Sure, I’ve missed out on enough running days this October to last a lifetime, but it’s all good. Yes, each runner I biked past on the lakefront trail this month put a little stab in my heart, but I’m not complaining. Because it’s fall, glorious fall, and with every run I get to enjoy, all the bad feelings go away and I thank the running gods (and my doctor) that I can get out and lose myself in the crisp air, sunshine, falling leaves, and all the glory of the season. I feel optimistic for what is to come, because we all know anything can happen, I mean, the Cubs are in the World Series, which just goes to show (again) that good things come to those who wait, and not just wait, but wait and plan and look ever forward and believe.
So at my last report I was coming off of my amazing summer of travel and feeling pretty good (knee, legs, fitness, et cetera) but not sure what kind of shape I was really in. I hoped, as we all hope, and has actually happened for me in the past, to find myself somehow stronger and faster than expected (you know how it is when sometimes you put away the watch for a while and then bring it back out to be pleasantly surprised). Alas, it was not to be….
Wait, before I get to that, I should explain that I couldn’t start back on a hard running program right away because I had to prepare for a 5K swim! Yes, the Big Shoulders 5K swim in Lake Michigan on September 10th. I remember saying to myself when I saw my lovely, perfect wife swim this six years ago that I could never swim that far. Well, a couple knee surgeries and lots of swimming later, I did it. Luckily, the water was flat that day (I probably could have made it in rough water, but I’m not sure) (and I wore a wetsuit, which real swimmers will say is cheating, but I’m not a real swimmer—I’m a runner). But in the service of being able to survive the event, I focused a lot of attention on swimming the last few weeks before Big Shoulders and couldn’t fully dedicate myself to running faster.
Okay, so back to my running…I did a few sessions on the track, including a broken 5K, which I enjoyed (“broken” is a swim term which means you break up the total distance but only keep track of the total time–I ran 200, 400, 600, 800, 1000, then back down the ladder (with about a minute rest between each) in 18:01.) Not great, but at least I knew where I was (and I plan to do this workout again to see how I am progressing). For my next workout, I met my friend Bill for a set of half-mile repeats on the bike path in Milwaukee. We did 4 and I had to fight to average 3 minutes (Bill maybe 4-5 seconds ahead of me). But these were very instructive. As I tried to keep up with Bill, I could feel my legs were simply not strong enough so I decided (literally that day, as we were jogging back to our cars) to be more deliberate about lifting weights/doing core workouts, including lifting with my legs, 1-2 times per week. It seems this is always my plan and I haven’t been able to maintain it, at least to the level I want, but I think it’s key for me. Because of my knee, I can’t rely on high mileage or hill repeats get stronger. I’ve got to find other ways. And so far, so good. I’m even doing squats every time (which does not bother my knee, even when it’s bothering me) and I’m going to keep adding reps and weight and see what happens.
So, a week after our first day of half-mile repeats, Bill and I met again that day I was able to average 2:55, and felt better doing it. I did a few other workouts (by myself, which means I’m inevitably a little slower than with someone else) but was happy with my progress. I thought about doing a fall race, maybe a 5K or maybe something longer, but I’ve ruled that out now because it seems like every time I just start thinking about signing up for a race, my knee starts to hurt. In fact, my knee was achy after my run on October 5th and I took a couple days off. Then I had to actually stop only a half-mile into my run on the 8th. Walking back home was depressing, yes, but I also knew it was just time for another shot of cortisone. It had been only 4 ½ months since my last, and I’ve been trying to make each last six months (though my doctor says every 4 months is fine) and so I missed a lot of beautiful days running both waiting to see my doctor and then for the inflammation to really go down after the injection.
But now I’m feeling good again and it’s full-speed ahead (that’s a relative phrase, of course) for the rest of October and into November. I am NOT going to sign up to do any races or even think about it, but I do have 2 workout goals I’ll be working towards. The first is 3 times a mile averaging under 6 minutes a mile. The second is 8 quarter-miles (well, 400 meters) averaging under 80 seconds. These are not wildly ambitious, but I could not go out and do either one today so they are ambitious enough. If I accomplish these, I may do a time trial on the track in lieu of a race, maybe 4000 meters or maybe a full 5000 just to see where I am before winter comes.
I remember when I did this some years back, it was November or maybe even early December after recovering from a fall marathon. I hadn’t timed any workouts since the race and was just wondering what kind of shape I was in. When I got to the track it was already so dark I couldn’t read my watch so I just set my countdown timer for 18 minutes and wanted to see how close I could get to cruising 3 miles in that time. I felt great that night from the start, better after each lap, and was thinking to myself, I’m surely going to get to 3 miles or very close. As I got closer and closerto 3 miles, I picked up my pace and when I crossed the line for the completion of 12 laps my timer still hadn’t gone off so I kept on going. I hadn’t planned for this and every stride thereafter felt like a gift, I grew more and more buoyant with each one, like I was floating through the darkness, and I was able to run a whole nother half a lap, going a few strides past the 5000 meter mark and into the turn before my timer congratulated me and it was really one of my most enjoyable, memorable runs ever.
So I’d love to be able to replicate something like that, not quite that fast, but maybe close. Of course, it’s probably not healthy, or productive really, to want to go back in time, though in a way that’s what I want to do. I suppose that is one the burdens of life, wanting things we cannot have. Does this make life more interesting or just more frustrating? I don’t know, and right now I don’t care. It is a beautiful October morning and I am going out for a run 🙂