TITLE: A Shock to the System
AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford
DATE: April 30, 2011 10:05 AM
I received some bad news from the doctor yesterday. It
looks like my running career is over.
wrote earlier this month,
I haven't run since March 4, when I came down with the
flu. As that was ending, my right knee started to hurt
and swell, though I was not aware of any injury or trauma
that might have caused the symptoms.
In the few weeks since that entry, the pain and swelling
have decreased but not disappeared. We finally had an
MRI done on Thursday so that an orthopedic surgeon could
examine me yesterday.
(OCD). This is a condition in which articular cartilage
in a joint and the bone to which it attaches crack or
pull away from the rest of the bone. OCD occurs when the
is deprived of blood. As near as I can tell from my
reading thus far, the cause of the blood deprivation
itself is less well understood.
Depending on the size of the lesion and the state of the
bone tissue, there are several potential reparative and
restorative steps that my surgeon can take. Unfortunately,
even with the best outcomes, the new tissue is more
fragile than the original tissue and usually is not able
to withstand high-impact activity over a long period.
That's where we get to the bad news. I almost surely
cannot run any more.
After the doctor told me his diagnosis and showed me the
MRI, he said, "You're taking this awfully well." To be
honest, as the doctor and I talked about this, it felt as
if we were discussing someone else. I'm not the sort of
person who tends to show a lot of emotion in such
situations anyway, but in this case the source of my
dispassion was easy enough to see. In an instant, I was
jolted from trying to get better to
never getting better. On top of that jolt,
it wasn't all that long ago that I went from running 30+
peaceful miles a week to not running at all. I was stunned.
On the walk back to my office, my conscious and
subconscious minds began to process the news, trying to
make sense of it. I have had a lot of thoughts since then.
My first was that there was still a small chance that the
lesion wouldn't look so bad under the scope, that it could
heal and that I would be back on the road soon. I chuckled
when I realized that I had already entered the stage of
grief, denial. That small chance does exist, but it is not
a rational one on which to plan my future. The expected
value of this condition is much closer to long-term problems
with the knee than to "yeah, I'm running again". I
chuckled because my mind was so predictable.
Not being able to run is a serious lifestyle change for
someone who has run 13,000 miles in the last eight years.
It also means that I will have to make other changes to my
lifestyle as well. My modest hope is that eventually I will
still be able to take walks with my wife. In then grand
scheme, I would probably miss those more than I miss the
I'm also going to have to change my diet. As a runner, I
have been able to consume a lot of calories, and it will be
impossible to burn that many calories without running or
other high-impact exercise. This may actually be a good
thing for my health, as strange as that may sound. Burning
4000 extra calories a week covers up a multitude of eating
sins. I'll have to do the right thing now. Maybe this is
what people mean when they see a misfortune as an
I've had only two really sad thoughts since hearing the
news. First, I wish I had know that my last run was going
to be my last run. Perhaps I could have savored
it a bit more. As it is, it's already receding into the
fogginess of my memory. Second, I wonder what this will
mean for my sense of identity. For the last decade, I have
been a runner. Being a runner was part of who I was. That
is probably gone now.
Of course, when I put this into context, it's not all that
bad. There could have been much worse diagnoses with much
more dire consequences for my future. Much worse events
could have happened to me or a loved one. As one of my
followers on Twitter recently put it, this is a
First World Problem:
a relatively healthy, economically and politically
secure white male won't be able to spend hours each
week indulging himself in frivolous athletic activity
for purely personal gain. I think I'll survive.
Still, it's a shock, one that I may not get used to
for a while.
I'm not a runner any more.