The last summer of my youth/Chicago Triathlon Race Report

It was 4:30 a.m. on August 27th and I was biking in the darkness on the Lakefront trail on my way to the Chicago Triathlon. My lovely, perfect wife was back home, amidst the throng of pillows she has come to rely on for comfort, sleeping with her rounded belly that contains not one, but two children. Yes, babies. Yes, twins! A boy and a girl who will be born, well, by the end of the month for sure. I was looking forward to my race, but also wondering if it was a good idea or not. Not only would I be away from my phone, we still had lots to do to get ready. I’d been calling this summer “the last summer of my youth” and trying to do as much as I could while I had the chance, but I wondered, is this all right? Am I being immature? Selfish? I also wondered if I was even in good enough shape to race. Navigating my way slowly on the dark trail, I asked myself, why am I choosing to do this? I could be back in bed sleeping. Why am I out here?

But once I got into the transition area and saw all the people milling about, chatting and sizing each other up, I started thinking about racing and put these thoughts out of my mind, or at least over to the side. I racked my bike, arranged my gear, and talked a bit with some of my fellow racers. I’d never done the Chicago Triathlon before and was skeptical about it because of the size of the race. Seven thousand triathletes? How could it possibly not be congested the whole way? I wasn’t optimistic, but it was the only race that fit into our schedule. I’d done the Racine 70.3 in July, but the swim had been cancelled, so I didn’t feel I’d gotten a triathlon in, which had been one of my “last summer of my youth” goals.

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The first wave of the race went off at 6:00, but I had wait 75 more minutes before my wave, #17, would get in the water. During this time I ate two bananas, waited in the Port-a-Potty line three times, and watched the earlier waves swimming as the sun rose over Monroe Harbor. I didn’t like the waiting. I’d had adrenaline running through me since I’d gotten to transition and I was ready to go. At the same time, I was nervous. I didn’t have my phone with me so if something was happening, I wouldn’t know and there’d be no way for my wife to contact me.  I’d decided the best way to minimize the amount of time I was out of reach was to leave my phone with my bike, so I’d checked it as transition closed at 5:45, then I could again after I got out of the swim, again at the end of my bike ride, and then after the finish.

Besides this, I also had all my regular pre-race nerves. How would I feel? How would my breathing go? Had I taken enough puffs on my inhaler? Had I drunk enough water? Had I drunk too much? I mean, I love racing, I really do, but I’m also always afraid of it going badly. On top of all this, ever since I found out we were expecting, I’ve just been just generally more afraid of dying. I mean, I’m always thinking about it now, when I’m driving (will I get in accident?), when I’m eating (what if I choke?) when I go to sleep at night (will I wake up?). Okay, maybe I’m not always thinking about it, but it’s a lot more than I used to. I tell myself if it would’ve happened before we were expecting, sure, it would’ve been terrible, my wife and my kids would miss me, but they are adults. They’d survive. But now that I’ve got little Luke and Leia (those names might change) relying on me, I suddenly feel more important. They’re going to need me. On the one hand, I’ve got no reason to think my days are nearing their end. I’m healthy, I feel good. But on the other hand, there are people I grew up with that are gone. Me and my old friends, we’re old enough to die and for people to say, “too soon, too soon,” but it’s not out of the realm of possibility.

You may be wondering if I’ve considered myself too old to be having babies. Of course I have! My kids are old enough to be having kids (my sons are nowhere near that point in their lives, but they are technically old enough, and I am the about the same age that my father was when he became a grandfather). So yes, I’m maybe too old. On the other hand, Mick Jagger just had another and he’s in his 70’s. Bandmate Ronnie Wood’s wife is also expecting and he’s 68.  I’m young compared to those guys. Of course, I shouldn’t be comparing myself to Rolling Stones. I’m no rock star. I go back and forth like this a lot, until inevitably I always hear the voice that says:  it doesn’t matter how old you are—this is happening.

And finally, at 7:15, my race was happening too. There were over a hundred people in our wave and I positioned myself near the front of the group as we treaded water waiting for the signal to go. Finally, they blew the horn and we were off. It was a relief to finally be racing! Now I’m no star swimmer, but compared to triathletes, I’m better than most (thanks, knee surgery) and I felt good from the start. The swim course went south towards the Shedd Aquarium about a third of a mile, then we turned back to go past the start and then on to exit the water near the Chicago Yacht Club. The lake was smooth until the final stretch, where the waves came in and hit the seawall and then bounced back out and sloshed us all around. It’s hard to see exactly what’s going around you during the swim, but I sensed I was near the front of my wave (dark green caps) and I had passed a number of neon green caps (the wave that started before us) and maybe a few others.

After exiting the water, we had to run about 350 yards on the carpeted sidewalk to transition. I’d been nervous about running without my brace, and barefoot, but I had no pain and went by a number of people on our way to transition #1. When I got to my bike, one of the guys I’d talked with ahead of time was slipping on his shoes and ready to bike away. But most of the bikes were still racked, which meant I was ahead of most of the people in my age group. But I really wasn’t thinking much about that. I knew there were triathletes of every age and sort much faster than me, and I just wanted to race, give my best effort, and have one more good race before the babies came.

I pulled off my Lava Pants, sat on the grass, and put my biking clothes on. Before I started running my bike out of transition, I zipped open my bike bag to check my phone. I saw I had a message, but it was just my friend Frank, saying:  “Good luck today.” All right, thanks, Frank, I thought, and was glad there was no other news. I imagined my wife was still sleeping, or maybe just up and having her first cup of coffee. But whatever, whatever, it was all good and time to ride.

The bike course started north on Lake Shore Drive, with a line of orange traffic cones separating us from traffic. It was unnerving to be riding hard, looking ahead, focusing on getting moving while traffic was going by at 50 or 60 mph just one lane over. I think every biker’s fear is being run up on from behind by an inattentive driver. And you’d think the cones would have made this unlikely, but no, about 5 miles in, I saw a car on the other side of the drive, on the wrong side of the cones! Turns out a driver had ignored them and ended up hitting two bikers who had to be taken to the hospital. It must have happened not long before I’d gone past because there were no ambulances there yet, just a police car, bikers being attended to, and a long line of auto traffic stretched in the other direction.

So I was going at sub max efforts, to keep myself alert (and alive!) and also because I knew from my ride down to the start that once we turned around at Hollywood Avenue, we’d be fighting a headwind and I didn’t want to be spent before that. I wasn’t tracking my speed, just pacing myself and measuring my effort so I could stay strong until the end.  I had turned on my Garmin when I started riding and it had beeped at 5 miles and again at 10 but I hadn’t looked down to see what my splits were.  The bike leg is my weakest of the three and though I was being passed by some of the stronger, but they weren’t blowing by me that quickly, which I took that as a good sign.

After the 7 miles north and 7 miles south into the wind, the course took us underground onto lower Wacker Drive, where scenes from The Dark Knight had been filmed. This was wind-free and the riding felt fast and easy. Unfortunately, it was also pretty dim and I had 2 of my short-distance contacts in (I usually wear one for long distances but had run out) so I could only see clearly about the next 10-15 feet ahead of me, which isn’t very far when moving at about 20 mph, which is what I was doing. Luckily, the race had spread out by this point. I was passing more people than were passing me even though I was being cautious. My Garmin had beeped pretty close to the 5 and 10 mile markers but once we got underground, the GPS must’ve lost the signal because I stole a glance at it once about 59 minutes in and it said the distance was only 17 miles. That’s not possible, is it? I thought. That would’ve been terrible riding for me. I’d been a little sick the week before the race so it was possible I was going that slowly, but 17, really?  Luckily, about a minute later I passed by the official 20 mile marker so I knew I was moving well and that my GPS had just cut out when I was underground.

 

bike wacker drive

The last 4 miles of the ride flew by and before I knew it, I was back in transition, jogging in my bike shoes over the grass back to rack my bike. Hardcore triathletes are super-fast in transition, just switching shoes and darting away, but for me getting ready to run was a long process, which meant putting lubricant on the skin behind my knee, pulling on neoprene knee sleeve, then my knee brace, tightening the Velcro straps, adjusting it, pulling on half-tights above the brace, then putting on my shoes, and of course, this day, checking my phone. I had another message.  This time it was from my wife, who apparently was tracking me online and said:  “Looks like you’re doing amazing!  Nearly 20 mph on the bike.  You’ll be done in a flash!” So all right, I thought, everything’s good, and I tightened the bungy laces on my shoes and set off.

I’m not sure how others feel about the run portion of the triathlon but I love it. I mean, the swim was the swim, and I enjoyed the hard biking, but I couldn’t wait to run because I knew I’d be in my element finally. I’ve always been able to run pretty well straight off the bike. So even though my legs were a little rubbery and wobbly, like everyone else’s, I was passing people immediately on the run course. And there was a lot of them. By the time I started running, there were people from my race, the International Distance, and people from the Sprint Distance, who had started later all running down the same narrow course. I’d enjoyed the race up to this point but suddenly, I was having great fun! And even though I knew a lot of the people I was passing were really not moving fast, zipping by them I felt I was really fast again, like I was young again!

The run course was out-and back, mostly on the lakefront trail, heading south around the Shedd Aquarium then on past Soldier Field and McCormick Place before heading back to the finish in Grant Park. Besides concentrating on good form, I had to constantly be looking where I was going as there were lots of runners going in both directions. Again, I’d started my watch for run but wasn’t going to check splits. I was in a good rhythm and just told myself to stay there, at that effort, until halfway, and then if I felt good, I could push harder.

tri run

Well, when I passed the three mile mark but still hadn’t reached the turnaround, I told myself, okay, no need to get too ambitious, just keep this effort until we head back and pick it up then. I was still passing people, but not in big bunches like earlier. When I got to the turnaround, I told myself again, don’t push yet, just keep it right here. I told myself the same thing when I passed the 4 mile mark–just keep this effort for another mile. So you can probably see where this is going, somewhere along the way I realized I was not going to be able to pick it up, but instead would have to increase my effort just to keep up the same pace. When I got to the 5 mile mark, I was pretty spent. Okay, just keep this up to the finish, I told myself. Just hold on. I didn’t see this as failure, just evidence that I’d been right to hold back. Fatigue always creeps up on you if you are pacing correctly and that was what was happening.

With a mile to go I really had to concentrate–my legs were heavy, my arms were heavy, my breathing was heavy. I wasn’t upset though. I told myself my race was a success, was going to be a success, most of the work was done and all I left to do was finish it. I was still passing people, but much more slowly and whereas earlier, I felt like I was almost just watching them from some other place as I ran by, I was one of them now, struggling, fighting through the pain, wanting to be done.

In this triathlon, like most today, they write your age on your left calf. I guess this is to make it clear who they are racing against for awards and such. Like I said earlier, I had no great ambitions along these lines, but I did notice that whenever I’d pass someone in my age group, I’d pick up my pace a bit. This wasn’t to make any sort of statement, it was more about self-preservation, so they wouldn’t fight back and make it harder on me. It’s true that racing is about pain, and that working through it somehow part of the appeal, but during the race, avoiding pain, as long as it is possible, is still one of the goals and keys to a good race. I don’t think anyone wants the pain.

With less than a half mile to go, I was coming slowly up on a guy in my age group. He was moving pretty well and I thought to myself, oh boy, this one could be tough. Would I catch him? Yes, I could see that I definitely would, but for the first time in the race I thought a little about strategy—when should I pass him? Do I have enough energy if he tries to pass me back? I could sense, from his form and his racing outfit that he was taking this race seriously, and I figured he wouldn’t let go of me easily.

At this point the race was on sidewalk that led under Lake Shore Drive towards Grant Park and it ramped slightly uphill before turning us onto Columbus Drive and the finish. I pulled up behind him and stayed there. When we hit the incline, slight as it was, I could really feel it and hoped I wouldn’t fall apart. Wait until the top to pass, I told myself. Wait. But he slowed even more than I wanted to, and before I knew it, I was going by him. Oh no, I thought, now I have to start my kick to the finish already, which is what I did, and it was tough, everything had caught up to me–the swim, the bike, the 6 miles of running. I didn’t dare look back as I turned and saw the finish line. I was sure this was guy was tracking me, trying to pass me back. Maybe he will, I thought, but I’m going to make him work for it.

The final stretch was slightly downhill, which helped, but still all I could think was: form, form, form. Hold on, I told myself, you’re almost there. Closer to the finish all I could think about was my breathing, trying to breathe, and I kept my eyes on the finish banner, watching it coming closer, closer, closer. Finally, I was coming up on it, then going across the line, and then done. Ugghh, that was hard, I thought, and walked a few steps then stopped and put my hands on my knees, trying to catch my breath. After a few moments I was able to stand up and look back and my rival was just finishing up, and surprisingly had taken no notice of me. Oh well, I thought, that mad dash was all for naught, but that was a fun way to finish, I’m glad I did it, even if he wasn’t up to race me (later I realized that my knee sleeve and knee brace had been covering my calf the whole run so no one knew my age and every time I’d passed someone in my age group, including this guy, they hadn’t cared one extra bit. Ha!).

I slowly made my way down the long finish chute, guzzled some water, told myself, “good work,” and then before my breathing had even returned to normal, my thoughts were back to getting to my phone as quickly as possible. Any news from home? Was anything happening?  I would’ve liked to hang out a bit, in the happy haze of the finish area, but I began to feel irresponsible again, leaving my 8-months pregnant wife at home alone while I was hustling through the morning doing a triathlon! How silly! I hurried through the tent serving food (grabbing a sandwich, even though I wasn’t hungry yet, I knew I would be) and began the walk back to the transition area. I felt good about my race, satisfied. I didn’t know my time, but knew I had done well enough on all three parts. But who cares? I thought. We’re having babies soon, two of them! All this triathlon hubabaloo, who cares? This isn’t important! This is not to say I had any sort of revelation and put things in perspective. I’d known this all before the race started, I’d just been able to put it out of my mind, forced it out of my mind while I knew I still could.

As I got close to transition, the last waves of the sprint triathlon were still getting out of the water, so I got to watch people swimming, running to their bikes, and setting out eagerly on the run course. It was strange to think they were just starting out while it was all behind me already. Funny, I used to think that way about having kids too, little ones, at least–changing diapers, feeding them, dropping them off at school, arranging sleepovers, helping with homework, all that kid stuff. Now I’m starting over again! I hope it’s clear that I’m pretty excited, though it’s also true that sometimes I say to myself, or to my wife: What have we gotten ourselves into? We had it so good. Life was easy and we were happy. What if something goes wrong? What if it’s too hard? But I know having and raising kids has been the greatest thing in my life and that’s no revelation either–I’m sure most every parent would agree with that. And now I get to do it again. Lucky, lucky me. That’s what I’m thinking most of the time.

I got to my bike and checked my phone. No new messages, a big relief, so I texted my wife and told her I was done and would be home soon. She sent back a quick “Woohoo” and I felt myself relax. The race was done and everything was good. I changed into a dry shirt, went to sit on the grass a few minutes to stretch and soak it all in, then got on my bike and pointed myself back down the path towards home, the last race of the last summer of my youth behind me. I was glad I’d done it. I was glad about everything.

babies cake

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I Feel Like Almost Half a Man (Ironman, that is)

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I have been too busy to write a recap of last weekend’s Half-Ironman Tri in Racine and I’m still too busy (and I’m hardly exaggerating) but I thought I better write a quick note in case anyone is wondering how it went.

Well, the swim was cancelled (reportedly 51 degrees) so I still can’t say I have completed a Half-Ironman (when I signed up for one some twenty years ago, the swim was cancelled that day too) (thanks, Lake Michigan!)

I was disappointed, but what could I do?  They set us off two at a time, the professionals first, and then the rest of us in order of our race numbers and I was 1542 out of 1600 so I spent an hour just watching people take off before I got to go.  My goal for the bike was around 3 hours and I did it in just over (though my GPS had the distance measured at only 55 miles).  The course was flat but it was very windy, so I was happy enough.  Some people flew by me in the first third of the ride but I passed quite a few others on the back half, especially on the uphills and long stretches into the wind.  I was pleased, especially because my longest training ride had been only 45 miles with a 15 minute break at halfway.

My upper shin bone had been bothering me for over a week before the race so most of race week I was limping around pretty good and not even sure I could run.  I iced it aggressively and used half a tube of Arnica gel and thankfully it recovered.  I felt good off the bike and though I didn’t count, I passed hundreds and hundreds of people on the run, which made the 13 miles go by pretty quickly.  I averaged 7:25 per mile, right around where I hoped I might be.  I felt pretty good on the two-loop course except on the two short uphills near the start of each loop.  I didn’t check my splits, just kept looking ahead but my GPS had me at just over 7 minute pace for the first half and then slower for the second.  This makes sense as I slowed to take my gels, stopped and walk to drink a few glasses of water, and even ducked into the Port-a-Potty just before ten miles (it was a cool day, great for running, and I obviously had no dehydration issues).  After that stop, I felt good enough to push to the finish but ran out gas and had a rough stretch between 11-12.  But I felt better towards the end and was able to finish strong and enjoy it too.

Recovery week has been okay (though, as I said, I’ve been busy).  I took a couple days off, have done a few runs without much of that shin pain, and survived my nephew’s Bachelor Party on Saturday, a day that started with paintball in the woods at 9 a.m. and ended in a downtown bar at 2 a.m. (Last Uncle Standing!).

All right, got to go.  Things to do, places to go, people to see…..

 

 

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

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.