From the Blog

4 Ever Fit Tips – What I learned from my knee – Learning from our mistakes

I always tell my daughters that if you view life as a continuous learning experience, success will not be far behind, and if we don’t learn from our mistakes we will continue to make mistakes. 

I needed a mistake of my own recently to remind me of something I already knew. I hope to learn from this and prevent further similar mistakes.  Fortunately for me it has been a while since I have had an injury that keeps me from doing the things that I enjoy.  As is often the case for many people, this one showed up at an inopportune time for me.  As the regular readers know, I had promoted a running/walking challenge from Labor Day to Columbus Day.  It was simple — run or walk a mile every day for 42 days.  You may have noticed that I like to participate in my challenges and I don’t like to fail.  Here is how I failed on this challenge.

On August 10 I injured my knee.  I don’t know exactly how the injury occurred. Injuries are one of my specialties, so not surprisingly, I hate not being able to figure out the “why” of an injury.  What I do know is it became aggravated after a significantly faster run than I normally do.  The run took place on a flat paved surface, which is not my usual running terrain.  I typically run along the canal, in the woods, or on a treadmill.  Over the last three years I have been running about 600 miles per year (including one 30-mile trail race) without a lick of right knee pain.  It may seem like a high volume of running but in the running world it is on the conservative side.  My 10-15 miles per week pales in comparison to 50-90 miles per week that hard core runners perform.

I went out that morning and did a two-mile warm up at normal pace, then decided to run fast for the next three miles, about one minute and 15 seconds faster per mile.  The final two miles were a slow jog.  I did not notice any problems during the run but later in the day my knee began to ache.  I ran on and off for the next three weeks until the challenge started, and then I ran almost every day for about four weeks.  The ache continued at various intensities until a few weeks ago when I finally decided to stop running altogether. 

Over the course of the previous few weeks leading up to the injury, I had done some activities on vacation which I rarely do, such as knee boarding, water skiing, and carrying a golf bag while playing, as opposed to riding in a cart.  I feel some of these activities may have led up to the injury, but it was primarily caused by a sudden increase in intensity, distance, and a change in surface force.  One other possibility is that I may have missed a step, stepped off a curb wrong, or had a partial slip which aggravated the joint but no symptoms were present until after the hard run.  I don’t remember any such incident but many insignificant things happen throughout our daily lives which we don’t take note of that could have led to the start of the aggravation.

I was evaluated by an orthopedic surgeon last week and had an MRI a few days later.  Fortunately it showed only a small quadriceps tendon tear, which the doctor did not think was causing my problem, and a small amount of cartilage irritation.  His suggestion to me was to stop running for a month or two and only do cross training, such as biking or elliptical training as my cardio.  He also told me to continue the strengthening exercises I am doing for my ankle, hips, and legs as long as the pain does not return.

What did I learn from this experience?  I learned that we must listen to our body when something is bothering us.  I don’t think I did any additional damage to my knee by running a mile a day, but I did keep it irritated for longer than necessary.  If I had stopped the challenge or never started the challenge I might already be back running with the guys on Saturday mornings.  Unfortunately, I let this challenge dictate my behavior instead of following the best course of action in the moment.  When it comes to your overall fitness, ask yourself “If I perform this activity today am I likely to be better or worse in the following days from it?”  The next question to ask is “What other activity can I do that will not aggravate my injury but will provide some of the benefits of the exercises that I had planned on doing?”  I don’t subscribe to the phrase “no pain, no gain.”  Pain tells us something and it is a good warning signal to modify your behavior. 

I hope this admission of a failure of mine can be of benefit to you.  I hope to see some of you on the running trails soon.