Somehow it has been just under five months since I acutely injured my medial meniscus on my right knee while running a marathon. It has not been an easy thing for me to write about until now, but enough time has passed that I thought an injured reserve update was in order.
My injury occurred June 15 while running in the Lake Placid Marathon. I decided to run this race since I was attending a continuing medical education conference in Vermont that weekend anyway, and my wife Megan's sister was already running the relay with a group of people from their hometown of Massena, New York. Megan decided to do the half marathon and her parents came down to watch the kids while we raced. It seemed to just fall into place. Lake Placid is a very pretty town and is not at all a bad place to host a marathon. The race started routinely enough for me as Megan and I hung out and talked some before the race. She had asked if I was going to run with her for her half marathon(a little slower than my usual pace) or try to go a little faster. Coming off one of my slowest and most painful marathons, the Delaware Trail Marathon, I was anxious to see what I could accomplish this time so I opted to run solo. Turns out I should have run with my wife instead and perhaps that is lesson #1 in my story. Always listen to your spouse. At least in my case, she is usually right.
But of course, I did not. Before the race started, there was a man with a megaphone talking over some pretty loud, pumping music trying to get the crowd psyched up. I remember thinking, I'm really not at all into this. Can't it just be low key, sort of like the start to the trail marathon I had recently run? There were maybe 1500 people at the start with a combination of marathon runners, half marathoners, and relay runners. I said good luck to Megan, gave her a hug, and slipped over to the side of the road near the first third of runners and sat on the curb to wait until the start. Finally, the man was yelling more and more into the megaphone, the music got even louder and the race was on.
The first three miles were very nice. I concentrated on running slowly and constrained as people all around me were getting settled into their paces. I felt like I could see plenty of people going out too fast, although one thing I have learned in running marathons is that you can never predict a runner's speed by their body type or form. Still I know what someone looks like when they go out too fast from adrenaline at the start, and there were plenty of those folks around. The race looped around a pretty lake for the first few miles before turning sharply down a hill to head out of town. I was shooting for easy eight minute miles with a goal of seeing whether I could break 3:30 and if I was feeling strong at the half, I would increase my pace and see what happened. I felt really strong through the first few miles and then came this monster downhill. I tried to run the hill slowly and controlled, but it was far steeper than anything we have seen in flat Talbot County. About 50 yards in I thought, "This isn't working for me"so I let it unwind a bit and tried to increase my turnover some. Another 50 yards and I let 'er rip and opened up. I imagine it was a good steep half mile downhill or so. In retrospect, I wonder if I set myself up for the injury on that stretch. It is hard to say though because it felt very natural at the time. Anyway, things leveled out a bit after the hill, and I ran by the Olympic ski jumps before heading out a country road to a turnaround at mile eight.
Somewhere along this rolling country road near mile six, it happened. I was running along feeling strong and relaxed at an easy pace when I planted my right foot and instantly felt and heard an ominous pop. I instantly felt severe pain and the feeling like my knee was collapsing on the inside with each step. It was obvious to me that something bad had happened. Nonetheless, we runners are well, a bit thickheaded when it comes to these sorts of things, so I tried to walk it off some. I shook my leg, gently walked on it and tried to run again. Again, it was blatantly obvious that something was terribly wrong. There were a few runners around me passing me every few seconds and a several offered words of encouragement like "Just shake it off" or "work it out". I remember telling one well meaning runner "I don't think this is something I can just work out". She replied, "Oh sorry..." Most people just passed me silently as I tried to hobble along. There was no water stop anywhere near me and certainly no medical station so I figured I would hobble along walking with a straight leg until I could drop out at the next aid station. Somehow I made it to the turnaround spot on that road at mile eight where there was a water stop. I asked around about getting a ride back to the start so I could wait for Megan, and a guy who seemed to be in charge made a call on his radio then told me to wait a few minutes and someone would come to pick me up. Well, I waited and waited, eventually seeing Megan come by who asked how was doing. I filled her in and told her I'd see her back at the finish. I waited some more.
By this point, I would guess 40 minutes had gone by. There was no sign of the guy who I spoke with and no sign of help on the way. So, I trudged on peg-legged and made it back down the road a couple miles to around mile 10, where there was another water stop. This group seemed much more on the ball, and the guy in charge made a call and gave me some ice and a nice seat on the tailgate of his pickup, and I waited. This time, it was only about 30 minutes or so, but help did arrive eventually. I couldn't help but think, good thing I am not having a heart attack. I can only imagine they figured I could safely wait hours if needed and didn't want to get in the way of the runners on the course. Anyway, the ride back to the start was slow as well as the truck the picked me up stopped a few places along the route to talk to other volunteers and the police directing traffic. I don't recall exactly but he may have also picked up his dry cleaning and some things for dinner. Seriously, I was thankful for the ride, but it took forever. Eventually I made it back to the finish area where Megan was waiting with my in-laws and our kids- two of which immediately wanted to be held by me.
Prior to this race, I had always wondered why people dropped out of marathons. I couldn't fathom not trying everything I could to finish. But that day, my decision was quite easy. Running was not possible, and my body very clearly let me know that running was not something I should continue to do. I was thankful for that, but it made it no less difficult.
Up next, Part 2: From injury to surgery