Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Baby Boomer Knee

Yesterday morning just before a six-mile recovery run, I felt a twinge in my left knee. Okay, it was more than a twinge but it felt like something that would eventually work itself out.

The run went well. But later in the day it became apparent that going up and down stairs or bending down was not going well at all. By mid-afternoon I was employing the ice/Aleve remedy and propping my knee up. When my husband came home he asked, "Why did you run on it?" And I answered truthfully, "It never hurt as long as I was moving forward."

What is it about athletic Baby Boomers and our reluctance to throw in the towel? Even for a few days or, God forbid, a week or two. This morning I woke up to see Gina Kolata's "Personal Best" column in the New York Times discussing this very issue. A Boomer runner gets injured and often we feel as if our world has collapsed.

Ten years ago I was in my early 40s and running about 30-35 miles a week. A month before tackling the infamous Bloomsday 15k race in Spokane I came down with shin splints. I'd had those before and, hey, they usually worked themselves out.

Reader, I ran the race with shin splints. Flash forward to a week later when I could barely walk but managed to get myself to a doctor. Who promptly asked why I saw fit to race with my lower left leg on fire. I grumbled, "Well, I used to get shin splints in college and they always went away on their own...."

At which point my doctor pointed out, very kindly, that college had been a loooong time ago. As he watched my face drop he added, "But cheer up! It's Baby Boomers like you who are paying for my wife's new car!"

Lesson learned. I cross-trained for four months before I could run even one single mile without pain. It was another three months before I was able to run more than 25 miles a week.

In today's New York Times article, 62-year-old Kolata maintains that even after suffering her second stress fracture in two years she will continue exercising. In her case, her focus will shift from running to cycling. The thrust of her column is that many athletes, and it sounds like the majority of them are Boomers, find it near impossible to give up running or cycling despite painful injuries.

Why? What's the harm in taking some down time? Why do Boomer Athletes insist on pushing the pain envelope?

I'm asking, not judging. Because even as my knee throbs and I contemplate popping the second Aleve of the day I'm already looking ahead to tomorrow's run.

After all, my training schedule calls for stride repeats and I'm taking today off.


  1. Although I'm not an avid runner... I'm lucky to "jog" 3 miles a couple times a week, I do bike to work nearly every day and pride myself on the heavy objects I can move on my own, feeling strong in my 50's is important to me. Why do I not want to slow down?? Guess I fear the alternative! Wonderful blog Ellison, please keep it up! Love, Terri

  2. Ellison, while I'm not in the over 50 category yet I will gladly follow. I do find you passion for running inspiring!! If I can take a lesson from your post might it be to cross-train before I am injured??? That is the plan at least. Love, M

  3. Hi Ellison, glad you've joined the masses of blog world :). Well, I have "something" in my heel and I tried for 3 months to train around it because stopping would 1) make me lose all my conditioninig I worked so hard to get 2) I felt like I was being left behind in the running world and 3) how the heck can I break racing records when I'm side-lined? Oh, and 4) running is my outlet and I'm sorry, but an hour on the elliptical trainer, which really doesn't make my heel feel any better, just doesn't have the same therapy as running does. How many elliptical trainer races can one enter in a year anyway??? Is there an ET marathon? Do you get medals and AG awards? I don't know...but I really am starting to miss it! Hope the knee's feeling better soon - and hey, cute nail polish!!!

  4. Every decade that goes by adds a few days to one's recovery time.