This isn’t the most exciting chapter of any athlete’s journey, but it is usually a part of it. I’ve recently experienced a knee injury and I am in the process of rehabilitating it and getting back to normal training. I’ll chart the process on this blog and hopefully you can learn a thing or two about overcoming a setback.
Tuesday, Nov 12. Injury Onset.
I had a team workout on a cold morning where we met at Minneapolis Washburn HS for a track workout. This day was in the single-digits, which is fairly rare for early November. I warmed up with my teammate and fellow AB-er, Colin Abert, and we had a pretty good clip going for the cold weather, around 6min miles. After the warmup, I had to hit the lavatory which made for an uncomfortable trek through the hallways of Washburn. Once I got back to the track about 15min later, I did a few drills and strides to loosen up again and then I hit the workout. It was nothing unusual, 4x1200m @ LT with 1min recovery. This is a classic tune-up workout that we normally do the week of races. I ran the workout well, decreasing my splits from the first to last rep. I then cooled down with the team and headed out to get on with the day. Later in the day, I felt my knee walking around. It was weird because I never felt anything in the workout, but there was a noticeable soreness when walking. I did a strength training session in the afternoon and I felt my knee more there. I had to stop a few of the drills because I was altering my normal movement patterns. I talked to a few people about it and they offered some advice and suggested that it may clear up in a few days. So I didn’t think much of it, and the next day I went out for a recovery run and there was the pain again. It started up and got worse a mile in. I decided to not risk it and push through so I just called it a day.
Nov 14-17. Resting and then Testing the Knee before a Race in Florida.
I took the next two days off of running, as usually a minor soreness will clear up in 48 hours. I saw a doctor who taped the knee to help support and stabilize it. The next few days, I swam and did some glute strengthening exercises that have helped me in the past. I also traveled to Florida, planning to do a race on Sunday. I tested my knee again on Friday and Saturday, and the pain was still there so I decided it wouldn’t be a good decision to push it in a race. This wasn’t the biggest race on the calendar for me, so I made the hard decision to sit out.
Nov 18-24. Traveling with Injury.
I had already made plans to travel to Charlotte, NC and then Atlanta, GA after the race so I went on with those plans. I wasn’t able to train much during this week and it seemed like rest was what my knee needed the most. So I did some hiking, swimming at a Life Time Fitness, which was awesome to find while traveling, and some rehab. I didn’t have much of a choice, so I spent lots of time exploring the city and some of the rural areas. I felt my knee most when bending it, or seated for long periods of time, so I sensed I had patella femoral syndrome, which is a result of the patella not quite tracking optimally. I sensed it was due to some hip tightness or weakness and worked on a few muscle areas prescribed to me by medical professionals. Here is a link to a video with some of the exercises: https://www.instagram.com/p/B5YLQwrH_Mx/
Nov 25 – Dec 1. The Thanksgiving Holiday, Rehabbing, and Problem-Solving.
As an injury lingers, there is some stress and worry that creeps up, and I start to wonder when I’ll be back and able to train again normally. I see the news about the Trials being 100 days away and now we’re down to less than 90 days. So I want to be out there and preparing, but I know my body won’t let me right now. So I try to do everything in my power to get to the source of my injury and what will help me get back as fast as possible. The trouble with injury is it disrupts a normal routine. Instead of jumping out the door for a run, I need to drive 20min to the pool, change, and then do a pool workout for an hour or so, plus rehab for an hour, and then it’s back home. What normally took an hour, now takes three. It’s time-consuming and stressful, but I have been through it before so I know a little bit about managing the situation. Luckily, Team USA Minnesota has an incredible medical support network along with Life Time Fitness for indoor training, so I tap all of the resources provided to the team and get to solving the problem as best I can. I was able to rule out certain things and get a diagnosis from a team doctor, which certainly helps provide some relief and direction going forward. I tend to be overly cautious with injury now as I have run through some stuff in the past, mostly to no avail. Usually, rest is the best medicine as the body knows how to heal itself when you give it the time. But the waiting game isn’t always fun.
Dec 2-8. Making Progress and Staying Focused with Injury.
I’ve made some progress this week. I’ve run on the AlterG, treadmill, and even the pavement 6 of 7 days this week. After getting my knee taped, I was able to run for 30min on Wednesday with little pain at 50-60% bodyweight. It’s certainly encouraging and when it’s been 3 weeks since a solid run, it’s good to have those small victories, like a 30min run. In the middle of hard marathon training, a 30min run is an after-thought, but today it was a big accomplishment and it’s important to feel good about hitting those small goals because it’s the only way to build yourself up. I may not make it to the Olympics today, but if I keep hitting a small goal each day, then it’s progress and it’s important to take note of and celebrate. It’s what keeps me going and it is motivation for the next day. I think in the middle of injury, it’s important to keep the focus like I would in the middle of training. I’ve got to keep a log, set goals for the day, and check off all the boxes in terms of doing the little things like stretching, warming up, along with eating and sleeping well and staying positive upstairs. I’ve got to control what I can control and just keep moving forward with the process. Things will eventually improve, but it’s important to stay in tune with what’s working and what’s not working so I can use time in the most efficient manner and help me get to where I want to be as soon as possible. I finished this week having run 18mi, and it was a good step in the right direction. My knee pain has decreased while running since my first run of the week, so that is a good sign. It’s important to pay attention to those signs. Sometimes you can run through a soreness, but be sure to keep in mind if it’s getting worse when running. If it stays the same, that can be a sign of progress. It’s important to keep good notes on your training runs so you can figure out what’s working for you and what’s not. As you can see below in my training log, I made progress throughout the week, but most of the work is being done in the non-running column.
Dec 9-16. Conclusion and Continuation.
Going forward, I know I have a handle on the situation and now it’s a matter of putting in the work and being patient. I have strong evidence that I strained a small ligament in my right knee during that track workout discussed about one month ago. There may be other factors that lead to that strain including, warming up and then cooling off as it was only about 3 degrees that day, and then hitting the track for a faster workout with 12 laps of left-handed turns, which I hadn’t done in awhile. Sometimes, it’s the perfect mix of factors that lead to an injury, as I believe occurred in this case. But I’m confident going forward. The knee can be a tricky area to heal as there is low blood flow to the area, which is always needed for proper healing. So, running on it has been good for bringing blood flow to the area and I’ve been doing the rehab exercises provided to me, which will help all of the muscles that contribute to supporting the knee. Also, it’s important to slowly progress forward when coming off an injury and not do too much, too soon. I’ve been careful as I build up my mileage, and I pay close attention to how my knee feels day-to-day. I’ll plan to put about 30 miles of running in this week, along with 3-4 hours of XT in order to keep my fitness. The XT requires a slightly different mindset as it can be frustrating or monotonous to bike or swim, but luckily I’ve had experience with it in the past and once I get going with a bike or swim, I eventually get into a rhythm and times flies by just like it does when running.
So if you’re dealing with injury, take it slow, seek help from medical professionals, pay attention to the pain signals your body is giving you, and return to training slowly to not allow the injury to return. Ultimately, an injury will make you stronger both mentally and physically as you will have worked your way back from difficult circumstances and made your body stronger in the process. Here’s to healing and enjoying the holidays! See you in 2020.