Thursday, April 2, 2015


I looked down and chuckled. Wow, my legs are pasty white. April 2, 2015, the year's first run without tights (or my favored manpri 3/4 length), a hat, or gloves. The sun was out, the sky, which a couple hours before had been a milky gray, was now blue, and I was easily running home, the long way.  Spring was springing before my eyes, but, for the moment, my attention was fixated on the glaringly bright tan line highlighted by my shorty shorts.  I wonder if I can see my scars?

Right then the absolute beauty of the moment struck me - everything, from the melting snow tracing water across the sidewalk, to the honest-to-goodness chirping song of birds, to the mounds of blackened snow clinging to life at road's edge, and especially the pasty whiteness of my legs, flooded me with a near overwhelming sense of gratitude.  Here I was, on this absolutely perfect spring day, running home.  In a few minutes time I would be running on the dirt (and snow) of the Fells. But for this moment, on a vacant sidewalk in Assembly Row, pocked with months-old snow and ice, I was struck by beauty.

Exactly one year ago I underwent a "simple" knee surgery to remove a plica from my knee.  Regardless of competing, I merely wanted to regain the freedom and ability to run without worry.  There was nothing structurally wrong with the joint, just this extra bit of tissue causing pain whenever I ran. The recovery proved to be extended, pushing me deep into the pain cave, consuming my fitness and, honestly, a great sense of my identity. Today, as I ran on the melting snow in the Fells, listening to my breathing, hearing my foot steps, feeling the ground change between patches of dirt, snow, and rock, I forgot.  I forgot that just a few months ago I wondered if I'd be able to run again. I forgot the trips to the ER, the blood tests, the doctor visits, the injections, the pain.  I was simply running home.  On the trails.  In my shorty shorts. With my pasty white legs.

I didn't bother to check my scars.

One thing these past 525,600 minutes have taught me?  Feelings and experiences pass.  Our bodies and lives, despite our hopes, despite our desires, will always change.  They will be no better, no worse, just different.  Just as the pain and suffering of the many months post-op gradually gave way to a slow return to health and joy, today's bliss will eventually fade.  But, as I finished my run, I asked, Does it have to?  It is easy to accept these moments of joy, of pleasure, of connection to ourselves, to the trail, to the people around us, when things are going "our way." When things are not, it is much harder to accept our circumstances.  My hope is that this past year will have left me not with nearly-invisible surgical scars, but with a greater appreciation for the ever changing nature of life, so that, one day, when the euphoria from today's run has faded, I will be open a new joy, a different joy, a different pain, a new experience, an acceptance, be it on the trail, or elsewhere.

526,600 minutes ago all I wanted was to be able to run without thought of injury, without pain.  Today, I had that, in spades.  For that I am grateful.


  1. Josh, it's good to hear you are back........with a healthy body and spirit.

  2. Glad to hear you're back, Josh! Hopefully I'll see you on the trails soon!

  3. Hi, I just had plica surgery 7 weeks ago and the recovery seems very slow. I can't run yet. Your blog has given me hope. I didn't have DVT (so glad you're okay), and I know how serious it is...I am still frustrated that I haven't made more progress. I'm a lifetime runner now in my mid thirties with three kids, and I've signed up to run the Paris Marathon on April 2. Do you think I will make it? Any tips?

    1. The best I can offer is to remain patient and think bigger. After having ~4 months of solid training after this post, I was stopped short by pneumonia. Am now (2 months after that) just getting into any sort of running routine. Where once I fancied myself able to compete at the highest levels of ultra-running in the U.S., today, I was getting passed by many, many people on our local bike path (and could barely keep ahead of a mom, her ~10 year old daughter, and their puppy!). The point? I'm OKAY with that, because I know it can come back (before I got pneumonia I was feeling "fit" again, just 4 months after the anniversary of my surgery). April 2 is a long way off. Do not rush back into running when you feel "ready" (I did, and was sidelined for 6 weeks, after only 2 weeks of running after the surgery/DVT). You picked the PARIS Marathon for a reason - it's a chance to see a beautiful city. Even if you don't run the marathon, or run it slower than you know you can, I'm guessing you have your ticket. Go, explore the city! A couple years ago, my wife and I left our two boys at home to celebrate our 10th anniversary there, and I got out for some incredible 8-10 mile runs - traveling the Seine, running by Notre Dame, experiencing history, and jumping off the parcour obstacles littered along the river's banks!

      I feel your pain though - 7 weeks out from surgery, I was still on crutches. It felt like a lifetime! Then I just listened to my body (not the doctors, not the PT), and started moving/stretching in ways that felt "good" and eventually it came together. But it definitely was not the 2-weeks post-op the surgeon had promised! Take this time as a chance to spend more time with the family, and let the kids help you stretch - my (at the time) 6 year old would "heal" my knee by rubbing it like Mr. Miyagi, and would always smile when I told him how much better I felt after his "treatment." The point? You've just got embrace this time for what it is. As a runner, it 100% is horrible/miserable. But it certainly helped me realize that I've got a lot more going on than just running, and showed me how incredible my family and other people in my life were. Which made me that much more appreciative of ALL aspects of my life. Trust me, I've been there - you won't make huge leaps, but small, almost imperceptible gains (I measured these with my wife pushing my heel to my butt when I lied down - totally imperceptible, and then we'd notice it was about an inch closer, then it was only two inches away, then, months later, I could get it there on my own!). In a few months, you'll have that moment when you forget which knee you had the plica removed from, and will laugh at yourself. So, ultimately, I guess my advice is DON'T forget this time - remember it for how much people have helped you, for how it forced you to reflect on what running means to you, for how much it made you miss the routine of running. As they say in ultra-running, things never always get worse. It's true. It may not feel like it now, but when you celebrate all those little gains, you'll realize it.

      Keep in touch and let me know how things are going - Paris in the spring time! I'm jealous!

  4. Hi Josh,

    Thank you so much for you're incredibly thoughtful response. I agree with what you're saying about cherishing my family and embracing these times with them. My husband is always incredibly supportive. I had 5 foot surgeries over the past 10 years and with his help, was finally able to make a complete recovery.

    As a very active person, I'm just so frustrated when my knee is so sore and all I've been doing is walking around that day (not any form of "exercise"). That is what is going on right now. The surgeon says I can't hurt anything by exercising, but it's painful. I've even been the the rheumatologist, and everything checks out (no inflammatory disorders or arthritis).

    What did you do to rehab? I am in PT once per week, but you said you were moving and stretching in a way that felt good. The PT has given me home exercises, which are basically static positions for a minute each to improve glute strength. My main problem is general soreness, which I don't understand when I'm 8 weeks out from surgery. Going down stairs is still rough and my knee just gives way from time to time. I never had the "giving out" issue before surgery. I don't have any type of locking and my range of motion is 100% and feels smooth (no clicking upon bending). I am just so frustrated. My surgeon told me last week that he honestly doesn't know why I'm not better and to come back in 2 months.

    I started to worry I somehow tore my meniscus since surgery. If I do try to run, I have a sharp pain within steps on the medial side, where the plica was removed and where the original pain stemmed from.

    Is it just time that will heal? My surgeon is the chief of orthopedics at Cedars Sinai, which is a major hospital in the heart of Los Angeles. I know he is a very smart doctor, and he seemed quite logical in his suggestion to do surgery in the first place. Prior to surgery, I had tried platelet rich plasma injections and actually got much better the week before surgery and was running 5 miles (similar to you!), but ultimately still opted to proceed with the surgery bc I wasn't 100% okay and feared the pain would return. Now, it hurts worse/more than prior to surgery! Overall, the injury happened in April, and my surgery was mid August.

    I wanted to know if you have any practical tips or any sort of a timeline for when I should start to try to exercise again??? And when to try to run???? The fact that you are doing well now with you knew so so long after your surgery, gives me a lot of hope. I am so sorry to hear how I'll you were with pneumonia. That is such a serious illness. I've had it once and I was just in bed for about a month, I remember.

    Any practical stretches or exercises you recommend would be so appreciated. Also, what was the timeline of your progress back to running? Is your knee 100% okay now?


    1. Jill,

      Sorry for the delay - I'm RDing a 100 mile trail race this weekend, so am in the thick of it. In terms of exercises, the three/four that "felt good" to me were these:

      1) When I was really weak (my knee was swollen to roughly the size of a cantaloupe for 8 weeks, so I lost all strength in my leg), I would lie on my stomach and have my wife push my heel to my butt. It was one of the those "hurts so good." (which is key - it was uncomfortable, but felt good - NOT painful!).

      2) I would just do the static quad stretch by myself when I could.

      3) I would do deep squats as I could and just hold them where the knee felt in that "hurt so good place."

      4) I would kneel and gradually try to be able to kneel with my butt touching my heels. This one really became my personal benchmark. Totally NOT recommended by any professional, but it worked for me - I continue to do it.

      As hard as it may be to believe it, my knee is now 100% and I'm pain free. You'll get there. But definitely, if anything HURTS, DON'T DO IT!

      Be well!

  5. And I'm sorry for my typos...I'm tapping this out on a phone while my twins are asleep!

    1. Jill,

      No worries about typos! How are you feeling/doing? I don't think I told you that my knee is now 100% normal (better, I guess, as it no longer hurts!). In terms of a timeline back to running, BE SUPER PATIENT! Just when I was feeling "good" after surgery (mid-August, so about 4 months out), I pushed too hard and developed some sort of sciatica that kept me from running for ANOTHER 6-weeks! I was just too focused on getting back to 20-30 mile long runs.

      Also, try Googling yoga for knees and hips - that really helped me (I watched Ekhart Yoga videos and found them very good/useful). I still have a "routine" I do most days from that.

      Hope you're starting to see some more noticeable gains, but if not, don't worry! They will come one day (even though you may not feel like it now).