Saturday, June 4, 2011

Long Lonely Walk of Loneliness

Where has May gone?  And April for that matter?

It's been a hectic, stressful -- and at times, demoralizing -- past two months.  To quickly summarize the past two months: Some knee pain, resting, then running, then resting, then walking, then resting; a cane, an MRI..."...Phyllis, a man, a map, and his penis - I believe you all know what I am referring to...".  As such, I had done basically zero training of any kind from mid-April until only days preceding Memorial Day weekend.

In short, a "pain grenade" went off in my left knee during AR50 -- affecting the knee joint, the knee cap, the MCL and anything else it its path -- that prevented any training.  Even pool running and walking was painful and irritating.  About two weeks ago, it ocurred to me that I may have a stress fracture in the medial tibial plateau -- pain was ongoing, exacerbated by walking and light hopping I'd been doing in hopes of progressing to jogging.  I promptly put myself on a cane for half a week while I investigated.

X-rays were ordered, and two days later an MRI -- while I typically scoff at unnecessary imaging tests, I desperately needed to know if there was any pathology in the joint.  A day later, the report:
FINDINGS: There is no knee joint effusion or Baker's cyst. The ACL and PCL show no tear. There is no meniscal tear. The collateral ligaments and posterolateral corner structures are intact. There is fluid within the layers of the tibial collateral ligament extending superomedially and to the region of the medial patellar retinaculum. There is no retinacular tear. The distal quadriceps and patellar tendons show no significant abnormality. There is no fracture or bone contusion. No focal cartilage defect is identified.

In short: ALL CLEAR*

(*short some "fluid in layers" on my MCL, which is insignificant)

There is a definite pyschological component to pain.  Pain is any stimulus the body perceives as a threat.  And since AR, my two threats:
  1. Not being able to run WS and make that weekend an awesome experience for me, and my friends/family.
  2. Not being able to run again -- or significantly -- if I had a serious knee pathology.
Returning to running required that I dispense of both those threats:

For #1, I had to break down in mid-May and announce to my crew that I very well may not run.  Having a walking tolerance of 5 minutes (and a cycling tolerance of 30 seconds) 6 weeks prior to a hundred-mile trail race does not bode well for success.  To finally let go of "my idea" of that weekend -- run fast and strong, and making it about my competition -- was liberating to me.  Rather than worry about racing 100 miles, I could finally begin to focus on simply getting better.

For #2, it was the imaging.  Duplicate orthopedic exams by my boss were equivocal, and my medial knee symptoms were suggestive of a joint or bone issue.  I was really worried. I needed that "clean bill of health".  As such, the cost for Peace of Mind was $625. 

Since my clean bill of health on May 25th, I went from 30 seconds to 30 minutes to 60 minutes a day cycling.  Then, I headed to Michigan Bluff for the annual training camp weekend with the Eugene Crew.  I brought along my bike, thinking I'd do primarily cycling and perhaps some hiking, if the knee allowed.  To summarize:
Friday: Britt and I picked up Sam at the airport and headed to MB.  We went on a hike on the WS trail west from MB towards Bath Rd.  1h50m total hike, which included 37 minutes of light jogging (mostly 1 minute on, 1-2 minutes walk rest).
Saturday: Sam and I went east on the WS trail from MB to Last Chance and a mile+ beyond.  We walked nearly the entire way out -- 13.3 miles in a leisurely 4:30 (with stops to check out Pacific Slab, Deadwood Cemetary, etc).  On the way back -- we ran nearly the whole thing, except for an exhausted/bonking hike up out of El Dorado Canyon to MB.  26.3 miles total, about 10 of which were run.  7h30m feet time!

Sunday: Training Run from Foresthill to Rucky Chucky.  Except Sam and I ran from MB, the 7 miles (except the last half-mile to FH).  We also ran at a normal pace, non-stop, the entire training run save the brutal 3 miles uphill to the bus.  22 miles run, 5h00m feet time!
Monday: Britt and I ran from the HS to Robie Pt and back.  Extremely sore everywhere, only mildly so (relative) in the left knee.
One word: astonishing.  In my wildest dreams I thought I'd shuffle a half hour per day that weekend; instead, I ran nearly 40 miles and put another 15 in hiking, for a total of 15+ hours of feet time in 4 days.

Besides the psychological component, I also believe there was some physiological component.  Scar tissue needs remodeling.  And that remodeling in and of itself can cause symptoms.  Interestingly: the more I did (hiking 4h30m, for example), the better if felt -- as if scar tissue was being mobilized and remodeled -- similarly to my "breakaway" snowshoe hike (5hr+) that effectively healed my achilles pain back in January.

This past week: pretty good but still tenuous.  I was extremely sore from doing nothing to hammering down the WS canyons.  I also had some collateral issues: a strained posterior R knee (overdoing the powerhiking and R leg emphasis) and the L foot arch.  The left knee has also been sore on and off, but overall better than the previous week. 

Yesterday I had a breakthrough run: a solo excursion to Rooster Rock, in the Menagerie Wilderness of west-central Oregon.  Per the Eugene crew, this is the closest topography in the States to the WS conditions: the >3600' Rooster Rock peak with two access trails, both starting around 1500': the Trout Creek Trail and the Rooster Rock trail.  One "loop" consists of running up Trout, down Rooster, up Rooster, and down Trout -- each time summitting Rooster. 

Yesterday I did 1.5 of these (x2 of the smoother, less severe Trout and x1 Rooster) and, besides some general knee soreness, I felt terrific.  It was also hot, so it was a good heat training session, as well.

With every day I feel more and more confident in my ability to run and survive the 2011 Western States.  It may not be the peak performance that I had fantasized about, but -- this two month "blip" in preparation makes the upcoming June 25th all the more interesting.

In the mean time, my focus is on the following:
  1. "Seasoning the Quads" -- doing everything I can to prepare my legs (namely quads) for 20-24 hours of ambulation.
  2. Ongoing health and recovery of the body -- not just the left knee, but all the other aches and pains -- this and the former will be a tantalizing balancing act the next 3 weeks
  3. Experience -- seeing some more of the WS course.
Important upcoming dates:
  • 6-5-11.  Scheduled "last long training run" with the Eugene Crew.  Not sure where exactly -- perhaps the foothills off OR58.  I have yet to do a true long run with the Crew, so I'm hoping to take part, and get in a good, long run.

  • 6-10 and 6-11-11.  I'm returning to the WS trail on my own for 1-2 final "crash-courses" on the trail:  one run along the canyons + some Cal St, then a slog/walk from Robie Pt to Green Gate and back.  That makes for an extremely long weekend, but the focus is on "feet time" and experience.
That's all for now.  Wish me luck, please!  I'm just so happy and relieved to be feeling "OK".  Send your good vibes, such that this string may continue through 6-25 and 6-26!