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A Marathon Runner Gets Stopped in Her Tracks by a Bum Knee

Basically the intersection I made it to (but it was darker and no leaves on the trees)
Basically the intersection I made it to (but it was darker and no leaves on the trees)

My first baby, Phoebe, was born on a Thursday. Two days later, I came home from the hospital with my auburn-haired, pink-cheeked baby; by Sunday evening, I felt the urge to get outside and move. My friend Willow had stopped by to meet Phoebe, so I had Willow join me for a slow and gentle stroll in our neighborhood. The January evening air was cool and smelled vaguely of damp leaves, a refreshing change from the antiseptic atmosphere of the hospital.

Willow and I headed west, on the flat street lined with tall trees and 100-year-old homes. Before we’d even gone a block, I asked Willow to slow her pace. I cursed a corner that didn’t have a wheelchair cutout in the curb, forcing me to take a bigger step up than the lower half of my body wanted to take. (And I’m not only talking about just my legs: I’d delivered Phoebe after 6+ hours of pushing--and some tearing.) After little more than three blocks—a quarter-mile, at most—I realized my mistake. “Willow, we have to turn back,” I admitted. “My stitches down there are killing me!” I minced (and winced) my way back home.

Despite that walk taking place more than 11 years ago, I was acutely reminded of it last week: I set out to run in the pre-dawn chill, but got slowed to a hobble right about where I had to turn around post-Phoebe.

Pretty much where it hurts.
Pretty much where it hurts.

As I wrote last month, my knee has been giving me some issues. What started last fall as occasional twinges when hill climbing had progressed to soreness during runs and some tightness and limping afterward. I’d been getting acupuncture treatments for it (and a minor flare-up of plantar fasciitis) and living in 110% compression gear from the knees down, and I was almost pain-free. I was feeling lucky. Then, a week ago Saturday, steps into a 16-mile training run for the Vancouver Marathon, the pain returned—and shot down into my calf. It was part Charley horse, part sucker punch. But I kept faring forward, intent on getting in the mileage with my pal Molly. (Go ahead, I’ll type what I know you’re thinking, “Way to not practice what you and Dimity preach, SBS.” I know, I know.) I could barely walk when I got home, and for days afterward I lumbered like I'd just raced 26.2.

I took a break from running for four days and had acupuncture, then tried running again. About a mile from our digs, I switched to walking, dejectedly hanging my head in the spitting-rain. The next day, I switched my line of defense and put my legs in the hands of a talented, intuitive certified athletic trainer (AT-C), Ali Novak. After a fair bit of grimace- (and wimper-) inducing work on my IT bands, my legs felt almost as good as new.

But the next morning I set off on the run that ended right about where my sun-don’t-shine stitches sent me home more than a decade ago. Since then I’ve seen Ali again (good) and tweaked my bad knee coming off the bleachers at Phoebe’s basketball game. (bad) As Dimity herself commented after that blunder: I’ve been hanging around her too long!

Next up: an MRI and a consult with a physician assistant/AT-C. Ali is thinking my problem might be a Baker’s cyst. I’ll let you know. For now, I’m hoping to make it past that ill-fated intersection sometime soon...

27 responses to “A Marathon Runner Gets Stopped in Her Tracks by a Bum Knee

  1. Sarah,

    I am glad you received good news! PLEASE still listen to your body. I ignored my knee pain because I was not going to miss my first 1/2 marathon after turning 40. Well, I didn’t miss the start but I did miss the finish. My first DNF! Mile 5, my knee just locked up. Within a week, I was having surgery for a huge Baker’s Cyst and some other repair work. This was in October and I had my first pain free run this past Saturday. Take care!

  2. Thinking of you and sending up knee hosannas along with loosening large muscle group vibes. Funny how it happened at that exact same spot.

  3. Oh misery loves company. I am in the same boat with the knee. I think it is a tight bicep femoris muscle which initally acted up 1.5 years ago, then again two months ago. Signed up and almost perfectly trained for Hagg Lake 25k trail race this Sunday. But had to walk out of Forest Park at mile 12 of a 15 mile run little over a week ago. Had massage, and three day rest, ran two under 8 mile runs. Then ran 10, but had to walk off of Alameda Ridge home at mile six. Almost cried talking about it with my husband. I will go to packet pick up tomorrow, but most likely will be shuttled back to the start of the race at some point. I have massage today and won’t run until the race. Most likely will take a month off and am so desperate I might switch from my Asics(10 years running) to Newtons. Peace to you and your knee. Maybe we can meet at Grant Track and cry a little together. Good luck!

  4. thank you Sarah for sharing. So many of us have pain, injuries, or just dumb luck, and it is so encouraging to hear that we are in the same boat. We are all here for eachother and that’s what’s important… recovery to you…

  5. I have been feeling so discouraged because my (now 6) last, tail-end kid left me with sciatica. Isn’t that a grandma thing? I am trying to embrace the service my body has performed by giving birth, but I feel like I am running two steps forward, walking three steps back. And just when I figured out I am a runner, too. Cheers to your knee, a speedy recovery, and the mystery of the human body!

  6. I’m sorry you are experiencing this but your timing is impeccable. I am seeing my doc tomorrow (who is a runner) for the exact same thing. I’m just hoping I haven’t torn anything. The pain was terrible yesterday, but today I decided to do some light intervals on the treadmill. I was sore two hours later, but now I haven’t felt this good for 2 months. Go figure. Good luck with your appointment.
    Mary Ann

    1. Thanks for the empathy, Mary Ann. Expert I saw says there’s slim chance I have slight tear in meniscus (sp?), but he doesn’t think so. Says I can keep running, but have to work on tightness in hips, hamstrings, and calves. Now my motto will be, “suck it up, buttercup!” Hope your appt goes well. I know I’m just glad to know I can run and not do more harm.

      1. So glad you had good news. Mine was good as well, just no running for a month and a lot of stretching. Tendinitis in the knee and IT band. I did mention a lingering neck pain I have from a running accident last year. This one has me a bit nervous, so an x-ray will be a starting point. Last April I fell while running and slammed my head into a pole and gave myself whiplash. I’m hoping it’s just ligament damage.

  7. Here’s hoping it’s an easily resolved and quickly healed issue! Once you get a diagnosis, even a “scary” one, at least you’ll be able to set a direction. Best wishes to you!

  8. So sorry to hear about your injury. Hopefully nothing too serious, and you will be back on the road sooner than later. I know it’s so frustrating, especially in the middle of marathon training. Keep us posted!

  9. My husband suffered for years after a work related injury. Had multiple mri’s etc and they basically thought he wa milking th old injury claim. Then he went in fora torn miniscus on the same knee. While he was “up on the racks” the ortho decided to poke around a bit and investigate the phantom pain. Sure enough, it was an old bakers cyst from the original injury years before. Doc wa able to cauterize the opening so it would scar over and heal itself. He was NOT crazy after all. LOL. Today he is able to do things that caused him severe debilitating pain for years. There is life after a bakers cyst. 😉

    1. Thanks for the anecdote, Racheal. Interesting to hear that a Baker’s cyst can be cauterized, as guy today said that if he drains it, it would just fill up again on my next long run. I’m filing your tale away in my memory banks!

  10. Ugh, sorry to hear about your knee. It is so hard to take a break from doing what you love to do.

    I think I am getting ready to face an unplanned break as well due to a pain (suspected stress fracture) in my left foot. I have a half marathon planned for the same day at your Canadian adventure. I know time will “heal all wounds” (except the big empty one in my psyche when I can’t do what I want to do), but it is really hard to change my mindset!

    Any advice for how to maintain fitness by cross training to still complete the half in May? The race is still 12 weeks away, so I feel like if I take 4-6 weeks to heal I can probably still run in it. I don’t have access to a pool, but can bike and do elliptical. How would you set up those workouts to best condition for running again later?

  11. I have had a Baker’s cyst- when it pops it is awful- but a week later I felt like a champ! To be honest- that may be your best diagnosis- good luck!

  12. Avoid that intersection — run the other way! But seriously, I hope you get to the root of the problem right away and return to pain-free running and living.

  13. Oh no! Not the knee! Anywhere but the knee! I feel like I could run through just about any injury that doesn’t involve my knee….

    In all seriousness, I hope it is “just” a Baker’s cyst, and that a steroid injection is all you need to get back on the road. Sending healing mother vibes your way….

  14. Oh no! I am so sorry to hear! I am starting week 2 of being in a boot. At first they thought it was a stress fracture, which I just could not believe, so I went for a 2nd opinion. Turns out I have something called a plantar plate tear – if it doesn’t heal on it’s own I may have to have surgery to repair it. SUCKS! Hope you get some results soon so you start the recovery process. Hang in there! Love from STP!

  15. Your story is too familiar to me. Hope the MRI finds a fixable problem. I had the exact same symptoms, MRI showed a tear, tried 6 weeks of PT, agonized over surgery, decided to do it when I couldn’t do anything without pain (yes, even swimming and biking). Had arthroscopic in December, found no tear but lots of cartilage damage and arthritis. I played sports my entire life and have never been injured. I’m currently phasing out of PT, my knee is feeling great. I have to wear a brace, ice daily and limit myself. I can bike and swim painfree (I’m horribly out of shape now), I’ve been out xc skiing. We haven’t tried running yet. I’ve been told my knees can’t handle the stress, but I might be able to get back to short runs. I’m taking it day by day and not focusing on the negative. Ive been through every emotion possible, I’m dying to train for something, I don’t want to miss tri season, hell, I was just getting started!…but I want to walk when I’m 70 and keep my knees. It is just a bump in the road, you will figure it out and forge ahead. Best of luck, keep us posted.

  16. Oh no Sarah!!! I remember your podcast from last month with you talking about it too! I hope that it is something small and you are hitting the road again soon!! Pain is certainly something we runners like to ignore but it isn’t always the smartest choice!

  17. Hope you get some answers quickly! My left knee has always been tempermental and flaired up recently after doing weighted squats (dumb, dumb, dumb). Take it easy and go for a swim! (Ok, I’m in Florida and it was 80 yesterday).

  18. Oh Sarah, I totally understand your pain! You’ve been so strong and injury-free for so long (and I have been so jealous!) that I know this really sucks for you. But after years of on-again/off-again running, I’ve learned that it really pays a lot more dividends to rest or seek other non-painful ways to train. Pain is a message that so few of us runners listen to, but I’m getting better at hearing it.
    Good luck on your healing.

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