You can’t beat the system!

Earlier this year, the parking on our streets in Chicago became “permit-only” from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.  This was great because there are music venues in the neighborhood and there have been times when I’d gotten home late when there were concerts and I had to park nearly a mile from home.  My lovely perfect wife has an annual sticker with permit parking privileges.  My situation is more complicated.  Though I live in Chicago full-time, I still work in Wisconsin, my car has Wisconsin plates, and I don’t have a city sticker with the permit.  However, I do have a glove box full of nightly guest stickers I can fill out, place on my windshield, and park on the streets close to home.  Now even though I’ve got a big supply, I have, on occasion, peeled off the sticker already affixed to my windshield, written over the old date with a new one, slapped it back on the glass, and parked for another night.  Now I don’t know if I do this because of my frugal nature, to try to get away with something, or as a form of protest, but I do it.  Not every time, but whenever the numbers seem adaptable to change, I figure, why not?  And I’ve parked overnight like this many times with no penalty.

So last night when I got home around 6 p.m., I pulled the sticker off, changed the date from 12/21 to 12/30 (we’d been out of town for the holidays and there are some blocks where permits are not needed—if you are wondering how I’d gone 9 days without a fresh sticker) and didn’t think about it.  Later we went to a friend’s house for her birthday (my wife drove) and as we were getting home around midnight, we drove past my car and I saw it—a parking ticket!   On my car!  I couldn’t believe it.  I can be a real stoic about things, but when it comes to parking tickets, they feel like a personal affront.  I don’t know why this is, but I was justifiably (I thought) upset.

We pulled over and I jumped out of the car to grab the ticket besmirching my what-should-have-been-clear windshield.  But before I did I snapped a picture that showed both the ticket and my valid nightly pass in place.  There’d been a concert at the Riviera Ballroom and I figured there had been some cars parked illegally.  But I was also sure mine was not one of them.  Clearly, I thought, someone had made a mistake.  In fact, I was so sure of myself by the time I’d carried it upstairs and got ready for bed, I’d put it out of my mind, unusual for a parking ticket, which often leaves me stewing.  In the morning, I’d simply write a letter protesting the ticket, send it in with my photographic proof, and that would be it.


I didn’t even open the envelope to read the details on the ticket until this morning but when I did, I saw the violation:  “Reused Residential Parking Permit.”  I couldn’t believe it, but they had me.  It wasn’t a mistake–they accused me of exactly what I had done.  I looked at the photo I’d taken the night before—the changed date looked pretty good, and I’d gotten by with worse in the past, but there was no denying that it had been changed and I was guilty as charged.  It felt anger again, but now it was towards myself.  I’d tried to beat the system, to cheat it, but the system couldn’t be beat.

What does any of this have to do with my running?  Well, I feel like maybe I’ve been trying to “beat the system” with that too.  I was going to write a post today marking the 4 year anniversary of my microfracture surgery and ruminating on the fact that though I’ve made progress and fought the good fight over the last four years, I’ve definitely hit a plateau.


I just looked over my post from last year at this time and not much has changed.  My “best workouts of the year” were pretty much the same for both 2015 and 2016.  Neither year was terrible, and I’m not getting worse, but I want to improve.

I looked back over my training log and found that in 2016 I ran 1,213 miles, or an average of 23 miles a week.  I say I’m trying to beat the system because there’s no way I can run the times I want to on such low mileage.  Even though I did lots of other workouts-swimming, biking, weights, et cetera, there’s nothing like running to get better at running.  It’s very simple that way.  Of course, this is different than trying to beat the permit parking lovers-leapsystem—I have plenty of stickers and could put up a fresh, new one every night.  I’ve got no excuses.  It’s not as easy with running.  My knee is not fresh, new, or strong enough to run without consequences.  I just can’t run like I used to.  Sometimes this makes me feel  despondent, like the plateau I’m on is leading to a steep cliff, a Lover’s Leap, and I’m just going to over the edge and give up the chase for good.

Luckily, this feeling has always passed and I’ve believed the plateau will lead to something more, something better.   And looking back over my log, I was surprised to find I did have an 11 week stretch from mid-April to the end of June when I averaged 35 miles a week, including 3 weeks when I reached 40 miles.  That was with cross-training and really my knee was no worse for the wear (which means it was still a problem, but not any more or less than other times of the year).  I didn’t get a chance to see what kind of shape I was in because the only race I did was a triathlon and the 10K course was short so I don’t know how fast I ran and the next day we embarked on  our summer of travel.

But 35 miles a week doesn’t seem too bad.  It’s not 60, which I’d guess would be ideal for me, but it’s a substantial increase from 23.  And I think at 35 miles per week, making the most of those miles, of course, with good workouts and a good training plan, and some cross-training, well, that might be enough to get me back to some kind of racing shape.  I’ve never been one to really make New Year’s resolutions, but I’ve just decided I’m setting a goal of 35 miles a week for 2017.

It might be better to have a race goal, a particular time, and I’ve written about some of those already, but I think this will be better because if I can handle that mileage, I’ll discover whether or not this plateau I’m on can lead to greater heights and I can start doing races again and set time goals.  Or I’ll discover I need to just settle in and enjoy the view from where I’m at, with the times and racing success I want in sight but out of reach.plateau-valensole

This would means giving up racing goals for good and just running for the sake of it, and maybe shuffling through some triathlons with the rest of the non-runners.  Obviously, I’m hoping for the former, to complete this comeback, and I’m always pretty optimistic, but the latter would not be the worst thing in the world.  It would be better than never running again, which is what the surgeon told me was probably going to be the case when I came out of surgery four years ago today.

And even if I can’t average 35 miles a week, get back in racing shape, and have everything in life make sense again, I resolve I will not re-use any of my parking stickers in 2017 (well, I could probably change an 11 to a 14 or a 17 without arousing suspicion, or a 21 to a 24…).

But, whatever happens, on to 2017.  Happy New Year!


3 thoughts on “You can’t beat the system!

  1. Hello! Happy New Year! Hope you meet your 35 mpw goal in 2017. I have been reading your blog for the last week and find it very interesting.

    I live in Santiago, Chile’s capital city, and enjoy running a lot. It is a very important aspect of my life and have been doing it for about 10 years now and with some serious intent for the last 5. I am currently 48 years old and ran my first marathon in Berlin on Sept 27, 2015. I have never been a fast runner so when I crossed the finish line in 03h38 I was very satisfied with my accomplishment. After that race I have done a few 10K, two 21K and two full marathons here in Chile, with times of 03h42 and 03h49 at the Santiago and the Viña del Mar Marathons, respectively.

    Last november while I started ramping up my training for the Miami Marathon (Jan 29, 2017) and stared feeling a dull pain under the patella of my right knee. I thought I was having some sort of tendonitis so I stopped running for 2 weeks, applied lots of ice and kept some level of cross-training (spinning, bike and light strength training). Upon returning to running the pain came back almost immediately. I went to a sports medicine expert who examined me and indicated I probably have “condromalacia femoral”. The diagnosis was confirmed after a high-resolution MRI. The defect is a “1 square cm. level 4” lesion on the femoral cartilage. The doctor said I was a good candidate for microfracture surgery but warned that my knee will never be as good as new and that the recovery would take at least 1 year. After seeing the look in my face he advised that I think about it and in the meantime proceeded to inject my knee with corticosteroids and hiarulonic acid (reason I found your blog). Almost a month after the infiltration I am running 15 mpw at a slow pace with mild to medium pain. Not sure how my knee will hold up, though.

    I know many runners with their own injury stories but none with a weight-bearing knee cartilage lesion nor one that has gone through a microfracture procedure. Would you be so kind to answer a few questions and provide some guidance? Here I go:

    Is microfracture a good choice for treatment of this type of knee defect?

    After recovery from surgery, do you feel your knee is better than it was when you injured it?

    Have you tried any long runs (16-20 miles) after surgery? If not, could you please indicate why? Do you plan on ever running a Marathon again?

    Note: Medical care (Doctors, technology, facilities) in Chile is pretty close to what you have in the U.S. (I lived in Atlanta for 10 years).

    Please excuse any grammatical mistakes I may have made. If something in these lines is unclear please do not hesitate in asking. I won’t get offended, especially since I am the one seeking for guidance.

    Any advise you could provide would be greatly appreciated. Thanks,


  2. Hello Ignacio,

    Thanks for your message. Congrats on your running achievements and I’m glad you find the information on the blog relevant (well, actually I guess I’m not glad about that because it means you’ve got a knee problem just like I do!).

    It sounds like you are in a situation similar to mine; however, there may be some differences. First of all, I never decided to have the microfracture done–I went in for meniscus surgery (removal of a portion of the meniscus–the second time that year for that knee) and when I woke up after surgery, the doctor told me he’d found the cartilage damage, done the microfracture, that I’d be on crutches 6 weeks, had a long recovery ahead of me, and probably wouldn’t be able to run.

    Secondly, as I said, I have no meniscus left on the medial (inside half) of my knee, which is in proximity to where the cartilage on the femur was damaged. So if you have a full, healthy meniscus, I believe you’ll be in better shape than I am if you get the microfracture done because the meniscus serves as a shock absorber between the bottom of the femur and top of the shinbone and I think that would make running a lot easier. The brace I wear does a pretty good job of moving the load to the outside of my knee, but every run, even on a good day, because of uneven terrain or not paying close enough attention to my form, I have a few steps where I land and put impact on the inside part of the knee, which hurts. I imagine an intact meniscus would help a lot.

    I could go on, but most of what I’d say is already in some of the earlier posts, so I will try to answer your questions:

    1) Is microfracture a good treatment for this injury? Well, I don’t know if it is the best option. I know one guy who had an OATS procedure done and he’s happy with it (but he’s not a very ambitious runner). I would talk to your doctor about OATS. Here’s a link that says it is better than microfracture:

    However, I’ve read about lots of professional athletes that have had microfracture, not OATS, so there must be some reasons, or some situations, when microfracture is better.

    There are also some other treatments available where they inject stem cells into the injured area to help the cartilage repair itself and regrow–google this (this is what I’m hoping to get done some day–if it really works).

    2) Is my knee better than it was before the surgery? Oh, yes, much better. Though my leg grew weak from being on crutches for 6 weeks and then limping around for the rest of that year, and there is still some pain, before the surgery I couldn’t even try to run because it hurt so much. I could bike and walk and swim–but even those were painful. Before my surgery, I would not have been able to run the 15 miles per week that you are currently doing.

    3) my longest run since the surgery has been 90 minutes (over 12 but less than 13 miles) and my knee held up fine for that distance. I think it might be possible to train for another marathon but I don’t really have any plans to do so (in the near future, at least). My running goals are more focused on running good times for shorter distances, 5K’s, which was my plan before my surgery and which seems a safer route forward. (I would like to do a half-ironman triathlon in the next year).

    I hope this information helps you make your decision. Good luck with whichever path you take. Send me some updates 🙂

    • Thank you so much for taking the time to write back. According to the MRI, I do have a normal meniscus. Hope this is a plus as you suspect.

      My Doctor will be back from vacation in 2 weeks (it’s summer here) and we’ll discuss surgery plans. I already had this trip to the Miami Marathon with the whole family so I will probably wait to return to Chile and then have the surgery.

      Thanks so very much again. In these times of despair is always helpful to have someone to exchange experiences with. I appreciate you sharing yours. Will keep you posted.

      Best wishes for 2017.

      Ignacio Ruiz

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