Clingan details comeback, advises X-rays for older runners
Every few months, a world-class tracko announces retirement. The latest is 36-year-old John Godina, shot put world champ and Olympic medalist. After John’s disappointing 12th-place finish in the discus at last summer’s Olympic Trials, I ran into him outside Track Town Pizza. I gave him a pep talk: “Now you can throw in masters!” He laughingly assumed a look of horror. Noooooo, he said — as if masters were the kiss of death. But he has throwing in his genes, and he’ll be back. In fact, I predict it’ll happenÂ before he turns 45. But I also see retirements for good cause — such as serious injury. One came 13 months ago. I titled it: “Dave Clingan’s horrid news: Knee ills force retirement.”Â Â Well, guess what? He’s back! Of course, this was pretty obvious last summer to anyone who saw him flowing around the curves in the M50 800 at Spokane. But it’s really official now that he’s described his comeback on Pete Magill’s blog.Â
Dave competed strongly at USATF masters nationals in Spokane.Â
He was the fastest 54-year-old at the meet, taking sixth in M50 with a 2:08.97.
Just over 1 year ago, after experiencing several months of severe knee pain, I was diagnosed with advanced osteoarthritis in my right knee. It showed up clearly on an x-ray as a lack of gap between the two major bones of the knee, which are normally separated by a healthy layer of cartilage. The diagnosis was further confirmed by an MRI. Bone-to-bone contact had been causing pain and inflammation, and my doctor informed me that the condition was irreversible. He sternly advised me to give up running entirely if I wanted to avoid knee replacement surgery.Â
The news was shocking and depressing. But I took his advice and quit running … until, that is, a few months later when I decided to try a little easy jogging. Although the condition was essentially unchanged and the knee felt awkward and unstable, the swelling had abated and the discomfort was tolerable. Gradually, I increased mileage and started running 800s in local meets. My strategy was to limit myself to 30 miles a week, avoid any hard surfaces, take a couple days off each week, and back off whenever the pain flared up. (I had also been taking glucosamine and chondroitin for several years.) It seemed to work — at least, well enough to get my time down to 2:08 in last year’s National Masters Track Championships in Spokane. And I broke 18 minutes in the National Masters 5K XC Championships a couple months later [in Greensboro, North Carolina].Â
By cutting back my training, avoiding pavement, and carefully staying within a reasonable pain threshold, it seems I’ve bought myself some time to continue competing, at least for awhile longer. But one thing I wish I had considered years earlier, as I was racking up road miles, was to get an x-ray sooner. I understand now that there was a cartilage deterioration happening that went undetected until it reached the critical bone-to-bone stage. Had I known what was happening, I might have made different training and racing choices that could have extended my competitive running “career.”Â
For about $70, I think it’s well worth the investment for all masters runners to get an x-ray. Osteoarthritis is primarily determined by genetics; those of us who are cursed with a predisposition for the condition are well served by knowing what’s happening before it is too late.
March 1, 2009