Setback!……

This last week has been quite hard for at least four reasons, and then news on Monday got harder still. I could think of more than four probably, but that’s all that come to mind right now. And so in no particular order…

  1. I’ve done a lot of driving, and more than I’d like. Over a thousand miles in fact. Three times to Cambridge and once up to the North East (see below…) and that’s all tiring. I spent about 14 hours behind the wheel over the weekend and that is painful with the current state of my knee…..
  2. My much discussed cartilage tear has been causing me a lot more pain. The most ever yet in fact. At the end of runs on both Thursday (six miles in Cambridge) and more so on Saturday (Parkrun in South Shields) it was agony. I’m taking painkillers every day and they don’t really touch the pain.
  3. On my mind was the hospital appointment with the orthopaedic surgeon. I was pretty sure he was going to tell me (at the very least) to stop running, and maybe also that I need surgery. It was playing on my mind a lot, not least of which because I so very much hope it doesn’t stop me/us from going to Nepal in 8 weeks time.
  4. Saturday 25th January was the anniversary of my Dad’s death. Although it is six years ago now it is still very fresh, particularly because of where I spent the weekend, which was up in my native North East for a school reunion, and therefore very much a trip down memory lane. Trips to my old schools, past the house where my parents lived for nearly fifty years, and to places that bring a lifetime of memories. Very nostalgic and poignant to say the least.

So the two runs I did last week were a test as much as anything. I should be on Week 3 of marathon training (for the Edinburgh Marathon), but also to get ready for next weekend’s London Winter 10k (an event I dearly love and have done for the last three years) and also the Cambridge Half in March. The week would normally have consisted of 5 runs in terms of the plan, but I knew that would be too painful.

After the Parkrun on Saturday (which I ran fairly hard and managed a very respectable 23 mins 50 seconds, despite it being fairly hilly) I felt the effects afterwards pretty badly. I was sat in the car and literally wincing with spasms and waves of surging pain, and it was almost overwhelming at times. It’s not sustainable, and I know that.

On the plus side I absolutely loved doing the run, even if Melanie unfortunately couldn’t do it as she wasn’t feeling well. She did however come along and support me which was lovely. It’s the first time I’ve done South Shields Parkrun, and being my home town (although I’ve been exiled for well over 30 years now) it was just a delight to be there. The route also takes you from the beach and along the cliff tops overlooking the wonderful North east coastline, and then finishes on the last mile of the Great North Run course. What’s not to love? If Carlsberg did Parkruns….

Start of the parkrun down next to the beach in South Shields.
After the parkrun – I wasn’t quite as fresh as this immediately afterwards I should say!

The school reunion on Saturday evening was wonderful too. Seeing people whom I first met over 50 years ago (it was a primary and junior school for most of us) was fantastic, and something to relish and treasure. I’m so grateful to get the opportunity to do things like that.

So onto the appointment on Monday. I was very frank with the consultant (why wouldn’t I be you might say, but I did wonder if he’d tell me off for running as much as I have!) and waited for the prognosis. He told me after some poking and prodding and listening that he still would like (for now) to avoid surgery. This is because the body of evidence for people (my age!) is inconclusive as regards the relative success of it as against physical therapy, and especially balanced against the risk of further complications/conditions such as arthritis.

What he also said then was a bit of a downer emotionally for me. Firstly he told me that my knew would basically never get ‘better’ from here. The meniscus tear is permanent and all I can do is to manage the pain. Strike one! Secondly he told me that I had early onset degenerative osteoarthritis in my knee. That means essentially that I have bone rubbing on bone, that pounding of the joints will clearly not help/be painful, and again it is irreversible. Strike two! And then he said that It’d be best to STOP running, at least for now, while the rest of the surrounding knee muscles strengthen. Strike three 😦

The word STOP hit hard, I have to say. The words “at least for now” I hardly even heard. Over the last few years I’ve discovered such pleasure in running, and it has brought me so many adventures and great and exciting moments like the Great North run and the New York Marathon, so to stop is not something I want to do. It has also been part of the glue for Melanie and I, and something that we love to do together.

I asked him after I’d digested the news as to whether I’d be able to subsequently return to running, and of course he said it depends. He said that maybe in a year’s time I could run a marathon again, but that would depend upon progress, my tolerance for managing/dealing with the pain etc. A year is a lifetime for me, as frankly I’m impatient, and the time for living for me is firmly in the moment. This one here, right now.

The appointment finished with him giving me a cortisone injection in my knee which ‘may’ (in about 70% of his cases apparently) help with the pain. It was one of those big (read colossal :O) needles, and was inserted just below my kneecap, and went in what seemed to be a long way, but as I was already reeling from the ‘stop’ message it didn’t really phase me. I have to come back in four weeks time and he’ll assess how I’m feeling then, which will (probably) be surgery if the pain is getting worse.

He has recommended that I spend lots of time on the exercise bike in the meantime. I’ve been doing it for at least half an hour every day so far, and so I’ll ramp that up further now. I’m very determined to get back as far as I can to being able to do the things I want to do and enjoy doing, even if I do (I have no choice after all) accept that things will never be quite the same.

I left the hospital a bit deflated, but I knew that he’d only really affirmed what I already knew (other than mentioning degenerative osteoarthritis, which was a bit of a shock) in my own mind. I’ve been hurting now after all for at least three months, and it has got worse not better. Something was going to have to give.

I’ve meantime cancelled my participation in the London Winter 10k, the Cambridge Half Marathon and also the Edinburgh Marathon. I had also harboured (very strong) desires until a week or so ago to do the Berlin marathon later in the year too. Those thoughts have to be banished for now, and it’s a shame, and frustrating to say the least. I did however on the back of this make someone’s day today – I contacted the organisers of the Cambridge Half Marathon to find if anyone would like my place, and they said they had someone who was desperately keen to get in and couldn’t. I thus contacted her, and she was absolutely delighted. So that’s a good thing at least.

All this happened just yesterday and it is a bit raw for now. I am feeling philosophical about it I suppose, and trying not to feel upset. Let’s face it, far worse things could have happened to me, and this is just a setback, even if the fatalistic part of my brain knows that the words ‘degenerative osteoarthritis’ aren’t a portent for me ever being able to do as many things as I have in my dreams.

However, as C.S. Lewis once said “you are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream”.

Whilst on the subject of being philosophical I’ll leave you with the following…..I always loved Mark Twain as a kid, and the books containing the adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn I count as my childhood inspiration for life. I found this quote therefore, and it is very true – if you read this and are a dreamer like me, then book that trip, run that race, and get out there and live your life to the full. You owe it to yourself, you really do.

“20 years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
– Mark Twain