My left ankle is not broken. I rolled it badly during the North Face 100 in May and while the swelling has abated, the pain has persisted and the range of motion is still only half of what it should be. It’s a bad sprain, with a whole bunch of soft tissue damage that will take time to heal, but it will get better. For now, I strap it for Crossfit, and ice it and rest it the rest of the time. In hindsight, it was probably not the best idea to have run on for another 40+km after I injured it.
The bad news is my left knee. When I was a teenager playing rugby, I suffered an injury to the anterior cruciate ligament in my left knee. This was before the days of keyhole surgery, and it was a big deal at the time. For my trouble I have a 44cm (18 inch) scar running from the middle of my outer thigh to just below where the patella tendon connects to my tibia. A section of my IT band was removed and fashioned into a replacement ligament that was then fastened into my knee joint with screws. Yes, it’s Frankenknee.
However, I recovered and have lived a fit and active lifestyle with this freakish joint. I rowed in a state champion crew in my early twenties, I played two final seasons of rugby in my early thirties, and over the last eight years I’ve run seven City2Surfs, around 10 half marathons, four marathons and two ultra marathons. And for most of that time Frankenknee has done me proud.
However, the trauma of the knee reconstruction I had all those years ago was eventually going to rear its ugly head in the form of osteoarthritis, and that is what I’ve been diagnosed with. I have lost a lot of cartilage in my left knee over the 18 years since my surgery and it has gotten to the point where I can no longer keep up long distance running. I’ve been told that I will eventually need a knee replacement and that if I keep up running at the rate I have for the last four years, that will be very soon, rather than 20 years from now.
So, let me introduce you to Frankenknee’s ugly sister. As a kid I was also a very keen basketball player. Once I started growing in my early teens the jumping and pivoting on my growing joints caused me to ultimately develop Osgood-Schlatter disease in both knees. This is a condition where the patella tendon pulls a section of bone away from the top of the tibia causing a large and painful lump to develop below the knees. For 75% of people with the condition it goes away when they stop growing. I was one of the unlucky 25%. It went away in my left knee, but has remained in my right knee. Over the last year or so it has flared up again, but has generally been manageable. The X-ray revealed a section of bone that was still detached from my tibia which is causing swelling beneath my right knee. When it’s bad it almost looks like I have a second kneecap there! It is uncomfortable, but is manageable with anti-inflammatories and RICE. I also strap it for CrossFit.
Where to from here?
So my doc has told me that running is now a no go for me, and that I should start looking to swimming and cycling for endurance training. I like those things, but running is what I do. I’m a runner. I was a runner. I’m having a hard time adjusting to this idea.
I’m so glad I have CrossFit and that CrossFit will actually slow down the osteoarthritis by building up the strength in my leg muscles around the joint, helping them to absorb more, and my knee less, of the impact.
I can’t see myself giving up running completely, but I don’t see myself taking on marathon training cycles ever again. I will ration my running carefully – focus on intervals on grass, improving my form to lessen the impact on my knees and maintaining my endurance primarily through rowing and cycling. I may even let myself run the occasional 10k or save myself for the City2Surf.
Running is a good thing, but it’s not an ultimate thing. Life goes on. 3, 2, 1…Go!