At about 12:00 Noon today my face was all joyos childish smiles. While it would be an exaggeration to claim that, at that moment, I was flying over the concrete pavements of Dublin South, it did feel that way for a second.
Gone was the, for a runner agonising, entrapment in the form of movement known as walking, and for the first time in the 10 days that has passed since parts of the cartilage that forms my left meniscus was torn open by the excessive pressure put upon it by my upper and lower leg bones. If you could freeze the image and send an x-ray through me at a that very nanosecond as my left foot struck down on the rocky, hard, and uneven path leading down from Two-Rock Mountain, and my centre of balance shifted to harshly and too quickly from right to left, they would have seen the source of the "crunch" sound that I heard as clear as day.
The human knee is not a great shock-absorber, which is why its crucial to make sure your feet land behind your stride not in front of it. When your foot lands in front of your stride, a pressure equal to as much as 6 times your bodyweight (more downhill) is exerted on the knee which essentially functions as a biological brake under those circumstances.
If you want to know more about who the technique known as "Power-Running" (the dominant running paradigm) will wear down anyone but the most genetically gifted, purchase ChiRunning or go to www.chirunning.com and look for yourself. Or even better, look at a Kenyan run, study them. The effortlessness is not genetic, it is learned through childhood. For us it takes effort. Sadly, keeping proper form when running and jumping down a scree or rocky decline is difficult, but not impossible. If you keep your form, you won't get injured. If you don't, you will, eventually.
A Long Season
I've had a long season already, and my friend and fellow mountain runner Conor Murray believes the injury was not a result of my "crunch-moment", but instead the logical conclusion of overuse of untrained legs.
Both are probably responsible if you wanted to analyze it. As I was finishing the Stepaside race, it was my 15th race of the season, a drastic change for a body whose only two previous "engagements" with racing was at 19 and 24 (one race each year).
The Fallacy of Over-Training
Prolonged racing will weaken your joints and ligaments ability to deal with the (from a joint's perspective) trauma that is running, but only if you move ahead to quickly, and this has probably been my only mistake. Proper nutrition (and wise supplementing with glucosamine etc.) will fortify anyone's resistance, but the body's ability to absorb damage is finite, and needs to be improved through a process of gradual build-up.
Don't believe anyone telling you that racing all year round is bad, that marathon's are unhealthy for your joints, or that running will wear down your ligaments. All of these statements only hold true if you don't build-up to the level required for these physical exertions gradually and wisely.
Over-training is a convenient argument for those driven to exercise without having their heart in it. It allows you to keep your training "pleasant" while telling yourself that you are training well.
Improvement (in anything) cannot happen if you're comfortable!
We must enter the grey area between what we can do without any discomfort or fear, and that which is harmful for our body. But this area is not static, and as you keep training yourself, never tell yourself that something is beyond reach. The limits to human physical achievement is so high, that most of us will never reach it. If you run hundreds of kilometres through the desert, days through mountainous areas above 3000m, or hours in -40 degrees, you would still not have touched upon our limits.
The lesson to be learned from this is, if someone says "its not healthy to do this or that" about training and racing, add in your mind "for now". There will be a day when 50 races per season is perfectly feasible for some of us (I hope myself included). As long as the principle of gradual progress is applied, the sky is the limit (or the summits for us non-avians).
My First Run Back
My first run back went quite well, I was enjoying myself and the sun was my companion throughout the almost 49 minutes I was out. I did a leisurely 8.7km, a fair bit more than I expected my leg to accept. I did feel a noticeable weakening of the left leg around the 5km, but I held a decent pace home without much effort, having a low average pulse of just 156.
Shoe Shopping - Always a Cure!
Tomorrow, I am going to Bray to purchase the latest addition to the world of fell-running shoes, and the most specialised of its type too: the Mudclaw 270. This shoe is so extremely adapted to fell-running that it would be near-useless on normal terrain, but this is of little concern. Conor told me about his great experiences with their less extreme shoe: the Inov-8 Roclite and told me "you'll feel like flying", so I will gladly sacrifice flexibility to have a super-specialised pair of "grippers" for the roughest terrains that this year's season will offer.
This will be my first purchase from the only technical running specialist in the Dublin area: Amphibian King, so I'm looking forward to seeing the shop for myself.
Well, that's it, I'm back running, it put a smile on my face, and tomorrow I'll be testing new shoes on the slopes of Bray's Head and see how my meniscus will react to a steep slope!