Sometimes when you think life is done throwing you curveballs for a while, the biggest one is yet to come.
Please forgive my subsequent melodramatic musings. They're certainly not intended to be written with an air of self-pity and I hope they don't come across that way, but I'm a verbal processor and to write things out makes them make more sense sometimes. More importantly, I know that I have learned a lot from other people by listening to or reading about their struggles and setbacks when they've been honest and transparent enough to reveal them. Sometimes it is easy to think that everyone is all-optimism and all-success all the time. But it's just a facade, all of it.
We tend to all have a semblance of a plan--or a script--in mind for our lives, things rarely happen precisely according to that plan though, so hopefully it's a fluid plan, but a plan nonetheless.
I went up to Vail last week to have a chat with the doc who had scoped my knee for a fairly minor meniscus tear a few years ago. I had struggled again pretty consistently with the same knee since early last fall, and it had taken all the fun out of running and training, being tough to ignore with its aggravatingly sharp pain every time I landed on my left leg. I decided that two months in the pool and on the bike should've been adequate enough to set things right again. Since that didn't appear to be the case however, I decided to consult him for some added insight.
We chatted briefly and shortly thereafter I found myself laying in the banging, clicking, clattering, and not to mention expensive, Tunnel of Truth (for better or worse), also known as an MRI. Later that day, he took a look at the images. Words and phrases like "articular cartilage defect," and "subchondral edema," and "microfracture surgery" were thrown around, and I walked out a few minutes later feeling sucker-punched and with a lot to consider.
If you know anatomy, then you know that none of the aforementioned things in that particular highly weight-bearing area of that particular body part bodes all that well for any of us who want to run miles and race for years to come. Realistically, it is not a truly repairable injury, at this time there is not a 100% effective fix--particularly for the long-term--and it carries a relatively high likelihood that it will significantly alter your running or eventually obliterate it altogether. So it's a conundrum: some people rebound and run and race for many more years, a lot don't, there are definitely success stories, but it seems for the most part it's a crapshoot. Somehow, we can fly to the moon and explore the depths of the Mariana Trench, but we can't fix our own cartilage. I really didn't expect anything all that significant at all, but rather something along the lines of some stubborn tendonosis or what have you, accompanied maybe by a prescription for a hard core anti-inflammatory that basically eats your stomach lining and dissolves your liver, along with orders to keep pool running for a couple more weeks before gradually building back up, but that just wasn't the case.
Standing outside the clinic in Vail Village and looking up at the snowy ski slopes that I ran up many times the last couple of summers, thoughts of a stellar, much-anticipated upcoming mountain season played through my mind like a movie reel just as they had when acting as the "carrot" to spend hours cross training over the last few weeks. I had to push them aside for the moment, and I sort of wished that I had not made this appointment. Sometimes you're better off with your own preconceived notions.
It's always easy to downplay and trivialize our own feelings about things, and it's easy enough to think, "It's not the end of the world so quit being a wuss," but that's not really fair to do to ourselves. Just because something is not the end of the world, just because it might not make so much as a single dent in the lives of the eight billion other people on this earth, doesn't make it trivial. It doesn't mean it can't feel like the end of our world.
But in putting my emotions aside in an attempt to think more rationally, practically, and clearly about the situation, I'm optimistic, but also realistic. While I certainly trust the folks up at the Steadman Clinic and believe that doctors and surgeons for the most
part in most
places have our best interests as athletes and people at heart, I also know that surgeons sell...well, surgeries...and we all have to pay the bills. So given that, there is a certain proclivity to jump to certain conclusions, so I take some of it with a grain of salt and plan to get plenty of advice and do my own research and go with my own gut along the way. I am not about to put blind faith in anybody to pull the trigger on something with a questionable outcome that I cannot undo without first trying every other conceivable option. Furthermore, you have to be careful, because once you become aware that a problem exists, it can be easy for your mind to make it 100x what it really is. The great thing about MRI's is that they show a lot, but the bad thing about MRI's is that they show a lot. Maybe what appears to be your problem is not really your problem, but because you've seen it, it's assumed to be the problem. At any rate, keeping with the assumption that the problem really is what it looks like the problem is, it is a knee problem and not a death sentence. If done right, it's also quite possibly not even a death-to-running sentence, and even if it was, runners do crazy shit and defy expectations and odds all the time everyday, just take a look at what Dave Mackey is up to
, the guy has one leg for God's sake.
When it comes to addressing these types of issues in athletes, currently it is more about finding the "least worst" treatment option, but there are amazing experimental treatments taking place, so there are a lot of options to explore including the possibility that with time and patience, nothing may need to be done for a long while and many more miles. It will be a lot of waiting and seeing and experimenting and improvising, but I will figure it out.
The best could very well still be yet to come, that's what I'm planning on anyway. Although I have no idea what the path leading from here to there looks like right now. And if I am deluding myself, then so be it. I think we all have a reason for having it within us to pursue a certain something--whatever that may be--relentlessly, even if we can't always quite pin down the "why" behind it all. Whatever that thing is, it can and will mangle your heart to shreds sometimes because you won't be able to help but to care a little too much about it. There's a fine line between naivety and optimism though, and it would be naive of me to ignore that the reality is that I might have to come to grips with what I will do and be without running--which has in many ways more or less directed the course of much of my life for years--and that it is not okay, yet it has to be. It is so much more than simply having to "find other interests." It is a weird sense of being faced with a mortality of a different sort. But it ain't over till it's over, and when it is, we'll know it's over.
A few months ago I got this super weird print of a "mouth painting"
by Drew Graham (read his story here
. Seriously, take 3 minutes and do it.):
It sounds so corny, so bear with me please, but I saw it several months ago when I was creeping on his website.
It would be incomprehensible of me to compare this young guy's ordeal to anything I or most others that I know have ever had to face, but when I saw it I had to have it. I got it to remind myself that the most seemingly senseless, unjust, and unexpected things can happen, and you won't understand it at all. The path that you had in mind for yourself can change at the drop of a hat, and you might have to completely reinvent yourself by no choice of your own. But you can still take that situation and make something crazy and beautiful from it. Even though very few people may ever really "get it," in the process you can give those people much more valuable and meaningful things to take away than you ever would have if your script had played out exactly as you had planned.