snooping around. The problem with Ultrarunning magazine is that after you pay your subscription, it shows up at your door whether or not you are running. At first I read it from cover to cover, finding joy in the amazing races, and peoples’ stories, even if I wasn’t joining them. But, a few months into my new no-running lifestyle, it just made me depressed and I recycled it shortly after it arrived. Other aspects of my new training life were harder to ignore: the smell of fall leaves, the rich reds and browns of the Amazon trail in November, the rain clouds slipping over and around Spencer’s Butte, the sound of alder branches moving against each other in an autumn breeze, and, of course, the endorphins. Biking didn’t do it, swimming didn’t come close, and I’m not a gym rat. And then there was the unknown—the unfinished question of Western States. I’d reached a point where I wanted to be on the starting line of that race more than just about anything. After 6 months or so, lots of time lifting weights and stretching, a different doctor, a very slow build up, and a new physical therapist, I’m back. Turns out it wasn’t a torn meniscus and hopefully I’m not doing long term damage to my body. I can almost take things for granted again. I still like to think I can let go of competitive running someday if I had to, but I certainly learned a lot about myself this past year. I’m a long distance runner and it’s what I should be doing. When I scan ultra race results now I look for the oldest finishers. It’s one thing to place near the top; it’s another to still be doing what you love when you are 70 or older.


  1. Dan, this post is beautiful. You're going to be the gnarliest old grandpa on the trails in 2050.

  2. Good thing you're okay now. Sprains and injuries are normal if you're a runner. What's important is that you were able to get up every time you fell down. Keep it up! You're doing very great, Dan!