The Ticking Clock

It 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
This 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: finished in the top 10 men at the Western States 100 7-straight times. He's sponsored by Patagonia and Drymax socks and is iRunFar's editorialist.

View Comments (56)

  • 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.

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  • Dude,

    Sending lots of positive thoughts your way today and for your recovery.

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  • 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

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  • 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.

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  • Good luck today! Whatever happens, if you keep the positive attitude you will be in great shape.

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  • Positive thoughts for you and your procedure.

    Be Well

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  • Andy, sending you the best positive thoughts. Can't imagine your positive attitude leaving at this point!

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  • 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.

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  • 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.

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  • 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.

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  • 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.

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  • One upside is that maybe you can pick up a sponsorship from Cho-Pat!

    :)

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  • 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.

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  • 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.

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    • 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.

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  • 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.

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  • 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.

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  • 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.

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  • 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.

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  • Dude, good luck and best from the UK! Take it easy.

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  • 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

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