Yep. What a headline eh. This year has certainly pulled some punches, and continues to do so.
Let me summarise.
Last year I began to get knee trouble. I am a hard nut, born and bred northerner and thus pain doesn’t really bother me, in fact I usually ignore it. I am told I have a very high pain threshold. The one thing that made me actually go to see a specialist was that I thought that I might have torn the ACL graft in my right knee. I wasn’t prepared to hear that it was in fact a meniscus tear instead. An operation was scheduled, and I was advised NOT to compete in the 2012 world triathlon championships in New Zealand. The surgeon told me that there was no guarantee that the operation would work. It might help, it might not, it might make it worse. I decided that the risk was worth taking if there was a chance it would he me to return to top level running / triathlon. I competed in the world championships anyway, two weeks before the op.
The operation revealed that the tear was in fact grade 4 wear. (Grade 5 is the worst there is.) What this actually meant was the damage was not repairable, and in fact, there was a hole in the medial meniscus, the cushioning between the bones in the upper and lower leg in the knee joint. Added to that was the first signs of arthritis in the bones in the knee joint. I was told that I would probably need a new knee within ten years.
That was a tough few months. I had to face the fact that I might not ever return to top level triathlon. I wasn’t prepared to simply leave it at that. In the back of my mind I was beginning to address the possibility that this might be my triathlon career over. I was devastated. I am a fighter, and didn’t like it that I might not be in control of this decision. I decided to keep my options open and see what happened.
I chose to see the loss of the 2012 triathlon season, and a chance to compete in London due to my emigration to New Zealand in April as an opportunity. The knee would get twice as long to get through a winter recovery. It might just be a benefit. Pre-operation I worked very hard in the gym, to build good strength and minimise the rehab time. Post op, I was in the pool as soon as I was able, aqua jogging, and building back the strength. In the back of my mind, the huge loss of run pace was bothering me, but I decided not to think about it, for now. The knee wasn’t causing me issues with the swim, gym or bike, so perhaps I would be ok.
I battled on for several more months. The knee continued to be an issue. I began to realise that I did in fact need kinesio taping in order to at least enable me to run. The pain would usually, inevitably start, around 20 minutes down the road. Tape would simply delay this by a few minutes, or make the pain a little more easy to bear. The pace didn’t really increase, and the pain didn’t subside. After a run, I would struggle to walk, and remain in pain for a good few hours. This was no fun.
I actually watched the knee operation, I was given a spinal anaesthetic meaning I was fully awake. I know what the inside of that knee looks like, I was talked through it. It’s serious. The surgeon that did the operation said in a follow up appointment that he had hoped that I would get more pain relief and mobility than it seems I actually had. He advised me to stop running, but said, at the end of the day, you need to keep living. I wasn’t ready to give up just yet.
A leg is quite important. I don’t want to disable myself completely through pig headedness, grit and termination. I have worked on strength, I know its important. I have worked up the run endurance, up to the hour. BUT, pain increased every time I tried to add pace. I don’t just want to be a runner, I want to get back to AGE GROUP world championship pace. It wasn’t working. It was time for a reality check.
It’s around a year after the operation. I decided to seek advice. I also realised that initial decisions faced was back, and way more real this time. I felt a little bit defeated, by something outside my control.
I copied all the medical notes and took them to a local physio clinic, one that has an excellent reputation with international athletes in rugby, netball, and various other sports. I told him I wanted some frank advice.
He assessed the knee. Bio-mechanically it is performing as well as it can be, all things considered. Strength and stability is good, way better than he expected, and equal across both legs. I can currently squat 120kg, not the most I have ever managed, but still, I’m not weak. I am doing all the right things, working on strength (in the right way) I have given it sufficient time, rehabbed it well, and done everything that he would have advised I did, had he seen me immediately post op. There isn’t anything else that I could do, that I am not already doing, that might help it further.
The knee is in a bad way. The pain is understandable, and connected to the fact that running is high impact, and stressing the knee joint, the pain caused by the fact that there is a part of the knee where bone hits bone due to the meniscus damage. There isn’t anything that can be done about that. The physio was concerned that if I pressed on through the pain, that I would disable myself further, and faster. The more I stress it, the faster I accelerate the inevitable journey towards a total knee replacement.
What can be done? Cycling, rowing, swimming and strength work is all good sports, because none are high impact load bearing like running.
What would he do if it was his knee? Stop running.
There we have it. I am no longer a triathlete.
He said it wasn’t something he could tell me, it would be something I would need to decide for myself. The evidence is out there though in black and white. I ran the first round of a local 5k series last week, it took me 35 minutes and I was in agony for the rest of the evening. I went hiking last week, and simply walking became painful after about 2 hours.
I don’t want to be so much in pain I can’t walk to the car, the shop, run for the bus. I know that will happen eventually, and that will be the time for a knee replacement, but seriously, if I am doing something that will speed up the arrival of that day, now is time to stop.
I want to bow out of this beautiful sport in a graceful and dignified way, I don’t want to keep slogging on till I end up at the end of the results table.
I think a world championship grand final is a good race to have as a last race. No one can take away from me the fact that I represented Great Britain in 4 consecutive world championships, with a personal best finish position of 17thin the world, and 3 consecutive European championships, best result being 5th fastest in Europe.
Mum said to me early this year, that she believed that I could reinvent myself, I had done it before, I could do it again. I didn’t think that it would come quite like this, and quite so soon.
I still have my cycling, and masters track cycling training starts this week. If I sell the TT bike, I could get a decent track bike, that would enable me to train properly with the aim of becoming competitive on the track, and getting selected for the NZ masters team. The cycling club have been brilliant, and Cyclig doesn’t hurt, no matter how hard I go.
I have rowing. They also have a masters section, and the club have been incredibly friendly and welcoming.
Time to collect my thoughts, re-evaluate my plans and goals, and come back out fighting with a new target in focus.
Life is a journey, it would be dull if we knew what that was in advance.
Wish me luck.