by Lewis Carlan in Stories, image by Barry Yanowitz

Road to Recovery – From Arthritis to Marathon

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About 2 and half years ago, I discovered an activity that I instantly fell in love with. I discovered a sport that basically changed my life. It was a sport that me feel better about myself, gave me confidence, made me feel alive, boosted my self-esteem, increased my happiness, and gave me pure joy. It is a sport that became a part of me, a part of who I am, a sport that I thought about constantly. I am talking about the sport of running. 

Running is a simple sport really, just put one foot in front of the other and you got it! No fancy equipment required, just you, your running shoes, shirt, shorts and the open road or trail. I remember the days when i simply couldn’t wait until I got home from work, laced up my shoes and going out the door for a nice 5 or 6 mile run. There was no sweeter sound than the “thump thump thump” of my feet hitting the pavement.  Whenever I was out running I knew this is exactly where I want to be. So you can imagine how I felt  when I was not able to do this, when running was NOT an option for me. Injuries started mounting up, my right knee got pretty bad, and I was ultimately diagnosed with arthritis in my right knee. But why? People are running marathons all the time for many years, why me? Why do I have arthritis forming in my right knee? I think I know why. As a matter of fact, I definitely know why.

Two and a half years ago, I started running due to a bad doctors report. I started running simply to get healthy but it had a much bigger effect on me. I wanted to run, run, run. I started reading any publication or book I could get my hands on about the subject. I wanted to improve, build endurance, and get stronger. Everything was coming along nicely. One day, while at the library, I came across a book by Dean Karnazes called “Ultramarathon Man”. I started reading and couldn’t put the book down. I was fascinated by Dean’s amazing feats of running. I was captivated by his running 100 mile races. If that wasn’t enough, I came across Ray Zahab’s book, “Running For My Life”. Again, I was captivated by the amazing running accomplishments of Ray Zahab. That lead me to Charlie Engle, Pam Reed, Marshall Ulrich, among many others. Bottom line, I wanted to be Ray Zahab, I wanted to be Dean Karanazes, I wanted to be Charlie Engle and Pam Reed..

So what should I do to reach the levels of my new heroes. I figured I should simply just start ramping up daily runs and weekly mileage. So I did just that. I remember jumping from 15 miles to 35 miles in a one week. I began running back to back 7-9 mile runs. I started adding 10 mile runs to my weekend routine and running another 3-5 the following day. Now mind you, I was really only at 10K level when I began doing this. My body was not ready for this sudden increase in activity and it began to tell me so in the form of injuries. (Just a quick statement – I DO NOT in any way at all blame any of the ultra runners I mentioned above for any of the injuries I sustained during my running life. Every single one of the amazing individuals I mentioned above will always be people I greatly admire. Any injury that occurred to me during my running life thus far is solely the fault of my own.)

The injuries started slowly and built their way up. My biggest problem was that I completely ignored the warning signs I was receiving. My foot hurt, its okay, I can deal with the pain. My knee hurts? No problem, I’ll wrap it up and ice it when I get back. My calf muscle is very sore? Not an issue, I will run through the pain. When I think back now, the only thing I should have done when these issues happened was to REST. Wanting to be an ultra runner, I tried running 4 or 5 days in a row. Many times, I was hurt in some way but ran anyway. I remember one time, my right knee was hurt really bad. But wanting to my miles in, I bandaged it, put on a knee brace, and went out the door. At about mile 4 the pain was so bad, I had to stop running and I limped home.

My foot hurt, its okay. My knee hurts? No problem. My calf muscle is very sore? Not an issue.

I remember entering my 1st half marathon. In hindsight, I was not ready for a half marathon but at the time I thought I was. I joined a local half – marathon running group to train. I realized soon enough that I was not in their league just yet as I got injured half way through and pulled out. It was a bad knee injury and I decided to rest it for a week or two. After I felt it was good enough, I decided to train on my own for the half marathon. It was about this time I started feeling a dull pain at the bottom of my left foot. The dull pain actually started getting worse. I figured it was “just” plantar fasciitis. I started stretching it and quite frankly, ignored it, as usual.

The day of the half marathon came and I figured I was ready to go.  I felt okay through the first 6 miles but then my left foot developed a really sharp pain at the bottom of it. A very bad pain. I stopped to walk to assess the situation. I figured it was a bad injury. So my decision? Ignore it and keep running. I kept running slowly and stopping from time to time due to the bad foot. Every time I stepped down on it, the pain was intense. I considered pulling out at mile 9 but I wanted to finish the race. So I kept going and going until I finally reached the finish line. It sounds like an inspirational story, and maybe it was, but it added to the issues I am facing right now. After the race was over, it took me 45 minutes to walk back to my car when it should only taken me about 10.

After rest for a two weeks, I got right back into the running game. After some “careful” thinking, I decided to skip running a marathon and go right into running an ultra.  Yep, real smart choice on my part. I began to amp up the distances again. Adding 13 mile runs to my weekly routine. Soon, I felt I was ready for a 16 mile run. So out I went. I felt okay until mile 14 when my calf muscle started almost quivering. Soon it felt like someone grabbed it and tried to pull it off the bone. I walked for a bit then tried to run, but the same thing happened. I had to limp the rest of the way home.

Fast forward to the ultra, well, I didn’t make the ultra due to car issues but I decided to run the Toronto Marathon instead which was the same weekend. I clearly was not ready for the marathon. I remember the first hill, I had to stop half way through and walk up it. That right there was a huge hint I was not ready. I was plugging along slowly, doing 10 and 1′s when at around mile 12, the calf issue occurred, only worse and I had no choice but to pull out.

After that my running became injury plagued. My right knee was constantly in pain after every run. Really bad pain. I couldn’t run 1 mile without being in really bad pain. So I went to see the doctor. I got a few x-rays and had an ultrasound on my right knee. In addition to being told that arthritis is forming in my right knee, my doctor told me that I fractured my foot in the past and it didn’t heal properly. That most likely happened during the 1/2 marathon. With that and my right knee, my running career looked bleak.

After resting my injuries for two months now, I have gained weight, don’t feel as good as I used to nd have this huge void in my life. I contemplated giving up running altogether. I thought about biking, walking, among other things. But i don’t want to do any of those activities. I want to be a runner. Thats all I want to be. So am I going to let these conditions decide my fate? No. I am a runner. I will study and learn how to deal with arthritis. I have read that people CAN run with arthritis. I am going to be one of those people.

Now in closing, I need to always remember, that I am not Ray Zahab, Charlie Engle, Pam Reed, or even Richard Carlan (my dad, finisher of multiple NYC marathons). I am Lewis Carlan. My goal is to run a marathon, actually many marathons. This time I am going to train properly and get their one step at a time.  My training has begun. Slowly but surely, I will go from Arthritis to Marathon.

My progress will be documented here at this blog!
- Lew the Runner

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