Cranky knees and a lifetime of running

My knee finally — finally! — feels normal again after a week where it ranged from downright painful to just not quite right. There’s no one reason it was acting up, and no one solution for fixing it. Just a little bit from Column A, more from Column B and a dash from Column C to round it out.

After a spring season where I managed to train for several races, including the NYC Half, Brooklyn Half and 10-mile Broad Street Run, without any injury issues, I thought they were behind me. I really should know better by now.

Almost from the beginning of my running career, I’ve dealt with injury issues, going back to my freshman year of high school. By the time I finally stopped running high school track and cross-country junior year, I’d probably spent at least as much time in the trainer’s office as I had actually running. That’s really why I stopped. I was injured so much that running had stopped being fun, and when you’re the slowest kid on the team, there’s not much point if it’s not at least fun.

A friend who’s been wrestling for months with a nagging injury voiced the possibility this week that he might now be a former runner, that his body wouldn’t allow him to return to this sport he’s been part of for many years. Badass Unicorn was hit by a car earlier this year just a few days after running her first marathon, and made some baby steps toward her comeback this week when she got cleared for several more activities — though not yet running.

I think all runners go through this at some point, though some of us more often, or with a greater uncertainty over whether we’ll be able to return to this sport we love that doesn’t always love us in return.

In my case, it not only took walking away for twenty-odd years, but also spending several years pursuing other forms of exercise before I could handle a return to running, either physically or mentally. Practicing yoga, and teaching both that and several kinds of group fitness classes, taught me how to Gumby-proof my body so all the loose ligaments in my joints don’t get in the way of what I want to do.

It’s an ongoing challenge, though. I’m learning that as my training intensity builds to get me to where I can run a marathon, I have to be extra-diligent in my cross-training. Part of that is knowing when something’s a bad idea for me, even if it’s generally a good one.

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I’d started doing Jay Johnson’s Lunge Matrix in addition to his Leg Swings for my warm-up routine. And for the first couple of weeks, it worked. But the matrix also contributed to my cranky knee, and I’ve had to drop it, at least for now. It’s not an issue with the Lunge Matrix, which is a great warm-up, one I would like to be able to incorporate again at some point. It’s just that some of the variations don’t play well with the inherent Gumby-ness of my knees, especially the left one.

So I spent time this week putting together a new plan that should build strength and power in my legs without putting too much strain or torque on my knees. And losing almost a week of running, with another half-week of running that was a constant act of reminding myself to just keep going, is something I hope to not repeat in the next four months.

Really, I’d like to never repeat that for the next forty years, but as Badass Unicorn found out, sometimes we don’t have control over these things because idiots driving cars come along and take runners out. All I can do is use my hard-won knowledge of what my body can and can’t handle to keep it in shape to chase whatever running goals I have — including being a runner for the rest of my life.