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. worm


    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.

  2. 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.


  3. 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.

  4. 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!

  5. 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

  6. 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.

  7. Glenn Steckler

    Andy, we have never met but I have watched you run many times and you are an inspiration. For the first time in my life at 46 years old I had knee trouble. I had microfracture surgury on Sept 8 and I am just beginning to run again, now at age 47, without left knee pain for the first time in over 2 years. There is some positive that will come out of the experience for you as it relates to perspective. On the road back you will be surprised how appreciative you will be when you are able to go for a 2 mile run. Then you will eventually be able to run 4 or 5 miles without pain, and that will be a joy. It is not easy but I have a feeling you will be a better man for the experience and when you recover to the point where you are able to run a 100 miles again it will be a whole new experience from what has come before. Keep up the good fight and have a 6 pack handy.


    Telluride, CO

  8. Erik

    I was a runner/duathlete in the early 90's. After arthroscopic surgery and another procedure (I forget what it was called) on my left knee, my Dr. said I would not be able to run like I was- I could run, but it'd be much shorter and going slower would be better. So, I ended up going into just cycling. Fast forward til now, I switched from cycling to the couch and now back as a runner and am running farther than I ever have before! So, it may not be in the time frame you want, but it can happen again!

  9. Ultrawolf

    Dear Andy,

    I hope surgery went well and you soon can go back home from hospital ! I can tell you from my own experience, don´t give a #### if the doctor´s telling you "Ah, you might be able to run again but never as strong blablabla." Well, that might well be the case with "average" people but not with us athletes. They´re not used dealing with Ultrarunners which are though as nails. In ´98 I totally damaged my knee, the cruciate ligament, siedband and meniscus were all gone. The doctor told me I´d never be able to run any longer than 30 minutes if at all. What came were the best years of my running career (and the dream still goes on), I competed in 5 World Championships (for Austria, which was always a dream since I began running as a 11-year old), won numerous races and ran/am running Ultras.

    I´m certain Andy, this injury will not break you, it makes you stronger than ever ! Can´t wait to read an AJW Race Report from Western States 2013 :-)

    Thanks for making so many work days starting with a smile after reading the Tap Room !

    Best wishes from Austria


  10. Anonymous

    If anyone can recover from surgery it's Andy…he used to shy away from anything about his body until he discovered running…now it sounds like he has gone to medical school when he articulates issues with a runner's body. Although I didn't understand his obsession with running at the beginning, I've come to be inspired by not only what he does on the trail, but how methodically he does it. My fears turned to admiration when I went to the Western's one year and met him somewhere around Mile 26…we were in the mountains, there was still snow on the ground, and Andy suddenly appeared through a bunch of pine trees…he looked like he had just run down the block…not a quarter of the way into a 100 miler. It was then that I "got it"…he had found his sport, he had found his vocation, and he was in it for the long "run." That is why I know he will recover from this slight set back and be on the trail again. My respect to you Andy…Your mother!

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