The Plight Of The Injured Runner

A Guest Post written by Harold Shaw a.k.a. A Veteran Runnah,

Harold Shaw is a long-time runner who lives in Maine and started running back in the Dark Ages of the early 70’s in high school and has continued to run with varying degrees of success and consistency since then, but has always considered himself a runnah. Last year Harold participated in the inaugural Runner’s World Half Festival and many local road and trail races. Harold completed the 1983 Marine Corps Marathon and plans to run it again this year – 30 years later.

Harold Shaw It seems like runners all get injured either as a runner or believe it or not – while doing something else in our lives, in other words while not running. No I am not talking about those minor injuries where you can start running in a week or two, I am talking about those injuries where you cannot run for a significant amount of time. The injuries that really, really suck.

When that happens, it interferes with our chosen lifestyle and how we identify ourselves – after all we are runners who are no longer running. What do we do? Who do we become?

Sadly, we become the injured runner – which means we typically do not want to be around other runners and do not exercise. Instead, we over-eat and tend to gain way too much weight.

I went through this runner’s nightmare during much of 2010-2011.

Like most runners, I have read so much about how runners need to cross-train, so I do a little and was playing racquetball a lot during the winter 2009/2010. Unfortunately that is how, in February, I hurt my right knee.

Yes, I did the usual runner things. I ignored the injury in hopes it goes away and I kept trying to run through the pain. Finally, a month later it got to the point where the pain was too much and I reluctantly went to see the doctor.

We went through the usual tests and follow-up visits and got a referral to an Orthopedic Specialist. After looking at the MRI and x-rays and twisting my knee like a pretzel and pulling me off the ceiling, waiting for me to calm down a lot (I don’t do well with Doctors) – the doctors wanted to do exploratory surgery to see what was wrong in there. He diagnosed me with Osteochondritis Dessecans – a degenerative disease of the bone and was planning to replace my right knee-joint.

Needless to say I was scared to death about my future in running or even more importantly how well I would even be walking after such a surgery.

Getting to this point took over six months, which meant that school was just starting and being teacher in a new school district with a two-year new hire probationary status – I did not want to mess around with that, so I asked if I would do any more damage if I waited for the surgery. He said no so I sucked it up and put up with the pain.

Harold Shaw 2Finally, in February 2011, about a year after I originally injured the knee, the pain was too much. I was walking around with a cane, in constant pain, no running and barely walking a half-mile a day. I was over-eating to take care of my high stress job and other emotional issues that running usually took care of, which meant that I was around 200 pounds at 5’7” and miserable most of the time.

I went back to the doctor and told him I was ready for the operation.

I had never been cut open before, but at the same time, I knew that I had to have it done! I couldn’t go on being that miserable, I was becoming that cranky old guy, who didn’t have patience for anything – which is not who I am.

When the day of the surgery finally came around, on May 17, 2011, the surgeon was not sure what would happen once he got in there. They made sure I was his first patient of the day and there was some extra time built in just in case I needed a new knee. I still remember seeing my wife’s face as I went under. To be honest I was scared.

When I woke up, my wife and the doctor were smiling, telling me that I still had my own knee and that the problem had only been a piece of cartilage floating around in there and that he had cleaned up the meniscus and some other little things that were needed for a 50 year knee tune-up.

Lucky and relieved

I was definitely relieved and the first thing I asked was when I could start running again. The doctor was not impressed by that question and told me to just start walking without pain first. He was not and is not a fan of runners. He says we give him too much business.

Recovery and therapy was not easy. In fact it hurt a lot. The physical therapist was a runner so she knew how I felt and we put together a program to help me return to running as soon as possible. It really does help when the people who are treating you medically are runners too and understand your need to get back to running.

On June 15th, I tried my first post-operative run, below is a quote from my running log:

“It has been almost a month since I had arthroscopic surgery on my knee and I am walking really well on flats and not too steep hills – stairs are still a pain, but getting better. So I decided to try running, well actually jogging (really slowly) tonight.

My run/walk wasn’t real comfortable, but it wasn’t painful there is a difference! When I ran with a forefoot strike it was a lot less painful than running with a heel strike stride. Otherwise my knee was just sore, which is a big difference from the way it felt before.

I did a half-mile loop and I ran a lot more than I walked.”

This was a huge day in my life. I was running again. That first run after surgery meant a lot to me!

Returning to running was not easy and took more than six months to get to the point where I could run consistently pain-free or as pain-free as I will ever be. There were high points and more than a few low points that I had to fight through. Now I am training to run the 2013 Marine Corps Marathon on October 27, 2013.

Not running for extended periods of time is the hardest thing for me and many other runners. Running is more than something that most of do, it is a part of our lives and often it is how we identify ourselves. It is just the way it is and when we can’t run, it feels like a piece of our life is missing.

I did learn that being injured is not the end of your running life, just another chapter and that you make choices about how you choose to deal with the emotional and physical parts being injured. Like many runners I have known, I did not do a good job of maintaining my health during my injury, which only made my situation worse.

When you are injured do not isolate yourself from other runners and the running community – yes it is painful to watch others doing what you want to be doing, but your recovery will be faster if you remain involved, watch how and what you eat and maintain a positive attitude. I learned that the hard way.

How do you feel when you cannot run and want to? Have you ever had an injury that put you on the couch for an extended period of time, how did you handle it?

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About Ann Brennan

Ann Brennan is first and foremost a mom of three beautiful children. She is the managing editor of Beyond Limits Magazine and the creator of Ann’s Running Commentary. In 2012, Ann took Ann’s Running Commentary to new levels – first with a segment on the RunRunLive Podcast, chronicling her journey to her first Ironman and second, with a new channel on YouTube. Currently Ann is working on a non-fiction book series and working hard every day to remind people to get up, get active and get out there.
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