Going Backwards….

Ugh, two bad races in a row (bad and then worse).  I’d rather keep the bad news to myself but I promised races and recaps so here you go:

The Bad Race:  Originally I’d planned to run the Lincoln Park Run for the Zoo 10K June 4, but my legs were feeling heavy all that week so I decided to skip it.  They were feeling a bit better the next week so I signed up for The Run for the Pig 5K in Milwaukee June 10.  On the drive up from Chicago I was optimistic, but during the warmup I felt sluggish.  No matter, at 8:30 it was time to go.  On the first flat half mile, I felt okay.  For the next two miles the course was all up and down, nothing too steep or long, and all I knew was that I was working very hard.  After the mile marker (6:12, though I suspect that marker may have come too soon) I was all alone in 6th or 7th place (obviously a small race).  On every uphill I just kept telling myself to pump my arms and get to the top and on every downhill I’d try to recover before I had to start punching up the next hill.  I was able to find a better rhythm on the final flat half mile, but was too spent to really speed up and I ran right at my limit all the way and finished in about 19:50.  It was humbling to see that time on the clock as I pushed to the finish line, but after I caught my breath I told myself: ah, it’s not that bad.  I hadn’t felt good, I was undertrained on hills, and I hadn’t been racing, so it made sense.  And I was really aiming for the Steamboat Classic 4 miler in Peoria the next week.  That course fit me perfectly.  I’d always run well there.

The Worse Race:  In the short term, I recovered well from the bad race, actually going for a 1 mile swim in the lake later that morning then meeting with friends for a atwaterhot, windy bike ride in the afternoon and slogging my way through a steamy 10-miler the next day.  Early the next week I was feeling a little dull so after some moderate effort 400’s on the track on Wednesday, I took off completely the 2 days so my legs would feel good for the race. But on my warmup in Peoria, I was heavy again.  It was a muggy, humid morning so when I got to the start line, a gloomy 3 miles warmup behind me, I was already drenched in sweat and didn’t even do any strides—I just wanted to stand still for those last five minutes and hoped my body would generate some energy. Things were not looking good.

But when the race started, I told myself it was still on, my goal of 25 flat, or 6:15 per mile. No matter what had happened in the past, there was no reason I couldn’t do it.  The Steamboat is a big race with a lot of fast starters so I just found myself a spot in the pack and tried to find a good rhythm.  I told myself to hold back a bit on the first mile and then start racing, but by the time I got to the mile mark, in about 6:22, I was already dragging.  Still, that’s not terrible, I told myself.  The first mile included the uphill start and I knew if I could maintain close to that pace for the next two miles, I’d get to finish with the fast downhill last mile.

On mile 2 things really started falling apart.  I didn’t realize it at the time, focused as I was, working on good turnover, staying on top of my breathing, maintaining good posture, all the things I knew were key when running got hard.  I passed a few people, but others passed me.  As we all huffed and puffed our way up, I was struck by the odd assortment of runners around me.  There were a few that looked like runners (like I hoped I also looked), but one guy just ahead of me for most of that mile was thick and leaned back and had a comically short stride.  How can this guy be ahead of me? I thought. He is moving so slowly, so inefficiently, how am I barely inching by him?

After that a young girl went traipsing by on my right.  She looked to be 11 or 12, long and skinny, and I know some kids are pretty fast and serious runners, but the look on her face wasn’t one of determination, it was more like she was asking herself, am I doing this right?  Am I going too fast?  Should I be passing all these people? Lucky girl, I thought then watched her disappear into the crowd of runners ahead of me.

Another guy passed right by me after that. He was wearing sunglasses and a t-shirt.  He also had really nice hair, right in place and his face showed no effort.  He looked like he was steering his boat into its slip after a day on the lake.  He seemed  about my age, but instead of a grizzled vet who’s been running all his life, looked more like a guy who’d been sitting around the night before, heard about the race, went to Target to buy some running clothes, and decided to see what it was all about.  He left me behind too.

At this point I didn’t pause to consider how I fit in with these other runners.  I was taking it all in, but staying focused like a real runner.  Just before the 2 mile mark there’s a short uphill and then a 180 degree turn, both of which required all my concentration.  But no worries, I told myself, all that matters is the 2-mile split.  12:45 would be great.  12:50 would be acceptable.  Hopefully, not much slower than that.

But as I approached the clock, I saw it was already over 13 minutes.  By the time I passed it, I think it may have been 13:10, which meant I’d run nearly a 7-minute mile.  A 7-minute mile.  In a race!  And I’d been working so hard!  Now there may have been a good reason—worn out from hard training, the dew point too high, something in the air contributing to my asthma, but I have a “no excuses” policy during races, which means if I feel good enough to sign up, to start the race, I tell myself I should be able to run at least pretty well.

Because I was not allowing any excuses, I had to face the facts:   I was straining, but moving very slowly.  There was also no indication this was going to change, so I decided right there, just a few steps past the two mile clock, that it was futile, that I could never run fast again, and that my running career was once-and-for-all over.

So I retired.  Yes, there in the middle of the race, I retired from racing.  I realized this was funny, in a pathetic sort of way, but that’s what happened.  I wasn’t feeling sorry for myself.  I was mostly angry—why couldn’t I run faster?   And I was also ashamed–I’d spent a lot of time training for and thinking about the race.  For the couple days beforehand I’d been mentally preparing myself, excited about the race, visualizing a good one.  But all of a sudden I realized it was so selfish and pointless.  I began to think of all the other more important things I could’ve been thinking about, could have done with my time.  I mean, all for nothing?  To just be disappointed in myself?  What was the point?

Over the next mile I wondered what I’d do with my life.  Obviously, never race again, but would I run at all?  Maybe.  I’d probably spend more time biking and swimming.  Maybe I’d even play basketball again, as preserving my knee for running would no longer be important.  But besides what I’d do, who would I be?  I didn’t know.  I’ve stopped running for stretches before, but this seemed different.  More permanent.  It was all going to be behind me.  I started to reminisce about workouts and races I’d run.  I thought about my friends who were still running and knew they’d be disappointed in me.  Sorry, guys, I thought.  I tried, but I just don’t have it anymore.

Meanwhile, I was running down Madison Avenue in Peoria, another mile at just under seven minute pace, though I wasn’t thinking about running anymore, my form or my breathing, I was just waiting for the race to be over.  And I could hardly believe it, but no one was passing me.  When we got onto the last mile of the race, I noticed that a number of people ahead of me were actually coming back.  Not that I cared.  I wasn’t racing anymore. But then I spied the guy in the Target t-shirt about 10 seconds ahead and moving slowly and I said, well, I’ll probably catch that guy without even trying, so at least there’s that.

I knew it was pitiful, one last grab at pride, but I didn’t want to finish my last race watching him run.  When I caught him with about a half mile to go, the old racing instincts kicked in and I went by him pretty hard (if you are going to pass someone, go by decisively, to get a little gap before the other runner realizes what is happening).  When we turned for the downhill finish I just let my stride open up.  I passed a few people without trying, just because I have always been good on the downhills, but didn’t go after any others like I normally would.  In fact, when I saw my lovely perfect wife and my son standing on the street with just over a quarter mile to go and I steered myself close to them and proclaimed, “This is my last race ever!”

They’d known I was aiming for 25 minutes and surely they’d been standing there wondering for the last two minutes where I was.  When I got across the finish line (a couple people sprinting past me on the final flat stretch—I didn’t fight them at all), I paused to take it in, that scene in the chute just after a race, one last time:  people smiling, or gasping, hunched over hands-on-knees, giving each other fist bumps and high fives.  I’ll never be here again, I thought as I grabbed a bottle of water, walked back to find my wife and son, and repeated my proclamation, “Never again.”

As soon I said this, I thought maybe I shouldn’t have been so cavalier about it, not because I didn’t mean it, but because I didn’t want to serve as a bad example to my son, who had been injured for exactly one year (hamstring tendinitis), had missed both cross country and track seasons for his sophomore year of college, and was just starting to get back into a regular running routine.  Even though our situations were very different, I didn’t want him to think quitting was an option.  So I began to downplay it, talked about other things, asked him about watching the race, how did the 18 minute 4 milers look when they went flying by?  We talked about him doing the race next year.  “And I can watch you,” I said.

Instead of pretending to be a runner, I thought to myself.  Then I told myself not to be depressed, but just move on.  Instead of my traditional post-race run back up to my wife’s parents’ house (which would have been important if my weekly mileage mattered any more), I walked those two miles with my lovely, perfect wife trying to convince her I was really done with running.  But I don’t think she realized how poorly I’d run.  I’d run 32 minutes for 8K in April and I had stepped up my running since then.  I could see no reason why I’d be slower, which I took to mean only one thing: I just am–I’m too old and too slow.  Still, I don’t think she quite believed me.  And to be fair, it is hard to stay retired.  Michael Jordan couldn’t do it, Michael Phelps, Rocky Balboa.  Of course, they all had good performances left in them.  I was pretty sure that wasn’t the case for me.

jordan 45

phelps

rocky v dixon

Question-Mark

 
Anyway, I realize these have got to be some of most depressing race recaps ever, but what can I say?  I’m giving you the truth.  However, my “retirement” from running has been pretty active. In fact, I’ve been training even more because I am doing a half-ironman (1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, 13.1 mile run) on July 16th in Racine, one month earlier than I had planned to do one.  I moved this up to July because on the same weekend as the triathlon in August, I’m doing a 100 mile ride with my biking crew (Race the Lake) and we’ve done this together 3 of the last 4 years and I want to keep the tradition going.

Doing this 70.3 race in July means I’ll be much less prepared for it than I’d hoped.  I was thinking of time goals when I was planning to race in August, but since it’s moved up a month, I just want to finish it.  I’m sure I can.  It’s just a matter of how hard will it be and how long will it take.  And why am I doing it?  Well, I’ve been wanting to for some time and this summer, well, for reasons I’ll get into at a later date, will work out best.

I’ve got more to say but have gone on too long already and it’s been all bad news so I’m going to let you off the hook.  If you are wondering why it took me so long to recap these races, it’s because I’ve been so busy.  Besides a bit of work, we just moved into a new house and all the packing, moving, and unpacking has sucked up lots of time.  Doing all that and trying to train for the triathlon has kept me too busy to sit down at my computer and send out my dispatches.  But I’ve been feeling pretty good lately, had some good runs, I actually did a 2 hour run yesterday in the heat, my longest run in years, and it wasn’t that awful.  My knee hasn’t been an issue at all.  So let’s all hope these next two weeks of training go well, I survive the Racine 70.3, and then check back in with you with some better news.  As always, thanks for reading!

Full Steam Ahead!

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

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

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

shamrock shuffle start line

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

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

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

smelts championship photo 2017

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

eiffel tower pic

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

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

Steelhead swim

Dear July,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Like a Rolling Stone…..

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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….

 

Aiming high for 2014!

I don’t think I’d feel compelled to write an end-of-the-year post if it hadn’t been exactly one year since I woke up from knee surgery to have my doctor tell me he’d had to do a microfracture, that I’d be on crutches for 6 weeks, and may never run again.  Luckily, I’ve been able to get back to running a bit, and though I’ve had some good workouts this last month (hung on the heels of my friends Tony and Bill for most of a long indoor track workout and ran 4 miles on the treadmill at close to 7 minute pace), 2013 was definitely a year of recovery and rehab.  Though I’ve amped up my training at different times during the year (I went on my swimming kick for a while, then a biking kick), I’ve kind of been waiting for the year to end before I embarked on a serious training plan.  Now I think I can start it, have a pretty good idea what it might look like, and have some goals in mind for 2014.

I’ll start with my main goal and work backwards from that.  While I do want to try to break 5:00 for the mile again, that may be too ambitious for this year (I can’t even run 1 lap at that pace yet).  Instead, I want to run a sub 18 minute 5K (that’s 5:46 pace and I think I can run at least ¾ of a mile at that pace).  While this would have been an easily attainable goal a few years ago (not easy, mind you, I would have had to train and race hard to achieve it) taking into consideration my present condition and my restrictions going forward, it’s fairly ambitious.  In fact, I haven’t run under 18 minutes for a 5K for a few years, though my running goals the past few years have been focused on the marathon and the workouts I did were generally longer and slower.  Still, in the past, to get myself in this kind of shape, I would have planned to run about 50-60 miles per week (on average 2 fast days per week, one long run, and the rest easy to moderately paced runs) with a bit of cross-training thrown in for variety.  With that running, and all the running I’ve done over the years, I would’ve gotten by mainly on running efficiency.  The basic rule of training for anything is that the more you do something, the more efficient your body gets at doing that very thing, and even though I don’t have the speed I did when I was younger, I could have gotten myself in shape to maintain 5:46 pace for a bit over 3 miles. 

But now, with my precarious left knee, I’ve got to go about it an altogether different way.  Of course, if you know about running, you know my training plan has been backwards since I started running again in September.  Ideally, a runner starts with easy runs, distance runs, builds strength, then increases the intensity of the workouts to get in race shape, the traditional training pyramid.  But I started at the top–with strides, sprints, track workouts, and intervals.  Only recently I’ve begun to feel halfway decent on my longer (4-5 mile runs).  And the only thing that allowed this was struggling through some painful 4-5 mile runs.  In sports, specificity is the key.  You have to train the body to do what you want it to do, which of course makes this year a real challenge for me because I simply can’t run that much or that often.

So how will I do it?  Get in good running shape without running?  Well, of course the key workouts will still be the 2 fast running workouts each week—track workouts, hill repeats, tempo runs, and time trials.  These have to be even better than they’ve been in the past.  But if my knee hurts for a day or two afterwards, those may be the only runs I do.  I really hope that when the weather improves I’ll be able to get out for one “easy” run per week—45 minutes or an hour along the lakefront or on the trail–these runs will build a little endurance, but the main goal will be to just enjoy the feeling of running–but I can only do this if my knee improves (of course, I realize another option is to skip the hard days altogether, forget about racing goals, and just run 2-3 times a week purely to “enjoy the feeling of running” but I’m not ready for this yet as I know the only way to run good races is to knock myself out with hard workouts and besides that at this point I get a lot more enjoyment out of that).

All right, so that gives me 2-3 runs per week, with mileage of 15-18 miles per week, which seems like hardly enough to get in shape because my running efficiency will simply not be what it used to be.  To overcome that I’ve got to become better in other ways–by developing new strengths and fortifying existing weaknesses.  The way to do this will be to intensify and be more consistent with all the cross training I’ve been doing this past year.  My cross-training options are:  biking, swimming, cross-county skiing/elliptical, and weight-training.  I guess I can throw walking/hiking in there as well, though I typically get no elevated heart rate with that (though I did buy myself a 40 pound weighted vest I plan to wear—with that and my 5 pound ankle weights I should be able to tire myself out and isolate my running muscles to some extent).  I don’t know exactly how my schedule will look, but I’m going play around with it as the new year starts.  The simplest plan would be to do every type of workout twice a week—2 runs, 2 bikes, 2 swims, 2 ski workouts, 2 weight workouts.  That’s 10 workouts and 8-10 hours a week, and I think that will do the job (for comparison’s sake, over the last 12 weeks I’ve averaged 9 workouts and 7 hours of training per week).  

Of course, I’ll be adaptable and adjust here and there for weather and circumstances–if I run 3 times in a week, I’ll skip a ski workout; if my knee is bothering me, I’ll skip my run and do more biking.  Though it’s been hard in winters past with ice and snow to maintain my training (that is, mileage) goals, this year I’ve got no excuses—I can work out (treadmill, weights, elliptical) at the Y or at school.  I can get in the pool.  I have access to an indoor track.  I have a Nordiktrak and weight bench in my basement.  I am going to buy cross country skis (today!).  I’ve got a trainer for my bike.  And I think if I maintain something close to this schedule, and if my running workouts continue to progress, and if I’m able to keep eating well (plant power!) to maintain a good racing weight, and if I stretch after (most) every workout, and if the running gods smile on me, I’ve got a good chance at breaking 18 minutes in 2014. 

While I’m looking forward, I’ve got a few other (compatible) goals rolling around in my head.  This year I’d also like to: 

Do at least three triathlons—maybe even beat my best time for the Olympic distance tri (I won’t be able to run as fast as I did, but I should be able to swim and bike faster),

Bench press my body weight (maybe I will try to squat this too),

Break my old record of 75 pushups in a row,

Do 12 pull-ups,

Ride 100 miles (I’ll set a time goal for this when I get closer to it—maybe under 6 hours if I time-trial it (ride by myself) (faster if I’m in a group),

Do an open-water swim race (probably Big Shoulders in Chicago—the 2.5K option—with wetsuit). 

Wow, looks like it’s going to be a good year.  Here’s to 2014!

unanswered questions, unfinished thoughts, unfolding stories…

image…and then he could run again, not like he used to, as much or as fast, but still, he thought to himself, finally!  It was approaching one year since his surgery and there’d been times he’d thought he was done, but he was doing it, 2, 3 times a week, and his knee was holding up.  He couldn’t do the type of runs he had done before, but it felt like running again.  Except it was harder.  Even when he told himself to go 30 minutes easily, with no concern for pace, he could feel gravity and inertia fighting him every step of the way.  He always knew the hardest thing about running was simply keeping going, holding pace.  But in the past, that was something he only had to deal with on his bad days, or race days.  Now every run was hard.  Why, he thought.  Why?  And when he was hurting he asked himself, what’s the point of all this? And then he thought, wait, is this why I like it?  Because it’s so hard?   

When I used to run, he thought, I could just let my mind wander.   But that doesn’t happen anymore.  Have I lost access to some part of myself because I can’t do that anymore, because now it’s all thoughts like:  I’m running again.  Am I really running again?  Should I be running again?  Was microfracture the best thing for me?   Is every workout taking me a step to recovery, or a step closer to the end?  That pain I feel afterwards, when I walk up steps, is that me getting stronger, or am I wearing away the surgeon’s good work?   He asks himself, if I can run but my knee will always hurt other times of the day, will I do it?  He knows the answer to that one:  yes!   Still, he doesn’t know why, and then he starts to feel so tired, so heavy and goes back to thinking:  why is this so damn hard?  And what’s it all about?

He is still swimming but has decided to stop timing himself.  His miles in the pool have improved his stroke, made him stronger, faster, but now that he’s running again, he doesn’t have the same zip in the water.  When he’d first started running again, his swim workouts had gone well.  He’d felt more buoyant somehow, knowing that his laps were just cross-training, not the start of his new athletic life as a perpetually slow swimmer.  But as the fall progressed, he rarely got his goal times for his workouts and when he’d look up at the clock after each repetition, gasping for breath, he began to wish he was someone else, someone faster.  He had time he wanted to achieve, for 500 yards, for 1,000, but he was getting further away from them.  He didn’t care anymore that he was much faster than he’d been a year ago.  No, he’d be angry with himself.  Being goal-oriented had helped him improve, but now every workout was a failure.  He knew this is not the way to spend an hour—feeling disappointed.   And I’m no swimmer, so why does it matter?  No more times, he told himself.  Just swim.  Use the kickboard more.  Strengthen those legs.  This will be better for your running, and is a healthy change in your philosophy, not surrender, right?  And after all, you’re a runner, aren’t you?

A runner he was, and he was still running on the track to regain his speed.  He’d always liked these workouts, the concentration needed to get through them, the fact that when he was on the track, nothing else in the world ever occurred to him except time, distance, form.  And breathing, of course.  Breathing, then catching his breath.  Breathing, then catching his breath.  His favorite workout was 400 meter repeats.  One lap at a time.  So simple, so hard, so good for his body.   But now sometimes as he’d get around for the final straight for the finish, he’d say to himself, I can’t believe I’m giving it my all, my all, to finish this 400 in 80 seconds.  He knows if he can keep running, his goal will be to run under 5 minutes for a mile, 75 seconds per lap.  That kind of fitness seems like a dream, an impossibility to him.  Digging in to make it over the last 50 meters without slowing down, a 5 minute mile seems about as likely as buying his own tropical island.  Impossible, right?   Maybe I’m better without goals, he thinks.  Just running.  That doesn’t appeal to him, but he doesn’t know why.

And his son is on the swim team and he’s gone to the meets and sat on the metal bleachers with the other parents and is amazed, not only at his son swimming, taking it up junior year and doing well, but by all the kids and their fast times.  He feels something else too, it’s not jealousy exactly, but he watches the races with a peculiar swirling of joy and loss.  He’s happy for the kids, some he’s known since they were 4 years old, these kids he used to drive to Little League games, who used to play tag in the backyard.  They amaze him.  Simply growing like kids do is amazing enough to those who have stopped, but having swum as much as he has in the past year, he also knows how hard they’ve worked to get as fast as they have. He almost feels a strange sense of pride in their accomplishments, then stops himself.  He’s done nothing to make them faster.  Still, he understands it, and is proud for them–that’s what he’s feeling. 

He also knows they don’t appreciate what they’re doing, that they won’t until they can’t do it any longer.  He wants to run down from the stands and tell them this:  APPRECIATE WHAT YOU ARE DOING RIGHT NOW!   But maybe that’s not how it’s supposed to happen.  Maybe that would take some of their own dumb pure joy out of it, wipe away their laughs and smiles between races.  Every meet his mind wanders to his own swimming, his struggles.  Does this make me a narcissist? he wonders.  Yes, he chides himself, yes, it does.  But at least I know I am, right?  That makes it a little better.  And I’m not hurting anyone, only myself.  I’m not hurting these kids.  I want them all to go even faster, perform more miracles.   

His semester of teaching has come to a close and he looks forward to the break, all that extra time for training!  But as his students walk out of the classroom on the last day, he wonders, did I teach them anything?  Are they better off?  He thinks the answer is yes, but also asks, could I have done more, could I have done better?  The answer to that is definitely yes.  He suddenly wants to call them all back for another semester, to build on what they’ve done.  He can’t believe the fifteen weeks are over already.   He’s heard older people say that once they reached a certain age, they couldn’t believe how fast life went by.  He finds himself thinking the same thing.  But I’m not old yet, am I?   I’m not ready for that, he thinks.  I’ve still got more to do.  I’ve still got time, right?

It’s a Saturday morning and he wakes up early even though he doesn’t have to.  The house is cold.  It’s 3 degrees outside.  His lovely perfect wife is flying back from Miami that afternoon.  He wishes she were there with him already.  He puts his legs over the side of the bed and, like every day, as he stands up, waits to feel if there’s pain in his knee.  As usual, it’s a little stiff, but there’s no real pain. This makes sense, of course.  He can’t re-injure it while sleeping.  Still, he’s glad.  He’s volunteered to work the concession stand at the swim meet that day.  But before that, he’s got some time.  He cleans the house, he wants it all in order so when his lovely perfect wife rolls in they can relax, catch up, watch football, eat soup.  He’s got a run planned too, his first run on the treadmill.  He’s nervous about it, but excited.  He just bought a new pair of running shoes.  He sits and eats his raisin toast and decides he should write a bit before his run. But what will I write about? he wonders.  All I’ve got right now is a bunch of unanswered questions, unfinished thoughts, unfolding stories.  I guess I could write about that, he thinks.  And so that’s what he did.


Exclusive interview with the blogger behind “still running”

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Last we heard, you’d been able to start running on a limited basis.  How’s that going?  How’s the knee?

Thanks for asking.  I’m making slow, steady progress.  I’ve been running 2-3 times a week, but only an average of 8 miles a week.  That’s not much, but my leg is getting stronger.  I’m start to feel a little bit like my old self.

Any pain?

Most days I feel a twinge when starting out–on the inside of my knee, under the kneecap, where the microfracture surgery was performed.  But after a few minutes, it goes away, once the blood gets pumping, I guess.  During my runs it doesn’t hurt, but it does afterwards and the day after.  It hurts most when I walk up steps one at a time.  If I take them two at a time, there’s no pain.  That’s probably a valuable clue about the nature of the pain, but I can’t decipher it.

So, as you run, the knee is not a concern?

I wish!  Like I said, it doesn’t hurt and when I run I concentrate on form—landing on the right spots on my feet, getting them back up off the ground as quickly as possible, swinging my arms properly to make sure I don’t over-stride—all to minimize impact and prevent injury.  So in a lot of ways I’m not thinking about my knee.  But in other ways I’m always thinking about it, partly expecting it to go on me, for the pain to come shooting back through.  Like I said, there’s no sign of this once I get going, but the pain I’ve felt over the past year, the pessimism of my doctor, the failed attempts of others to come back from microfracture, all this is swirling around in my mind and when I run I’m thinking every step could be my last.

Your last step?  That’s a little dramatic, don’t you think? 

I suppose. 

You’re prone to the dramatic in your blog.  Is that how live your life as well?

No, I’m pretty even-keeled, as they say.  Like a duck, you know?  I let things roll off of me.  I can’t remember the exact quote.  But when I’m writing about running, I just think about running and maybe exaggerate a bit. 

I see.

So if I may amend that statement:  I don’t mean it’ll be my last step ever, but if the microfracture fails, not matter what I do to fix it, I doubt I’d be able to really run again, training and racing.  So maybe I mean “my last step as a runner,” which I’m lucky enough to consider myself again, even though I’m only running 8 miles a week.

So do you have plans to increase your mileage?

A little bit.  I’ve always been a big believer in mileage, teaching the body to run when it’s tired.  In the past I’d get in as many miles as possible, with long warmups, two workouts a day, long runs, whatever it took.  Now I want to run again, and even get in shape to race, but I want to do it with as few miles as possible.  I’m operating under the assumption that my knee has a limited lifespan so I’m being careful, taking as few steps as necessary, and making sure every one counts.  Still, 8 miles a week is not enough.  I hope to bump it up to 12 or 15 over the next couple months.  Right now I won’t let myself run unless my knee is pretty much pain free the whole day before, which limits me, because running and all the other things I do to strengthen the knee seem to require at least 2 days recovery. 

Still doing all your running workouts on the track?  All speedwork?

Mostly, but I’ve added some 30 minute steady runs to build endurance.  I ran a 2-mile race a couple weeks ago and the second half of it was a real struggle because I’ve got no endurance.

What, you ran a race!   I’m surprised you didn’t write about that.  How did it go?

Pretty well, thanks for asking.  It was tough, but it was probably the perfect race to come back in because it was a prediction run—everyone predicted their time and the 25 closest won a turkey.  So it didn’t feel real competitive, everyone just aiming for their goal times. 

And?

Oh, you want details?

Of course.

Well, based on my workouts, I thought I could run between 12:30 and 12:40.   And my son, who you know had his cross-country season cut short by mono, was feeling good enough to run too, though he hadn’t done any real training for about 5 weeks, so I predicted 12:40 for the both of us, figuring it might be fun for us to run together—both in our first race back. 

The dynamic duo, huh?

Hardly.  But we did all right.  We ended up finishing in 3rd and 4th place.

Not bad.

No, but like I said, it was just a small, friendly race in the park.

So tell me about it.

Well, first of all, I’d decided to use this race as an opportunity to show him how to do a proper warm up.  I’ve explained it to him many times over the years, but I also know he’s warmed up either too much, too little, or in the wrong way many times.  His cross country team, for example, does way too much stretching.  The key to a good warmup is to build a sweat, get a little tired even, and then catch your breath before the start.  Starting off cold means the body will go into a sort of shock after a minute or two of hard running and it’s almost impossible to recover from that.  I’ve learned that through trial and error.

Anyway, after we got our race numbers pinned on, I figured we had just enough time for an 8 minute jog, then some strides and we’d be ready to roll.  We found a nice trail through the woods for our easy jog, and as we ran, I told him to focus on good form and breathing.  If you’re going to train for a race, I said, you owe it to yourself to do a good warmup and give yourself a chance for a good performance.  He was nodding his head in agreement and everything was working out perfectly.  But when we got out of the woods, ready for our strides, we could see down the roadway that everyone was already lined up for the race and it was about to start!  We had to sprint the 200 yards to the starting line, where we tore off our sweatpants, got in line, and then less than 30 seconds later, were underway.  

Poor time management, huh?

One of my biggest flaws.  And do you see the irony in the fact that I spent so much time explaining to him the value of a proper warm up that we didn’t have time to do one?

Indeed.  Funny stuff, I suppose.  So how did the race itself go?

Well, obviously I was wishing I’d had a better warmup, but as we started, I felt okay.  My form and breathing were holding up.  It was an out-and-back course and my son and I were running side by side.  I had no real sense of how fast were going, I’ve kind of lost my sense of pace.  At the turnaround we passed a young girl, she was less than five feet tall, which made me think we weren’t going that fast.  On the other hand, we weren’t that far behind the first place guy, who I knew was aiming for 11 minutes, so I thought maybe we were moving at a decent speed.  Anyway, right after the turnaround, my son picked it up a bit.  I could see he was feeling good and that he was looking up to the guy in 2nd place, who had a gap of about15 seconds.  A good lead, but if he faltered a bit, he was catchable.  For my son, that is. I had no thoughts of chasing him and was in survival mode already.  My body was getting tired and heavy, moreso with every step I took, but I just dug in and tried to maintain my form, concentrated on staying on top of my breathing.  With every minute back to the finish, it got a little harder, a little harder, and then a little harder, but I held on all the way.  I mean, I probably slowed down, my stride was surely shortening up as I fatigued, but I maintained my rhythm and form.

Was this the first time your son beat you in a race?

It was, and I was so happy!  He’d been running well in cross county but we didn’t know how he’d do after his mono.  But he looked good.  It was honestly the only time I’ve been happy to have someone pull away from me in a race.  He finished in 12:10 and I ran 12:25.  And like I said, it took my best effort.  I even kind of sprinted the final 200 because that young girl we passed at halfway was not that far behind me and I heard her mom shouting to her just after I’d gone by her, “You can catch that guy!”  I knew she must’ve been close so I really put the hammer down on that final stretch.

So, in your comeback race, you “put the hammer down” to beat a little girl?

I know it’s not quite Rocky Balboa coming back against Clubber Lang or anything, but she did run under 12:30 for 2 miles, which is not bad.  After the race I congratulated her and she told me she was in 8th grade.  I told her she was going to make some high school cross-country coach very happy next year.

And you were happy with your time?

Sure, I hope to run faster, but considering everything, I’ll take it.  And I even won a turkey, but just barely, so it’s a good thing I didn’t go much faster.  My son, of course, ran too fast for the turkey.  And my lovely, perfect wife ran 16 minutes off nothing but a little swimming and she’d predicted herself to be over a minute slower than that.

She’s lovely and perfect, huh?

And not a bad runner.  What can I say?  I’m a lucky man.

Any more races on the schedule?

No, I’m just going to try to build up my miles and endurance, keep cross-training, strengthen my leg, and think about it again in the spring.

What’s your best cross-training workout?

Still swimming, I guess.  It’s get everything inside of me, my heart and lungs, really working.  But I really want to do more with my legs, make them stronger, but as I said, I can’t do a lot of back-to-back workouts yet or my knee complains.  Eventually though, I want to lift more weights with my lower body, do some jumping exercise, and some harder biking.  Of course, the weather’s not good for that, but I’ve got a trainer I can use.  And now I can stand up on my pedals—something I couldn’t do much at all last summer.  I expect that to help a lot as it’ll replicate some of the running motion with none of the pounding.

And what are your goals if your training is able to proceed as you hope?

Long races are out of the question.  Too bad, because my friend John keeps inviting me to run marathons with him .  Maybe someday.  But next summer I hope to do some good triathlons and run some fast 5K’s,under 18 minutes would be nice.  And I’d still like to break 5 minutes for the mile again.  That would be tough, but I can do it if things go well.

What’s the key to making that happen?

Being consistent.  Running harder workouts.  Fine tuning my training plan, I guess.  Building up my body.  Enjoying it all, of course, is the main thing.  I like to run and I like the process of training. In some ways it’s even more interesting now that my running is limited.  And I do think that trying to run again when I’m not really in shape for it helps makes it clear what’s holding me back.  The main thing I need to do is get my breathing back, be able to maintain a high HR.  I mean, just about every race over 30 seconds is an endurance race to some extent, it’s a matter or maintaining a certain speed, and running is the best way to get that back, for me at least.  But I can definitely feel other deficiencies in my body when I’m trying to maintain a hard effort.  For example, last week I was doing strides and I could feel, as if for the first time, how crucial the hip muscles are to running fast.  That is, I was trying to go faster, but couldn’t do it, and I could feel it was because my hips weren’t strong enough, they couldn’t swing my legs through fast enough.  Ah, it’s all in the hips, I thought.   I just need to really get strong hips and I’ll be flying.  Flying!   And this is something I’d never really thought about before.

So you consider this an epiphany, a breakthrough, an “a ha” moment?

I did, but it didn’t last, because it’s not that simple.  You see, that very night I went to my son’s cross country banquet and as they called the kids up to get their letter and awards, I could see that the fastest among the kids were small and thin and surely had no power in their hips.  Two girls from the team had made it to State, a freshman and a sophomore.  They were both slim as can be, and though neither had real muscle definition, the faster of the two had less.  Yet, she can race 2 and half miles at 6 minute pace!  How can this be?  Of course, I know most of the guys I see in the weight room are stronger than me, but couldn’t run a mile with me, even in my weakened state.  So of course it’s not as simple as improving hip strength.  Hip strength probably is important, and I’ve probably lost some of that from not running, but getting faster is not as simple as improving any one thing.

And every runner is different, right?

Definitely.  Of course, with repetition the body figures out how to be most efficient, so running a lot and running fast is the best way to train for all runners, but I can’t do that now.  So I’m always asking myself, what should I do?  What’s the best use of my time and energy?  What it is that will help me get faster?  I think I’m on the right track, but sometimes the more I think about it, the more mysterious running is to me.  I mean, not only what makes us faster, but why do we do it?  Why do we even do it in the first place?  It’s completely unnecessary, but–

I can see you are getting a little worked up, and a little philosophical, so perhaps it’s time for us to reach for the end of this interview.

No problem.  I’m hoping to get a workout in before the Packer game starts.

That’s your team? How are they doing this year?

Decimated by injuries.  Hopefully they’ll get everyone back soon and make a run to the playoffs.  Of course, you know what Nietzsche said:  “That which does not destroy us, only makes us stronger.”  I’ve been relying on that to get me through both my injury and this Packer season.

Well, best of luck to you both, but before I let you go, I have one last set of questions, about your blog.  It’s getting pretty popular.  I see that you sometimes get over 30 readers per post.

Amazing, isn’t it!  Who would’ve guessed?  30 readers!  And I know for a fact that some of those people aren’t even runners.

Then why are they reading?

I have no idea.  Another mystery, I suppose.  People are fascinating.

Well, it must be hard to keep those readers satisfied post after post after post.  Do you think you’ll resort to any sort of gimmicks or format change to hold their attention, spice things up a bit?

No, I think my readers appreciate the honest, straightforward approach I’ve been using.  I don’t need gimmicks and I don’t think my readers want them.  I definitely don’t want to play around with the format.  It is what it is.  I’m just going to keep spilling things right from the gut, right from the heart, and see what comes out.  I’ll leave the gimmicks for the writers who don’t have enough to say to let their words stand on their own.

Well said, stillrunner.  Thanks again for your time and your candor, and good luck with everything.

Everything, indeed. Why not aim high, right? And thank you.  It’s been my pleasure.