To be able to understand the impact that knee pain had on my life you really need to know why I run in the first place. Once you will understand this you will be able to appreciate the full impact of someone telling me that I need to reduce the amount of running that I do, that my knee will never get better and that I need to use orthotics for the rest of my life. I am 38 and I was devastated at this news. To some this may sound like an over-reaction, but I guess it is akin to any form of addict being told they have to go cold turkey.
Two and a half years ago I went from what I thought was a reasonably functioning business and family oriented man into an emotional wreck in just a few weeks. Something wasn’t right for a while. I was suffering consistent nausea, fatigue and anxiety. I didn’t know it to start with, but I was in the grips of depression. My business was doing well, my family were, and still are, amazing but I was deeply and dreadfully unhappy. The trigger for the depression was something that most of you would consider trivial, but it floored me nonetheless. I couldn’t get out of my head and to stop the dreadful thoughts I took up origami for a while. It kept my hands and mind busy through the worst of it.
When my doctor finally started to understand I was prescribed an antidepressant, and slowly, over the following weeks, my life started to come back together. One day I started to think about things that make me happy and, wanting to get fit, realised that I love the countryside and amazing views. I decided to run to the top of the hill behind my house. We are fortunate, living right on the southern tip of Dartmoor, and the hill behind my house is 1086 feet high. It can be incorporated into a four mile walk, and it took me ninety minutes to finish those four miles the first time. The view from the top was amazing. I could see for miles, spotting the sea in two different directions.
Over the next few months I walked or ran to the top of that hill every single day. If I was tired I simply went a bit slower. One day I remember running down the hill and a feeling of such euphoria washed over me. It was a combination of the antidepressants having done their job and the endorphins from the run hitting me just when I needed them most.
Over the same time period I lost two stone in weight and found a sustainable healthy lifestyle that suited me. I was able to come off of the antidepressants for 6 months, but did eventually have to go back on them when other aspects of life gave my family some bad news. Firstly my wife was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukaemia which she has now been fighting for over twenty months, then my Dad was diagnosed with a grade IV brain tumour. My family has always been close, but the bad news just kept on coming.
While all this was going on my children continued to be inspirational and amazing. They are 6 and 8 as I write this and to be able to enjoy them again is something that running has been foremost in giving me.
Throughout all of this I have continued to run. In 2012/13 I ran 9 marathons in 9 months with most of them being trail marathons around the coastline of the south west. I have completed cycle sportives in England, Wales and Scotland, and in 2013 I started to get into triathlon and ultra marathons. Don’t get me wrong, I am no elite athlete, but finishing these events is simply fantastic and I am always seeking the next challenge. Running for a full day and night is nothing compared to what my wife has gone through in her battle with leukaemia.
Throughout it all I have continuously had a “niggle” in my right knee, and in summer of 2014 I decided to get it looked at.
I scheduled an appointment with my GP to get a referral and they were happy to give it. After a quick look at my knee she agreed with me in that it didn’t look like anything major, but with my running habit we decided that it was best to get it checked out. I took my referral to a knee orthopaedic surgeon at a local hospital and asked “Are you happy treating athletes?” He confirmed that he was, so I booked an appointment. The surgeon didn’t think that there was much wrong, but ordered x-rays and an MRI just to be sure. When the results came back he called me into his office to give me the news. He told me that I ran too much, that I needed orthotics and that I should change my lifestyle. Without understanding me or my life, this surgeon told me that an operation wouldn’t improve the matter. Physiotherapy might help, but I should significantly reduce my running and wear heel lifts in my shoes.
I was devastated. I had just been told that I had to effectively stop doing one of the key things that enables me to live and enjoy my life. Running keeps me sane, it is my coping mechanism. This small elderly man had no idea of the impact of his diagnosis and over the next few days I became more and more angry. I was aware that my anger may have been a part of denial, but I simply didn’t believe in the diagnosis and the more that I asked around the athletics community, the more that it sounded like bad advice. I had a coach at the time, one of the most knowledgeable people on running and triathlon that I will ever meet, and he helped me seek out somewhere that I could go for a second opinion. This was without a doubt the right thing to do.
Ultimately my second opinion came from Jonathan Bell at the Wimbledon Clinics, and I received some physiotherapy treatment from Claire Robertson. I spent around ninety minutes in their offices and they got my life back on track. The issue with my knee was nowhere near as dramatic as I had been told previously. It was a fairly common patella femoral pain (Runner’s Knee) and could be treated by incorporating some simple strength and conditioning work into my daily routine.
Since my second opinion I have finished Ironman Wales with no knee pain. That’s a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bike ride and a 26.2 mile run, all in a single day. The niggle isn’t entirely gone, however it is getting better all of the time. My running technique is improving, as is the flexibility and strength of the muscles and tendons of my hips and core. More importantly I can continue to run, knowing that it isn’t doing me harm, and that I can carry on running to the top of that hill every day. It’s just that now the round trip takes me forty minutes, so I have had to add an extra hill or two in to keep it challenging. Next year I am booked on my first 100 mile ultra marathon and you know what? I can’t wait.
About the author:
Richard Lander Stow runs his own successful business, Firefly IT Solutions Ltd, and is currently studying part time for his Masters degree in digital forensics. When he is not working or spending time with his family Richard blogs about his sporting activities at www.bikerunswim.co.uk and his wife’s leukaemia and fundraising activities at www.theleukaemiaconclusion.co.uk.