Little did I know when I wrote my last blog, I was foreshadowing a conversation I was going to need to have with myself. These past few months I've had to personally come to terms with a few things in my life that needed change. Before rolling into this, I want to quickly dismiss the idea that I want to back off on my pursuit of racing as a professional triathlete. However, I am bringing to light the fact that in light of recent news, I'm going to have to reshape what sort of racing I pursue and how long I have left to be competitive in the sport.
About 2 weeks ago I got an MRI on a knee that has been nagging me for about a year and a half with off/on twinges + a constant state of being swollen. While it was something I've been able to manage, the fact that it never seemed to get better with rest and other conservative treatments made me think that it must be something more than just a minor injury. It was getting to a point where it was affecting my ability to both train and race to my full capacity. On the bike I was seeing anywhere from 20-40 watts lower than what I should be able to hold based on previous training and racing performances. And when running, I could tell I was getting to a point where I would decrease my stride in order to protect whatever mystery ailment I was having. Any efforts to tempo up or lengthen out were met with what I can only describe as an uncomfortable tightness.
Anyways... prepared to hear of some sort of injury like a meniscus tear that could easily be remedied with surgery, I was unprepared to hear the news I actually got. The results came back with a slue of maladies - all of which have something to do with how my patella is tracking over my knee. They found a lot of swelling on my bones and ligaments, as well as a stress reaction on the top of my tibia where the ACL attaches. All of these are things that can be cured easily with rest. What came back that was extremely concerning was a case of grade 3-4 chondromalacia underneath the lateral portion of my knee cap about the size of a bottle cap, matched with additional significant chondromalacia on the end of my femur. What in the world could that possibly be, you ask? Well chondro- stands for chondrocytes, the cells that make up your cartilage. -Malacia basically stands for an abnormal softening of the tissue. That's right, my cartilage has basically softened and rubbed away under my knee cap, to the point where I have reached near grade-4 wear. That's the level that means you've worn down your cartilage to the bone. Awesome. Sounds like something your grandma would get, right? Well.... yes. However it's actually very common for an active 20-somethings to get as well due to some sort of biomechanical issue. I should also mention there is no real proven procedure to re-grow cartilage and be able to return your knee to it's full level of operation. Also awesome.
Any quick search on Dr. Google also spells gloom and doom for my knee's future. In short, my running days are numbered, I could get arthritis one day, and a knee replacement may be in my future. Not something someone as active as I am with high-aspiring goals wants to see. As I'm sure you can imagine, I was basically the water-works for several days after finding out the news. I've had several people ask me about how I'm processing all of this. The optimist I am, I had to find a way to become resolute with my new state of being. Every injury I've ever had has been something that I can get over with rest and rehab. This is the first injury that ever made me step back and realize my own mortality. That I possibly can't do something because my body has an incurable limitation. Going forward, any twinge in my knee is something I cannot try to "push" through. It's something I absolutely have to step back on if I want to keep riding my bike when I'm 60. It's also something I plan on spending the rest of the year on so I can fix my biomechanical defficiency and avoid further damage to the joint.
So to make the best of my situation, I made a compromise with myself. I don't want to back off on pursuing my competitive goals and dreams just yet. My doctor seem to indicate this shouldn't be the case either. However I do want to put a deadline on myself as to how long I want to keep pushing my body the way I do. I'm giving myself 5 years. 5 more years to keep pursuing the sport I love, to chase dreams, and to look to get the most of out of my body. When I reach 5 years, I'll check myself again and decide if it's something worth continuing, or if I'd rather back down so I can simply enjoy the sport for the sake of doing it, rather than chasing dreams.
These 5 years I actually see as a blessing. With a deadline for my dreams, it takes away any opportunity I have to come up with excuses. It's a now or never attitude. It's a permission slip for me to pour my heart into something knowing I can come out on the other end content that I did everything I could. I can't guarantee that I'll even make 5 years pushing like this. I also can't guarantee I won't check myself at 5 years and want to go another 5. I am at a point of great uncertainty with my future but I need to stay resolute in my direction.
My racing may be done for the rest of the year while I sort out the biomechanical issues with my knee... but I'll continue to update here with new findings, goals, and aspirations as they come.
And stay tuned for part 2.... it's another pretty significant announcement I'm preparing to make.