The road back goes through winter….

A brilliant idea for a blog post hit me as I was in the midst of an hour long run in Colorado, at 8,000 feet altitude, in a snowy valley beside the Continental Divide, where my lovely perfect wife were for a wedding in January. But I haven’t been able to write it yet. I haven’t even sat down and tried. It’s still forming in my head. Over a month later, it still seems like a good idea, so rest assured it’s going to be great and you’ll love it and want to share it with all your friends. In the meantime, all I’ve got for you is six weeks of training to recount so if you’re not interested in that you can stop reading now and check back next time when I promise I’ll have something more interesting for you.

For the rest of you, well, sitting here right now with a nasty head cold (no workout yesterday, boo!), the temperature outside in the single digits, and some knee pain, it feels like things are not going well. But when I look back on the last six weeks, I can see I’m making progress. I’ve had some good workouts. If you remember, my average weekly mileage for the 4 weeks before I last posted was 16, which I also got to for our week in Colorado, and which was higher than any single week since my knee surgery over two years ago.

In the next four weeks I bumped that up to average 20 miles per week. Of course, this is not much when compared to what a healthy runner would do, but it’s progress for me And besides the miles, I had some good workouts at the track, some fast 300’s and 200’s, which made me feel like maybe my goal of getting close to 5 minutes for a mile is not just a dream (I’m still a long, long ways off though).

More recently; however, I’ve had a little scare with my knee, the left knee, of course, the one I’ve been pleading with for over two years now. The bad news: it’s been hurting a bit. First, after a run and then during my next run and then again after the next. Then why run? you might be asking. No, if you’ve made it this far into reading this you know that a runner will run unless things get really bad, unless there is no other choice. Runners are optimistic, or foolish, or both.

Anyway, there’s definitely some knee pain, which makes me nervous. I’m always a little bit nervous about it, thinking any little tweak of pain is a sign I’m heading back to square one. But there’s good news too: my recent pain is on the outside of the knee, not the inside, where I’ve had all my problems. Wait, that’s good news? The fact that now both the inside and the outside of the knee hurt? Ha, that just struck me. Maybe this is all bad news, really bad news. Yikes! Maybe the whole knee will be shot soon. Maybe. But for the time being, my foolish, optimistic self is saying, no, this is just a minor, regular running ache, the sort any kind of runner might get from an increase in mileage, and running on harder surfaces.

The day it hurt when I was running, I went back and checked and saw that though my weekly mileage (which I track Monday-Sunday) had peaked at 22, I actually ran 29 miles in a week (Sunday-Saturday), most of that on the roads, and at a slow pace, which means a lot of pounding, and though I haven’t run a lot of miles, I’ve been wearing the same shoes since July, so there are plenty of reasons my knee might be a little achy, it’s perfectly plausible to think this is just a minor setback, just one of the things us runners must navigate through on the way to accomplishing our goals.

So, that’s my mindset and going forward, I’m going to cut back on my miles, do my workouts at a faster pace (easier on the knees), get some new shoes, and probably adjust my brace just a little bit, to ease off on the tension that takes the pressure off the inside of the joint. That’s what I’m looking forward to in March. And hopefully some better weather. When the snow melts (will it ever?) I can run on the track, which will be much easier on my joints.

And yes, I promise I will get to work on that brilliant idea I had. I fear I may have oversold it to you, but too late now. And you’ll probably forget all about it anyway, busy as you are with your own lives, your own training, which is the way it ought to be. But thanks for reading. Here are the weekly logs if you’re really interested:

Jan 12-18
M: spin class at Y, rode pretty easily, HR 133 av (1.25)
T: track workout with Tony and Bill, 1200 in 4:30, 800 in 2:53, 4 300’s in 55, 57, 53, 53, longer stuff tough, felt good on the 300’s, 5 miles total, HR max 185, 30 minute swim (1.25)
W: core workout in lodge suite in CO including some jumps (0.5)
R: cc ski, okay workout (0.75)
F: 60 minute run (7 miles) at 8500 feet altitude! Felt good except for the uphills (1.0)
S: hiked Red Rocks CO (0.5)
S: 4 mile run through neighborhood in dark, felt pretty good (0.5)
SWIM: 1x/0.5
BIKE: 1x/1.25
WEIGHTS: 1x/0.5
CARDIO: 4x/3.5
(RUN: 16 miles)
TOTAL TIME: 5.75 hours

Jan 19-25
M: 30 minute ride on trainer, 45 minute swim workout, wu 500 in 7:51, lots of drills, then 10 50’s in 39-42 (1.25)
T: track workout with Tony and Bill, 2 wu, 8 400’s in 81, 80, 79, 78, 77, 77, 76, 74 (av. 78) (200 walk), didn’t feel great, but fast workout; Tri Club swim workout including 9 100’s on 1:45, 4 200’s on 3:30, felt pretty good (1.75)
W: one hour on trainer, HR av 123, 45 minute swim (all form and drills) (1.75)
R: weight workout at CUW (1.0)
F: 8 mile run with 6 Beach Drive Hills, felt a little better than last time, averaged 7:30 the last 3 miles (with a little tailwind), could feel left leg getting tired (1.0)
S: good weight workout, 15 minutes rowing to warm up (1.25)
S: 6 mile run on roads, concentrated on good, relaxed form, felt okay, but pretty slow (0.75)
SWIM: 3x/2.5
BIKE: 2x/1.5
WEIGHTS: 2x/2.0
CARDIO: 4x/2.75
(RUN: 18 miles)
TOTAL TIME: 8.75 hours

Jan 26-Feb 1
M: swim 1 hour—all form and drills (1.0)
T: 5 miles, 1 wu with drills and strides in fieldhouse, then 4 on treadmill, Tri Club swim workout (1.75)
W: 30 minute spin in morning, 90 minute swim team workout (2.0)
R: 2 30 minute rides on trainer (am & pm) (1.0)
F: 6 miles at Pettit, 2 wu with strides, 16 laps of 200 hard, 200 jog, times on 200’s were slow! (av. 40), legs didn’t feel that bad, so surprisingly slow, maybe just tired? (0.75)
S: run/walk in snow (approximately 2 miles running), knee felt okay on smooth ground, not on bumpy (0.5)
S: Treadmill run 6 miles, felt pretty good (0.75)
SWIM: 3x/2.5
BIKE: 3x/1.5
WEIGHTS: 0
CARDIO: 4x/2.75
(RUN: 19 miles)
TOTAL TIME: 8.75 hours

Feb 2-8
M: rest day
T: 5 miles, 1 wu in fieldhouse, mostly drills, 4 miles on treadmill, first in 8:00, then increased speed, last 3 miles in 21:45, easy 30 minute spin on trainer (1.25)
W: 1 hour weight/core workout then 15 minutes shootaround w/10 jumps to backboard, swim 45 minutes, 500 in 7:43 to start then drills (1.75)
R: 5 mile run, 1 wu in fieldhouse, 4 on treadmill in 29:45 (15:15/14:30), felt good, 35 minute swim workout (drills) (1.25)
F: 4 miles (1 wu, 3 on treadmill, felt okay), slower than yesterday but harder (different treadmill or just tired?), 45 minute swim, mostly drills then 10 50’s all under 45 (1.25)
S: 1 hour weight/core workout, biked 45 minutes on trainer with lots of single-leg riding (1.75)
S: 8 miles on roads, felt pretty good for 4 then legs got pretty tired, but worked them hard on Saturday (1.0)
SWIM: 3x/2.0
BIKE: 2x/1.25
WEIGHTS: 2x/2.0
CARDIO: 4x/3.0
(RUN: 22 miles)
TOTAL TIME: 8.25 hours

Feb 9-15
M: Swim workout: 20 min wu, 5 200’s in 3:08 av, felt pretty good, then 5 100’s in 1:30, some kicking at end (need to do more kicking!) (1.0)
T: 8 miles on roads, felt pretty good, 8 fast strides at end (1.0)
W: 30 minute weight/core workout, then 1 hour tough! swim practice (1.5)
R: 6 miles, ½ mile wu in gym then 5 ½ on treadmill at about 7:30 pace, legs didn’t feel great, knee achy (but not sore) (0.75)
F: 75 minute swim, good workout, lots of kicking (1.25)
S: 7 mile run to Navy Pier (with wind, very cold day!), felt okay but knee achy afterwards at night (on outside of knee, not inside) (1.0)
S: core workout at home (1.0)
SWIM: 3x/3.25
BIKE: 0
WEIGHTS: 2x/1.5
CARDIO: 3x/2.75
(RUN: 21 miles)
TOTAL TIME: 7.5 hours

Feb 16-22
M: 3 miles, ½ drills in fieldhouse, 2 ½ on treadmill, good energy but knee started to hurt a bit, on outside of knee, maybe too many miles? (29 in a week from Sun-Sat), weights 30 minutes (1.0)
T: spin 30 minutes on trainer, 1 hr. swim workout in small pool with kicking (1.5)
W: 30 minute swim, 500 in 7:54, then 5 200’s in 3:06, 3:06, 3:07, 3:06, 2:59, felt good, 2 miles running at Pettit 11 300’s (untimed) with 100 walk, knee okay (1.0)
R: spin 30 minutes on trainer, swim workout wu then 16 75’s hard, w/ 25 easy, arms tired from Wednesday (1.25)
F: 3 ½ mile run, 1 strides/drills in fieldhouse, 2 1/2 on treadmill, felt good, up to 6:40 pace for the very end, knee ok (but achy afterwards) (0.5)
S: Nordictrak 1 hour, felt pretty good, HR av 128 (1.0)
S: Spin on trainer, mixed it up with some intervals, one-legged riding, standing up, HR av 128 (1.0)
SWIM: 3x/2.25
BIKE: 3x/2.0
WEIGHTS: 1x/0.5
CARDIO: 3x/2.0
(RUN: 8 ½ miles)
TOTAL TIME: 6.75 hours

Marching through winter

mapTraining through the Midwestern winter has never been easy, but I know it is essential if I want to be in decent shape when the weather improves. I’m not sure if this winter has been easier or tougher than in the past. In some ways, it’s easier because I’ve only been running three days a week and cross-training the rest. I’ve also been able to do a variety of workouts, indoor and outdoor, speed and distance, so I’m staying mentally fresh. But in other ways it’s tougher because I’m still working my way back into shape and I really don’t have any easy days. On my long runs (of course, they are not really long runs, just 45-60 minutes, but right now for me that is a very long time to keep moving) my pace varies from 7:30 per mile to 8:00 or even a little slower. Common sense would say that slower days are the easy days, but actually the opposite is the case: on those days (like last Sunday, when I tony the fridgefelt like I was carrying an extra 60 pounds) I had to work so hard just to keep moving. My legs felt so heavy, I was breathing so hard, and just felt like I was punching my way forward for the whole 6 miles. However, I am not allowing myself to get frustrated, telling myself to be patient, that I am improving, and that some days I just won’t feel very good. And of course the nice thing about running is, no matter how badly it goes, it’s almost impossible to feel badly about it afterwards. I mean, in my head I might be a little down, thinking: that was some awfully slow running today, painful, and maybe a sign that I won’t be able to get back in shape. But psychologically, emotionally, I feel relaxed, accomplished, optimistic. It’s so easy to forget about how bad it felt and how hard it was once it’s over.

I didn’t really plan this, but I’ve run exactly 16 miles 4 weeks in a row. I haven’t made any sort of deal with myself, but I think I just don’t want to go back down in mileage. I guess I want to go up, but I haven’t been able to do that yet either. I was a little under the weather over the holidays and I’m still being cautious with my knee. I know 16 miles a week is not going to get me far, but it’s still more than I’ve done for the last two years. And I’ve had some good workouts. I ran a 6 miler at right around 7:30 pace and felt okay doing it. I’ve penguin in snowhad a good indoor track workout with my running buddies Tony and Bill and ran some good splits (details below). My knee has not been hurting and I know if I can just keep this up for another 6 weeks it will be March and then I can, well, I was going to say, think about racing, but maybe better to just say, move on to the next phase of my comeback. Sure, sitting here writing this, I feel pretty good, like I could get up and crank out a decent 5K, but I know that my last run I had to knock myself out to just keep moving, slowly, so it will surely be a while, and only if all goes well in the meantime, before my body is ready for racing again. I really shouldn’t even be thinking about that yet. I should just be thinking about…marching on, and so that is what I’ll do.

Dec 22-28
M: swim 1 hour, good workout (1.0)
T: track workout outdoor, 1 mile warmup, strides and drills, 8 300’s in 63, 62, 60, 61, 60, 59, 60, 58, felt okay, 6 laps steady afterwards (5 miles total) then 30 minutes weight/core workout (1.5)beach drive
W: bike 30 minutes, easy spin (0.5)
R: 5 miles, didn’t feel smooth, but knee okay (0.5)
F: swim 30 minutes steady effort, felt okay (0.5)
S: sick
S: 6 miles including 4 Beach Drive Hills (very tough, moving pretty slowly by the top) (0.75)

SWIM: 2x/1.5
BIKE: 1x/0.5
WEIGHTS: 1x/0.5
CARDIO: 3x/2.0
RUN: 16 miles
TOTAL TIME: 4.25 hours

Dec 29-Jan 4
M: Swim 45 minutes, good workout (0.75)
T: Swim 1 hour, good workout (1.0)
W: 6 miles on bike trail in 45 minutes, good effort, core work after (1.0)rocky_4_1985_685x385
R: Swim 1 hour, focused on drills (left arm, rotation, kick) (1.0)
F: 1 hour run (7.5 miles), tough effort, HR 164 average, short swim (1.5)
S: weight/core workout at home (1.0)
S: walk in nature center, then 40 strides through snow on soccer field (2.5 miles), good workout (0.5)

SWIM: 4x/3.25
BIKE: 0
WEIGHTS: 2x/1.25
CARDIO: 3x/2.25
RUN: 16 miles
TOTAL TIME: 6.75 hours

Jan 5-11
M: Weight/core workout at school, warmup with 15 minutes rowing/recumbent, swim 30 minutes, upper quads sore from snow strides (1.5)
T: Track workout (indoor), warmup with strides, 800: 2:49, 400: 77, 4 200’s: 33, full lap walk for recovery, felt good, 4 miles total, Tri Team swim practice (1.75)kicking
W: easy ride on trainer, 90 minute swim practice (2.0)
R: weights/core at school,with 15 minutes rowing (1.0)
F: 6 mile continuous run at Pettit Center, felt pretty good, HR 162 av, clocked some laps at 7:20/7:25 pace (0.75)
S: Swim practice, lots of kicking, good workout (1.0)
S: 6 mile run, legs heavy! HR 160 av, very tough run (0.75)

SWIM: 4x/4.0
BIKE: 2x/0.75
WEIGHTS: 2x/1.5
CARDIO: 3x/2.75
RUN: 16 miles
TOTAL TIME: 9 hours

Good work! (but lots more to do)

I really couldn’t have asked for a much better week of training. I’d had some good workouts the few weeks before this, but had not strung things together with any sort of consistency. First I was busy with work, and then not feeling so great. But this week I was back to full health, had time every day, and no excuses (even the weather cooperated, as much as it can in December). Of course, it’s one thing to lay out a training plan for the week, but running turtlesomething else to pull it off. Even if circumstances allow, sometimes the body doesn’t want to go. With me, my knee has been the thing holding me back, but sometimes it’s just fatigue, that is, I just get too tired to follow through on my plan. It’s not laziness (I tell myself), just being tired to the point where it’s better to scale back, when it seems the result will be to weaken, not strengthen myself. Luckily, that was not the case this week. Not only did I run 16 miles, my highest total in over 2 years, I did weight/core workouts 3 times (even putting 50 pounds on the barbell for my squats), got in 3 swims, did a little biking, and maintained a good pace on my 2 six-mile runs. I took it out a little too fast on Tuesday and walked a minute at halfway because I felt like I was starting to limp, which, of course, could lead to all sorts of problems. When I run, I’m focusing on maintaining good form, but also staying relaxed. I haven’t quite gotten there yet, but it’s feeling better. And after that short walk, I held together well. I felt good on my Sunday run too, but didn’t time that one because I knew the week would be a grand success if I just completed it (especially after being out late the night before for my sister-in-law’s cocktail-themed birthday party), and I didn’t want to ruin it by getting done and wishing I would have gone faster. A 16 mile week is not anything to Turtle-on-treadmill-819x1024get too excited about, but I wanted to revel in the nonetheless, stretch out on the floor, watch the Packer game, and feel accomplished, which I did.  And my knee? No problems this week. My Physical Therapist watched me run on the treadmill again and said my form was much improved. Much improved. So, there you have it. I almost felt like a runner again last week. And if I can keep this up, well, I suppose it’s better take it one week at a time.….

Weekly totals for Dec 15-21
M: good weight workout at gym, 30 minute swim workout, mostly drills, some fast 50’s at end (1.5)
T: 6 mile route in 46:45 (7:47average), which included a one minute walk at halfway, felt good through 2 ½, hard after that but knee okay. Tri Club swim workout, felt good (1.75)
W: Weight/core workout 1 hour (1.0)
R: 45 minutes on recumbent bike then 30 minute swim—all drills and kicking (1.25)
F: 4 miles including ½ mile at PT, 1 ½ wu on track including strides/drills, 4 800’s in 3:11, 3:08, 3:07, 3:02 (2 minutes recovery) concentrated on good form, felt pretty good, weight/core workout 30 minutes (1.25)
S: swim 1 hour, mostly drills, good workout! (1.0)
S: 6 mile route, untimed, felt pretty smooth (0.75)

SWIM: 3x/2.5
BIKE: 1x/0.75
WEIGHTS: 3x/2.5
CARDIO: 4x/3.0
RUN: 16 miles
TOTAL TIME: 8.5 hours

Rebuilding the Machine

Well, Frank—here finally is that next blog post you’ve been asking about. I know it’s been a while, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve written my “next” blog post– wrote it, revised it, reviewed it, and then, at the last minute, realized whatever I’d said wasn’t worth sharing after all. Why? you might be asking. What was wrong with them? Well, I suppose this goes to the whole nature of why people write, and what they share, and what people want to read, but in the end what I’d written just seemed so self-indulgent and depressing, and maybe I needed to wallow through it, but you sure didn’t. No one else did. I mean, I was using words like “despair” and “midlife” and quoting Hamlet and it was all so gloomy. And I realize now maybe you are wondering what I’m talking about, what could be so terrible. Ha, that’s the thing. Nothing is terrible. Everything is good. In fact, everything is great! I just didn’t know it. Or maybe I knew it, but couldn’t feel it, so I just kept writing about what I was feeling, even though I knew that was wrong. Anyway, if I posted more regularly, I wouldn’t have to begin with apologies and explanations, and I hope this is the last time I have to do so. But enough about that. What is the news?

Well, the good news is my knee brace “seems” to be working. I say “seems” because I donjoy-oa-nano-x._1don’t want to get ahead of myself as I’ve had good stretches before, only to have my hopes dashed. But in the eleven weeks I’ve had my brace, the donjoy oa nano, I’ve done 24 runs, for a total 102 miles, including a 7 miler, without any of the sharp pain that had stopped me before. I’m not pain free, walking up steps sometimes still hurts even with my brace on, I still ice after runs, but at least it seems I’m in a position to manage the pain and finally put together a training plan to get back in shape.

That’s great news, you’re probably thinking. Great. So, what was the problem, what accounted for all those gloomy unpublished posts? Well, quite simply, being able to run further, I realized how out of shape I am. I am so slow! I call it “creepy slow” because I feel like I’m just creeping along when I run. I regularly do Amazing-Leopard-Tortoiseruns now at 8 minutes a mile! The first time I checked my pace I thought it must have been a mistake. But it happened again, and then again. And yes, I know it’s all relative, but it’s not just the pace, it just doesn’t feel right when I run, my body’s so out of synch, and I have to work so hard just to maintain it. I have to concentrate, I gasp for breath, my legs get heavy. At 8 minutes a mile! I can hardly believe it. When I wasn’t able to run, the thing I missed most about it was the feeling of it, which had always been so natural for me. But on some of my runs these past two months, I’ve felt like such a phony, a “creeper,” huffing and puffing my way through it and thinking to myself: this is not running. I know what running is, I know what running feels like, and this is not it.

So that frustration, that panic, that horror, was the germ of all my doomed earlier posts, and I’m so glad I didn’t share them with you because I know now I was seeing it all wrong. I guess I’d hoped to just pick up where I’d left off. As you know, though I haven’t run much, I’ve stayed in shape in other ways. I hoped it could just translate to running fitness again once my knee would allow it. But limping around and keeping weight off my leg for over 2 years, running a total of 417 miles since I hurt my knee, for an average of 3.7 miles per week (as opposed to the 50-60 per week I’d been averaging for years before that), it makes sense that I wouldn’t be able to run like I used to. I figured that out, and then realized it’s better this way. Being in such terrible shape is not a burden, it’s an opportunity.  To get back in shape!  I’m actually excited about being a slug because now I’ve got a real challenge ahead of me.

vitruvian_man_mixed wleaf copyI’m tempted to share with you some of the ridiculous things I wrote over the last couple months, but I’m going to resist and look ahead. It’s going to be a long, tough road and instead of focusing on running goals right way, I’m going to focus on “rebuilding the machine,” my body, that is, getting it back in shape and whole again so I can then go after my running goals. Knee willing, and thanks again to my donjoy oa nano knee brace (which I recommend for anyone after microfracture surgery), my training plan is:

Run 3 times/week. I’d like to average 15 miles a week to start, a mix of steady runs and interval workouts, strides every week. I guess the first hurdle I want to get over is maintaining sub 7:30 pace for 4 miles without feeling like I am doing a tempo run, then I’ll take it from there.

Spin class/ride my trainer at least once a week. These workouts are good for leg strength, a nice change of pace, and a chance to get a good workout in on cold, snowy, dark, icy days.

Swim 2-3 times/week. This is still a great cardio workout for me and good for overall strength. Maybe I’ll do a little aqua jogging, but honestly I get a better workout when I swim and I don’t think the aqua jogging helps strengthen my leg at all. Working the kickboard, though I do not enjoy it, is also a good way to get my legs stronger without any impact on my knees.

Weight room 2-3 times/week: I’ll focus on my legs and core, but still do some upper body stuff. More strength will help me when I swim and I’d still like to meet my goal of 12 pullups this year (I’ve gotten to 10). I’ve had to stop doing pushups because of shoulder pain, but if that goes away, I’ll see how many of those I can do.

PT once a week: Yes, I have finally started Physical Therapy. I should have earlier, but I was too optimistic, I guess, hoping things would right themselves naturally. But I’ve got a good therapist and she quickly discovered I have core weakness, glute weakness, and leg weakness. At my last session, she videotaped me running on the treadmill—just for a few minutes, at a jogging pace, and honestly, I felt like I wasn’t limping too badly, that my form was solid. But when I watched myself run, oh, the horror, the horror, it was nothing like I’d imagined. To see myself struggling like that, with my sloppy left leg swinging along, my foot slapping the belt of the treadmill, it was awful. But my mind had already begun to turn before that. This helps put things in perspective, I told myself. This explains why I’m so slow. This is my starting point and now I get to get better.

In addition to going to PT once a week, I need to do the core and leg exercises she prescribes 4-5 times/week. These can be done as part of my weight room workouts, after my runs, or just while watching TV. 15-20 minutes a day will do me a lot of good.

In addition, over the winter I’ll mix in a little cross-country skiing, Nordictrak, elliptical, rowing machine, jumping rope, et cetera. All this is dependent on how my knee feels. For now I’m going to put as little weight on it as possible on the days between my runs. But if I can get to the point where I can alternate running with Nordictrak or elliptical or biking, then I should really be able to get back in shape. Hopefully, the brace and my strengthening will allow me to do this (and you’re probably thinking I wish I’d gotten this brace a lot sooner, right? I admit I have thought that. But if I had gotten it sooner, I wouldn’t be on the brink of undertaking this great challenge right now, December 12, 2014. I’d probably be in good shape and running workouts at 7 minute pace easily—and how boring would that be? Really boring, right? This is so much better, and if by spring I’m back to feeling my old self again, well, then it’s all going to be worth it) .

So, Frank, that’s my plan. Apologies again for making you wait, and thanks for reading all the way to the end like I know you always do. In addition to my change in attitude, I think I’m going to change the format for this blog and actually start posting weekly, with workout details, turn it into a training blog once and for all and forget about all my philosophizing about running and bellyaching about getting old and congratulating myself on finding my lovely, perfect wife. I’m just going to write about getting back in shape finally! That’s what most running blogs are like. That’s how I imagined this would be when I started it. I just haven’t had the chance to do that yet.

I also think I’ll stop regularly putting the link to the blog on my Facebook page so don’t look for it there, because banfacebookreally, most of my Facebook friends are probably not that interested in my workouts, for example, the fact that I ran 8 gut-busting 400’s on the track on November 5th in an average time of 86 seconds and did the same workout again on December 5th with an average time of 83.5 seconds (that’s not bad progress, is it?). If all goes according to plan, I’m hoping to post a lot more information like that. And if I can’t, if my knee or something else fails me, well, let’s not think about that right now.  We’re looking forward.  Hope springs eternal, right?  I sure hope so.

 

A thousand apologies…

…for leaving you in suspense by not writing sooner about my triumphant return from knee surgery (ha!), but for the last few months I’ve been in a sort of limbo, with no sense of up or down, forward or back. I’ve been working on getting better, but haven’t been able to tell if I was making progress, regressing, or simply fading away. As a result, I just didn’t know what to say. I’ve said a lot, of course, to myself, to my knee, but most of that was not worth sharing. But it’s not all bad news, as you might expect, and now I’ve even got some good news, but I’m going to try to bring you up to date before I get to that.

As you may recall, after getting on a limited, but predictable running schedule, pain forced me to stop in March. I got an x-ray and my doc it was inflammation. So I didn’t run, took every anti-inflammatory I could find, went for acupuncture, iced religiously, et cetera. The pain decreased, but didn’t go away. I had good days and bad moments—one little misstep and be wincing in pain. I wanted to resume running, but not to just to have to stop, or hurt myself worse. I needed to know what was happening in there, so got an MRI. I expected either a re-torn meniscus (the little bit that is left in there) or signs the cartilage had not grown properly after the microfracture. I wondered if I needed surgery again, if there was some other fix, or if I was really done running.

When I went in to get the results, I braced myself for the news, telling myself no matter how bad it was, I could overcome it. But the doctor said everything looked pretty good—not perfect, of course, there’s bone wear and tear, not a lot of meniscus left, and the MCL showed signs of a strain, but there was no “injury” and the really good news was that there was new cartilage where the microfracture was performed (an MRI is the only way to find this out), so from his perspective, there was nothing to do, besides “take it easy.”

Of course, I knew just what he meant by “take it easy.” He meant I could start running again. I left the doctor’s office with a feeling of buoyancy, like I was about to go on vacation. And in fact, my lovely perfect wife and I were meeting friends in Texas for a long 4th of July weekend and I held on to this happy, floating feeling for the next two days—during which I flew to San Antonio, drove to the Gulf, stayed up late drinking beers, woke up too early and a bit hungover to go fishing, got a little seasick (and didn’t catch a thing), then after a couple hours of recovery on the couch, decided it was time to try to run again. By this time it was high noon and 93 Texas degrees outside, the road I was going to run on offered no shade and only a slight (hot breeze). Finally, the inhaler I’d packed (I’ve had exercise-induced asthma for the last four years) was empty, which vacationrentalmeans I essentially had a narrow throat through which to gulp air. Not an ideal lead up to a run, but I couldn’t wait.

On the first stretch of road I felt clumsy and awkward, almost as if my body had forgotten how to run (again!). And I could only keep moving for about 3 minutes before I was gasping for breath. But my knee didn’t hurt. My leg felt weak, I could feel myself limping a bit, but there was no pain. Still, for the rest of the run all I could muster was with 3 or 4 minutes of running at a stretch followed by walking breaks. I told myself the breaks were good for my knee, to “take it easy” on it, make sure I wasn’t hurting myself. But there was no way I could’ve done a continuous run. This is what it feels like to non-runners, I thought, so hard, so impossible to keep moving. Still, for short stretches I was able to dial in to something of a rhythm, the great feeling of running I love, and so I huffed and puffed and fought my way through 45 minutes. When I got back to the house, I had that great post-run feeling: calm and agreeable and accomplished with the sense that everything in the world was in order. I iced my knee and it seemed no worse for the wear. Let the comeback begin again! I thought.

And for the rest of the summer I did slowly get myself back in shape, at least the kind of shape that let me run 2-3 times a week, all short workouts, sometimes strides on the  soccer field by my house, other times going to the track, building up to 3 mile runs, or mixing it up with (slow) speed workouts. My goal was to be able to do the Waupaca Area Triathlon in August with my son: ½ mile swim, 20 mile bike, 5K run. I had no delusions of running quickly and just wanted my knee to hold up for the full distance. If I had to walk, I told myself, I’d walk. If I had to drop out, I’d drop out. But on race day my knee felt pretty good and I had a solid swim (my son beat me by a minute or so) and bike (I passed him early on the ride and gained a three minute gap). But what would happen on pacman_wallpaper_by_meskarune-d4a8m3kthe run? Well, I could feel myself limping a bit at the start, but my form smoothed out the longer I ran, gobbling up slower runners like Pac-Man, and I was able to not only run the 5K nonstop, but at 7:10 pace to hold off my son by about a minute (honestly, I was kind of hoping that I’d run well but he’d come flying by me anyway). Though a far cry from what I could’ve done a few years ago, I told myself it was not bad considering everything. And it was great, of course, to do a race with him.

photo-8

I followed this up with a couple more good runs, including a wonderful Saturday 5 1/2 miler on the lakefront trail in Chicago from Ohio Street Beach to Fullerton and back at under 7 minute pace (even though I like to run alone, sometimes it’s fun to be with all the runners and bikers on the path, catching as many as I can). That day I really felt like myself again, found a fast rhythm right away and was able to maintain it. And my knee didn’t hurt lakefront trailafterwards, I mean, besides the pain I still always felt walking up steps, so I thought I was back on track again, ready for a fall of running. I wasn’t planning to do any races, just 2-3 runs a week, maybe trying to get in shape to run a mile under 6 minutes, or building up to a 3 mile time trial on the track before it got too cold. Fall is the best time of year to run and I just didn’t want to miss out. I was already planning to back off for the winter, maybe not running at all, but swimming and skiing and spending time in the weight room, strengthening my legs to hopefully feel really good in the spring, when I could get a little more serious.

But four days after that I tried again in the morning before class, and it hurt, enough for me to stop. But then I went to my son’s cross country meet that afternoon and ran a least a mile around the race course, cheering him and his teammates on, and felt no pain. Maybe cc race greenfield parkit just hadn’t loosened up in the morning, I thought. I put it out of my mind and five days later, on a perfect September evening, I went to the track. I was feeling full of energy, full of running, as they say, and my plan was to warm up then see how fast I could run 3 miles. But after my warmup, which usually loosens up my knee, I couldn’t make it 50 meters without stopping. And it wasn’t the kind of pain where I said to myself, Hmm, this kind of hurts, maybe I should stop. It was the kind of pain where I’d stopped and was standing there halfway down the straightway on the track, wincing and swearing almost before I even knew what had happened.

Rightfully (I told myself) depressed, I spent the rest of my night online, desperate for answers. I found lots of information but couldn’t figure anything out. That’s when I decided I needed to see a new doctor, a specialist, a sports medicine orthopedic. I’d seen two orthopedics since my surgery and their advice was always to just not run, to just accept it. Besides the fact that it didn’t seem fair (of course I knew that didn’t matter–life’s not fair), it also seemed premature, too simple. There had to be more to explore: first of all, why was it still hurting? Inflammation, but what was inflamed? I mean, if I didn’t know that, how could I know what might make it better? And I knew there were other treatment options: cortisone, hyaluronic acid injections, et cetera. None were guaranteed to work, but they might work, so why not try?

After a bit of research on sports medicine orthopedics in the area, I found Dr. J, whose  focus seemed to be getting athletes back on track. He studied under Dr. James Andrews, a famous surgeon who has worked on scores of pro athletes including Michael Jordan, Tom Brady, and Brett Favre. He’ll figure this out, I thought, and made an appointment.  As I waited the few days for it I did my best not to think about it, the fact that my optimism was probably foolish, borne out of desperation. He’s going to say the same thing, I thought to myself, as I walked into the office.  Don’t run.  It’s so simple. What would I do then? Would I find another doctor? Really give it up? I didn’t know.

In the examination room Dr. J pushed and pulled my leg in all sorts of directions and asked me: does this hurt, or this? Ironically, my knee was having a very good day and not much hurt. “But sometimes it really hurts,” I told him and tried to describe the long story of my knee without overwhelming him with information. But between what he gleaned from these tests and the MRI he told me he thinks the pain is rather easily explained. The bottom of my femur bone (rounded) is sometimes making contact, or coming close to it, with the top of my shin bone (flat), and bones, though our bodies are full of them, aren’t made to meet, not without cartilage between them. If they do meet, the pain is extreme. He said he thinks the two meniscus surgeries I had is the problem—there’s just not enough meniscus left to serve as a cushion between the bones and at certain angles (like when walking up steps or sometimes when running) the bones touch and give me that big shockwave of pain.  What I’m left with is a bruised femur bone that won’t get better because it keeps getting re-aggravated. He said in general the knee looks pretty good besides that, and said that the cartilage regrowth from the microfracture looks good too. Then he gave me the really good news: there are lots of ways to fix this problem! I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. While my other docs said again and again: it is what it is and there’s nothing else we can do, he was saying: oh, there’s lots of stuff we can do, lots of solutions.

screen_shot_2012-11-13_at_7.17.01_am_1The easiest, and the one I’ll try first, is a custom fitted knee brace that will be designed to slightly shift the alignment of my knee so the impact when I run will go more to the outside, where I do have meniscus to serve as a shock absorber. He said injections may be the second choice if the brace doesn’t work. But even if that fails, he said he could do a meniscus transplant! This means he would pull out my puny damaged meniscus and put in a full replacement (from a donor). It’s kind of funny, I’ve spent a lot of time over the last two years lusting after people’s knee joints, thinking to myself, if I had your knees, I’d be running right now! And that might actually happen. But that wouldn’t be for a while, after we’ve exhausted other, less involved solutions. But if the brace and the injections and the other solutions don’t work, I won’t hesitate to go through with it. It’ll mean another long recovery, 6-9 months, but I’ll do it gladly if that’s what it takes, if it really can be the light at the end of the tunnel.

But now I’m getting ahead of myself. Dr. J thinks the brace has a good chance of working. And now this guy, even though I’ve only met him once, has quickly moved up on my list of favorite people in the world. Funny how that works, isn’t it? We like people who can give us what we want. And I still want to run. I’ve actually done a couple runs since those two bad ones without incident.  It seems I’m better off running faster than slower as I must land and push off differently. Dr. J suggested I get my running gait analyzed as this is probably related to my knees failing me. I’ll do this, but not until after I get the brace, because I know now I’m favoring my right leg so the test would be kind of pointless. And I’m pretty sure I know what the problem is: though I’ve always had pretty good running form, I think I’m slightly knock kneed, especially when I get tired, and this puts a lot of stress on the insides of my knees, which is where all my problems are.  I think it’s a slight misalignment, but over the course of thousands of miles, well, things add up.  Apparently, this motion is typically caused by weak hips and though I’ve been working on those, I’m going to make it Priority #1 going forward. I also think just being more aware of it will help. Of course, the damage in my left knee is already done, but this will help me adjust to running with the brace and hopefully preserve my other knee for the long haul.

Speaking of long hauls, if you are still reading, you are probably thinking, enough about the knee, how is everything else going? I’m happy to report it’s all good: my lovely, perfect wife I both swam Big Shoulders, a swim race last weekend at Ohio Street Beach in Lake Michigan. I did 2.5K and she did the 5K (and fast!). The water temps were in the low 60’s and the water was moving (as you can see), not great conditions for a skinny runner trying to swim. Though I’d done the majority big shoulders waterof my lake swimming with a wetsuit. my lovely perfect wife was going without, and my friend I’d talked into doing the 2.5K with me was going without, and though I thought I could beat him if I wore the wetsuit, and that he’d probably beat me if i didn’t, I plunged into the icy drink in my just my swimsuit and hoped for the best (you should know by now I believe in a fair fight).  The first half wasn’t bad, but after that, I could feel myself getting colder and colder.  By time I made it to the second buoy, two-thirds through the race, I was shivering and the swells were bigger than any I’d ever swum in.  I forgot all about racing and  just wanted to finish,  When I finally hit land again, I was just happy to be done, and satisfied, as this was something I wouldn’t have even considered a couple years ago.  Still, I was really disappointed with my slow time (4 minutes behind my friend) and back of the pack finish. On the beach as I waited for my teeth to stop chattering (thirty minutes or so) I missed running, being in racing shape, because then if there was a running race of a thousand people, I’d finish near the front, not the rear. Is it just vanity that makes me want to run? I suppose that’s part of it.  I mean, the experience of doing something, of taking on a challenge is most important, but there is a different kind of satisfaction that comes from being fast, being good at something. I guess I miss that.

In other news, Son #1frat photo
is back off to college at
Ole Miss. According to the
few reports I get from
the fraternity house,
all is going well.

Son #2 trained like a champ all summer and his cross country season is off to a great start. He’s cc teamalready dropped 40 seconds off his PR for 5K down to 17:08 (that’s a huge jump already) and has plenty of races to go. It’s good to see him running fast and proving to himself that hard work does pay off.

So, again I apologize for being absent these last few months. Rest assured, I was thinking about you, but really, you wouldn’t have wanted to read the posts I started but abandoned over the course of the summer with titles like “Self-loathing as a means of self-improvement,” “Who cares about running, anyway?” “I used to be kind of fast,” “Maybe Lynn is right,” and “Aqua jogging is for losers.” These all seemed reasonable when I was in limbo. But I’m not in limbo anymore—now I’m just waiting. Waiting for my brace, and then waiting for the future–where anything, anything is possible.

Another summer of not running

At least that’s what I’m bracing myself for. My knee is feeling better, but some say the key to satisfaction is to set one’s expectations low. I’m not doing that for the long term, but for now, for the summer that lies ahead, I’m going to take what I can get and be happy with it, because, well, what’s the alternative?

Before I go any further, I want to interject with a haiku. Yes, a haiku. Why a haiku? Well, I was out to dinner with my friend Jeff a couple weeks ago and he told me (a bit sheepishly and after a few glasses of wine) that while he usually started reading my blog posts, he could never get through an entire one. So, as a courtesy for Jeff, and readers like him, I’ll provide a haiku that sums up the key points I’ll be making. So here it is:

went to the doc and
x-rays show no bone-on-bone
I’ll rest, wait, and see

But that’s not quite the whole story. Maybe one more:

Nietzsche training plan:
that which does not destroy it
only makes stronger

I admit these are pretty bad haiku. But they’re getting job done. And I’ve left out one very important topic. But you can stick it out, Jeff, it’s only 17 more syllables:

on the track the kids
are running faster and I
feel faster too

Okay, so thanks to all of you who have read this far. If you pressed for time, you’ve got enough information for this installment. Back to work! For the rest of you, well, I’ll try to be concise….so I went to the orthopedic doc to get some insight as to the cause of my pain. I mean, pain itself is bad enough, knees x raybut it’s worse when you don’t know what’s causing it, or what to do in response. I was pretty pessimistic and ready to throw myself back on the operating table and let them have another go at it. But he examined my knee, had me do some deep squats in the office, pressed on it, and then took x-rays. Good news: though x-rays don’t show cartilage (I’d need an MRI for that) we could see that the bones had good distance between them, the space was actually the same for the left knee as it was for the right. What this means is the microfracture was successful, to an extent at least, and the cartilage that was supposed to grow after the procedure did.

So why did it hurt so much when I tried to run? He said it was most likely just inflammation, which is very general term but I understand it like this: inflammationafter an injury, the body reacts with substances that cause inflammation, which instead of helping, exacerbate the injury, causing more inflammation, et cetera and so on. The more inflammation, the longer it sticks around, the worse the injury gets. He said this was the most likely diagnosis because even though it hasn’t swollen, it’s stiff after inactivity and loosens up the more I do. So what I need to do is reduce the inflammation, which will reduce the pain and limit damage to the joint.

Of course, he said I should consider not running, if that’s what hurts, and though that makes sense, for now I’m going to operate under the assumption that it’s not the running that causes the pain, it’s just that running reveals the pain. The real culprit is the inflammation. So what will I do to attack this inflammation? Maybe a better question is what won’t I do? Since I saw my doctor I have been taking daily doses of: ibuprofen (1200 mg), krill oil supplements (2000 mg), and turmeric (1500 mg). I’ve been Like Sardines in a Canrubbing Arnica lotion on my knee 2-3 times a day and 2-3 days a week I eat a can of sardines.

And the result? My knee is feeling better. It’s not pain-free. It still hurts walking up steps, though not as much or as often, and the reduction in pain could simply be from not running, not from me becoming an anti-inflammatory junky. I won’t know that until I try to run again. And if the pain does go away, I’ll have no idea which anti-inflammatory did it. A good scientist would have made only one change at a time and waited to see which, if any, was effective. But I’m no scientist. I’m a runner and I want to run again. So if my knee feels better I’ll keep taking everything. Why not? Because of the nature of my surgery, I suspect running, even the limited workload I envision, will always lead to some inflammation, so I guess my goal is just to cut it back to a manageable level. I mean, so many other things in my life are so good I can handle a little pain, you know, to help keep things in perspective, keep me grounded.

While I’m waiting for the inflammation to leave, I’m also redoubling my efforts to strengthen my knee. I’ve been good at this since the surgery, but not great. In the fall I started running again partly because it seemed like the only way to really strengthen the running muscles again. But I still unconsciously favor my right leg, which means my left is not as strong. The doctor and I discussed the possibility that my knee pain could be from 220px-Nietzsche187arunning on it before it was really strong enough, which led me to run with a slightly off kilter stride, and some other kind of injury. Either way, I figure (à la Nietzsche) anything that doesn’t destroy the knee, will make it stronger, so I’ve been working the weights, doing squats, cycling (alternating one leg on my trainer for 50 pedal strokes is my new killer workout), box jumps (I can do these now with no pain), as well as the elliptical and Nordictrak. Even when I walk I sometimes adjust my stride to activate all the muscles, either taking long, forceful steps with a strong push I can feel in the back of my knee or bending my knees in front of me to do a truncated version of the Chuck Berry duck walk. I’ve cut back a little on my swimming, but when I do go to the pool, I do a lot of tumblr_lefgz8hJF61qcb9bjkicking sets. My kick is weak compared to other swimmers so it will help my times in the pool, but when it gets tough or even hurts a little bit, I tell myself to keep kicking because it’ll help strengthen my legs and get me back to running.

So my running blog has turned into a not-running blog again. But the funny thing is over these last few weeks I feel like I’m getting in shape, like I’m getting faster! The reason is because of my coaching—the outdoor season is in full swing and the kids are starting to run fast times. I’ve had a number of kids run pr’s in the last week, making big jumps from indoor season. When I used to run track meets, I’d do one race, or maybe two. But now it’s like I’m doing 9 or 10 races per meet. Every time one of my runners competes, it’s like I’m doing it too. I get nervous ahead of time, my jv track meetadrenaline kicks in, I’ve got high hopes, fears, I’m bracing myself for the pain, but telling myself it’s the only way to run a good race. Now of course what I’m experiencing is not as strong as what they are, but it’s a lot different than just watching a race like I’ve done so many times in the past. It’s because I know what their goals are, what they’ve done in training, how hard they’ve worked, and I feel responsible for their performances. Not in the sense that I give myself any credit if they run well, but if they don’t, well, then I feel it’s my fault.

Our first outdoor meet was a bit disappointing. It was cold and windy and a relay meet, which meant the races were spread out and most of our runners were not racing in packs but by themselves. Still, times were slow. Too slow and I wondered what I’d done wrong. Too much of something? Or not enough? I could see the kids were disappointed too. I told them not to worry, but I was worried.

The next few meets, though, their times began to drop. Now none of our guys are fast enough to compete to win in any of the big meets, and that’s out of my control. I’ve got to work with the times they’ve run in the past and the fitness they had at the start of the season. I actually don’t pay much attention to their places and don’t care if a kid is running a mile in 4:50 or 5:40 because I know a good race means competing from the gun, sticking with a pack, hitting goal times, staying focused when it gets hard, then kicking at the finish. If my runners do this, I’m satisfied. And they are satisfied too. I mean, they can’t do more than their best, right? Of course, the great thing about racing is the fact that it gives them an opportunity to test their boundaries, push their limits, do even better than what they thought was their best. And when they do this, it’s pretty glorious, pretty satisfying.

I’m invested in all the runners on the team. I coach them all the same, but when a runner is more emotionally invested, I do follow suit. I hope I’m push upshelping the newer and younger runners, the kids who have come out for track to see what it’s all about or because it’s just something to do, learn to appreciate running, but I’m a more attuned to those that come to practice every day, work really hard, and have made running a priority. And my son, of course, well, I’m invested in him in multiple ways—and he’s been running great, has made by far the biggest improvement since last year. And to see him run like he did last night, breaking 5 minutes in the mile for the first time ever (last year he didn’t come close to breaking 5:30), I was literally tingling with excitement.

But I get excited for all of them–when I see our 800 meter runners sticking with that group that’s passing the 200 mark in 31 seconds, I can feel myself flying along at that speed. When I see one of our milers catch up to the lead pack because the pace has slowed and go by them and try to run away, I can see the open track ahead of me. When I see one of our distance guys sprint a lap in the 4 by 400 at the end of the meet, I can feel myself fighting through the heavy arms and legs that inevitably come on the homestretch.

Coaching has been great, though I know that by planning all the workouts, watching the guys run them, and then race, I’ve kind of fooled myself into believing I can run fast too. But it’s all happening in my mind, not in my body, not in my legs. When I do run again, whenever that happens, I’ll be slow and it’ll be hard and probably pretty painful. Of course, if my knee doesn’t hurt, I’ll take what I can get. And I’ll be happy to do the work to get back in shape. Though I’m not young like the runners I’m coaching, I know what it takes to get fit and fast.

Well, I see I’m almost at 2,000 words so I better stop myself. But hey, Jeff, if you’re still there, I’ve got one more haiku for you:

getting in shape to
run is no secret: just work
I hope I can do…

 

 

Stupid knee!

I haven’t written for a while because I hate to be the bearer of bad news—uh oh, you might be thinking, it’s over, no more running. But it’s not that bad (not yet anyway). My comeback is still a work-in-progress, though lately there’s been no progress and my knee has regressed. First of all, just a quick recap (this must be a trope of mine—when I proposed engagement to my lovely, perfect wife, most of it was a recap of our time together, as in, “When we first met, I thought to myself, wow, some man’s going to be lucky someday. I didn’t know it was going to be me, et cetera and so on… I sure do love you, let’s get married”). Anyway, when I started running again in the fall, my leg felt weak, needed time to loosen up, but there was no real pain when I ran, only the day after. And my workouts and my knee got better as the months progressed.

Six weeks ago it hurt while running and I had to stop. I took a month off. But since I’ve started up again, it hurts right away, after my first few steps, a pretty sharp pain on the inside of the knee where the bones from the upper and lower leg meet. It hurts, but I’veknee side view been working through it with 10 or 15 minutes of alternating walking and running, some stretching, pleading, and hoping, and every time the pain has subsided and I’ve been able to run. Last weekend (after this frustrating warmup) I ran over 30 minutes and then did some strides. A couple days later (after this same warmup) I ran some comfortable, but invigorating 400’s on the track. When I stopped, it was because I was tired, satisfied with the workout, not because of any sort of pain.

Still, every time I start up again, it hurts. I don’t know what’s going on in there, which is why I’ve decided to make a return trip to my orthopedic doc and see what he has to say. I’m going to go back to my original orthopedic, who did my first 2 surgeries, but not this last one, the microfracture, because he seems better at diagnosing things based on my descriptions, and also seems to have more interest in helping me return to activity (Dr. S, who did the microfracture, has been pretty consistent with his message of, “Don’t run, why bother?” but Dr. K., after my last meniscus surgery, jokingly encouraged me to keep playing basketball, telling me it was “good for business”).

graceland stairsOf course, I want to run again, but when I go in I’m going to stress the fact that still, 15 months after surgery, I can’t walk up steps without pain. Now when my knee is warmed up, like after a bike ride, I can make it up a flight of steps pretty well. But other times, and especially after sitting for any length of time, I can’t make it up a single step without serious pain, I mean, sudden shots of 8 or 9 on the pain scale, not the kind I can walk through. So even if I can’t run again (is what I’ll say to the doctor) I should be able to walk up steps, right? I can’t expect to live the rest of my life avoiding steps (or taking them two at time, which does not hurt).

I’ve been doing internet research about other procedures (surgery, injections, et cetera) but the more I read, the more confused I get. Maybe the microfracture has failed, maybe it’s something else. At this point I just want to find out what’s going on. And I guess I’ll tell john after bostonthe doc I’d like to be aggressive. Even if it means another surgery, another 6 weeks on crutches, and the slow road back, I’ll take it. I still think I’ve got a long road ahead of me and I’d like to run some of it. My friend John just ran the Boston marathon (in 2:46, good work!) and we want to run a race together. It’s only been what, 28 years, since we’ve done that. I also want to do some triathlons with my son. Set a few goals and see if I can meet them. Really I just want to run because there’s nothing like it, but I’ve explained all that before.

This recent setback has led to me feeling something different than I’ve felt since I first injured my knee: anger. I’m actually feeling it for the first time. I’ve been frustrated, disappointed, and a little depressed here and there, but never mad about it until recently. Now I have this kind of low-level simmering in me directed at, well, I don’t know, just me, my stupid knee, and the universe, I guess. I’m not blaming anyone or anything, I’m just asking, Why? But no answers come. This is not fair, I think. Well, life is not fair and you’ve got it pretty good, I answer. Still, this sucks, I conclude. And I’ve got no response to that. This does suck. Stupid knee! Why?

I don’t particularly like being angry. Sure, it gives me a nice jolt of energy, but I know it’s not a good long term plan, that anger ends up draining more energy than it provides. Still, I’m going to let it work its way through me, see where we end up (and here’s an interesting question: would I take a good, strong knee if I meant I’d always be a little bit angry? Would I make that trade? I don’t know. Of course, if I had a good, strong knee, why would I be angry? And if I was, I could just run it off—I mean, who’s angry after a ten mile run, right? I guess I’d be willing to try it).

spleenals-anger-chartLuckily, it just so happens that while my knee has been acting up, I’ve had two new things to keep my mind off it. Two teams, actually. The first is my swim team. That sounds kind of funny to me, since I don’t consider myself a swimmer. But I did join a Masters Swim Team with my lovely, perfect (and fast in the pool) wife. Though it took a lot of deliberation, I’ll keep it short here and just say I was convinced to enter the Illinois State Masters swim meet. “Great fun, no matter how slow you are,” was the promise. I doubted that, but they said they needed me to put together a relay team in my age group. The goal was to win the meet and every point counted. I was planning to go watch the meet anyway and I sure didn’t want to be there and see them lose by the few points I could’ve helped score by joining a relay team, so I said I was in. I then decided to enter a couple individual events too, just so I wasn’t sitting around all day. I still needed to get my workouts in. At least an hour a day is my goal no matter what else is going on.

I really had no idea what to expect from the meet. I was nervous about everything—getting to my heat on time, diving off the blocks, not embarrassing myself. It ended up being tremendous fun. The swimming itself was intense, my adrenaline rush fueling me to kick and dig furiously through the water to post times much faster than I’d expected. Giving anoff the blocks all-out effort like that, focusing so completely, was something I haven’t been able to do since I hurt my knee. It was different than running a race, because with running, I have more body awareness and can see what’s going on around me. In the pool, it was all a blur–just me and the water, the wall where I did my flip turns, the air I gulped with every stroke, glimpses of my teammates cheering me on from the pool deck. When I’d get to the end of my races, I’d grab the wall and look around and it was almost like I had no idea where I was or even who I was or what had just happened. I don’t know if it’s like that for everyone or just me, or just because it was first time I’d swum in a meet, but I’m a convert. No matter what else happens, I can’t wait to do it again.

But it wasn’t just the swimming—it was the team, my team, the Smelts. People were swimming their hearts out, exhausting themselves with multiple events, all working towards a common goal. When our coach gave his great and hilarious motivational speech at the pasta dinner on Saturday night (with one more day of competition to go) smelts team picturethere was no doubt that it was all-for-one and one-for-all and that everyone was going to swim their best. And the thing was, though I was new to the team, and slow, they were all so still encouraging. I don’t know if every swim team is like this. When my lovely, perfect wife decided to get back in the pool more seriously in the fall, she was glad to be able to join the Smelts, because when she’d swum on other teams, she’d always noticed that the Smelts seemed to be having more fun at meets. It was kind of crazy how much everyone pulled for each other and I was happy to be a part of it (my relay team did take 4th place, and our team took 2nd in the meet, losing by only 24 points. But just wait until next year!!)

My other team is my son’s high school track team I’ve been coaching since March. This kletszch hill 1has been great too. I kind of feel like coaching is a natural fit for me as I like to obsess about workouts, split times, good form, weekly mileage, a proper warmup, core strength, all of it. When it was just me, I’d end up obsessing too much on myself. I’d give my son tips, but didn’t want to get in the way of his coach. But now I am his coach and I’ve got him and 15 other runners to think about—all with their own talents, kletszch hill 2issues, et cetera. I’ve got to come up with the best training plan for each of them. I like that part of it and the kids are great too–they pay attention, do what I ask of them, run themselves ragged, we laugh and joke. Of course, as good as all of that is, it won’t matter much if they don’t get faster. Because that’s my job, right? That’s what running is about. I’d say so far, so good, but we’ve only had indoor meets and kletszch hill 3we don’t have indoor track, and not a lot of the kids had done much running leading up to the season, so I was using the indoor season as a way to get in shape to train for some fast outdoor racing. That starts next week, so we’ll see. Stay tuned.

So these two things, the swimming and the coaching, could not have come at a better time, to keep my mind off my stupid knee. They’ve also given me a possible vision of the future. If I can’t run again, I’ll probably throw myself a lot deeper into swimming. Honestly, it would be almost futile for me to attempt to catch up to be competitive in my age group because it’s a sport that rewards those who start young and have developed the right kind of strength and technique (case in point: one guy on our team said before the State meet he’d only been training for a couple weeks, and between races I saw him outside smoking a cigarette, and he still swam some great times!). I’d need to drop about 10 seconds from my 100 time to have a chance to score points in the State meet. That’s a huge jump for a swimmer, but if I can’t run, that’s what I’ll set my sights on. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?

And with coaching the kids I can still, how should I say it, express my love for running. No, that’s not right, but it’s the best I can come up with right now. I can use what I know, my interest, my enthusiasm, to help others run faster, help them meet their goals. This will be satisfying in a different way than meeting my own goals. Not better or worse, just different. And I guess I’ll have more to say about that at the end of the season, depending on how the kids run their races over the next six weeks.

Still, as much as I enjoyed swimming in the meet, and as much as I like coaching, the best case scenario going forward would be that I:

1) do dedicate more time to swimming, set some tough goals for myself, and do more races with the Smelts
2) continue to coach and help my runners get fast and enjoy running, and,
3) run myself, at least enough so I can do some short races and triathlons, at least enough so I can enjoy the feeling of running again.

I think I can do all three. I’ve got enough time. I’ve got enough energy. I’ve got a positive attitude. I’ve got everything I need, except a fully functioning left knee. Hopefully, that will change. I’ll let you know what the doctor says.

In the meantime: Stupid knee!

my knee, this winter….

My surgically repaired knee and the winter of 2013-14 have two things in common: both have brought me pain and neither has shown real signs of improvement. Okay, that’s a heartbreakhill18__1303163570_5795little dramatic. Much of this winter’s snow has melted over these last couple weeks and I’ve had some good, pain-free days and even a couple longer runs this last month, the longest being a 7-miler in Boston, which included me storming up (and walking back down) the one and only Heartbreak Hill three times. But on my last run (and you don’t know how scary it is to put those two words together until you’ve had a serious injury like mine) I had to stop because my knee hurt.

Though it’s generally been achy afterwards, this was the first time I had to stop mid-run. I’d made it just over 4 ½ miles of a planned 6-miler from home. It was going to be the first time I’d run this old, familiar route since the fall of 2012 and I was curious what kind of pace I could maintain. I’d had a decent track workout earlier in the week with my friend Russ: 8 300’s at an average of 58 seconds, not bad, but then we’d done a mile and I’d struggled to run 6:06 (Russ blasted a 5:36). No endurance, I told myself, I’ve got no endurance. It makes sense. Running 2 times and only 10 miles a week is no way to build endurance. Even with all the cross training I’m doing, nothing else is quite like running, and it feels like my body just doesn’t remember how to find a comfortable, maintainable rhythm.

But I can get that back, I told myself, which is why I decided to run the 6 miles. I’ve also got some races penciled in to my calendar, the Steamboat Classic in June, the Pleasant Prairie Triathlon the week after that. While I hadn’t planned on running great times, I had little doubt I’d be able to complete the distances. Most of my workouts since I started running again in fall have been shorter repeats, but I’ve done 22 runs of 4-5 miles since skeleton_run_muscleOctober and have been seeing improvement. That’s how it supposed to happen when you come back from an injury, right? It’s tough getting started again, but then you get stronger and it gets easier. That’s what I’ve been telling myself has been happening. Of course, with a microfracture, the possibility exists that each of those 22 runs, while maybe helping to strengthen my leg, has been simultaneously deteriorating the “cartilage” that developed after the surgery and those 100 miles is all the knee has to give me.

That’s a depressing thought, and I’m not saying that is the case, and I don’t think that’s the case, but I’ve got to acknowledge that that may be the case. At least it sure felt that way when I was limping home last Saturday afternoon. After a few minutes, I tried to run again, but it hurt too much. I had to walk and as the cold wind blew on me and turned my sweaty run clothes into an icy blanket, I began to shake, shiver, and swear. Really, I asked myself. Is this really happening? As I walked through the neighborhood, which was still too far from home to feel like my own neighborhood, it seemed certain that not only was my knee never going to get better, but that winter would never end. For those fifteen minutes, probably the longest fifteen minutes since all this began, it was like all of 2013 had been wiped away: getting off crutches, doing rehab, strengthening my leg with long walks through the nature center, biking though the summer, starting to run again, it was like none of it had ever happened. And even my life events, like getting married, our honeymoon, our trip to Alaska, were like memories were from years earlier. Because all I knew for sure was that I’d had surgery in the winter and now it was still winter and my knee still hurt and it seemed inconceivable to me that the surgery could have been 15 months ago.

In a way the two bad things in my life, or maybe I should say the two major inconveniences–the facts that my knee was still not healed and that winter was apparently never going to end–had actually made the other easier to take. My knee still hurts, I’d think, YinYangbut the weather is so bad I wouldn’t be getting in shape yet anyway, so I’m not missing out on any good training weather. Likewise, when I’d look over the forecast and see that the cold, crummy weather was sticking around, I’d think, yeah, this sucks, but my knee is not ready to do much running yet anyway, so it doesn’t matter. I’ll just keep doing my other workouts. I think I’ve been expecting both things to improve at the same time: when spring finally came and the weather was good, my knee would be good too, I’d be able to run like I want to, and everything in the world would be right again.

And just before things went badly, they were going so well. One day I was feeling so good I felt myself almost begin to skip down the hallway at work. I held myself back, but took this as a good sign. A week before that failed run I’d gotten a comment to one of my blog posts from a fellow runner who was 5 weeks post-microfracture surgery. Her doctor had told her, as mine had told me, to plan to go forward without running. She said she was so glad to have found myphotocomment blog, that my progress, my running, had given her hope. I replied to tell her that all was not lost, that it was possible to run after microfracture. I even offered to send her my training log, all the boring details, so she could see how I’d done it, gotten back to running, not the same as before, but still running. So when I was walking home last weekend, getting colder, more depressed and frustrated by the minute, I didn’t just feel bad for myself, I felt badly for her too, like I was letting her down, like I was letting all my fellow injured runners down.

Maybe she’s reading this right now (maybe you’re reading this right now), limping around, fresh off her crutches, and thinking to herself, oh no, all hope is lost, I can never run again. But no, no, that’s not the case. Because when I got home and peeled off my cold, damp sweatpants and tights I was happy to see my knee was not swollen at all. The pain was gone too. It was achy the next day, but just like it usually was after a run, nothing more. Why had it hurt during the run? Maybe I was going too hard, maybe because it was the photohard surface, maybe I misstepped and twisted it a bit. I always pay real close attention to my form now, making sure everything is moving straight ahead, but just before the pain forced me to stop I was thinking I had just over a mile to go, was buffeting myself for the incline that was coming, was telling myself I needed to keep pushing, that it was hard work but that it would pay off in the end. So it’s very possible my form went awry and I misstepped. You’d think that wouldn’t matter at this point, 15 months out, but it might.

Part of the challenge of returning to running is the fact that I don’t know exactly what’s going on in there. It seems there’s no clear path to follow coming back from microfracture because everybody responds differently. I also had a stress fracture in my femur, which microfractureshould be healed by now, but who knows? When it hurts now, when it hurt that day, it felt like a sprain. I’ve sprained my ankle a few times and after the initial bout of pain, there’s always that period after the fact when it’s susceptible, a wrong twist here or a misstep there and the pain comes back—not as bad as the initial injury, but just as a signal to the brain that things are still not back to full health. It feels kind of like that so I’m going to treat it like a sprain and see what happens. What this means is I’m going to put as little stress as possible on it for 2-3 weeks, minimizing the impact, and then hopefully 1) the pain will be gone, 2) I’ll focus more on strengthening exercises, and then 3) return to running again.

So in a way I’m starting over. This is a medically sound plan, but it’s true I’m also “hoping” forecastphoto.PNG-1it works. It’s kind of like restarting my computer when it’s not acting like it should. I’m going to allow the pain, or inflammation, or whatever it is, go away and then start fresh again. This is a little frustrating, but as I look out my window and see it has snowed yet again, and as I look over the forecast and see the winter weather is going to continue, it seems we’ve got more time until spring arrives, and then, well, we’ll see what happens then. In the meantime, I’ll bike, swim, use the Nordictrak and Ellliptical, I’ll keep doing my 10 hours a week until I can get back to running.

I wish I hadn’t had to spend this whole post writing about my knee. Of course, that’s what this blog is about–my knee, returning to running, or not, so I’ve got to deal with that before I can write about anything else. But I’ve got some other things to write about: my perfect, lovely wife convinced me to join her Masters swim team and now I’m even signed up for my first ever swim meet (scary!). Even more exciting, I am now the distance runners coach for my son’s high school track team (we’re 2 weeks in) and I’ve got lots to say about that. But alas, you’ve already given me more time than I could have asked for, so you’ll have to come back next time if you want to hear about all that (and my knee, of course, always my knee).

Rocky Training vs. Ivan Drago Training: Which is better?

rocky-4-art1

My son’s swim season is over and he’s getting himself ready for track.  Last week he wanted to go for a run, but the roads around our house were covered with a slippery, icy slush–runnable, but risky and not conducive to any sort of good workout.  But it was, “Not a problem,” I told him.  “You’re just going to have to do some Rocky 4 training.”  He knew exactly what I meant because in 2006, when the movie Rocky Balboa was coming out, I decided he and his brother should not only see that movie, but all the Rocky movies, in order, which we did over the course of a few weeks.  Rocky 4 is the episode where Rocky goes to desolate, wintery Siberia to train for his fight with the seemingly invincible Ivan Drago.   In the movie Rocky ROCKY-IV-07_510runs through the snow, hoists rocks, chops wood, cuts down a tree, high-steps through the snow with a log over his shoulders, gets down on all fours to pull a sled, and engages in all sorts of other unconventional training methods, and it was that snowy, cold, back-to-nature, get-away-from-it-all, unmeasurable, numbers-free training I was referring to. 

So my son put on his running clothes, a pair of long wool socks and an extra jacket and headed out to the park adjacent our back yard and ran loops in the snow.  How far did he run?  Who knows.  How fast?  Not very.  But it didn’t matter.  He came home tired and a bit cold, but exhilarated and satisfied.  At least that’s how I feel on the days I “go” Rocky 4, or “do” my Rocky 4 training.  Sometimes I rocky wintereven use “Rocky 4” as a verb, as in “I’m going to go out and ‘Rocky 4’ for a while.”  I can’t imagine I’m the only one who thinks this way and some of my favorite workouts this seemingly endless winter have been my Rocky 4 days:  running high-stepping loops through the snow in that same park behind my house, strapping on ankle weights for a 3 degree walk along the frozen lakefront in Chicago, working off my hangover during Poker Weekend by churning through thigh-high snow in the quiet woods surrounding my brother-in-law’s cabin.  These were all great workouts and you wouldn’t find any of them in anyone’s recommended training plan.

Of course, the majority of the training I’ve done this winter is more like that of Rocky’s nemesis, Ivan Drago.  You see, all of Drago’s training took place indoors, in the lab, on machines, with every part of every workout precisely planned and rocky-iv-2measured to maximize the training benefit; and coming back from knee surgery, unable to run like I used to, I’ve spent a lot of time on machines, and know how far I’ve gone, how fast, and how hard I’ve had to work to accomplish it.  I’ve run on the treadmill, done the elliptical, pedaled on a spin bike (with a sweaty instructor barking at me the whole time), done swim sessions with everything on precisely timed intervals, contorted my body to push and push all sort of weights, et cetera.

When Rocky 4 came out in 1985, Drago’s training methods were not accessible to the average athlete.  But there have been so many sports science advancements since then, every health club has machines like the ones Drago trained on, and anyone who wants to can get all sorts of precise, numerical feedback on their workouts.  Any athlete can follow any number of trainingdrago machine plans that have been scientifically proven to improve speed, endurance, power, anything.   There is also information on what one is supposed to eat and drink, when and how much, the best ways to recover, et cetera, et cetera.  It’s all out there for anyone who wants it, but the question is, do we want it?  Should we?  Is it better to train like Drago, to know exactly what you’re doing, why, and what the results will be; or is better to train like Rocky did, just going with your gut, just doing it?

Well, for a runner, if one’s goal is just to get faster, following a rigorous, scientific training plan probably is better.  The body adapts through training, and if the methods have been proven, there’s no reason the results won’t come.  To ignore that, to just go with what feels right, will surely lead to some kind of training error, too much or too little of this or that.  I mean, it’s got to be precise.  The reason they had all those perfect looking roses at the grocery store for Valentine’s day was because they’ve figured out the right amount of light, heat, water, nutrients, et cetera to grow them that way.  Bodies are more complicated and unpredictable than rose bushes, but the same principles apply. 

Like I said, I’ve used some of the new training technology, especially this last year HR dataas I’ve tried to get myself back into shape.  I’ve got lots of HR information from workouts, know how many watts I’ve averaged in my spin classes, I take vitamins and supplements I’ve read can improve performance. But relatively speaking, my training is not scientific or precise.  I’ve never been good at science and all I really do with my HR monitor and most information is gather information.  I never really base my training on it like is suggested.

Sometimes I think maybe I should be more scientific instead of, like a lot of runners, I suppose, training hard but haphazardly, with a smorgasbord of ideas all mashed together, and then kind of “hoping” for a good day when a race comes.  I mean, variety is good, so is adaptability, and trying new things.  These are all good in life, but are they so good when one is trying to get faster?  I don’t know.  Of course, too much variety is bad because it’s not training if you don’t do something often enough.  For example, running hills or doing pushups only one day, getting sore and never doing it again means there’s no real benefit because the key is to get the body to adapt to stress over time to get stronger. 

Now I don’t want to present myself as completely ignorant.  I’ve been running a long time, I do follow a general schedule, a set of rules, and try to replicate training models that have worked for me in the past, but sometimes I think if I followed a more deliberate plan, I’d be better able to not only get in better shape, but predict my performances.  Maybe I’d be galen2mile1more like the roses in the grocery store, or like the Nike Oregon Project runner Galen Rupp.  His training is reportedly so scientific he is sometimes he referred to as his coach’s “lab rat,” but he seem to be always getting faster and able to perform when it counts.  Based on results and studies, there seems to be no denying the effectiveness of this method.

But is this what I want?  I do want to get faster.  And especially recovering from knee surgery, I should know exactly what I’m doing and what the effects will be.  I tell myself I’m being smart, mixing it up, being careful, coming back slowly, but I’m prone to do things on a whim.  I make a vague training plan at the beginning of each week, a set of goals, but then each new day comes and I make it up as I go.  For example, if the conditions are good, I might try to ski.  If the pool is open, I’ll swim.  If my running friends tell me they’re doing a track workout, knee willing, I’ll join them, and whatever the workout is, I’ll do it.  If I’ve got time and energy, I might go down to my basement and lift weights.  This all helps, but I’ve got no real plan.  Usually I’m happy if I get close to 10 hours a week, of anything.  I am getting faster, in the pool and on the track and my knee is getting stronger (details on all of this coming soon), so I’m doing some things right.  But a routine, scientifically proven, based on data, experiments, physiology, would surely be better.

But I’m not competing, like Galen Rupp, for Olympic medals or world records.  I want to race again, but not having raced for so long, I see now that what I’m mostly training for is the experience of training, the feelings I get, the satisfaction, the discovery.  Maybe I could go faster if I followed a stricter program, stayed within HR limits each workout, took ice baths then feel asleep dreaming about my VO2 max, calculated and measured more of what I do.  I’m pretty sure that would work but I’m afraid I might lose the joy of training if I did that.

One point the movie makes about Drago’s training is that he is monitored at all times.  But I think it’s been proven that when a person is monitored, he/she rocky_4_1985_685x385is less engaged, less productive, less creative.  And following a rigid, scientific training plan is like being monitored all the time, even if you’re only watching yourself.  So while Rocky struggles in his training, has doubts, and makes mistakes, he also has moments of real ecstasy.  Drago has no highs or lows, he just does the work. 

Of course, I love to read about new discoveries and techniques that can improve performance and I do incorporate some of this into my workouts.  I guess what I’m saying is that while I see the value in this, it’s even more important for me to lose track of myself, not care, not know, merge with whatever it is I am doing, and just let things happen.  I don’t want to lose that sense of adventure I get when I train.  I like to step on the track or jump in the pool and ask myself, what can you today?  What’s going to happen?  I probably work out this way for the same reason I rarely measure out any ingredients when I cook.  Because it’s more interesting for me.

Is this a character trait or a character flaw?  I suppose that depends on your perspective and I realize I could be wrong about training like Rocky.  But whatever your perspective, you’ve got to admit there’s something to be said for surprise, the unmeasurable, and hope.  If you remember Rocky 4, even though Drago was bigger, faster, and stronger than Rocky, he didn’t win.  Rocky won, because though Drago’s precisely measured training told him he should win, Rocky’s spartan training told him he could win, but he still he had to hope he would.   When Rocky stepped into the ring, it was to find out what would happen, what he was really capable of, and for lots of things in life, that’s what it be should about, moving forward into the unknown. 

I don’t mean to oversimplify this.  I know different people are motivated in different ways, Rocky’s training wouldn’t have worked if he hadn’t already known what he was doing, and this philosophy has got its limitations.  Sometimes my lovely, perfect wife tells me I’m too obsessed with my training.  I agree and I wonder how this would change if I followed a stricter plan.  Would I think about it more, to make sure I stuck to it, or would I think about it less, already knowing what I had to do and that it would work?  I don’t know.  Still, I think some of the best workouts are the simplest and most uncomplicated, the Rocky workouts, like running through the snow with no thoughts about how far or how fast.  That’s kind of the essence of it, right?  Just doing it.  Working hard.  Seeing what happens.  I guess I like to start with that then fill in the rest….

winter bingo footprints

 

 

 

The joys of winter training

I was going to title this post “The joys of winter cross-training” but realized that wouldn’t be accurate for me because I can’t train like I used to, which was pretty much run, run, run, so now what I used to consider cross-training is simply training, and though there’s nothing like running to get in running shape, I do think all the different workouts I’m doing are helping me get in shape to have a good shot at my goals for the year.

What proof do I have?  Well, my fall run workouts had all been short and fast, but I had no endurance.  Over the last few weeks I’ve been able to go to the indoor track for workouts with my old college teammate Tony and have gotten a little faster, and more importantly, felt more comfortable each week.  Specifically:

On 12/17, the highlight of the workout was a 6:06 mile.   This was tough!

On 1/7, I ran 1.5 miles in 9:14 (6:12 at the mile and picked up the pace for a 3:02 last half mile).  This felt much easier than the 6:06 mile a few weeks earlier.

On 1/14, I ran a mile in 5:54 (my first time under 6 minutes since before I got hurt 15 months ago), then 4 half miles in 2:54, 2:52, 2:50, and 2:48.  Not only was I getting faster on each one, I was feeling better, like my body was remembering how to run again.

Between these workouts, I’ve done runs on the treadmill and dropped my average pace for a 4 mile run (always at 1.5 grade) from 7:05 per mile, to 7:00, 6:52, and then 6:47.  Again, these are rather hard but I feel a little more comfortable with each one.

I’m sure it’s these very workouts that have done the most to improve my condition and get me ready to run faster the next time.  But I’ve only been running 2-3 times a week, with a maximum mileage of 15 per week.  In the past I would’ve thought there was no way I could get in any kind of shape with such low mileage.  But it’s happening.  How?  Let me count the ways…

First of all, though I feel like I’m repeating myself, it’s swimming, with lots of intervals, because it’s the best way to give my heart and lungs a great workout.  I swim hard enough so that sometimes I don’t know if I’m going to make it to the poolend of the pool, or if the 15 or 30 seconds rest I give myself between repeats will be enough.  I’ve learned that it always is, that if I slow down it’s because my muscles tire, not because I can’t get back on top of my breathing.  When I used to swim I used to just plod along, 30 minutes, 45, treat it like a run, and while that was all right, that’s not how swimmers do it—which is all intervals.  As a runner, you might think it’s not sustainable, and if you were running workouts of similar duration and regularity, it wouldn’t be, your body would break down.  But with swimming, you can just hammer out the repeats for an hour or more and do it as often as you want.   I’m not ready to agree with my lovely perfect wife that swimming is the toughest sport , but it sure allows a person to train hard and the results of it–a strong heart and lungs–are essential for good running.

I’ve also been trying to bike twice a week.  Indoors, of course.  Even without this year’s polar vortex, the conditions are too cold, icy, and snowy for me to even consider riding outdoors.  I use my trainer at home, watching TV, which for me ends up being kind of a bare minimum workout.  In 45 or 60 minutes, I get a little lathered up, but it’s never a killer, like the kind I can do out on the roads.  Recently spin-classthough I went to my first ever spin class and I’m going to give this workout an A+.  I did over 90 minutes, the time flew by, and I rode much harder than I would have on my own at home.  What I liked about the class was having the teacher tell me when to go hard, when to back off, when to stand up, when to sit down, what my cadence should be, et cetera.  It was all planned out, with music to accompany the different phases of the workout, and 30 other bikers spinning their pedals around me, which made it easy to get caught up in “the ride.”  And having someone else in control of what-to-do really freed up my mind to concentrate on form, effort, power, and eventually the existential questions that come when I get close to my breaking point.  Can I really keep going at this level of effort?  Why?  How?  To what end?  What’s it all about?

spin.png w=529I could see that some of the other riders in the class did not share my enthusiasm, were not really following the workout, or just wanted it to be done, but I was, no surprise, hankering for a good workout, so it was perfect.  So my goal for now, at least until the spring thaw, is to make it to at least one spin class per week.  And who knows, maybe I’ll keep going after that because I think it’ll help my running by working my legs and core in a way that’s a little different than simply riding outside because the tension on the spin bike was consistent all the way around the pedal stroke and it’s hard for me to do those short, high-intensity intervals on my own.  As a low-mileage runner, I’m going to need to have strong legs, stronger than I’ve had in the past, but is there any runner who wouldn’t benefit from more leg strength?  I don’t think so.

Perhaps the best training tool I have is the old Nordic Track ski machine I bought out of a neighbor’s basement last fall for $85.   A 45 minute workout on this comes nordic-track-ski-machineas close to replicating a 6 mile run as I’ve found.  While I feel like I’m still getting comfortable with the motion of the machine, and I can’t do intervals on it, and sometimes I feel a little twinge in my knee (if I try to go too fast or stop paying attention to form), and it’s not like running, not nearly as relaxing, the motion it asks of my body, especially the pulling forward of the legs, really uses the running muscles, the quads and hips, and when I get done with the workout, step off the machine and walk around my basement, I can feel it in my legs—and it feels almost like I’ve run. 

Honestly, especially now that I’ve just explained the benefits, I realize I should do more Nordic Track.  But I’ve been limiting it to once a week because sometimes I do feel that twinge in my knee.  But I hope as I get stronger, I can do it more often.  I rarely see it listed as a good running substitute, but it really may be the best.  The best evidence is probably from 1990’s American distance running stud Bob bob kKempainen, who because of injuries did most of his training in the six months leading up to the Olympic trials marathon on his Nordic Track (along with aqua jogging) and surprised everyone by running a 2:12 and making the Olympic team.   

Cross-country skiing, which the Nordick Track replicates, is also good winter training, and I’ve gone a few times, which has been fun, and I can feel a pleasant fatigue in my legs afterwards, but as an inexperienced skier, I pay more attention to keeping my balance and not falling down, and can’t ski well enough to put out any kind of sustained effort.  Hopefully that will come in time.  Cross-country skiers have some of the highest recorded aerobic capacities on record, and working on my ski form should be worth the effort, as skiing in the park or through woods will surely be more fun than doing it in my basement.

Still, I’ll take what I can get for now, and along with a couple trips to the weight room each week, this is what I can get.  How well it will translate into good running when the weather is better remains to be seen, but I think that even if my knee was stronger, even if I’d never been injured, I’d try to incorporate these workouts into my routine instead of just trying to maintain mileage and slogging through winter.  A lot of the winter runs I’ve done in the past, in three layers of clothes, going slowly over ice and snow, just don’t provide the benefits, of either a good-weather run, or of these winter training activities I’ve been doing instead.  Again, I know there’s nothing like running to get in shape for running, but that doesn’t mean running is the only way to get in better shape for running.

It occurs to me as I reach the end of this post that while the title I started with is “the joys of winter training,” I’ve only discussed training and haven’t mentioned “joy” one time.   Well, seeing as last year at this time I was only halfway throughwinter scene my 6 weeks on crutches and didn’t know if I’d ever be able to run another step, I guess every workout is pretty joyful for me.  I do feel like I’m getting my running legs under me again, which makes me happy, but wherever these workouts may lead me, I’ll go.   I think that’s the key, right?  To keep going….