Injury Comeback

Men's group shot

Men’s group shot

It seemed as though I would need an MRI, since after four weeks I was still limping around the house unable to shake the pain in my right knee from a skiing fall. Hiking South Sister with friends proved to be a turning point, mentally and physically. It’s been six weeks since the fall, and I’ve been running for a full week. While my knee mildly protests certain movements, overall it feels promising. The mountains took my mobility away, and then they gave it back.

The Accident

The fall came while backcountry skiing Tumalo Mtn, a small knoll across the highway from Mt Bachelor. It was my first time trying to ski that bowl, and fresh snow made the conditions trickier for me. I took a turn too slow, fell softly forward, and landed weird. My left ski popped off but my right didn’t and I felt an ominous tug on the inside of my right knee. Luckily I was able to get up and ski down the road, but I felt a little unsteady and very nervous. Funny how quickly you can go from confident to conservative. After 30 minutes in the car my knee was very stiff, not bending well, and I knew I had a problem.

I spent the rest of the week couch ridden, icing my knee, and trying to avoid extraneous walking. Burke Selbst at Focus Physical Therapy thought it could be a grade 1 MCL tear, and my doctor thought it could be a bad MCL strain. The internet described lots of scenarios I wished I hadn’t read. Recovery meant either time or surgery, and neither was what I wanted to hear. It seemed like my desire to train harder increased as my body said no. I was working against myself.

Recovery

The first week was the worst mentally, and I admit to being in a very surly mood. I went through several stages of grief while realizing I’d have to miss the Corvallis half marathon and Eugene marathon, the latter of which was supposed to inch me closer to the Olympic Trials qualifying time. Then a funny thing happened. As I realized those races were out and the only thing to do was save running dreams for later and focus on now, I began accepting the injury and I got a lot happier.

I took up the bike, borrowing Claire’s road steed and Fox’s mtn bike, and started discovering new territory in my backyard. I rode through neighborhoods I didn’t know existed, eastern country roads with horse farms and endless juniper, mountain bike trails with roots and rocks that tested my nerves and patience, filling areas on the map that had been blank spots. On climbs pretended I was in a breakaway, the peloton bearing down. On descents I savored the wind in my face and the ever-changing views. Cycling stirred my imagination on how to cover ground in a new way. I might be hooked.

The Tumalo knee incident turned into my second longest time off running due to injury (#1 being 8 weeks in 2012 for the Eugene 5k foot stress fracture).

What do YOU want to do?

I spent a good chunk of my injury rethinking my outdoor priorities and threatening to sell my skis to anyone who would listen. I started getting into skiing because I really liked the idea of fast mountain descents and becoming a more versatile athlete. Skiing down was seductive and seemed like this great nexus of outdoor pursuits. It was also not entirely realistic with my novice skills. Managing all conditions in the back country takes years of practice and even then there’s a sizable risk of injury. And while all activities carry some risk, I think what I’m looking for is a combination that limits risk where possible while still pushes personal limits.

When I really think about how I want to spend my free time, it’s moving through new places, seeing how fast I can be, and chasing the next view. Mountain running certainly carries risk, but it’s closer to my heart. Maybe the most telling sign for me is that my wish list for running/hiking/climbing objectives is much longer than for skiing. For me, right now, skiing is probably not the best fit.
Hopefully soon I’ll have trouble remembering which knee was injured in the first place. I’m looking forward to a summer of big mountain running: pacing Spooter at Western States, the US Mtn Championships in Bend, and Skyrunning races in Washington and Arizona. I have a hunch I’ll keep pedaling the bike too.
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