The Marathon Diaries: The Stubborn Gene

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Last July, when I rode over four-hundred-and-fifty miles across the state of Iowa with one badass, my dad, Larry Erb, I hurt my knee on the sixth day. The sixth day. Twenty miles outside of Manchester, shooting pain started rippling through my knee with each pedal stroke. My 65-year-old father slowed down and argued that we should ask a farmer to drive us into town. I refused.

Later, after the Manchester’s emergency clinic diagnosed me with a severe case of tendinitis, he said he’d call my mom and have her pick us up and drive us the remaining 45 miles to the finish line. 

“Christina, you can’t ride. I won’t allow it.”

“Dad, I’ll do it, if I want to do it.”

“No, you won’t.”

“Yes, I will.”

“Really? You really want to chance permanently injuring your knee just so you can finish the last day?

“Oh, shut up, it’s only 40 miles.”

“You’re an idiot.”

Yes, I told my dad to shut up — sorry, Dad — but I’ve never been the type of person who will willingly quit a race. He should understand that. My dad’s not a quitter, either. He ran his first marathon at 51 and he hobbled the last six miles to the finish line. We are both carriers of “the too stubborn for your own damn good” gene.

He relented and I hopped on my bike the next day. My knee hurt but I survived. We celebrated by cracking open two beers and dipping our front tires into the Mississippi River.

So, when I started experiencing severe knee pain in my other knee this past August, I shrugged it off, thinking, “It was a long run. It’ll be fine tomorrow.”

It wasn’t.

The pain became so bad that two weeks ago I stopped being able to finish my training runs. Sixteen-mile runs were halved. I deemed eighteen-mile runs tortuous. Finally, one day, I pushed through a 20-mile run. I ran painfully slow. My once nine-minute splits transformed into eye watering 15-minute splits. I finished in a painstaking four hours and twenty-eight minutes.

Embarrassed, I finally called my brother-in-law, a nurse anesthetist student and former marathon runner, and sought medical advice. “Go to a doctor,” he said. I refused, kept hobbling and whined to my mother. “Will you just go to a doctor, already?” she snapped. My older sister, Erin, called and bombarded me with questions on why I hadn’t bucked up the nerve to see a doctor.

“It’s probably nothing,” I replied. “I’m sure it’ll just go away. I just need to roll my IT band again.”

But she broke me down. Today, I went to see the doctors at the Boulder Center for Sports Medicine, an Olympic-caliber training center for Boulderites, where I was greeted by sobering news. My doctor poked and prodded my knee, took a look at my gait and then told me that I have severe biomechanical issues and, with a grim look, that he “fears for my knee.”

He also told me that, if I run the Nike for Women Marathon as planned, I could potentially suffer from knee pain for years. Either way, I need physical therapy, stat. And, oh yeah, that even hiking right now may not be that great of an idea.

Every time I tell one of my friends that I hurt my knee, they say, “But you’re still going to run the marathon, right?” It’s what I get for being predominately friends with ultra marathoners, rock climbers, triathletes and cyclists. No one seems to know when to quit. To many, pain is gain. And while I believe in that slogan, too, I don’t want to deal with chronic knee pain year after year because I couldn’t put my marathon dreams on hold to rehabilitate my knee.

Today, I have a decision to make: Do I suck it up and run the marathon? Do I walk it? Do I shoot for a half marathon? Or, do I stand, depressed and feeling like a quitter, on the sidelines while I enviously watch my dear friend and Outside managing editor Alicia Carr Troxell glide across the pavement toward the finish line?

What do you think?

–Christina Erb

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