At the home stretch of the Phoenix rock n’ roll with a mere 200 meters to the finish, I felt a twinge in my knee, similar to what I felt on my skis. I didn’t think anything of it after I crossed the finish line because it dissipated immediately. I met Justin and relished in my runner’s high of a new PR. I felt like I had finally gained back some of my college fitness, which was a large feat for me. I was back in the game, and enjoying my moment of hard work paid off. I jogged the 1-mile stretch back to my apartment and felt great, no pain. In cautious form, I took the next couple days off and focused on school as it was also the beginning of spring semester.
Day 3 – lets go for a short shake-out run. I moved slowly and smoothly, and felt like I had shaken whatever kink I had in my knee. I kept my recovery rhythm for the rest of the week and had my sight set on the Phoenix Marathon in six weeks with hopes of breaking 3 hours on the flat, fast course.
That weekend we packed up for a routine weekend road trip up to Flagstaff to stay with friends and soak up the mountains. I laced up my shoes on Sunday for a long run in effort to bounce back into training. It was a great run until mile 17. I was less than a mile from the car and my knee pain came on without warning. A deep, sharp, achy pain caused me to walk the rest of the way to the car. This time, the pain never went away.
I have always been cautious in my training with mileage and workouts, listening to the nuances of my body and backing off when need be and religiously sticking to the 10% rule. It was clear after that Sunday that I would not be doing the Phoenix marathon when I limped around the rest of the day, and my whole quad throbbed in the car. On our drive back to the Phoenix valley after my long run the pain in my leg radiated up through my hip and tightened my quad. It was incredibly uncomfortable, but I hoped it would calm down within a few weeks of rest. But oh no, I was in it for the long run. I was bummed, because I knew a summer marathon was not a practical goal while training in Phoenix because of the deathly temperatures that would last through October. I was fast to accept that I needed at least 4-6 weeks to heal and lay low. My training partners were bummed and tried to convince me to still consider racing, but I was steadfast in taking care of my body. I went to Big Five that evening and bought an aqua jogging belt. I thought to myself, I’ll be back on the roads soon enough.
I’ll spare you of describing each phase of agony through my injury and cut to the chase. I have spent the past six months seeing multiple health practitioners, getting X-rays, MRIs, and falling deep into the hopelessness of an injured athlete. I have become a regular at the local pool, but the endorphins from lap swimming are measly compared to my desert trail runs.
The first 5 weeks of cross-training were a piece of cake. Of course I could have killed to be running, but I was motivated to get healthy, and stay in shape while I was out. I aqua jogged or swam every morning, and on the weekends Justin and I mountain biked. The pain was still there, but it wasn’t irritated further by activity. In fact, it was relieving. Overwhelmed by confusion of my injury, I eventually decided to stay off it completely… and let me tell you that was not a piece of cake. For someone who is active every day, the lack of movement and endorphins had me plummet into a bad state. After two weeks of being inactive, my knee pain had increased. Movement was relieving, so I knew I had to get back to cross training during the healing process.
If you have been following my husband’s journey, you know that we are both injured. At times, we have been able to navigate the darkness together, but other times we are both too low to pull the others head above water. For most of this time I have felt frozen. In the midst of losing my dad, I have been denied my primary coping mechanism, leaving me lost in grief and wallowing in the stress of graduate school.
After six months, a sport that has defined me since I was 12, is gone. I am struggling with my identity and coping with an uncertain future. I have been stripped of all that I worked for leading up to my injury. The quest to break 3 hours in the marathon is a notion of the past, and I am unsure if it will ever be on my radar again. My quads have atrophied (over an inch to be exact, but who’s measuring anyway?), and my body has changed. Am I swimmer and a biker now? I guess so, but I never fancied labeling myself with something I wasn’t wholly passionate about.
Each month has brought emotional pain, but I have slowly gained more acceptance of my fate. My MRI from February showed edema in the fat pad under my patella with possible impingement and high ‘intrasubstance’ at the insertion of my quadriceps tendon. What is intrasubstance? I still don’t know, but the last doctor I saw a couple weeks ago said “That intrasubstance is a real thing, I know you are in pain.” It seems to be a version of inflammation, which I didn't need an MRI to justify. I was referred to PT on multiple occasions, and went religiously for over three months, but each session left me in more pain, with exercises that would instigate bruising and swelling around my knee. I was assured to continue with treatment, and I badly wanted to trust the process. I progressed into a worsened state by each week until eventually I was barely able to walk. I panicked – How can I get through the day without walking? One of my low points was after a PT session in my living room. My knee was throbbing, and I needed to walk 20 feet to the kitchen to make myself dinner, but I simply could not. I decided then and there I would stop the PT. It was a pathetic two weeks trying to get back to a point where I could simply walk without limping. I’m happy to say I can walk now, but not more than ten minutes at most.
I have been quiet about my injury for a while, mostly because I hate talking about the fact that I can’t run. It makes me feel lost and upset. But it is impossible to hide when I take the elevator to go up and down one floor every day at school, while the rest of my peers take the stairs. It also doesn’t help when I have crutches for longer distances that I had with me in Mexico. Those things attract the worst attention, I can barely stand them.
I think it’s safe to say that I have aqua-jogged to China and back. To my surprise, the community at the Scottsdale pool has been a positive piece of my day. The experience of my injury brought me to finally start swimming, which I hope to be a lifelong sport. The pool isn’t half bad; it’s open-air and surrounded by trees. Phoenix is a hot spot for swimming, especially in the summer when it’s hard to cool down.
When summer semester ended two weeks ago I got on a plane with a few of my peers to the Yucatan. I worried my trip would be trumped by my injury and I wouldn’t be able to fully experience the area. Walking was minimal, but after finding the rhythm of cabs and seeking out all the best swimming holes and beaches, it turned out to be one of the most rejuvenating experiences. There was no shortage of activities with biking to the breakfast markets, morning Spanish classes, and hours of afternoon swimming. The trip gave me a surge of energy that gives me hope for healing. Sometimes all you need is a change of scenery.