Wednesday will mark week number 17 since I had surgery to repair a ruptured ACL, bi-lateral tears in my miniscus, and a severly sprained MCL, which occured skiing on March 1st. This morning at PT, they finally let me use the zero-gravity treadmill (www.alterg.com), which is a pretty cool piece of equipment if you have access to one and need it. Everything has been progressing well, and I have been being extremely careful so as not to push things, as I do not wish to go through this again.
I have been walking some decent distances since early May, been back on the bike for the last several weeks, and been swimming whenever I can get into the water. Prior to my accident, I was training for my 4th half and in the mid-30 miles per week, and gaining. I had made some huge strides (pardon the pun) last year and had dropped my 5k times into the mid-18's, and my half's were under 90 minutes. I was just shy of a total mileage accumulation of 1000 miles last year. I am in better than average health for my age: just turned 37, and usually stay about 165 lbs, although I have crept back up to about 175 at the moment.
There is some history; now for some goals that I wish to work on:
I would like to be running outside again at a regular (3 times a week, 3 miles at a time to start with) basis by August 1st. I would then like to try a 5k on August 14th, and possibly a 10k the following week, depending upon how everything feels. The more intimidating goal is to train for a half on September 27th. I know that's a kinda lot of racing in a short window of time, but I just want to be able to go the distance: I have no aspirations of trying to set a pr. Long term, I would very much like to be back to where I was when the injury happened this next March 1st.
My questions are these: How realistic am I being? I have no problem putting in the time for training, but am I just trying to fool myself by thinking that I could actually accomplish that - would my knee allow for it? Even more importantly, no matter the amount of training that I begin with, what should I be looking out for, pain-wise? What is normal soreness compared to I-need-to-shut-it-down-now type of pain?
If anyone has any thoughts, suggestions, first-hand experience, whatever - anything anyone would like to share on the matter, I would be extremely appreciative of the knowledge. Thank you much!
"Realistic" depends on your short-term and long-term goals. I have no doubt that if you stick with your conservative training plans, you are at least as likely to improve as to become re-injured. I know that does not sound too encouraging, but a lot can go wrong in training that can set you back, depending on how and where you train. Since you have ambitions regarding competition, my fear is that you might at some point in time become impatient and push too hard.
On the other hand, I would bet my life that your chances of successful recovery would increase if you stick with conservative training and stay away from competition longer, because you compete at a higher level than the average athlete. The training and recovery habits of professional athletes sometimes mislead non-professionals into thinking they must recover and jump back into competition as soon as possible. If there is a multi-million dollar paycheck riding on it, sure... but if you do not want to trade off a future without chronic pain for some temporary glory, I would advise accepting a temporary loss of fitness and a longer recovery.
Thank you, James, for your advice. I had read your answer back in July not long after you posted it, and I certainly did not blow it off or disregard it. I did, however, go in a slightly different direction. Because of that and the fact that I was not able to find much advice on what I was looking to do, I figured I should come back and document my experiences so that others may be able to gain some insight should they be in a similar position. So here is what I did:
I was riding three times a week and going to pt two to three times a week. The knee was feeling strong and I decided that I would take a short run outside on July 19th, four months removed form surgery. Too soon? Maybe, but everything felt ok. There was pain, but I warmed up properly and only ran just over a mile, maybe 1.2. I then backed that up with a run on Monday, where I walked three miles first and ran the 1.5 miles back on that loop. On both runs my knee was stiff and aching but warmed up nicely as I went. Pace was 8.5 - 9 min/mile. I did not run again until the following Monday, where I walked half of the 4.5 mile route and ran the second half. Pacing was about the same, but the knee warmed up nicely at mile 2.
I progressed like that for the next few weeks, gradually adding distance, taking plenty of time off between runs. I wasn't running 3 miles 3x's a week on August 1st, but I did run 3.3 on the 9th, and then the 5k like I wanted to on the 15th. I was hoping to be in the 25 minute area, but everything felt great and I clicked off a 22:58. From there I was able to begin running 3 times a week of varying distances, and even added a 6er on the 21st. I did not run the 10k. Pacing was still around 8.5+.
On Sept. 9th, I ran my first 9 miler, at a 9 min pace. It was proof to myself so that I could run the following weekend in the Reach the Beach relay event (207 miles amongst 12 team members). Everything felt ok, although my legs as a total were very sore. My three legs of the relay totaled to just over 15 miles. On the 27th, I also ran my half like I was hoping. That was very tiring, but my knee was great, I just didn't have my legs under me quite yet, and I hit the wall at mile 12 pretty hard. Still, I ran with a friend and, although I had no kick and she beat me (by two seconds), I managed to do eveything that I wanted and came in under an 8 min pace: 1:44.08 total. Two weekends ago I ran my third 5k and damn near broke into the 19's: 20:08 I believe was my official time.
Am I fully healed? Definitely no. There is still soreness and stiffness, but ice helps out immeasurably, especially the night before a run. I will be turning in a 4.5 miler tonight, and hopefully a 12 miler at the end of the week. A combination of great physical therapists, a dedication to strengthening my entire legs (especially my hips), and cross training has helped me progress faster than I ever thought possible. I only hope that the winter brings more of the same.
If anyone has any questions, please do not hesitate to ask. I will answer all questions to the best of my ability.
I have also undergone surgery for an ACL tear and have 3 tears in the meniscus in my left knee. Prior to the injury, I wasn't a runner, nor did I bike much; I preferred playing sports such as basketball, football, soccer, etc. I rehabbed, went straight back to change-of-direction sports, and 5 years later, tore my ACL again. Now, I am forced to focus on straight line sports, like running on the street, trail running, riding the bike, and am I starting to swim to prepare for triathlons. The straighter you run, the easier it is on your knees.
When your leg muscles get tired, your weight transfers more to your meniscus, and that will cause inflammation in the knee joint. I think it is very important that you continue to ride your bike as part of your workout, as the bike riding will keep your legs strong, protecting your knee. Also, icing AFTER a run is part of my regime and can only help you.
Personally, I don't think that running 5ks will hurt your ACL or meniscus. The race is so short, fatigue can't really set into your legs, but you'll really have to self-monitor and make sure you aren't overloading legs in an attempt to jump back into what was your previous running speed. If you start to think longer distance, like a marathon, increase your mileage slowly. I increased my miles too quickly and experienced severe swelling in my knee. Also, if you get into trail running (I am 45, old guys like the dirt, it is softer), don't go too far on those uneven surfaces at first, ease into it. Your body will take time to adapt to all of the odd ball footfalls, and that can put a lot of stress on your knee.
Good luck. And remember, listen to your knee. The first 12 months after surgery are important. Don't ignore and power through a twinge. If it hurts inside, rest and ice up and live to fight another day.