“But aren’t you worried about your knees?”

“When you’re young, you don’t really appreciate how what you’re doing will affect you later in life; you just do what you want, and to hell with the consequences.” – My dad.

“Time to bleed, time to breed.” – Also my dad, included for balance, because even though my father is a very smart man, he is not just a font of wisdom.

Inherited: awkward smile

Inherited: awkward smile and paleness

 Earlier this year, I lost a toenail for the second time in my life. It happened without incident – I was sitting on the sofa with my feet up on the coffee table in my living room, happened to glance at my feet, and noticed that there was ‘too much light’ coming from behind one of my toenails. Sure enough, it was hanging on by a thin ribbon of hardened skin, like a creaky old door on one hinge, and I plucked it off painlessly, much to my boyfriend’s disgust (despite the fact that he likes to make neat piles of his toenail clippings all around my apartment, so now you know that).

I looked at my mangled feet, covered in callouses, blisters, and black toenails, and realised that I used to do things like paint my nails, wear moisturiser with socks in bed, and generally make an effort to keep them in a state fit for public consumption. In fact, the first time I had a toenail fall off was a mere 8 days after I’d had a deluxe pedicure, and the little toenail still had a glossy coating of teal polish as I held it in my hand, examining it like some rare gem.

Unfortunately, running is not always kind to feet. Or knees, if I were to listen to my dad’s constant warnings about the health of my poor joints.

I am regularly reminded of the consequences of ‘not looking after your body’ by my father. He used to be an avid rugby player, and there are in existence countless 35mm film slides packed away somewhere with a projector capable of illuminating my dad, clutching a rugby ball and determinedly ploughing through burly men to score a try, onto my parents’ kitchen wall in Houston.

Ever since I stopped being a rippling tower of lard and started running, I have had my dad tell me that I need to be careful of all the impact activities I do, because I’ll live to regret them later in like. Or, perhaps more accurately, my joints will. Having broached the topic of a second hip replacement recently, he may know what he’s talking about. Despite his warnings, I continue to run because it’s something I really enjoy taking part in. And despite me brushing off his advice, he continues to try and be a knight in shining armour for my knees.

At least, that’s how it used to be.

I was recently speaking to my dad on the phone when the topic came up – again. We got to talking about conflicting advice (my doctor is in the ‘use it or lose it’ camp that I tend to subscribe to), and eventually I asked him a question.

“If you knew that you’d have to have both of your hips replaced at your age, would you have stopped playing rugby and listened to the same advice you’re giving me?”

The sigh on the other end of the line, my friends, is what victory sounds like.

“No, Rachel, I would not have.”


I am my father’s daughter, and to his credit, I don’t think he’s mentioned my crunchy knees or my future as a cripple since that conversation.  But this is probably because despite the fact that my knees sounds like Rice Krispies being crushed when I come out of a squat, he knows I have no intention of stopping, and nothing he can say – whether it has merit or not – will change my mind.
Now, I’m not saying running does necessarily destroy your joints.  I’m sure there is some wear and tear going on when you are a distance runner, but if you gradually increase the load, I believe your body adapts to that.  Even though my knees sound g-r-o-s-s sometimes, they have done since I was about 20, and I don’t feel any pain, so it’s really not an issue for me, or my doctor (which is reassuring).
What I am saying is that whether running trashes your knees or not, it’s something that brings me joy and allows me to connect with so many people.  And without trying to sound like some twee, pseudo-deep pop song, what’s the point of going through the only shot you have at life holding back when you could be diagnosed with incurable cancer tomorrow, get hit by a bus, or have a cargo plane transporting circus animals accidentally drop its load over you, causing death by elephant crushing?  Am I right?

18 thoughts on ““But aren’t you worried about your knees?”

  1. You ARE right! Life is not a dress rehearsal, it’s the real thing! And, hopefully it’s safe to say, that those of who are physically active, know what long term overuse and repetitive strain will do to our bodies. Playing softball for 20+ years has given me rice-krispie sounding shoulders, but I don’t regret a thing. Running is something I never thought I’d be able to add to my list of ‘sports’ but I’m so very happy to be able to say that I am a runner, despite all the aches and pains (and now dog bites!!!!) I’ve had because of it.

    Funny blog post too, love to know about Ian’s toenail piles….. 😉

    • He hasn’t skimmed over the post yet, so I can’t say whether he loves that people might now know that…

      And dogs need to be on leashes!! I had a run in with two friendly, but way over-excited dogs last night doing hill reps. One jumped up and had its paws on my chest, and I nearly fell backwards downhill!

  2. Rowing is a non-impact sport, but you would be shocked at the number of middle-aged rowers (and some younger ones) who can no longer walk well, let alone row. The fortunate ones have had knee ops of one sort or another but those things don’t come easily on the NHS.

    Carpe diem.

    • Indeed. I guess there are a lot of jarring movements in rowing that I never really considered (mainly because my time limit on a rowing machine in the gym is, like, 5 minutes), but I bet it’s fun enough to do outside and in actual water to make people ignore any possible side effects in the future, just like running.

  3. Top post MS. Whatever about rowing (leoponton above) there are certainly very few old runners who are crippled. On the contrary they are some of the fittest people I know, and well into their 70s and 80s some of them. Sure, running with poor style will impact more on the joints but the human body has evolved to run. That evolution has sort-of stopped in recent times and it’s the couch potato that jumps out of bed one morning and decides to train for a marathon who might be a problem :-O

    • Or might not, even if they’re not used to exercise. Everybody’s body is different, so who knows? I think most people have enough to worry about without having to worry about state their joints will be in in 30+ years time if they run regularly. And, as you touched on, I’m sure the benefits of running outweigh potential risks.

  4. hi..came across your blog as i am running my first marathon at loch ness end of september…i am now even more worried about it after reading your experience last year..i have never run further than 13 miles so will need to up my runs before the end of the month and hope for the best…i also worry about my knees as i am 45 now..used to do a lot of running in my 20s but just getting back into it this year…my knees feel a bit uncomfortable on my long runs but not enough to stop me..although they do feel a bit unstable after a long run…i may invest in one of these as i have the calf support and it worked wonders for my tight calf muscle http://www.amazon.co.uk/Neo-MEDICAL-PATELLA-SUPPORT-breathable/dp/B001M04WVK/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1378032086&sr=8-1&keywords=knee+support …i just hope my legs can last most of the 26 miles…will be looking at every supplement there is to see whats best…all the best in your future runs 🙂

    • Don’t let my experience put you off, though, like you say you are, I was under-trained for it. Some people can get away with very little (or no) training for a marathon, but I am not one of those people. Here’s hoping you are! Might see you at the start line, if not, best of luck! 🙂

  5. Death by elephantine load would definitely be the way to go.

    As for the knees, here’s a neat little blogpost that links to a few studies on the topic: http://chicknamedchuck.com/2012/02/16/running-does-not-ruin-your-knees/ Clearly as runners we have an inherent bias, which can sometimes lean toward a head-in-the-sand position, but the research supports the cause. Sure, there might be a few lines in that sand between “recreational” and “competitive” and “diehard” and “ultra fanatic” but from the looks of it, the knees appreciate the exercise.

    Rugby though, is brutal. Otter used to be a rugby player until his back started seizing from herniated discs and now he runs instead. Similarly, I doubt he would take the sport back from his athletic history were he given the choice years ago.

    • Ouch, never realized it was rugby that caused all the back problems. Rugby is indeed a brutal sport (but so much fun)!

      I’m happy enough to accept that I’m causing a bit of wear and tear, and I’ve tried to stop reading too much on the subject because I’m not stopping any time soon, and I guess there’s no point in letting worry about my future knees rain on my parade today.

  6. Leave it to Dad to make an already interesting topic that much better! Here I’d make the important distinction, not between high-impact and non-impact, but between contact and non-contact sports. And rugby is its own beast in that respect. Running (unless you’re really doing it wrong) obviously isn’t a contact sport; imagine if you ran every race with the fear of someone blindsiding you and taking your legs out from under you. And unlike rugby players who tape their ears so they don’t get them cleated off, runners don’t tape body parts because they’re fearful of losing one at the start line.

    Off-hand, I can’t think of any long-term runners I know who have debilitating joint problems… though I can think of several non-runners who do.

    • Well that is good to hear! Although I often wrap up (though not tape) several body parts to stop them falling off during races that take part during Scottish winters. Frostbite is a mean mistress! 😉

  7. Slightly belated reply to this post, however reading this has made me feel so much better as I am also a victim of the crunchy knees (due to running a couple of half-marathons and a fair few 10k’s). I also don’t feel any pain but the worry about “the damage I’m doing” has stopped me signing up to anything longer than a 10k. I saw a physio who suggested a few exercises (and also made me stand up from a squat on one leg… a more sickening crunch I am yet to hear) but she didn’t seem too concerned about any immediate damage. So I am going to embrace your attitude and carry on signing up for further distances and just enjoy it.

    Also, at the risk of sounding like a crazed fan, I totally love your blog. I am also a Scotland-based (well, Scottish, in fact) female who started running to shed the lard who is also a bit addicted to race running. Yours is the best (and funniest) running blog I’ve come across, so thank you. Keep the posts coming!

    • Why thank you!

      Well, at the risk of sounding extra creepy, I would genuinely love to see (but mostly hear) a video of your crunchy squat, because I have yet to hear anyone else with rice krispie joints my age! I have also seen a couple of physios who raised zero eyebrow when they heard the sound, and when I asked about it was told if there’s no pain, there’s no problem. (I have also harassed my GP, also a runner, about it, and he says it’s likely just scar tissue, and if I stopped using it, it would probably get worse, so I like his opinion).

      So whereabouts in Scotland are you based? There are some cracking half marathons around these parts! Screw the crunch!

      • I also like his opinion! Despite the fact that the noise resulting from my one-legged squat creeped me out so much that I never did it again, I’d be happy to share a video in the hope of furthering knowledge of our crispy condition. Isn’t it just the most horrible, vom-inducing noise?

        I live in Edinburgh and have done a few great runs this year, the X Border Challenge between Gretna and Carlisle was a fun one. The low point was definitely the Loch Leven half, it was so windy and the last few miles were tortuous! I’d love to get a few more halfs under my belt though, thinking about Skye and the new Edinburgh one next year. Also toying with the idea of booking a marathon but frankly the whole idea fills me with terror. Hat’s off to you for running Loch Ness with a sled, just brilliant!

      • I loved Skye, but I think we lucked out and got the nicest weekend, weather-wise, this year. I’ll definitely be back.

        Is that new Edinburgh the one in September? I’ve got my sights set on a longer race then, but I kind of feel I need to give the Rock ‘n’ Roll another chance (since we DID NOT luck out with the weather this year). Think it has moved to June for 2014.

        And the sled? Brilliant is not the word my friends were using on the morning. 😛

  8. Yeh, I can imagine the Skye half would feel completely different on a horrible day! The Edinburgh one is indeed in September, it’s interesting (and slightly confusing) to note that it’s named the “Scottish Half Marathon”. I haven’t done the Rock and Roll one though, it definitely looks fun.

    Also, if you’re on the lookout for future marathons, I’m just back from Budapest as my boyfriend ran it last weekend (I instead chose the 7k “minimarathon” as marathon runners received free entry that they could pass on to friends/family) and it was a fantastic event. It was really well organised and the city is just beautiful. Plus, as it’s sponsored by Spar the goody bag was stuffed full of fun supermarket goods with bizarre names, half of which I don’t know are meant to be used for (the plum dumpling baking mix was a highlight!). We were lucky with the weather as well, it was beautifully sunny and warm.

    Anyway, I’m off to look into half marathons I can do next year, and I’ll see if I can record some knee-crunching soon! 🙂

    • Ah, yes, the “Scottish half marathon”. It is indeed too close to my other half’s birthday, as well as any potential fall marathon dates to commit to, but maybe one year. 🙂

      The Edinburgh half in May is a relatively flat/fast course, and I cannot recommend Aviemore enough (even though my recent experience was less than ideal). And Skye, though it’s a bit hilly, or ‘undulating’, as people say.

      I’ve read a few race reports of people who did Budapest and it sounds lovely. Great weather always helps though.

      Crunch on! 🙂

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