I never again ran a faster 10K than my Olympic time of 32:14.
My heel bursitis was a serious chronic injury that sidelined me for most of 1989. The following year, I was running well again, but Paul and I decided to have a baby. I was pregnant by the summer of 1990, when we moved from Toronto to Vancouver.
A year after my son Abebe was born, I was returning to decent form. I won the 1992 Sun Run in a time of 32:44 and ran about 32:42 in the Harry Jerome 10,000m, squeaking under the Barcelona Olympics qualifying time of 32:45. But I had to break the standard twice. My last chance was in Montreal at Nationals. In that race mysterious cramping and weakness in my left leg forced me to drop out at about 6K.
Later that year, at the Timex 10K Road Race Championship in Ottawa, I was forced to pull out at 3K, with the same cramping rendering my leg helpless. This time, my leg didn’t recover; every time I tried to run, at any pace, the same thing happened, with the cramping starting after about 30 seconds of running. It took two months before a doctor finally realized I had a vascular problem. I was diagnosed with a rare genetic condition that had caused my main femoral artery to become blocked at the groin. No wonder I couldn’t run! The only blood reaching my leg was going through tiny collateral blood vessels. I had bypass surgery done in December of 1992.
Unfortunately, the artery on my right side was narrowing as well; I recognized the symptoms as soon as I recovered from my surgery and started training again. This blockage happened more gradually than the one on the left side. Every year I had to run slower and slower, but the medical authorities didn’t believe that I had a problem serious enough to require surgery. To me, having to walk sections of a 10K or a half-marathon because my leg had completely cramped up was serious, but doctors considered someone who could jog a 12-minute mile on a treadmill to be in fantastic cardiovascular shape! Finally, in 1998, the artery became completely blocked during a workout, and my surgeon decided to do bypass surgery immediately, fearing that a blood clot from the groin could travel to my brain.
At age 39, I was able to run hard again for the first time in years. But after years of restricted training, it was too late for me to run as fast as I had in my twenties.
I had a successful and exciting masters running career, though. Running was all the more precious to me after the years of frustration, and I was immensely thankful for Canada’s medical system. Without my bypass surgeries I would never have been able to run again.
I was hoping to break some Canadian age-group records when I turned 50, but it was not to be. A few months before that birthday, I tore my right anterior cruciate ligament in a freak move at the gym. That led to falls and bad cartilage damage in my knee. My first knee operation successfully reconstructed the ACL, but my second knee surgery, to remove the damaged cartilage, revealed advanced arthritis that surgery could not mitigate. After that surgery, in January of 2011, my surgeon told me I had to stop running completely. However, I’ve discovered I can still get away with doing two easy 5–6K runs a week in the Mundy Park trails I love so much. Running a little bit is infinitely better than no running!