Full Steam Ahead!

So just an update on my training as I move into summer and my big, big plans.  That means no sweet or sad, aww-shucks, human-interest angles this time around.  Trust me, there will be plenty of that coming soon.  And lots of posts—because this is it (I’m saying it), the summer of my comeback (finally).

Winter went as well as could be expected, and though I had modest goals, I accomplished them (I think this will be part of my new strategy:  set attainable goals, meet them, and then move on to the next, more difficult one–instead of drawing that line in the sand (like a 5 minute mile or a 18 minute 5K) that is so far away I can’t even see it).

January to April I averaged 27 miles of running a week with an average weekly workout time of 7.25 hours (so roughly half my training hours were swimming, weights, and a little biking).  My goals at the start of the year were to get to April with my knee feeling good, stay in reasonable running shape, and do lots of swimming to prepare for the Illinois Masters State swim meet and get some best times there.  I paid close attention to my times during swim workouts and made a conscious decision not to pay attention to my running pace, even on the days I went faster than usual, doing a fartlek or strides or just running harder than usual.  I went just on feel, knowing that once the swim season was over I’d have plenty of time to focus on it.

shamrock shuffle start line

One week before the State swim meet, I ran the Shamrock Shuffle 8K in Chicago.  I signed up for this mid-winter to make sure I stayed focused enough on running and because I knew it would be a good place to check my fitness before I started getting more serious about my speed.  Because I hadn’t been timing any of my workouts, I had no idea how fast (or maybe slow is a better word) I would run.  I thought anywhere between 31 and 34 was possible, though 31 would’ve been a delightful surprise and 34 may have been the end of me (as in I would’ve been too depressed to carry on).  But I ran exactly 32 minutes, which I was happy enough with, and more importantly, really enjoyed the race.  It’s a big one with lots of packs and people to run with, the weather was great, and I felt pretty good until the last mile when my legs got a little heavy and a few people passed me going up Mount Roosevelt, but it was loads of fun and I know I can go a lot faster once I start to get more deliberate about my speed.

I actually ran 8 miles home from Grant Park after that race, which gave me 16 for the day, and I was sore in various ways afterwards.  I had planned to do a little light running that week, though my main focus was going to be tapering and sharpening up for the swim meet the next weekend, but once I got to Thursday and still hadn’t run, I decided to take the whole week off.  Crazy!  But I figured I’d swim better and would be refreshed for my next phase of run training.

The swim meet went well.  I am now a proud (but completely non-essential) member of the 3-time Illinois Masters State Championships swim team!  I did a total of 8 races in two days (including relays) and got best times in a number (but not all) events.  Swim races are intense, especially the sprints.  They go by in blur of effort and pain.  I think I’ve become not a bad swimmer for a runner, but I’m still slow when compared to real swimmers, and that will never change. Still, the meet was a blast and swimming is great training as my heart and lungs are always working hard, hard, hard when I’m in the pool.

smelts championship photo 2017

My plan was to get right into more serious run training, but I had an unexpected lag, just from life taking up too much time.  To be specific, my lovely, perfect wife and I went to France (Paris and Normandy) with her parents and met up with her brother and his wife and family.  A great adventure, but I did miss some days of running.  Then work got busier than usual and I had a number of early morning meetings and long days.  Finally, we are in the process of buying a house and selling our condo and that’s taken up a bit of time and energy too.  So, over the last 5 weeks while I’ve averaged 29 miles a week, which is not bad, I’ve done only 5.5 hours of workouts per week, way down from earlier in the year.

eiffel tower pic

But the semester is over and this last week has been much better (I think I’ll get in over 35 miles running and 10 hours total).  My knee has been relatively sound.  I hadn’t needed a cortisone shot since October (7 months–good work, knee!) but I’d been feeling more frequent discomfort up steps and sometimes just when twisting so I got another shot last week and everything feels strong now.  And if you are reading this blog because you’ve also got knee trouble, the two other things which may have helped are icing the knee frequently, especially after runs, and taking Celadrin (both in capsule and lotion form).  This is in addition to the other supplements I take.  Who knows which, if any of my methods, are working, but I feel good now so I will just keep doing it all.

For the summer, I’ve got a few races planned already.  I am probably going to do the Lincoln Park Run for the Zoo 10K on June 4, just as another see-where-I-am race.  I am definitely going to run the Steamboat Classic 4 miler in Peoria June 17th, and for my big goal for the summer I am planning to do the Steelhead 70.3 Half-Ironman Triathlon in Michigan on August 13th (I’m a little hesitant to sign up for this as I want to be sure my knee can handle it, and it costs $300!) but I’m pretty sure I’ll register soon. Hopefully I will add in some other low-key races over the summer if all goes well and then ideally a couple faster races in the fall and don’t worry, I’ll be sure to tell you all about them.  So check back if you are curious.  And have a good summer yourself!

Steelhead swim

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.

ticket

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.

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!

Two steps forward, one step back, another shot of cortisone and I’m back on track…

where-to-run-in-chicago

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 big-shoulders-pre-raceprobably 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. knee-cortisone

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 🙂

forest-preserves-cook-county-photo

Summer, don’t leave me now

Well, this has been an unusual, extraordinary summer.  Unusual because, as the word implies, much about it was “not” usual.   And extraordinary because, well, before I explain that, I’d like to look at that word:  extraordinary.  It’s been bothering me for a while.  At face value, it seems to mean “extra” ordinary, or “super” ordinary, or “very very” ordinary, but that’s not what it means.  No, it means “beyond” ordinary, “better than” ordinary, and that fits because this last summer has been, well, let me tell you about it….

First, as you may know, summers past I’ve focused on getting in as many workouts as possible.  All the way back to high school (back then getting ready for cross-country season) that’s been my focus.  With my job teaching, because I have more time in summer and the weather’s great and there’s more daylight and I have more energy, I’ve kept it up.  Lots of years, a fall marathon was that big goal to work for.  Since my knee surgery, it’s been, “Just get back into the best shape you can.  This might be the time to really get back to being yourself again.”  But no matter the goal, I’ve spent my summer stacking up runs, rides, and swims until my body couldn’t take any more.  I mean, within reason, of course.  I was never a superstar, just enthusiastic, and enjoyed throwing myself into it and the feeling of getting in shape made me happy.  So why not?

But this summer, my perfect lovely wife was taking a sabbatical.  Partly because she wanted (and had earned a break) from her job and partly because she always gets a little envious of my summer schedule. She’s an athlete too, super fast in the pool and she also enjoys running, but she’s got probably a healthier, better outlook on what one should do with one’s time in life.  So our sabbatical summer would not be endless days of:  wake up, enjoy a lazy morning, get in a workout, recover, work out again, eat a big dinner, stay off our feet, and get to bed early.  We were going to do more with the time we had and we’d been dreaming of a big trip for some time.  After much deliberation, we decided on….South Africa and, uh oh, I can feel myself falling into a detailed travelogue, which is not my intention, so let me just say we left for South Africa July 11th, returned home on 30th, then pick up the kids and went to the wilds of Alaska (where my wife’s brother and family live) from Aug 3-11th.   Both trips were fantastic, but instead of describing them, I’ll share some pictures:

Safari:

elephant from car

 

girafferhinos

 

elephants at waterhole

The Wild Coast, South Africa:

river lodgewild coast clear water

Bulungula, an African village:

village hill

 

sunset in villagevillage hut and full moon

Franschhoek (wine country):

panaroma wine country

rainbow in wine country

Cape Town and the Cape of Good Hope:

cape town from apartment

 

hike lion's headcape of good hope panorama

And then Alaska:

alaska eureka view

alaska lake

panaroma hike from cabinpanaroma copper river hike

As you can see, only a fool would complain about trips like these and I’m no fool and I’m not complaining and I had no hesitation in going full-on forward for our adventures.  But I was also aware that for a full month in the heart of summer, my prime training days would be otherwise spoken for, and I’ve got to tell you, I was a little worried about it, both how it would feel and to what extent I’d lose the fitness I’d been working to regain.

I knew that even if I’d been in racing shape, this would’ve been worth taking time off for.  No doubts.  No regrets.  Still, it was strange, to not be plotting out my summer schedule, not doing workouts, wondering where my training would lead me.  And when I did run, it didn’t feel like summer—it wasn’t hot, I wasn’t sweating and thirsty and spent like I’d usually be in July and August.  This was because I wasn’t doing hard workouts and also because it was winter in South Africa with moderate temps and we got about the same in Alaska (40’s-50’s at night, 60’s-70’s during the day).

We didn’t plan any of our days around running, but ran when we could and over the 32 days, I was able to get out 17 times, more than I’d expected, with some great runs on the beach along the coast of the Indian Ocean…

perfect running beach

and along a beautiful strip of highway in the Alaskan wilderness (bear spray in hand)…

alaska road

But none of these were timed, none very far, or fast, and I didn’t really think of them as training (as I had nothing to train for), just running.

So the point I sat down to make today is that I expected to return home mid-August feeling out of shape (I’d been feeling good before we left—ran Steamboat Classic 4 miler in June in 25:29 (cutting 1:20 from last year) and did a triathlon in July and was able to run the 5th fastest run time of all entrants (it was supposed to be a 10K but my time was 39:02 and I know I didn’t run that fast, but it was still a good run).  But I’m not feeling out of shape.  My legs, in terms of strength and form, actually feel better than they did when I left.  Maybe it was my less ambitious schedule, or the beach runs, or the long, hilly hikes we did in both South Africa and Alaska, but my legs feel great. I don’t know how far I am from racing shape because I haven’t timed myself yet, just wanting to enjoy it as long as I can, the feeling of feeling good running.  And it’s been so nice to run again in the heat and sun and I feel like I’m where I’m supposed to be, feeling good on my feet in the middle of nice, long summer.

But that’s not true because summer is nearly over.  I mean, I’m back to school next week, cross country season has started, the Packers will be embarking on their run to the Super Bowl (I hope) in a couple weeks.  It’s back to work time and I know I’m going to break out the watch soon.  I may even do it today—I’m heading to the track as soon as I finish this morning’s coffee, and I might run some 300’s just to see where I’m at. Of course, 300’s won’t tell the whole story.  I’ll need longer runs to see where I’m really at.  I know I’m not in great shape, don’t have that lightness that comes with being fast and fit.  But I’m in a good, solid place.  My knee is good, my form feels good, I feel strong, healthy, optimistic.  Over the course of the next couple months I do hope to get in some good weeks, some fast workouts, then maybe a race or two in November if I think I can really do them with some level of success.

So it’s been a great summer, unusual and extraordinary, once-in-a-lifetime, at least only once so far in my lifetime, but this summer, even more than most, is going to be over too soon.  I  want these last few days to slow down.  It’s like, I’m finally ready for summer, but summer is ready to leave.

The Amnesia Training Plan

So for the first four months of the year I’ve been following what I’m calling “The Amnesia Training Plan.”  Essentially, this means I tried to just run and forget about everything that happened over the last 3 ½ years (tearing up my knee, having microfracture surgery, 6 weeks on crutches, 9 months not running, all the fits and starts of trying to get back into some kind of shape, et cetera).  I decided to just feign ignorance about all of it.  What?  Who?  Me?  No, you must you be thinking of someone else.  I’m fine.   Sure, it was out of desperation, but it struck me that maybe the best way to get back to being the runner I’d been before the injury was to just tell myself I was–to fool myself into believing it.

enjoying-memory-loss

To give a little historical perspective, over the years my running schedule has been seasonal and generally followed this pattern:

March-May: increase weekly mileage, start speed work, consider doing races (but always decide to wait)

June-July:  increase mileage and intensity, do some races, bike and swim (I have lots of time and energy in summer)

August:  grind out highest mileage weeks of the year, do my most challenging workouts, continue cross-training

September-October:  alternate high-mileage weeks and race weeks, usually run a marathon

November:  cut back on mileage but enjoy fitness left over from a good year of running, maybe one more race, start planning for the next year

December-February:  cut way back on mileage, do very little, if any, speed work, get a little bit out of shape, play basketball and/or swim and lift weights

Now that is my pre-injury schedule.  And the point I’m trying to make is that being in underwhelming running condition the first week of January, well, that felt pretty familiar to me.  And so this last January, after another subpar workout, I thought to myself, wouldn’t it be great if I could just slog through these next few months and then get back in shape like I used to.  I mean, really get back in shape, like when spring rolls around start running fast again.  I mean, there’s no reason I can’t, right?  My knee is holding up, I’m not too old.  Other people are doing it.  I’ve done it before.  It should just be a matter of putting in the work, right?

I knew it was more complicated than that, but instead of embracing all the ways it could be complicated, I decided to see it in as simple of terms as possible:  just run like you used to and you’ll be the runner you used to be.

Now though I hadn’t been satisfied, I had, at the end of last year, begun to FEEL like my old self at times.  That is, on good days I’d run and FEEL like I was really running, moving smoothly, efficiently, like the good old me.  This was great, and my biggest goal when I couldn’t run was just to experience that feeling again.  However, if I timed myself on one of these glorious days, well, no matter how good or fast I felt, I was still quite a bit behind my old self.  So, in order to become the old me again I really only had two options:  #1) run faster or #2) forget about how fast I was running.  Obviously, my ultimate goal was #1) run faster, but I couldn’t do that at the snap of my fingers.  I realized that I could; however, instantaneously achieve #2) forget about how fast I was running.

 

And so that’s what I did.  Along with lots of swimming, through January (22 miles a week), February (28 miles a week), March (23 miles a week), and April (34 miles a week), when I  ran, I thought about feeling good and didn’t think about pace.  Whereas I’d been very running-meme-1deliberate about my training since my injury and had done a lot of timed workouts, knowing I had to run fast to re-activate the muscles that had gotten weak, this was different.  I just ran.  I had good days and bad days.  I felt heavy.  I felt light.  I felt slow.  I felt fast.  But I didn’t think much about it, because just like in the old days, I told myself I’d worry about times and pace and speed and racing when the snow melts.

Now I thought this might work, but I also knew it was risky, that there was a chance I’d get even slower and be further from my ultimate goal.  Still, I told myself ahead of time that even if that happens I won’t regret it because for a while I could least enjoy my running a little more.  I mean, I appreciate every step I can run, and I’m realistic about my goals, but thinking about how slow I was going would sap a little of the joy out of it. I mean, there’s nothing like than facing your own shortcomings, your limitations, to make you feel shitty about things.  But I do it for the reason all runners do it, because getting in shape to run the best you can makes it all worth it.

That last sentence signals to me that I’m itching to embark on some philosophical musings about competition and the MEANING OF EVERYTHING, but I told myself to stay focused today, so let’s move on the question:  how did the “Amnesia Training Plan” work?  Well, I’ve only done a few timed workouts, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised with them.  For example, I did a track workout with the triathlon team I train with and we were doing 6 800’s.  I had no idea what kind of pace I could maintain and hoped to average just under 3 minutes for each but I ended up averaging 2:52 with the last one in 2:47 (which is still slower than I was pre-injury, but definitely the fastest I’ve done since the injury).  I also ran a three mile solo tempo run on a cool, windy day in 19:40 and this was a comfortable effort and I could have kept going and last May I exhausted myself running 20:30 on the very same course.  So again, I’m not the old me yet, but things are definitely looking up and I’m looking forward to more speed workouts and some 40+ mile weeks.  I still plan to do most of my runs without a watch, but a couple times a week I’ll do my hard workouts and hope to see them improve pretty steadily until my first race of the year, which will be in June and then I’ll really know how far I’ve come and how much further I’ve got to go.

If you’ve missed me, well, I couldn’t write any posts for this blog when I had my self-induced amnesia, because before I got hurt I never thought about writing a running blog.  The old me wouldn’t have had much to say.  The new me does, of course, and I’m looking forward to updating you on all the amazing progress I will make in the next few months (I hope, I hope).

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Ho, Ho, Ho…

IMG_4319My niece Emma is 6 years old. Every year her parents and their friends throw a Christmas party with a special appearance by the one and only Santa Claus. Now, this Santa is actually my brother-in-law John, a jolly enough fellow, former state champion in the javelin, and currently a powerlifter. He’s a big guy, fills the suit well, and has been doing so for years. As the children at this party have gotten older, and some have realized that Santa Claus is actually John. Last year, my sister in law expected Emma would figure it out, that when she sat on her dad’s lap, told him what she wanted for Christmas, and heard his voice, she would surely realize the truth. So as not to ruin it for the younger kids, she told Emma, “If you notice anything strange about Santa, don’t say anything, but come over and whisper it in my ear.” Well, last year passed, with Emma sitting on Santa’s lap, telling him what she wanted for Christmas, and she didn’t notice anything strange.

But as this year’s Christmas party was approaching, they figured surely she’d recognize him. Her mom gave her the same instructions: if you notice anything strange about Santa, come over and whisper it in my ear. The party began, John was there, but then at some point he disappeared. Shortly after, Santa arrived. All the kids brave enough sat on his lap, told him how good they’d been, and what they wanted to find under their trees on Christmas morning. Emma did the same, felt his strong hands as he lifted her up, talked back and forth with him, looked him in the eye. When she was done, she jumped off and ran immediately to her mom. She knows, her mom thought. But when Emma whispered in her mom’s ear, all she said, “I noticed something strange about Santa….his beard is not attached to his face!”

christmas-diy-santa-beard-cotton-ball-kids-craft-robeson-design-holiday-17-e1416955725769That’s it. That’s what she noticed. That and the fact that he was wearing his boots over his shoes. She didn’t see her dad, though she’s a very smart little girl and the evidence was all there for her to see. She still saw Santa. With some peculiarities, sure, but it was him. Now my lovely perfect wife tells this story better than I do, but I thought I’d try as well, because every time we talked and laughed about it, we concluded that it just goes to show that: people believe what they want to believe.

 

Why am I discussing this on my running blog? Well, it’s occurred to me that I might be just like Emma. For my last report, way back in September, I’d just run a 21 minute 5K and was feeling pretty livid about it and was determined to get back in shape once and for all. I was looking forward to a glorious autumn of running harder and getting faster, being myself again. But now it’s January already, and while I did make some improvements, they were not as grand as I imagined. And I didn’t even run another race. I kept waiting to feel good enough, fast enough, but it didn’t happen. I didn’t want to do another race unless I was ready to go at least under 20 minutes for a 5K. “Just get out there and try,” you might be saying. “The best way to get in racing shape is to race.” That’s true, but I guess I am just too fragile in the head to knock myself out and run a heavy, gasping, slow-footed 5K in over 20 minutes again. Because what I’m aiming for now is just a stepping stone. First I need to get under 20 minutes, then under 19, and then under 18 again. Another bad race and I might not be able to keep going. And by “keep going” I mean keep fighting to get myself back in racing shape OR keep deceiving myself to think that I can.

 

You see, at this point, I don’t know which is the case. On the one hand, there’s no reason I can’t get back in shape. It’s just a simple equation of me moving my body over land at a certain speed for a certain distance. Tantalizing simple. However, I know I shouldn’t have faith in this just because I want to be true. And I know that on the other hand is the fact that I’ve been trying to get fast, haven’t been able to, and maybe it’s not possible. And this is backed up with some pretty solid evidence, the rate at which I can and cannot move my body over land for a set distance. This is why I say I might be like Emma, ignoring all the hard evidence and my own good sense of reality to keep living in my fantasy world, the world in which I can actually feel fit and fast, maintain 6 minutes per mile pace, break 5 minutes for a single mile, run a nice ten-miler at under 7 minute pace just because it’s a nice day for a run, all my crazy dreams.

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At some point Emma is going to realize the truth and be none the worse off for it. That’s why we can laugh about it. But if I find I’ve been living in a fantasy world, that I can’t get back to where I want, well, does that mean I’ve been wasting time and energy believing I can? I know it wouldn’t be completely wasted. I enjoy running and enjoy setting goals for myself. But there’s a difference between the experience of a goal-orientated, realistic, satisfied runner and one deluded about his or her possibilities. I think if I knew that I wasn’t going to be fast again, for whatever reason, I could transition to being a gentleman jogger and pay no attention to time or distance or getting faster. I could do it. Live a normal life. But at this point I still want to believe. It’s like I’m saying: who knows for sure whether Santa’s beard is attached to his face? I mean, anything is possible. Well, maybe that’s not true, but lots of things are possible. Lots of things will happen.

anything-is-possible-racquel-morgan

Because it’s been so long since I’ve posted, I won’t bore you with all my training info. Like I said, I have improved since September. I attribute this simply to more running. In the 14 weeks since my last post, I have averaged 33 miles a week (with 2 hours a week of cross-training). For the 14 weeks before that, I averaged 24 miles per week (with 5.5 hours of cross training). My knee seems to be holding up to the extra miles and back-t0-back days of running well enough. I did get another cortisone shot in November, and I’m actually just finishing up a week off of running completely (I think I’ll go ten days then start again) because of an issue with the tendons above my kneecap. This is probably related in some way to my injury, muscle weakness or the brace I have to wear, but it doesn’t seem to be directly related to the joint line, the meniscus or microfracture surgery, so I expect it will be fine after this rest. So, even though most of these would have been easy or moderate days in my past life, here are my best days from the fall:

November 3rd: 6 mile loop at 6:56 pace (struggled to run this at 7:25 in the summer)
November 7th: 2.5 miles on the track at 6:40 pace
November 10th: A 6:00 mile in the middle of a long track workout (fastest mile in the three years since my knee surgery)
November 18th: 4 800’s under 3 minutes, last one in 2:52
December 9th: 6 mile repeats (2 minutes rest) on rolling hills, averaged 6:28
December 11th: 6 800’s under 3 minutes, last one in 2:49
December 17th: 5K tempo run on track in 20:34 (6:35 pace)
December 19th: 6 mile loop at 6:49 pace

On to 2016!

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No More Mr. Nice Guy!

This was supposed to be the post in which I was able to share some good news, to recount a successful race, to say I’m really on my way back. Alas, it is not to be. My knee is fine, so don’t fret about that. But I ran a 5K last weekend in 21 minutes. 21 minutes! That’s 6:45 pace and I had figured, with my race in June at about that pace, and a summer of good, uninterrupted training, that I’d be down closer to about 6:20 pace, at least under 6:30. But no, no, no (that’s one for each mile, in case you are wondering). 6:45’s. And I was working! I wore my Garmin and my heart rate stayed right around 175 the whole time. I mean, that’s about as hard as I can run.

music-alice-cooper-no-more-mr-nice-guy-poster-SC3118I’d rather say nothing about this and wait another 6 weeks or so and then report on a good race, but I’ve got my obligations, right? And instead of focusing too much on that race, I’m going to use this as an opportunity to declare that I’m making a change. The main part of it being that I have adopted a “No More Mr. Nice Guy” attitude. This means I’m not going to use my injury as an excuse any more. I can run 4 days a week, I can run 90 minutes at a time. That is plenty of space in which to make some progress, so let’s do it!

I went back to look at my training log from just before I got injured, 3 years ago, to make sure I wasn’t misremembering and setting my expectations too high. But three years ago I ran a four-mile race in 23:40 (5:57 pace), I ran 2 five-mile races in just over 30 minutes (6:00 pace), I ran a half marathon in 1:24 (6:25 pace), and then the marathon that busted my knee, sent me to surgery, had me on crutches for six weeks and away from running for eight months in 3:01 (6:55 pace).

participation-medalThat kind of running is all I’m asking for and I don’t think that’s greedy. I mean, to be nice to myself just one last time, my relative slowness makes sense. My total mileage over these last few years has been very limited. A year ago I could not have run 6:45 pace to save my life. So I am making progress. But it’s not enough, so I’ll say it again, No More Mr. Nice Guy! No more participation trophies for me. I’ve got to really start kicking my ass: around the track, on the lakefront trail, up and down whatever hill I can find, until it hurts and then beyond, and then a little more.

Of course, it’s not an easy thing, to run beyond one’s current capabilities, but that’s what PS_0065W_HERE_ASSI have to do. A few times in the past I’ve snuck up on good fitness, just running a lot and feeling good, but that is clearly not going to happen this time (21 minutes!). I must me more deliberate. I’ll still do my cross-training, because I can’t run every day, but those will be easy, recovery days. And I’ll need them to be because I’ll be tired from kicking my ass on my runs.

Of course, since I’ll be exhausting myself during workouts, I’ll be pretty spent and probably as mellow and nice as can be to everyone else in the world. I’m just directing my anger to my slow, underperforming body. And I’ll still be nice to my knee, of course. I need to treat what is left of my knee as nice as I possibly can. I’ll avoid standing around for long times, I’ll wear good shoes, I’ll do stretches, and strengthening exercises, I’ll take my anti-inflammatories, I’ll zap it with the Acuknee every night. Whatever the knee wants, the knee gets.

But as for the rest of me, well, let’s get to work.  I mean, I’ve still got a chance, don’t I? This isn’t futile, is it? Well, if I don’t get back in shape, at least I’ll know it’s not because I was being too easy on myself. If I fail now, it’ll be with the knowledge that I sufficiently kicked my ass and pulled out of me whatever is left. If all I’m good for is a 21 minute 5K, well then…..ah, no, what are you saying? It’s not a 21 minute 5K. You can run faster than that. I know you can.

I won’t bore you with any training details, but feel free to bore yourself with my last 7 weeks of (non ass-kicking) workouts…

Aug 3-9
M: pool swim one hour + 15 minutes easy in lake in evening (1.25)
T: 7 miles including 4 half-miles on trail in 3:17 (still warming up), 3:07, 3:01, 2:55, felt okay, lake swim (1.5)
W: easy 20 mile bike ride, tired all day (1.0)
R: 5 mile run, felt okay, but tired all day (0.75)
F: easy run, felt okay (0.5)
S: Olympic Distance Triathlon: 2:34:09: Swim 27:24, bike 1:19:29 (18.7), run 42:55 (6:55) (2.5)
S: easy bike ride  (0.5)

SWIM: 4x/2.25
BIKE: 3x/55 miles/3.0
RUN: 21 miles/3.0
TOTAL TIME: 8.25 hours

August 10-16
M: 4 miles easy run, 30 minute lake swim (1.0)
T: track workout, 2 wu, plyo+strides, 4 1200’s in 4:28, 4:28, 4:26, 4:24, about 2 ½ minutes rest, felt pretty good, 6 miles total, 30 minute lake swim, wavy (1.5)
W: 25 mile ride (22 @ 17.8), 30 minute lake swim (2.0)
R: hills and track workout, 8 hills + 8 200’s in 35-38, 8 miles total, good workout! (1.0)
F: easy 25 mile bike ride (1.5)
S: Madison 2.4 mile swim 1:20, felt good (1.5)
S: 12 miles with 10 miles timed  in 76:20, very hot, body tired all the way, tough run, but good end to a hard week (1.5)

SWIM: 4x/3.0
BIKE: 2x/50 miles/3.0
RUN: 30 miles/4.0
TOTAL TIME: 10 hours
August 17-23
M: weight workout + 30 minute swim (1.0)
T: 5 mile run, body felt heavy and tired, biked 1 hour (1.5)
W: 5 mile run through Ole Miss campus (0.5)
R: 8 miles including strides and plyo, then 6 ½ steady, 8 strides at end (1.0)
F: swim practice, good workout (1.0)
S: 8 miles, 4 easy, then 4 at good, steady pace (1.0)
S: 3 miles easy in the rain (0.5)

SWIM: 2x/1.5
BIKE: 1x/1.0
RUN: 29 miles/3.5
TOTAL TIME: 6.5 hours
August 24-30
M: 4 miles, 2 ez, then 1 ½ hard in 9:43 (6:29 pace), with wind so it should have been faster, form felt good but legs a little heavy (0.5)
T: rest day
W: 4 ½ miles easy, biked 30 (with 25 at 18.3 mph), legs felt good (2.25)
R: 8 ½ miles including 8 hard 200’s on track (untimed), good workout (1.0)
F: 20 mile bike ride, felt okay (1.25)
S: 6 miles, hilly course, good effort (160bpm average) (0.75)
S: hiked 1.5 hours, knee didn’t love it, but was okay

SWIM: 0
BIKE: 2x/50 miles 2.75
RUN: 23 miles/2.75
TOTAL TIME: 5.75 hours

August 31-Sept 6
M: 33 mile bike ride, felt okay, but rode comfortably (2.0)
T: 6 miles (timed 5 in 36:55), very hot and muggy! (0.75)
W: swim 1 hour (1.0)
R: 7 miles including 4 half-miles on trail: 3:03, 3:02, 3:04, 2:58, super muggy, good workout, 30 minute lake swim (1.5)
F: biked 25 miles, steady effort, legs felt pretty good (1.5)
S: 12 mile run (94 minutes), felt okay, longest run in a while (1.5)
S: Biked 25 miles, legs felt pretty good (1.5)

SWIM: 2x/1.5
BIKE: 3x/83 miles/5.0
RUN: 25 miles/3.25
TOTAL TIME: 9.75 hours

Sept 7-13
M: 1 hour swim at Ohio Street Beach (1.0)
T: 6 miles along lake with 6 strides on track, felt good (0.75)
W: 4 miles on track at night, easy pace but legs felt good (0.5)
R: 9 miles, 3 ½ warmup with strides, 6 Kenwood hills, average 3:06, felt pretty good (1.25)
F: Easy bike ride, very windy (1.5)
S: 1 hour ride along lakefront, super windy-some tough stretches (1.0)
S: 11 mile run along lakefront trail, felt good for 6 then legs pretty tired! (1.5)

SWIM: 1x/1.0
BIKE: 2x/40 miles/2.5
RUN: 30 miles/4.0
TOTAL TIME: 7.5 hours
Sept 14-20
M: 1 hour swim, felt good, but times slow (1.0)
T: 4 ½ miles easy, muscles tired (0.5)
W: night run on track, 2 wu, mile of strides/drills, 2 miles in 13:06, felt pretty good (0.5)
R: short swim workout: 25 50’s on 1 minute (0.5)
F: easy 20 mile bike ride (1.0)
S: 5K race in 21:00 (6:45 pace), 6 ½ miles total (0.75)
S: North Shore Century 100 miles, some fast stretches, some slow (5.0)

SWIM:  2x/1.5
BIKE:  1x/100 miles/5.0
RUN:  15 miles/1.75
TOTAL TIME:  7.25 hours

no more mr. nice guykickass

Dear July,

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I just wanted to write a short note before our time together fades too far into memory, as these things tend to do. To cut to the chase: I had a great time with you. I mean, it all went by so quickly and I never stopped to say, “Wow, this is great” or “I didn’t expect it to feel this way.” I guess I didn’t want to break the spell and was always looking forward: to the next run, or bike, or swim. But it’s over now and I feel I should say something, while I can still feel it. That’s the thing about memories—it’s easy to remember what happened, but not the feelings one had. I could say that won’t happen this time, but I’ve lived long enough to know it will. August is here now commanding my full attention, September’s coming soon, and before long it’ll be January, and you’ll be like a stranger to me then: faded, distant, exotic, untouchable.

Though I know it’s usually better to let moments of strong emotion pass without saying anything, there are times I can’t take my own advice and I guess this is one of them. But rest assured, I don’t want anything more from you. All I want to say is, Thanks.  For being there for me.  For being yourself.  For letting me do the same.

I guess that’s what this is really about, and it’s not like I’m that crazy about myself, but it sure was nice to wake up in the morning and look forward to that day’s training:  to be able to run and not think so much about my knee or feeling heavy or slow or having all my good days behind me, all those bad feelings I’ve had as I’ve worked and waited to get it back. And then to lounge and stretch afterwards, to be hungry, plan a second workout (either a bike ride where my legs would spin like they are supposed to spin, or a cold, but invigorating swim in the lake), to crawl into bed feeling accomplished and spent, to wake up and want to do it all again. These are all joyful moments for me: getting in shape, feeling like myself again.

I don’t know if I told you this, but I’ve kept track of the most important things we did together. I hope you don’t find that odd. I just like to write things down. It doesn’t mean I wasn’t completely with you while all these things happened. I was. This just helps me keep things in perspective, helps me appreciate each day.

I  just added up all your totals, July, and without trying to I had exactly 15 runs, 15 rides, and 15 swims.  I couldn’t have planned it better than that, but that’s like what I was saying–everything just happened so naturally for us.  Anyway, I’ll let you look over this list, and hope you’ll look back on our days together fondly as I do. Before I say good-bye, though, there are a few days that deserve special mention, ones that I’m sure will stick with me even as the months ahead pull me further and further from you.

Do you remember the 4th? I know you had a lot going on that day, but do you remember that 80 minute run in Texas right along the gulf? That was the hottest I’d been in a long, long time, especially on the return when that wind was blowing on my back and it felt like there was nothing left for me to breathe.  Do you remember scanning the side yards of the houses along for shore for garden hoses?  When I found one, I doused my head and then took a long cool drink.  It had been a long time since I’d had hosewater in the midst of a long run, but you helped me remember that there’s nothing more refreshing.

We had two other long ones: that nice ten-miler at under 7:30 pace and the muggy hot eleven-miler on those hilly central Wisconsin roads. There were stretches of that run that were even harder than in Texas. Going up some of some of the inclines that day, it was all I could do to keep myself moving forward. I’d look down at my legs and think to myself:  pitiful, pitiful. But then I’d say: no, this is how you get stronger. And that’s what I kept telling myself, especially deeper into the run, each step is making you stronger.  I mean, you know I love to run, and sometimes it’s enough just to be doing it.  But other times I need to tell myself why I’m doing it, what I have to gain from keeping going.

We had some good days at the track as well. Truth be told, I approached each session with trepidation as I knew, well, there’s no hiding from the truth on those days. And while what I discovered with each lap was not the big surprise of speed I’m always hoping for, it was always good enough so that when I was done, I was able to say to myself, that was good, that was progress, and I was glad, to be getting a little faster.

We’ve had some good rides and swims as well, and no, I am not discounting that triathlon on the 26th. In fact, that was one of my favorite days, even if my ride was slow and most of the first mile of the run was uphill (steep to the point we really couldn’t take full advantage of it on the way back down). I’ll remember that race because it was the first time I’d been fully engaged for that long since I hurt my knee, what’s it been, almost 3 years ago. From diving in at the start of the swim to running hard through the finishing chute at the end of the run I felt I was pushing myself right on that edge, and when I was able to let go, that was a real deep satisfaction.

Hopefully I’ll be faster in my next triathlon (August 8th) but again, like I said, I felt like myself that day, and all month really, and though I’m not back yet, I’m getting there, and there’s no doubt I have you to thank for it.  So to end I’ll just say it again: Thank you, July.  Thank you.  You’ll always have a special place in my heart.

As promised, here is the rundown of our time together:

July 1: 20 minute swim, 90 minute bike ride, with middle hour intervals, legs felt good
July 2: 3 mile run in Austin, TX: very hard (but not very fast)
July 3: 45 minute continuous swim in pool in Austin, felt good
July 4: 80 minutes run in Rockport (10 miles), very hot and muggy!
July 5: 15 minute swim in canal in Rockport, arms heavy
July 6: track workout in Chicago, 5 miles total with 1 mile strides/drills then 8 400’s
in 89, 87, 87, 84, 84, 86, 85, 83 (90 seconds rest)(av. 86), body tired, tried to
run with good form, biked 50 miles
July 7: 3000 yard swim workout in pool, felt okay, biked 25 miles with good effort
July 8: easy 4 mile run, felt okay
July 9: morning swim in lake at Klode park, Storm the Bastille 5K in 20:40 at night (good time if the course is accurate), felt okay, 6 miles total
July 10: 25 mile bike ride, steady effort, felt okay
July 11: Big Swell 1.2 mile swim in Devil’s Lake
July 12: easy swim in lake (45 minutes), 10 mile run in 74:00, plus 4 strides
July 13: 2 hour bike ride, moderate effort (32 miles)
July 14: track workout, 3 wu including strides and drills, 4 1200’s in 4:32, 4:31, 4:28,
4:28 (felt pretty good), 4 barefoot strides during cooldown, 7 miles total, then biked 35 miles, windy, moderate effort
July 15: biked to Ohio Street Beach (7), then hard 20 minute swim (wavy)
July 16: evening run, sluggish at start then loosened up and felt better, 5+ miles
July 17: easy bike ride (18 miles)
July 18: 11 mile run, hilly course, heat, humidity, and tired body made for a tough run!
July 19: easy bike ride, 20 miles
July 20: 6 mile route in 44:15 (7:15 pace), muggy but felt pretty good, muggy + swim practice in pool in evening
July 21: 20 miles bike back and forth to Ohio Street Beach, 1 mile swim (lake was wavy) in 36 minutes
July 22: track workout at Wilson: plyometrics + 8 300’s in 64, 60, 60, 60, 59, 58, 59, 57 + 4 hills + 3 miles steady, 7 miles total
July 23: swim in lake at Klode Park, felt pretty good
July 24: 4 miles, sluggish (muggy), easy hour bike ride
July 25: 3 miles easy, felt pretty good
July 26: Ripon Medical Center Triathlon in 2:43:03: swim 28:14, bike 18.0 mph (25+ miles), run 45:39 (7:21 pace on a very slow, hilly course)
July 27: 50 mile bike ride, mostly flat, rode steady/easy
July 28: track workout, 2 wu + plyometrics & strides, 3 1200’s in 4:29, 4:29, 4:28 (felt okay), 6 miles total, 30 + minute cold Klode park swim in evening
July 29: 30 mile bike ride, warm and windy, pretty easy ride, 30+ minute cold lake swim (full wetsuit + gloves + booties), felt good
July 30: hills/track workout: 2 wu + 8 Kletszch hills + 2 miles + 8 100m sprints + mile in 6:23 (felt very good first 800) + 8 barefoot strides, hot day, 7 miles total
July 31: 40 miles of biking, second half pretty hard (very windy)! 30 minute full moon swim in lake (beautiful!)

Slowest race ever (but I’m not complaining)

So I’m going to keep this short and sweet. One reason is because I’ve always had more physical than mental energy in the summer months. For some reason, it’s a struggle to sit down and do any kind of writing. But I know you readers want an update!

First of all, the race. I ran the Steamboat Classic, a 4 miler in Peoria, IL in 26:51. My splits were 6:40, 6:45, 6:55, and 6:25. It’s a fast out-and-back course.  It starts on a slight uphill, and the final quarter mile, which is very near the start line, is all downhill. I estimate it is 10-15 seconds faster than a flat course.  It was, without a doubt, my slowest race ever.

The winner was Moses Kipkosgel, who ran it in 18:19. Of course, I didn’t feel like I moses kipkogelcompeting with him, but it was a strange race because I didn’t really feel like I was competing with anyone. Now I know it’s all relative, that running is about setting personal goals, going as fast as one is able, no matter what the competition. True. But when I race, or at least when I used to, I’d race other people, find a pack, stalk a runner, outkick another. All my best times have come on days I’ve been racing other people.

When the Steamboat started, I assumed it would be more of the same. I knew I’d be slower, but that just meant I’d be competing with slower runners. But instead I just kind of ran it. I put out a good effort, but it wasn’t the blood-and-guts ride-the-line stuff I expected. Maybe it’s just having been away from it for so long, maybe the fear of going too hard and falling apart, but I almost felt like I was observing the race, instead of participating in it.

unplugged I haven’t taken Prozac or any other drug like that, but I know it’s been described by some as being “unplugged.” That’s a pretty accurate description of how I felt. In the beginning I noted other runners but didn’t feel compelled to stick with any that passed me. I did pass a small pack between miles 2 and 3, but then when another runner passed me, I didn’t care. As I made the final turn and saw the Finish banner, the race announcer was shouting that a 10 year old had just crossed the line. A 10 year kid had beaten me! That would have been hard to swallow in the past, but it was all just “c’est la vie.” Whatever.  I was more interested in finding my son to see how much he’d beaten me by (4 minutes, impressive!), to go back and watch my lovely perfect wife and my other son finish their races (she ran pretty well and it was his first run in months–also impressive).

Now I’ve already said that I’m not complaining and I’m not, I’m just reporting that I ran slowly and wasn’t real engaged. If this keeps up, if this is my future of racing, then I might complain. Because I’ll miss the racing. But enough about that. I’ve got plans to get faster and I’ve set a goal to run a much better race at Al’s Run, an 8K in Milwaukee in September. 30 minutes or bust! (well, at I hope I can at least get close to that).

Meanwhile, anyone who has read this blog with any regularity has surely noticed by now that there is something missing: I haven’t mentioned my damaged, injured knee at all yet. That’s because it feels great. I really mean that, it is 90% good, and on the times it’s not, it’s just a minor ache, nothing excruciating or debilitating. So the rest of this post is just going to be about how this has happened. What did I do? Where did the pain go?
Over the last 2 ½ years, I’ve tried everything I could to improve my knee. Here’s what I’m doing right now:

–Still enjoying the benefits of the cortisone shot I got in March (don’t know when or if I’ll need another, but this surely worked for me)
–Wearing my donjoy oa nano knee brace for every run
–Wearing my thick, soft Hoka One One shoes for all of my road runs
–Taking 500mg krill oil capsule daily (anti-inflammatory)
–Taking 4 720 mg capsules of turmeric daily (anti-inflammatory)
–Taking 1 capsule of Glucosamine/Chondroitin daily
–Taking 1 capsule of Hyaluronic Acid with Chondroitin daily
–Using my newest gadget, the Acuknee, at least 30 minutes a day

The only thing new since my last post is the Acuknee, a battery operated device that shoots electrical impulses into my knee and somehow reduces inflammation. I don’t know if that’s the key or not. Maybe it is. The scientific way to determine what is helping the most would be to use only one remedy at a time and see what happens. But there is no way I am going to do that and risk losing the momentum I’ve built up. And I figure none of these have any negative side effects, so why not keep doing it all?

I got the Acuknee because, well, I was scheduled to go see my doctor in May for a acuknee imagefollow-up appointment two months after my cortisone shot. But my knee was feeling pretty good, so I was sure he was just going to say, “Okay, great. Come back if it starts to get worse.” So I figured for about the same price as a doctor’s visit, I could get the Acuknee, and if it didn’t help, well, I was no worse off. I found out about it when an Acuknee ad came up on my facebook page. It’s surely because I was regularly searching for knee pain solutions on the internet. I was skeptical when I bought it (but also desperate, of course) but I really do think it’s helping. As the ad says, “Nothing to lose but the pain.”

this-will-make-u-dizzy

this-will-make-u-dizzy

Did I say I was going to keep this short and sweet? Well, I didn’t lie about that; I was just wrong. But I’ll finish up now. For interested readers, here is my training log the 4 weeks leading up to the race (if you read it, you’ll see I’ve had some issues with dizziness and vertigo the last couple weeks. This has gotten better but I’m still feeling it a bit. Not sure if it is affecting the quality of my workouts, but my doctor said it should pass, hopefully soon.  If not, well, you’ll hear about it.) (Whoa, it just occurred to me that maybe the Acuknee is causing this.  I don’t think so, I’ve had it longer than I’ve had the dizzinness, but if that’s the case, hmm, will I take some dizziness for a good knee?).

I’ll post more over the summer (I’ve got 3 open-water races and 2 triathlons planned, but no running races until September). Hopefully, this will be 3 months of good training that will transform me from disinterestedly racing at 6:40 pace to throwing the hammer down at 6:00 or below, but we’ll see…..

May 25-31
M: 4 miles on track, 2 mile wu, 8 200’s in 38/39, mile in 6:36, felt okay (0.5)
T: biked 90 minutes, legs felt pretty good, 17 mph, windy (1.5)
W: 30 minute run pretty good effort (4 miles), biked 75 minutes in evening (1.75)
R: one hour swim, good workout! (1.0)
F: one hour run on bike path, felt good but only ran about 7:30 pace (8 miles) (1.0)
S: 60 minute ride on trainer then 30 minutes Nordictrack (1.5)
S: 6 mile loop in 43:25 (7:07 pace), pretty strong wind on way home, 160 HR average, good effort!

SWIM: 1x/1.0
BIKE: 3x/3.75
WEIGHTS: 0
CARDIO: 5x/3.25
RUN: 22 miles
TOTAL TIME: 8.0 hours

June 1-7
M: morning workout at school: 20 minutes elliptical then 40 minutes core/weights, Biked 90 minutes in evening, 16.0 mph, felt okay (2.5)
T: one hour swim, decent workout (1.0)
W: mile repeats on bike trail (mostly on the dirt) 6:40, 6:43, 6:30, 6:31, tough workout, maintained good form (7 miles total), biked 90 minute, legs felt pretty good (2.5)
R: swim one hour, felt okay (1.0)
F: 7 miles (including strides and 4 hills, felt tired all day, but decent workout (1.0)
S: early morning bike ride, all intervals, good workout (1.0)
S: 10 miles on Lakefront Trail in 74:40 (37/37:40), tough run, legs tired, windy and warm (1.25)
SWIM: 2x/2.0
BIKE: 3x/4.0
WEIGHTS: 1x/0.75
CARDIO: 4x/3.5
RUN: 24 miles
TOTAL TIME: 10.25 hours

June 8-14
M: 1 hour swim, 3 500’s (pretty slow), 10 50’s at end, hard workout! (1.0)
T: 6 miles on track, 2 wu, mile of strides and drills, 4 600’s in 2:17, 2:14, 2;13, 2:10, 4 400’s in 83, 80, 81, 81, 4 200’s in 38, 36, 35, 34. Body was tired from the start so this was tough (1.0)
W: Biked 30 miles north, steady effort @ 18.1 mph, good ride (1.75)
R: 30 minutes Nordictrack, woke up dizzy, went to doctor, who says it’s an ear issue (0.5)
F: 10 miles on bike trail, felt good, moderate pace, (1.25)
S: day off
S: 8 miles, 3 warmup, 5 Kenwood Hills (av 3;16), 8 strides, felt a little dizzy (hard to focus vision) the first two miles but it went away, good workout (1.0)
SWIM: 1x/1.0
BIKE: 1x/1.75
WEIGHTS: 0
CARDIO: 4x/5.0
RUN: 24 miles
TOTAL TIME: 7.75 hours

June 15-21
M: 15 minutes recumbent +15 minutes elliptical, 30 minutes core workout (1.0)
T: 5 miles including 10 200’s in 38+ with 30 second rest, then 800 in 2:58, 400 in 80, good workout (woke up with a sore throat) (0.75)
W: biked 3 hours, slow pace but good endurance ride, feeling a little sick (3.0)
R: day off—sick
F: 3 miles easy, felt very heavy, hard to breathe (0.5)
S: Steamboat Classic 26:51 (6:42 average), breathing good, just need more leg speed/strength, 8 ½ miles total (1.0)
S: 6 ½ miles, hot, humid, and hilly, knee feels good (even on 3rd day in a row) (1.0)
SWIM: 0
BIKE: 1x/3.0
WEIGHTS: 1x/0.5
CARDIO: 4x/3.25
RUN: 23 miles
TOTAL TIME: 6.75 hours

Like a Rolling Stone…..

stones 60'sThere’s no denying the greatness of the Rolling Stones, but honestly, I rarely get much enjoyment from their songs anymore. It’s like I’ve heard them all so many times, I’ve got to be in the right mood to really appreciate one. They are touring again this summer and lots of people are excited about the opportunity to see them. I’ll pass on that, but I am excited about their tour for another reason–the very fact that they are still around. I mean, these guys are old, right? I saw them once, in 1989, and my friend and I were thinking, we’ve got to see them before it’s too late. That was over 25 years ago! How have they kept it up? Well, rheumatologists and geriatricians have been wondering the same thing. One thing they’ve learned is that they all do it differently. There’s no one way, though being passionate about and engaged with something seems to be key. But when it comes to the caretaking of the body, Mick Jagger is doing it best. They say he covers about 12 miles on stage during every stadium show and to be in shape for this his fitness routine consists of 6a00d8341bfb1653ef01a3fcead192970brunning (8-milers and sprints), swimming, kickboxing, yoga, and pilates; pretty impressive for a 70 year old. But why am I writing about the Rolling Stones? Well, could there be better role models for an injured, middle-aged runner trying to keep himself rolling, to nourish him in his times of doubt?

My training has been going well. Last weekend, I swam in the Illinois State Masters swim meet. I swam okay, but not as fast as I’d hoped. Last year’s state meet was my first ever and I’ve been swimming regularly since then so I expected my times would be faster. But while my stroke has improved, which allowed me to do some longer races, I swam about the same pace for the shorter events. The takeaway: just swimming won’t make you a faster swimmer. To do that, you need to do faster workouts. Stating that, it seems so obvious, but I think I just fell into a workout routine and stuck with it, happy to be training consistently. But to improve, to race, that’s another matter. Specificity in training is the key to reaching goals, to getting better. No doubt about it. Lesson learned (again).  I could go on and on telling you how fun the swim meet was how and extraordinary my team is, but I’m going to save that for another time. Though I will tell you we won the meet this year (I say “we” even though I hardly scored any points) and my lovely perfect wife (among many others) swam some amazing races, really impressive!

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So my swimming hasn’t improved as much as I’d like, but what about my running?  What about my knee? Well, my brace allowed me to maintain a consistent 3-4 days a week schedule since the fall, but I still had some pain. A month ago, I went back to my doctor to discuss other treatment options. I’d been doing research on two kind of injections:  hyaluronic acid and platelet-rich plasma. He said the hyaluronic acid works for some people, but the treatment is expensive. The plasma is still only in the experimental stages. When I made the appointment, I was hoping he’d do something that day, but I also wanted him to simply keep me in mind, view me as a long term project, so that when a new treatment comes out, he’ll think of me first, and get me back on the path of running with no cortisone-injection-imgpain at all. In the meantime, he suggested I try a shot of cortisone, a strong anti-inflammatory. Do it! I said. My previous doc had said it wasn’t a good idea, that one of the side effects of this could be cartilage damage, but my new guy said even with 2 or 3 doses a year, he didn’t think it would have much effect. My old doc, even though I’ve no reason to believe he didn’t do a good job on the surgery, always just told me to live with the pain. Just don’t run and live with the pain.  The very words I didn’t want to hear.  I hold no ill will, no sense in that, but I sure wish I would’ve found my new doc sooner.

The response to the cortisone has pretty been good. It took some time to take effect, and I’ve also upped my daily dosage of tumeric (being a great anti-inflammatory is one of its many reported benefits) to 4 capsules a day, but sometimes I can walk up steps now with 558270_467414966639298_122021088_n-1no pain, and even when that hurts, the pain is duller than before, not as sharp or hot. It feels now more like just weakness in the knee, not my bones scraping against each other. So while it is not perfect, it is improvement, and I’ve been getting in better shape too. All along the long road back, I’ve been able to run some decent times for short repetitions on the track. My problem has been my pace on longer runs. In November, I struggled a few times to maintain 8 minutes a mile pace. That’s slow for me, and those were really hard runs! But I’ve done some workouts in the last few weeks that give me reason to be optimistic. A few weeks ago, I ran 3 miles in 21:03.  I had to work pretty hard the second half of the out-and-back course, especially the last half mile, trying to break 21 minutes, but into the wind I just missed. Still, that’s progress.

Shortly after that, I ran my good, old 6 mile route from home and averaged 7:15 per mile. This took a good effort as well, but I felt in control and held up well towards the end. On the one hand, as I was turning the corner for the home stretch a few blocks from my house and I could see I was going to complete the run in about 44 minutes (it’s actually a 6.1 mile route) I was pretty happy. Woohoo! Progress! But another part of me was looking at my watch and thinking, not that long ago, I would be done with this run already. Not only would I have been done already, I would have felt lots better along the way. I looked up at the stretch of road in front of me and knew my old self, before my injury, would have already turned the corner in the distance and be back in the driveway catching his breath.

Obviously, I want to regain that fitness, and that feeling I used to have when running. But, I’ve realized I’m satisfied where I am. It’s like when the Stones sang:a-roll

You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometimes you just might find
You get what you need

I used to think they were singing about settling for less, being satisfied with what one has, while knowing it could be better. But what I’ve learned is that what we want is far less important than what we need. Wants are temporary, flimsy, fleeting, while needs are essential, coming from the core, from our hearts.  Needs are far more important, and if our needs are met, anything is possible.  So sure, while I still have wants–to run more, and faster, and feel better doing these things—I’m satisfied. I’m getting what I need.

All right, for hardcore readers only, my last seven weeks of training:

Feb 22-March 1
M: 15 minutes rowing then 30 minute core workout, 45 minutes swim workout (1.5)
T: easy 30 minute spin then 25 box jumps, tri club swim workout (1.5)
W: 4 miles indoor including 2 ½ warmup then 6 400’s (av 84) (felt okay) (0.75)
R: sick!
F: still sick but ran 4 miles, good effort, felt okay, new shoes (Hoka One One) (0.5)
S: still sick but swam 1650 time trial in 27:17 (tough after 500, and pretty slow!)
S: sick!

SWIM: 3x/2.25
BIKE: 1x/0.5
WEIGHTS: 1x/0.5
CARDIO: 3x/1.5
RUN: 8 miles
TOTAL TIME: 4.75 hours

March 2-8
M: 3 mile run, still feeling sick but ran at good effort (untimed), knee didn’t hurt on run, and just a little bit afterwards (0.5)
T: 30 minute core workout, swim practice with Tri team (some fast 25’s) (1.5)
W: 30 minute spin on trainer, 4 miles indoor including 1 wu in 7:06, 8 300’s in 57 average, 1 mile in 7:20, good workout, no knee pain during run (1.25)
R: 45 minute pool workout including 25 minutes drills and 20 minutes aqua jog, outside of knee a little achy at night (0.75)
F: 30 minute swim, short wu, 50’s in 38-40 with equal rest, 500 hard (7:50), felt okay, 15 minutes recumbent/15 minutes core (1.0)
S: 5 miles, good effort (HR av 158), tried to run with easy arms (0.75), knee fine during run but hurt afterwards (on the outside), maybe brace is too tight and that is causing the pain?
S: swim meet: 50 in 32, 200 in 2:43, 100 in 1:13, pretty slow times, need to do faster workouts, bike ride (outdoors) 45 minutes (1.5)

SWIM: 4x/3.0
BIKE: 3x/1.5
WEIGHTS: 2x/0.75
CARDIO: 3x/2.0
RUN: 12 miles
TOTAL TIME: 7.25 hours

March 9-15
M: 4 mile run, felt okay once I got going, knee fine (0.5)
T: Tri club swim workout, hard stretch of 5 100’s, 5 75’s, 5 50’s, 5 25’s, good workout (1.0)
W: continuous swim of 200 swim, 25 kick (8 times for 1800 yards) (almost 37 minutes), easy 30 minutes spin on trainer, also plyo and drills with track team (1.0)
R: 6 mile route in 45:20 (7:25), good effort, cool and windy, outside of knee achy afterwards, HR av 158 (0.75)
F: 1 hour swim, long course, 20 min warmup, then 20 min drills and kicking, then alternated fast 50’s with aqua jogging (1.0)
S: 90 minute bike ride on lakefront trail (1.5)
S: Swim Meet: 100 in 1:11, 200 in 2:40, a little faster than last week (1.0)

SWIM: 3x/3.0
BIKE: 1x/1.5
WEIGHTS: 0
CARDIO: 2x/1.25
RUN: 11 miles
TOTAL TIME: 6.75 hours

March 16-22
M: 2 mile warmup then 3 mile tempo in 21:03, second half into wind and pretty tough! HR av 160, core workout at home, easy 45 minute bike ride (1.75)
T: 45 minute spin class at noon, Tri club swim workout 25 100’s on 1:45, maintained good rhythm, felt pretty good (1.75)
W: Met with Dr. J—got cortisone shot, 45 minute Nordictrak (0.75)
R: 4500 yard swim including 5 200’s av 3:04, some fast 50’s, lots of drills and kicking (1.75)
F: 6 mile route in 44:18 (7:15 pace), HR av 158, worked hard, core workout (1.25)
S: no workout—track meet all day
S: long walk, then 2 miles of strides/drills on soccer field, 20 box jumps on wall (0.5), feeling some knee pain still at certain angles (not when running), but not as bad as before cortisone

SWIM: 2x/2.75
BIKE: 2x/1.5
WEIGHTS: 2x/0.75
CARDIO: 4x/2.75
RUN: 13 miles
TOTAL TIME: 7.75 hours

March 23-29
M: 15 minutes recumbent then 30 minute core workout, swim workout including 10 100’s on 2 min in 1:24/1:25, last one in 1:23, felt good (1.25)
T: track workout in the morning, mile of strides to warm up, then descending ladder: 6:27, 4:43, 2:57, 81, 38, 35, good workout, no knee pain (0.75)
W: 30 minutes on recumbent then 30 minutes core workout, 30 minute swim (all drills), knee hurt a little (1.5)
R: 30 minute run, felt heavy and slow! (but knee good) (0.5)
F: swim workout, wu, 5 200’s in 3:00, 3:04, 3:03, 3:01, 2:57, (av 3:01) also 10 50’s + drills (1.0)
S: 6 mile run along lakefront in Chicago, soft path, felt pretty good, core workout after (1.0)
S: Swim meet, 1650 in 25:36 (much faster than time trial/1:33 average per 100), felt strong (0.75)

SWIM: 4x/2.75
BIKE: 2x/0.75
WEIGHTS: 3x/1.25
CARDIO: 3x/2.0
RUN: 14 miles
TOTAL TIME: 6.75 hours

March 30-April 5
M: 4 miles on track, felt sluggish (0.5)
T: 30 minutes recumbent bike, 30 minutes swim, easy + drills + kicking (1.0)
W: swim workout, tried to do some fast stuff, 5 75’s in 1:01 av, 10 25’s in 20, a couple 250’s at 1650 pace, 5 100’s in 1:26/1:27, foot and leg started to cramp (1.0)
R: 5 miles total including 4 doctor’s park and 4 beach drive hills (0.75)
F: 30 minute core/weight workout (0.5)
S: 6 mile run including 8 easy strides (0.75)
S: 30 minute on recumbent bike (0.5)

SWIM: 2x/1.5
BIKE: 2x/1.0
WEIGHTS: 1x/0.5
CARDIO: 3x/2.0
RUN: 15 miles
TOTAL TIME: 5.0 hours

April 6-12
M: 3 mile run then strides and plyometrics, 30 minute swim including 500 in 7:50, drills, 10 50’s in control (44-45) (1.0)
T: day off, arms tired, elbow sore, tapering for swim meet (0)
W: track workout, 1 warmup (all strides), 6 800’s in 3:14, 3:11, 3:09, 3:07, 3:04, 3:00, tried to run with moderate effort, concentrating on good form, felt smooth but had to work on the last one, easy swim 15 minutes (1.0)
R: day off to rest up for State Swim meet
F: swim meet, 1650 in 25:44, felt strong (0.75)
S: swim meet, 100 in 1:10, 500 in 7:20, felt good on both, could’ve gone a little harder in the 500 (1.0)
S: swim meet, 200 in 2:39, felt slow (arms tired) (0.75)

SWIM: 5x/3.25
BIKE: 0
WEIGHTS: 0
CARDIO: 2x/1.25
RUN: 8 miles
TOTAL TIME: 4.5 hours