Brandon McBride, who could barely walk last December, wondered if the excruciating pain in his right knee would end his professional running career at age 27.
The pain didn't subside after treatment from several therapists, who told McBride he couldn't run for two months. A long layoff would cost him valuable preparation time for the 2022 season and impact his ability to qualify for the world championships in July.
So, McBride reached out to Dr. Brian Murer in Indiana, who helped keep the middle-distance runner healthy in 2018 and 2019. The doctor was under contract with a National Football League team last winter but introduced McBride to Dr. Yoav Nagar, a fellow chiropractic specialist in North Hollywood, Calif., who fixed the Canadian athlete within two hours.
"He worked on my diaphragm and showed me some upper-body stuff," McBride said. "I didn't see how breathing exercises would help my knee, but he told me to trust him and go for a run the next day.
"I ran for 45 minutes to an hour and my knee soreness was a 1.5 or 2 [out of 10]. it was 9.5 [before treatment from Dr. Nagar]. I ran three times the following week, five times the week after and then full on.
"You have to have a therapist you can trust who knows athletes and what they're doing," continued McBride, who turned 28 last week. "It could mean the difference between retiring and going on to win a gold medal. If it wasn't for Dr. Nagar and Dr. Murer, I would have retired, probably in January. I was in that much pain."
On Friday at 9:30 p.m. ET, the Windsor, Ont., native will line up for the men's 800-metre semifinals in his return to the Canadian track and field championships in Langley, B.C., after a two-year absence due to COVID-19 and injury. The final is scheduled for 10:55 p.m. ET on Saturday at McLeod Athletic Park.
The four-time national champion is fresh off his third victory this season, a one-minute 46.14-second performance a week ago at the Victoria International Track Classic. The race was McBride's fourth of 2022, double his combined total of the previous two years.
"It was a little chilly, not ideal temperatures to race an 800," McBride said over the phone this week from an Airbnb in Victoria. "I competed well, and if you do that consistently, the [desired] time will come."
On June 11 at the Portland Track Festival, McBride's winning time fell 2-100ths of a second shy of the 1:45.20 automatic qualifying time for the July 15-24 worlds in Eugene, where the 28-year-old has trained since last November with Oregon Track Club Elite.
"I'm right around the corner from everything coming together," said McBride, who ran 1:43.20 in Monaco four years ago to break Gary Reed's Canadian record. "If you look at my progression [this season] each race is getting significantly better and that's the result of [coach Mark Rowland and me] adding the final pieces of training and getting sharper."
WATCH | McBride takes down Canadian 800-metre record in 2018:
The move from training alone at Mississippi State University, his alma mater, since January 2021 has paid off, with McBride believing he has matured as an athlete under Rowland. Group workouts have also helped him feel more comfortable running in packs during a race.
"I'm a lot more patient of a runner," said McBride, who last won at nationals three years ago in 1:44.63. "Before, I'd get antsy and [make a move] too early and race like it was 600 or 700 metres [to the finish line]. I'm trying to get to 700 first but patient enough to know a lot happens in the last 100 metres.
Relaxation has helped me stay in the zone and have fun. It's a testament to everything I've gone through. — Canadian middle-distance runner Brandon McBride on being more patient in races
"I have my emotions and anxieties under control more than in the past. I have a sense of calm and peace [from] a lot of work with various sports psychologists."
In McBride's lone defeat this season, the two-time Olympian was 1-100th slower than winner Alex Amankwah of Ghana on June 5 at the Music City Track Carnival in Nashville.
"They've all been close races, and everyone has commented on how relaxed I look," McBride said. "Relaxation has helped me stay in the zone and have fun. It's a testament to everything I've gone through, knowing this pain is not forever."
In his first week with OTC Elite, McBride's knee flared up and prompted him to see therapists in several cities, but Rowland wanted him back in Eugene to rehab and cross-train. They agreed to one final assessment and McBride visited Dr. Nagar a few days before Christmas instead of visiting family in Windsor.
"I spent Christmas alone in Eugene. I remember Facetiming my family and I was so emotional," McBride recalled. "I'm making this sacrifice, one last effort to salvage whatever I can [of my running career]. My mom was telling me it was going to be okay. The next day, I was able to run. I guess it was a great Christmas gift."
Poor posture led to injuries
It was determined the knee injury was related to dysfunctional movement in McBride's hips and pelvis that had caused hamstring issues last spring and forced him to skip nationals in Montreal ahead of the Olympics, where McBride didn't advance from his heat and placed 30th overall.
Looking back, McBride remembered being fit and attributed the disappointing performance to a lack of race sharpness, saying he should have raced three times before the Games rather than once.
McBride didn't compete in 2020 and believes he developed bad posture from spending up to eight hours a day studying or in lectures while completing his master's degree in business. The added combination of stress and not sprinting and practising proper mechanics, McBride said, was the "perfect storm" for his muscles to tense up.
"In 2021, I was asking my body to do something it hadn't in two years," he said. "I didn't have the proper [physio and massage] therapy when I went [to Mississippi] so my body utilized the muscle groups improperly and got used to compensating in dysfunctional ways."
Fortunately, McBride hasn't missed a scheduled day of running since December and noted the experience of the past few months has altered his perception of life and track, specifically.
"I understand there are worse things than not winning a race," said McBride, laughing. "I used to be a nervous wreck when I approached the [start] line [for a race] and when I let little things get to me, you get overwhelmed and tighten up. If you're relaxed, it's like you're floating down the home stretch."
He arrives in Langley one spot outside the quota of 48 athletes to be selected for worlds in the 800. Abubaker Haydar Abdalla of Qatar holds the final spot, six points ahead of McBride, who could collect valuable points with a top-two finish this weekend before the June 29 qualification deadline.
"I just have to continue winning races [to get selected]," said McBride, who failed to qualify for the 2019 world final after placing eighth in 2017. "I've come a long way. To be back doing what I love and not losing my enthusiasm, it means so much. I'm looking forward to being able to perform well in front of a home country crowd."
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.