I’ll cut right to the chase, as some Law student who calls Biology a pseudoscience accused me of waxing lyrical in previous posts (lawyer me that one, Frisky F ;) ).
I have been out since July - no running or cross training. I have not been able to do consistent aerobic exercise without having knee pain, and it has completely changed my lifestyle. I eat less, sleep less, and go for walks to get some sort of blood flow going. I am a tablet of Metamucil away from becoming Mister Rogers circa 2000. I have never endured a more trying five months - I am living my worst nightmare.
I have been seeing world-class therapists here in Windsor and have been doing so many glute exercises that I can probably crack open three walnuts at once. Yet, there has been no change in pain levels. So, I have no choice but to fight this injury with more fire - I'm getting arthroscopic surgery.
The date: December 14th
Passengers in the Cyrmobile: so far, two (three more seats available – come see me recover from anaesthetics as you may be able to convince me to buy you dinner pretty easily).
Recovery time: 6 weeks to 3 months
Surgery efficacy rate: 50/50
I met the surgeon today, and after reading my MRI, he told me I have patellar tendinopathy. That was always what we thought, but it is nice to know that nothing else is going on in there, and it is nice to have the diagnosis confirmed. The pain has been pretty severe at times, so it got me worried that its cause was something more sinister.
According to the surgeon, the injury could go away by itself in several more months, in a year, or in a few years. It is curable with rest and physiotherapy, but surgery often accelerates the process. Since arthroscopy is non-invasive and relatively low risk, and since I was able to get under the knife this fast, I saw it as the best option.
So that’s where we are. I am optimistic (thanks Warren Buffet) and I try to approach this challenge with a positive outlook, but I can’t help being nervous. Living as a non-athlete has been an interesting experiment, but it has strengthened my conviction that, health willing, I will never quit running. I hate this loss of structure and I don’t feel like myself – running has become a huge part of my life in these last five years.
Plus, it is very hard to explain to people who are not in the sport (or sport in general) what I am dealing with. It’s not that I am missing out on making the Olympics. It’s not about the Olympics – it never was. What I am missing out on is trying to crack the top 10 at U Sports XC. It’s travelling to new places for training camps. It’s running on new grounds with new people. It’s logging 100 miles in a week and smugly posting on Strava about it. It’s going for a run with my sister and my two little bros when I get home for Christmas. It’s putting Angus Rawling in his place, dammit (which seems increasingly hard to do)!
I love this sport, and the people in it. I am meant to run. I don’t know how fast, and I don’t know how far, but I am meant to run.
So let’s end this.
I decided I would make it in the sport of running in December of 2014 when I was exiting the Halifax QEII hospital with a little scar on my chest and a deeper one in my ego. A doctor had nestled a heart rate monitor underneath my skin, shallow to my ribcage, following my second fainting episode in a few anemic months. I had just missed my third consecutive season with the X-Men. I was 19, confused, a relative nobody with no credentials. Nothing mattered to me nearly as much as did running, and that pursuit had in no way been fruitful. Still, I wanted to put everything I had into it.
I was not even marginally successful, but I was hungry. I wanted to turn heads so badly. Back then, I was motivated by a combination of sources. There were the wholesome satisfactions of feeling fit and setting new PBs, and then the hellish desires to make incredulous jaws drop and gain recognition from my superiors. Like only an immature 19-year-old speed-obsessed teenager in an Eminem and testosterone-induced perma-trance could, I wanted to rub my nameless spikes on a seldom frequented East-Coast track and set the damn world on fire. It did not matter who cared. I romanticized the craft too much to notice that most people probably didn't.
I wanted so badly to get faster that I probably wished it into existence. Soon, things started clicking. By my arbitrary standards, I was fulfilling my promise - I was starting to make it. A few months removed from that small surgery, I won a conference bronze medal. Then silvers, then I finished my time at St. FX with gold. Our team won championships, our group travelled the country for road, cross and track races. I beat Cal's PB. He beat mine. Neuffer crushed both of us, we crushed him back. I beat Riley for the first time. I beat Lee for the first time. Angus came in and beat me for the first time. Scott stayed for a fifth year and raised us to his level. I chose to move to Windsor to keep running. There were new personal bests. I ran on Hayward Field. I chased Nick Falk on grass, on dirt, on pure hate. I came back to PEI for the summer, by then having run faster on the track than any Islander before me. I won road races at the Highland Games. I saw Luc, a runner from my hometown whom I helped coach make his first strides at St. FX. I wrote and published a book on our team's journey to the 2016 U Sports championship.
I love reminiscing on these moments, no matter how insignificant they may seem to whomever. Not because I want to boast - many would have much more to boast about anyway - but because they are rewarding to me. Lately, I have been inclined to reminisce, because the memory of these moments has been my crutch.
Immediately following a fun weekend of racing at the Antigonish Highland Games in early July, I gradually descended from a rarely-interrupted three-and a-half-year-long high. Now three months into a knee injury, I was told there is bone degeneration on my left patella. I am not surprised, as my knee hurts to walk on. The development of pain was insidious, and crept up on me so discreetly that I don't think I could have been more diligent in trying to catch it. According to the doctor I am working with, the healing potential for this kind of injury, like its best treatment option, is unknown. Tomorrow, I am being given a PRP (platelet-rich plasma) injection to stimulate healing. If it does not work, I might have to opt for something more invasive.
These last few months have been difficult. It's not so much the time missed, as it is the uncertainty about my return timeline that keeps me up sometimes. Hobbling the Windsor campus without answers just weeks since I excelled here makes the setting sobering and dystopian. The possibility that I will not run again - that I will not feel high again - scares me, and brings tough questions to mind: If I do not make a comeback, have I wasted all this time trying to make the unmakable? Have I lost years of my life in vain? Should I have quit years ago?
For four years, I elected running as the focal point of my life. I needed nothing else. Running with the X-Men (and now the Lancers) has pushed me to chase academic degrees. I found a social life during runs, team suppers and the odd after-party. I cultivated business relationships through the sport, and used running as a vehicle to develop other interests and passions I now have. My sport enabled my growth in multiple directions. I needed nothing else. At 23, I am convinced I still don't.
I now think that we never fully make it in running, but running makes us a bit more every time we get out the door. I've been incredibly lucky to stay healthy and grow within this sport over these last four years. Without health, I would not have gotten here. Not even close. I would not be writing, I would not be in a Master's program, I would not have the friends I have, and I probably would not be happy. So, regardless of what's next, how could I regret that rage-fuelled stubborn decision to blindly chase running that 19-year-old me stubbornly and miraculously nailed? I can't.
I am 23, and for the first time in my life, I am facing a career-threatening injury. Stuart overcame one. Myriam overcame one. They are beatable. They have to be, because I cannot stop here. I want to chase more track times. I want to wear the Maple Leaf. I want to move to the roads. Maybe become a Roadhammer. Maybe progress to the marathon. I want to meet up with the boys when I'm fifty-three and tired from my day job and get my creaky but healthy joints out the door. On some level, by chance and circumstance, I've been made. But, I want to be made more. I don't want to be done. I don't want to be done.
I’m quivering. From the cold, I think. I don’t know. Maybe it’s just my rapid breathing that is making my chest twitch almost rhythmically. Either way, I’m beat, mangled. I can open my eyes, but not for long. Long enough to feel the wind on my eyeballs – a continuously present wind – that my somatosensory receptors have selectively ignored for over half an hour now.I cover my eyes to shield them. My hands are pulsing, but so is my forehead. They synchronize and throb together as I roll over to my backside, face still twisted in complete agony.
The Plains of Abraham have not seen such a spectacle for 258 years, buthistory has a weird way of repeating itself. The battle for land, between the French and the English, turned soldiers against each other. Multiple clans, fighting for the same purpose – to extinguish the opponent – depleted their resources, so much so that it was difficult to distinguish the winners from the losers. The line was blurred. Everyone looked the same. Teams were broken down to their purest forms – handfuls of individuals – sprawled out on the battlefield, waiting to learn if their self-sacrifice was worthwhile. Waiting to know if their self-sacrifice was honest enough. Today is not much different.
Here I am, a French-Canadian lying lifelessly, soon listlessly. I’m Montcalm reincarnate. Defeated on the Plains, a heaping pile of war residue. Next to me lies Wolfe, – no, Dewolfe – equally as trashed. We’re unsure of who crossed the finish line before us. We have no idea what’s happened behind. I think Bernie is close by, and the look on his face would be telltale. Too bad I can’t get up. Too bad I can’t see.
I need something – food, maybe. Water…something to make my stomach stop turning. My homeostatic levels are severely threatened from all angles. I feel empty in more ways than one. But there will be a banquet – there will be drinks. We will soon feel alive again. Sustenance is not an issue. I need reassurance. I need comfort so direly that I pick my arms up from the ground and use them as support to push my body up into a sad Vinyasa pose.
I open my eyes, and look at Cal Dewolfe, sitting with his head between his knees – beat, distraught, confused. Thank God he is close. I would surely collapse under the weight of my chest and blood-filled head in seconds. I open my dry mouth, knowing that the moment will unveil the value – the significance – of these last months, of these last years. This moment of clarity and truth will be the one I remember. I sacrificed countless hours for this mid-November moment to be a good one. Hoping that he knows better, I turn towards my lanky training partner, roommate, friend, and rival and hope – wish – for some good news.
“How’d we do?”
Find out what happens next.
Wishing you all a great cross country season
This is the reaction I get from most people when I tell them about this project:
A book? Like, a novel? Cool! ...why?
It all started with a blog. When my coach Bernie Chisholm suggested I keep writing about my experiences with the X-Men and write a chronicle of our last cross-country season together in 2016, I took the idea and ran with it. It was the perfect project. Writing about something so real and fresh in my mind would be an ideal gateway into storytelling.
To my delight, as the XC season grew older and I advanced in this project, I realized that, indeed, we were living a story worth being told. Our time at St. FX was special. The team, the coach, the culture, the synergy... hell (Ferg voice), the Zeitgeist. I don't know if it could ever be perfectly replicated. I don't know if it can be perfectly captured. But, I tried my very best.
Runners of the Nish: A Season in the Sun, Rain, Hail and Hell is about a few things. Most prominently, it is about the 2016 edition of the St. FX X-Men and our quest for national success at the CIS championship. It is also the story of how a team of contrasting characters came together and worked to put their differences and individual aspirations aside to function as a team. As well, it is about our coach Bernie Chisholm's last appearance at the CIS championship with a full team of men. It's about running, it's about facing adversity, it's about St. FX, it's about the odds game, it's about how we got lost during a long run in the states, it's about secret dates, rookie parties and possible eventualities... it's about some of our best memories wearing the blue and white.
This project was never about business or sales, but I have taken steps to endorse and advertise it. I want to make it fully visible, so that it can be shared with anybody who is interested in reading it because, obviously, I think our story is great. Obviously, I am biased as hell.
I plan to make regular posts on a blog on www.runnersofthenish.com about the adventures I live as a new author. Some of the content may be informative, some of it may make you laugh with me, and some of it may make you laugh at me. The truth is that I am learning as I go, but I am enjoying and embracing the role of rookie in this industry.
I started writing about our journey to the CIS championship with no clear destination in mind, so I suppose it is appropriate to release this work into the world with no other set goals than to enjoy the ride and to share this story with all you running nerds. You are the best kind of people.
Thanks for reading,
Website - www.runnersofthenish.com
riting an article about "advanced runners to-do list before they retire." list?