After being given the go-ahead by both the doctor and my physiotherapist, I started up with some running again, very excitedly.
Run number 1
My first run was only one kilometer – barely enough to even find my pace – but it was a little more awkward than I was expecting. As I mentioned in part 2, my gait was off because I was so used to walking weirdly to accommodate for the pain and the lack of mobility. I realized quickly I was going to have to re-learn to run properly in order to prevent another injury.
I was also rather out of shape by this point – after several months of low activity leading up to the procedure, and none in the last 2 months while I was recovering – I had put on 10lbs (which I now had to run with), and I had lost my marathon-worthy cardio. I had also noticeably lost some muscle, despite the kettlebell work.
The one kilometer was enough to make my knees ache afterward, including at bedtime, which had been a problem for me since the injury.
To explain: it’s hard to find the right support for a bust-up knee when you’re trying to get comfortable in bed, and I often had to put a bolster pillow either under my foot to elevate it (or under my knee), or else suffer throbbing pain that often got bad enough to keep me awake at night.
It was no longer quite that painful, but it did worry me. The next day it was also a little stiff, but the day after THAT…well, I felt quite fine, thank you very much. Excellent news, and this got me planning my next run.
Runs number 2 & 3
Run number two was 2km, again with a lot of stretching before and after, and enough walking to make sure I was properly warmed up before picking up the pace. This time I was prepared for the awkwardness, but I had visualized my gait in advance, so I was even able to find it after the first kilometer.
Even though I was being careful to not overdo it, I ran 3km a few days later. There was one stretch that was on a gradual decline – previously a problem with my knees – where I was able to stretch out and really fly. It felt delicious.
Run number…uh oh…
For my fourth run, I decided to dial it back to 2km again so I wasn’t pushing it.
Nevertheless, at the 1.8k mark, I blew the meniscus in my right knee.
Yes, you read that right – despite the stem cells, my weak right knee (the one that had held out to this point) completely gave. I stopped running immediately, recognizing the feeling, and I limped the last block home.
Now, I do have to note a few things about this tear, which are extremely interesting and make me still believe in the magic of the stem cells.
When my left meniscus tore three years previously, there was excruciating pain, and I was completely unable to walk for a couple of days. I was on heavy pain meds for the first two of those. This time, it was more of a pop and then an immediate throbbing, and I was able to put weight on it. The only meds I took were Advil or Aleve.
However, I was crushed – I’d just got my knees back, and already I was having a setback. I used a cane again for 3-4 days, limping heavily, and I booked myself back in with the physio.
Xsenia (my physio) was able to help me recover my mobility again quite quickly, so the recovery from this tear was surprisingly fast, but I was off from running again for the foreseeable future, and that’s been a tough burden to bear.
After about a month, I went back to see Dr. Hamilton, who agreed it was the meniscus, and sent me off for another MRI.
At this point, to be honest, business picked up, and with the lingering pain, I stuck to kettlebells for a few months, which I consider to be the closest thing to running you can get – it’s rhythmic, it allows you to focus on your breathing, and can give you a good cardio workout while also working your muscles. I had to stay light, but it was better than nothing.
By December, the pain in my knees was starting to increase again, and I was once again having a hard time walking straight – almost as if they were regressing again, but I think the real problem here was that I wasn’t doing enough to strengthen them and the surrounding network of supporting muscles.
I started seeing a personal trainer around this time – Wes Van Hart of Ritual Management – in an attempt to correct that problem, and it was 100% the right decision. Wes, like a good personal trainer, understands how to work with injuries, accommodate them, but also how to help you improve.
After only a couple of weeks of training with him (and only once per week), I was able to retain my knee mobility and the pain had reduced substantially. A lesson for anyone doing this! – make sure you work to strengthen your quads, hamstrings, etc, because this WILL help!
We’ve been working to make sure my form is perfect while doing weights (or body weight exercises) – because in retrospect, I’m fairly sure it was the hundreds of poor-form squats that ruined my knees – I was fully knock-kneed and driving through the interior of the leg instead of using my glutes (are you grimacing at my inexperience yet?).
And let that be a lesson to you, kids! Good form is crucial to avoid injury!!
Where I’m at now
So where I’m at is that I have a lot of work to do. I have a lot of weight that I’ve put on that I’d like to lose. I’d like to regain my strength, my endurance, my cardio, and I still haven’t given up hope that I’ll one day run again.
I continue to train weekly with Wes, and I play soccer (or basketball or pickle ball) with some local ladies once a week. I work out with my daughter (which sometimes means I walk on the treadmill for a while, or else I’ll join her in squats and flutter kicks).
I do my stretches in the morning (most of the time), which have actually been a HUGE HELP with regaining mobility in my knees, believe it or not – possibly because it helps open up my hips, placing less strain on my knees.
I’ll keep working the weights for now, and build up my strength once again, and then one day – when the time feels right – I’ll do some more short test runs.
When I get there, I promise to let you guys know. 🙂
Catherine Chan is the Founder & CEO of FitIn.io, a new fitness platform connecting Canadians with personal trainers/instructors, fitness, exercise or movement classes near them in mere minutes. A mental health advocate, she has dedicated a part of her platform to mental health and wellness classes, promoting movement + mindfulness in order to find profound, sustainable health.