The Ticking Clock

AJW reflects on his injury setbacks and how he approaches them.

By on March 9, 2012 | Comments

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!
Andy Jones-Wilkins

Andy Jones-Wilkins is an educator by day and has been the author of AJW’s Taproom at iRunFar for over 11 years. A veteran of over 190 ultramarathons, including 38 100-mile races, Andy has run some of the most well-known ultras in the United States. Of particular note are his 10 finishes at the Western States 100, which included 7 times finishing in the top 10. Andy lives with his wife, Shelly, and Josey, the dog, and is the proud parent of three sons, Carson, Logan, and Tully.