After another summer of great adventures Out West, Jim and I are in
somewhat of a funk.
Maybe "transition" would be a better word. In 2006 we had to return
home more abruptly than we would have liked because of a family
gathering in Illinois right after the Leadville race. This year we
managed to extend our trip a couple more weeks by going to
the Teton race, but it was still sad to leave the mountains.
Coneflower, after getting watered
Part of the difficulty was the long drive home and all the yard work
we knew awaited our attention after being gone for three or four months.
Part of it was missing the awesome scenery in the Rockies and the nice
cool temperatures and dry air we enjoyed all summer. Roanoke had
record-breaking heat this summer (about twice as many days over 90
degrees as average, including several since we've been home) and the humidity just sucks the energy right out of
us at times.
On the way home we were both wondering -- without telling the other
one -- if we'd made a mistake by moving to the East three years ago. We
did a lot of research before Jim retired to find the "perfect" place to
live and use as home base for our travels. We never could find the
right combination of all the factors that were important to us,
including cost of living, in the western states. The area that came
closest to meeting all of our criteria was Roanoke, and that's where we settled.
View from Tinker Cliffs near Roanoke, VA
I came to terms with that decision when we were halfway through
West Virginia on our way home. It was a beautiful
early September day, still quite hot, but already a few of the deciduous
leaves at the higher elevations along winding, hilly I-64 were turning
bright fall colors. The hazy blue ridges stretched as far as we could
see north and south, layer upon layer deep, the quintessential calendar
of the Appalachian Mountain chain.
And I suddenly remembered one of the big reasons why we moved to Roanoke,
Virginia. I was
choked up by the beauty of the surroundings and wanted the next two or three
hours of our drive to go quickly so we could get back "home."
Jim felt it, too.
DEFINITELY HOME AGAIN
It's been a busy month at home.
Our first chore was emptying out the camper and cleaning it up.
That's a faster job than getting it ready to leave in the spring, but
still labor-intensive because we were tired from four long days on the
The house was fine inside -- no dust, and no mold or musty smell this
year because we're in a drought, twelve inches low on water so far this
we lost some grass and plants because there was no one to water them
(the bad news), the flower beds didn't look quite as jungle-y as
last summer when we came home (the good news).
Before: house and part of the flowerbeds when we left
It took us three weeks to pull the weeds in the flowerbeds,
water the remaining shrubs, flowers, and grass back to life, load and unload
five truckloads of mulch and spread it out where needed, and do other
There's a lot of yard work left to do -- hauling more
mulch, cutting more firewood for the winter, reviving the lawn, and
cutting/chipping a bunch of branches AEP left
after trimming trees along the power lines on either side of our yard
near the road. When we complained about the
mess they left they sent a four-man crew back out to remove a lot of it,
but many hours of work remain for us to do. At least we'll get some good
hardwood logs for our wood stove this winter -- I always try to find the
"silver lining" when something bad happens!
Part of the mess AEP left in our yard
Jim has gotten back into his rescue squad and fire department
routine, if you can define emergency calls at any hour of the day or
night "routine." Because of the inevitable politics involved in any
organization, he had wondered this summer if he'd remain involved with
either group when we returned home. But he jumped back into both
organizations within about a week, taking calls and working on the
thirty-six hours of continuing training he needs every three years.
Neither of us has been running much since our return home. Jim's been
in a funk after his disappointing summer race season and I've been
dealing with an unknown injury to my left knee. The rest has probably
done wonders for both of us physically, but we miss our endorphins!
We've been walking and running primarily on the part of
Roanoke's disjointed bike trail system that is closest to our home, the Wolf Creek Greenway.
It is flat and
we could do short loops there to simulate conditions at the Hinson Lake
24-Hour Race this past weekend. We've also gone to our favorite hilly trails at Explore
Park with the dogs and investigated the renovated horse-and-hiking trail along the
Blue Ridge Parkway.
Tater and Cody explore at Explore Park
I've tried to stay positive about my knee quirkiness, which I assumed was an overuse injury from all the climbing I did this summer in the
Rockies. I joked that I "climbed one too many 14ers."
What's been hardest is not knowing since August 13 exactly what is
wrong. The problem ("catching" and a feeling of instability, especially
when I turn toward the right) was first noticeable in April or May but I didn't
get it diagnosed before leaving home. It never got worse until after
climbing Mts. Belford and Oxford in Colorado -- and even then, it hasn't
EVER bothered me on the trail.
The only thing the X-rays showed that I had taken in
Leadville in late August was a decided lack of cartilage in the knee. No
surprise there, given my age, family history of arthritis, and 28 years
of long-distance running.
But the doctor suspected more - perhaps some loose cartilage floating
around or a torn tendon or ligament. I had visions of something hanging
by a thread, and feared rupturing it completely.
I was not able to get an appointment with a doctor in my large
orthopedic group in Roanoke until late September or early October, so I saw a PA in
the practice a few days after our return home. He ordered two more X-rays
at different angles. They showed the cartilage wear more clearly -- and
more positively. They don't look
quite as bad as the ones taken in Leadville. The new X-ray of my right
knee shows less cartilage loss than the left one that has
been bothering me, but it's wearing thin, too.
Survivor of the drought
The PA ordered an MRI, which I got on September 13. Unfortunately,
I wasn't able to get in to see the sports orthopedist the PA highly
recommended until a few days ago (September 27) so I didn't know the diagnosis until
then. I was happy to learn from one of our good running friends in
Roanoke, Graham Zollman, that this doctor is the one who did Graham's
rotator cuff surgery in May -- so he knows at least one other ultra
runner and how badly we want to continue our passion. (The PA
recommended this doctor because he works with so many athletes of all
ages. He specializes in knee and shoulder problems.)
Although my knee has never hurt or felt unstable while running or
walking on trails -- only when walking more slowly at home, in
stores, etc. -- I've been pretty careful about both the distance and
terrain I've been covering since mid-August. The PA also mentioned the
"catching" and unstable feeling could possibly
be loose cartilage floating around or possibly a tear in a tendon or
ligament, among other things. To avoid making it worse, I've kept my mileage
to a minimum (for me).
Lemme tell ya, I'm sure I needed a break but I do miss my endorphins
when I can't run or walk fast for at least an hour!
Nothing else does it for me. At least I've had a lot of
sweat-inducing yard work recently to help burn off calories and
DIAGNOSIS: ANOTHER TRANSITION AHEAD
When I saw the sports orthopedist, Dr. Brent Johnson, last week he
gave me news no ultra runner ever wants to hear -- I am essentially
bone-on-bone on the outside of my left knee because the cartilage has
disappeared. Using the analogy of a car, Dr. Johnson said the tread has
worn down almost to the rim on my tire, and the shocks are shot, too!
I want new tires and shocks. While I'm at it, can I get a new
I also have a minor meniscus tear on the inside of that knee. Since
neither condition causes me any pain, surgery is not in order. Nor are
injections of fluids to lubricate the joint. Yet. He wants me to call him when (not if) I start hurting and
he'll re-evaluate the situation.
Asters are tough; so are ultra
I'm not real close to needing a knee replacement, but it's probably in my future.
Dr. Johnson says there are no guarantees I can do ANY running after a
knee replacement, at least with current surgical techniques. So I need
to do whatever it takes to prolong the inevitable. He's as
anxious as I am for cartilage replacements (kinda like those viscous
breast implants maybe?) because he also has knee problems, but the
technique hasn't been perfected yet.
Dr. Johnson's recommendations are to continue taking glucosamine-chondroitin
supplements (I've been doing that since I was diagnosed with arthritis
ten years ago); using acetaminophen and/or ibuprofen for any pain
enough exercising to stimulate fluids in my joints; reducing the number of miles I'm running; choosing flatter
terrain to run; and incorporating more cross-training into my
routine (cycling, swimming, etc.). I also plan to resume more stretching,
yoga, pool running, and massages. I neglected those things during
As you can imagine, this diagnosis frustrates me more than having a torn tendon or
ligament that can be fixed by surgery. This is a death sentence, much
sooner than I'd hoped, for my ultra running "career."
As I was running alone through the night this past weekend at the
Hinson Lake 24-hour race I began thinking of Helen Kubler-Ross' stages
of grief, which have been shown to be as relevant in other bad-news
situations (loss of a job, divorce, etc.) as finding out one is terminally ill.
Hinson Lake 24-Hour Run
Perhaps in defiance, I ran and walked 39 pain-free miles in that
race, clearly in the denial stage, until I forced myself to stop. With
the diagnosis I'd just received, ten would have been more reasonable,
but I felt great. Since
my longest run/walk had been only seven miles in the past seven weeks, I
knew I was setting myself up for some sore muscles, if not an overuse
The endorphins and adrenaline were flying, the night magical. See?? I can still run!
(I was sore for two days, but not as much as I expected. Jim was,
too, even though he was trained for the 50 miles he ran/walked. Neither
of us is used to so much flat running.)
I've by-passed the first stage, shock or paralysis. I've progressed to
bargaining (if I can just do one more ultra I'll be satisfied). I
suppose I still have to work through anger (why me? I need to pick healthier
parents next time!), depression (realization of the inevitable), and
testing (seeking realistic solutions) to finally arrive at acceptance.
Thank goodness I have many fond memories of 28 years of running, no
regrets about ANY of it, a fondness for volunteering at races, a
supportive partner, lots of other interests and hobbies to keep me busy,
and the hope that I can continue with enough running or walking to keep
me fit and happy until I die - with or without knee surgery.
Guess I'm looking for that "silver lining" I mentioned a bit ago. It's not over until it's over.
Next entry: the Hinson Lake 24-hour race and our running plans
for the rest of this year
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody, and
© 2007 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil