The Running Year That Isn't
I might as well open here by getting directly to the point: I will not run the two ultra races (Speedgoat 50k and Angeles Crest 100) that remain on my schedule for 2016. This was an extremely difficult decision for me to make, but one that I am certain is correct. My only hesitation in the last few weeks that I have been chewing on this has been getting past my emotional investment in my race plan for the year. To understand why, please read on. I have had problems with my knees since well before I started running. I have always assumed that was because of playing the position of catcher in baseball when I was younger. Those problems were such that I never imagined it possible, when I started racing, to do anything longer than a half marathon. I consistently surprised myself at my ability to take on new distances.
To be clear here, for my friends in the running community that are aware of my race history, these problems are completely unrelated (as far as I know) to the persistent IT Band issue that has caused me to drop from several races. My problem here, that has caused me to make this decision, is in the deep inner workings of my right knee. The IT Band issue has always been where it attaches on the back outside of my left knee. It has not escaped me that my IT Band problem could, in fact, be related due to form issues arising from the pains I get in my right knee.
I've never talked much about the issues with my right knee, even though it's been there all along. I'd never discuss it in any detail on Facebook posts, except to mention that I was taking a few days off to manage aches and pains. It was almost invariably that issue, the "issue" being a variable degree of pain within my right knee that I feel with each step, that sometimes becomes an excruciating sharp pain in certain situations. For most of my "career" as a ultrarunner, it was just one of those aches and pains like most of us deal with when we are training a lot, except that it was pretty much always there. I could always run on it. If it trended worse, I'd take a few days off and I would be fine, except the pain would still greet me on my first few steps out running.
Last summer was when my knee really started to affect me to a great degree. I had one group run on the Mt. Wilson Trail that I had to walk much of the descent. Later in the year, on a night run with a friend in the Verdugo Mountains, I had to walk the second half of the Beaudry Loop because the pain was too severe to run on. I took an extensive amount of time off this winter, and thought I might be better this year. The pain appeared on my first run back, and later got severe enough I could barely walk and had to take a month off. I barely got prepped for the Nirvana Big Bear 50 in May. As has often happened with this problem, I was able to continue training past that race, but suddenly got hurt again a few weeks ago to where it affected my walking for a few days. I recovered well enough to finish a planned 50K on my anniversary with my wife this past weekend, but my original plan with that race was to actually "race" it (both of my previous finish times there were around 5:30) and then run back out on the course to greet her and run with her in for extra miles. I ended up deciding to just do the race at her pace, which I must admit made for an enjoyable day in the mountains with the woman I have chosen to spend my life with. That said, my knee hurt to some degree most of the race.
I have an appointment with an orthopedic doctor that specializes in the knees of runners next week. I suspect that I know what he will tell me, but I could be entirely wrong and it wouldn't be the first time. I had thought about saving my decision about my race year until after that appointment, but it is clear to me (and has been for a while) that whether I have a long term issue that needs some kind of surgery, or it's something more minor that can be managed in other ways, there is no path for me to train at the volume I need to train to get to the start line of the Angeles Crest 100 in the shape I need to be in for that race. I refuse to do what I did last year (as some are suggesting I do this year) and show up just because I've entered and do what I can. That doesn't make for a fun day, and I am not setting out for a pre-ordained DNF. I have to be able to train for a lot of miles and with up-tempo runs at distance to be fast enough to make cut-offs in the mid-point of that race. That isn't the healthy thing to do at this point in time.
This doesn't mean I will stop running any time soon, unless the doctor gives me specific instructions to stop that have very good reasoning behind them. My current plan is to maintain a pretty high activity level, running to an extent I feel is manageable, but also filling my time with other outdoor activities. I am hoping I can be comfortable with maintaining a 20 mile long run on the trails every few weeks. As far as my future in the sport of ultrarunning is concerned, I have no idea. I hope there is one, at least at the 50K level. My largest priority, however, is being able to retain an active "outdoor lifestyle" (for lack of a better descriptor) and do the things I need to do as a biologist and lover of the outdoors.