Reviews | Runner’s Knee

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I was running. I was on the Moonee Ponds Creek trail. It travels, unsurprisingly, alongside the Moonee Ponds creek, and runs from the Docklands through the northern suburbs up towards Melbourne International Airport. It also connects to its sister trails; The Broadmeadows Valley Trail, The Western Ring Road Trail, and The Capital City Trail. My intention was to run twenty kilometers. A not undifficult distance, but one I had mandated myself. I had done so for good reason, July 28th was coming. I started strong. I had the day off, a benefit of working part time, and so had prepared well. I had had a sensible breakfast, waited the appropriate time for digestion to take place, and the days weather was cool but fair. Conditions were good. 

The first kilometer I was working out the kinks, letting stiffness leave my body. The second kilometer felt good. Very good. My body temperature was low, my breathing was easy, and I was flying over the cement with the easy grace of a gazelle. Then came the twinge. The niggle. The lone forerunner sprinting to the castle to let them know trouble was just over the horizon. I did what anyone with the twin drivers of motivation and denial would do. I kept running.

Throughout the third and fourth kilometers I evaluated and reevaluated the state of my knee. The niggle had grown into something more, discomfort, but only for brief periods. Mostly, when I was going up or down an incline. On those inclines I would worry, questioning if I should stop while not really wanting to, wondering if I was doing more harm than good. Then the flats would come, the niggle would subside, and I would convince myself that everything was fine, it was just my tendons playing funny buggers; a thing they’d never done before. 

My watch vibrated, letting me know the fourth kilometer was complete, whilst simultaneously informing how long it took me to run it. It was a good time. I couldn’t stop now. Definitely not. I rounded a bend in the track and headed up a slight hill. The niggle that had become discomfort now became pain. July 28th, I told myself, and pushed through the pain. I pushed through until I got to a flat, where now the discomfort continued. That was worrying. Flats were my reprieve. They were were my optimistic delusion lived. That discomfort chased my optimism away. 

My watch vibrated again, telling me I had reached the five kilometer mark. Fifteen more to go. Fifteen more kilometers and who knew what state my knee would be in by then. But, July 28th, I told myself. Won’t be possible if you damage your knee beyond recovery now, a second voice said. That second voice sounded somewhat like my wife, who, when it comes to my limits, is more realistic and knowledgeable than me. It’s a good voice to have in my head beside my own. I let my momentum stop along with my watch. On the five kilometer walk home my knee continued to be uncomfortable and sore. It would prove to remain this way for many days to come. 

Runner’s knee is a generic term used to describe a number of overuse injuries that result in pain around the kneecap, also known as the patella. The most common form of runner’s knee is called Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome or PFPS. It’s what I have/had and involves pain around the fat pad beneath the patella, the synovial tissue lining the knee joint, and the surrounding tendons. In other words, pain in front of, around, and beneath the kneecap. You can see why it’s the most common.

As suggested earlier, runner’s knee generally comes from overuse. In my case this is one hundred percent the reason. Just a few days before it’s onset, my wife — the one who’s voice exists not only inside my head but also outside it — had wisely suggested I cool it a bit on the running. I had been going hard. Monday’s involved a ten to fourteen kilometer run. On Wednesdays it was a “gentler” eight kilometers, before the big one on Friday, which would range anywhere between fourteen to twenty kilometers. I was also riding to work throughout that week, as well as going for walks during the day. I had been completing this routine for around a month, building up that longer Friday run until now, when I was set to complete the twenty. I’ve since learned my wife’s advice had already come too late, as runner’s knee presents around two weeks after the initial overuse.

The kneecap is different to a lot of the rest of your body, in that it floats within the knee. When not floating it rests within its home, called the trochlear groove. Then it’s able to slide up and down within the knee as you sit and stand and flex and bend. What helps with all this sliding and floating is articular cartilage, which is a slippery substance. There are also fluids and fat pads that help with the lubricating and cushioning. It’s a fairly robust system — unless you overdo it. Then comes inflammation, soreness, and a certain amount of hobbling when faced with stairs. 

There a number of ways to treat runner’s knee. Icing it is an excellent first step, and second, and third, and fourth, and fifth. This is because it’s a good idea to ice the knee up to five times a day, for around fifteen minutes at a time. Compression and elevation also helps, as does taping and bracing the knee. Then there’s the one major treatment that is all but mandatory when faced with runner’s knee. Rest. On one website that I went on in researching this affliction, it asked the question, “Can I run with runner’s knee?” The answer was, “In short, no.” 

I kept running.

Well, sort of. I had a week and a half off, and then I was back to running through the pain. That week and a half did do some good, as, even with me still running, the pain was less than it had been, and the recovery the days after a run seemed quicker. I did an eight kilometer run, then a ten a week later, then tried again for the twenty a few more days after that. This was not a good idea but July 28th was coming and I knew without the mental knowledge of doing that twenty I wouldn’t survive. I completed the twenty without too much trouble. It hurt at times, yes, but less so than on that first day. Given everything, it was pretty good. The next morning was a different story. The inflammation was well and truly back, not that it had ever truly left, and the stairs at work proved to be a mighty milestone I was proud to overcome. I iced it and elevated it and the day after that it felt pretty good again.

I did one more six kilometer run before July 28th, and this pattern repeated itself.

July 28th came. The day of Run Melbourne, a half marathon which weaves through the heart of Melbourne CBD, and that I had signed up for nearly six months prior. Twenty one point one kilometers of track that I completed with a persistent discomfort in my knee and began to pay for just over two hours after crossing the finish line. Beyond that the run itself was, surprisingly, rather pleasant.

I don’t usually give ratings when I do reviews but if I did I wouldn’t rate runners knee all that highly; but then I would also have to admit that its onset and continued existence was entirely due to the choices I made. 

Choices tell us a lot about the people making them. They tell us about that person’s motivations and their desires. They tell us about that person’s faults and fears. They can, when looked at from a point of distance, tell you things about yourself you might not have known or recognised previously. 

Most treatment plans for runners knees suggest four to six weeks of non-aggravating activities, coupled with strength training exercises, and namely, not to ignore the pain. July 28th was five days ago, so now that’s what I’m choosing to do. 

I went for a walk today on the Moonee Ponds Creek Trail. I had a sensible breakfast, waited the appropriate time for digestion to take place; the weather was cool but fair. 

Conditions were good. 

Talk soon,

Damian

February 12, 2018

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Music today comes from a chap called Allman Brown., the song is called Sons and Daughters, I’ve been loving it, and now you can too.

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Words written for the year: 30,997

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Being an emerging writer, I don’t have many deadlines. I have some, such as if I want to enter a competition that has a closing date, when I’m creating things with other people, or when I have picked up the occasional writing job, but when I’m working on my own stuff there’s no need to hit a certain mark every day, no one breathing down my work saying they need those pages ASAP.

While it’s good not to have the stress and extreme pressure, some pressure can be a good thing. It can motivate. I’m still hitting my daily word goal, six hundred plus, but I want to incorporate that with short sharp bursts of writing where I try to hit much higher marks.

Basically, I think I could do with a liberal dose of deadlines, so I’m planning to give myself some. The idea will be to choose a project, or a subsection of a project, and set a date to finish it by, and sometimes aim to start, middle, and finish some of the smaller projects within a single day.

The thing is, I have the time. I’ve purposely been doing less things this year so that I have more down time. When this happens I usually consider writing, but then talk myself out of it by saying that I’ve already hit my daily word goal. Which isn’t a lie, and is good, and should be rewarded, but there’s also no reason I shouldn’t push myself for a little bit more. The problem then comes from motivation, because the fact is writing is work. It’s definitely enjoyable, and fun, and you can get into a zone where hours fly by without you realising, but conversely, there are times where it’s laborious, and hard, and feels like squeezing juice out of uncut coconut. You have enough of those times and your motivation can wan.

I’m hoping deadlines will work as a way to force me to squeeze the coconut, even when I don’t want to.

I’ll let you know how I go.

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I’ve also been relearning how to run.

I don’t mean I’m getting back into running, I mean I’m literally learning a better way to run, and it hurts.

Let’s back up a bit. I’ve been seeing a running coach, two actually (I get around), although one’s also a physiotherapist. The people in question are Dominic (running coach) and Nikki (physiotherapist) who run BCN Health and Fitness, and they’ve been teaching me how to run.

I’ve been running for a few years now, probably around ten now, and have done okay at it. I’m not about to win any races, but I’ve completed a few half marathons and mostly managed to stay consistent and (so far) injury free. But, as I’m learning, I’ve also been running in a way that exerts excess energy and doesn’t utilise certain muscles that could give me extra speed.

I completed a running assessment with Dom and Nikki, where Nikki asked me to do a number of stretches and squats to test my butt muscles (she called them gluts) before passing me over to Dom who recorded me running (clothes on, he insisted) and made some changes to my form and stance, as well as some other suggestions. They followed this up with a in-depth written and video analysis, a number of daily exercises to strengthen my sweet gluts, and a running program for the next six weeks.

It’s now been two weeks since I’ve implemented their changes and I’m sore. My arms are being held in a different way, my juicy butt is getting a frequent workout, I’m landing on my feet differently, and unsurprisingly my legs are using different muscles to compensate for all that. It’s a good kind of sore, a kind that says I’m training my muscles, strengthening them, and making me a more competent runner. But still, sore. The soreness is decreasing though, and I’ll be interested to see how their changes pay out by the end of the six weeks.

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Lastly, I saw this video of artist, Fernando Abellanas, building himself a secret studio under an underpass and thought it was the best thing ever. Check it out.

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Remember, you’re still going and so am I.

Talk soon,

Damian

November 29, 2017

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Another tune from Kim Churchill for today’s blog song because the album’s so good that I’m still listening to it. This one’s called Weight Falls.

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Current chain of writing days: 9

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I’m currently in training for a half marathon. Despite a previous resolve to do one a year, indefinitely — which I have admittedly only done for the past two years — I didn’t think I was going to do one this year. Dropping the ball on the third time round wouldn’t have been great but I was okay with it because I knew the cause, writing. Most of my not-at-work/not-socialising time this year has gone into writing, a fact that I’m pleased with, and would have accepted as a reasonable excuse to shirk past-Damian’s running resolve. Add to that that training for a half marathon is inevitably a time consuming endeavour involving building up your stamina over weeks to be able to handle longer and longer runs, which end up going for hours at a time. Like just about everybody I know, I felt like I have no free time, and so cramming hours of running every week into an already bloated calendar seemed impossible.

Luckily my brother, Matthew, stepped up to coerce and convince me to think otherwise. Well, all he really did was send me a text that said he was planning on running a half marathon and would appreciate it if I could do it with him, but it was the motivation I needed to ensure I didn’t break my streak, especially as I was keen to support Matt’s own efforts.

Let me tell you about my brother. Not only is he an excellent teacher and family man, he’s also someone who when he sets himself at a task gives it his all. At the start of the year he wrote a list of 2017 goals on a blackboard in his garage. He purposely chose the word ‘goals’ over ‘resolutions’ because he felt that you could only ever succeed or fail at a resolution, whereas goals could be changed depending on circumstances, and therefore still be achieved even if not in the initial form. How fucking great is that. It’s pragmatism at its best. It’s also just about everything you need to know about Matthew.

Two of his yearly goals were running based. He’s been running for years, off and on, much the same as I have, but he’d been more off than on at the end of last year and so to counter that he decided he would attempt to: 1) Run a thousand kilometers across the year, and 2) complete a half marathon. Pretty lofty goals for someone who hadn’t been running consistently for some time. Hell, lofty even for someone who had. To complete the thousand kilometers he would have to run at least twenty kilometers per week. He started out strong, hitting this target through the hotter months and into autumn but then slowed down come winter, until the point where he knew he wouldn’t achieve his initial goal. So, he altered it; reduced the number, and ensured he would keep going rather than quit altogether. Pragmatism in practice. I still love it. He also decided to double down on the goal to complete a half marathon, but, it being later in the year, and, with the longest distance he had ever ran previously being ten kilometers, Matt knew he needed extra motivation and so the message to me was sent.

Which brings us to last Sunday, we’re halfway through our training (four weeks into the eight we’ve given ourselves to get half marathon ready) and appropriately we’re about to run twelve kilometers (a half marathon being just under double that). It’s early in the morning — to avoid the heat, which is still present anyway, although more in the form of humidity thanks to some recent rain — and we’re standing on the Maribyrnong river running track ready to go. We click the button on our watches to measure our distance and we begin. We chat as we go, probably not a good idea as it uses precious oxygen our moving bodies are desperate for, but this is also our catch up time, and so on we talk between breaths. At two kilometers Matt’s watch beeps (as he’d set it to do) and he says something to me that I really liked, the very something that made me write this particular blog, in fact. He tells me that in his classroom they’ve been practicing celebrating every victory, basically that celebrating a completed goal is great but to also acknowledge hitting the milestones on the way to that goal. He then held up his hand and, still running, we gave each other a high five. Every additional two kilometers his watch would beep and we would slap our increasingly sweaty palms together, every victory celebrated. As mentioned, Matt’s previous longest run was ten kilometers, so as we stepped over the ten kilometer mark and into the ten point zero one kilometer mark Matt threw his arms into the air and let out a whoop. And why shouldn’t he? He’d just run the furthest he’d ever run before; it wasn’t the twelve kilometer goal we’d set for the day but it was surely an accomplishment well worth celebrating. By the time we did hit twelve there were more whoops, more high fives, and then the ultimate celebration, breakfast.

What I like most about Matt’s goal adapting and every-victory-celebrating is that both of these ideas actually help motivate you to keep going, and ensure you feel success and pride along the way. Which you should. If you set out to go for a ten kilometer run but only do five, you shouldn’t berate yourself for not running ten but rather celebrate that you went for a run at all. You just ran five kilometers, well done you.

Of course, this doesn’t apply to just running. It can, and in my opinion, should, be used anytime you set yourself a goal. For myself, I plan to use in for my writing. If all I have in me on any given day is to write one sentence, well then at least I wrote that sentence, and I’ll celebrate that fact.

Feeling like you’ve failed is a poor motivator. Celebrate every victory. Matt did, and last Sunday he ran the longest distance he ever had before, and by Christmas, he’ll likely have doubled it.

Talk soon

Damian

December 24, 2016

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This morning I went for a run. I had pre-planned it. The inevitable Christmas gorging is something I’m a big fan of partaking in and thought I should preemptively offset at least a bit of it, so that when my belly’s full from too much consumption and the twin demons of guilt and regret are making their way towards me I can say ‘Well, at least I went for a run.’

I got up at around 6:30am and by seven I was dressed in my running gear and closing the door of my house behind me. The sun was low, but bright and beaming. It reached somewhere towards thirty five degrees celsius in Melbourne yesterday so even with some of that heat dissipating overnight the morning was still warm. I started my watch to record the kilometers as I ran them and my feet began rhythmically hitting the pavement. I decided that I would run ten kilometers and by the time I reached the five kilometer turnaround point I was covered in sweat. The warmth of my body felt good, and cleansing.

On the way back it started to rain. Nothing too hard, just a light sun shower after the heat of the night before. Usually, I don’t enjoy running in the rain mostly because I find it frustrating when it gets into my eyes, but this morning, with my sunglasses negating that problem, the rain was clean and refreshing. I finished the run in good spirits, my muscles sore but my body hot and alert. As I usually do after a run I decided to do a cool down walk around the park next to my house. The rain, that until this point had remained in the shower category, turned into a thunderstorm as I did so. It was gorgeous. Even with the thunder and lightning dancing above me and the thick drops soaking my already wet running gear the storm still wasn’t enough to dampen our strong Australian sun. Instead I had a stunning view of green grass under a small patch of grey sky encircled, to the horizon, by blue and sunshine. A summer storm. The heavy rain was welcome and I finally started cooling as I made my way around the deserted park. I stopped briefly under a tree to simply watch the storm as the pattern of lightning followed by thunder continued above. The rain was torrential now but the dark mass it poured out of was still ringed by the stalwart light of the sun. I stood there, hot but getting colder, red faced and wearing black, and near laughed at the beauty of it. A middle aged coupled came towards me from around the corner of the path and they too were soaked, although seemed to share the energy a thunderstorm can bring. They approached and the man made a joke about the fickleness of Melbourne weather, we shared a smile, and they stood beside me under the boughs of the tree, all of us silently watching the rain.

Tomorrow is Christmas and with that comes a certain kind of magic. On the other side of the world that magic is personified by blankets of snow, rugging up against the cold, and sharing warm fires. Here, nothing seems more appropriate that standing with strangers and watching a summer storm.

I hope you all have a magical day tomorrow.

Talk soon

Damian