The Ticking Clock

AJWs TaproomIt really all began last April. Shortly after the American River 50 I began to notice a stabbing pain in the heel of my right foot. Initially, it only bothered me when I first got out of bed in the morning but gradually it became more acute. Before Western States it never got to the point where I couldn’t run on it but over time I became aware of the fact that it was taking me longer and longer to warm-up and to run the pain away. Even on the morning of Western States, after having a nice two-week taper, I limped to the kitchen to make my coffee and only felt relief about 500 meters from the top of the Escarpment.

The race, of course, was outstanding. I loved every minute of it and the adrenaline and excitement that always accompanies Western States for me probably masked any pain I was feeling. But alas, as the wonder of that race faded into memory, the nagging pain in my foot persisted and gradually became worse. By the time I was completing a four-hour run on the Appalachian Trail on August 18th, I was reduced to a limp. I folded my broken body into my car after that run and began to cry.

A visit to the running doctor here in Charlottesville confirmed an acute case of plantar fasciitis. I went on NSAIDS, got one of those nighttime boots, filled all of my shoes with PowerStep insoles, and became closely acquainted with the exercise bike and the swimming pool at my local health club. By early November, the pain was resolving itself and I was able to slowly return to running. First, all my runs were on flat footpaths or the treadmill but gradually, as my strength returned, I began to head for the hills. I was nowhere close to as fast as I once was but I was getting out there, enjoying the trails, and beginning to look forward to the summer. At that point, my exuberance got the best of me and I started to overdo it. On January 29th, my body gave out on me again.

This time, it was my left knee. On a standard 8-mile rolling road run I became afflicted with acute knee pain on my medial side. At first, I thought it was just a bad case of tendinitis and I did all the standard home remedies. Then, after three weeks of that and not a bit of running, I began to notice more acute pain along my joint line particularly at full flexion. Finally, an MRI determined a mild meniscal tear. At the time, the doctor believed the injury could be resolved through conservative treatment but last week, while on a trip to Seattle, it hit the point of no return. Crossing the street after a conference workshop, I hopped up onto the curb and heard and felt a resounding “pop” in my left knee. After collapsing pathetically on the sidewalk my friends carried me into my hotel, I grabbed a bag of ice and the phone, and headed to the airport to catch a hastily scheduled redeye flight home. Within 24 hours of my return home I was back in the MRI room and on Monday my doctor called with the verdict: Acute Medial Meniscal tear as well as some residual cartilage damage on the femoral condyle. While he gave me two options, it was clear, at this point, that surgery was inevitable. For the past two days I have wandered around the campus of my school on crutches.

My hopes to move this along quickly have been answered as I’m having surgery today. At this point, I have no idea what the future holds, but I have no choice but to be optimistic. I suppose none of us can be adequately prepared for the inevitability of aging and I, for one, have felt a certain arrogant immunity to this phenomenon over the past five years. Clearly, I do not feel that way anymore. When I asked my doctor, point blank, if I would ever run again he said, simply, “Probably, but you’ll be running in a different body.”

So now I am summoning all of my resources for this next step in my personal journey. And, if running has taught me something, it is that a positive attitude and a sense of humor can get you through just about anything. Whether it’s a bad patch at Mile 65 in a 100-mile race or a potentially career ending injury, having a glass-half-full attitude and smiling has a power and a resilience that, I have to believe, will make my life a little better even in the midst of the inexorable ticking clock.

Bottoms up!

Ps. You can now request a free AJW’s Taproom bumper sticker (4″ x 4″).

AJW Taproom’s Beer of the Week
Sixpoint Resin Double IPAThis week’s beer comes from a great brewery in Brooklyn, New York, which is about a mile from where my grandfather was born. Sixpoint Beer’s Resin Double IPA tips the scales over 9% ABV and over 100 IBU’s.

If ever there was a beer that could turn the grayest, darkest day bright, it’s this one. Enjoy!

Call for Comments (from Bryon)

  • How have you approached injuries that threatened to end your running career?
  • Got a great comeback story? Share it here!

There are 56 comments

  1. Alison Bryant

    Hang in there Andy. I have had surgery on both of my knees (Sept 2008 and Feb 2010), including a microfracture procedure on the left one. Since then I have run multiple ultras. After surgery, take it easy for the first few days, then listen to your doctor and PT for what to do next (it will depend on what procedure they end up doing). You will come back from this and be able to run again and you will be a smarter athlete for it. If you have any questions or want to commiserate over how much it sucks, feel free to email me. I am a PT so I would be happy to give you ideas if your MD/PT is not sympathetic to your running addiction.

  2. Wyatt Hornsby

    AJW: Hoping for a speedy recovery for you. I was sidelined in 2010-2011 for five months with PF, so I feel your pain in many ways. I think you'll be surprised what you'll be able to do again after recovering. What many doctors don't take into account is how strong and resillient the ultrarunner's body is due to what we put ourselves through. Good luck and God bless!

    Wyatt

  3. olga

    You do have the right attitude, or at least faking it, and that's we as ultrarunners are good at – faking it until it works. My heart goes out to you. Keep us posted on the surgery and recovery, as we all can learn from it, as we did from your WS prep.

  4. CJ

    AJW, you're a true warrior in the trail running community. I know you'll bounce back. I pray your surgery goes as well as possible and your recovery is smooth. Thanks again for your wonderful column and insight.

  5. Ethan

    AJW – thanks for sharing your struggle with us. As another injured runner hoping to pull it together in time to salvage some of the season this year, it's helpful to be reminded that a positive outlook is paramount. I'm sure you'll be back faster, stronger, and sooner than you expect.

  6. Jeff Faulkner

    Very sorry about all this Andy, but as said before you do have the right attitude about this. On the flip side, this will give you plenty of time to write some thought provoking essays for IRF. You are a bit of a mentor for some of us. :) Get well soon.

  7. xplantrunner

    Good luck with surgery!!

    20 years ago i couldn't walk up stairs without collapsing and ended up with a heart transplant. Nowadays i hit the English fells and trails at least 4 times a week, what the mind (and other people) tell you is impossible is always possible. Never lose hope. Stay strong.

  8. Christian Johnson

    Wishing you a speedy recovery AJW!

    The only advice I can offer is to listen to your body very closely as you get back after it. As I'm sure you're aware not all doctors understand that pain thresholds are different for us and tell us to "let pain be your guide". Take care of it now so you can enjoy the long term.

  9. Jacques

    AJW, I've done a lot of thinking on the injury-age thing the last half dozen years. One thing I believe is that it's not so much age as it is miles spent with old-bad habits that was doing me in. I couldn't get away with all the dumb stuff I did in the first 20 years of my Ultra career. I changed to some more positive running mates, changed the way I trained, changed my running form and most importantly changed my race goals. Having a good time is more important now then a fast time. Sounds to me like your going to do fine with this whole age-recovery thing.

    1. Wyatt Hornsby

      I couldn't agree more. As Indiana Jones said, "It's not the years; it's the mileage." I think extended time off will do AJW a world of good. One thing I've learned about AJW from watching him from afar and seeing what he did at WS last year: Never count the man out. Just when you think he might be in over his head, he stuns the world.

  10. Jim, K

    Andy, best wishes for you today…."Attitude is everything." (Don't remember who said it.) Yours is great….You will be running again in no time.

  11. Jake

    Good luck today! Remember, you have to really do the PT and the rest after something like this to come back 100%. Coming back too quickly can really screw you up long term.

    Fingers are crossed for you.

  12. Allison

    So far I'm not dealing with my SI flare up well. I've pretty much been sulking about it and drowning in self-pity. But all the reading I've been doing is all about the positive mental attitude and how helpful it is ( which I do know but have been choosing to ignore!!) so I'm getting myself out of my funk and heading to the pool to do some aqua jogging. Runners Connect lists it as the top cross training exercise for injured runners.

  13. Steve Pero

    Good luck today, Andy….hope all these comments help to cheer you up post surgery.

    As for aging, I ran into the injury bug back 8 years ago at age 52 and realized I had to back off of the paces "most days" in order to continue. Now I am age 60 and going strong, but can't do as much speed as I used to and run as many miles as I used to. I did run a 70 mile week last week, most of it real slow and paid for all those miles with tight and tired legs most of this week.

    You will adapt and adjust and we'll all be hoping you can get back in the saddle and get another top ten finish at States.

    Looking forward to reading of your recovery and return to training over on your other blog and here at Irunfar.

  14. Morgan Williams

    AJW, both your endeavours and your fine writing are appreciated on this side of the Atlantic too, so good wishes for a decent outcome from me and I'm sure plenty of others here in the UK.

    Don't spend too much time in the Tap Room post surgery!

    Morgan

  15. John

    Good luck Andy. Sending good vibes to your knee. And just remember age is just a number, young folks get plenty of knee injuries too. (And PF, and just about every other running related injury out there) Your optimism will go a long way to helping you to recovery.

  16. Andy

    Wishing you a speedy recovery. The ultra world (and world at large) is full of stories of Phoenixian return from injury and illness, and with the positive attitude yours is sure to be among them. Just be careful with the post-surgery IPA-oxycodone cocktail!

  17. Mark Forehand

    I got hit by a car at an airport in 1994. Broke the middle metatarsal that did not heal correctly, broke three places on the small metatarsal. The doctor said that I would never run again. He further said with my type 1 diabetes I was sure to have to have the foot amputated because it was a significant crush injury.

    I was broken hearted beyond all repair. Inconsolable. In 2005 I started to run again, pain every time once I got to about 40 miles a week. I tried everything, exercise, alternating, running 4 days a week, this that and the other thing. In 2010 I decided to go with inserts.

    Last week I ran 50k on my own on Sunday and will run Conamarra Ultra Marthon on 1 April.

    You will run again, you will.

  18. Greg

    Good luck with the surgery and rehab. Injuries suck, but seem to be an inevitable part of what we do. I was hit by a car during a long training ride right before my last Ironman and ended up with with 4 fractures to my lower spine. I was really fortunate that they were not significantly displaced and should not pose any long term problems. Thanks to a great team of docs, PTs and chiro, I expect to make it to the starting line at Western States. Hang in there and keep that positive attitude – it really makes all the difference.

  19. Martha

    Besides being optimistic, the best thing you can do is: Be patient; don't rush your recovery. Hope all goes well today and you'll be back on the trails soon (but not TOO soon!) I'm also currently sidelined due to some recent surgery (non-running related)…and working hard to take my own advice about being patient. :)

  20. chris twardzik

    dude man. I am sending very good thoughts as well and I am just 2 weeks into recovery from surgery (a medial meniscus tear) myself and on crutches for 4 weeks with a 4-6 month recovery window. OUCH! So I understand exactly where you are (but am not as good of a runner as you so it may be worse for you :)) Are they removing anything? or repairing? You have a different mind than 99.99% of the doctors out there and can most likely come back from ANYTHING. you will run again and be happy. Just do everything the doctor says and nothing more! ultra guys get their PT homework and may have a tendency to do 1,000 quad flexes as opposed to 3 sets of 10 :). Let us all know how it goes – and stay positive and happy. EVERY DAY gets better man.

  21. Frenchy

    Ten Commandments of Endurance:

    10. Expect a journey and a battle.

    9. Focus on the present and set intermediate goals.

    8. Don't dwell on the negative.

    7. Transcend the physical.

    6. Accept your fate (limitations).

    5. Have confidence that you will succeed.

    4. Know that there will be an end.

    3. Suffering is OK.

    2. Be kind to yourself.

    1. Quitting is not an option.

    I follow these to the letter. Turn a negative into a positive. Stay the course.

  22. Kristin Z.

    Good luck, AJW. I'm a PT also and I'd certainly keep the running goals alive but don't put a timeline on them just yet… I'd also make sure during your knee rehab that you're implementing lots of core, (abs/back/hip/butt/hip flexor) as well as upper and lower body strength and balance… etc, etc… all the strengthening and dynamic flexibility that gets pushed off when running's going like gangbusters! you just might come back stronger and faster yet… but give it time to heal… rushing the healing to salvage a racing season can lead to early all sorts of nastiness… letting your body set the pace is something you'll be thankful for LOTS of miles/years down the road! RECOVER WELL!

    kz

  23. the "other&quot

    "And, if running has taught me something, it is that a positive attitude and a sense of humor can get you through just about anything." Well put AJW. Here is to a successful recovery!

  24. Rob Y

    Wishing you a speedy recovery Andy! I feel your pain. After dealing with, what I know now, a heel spur in my right foot for years and years (off and on, often confused with PF or a cause of it), my body finally decided enough was enough. I sustained a stress fracture to my right heel bone; literally sheered off the heel spur from the rest of my heel! In fact it's still technically floating around in there! I was in a cam-walker boot for over 3 months! NO RUNNING! This was the longest I've ever been away from running in over 20 years of running! But you know what? It was sort of a blessing in disguise. While it was rough starting back up after such a long hiatus, I came back so much more refreshed and renewed with energy like I haven't experienced in a very long, long time. I'm convinced that I need to take some serious time off once a year; actually have a true off season. I think the way I felt, re-enthused, far outweighed the pain and trials of getting back into ultra shape. Treat this as some down time, recover, rehabilitate and you'll be right back at in no time! Godspeed!

  25. Steve

    In life and trail running its not a straight line from A to B. Find a good pace for this mountain and don't pound the decent.

  26. konrad

    You'll be fine. We all hit these spots. I sure have. My advice is to consult with doctors who deal with athletes on a regular basis. There's a huge difference between those that do and those that don't.

  27. George Zack

    Andy … like many above, I hope this is a "bump" in the road for you and that you work through this. We'd all love this to be a story of you over coming this thing and continuing to run in the same sort of inspirational fashion that has become much of your trademark over the last decade.

    AJW is an inspiration regardless of what comes of this – even if that means never an other step of running. AJW is not just about running. AJW is about living. Live it.

  28. worm

    Andy,

    Just wanted you to know I've been there – acl replacement on both knees and meniscus repair/removal in both knees, 4 surgeries before the age of 32. Just had my 37th birthday yesterday and am running better than ever. There are rough times, low times, but you get through them. I avoided a 5 th surgery last year with a great doc and physical therapy. Theyre doing amazing things now You'll come through it and enjoy your running more than ever. Best wishes.

  29. AJW

    Dear Friends,

    Thank you all so much for the incredibly kind and supportive words in response to this column. I particularly appreciate all the advice and guidance. It is yet another reminder of what a great community we are all a part of.

    The surgery yesterday went quite well. From start to finish the procedure lasted just over an hour during which Dr. Eric Carson and his team trimmed out about 30% of my damaged medial meniscus (he referred to it as a "complex tear") and also "cleaned off" some cartilage damage on my femoral condyle. In my post-op discussions with the team they were confident that a full recovery is likely but I will need to be cautious and patient in recovery and rehabilitation. For now, I will spend the balance of the weekend on the couch enjoying time with my wife and sons and also watching a bit of sports on TV (NCAA Basketball, the Doral Open Golf Tournament, the Paris-Nice bicycle race, the UVA/Cornell lax game, and "Unbreakable"). Come to think of it, I have a busy weekend ahead!

    Several friends have asked about my plans for the summer. And, while I certainly had high hopes coming into the season, at this point I am taking things one step at a time and my most important priority is to return to full strength so that I can still run these things 20 years from now. Western States and Hardrock will always be there!

    Whatever happens with that, however, I am really excited about how things are taking shape for WS weekend this year. As of now, I am planning on moderating the Western States Veteran's Panel as I did last year and I am in the process of inviting panelists to participate. Additionally, the Squaw Valley Institute is organizing a pre-race event which will include a screening of JB Benna's film "Unbreakable" and a discussion with 25-time Western States finisher Tim Twietmeyer and I to follow the film. Finally, Bryon and I have a few ideas up our sleeves for race weekend which will take "AJW's Taproom" to a new level. Fun stuff all the way around.

    Again, thanks everyone for the wonderful support. I'll keep in touch.

    AJW

  30. Brad G.

    Hi Andy,

    No question you will run again. My guess is that you will come back even stronger. When you have a few minutes, watch this video about Will Blackmon's recovery from a "career-ending" knee injury. I found it to be very inspiring and it is particularly apropos.

    http://tinyurl.com/7jp7969

  31. Todd

    Hey Andy, glad to hear your surgery was successful. I had surgery a few years back for an ACL, MCL replacement and meniscus tear. I have run several ultra's since then, with no knee problems. You too will be back out there enjoying the trails you so obviously love before you know it. Best of luck with your recovery and rehab!

  32. Garett

    Hi Andy –

    Holly and I both read your posting (as we do very often) and agreed that your overflowing optimism and indomitable spirit will be your greatest assets in getting through this.

    Hang in there. It must help tremendously to know that so many people are thinking of you — and that they believe in your ability to rebound (if that is what you decide to do).

    Be good, and stay smart,

    – Garett

  33. Rhymes with fountain

    "Against the wind… I'm still running against the wind. I'm older now but still running against the wind." – Bob Seger

    Soldier on Andy.

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