26 September 2014

Healthy or Not, Here We Go

News came out recently that juror selection for the trial of one of the friends of the Boston Marathon bombers begins on Monday. In a stroke of running irony, I was slated for jury duty – you guessed it – on Monday. These are both true statements, but I did leave out one teensy weensy detail – the Marathon trial is in Federal court, I was heading only for state duty. And in any event, on Friday they called off my set of dogs; apparently nobody is in line to be hung at high noon, so I’m off the hook. Still, it’s amusing to consider the prospect of being called in the courtroom and asked if I could be impartial. Well, Your Honor, other than the fact that I heard, felt, and watched the aftermath of the blasts from my post-race perch in the Marriott, yes, I probably could.

In a leap of literary segway with plenty of license, I’ll use that as a jump-off point to dive into how we decide on anything impartially, or at least rationally. Is it rational to drive ourselves to race after race, goal after goal, in the face of both obvious and hidden dangers? A few weeks back I was witness to physically-induced mental breakdown. Yet I persist. It took over two years, surgery, and a brush with disaster thanks to those lovely post-op clots to beat back the agony of the Achilles (and I’m pleased to say, a year post-op, it’s finally feeling pretty good). Yet I persist. And now I’m dealing with a left knee that doesn’t complain much on a twenty-miler, but strikes me with brutal pain on a single stair. Yet I persist. Am I capable of being impartial? Rational? Am I at all sane? It’s a good question.

Faced with this latest persistent malady, I finally got over my frugality and pulled the medical trigger. It’s been a light year medically. Admittedly I was looking forward to coasting downhill to December thirty-first having barely scratched my large deductible. Greeting the new year with the resulting sizable chuck of unspent coin was an attractive goal. But I’d gone ahead and signed up for a fall marathon (a story in itself), and that race has crept closer quickly – far more quickly than my training has advanced. With the need to crunch some serious pavement between now and, well, yesterday, it was time to verify that I wasn’t destroying myself.

It’s not that I haven’t repeatedly Googled “knee pain” in at least fifty permutations over recent months. It’s not that I haven’t repeatedly convinced myself that I have not torn, mutilated, spindled, or otherwise demolished significant moving parts. It’s not that I hadn’t pretty much self-diagnosed what was going on and strongly believed it wasn’t career-ending, and it’s not that I hadn’t already text chatted with Dr. Foot Doctor who from his remote perch, agreed. If I wasn’t so convinced, I wouldn’t be running. But I haven’t been able to fix it, and there was still that part of me that whispered “meniscus” and “ACL” and all the other mean, nasty things that you hear about in the same paragraph as the word knee.

Bypassing the usual on-ramps, I took it straight to Dr. Bone Doctor, who I’d seen nine years back following my first marathon when I was fairly certain I’d stress-busted something (which turned out not to be the case – do you detect a hypochondriac tendency here?). I took a liking to him immediately back then, not in the least because he’s athletic and gets it. “Stop Running!”, the mantra of so many doctors, was not his approach then, and it became quickly obvious that it still isn’t. It didn’t take him long to determine and affirm what I really needed to hear. I had not damaged any of the parts that bring to mind mean, nasty things about knees, and I was not destroying myself by continuing to train. He agreed with Dr. Foot Doctor and Dr. Google (a dangerous yet easily accessible medical resource) that the major bits looked well, and that the problem was most likely a patella tracking issue, where the tendons under the kneecap go out of line due to imbalances in muscular strength, or in simple terms, my inner quads aren’t as strong as my outer quads, and they’re not pulling evenly. Some exercises and another round of physical therapy, since restarted, would, said he to his patient, hopefully help his hapless hurt.

Declared healthy, it’s off to the races…or is it? With said diagnosis in hand, I belatedly – with less than four weeks till the marathon – cranked in my first twenty-plus shortly after. Like most runs of late, the knee held up, only to complain on a single step later. But that diagnosis of muscle imbalance, muscle weakness, haunts me, because beyond its effect on the knee, I can feel it in general. There’s something there, something that’s been growing, or more accurately diminishing, for some time. It appears unexpectedly, a stride where the strength seems to waver, a moment of not just weak knees but a feeling of weak, period, that gnaws at my pace and my mental state. Must I finally admit to the realities of age? Or is there another mystery at work here with surprises yet to be discovered?

Talking about this with the outside world brings on reactions of skepticism at best. A common reply: Didn’t you just win a race a couple weeks back? True that, and dismissive responses about the size of the field that day, about how this is a relative change, mean little to anyone outside my skin. To them I’m still a reasonably fast old guy. So this is my battle, not theirs, to be managed on my terms, not their perceptions.

Without a doubt, it’s dismaying. But without a doubt, I can’t let it stop me. Age might be encroaching, or any of a number of other things. But even at my ripe age, baring something really nasty, there are decades to go in this race, so we still keep fighting it. Right now that means I’ve got about three weeks till another marathon, and of course I’m not ready, so healthy or not, I’d better get moving.

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