Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Wed, 2 Aug 2000 08:55:22 -0400

Cutting Remarks

(from RC 315)

A friend of mine faces surgery. That isn't unusual. Several of you might need surgery, whether you know it or not.

This friend insisted on racing a 5-K on an injured knee and turned a minor problem into a major one. Now he'll undergo an arthroscopic procedure to repair his damaged meniscus.

This will be done as an outpatient, requiring less than an hour with the surgeon. If all goes well, the friend will start to run again six weeks later.

Changes are 95 percent that the surgery will work as intended. But it's our nature to dwell on the remaining five percent.

Pre-surgery is a frightening time for any runner, because it forces us to face our greatest fear. That is, "What if it doesn't work and I can never run again?"

This has happened. I know some permanently disabled runners.

But for each one of them, I know a hundred who wouldn't be running now if not for the surgery. I'm one of them. I couldn't run before the operation and wouldn't be any worse off afterward if the repair job failed.

Still, I asked the dark, what-if question in 1973 while going into heel surgery. I asked it while enduring a cast for three weeks.

I asked it on my first attempts to walk unsupported, in the week between cast removal and stitches removal. This was when my calf muscle had atrophied to the muscle tone of a plucked chicken and every step sent an electric shock up my left leg.

The fear didn't start to subside until my first run, a month after the surgery, went as well as could be expected. It lasted only a few minutes and was slower than a walk, but now I knew that running in some form was still possible.

Recovery was quick only in hindsight. At the time it seemed dreadfully slow and unsteady, with seemingly a setback for every advance.

Yet the old diaries tell a better story. One day shy of two months after surgery I ran my first race -- four miles at slightly under seven-minute pace. Exactly seven months post-op I ran that same course at just over six-minute miles.

Soon after that I finished a marathon. It was just 10 minutes slower than the last one had been before the foot went bad.

Surgical techniques are vastly improved since then. The odds of success favor the runner more than ever before.

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