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 hot, 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.
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!
My niece Emma is 6 years old. Every year her parents and their friends throw a Christmas party with a special appearance by the one and only Santa Claus. Now, this Santa is actually my brother-in-law John, a jolly enough fellow, former state champion in the javelin, and currently a powerlifter. He’s a big guy, fills the suit well, and has been doing so for years. As the children at this party have gotten older, and some have realized that Santa Claus is actually John. Last year, my sister in law expected Emma would figure it out, that when she sat on her dad’s lap, told him what she wanted for Christmas, and heard his voice, she would surely realize the truth. So as not to ruin it for the younger kids, she told Emma, “If you notice anything strange about Santa, don’t say anything, but come over and whisper it in my ear.” Well, last year passed, with Emma sitting on Santa’s lap, telling him what she wanted for Christmas, and she didn’t notice anything strange.
But as this year’s Christmas party was approaching, they figured surely she’d recognize him. Her mom gave her the same instructions: if you notice anything strange about Santa, come over and whisper it in my ear. The party began, John was there, but then at some point he disappeared. Shortly after, Santa arrived. All the kids brave enough sat on his lap, told him how good they’d been, and what they wanted to find under their trees on Christmas morning. Emma did the same, felt his strong hands as he lifted her up, talked back and forth with him, looked him in the eye. When she was done, she jumped off and ran immediately to her mom. She knows, her mom thought. But when Emma whispered in her mom’s ear, all she said, “I noticed something strange about Santa….his beard is not attached to his face!”
That’s it. That’s what she noticed. That and the fact that he was wearing his boots over his shoes. She didn’t see her dad, though she’s a very smart little girl and the evidence was all there for her to see. She still saw Santa. With some peculiarities, sure, but it was him. Now my lovely perfect wife tells this story better than I do, but I thought I’d try as well, because every time we talked and laughed about it, we concluded that it just goes to show that: people believe what they want to believe.
Why am I discussing this on my running blog? Well, it’s occurred to me that I might be just like Emma. For my last report, way back in September, I’d just run a 21 minute 5K and was feeling pretty livid about it and was determined to get back in shape once and for all. I was looking forward to a glorious autumn of running harder and getting faster, being myself again. But now it’s January already, and while I did make some improvements, they were not as grand as I imagined. And I didn’t even run another race. I kept waiting to feel good enough, fast enough, but it didn’t happen. I didn’t want to do another race unless I was ready to go at least under 20 minutes for a 5K. “Just get out there and try,” you might be saying. “The best way to get in racing shape is to race.” That’s true, but I guess I am just too fragile in the head to knock myself out and run a heavy, gasping, slow-footed 5K in over 20 minutes again. Because what I’m aiming for now is just a stepping stone. First I need to get under 20 minutes, then under 19, and then under 18 again. Another bad race and I might not be able to keep going. And by “keep going” I mean keep fighting to get myself back in racing shape OR keep deceiving myself to think that I can.
You see, at this point, I don’t know which is the case. On the one hand, there’s no reason I can’t get back in shape. It’s just a simple equation of me moving my body over land at a certain speed for a certain distance. Tantalizing simple. However, I know I shouldn’t have faith in this just because I want to be true. And I know that on the other hand is the fact that I’ve been trying to get fast, haven’t been able to, and maybe it’s not possible. And this is backed up with some pretty solid evidence, the rate at which I can and cannot move my body over land for a set distance. This is why I say I might be like Emma, ignoring all the hard evidence and my own good sense of reality to keep living in my fantasy world, the world in which I can actually feel fit and fast, maintain 6 minutes per mile pace, break 5 minutes for a single mile, run a nice ten-miler at under 7 minute pace just because it’s a nice day for a run, all my crazy dreams.
At some point Emma is going to realize the truth and be none the worse off for it. That’s why we can laugh about it. But if I find I’ve been living in a fantasy world, that I can’t get back to where I want, well, does that mean I’ve been wasting time and energy believing I can? I know it wouldn’t be completely wasted. I enjoy running and enjoy setting goals for myself. But there’s a difference between the experience of a goal-orientated, realistic, satisfied runner and one deluded about his or her possibilities. I think if I knew that I wasn’t going to be fast again, for whatever reason, I could transition to being a gentleman jogger and pay no attention to time or distance or getting faster. I could do it. Live a normal life. But at this point I still want to believe. It’s like I’m saying: who knows for sure whether Santa’s beard is attached to his face? I mean, anything is possible. Well, maybe that’s not true, but lots of things are possible. Lots of things will happen.
Because it’s been so long since I’ve posted, I won’t bore you with all my training info. Like I said, I have improved since September. I attribute this simply to more running. In the 14 weeks since my last post, I have averaged 33 miles a week (with 2 hours a week of cross-training). For the 14 weeks before that, I averaged 24 miles per week (with 5.5 hours of cross training). My knee seems to be holding up to the extra miles and back-t0-back days of running well enough. I did get another cortisone shot in November, and I’m actually just finishing up a week off of running completely (I think I’ll go ten days then start again) because of an issue with the tendons above my kneecap. This is probably related in some way to my injury, muscle weakness or the brace I have to wear, but it doesn’t seem to be directly related to the joint line, the meniscus or microfracture surgery, so I expect it will be fine after this rest. So, even though most of these would have been easy or moderate days in my past life, here are my best days from the fall:
November 3rd: 6 mile loop at 6:56 pace (struggled to run this at 7:25 in the summer)
November 7th: 2.5 miles on the track at 6:40 pace
November 10th: A 6:00 mile in the middle of a long track workout (fastest mile in the three years since my knee surgery)
November 18th: 4 800’s under 3 minutes, last one in 2:52
December 9th: 6 mile repeats (2 minutes rest) on rolling hills, averaged 6:28
December 11th: 6 800’s under 3 minutes, last one in 2:49
December 17th: 5K tempo run on track in 20:34 (6:35 pace)
December 19th: 6 mile loop at 6:49 pace
On to 2016!
A brilliant idea for a blog post hit me as I was in the midst of an hour long run in Colorado, at 8,000 feet altitude, in a snowy valley beside the Continental Divide, where my lovely perfect wife were for a wedding in January. But I haven’t been able to write it yet. I haven’t even sat down and tried. It’s still forming in my head. Over a month later, it still seems like a good idea, so rest assured it’s going to be great and you’ll love it and want to share it with all your friends. In the meantime, all I’ve got for you is six weeks of training to recount so if you’re not interested in that you can stop reading now and check back next time when I promise I’ll have something more interesting for you.
For the rest of you, well, sitting here right now with a nasty head cold (no workout yesterday, boo!), the temperature outside in the single digits, and some knee pain, it feels like things are not going well. But when I look back on the last six weeks, I can see I’m making progress. I’ve had some good workouts. If you remember, my average weekly mileage for the 4 weeks before I last posted was 16, which I also got to for our week in Colorado, and which was higher than any single week since my knee surgery over two years ago.
In the next four weeks I bumped that up to average 20 miles per week. Of course, this is not much when compared to what a healthy runner would do, but it’s progress for me And besides the miles, I had some good workouts at the track, some fast 300’s and 200’s, which made me feel like maybe my goal of getting close to 5 minutes for a mile is not just a dream (I’m still a long, long ways off though).
More recently; however, I’ve had a little scare with my knee, the left knee, of course, the one I’ve been pleading with for over two years now. The bad news: it’s been hurting a bit. First, after a run and then during my next run and then again after the next. Then why run? you might be asking. No, if you’ve made it this far into reading this you know that a runner will run unless things get really bad, unless there is no other choice. Runners are optimistic, or foolish, or both.
Anyway, there’s definitely some knee pain, which makes me nervous. I’m always a little bit nervous about it, thinking any little tweak of pain is a sign I’m heading back to square one. But there’s good news too: my recent pain is on the outside of the knee, not the inside, where I’ve had all my problems. Wait, that’s good news? The fact that now both the inside and the outside of the knee hurt? Ha, that just struck me. Maybe this is all bad news, really bad news. Yikes! Maybe the whole knee will be shot soon. Maybe. But for the time being, my foolish, optimistic self is saying, no, this is just a minor, regular running ache, the sort any kind of runner might get from an increase in mileage, and running on harder surfaces.
The day it hurt when I was running, I went back and checked and saw that though my weekly mileage (which I track Monday-Sunday) had peaked at 22, I actually ran 29 miles in a week (Sunday-Saturday), most of that on the roads, and at a slow pace, which means a lot of pounding, and though I haven’t run a lot of miles, I’ve been wearing the same shoes since July, so there are plenty of reasons my knee might be a little achy, it’s perfectly plausible to think this is just a minor setback, just one of the things us runners must navigate through on the way to accomplishing our goals.
So, that’s my mindset and going forward, I’m going to cut back on my miles, do my workouts at a faster pace (easier on the knees), get some new shoes, and probably adjust my brace just a little bit, to ease off on the tension that takes the pressure off the inside of the joint. That’s what I’m looking forward to in March. And hopefully some better weather. When the snow melts (will it ever?) I can run on the track, which will be much easier on my joints.
And yes, I promise I will get to work on that brilliant idea I had. I fear I may have oversold it to you, but too late now. And you’ll probably forget all about it anyway, busy as you are with your own lives, your own training, which is the way it ought to be. But thanks for reading. Here are the weekly logs if you’re really interested:
M: spin class at Y, rode pretty easily, HR 133 av (1.25)
T: track workout with Tony and Bill, 1200 in 4:30, 800 in 2:53, 4 300’s in 55, 57, 53, 53, longer stuff tough, felt good on the 300’s, 5 miles total, HR max 185, 30 minute swim (1.25)
W: core workout in lodge suite in CO including some jumps (0.5)
R: cc ski, okay workout (0.75)
F: 60 minute run (7 miles) at 8500 feet altitude! Felt good except for the uphills (1.0)
S: hiked Red Rocks CO (0.5)
S: 4 mile run through neighborhood in dark, felt pretty good (0.5)
(RUN: 16 miles)
TOTAL TIME: 5.75 hours
M: 30 minute ride on trainer, 45 minute swim workout, wu 500 in 7:51, lots of drills, then 10 50’s in 39-42 (1.25)
T: track workout with Tony and Bill, 2 wu, 8 400’s in 81, 80, 79, 78, 77, 77, 76, 74 (av. 78) (200 walk), didn’t feel great, but fast workout; Tri Club swim workout including 9 100’s on 1:45, 4 200’s on 3:30, felt pretty good (1.75)
W: one hour on trainer, HR av 123, 45 minute swim (all form and drills) (1.75)
R: weight workout at CUW (1.0)
F: 8 mile run with 6 Beach Drive Hills, felt a little better than last time, averaged 7:30 the last 3 miles (with a little tailwind), could feel left leg getting tired (1.0)
S: good weight workout, 15 minutes rowing to warm up (1.25)
S: 6 mile run on roads, concentrated on good, relaxed form, felt okay, but pretty slow (0.75)
(RUN: 18 miles)
TOTAL TIME: 8.75 hours
Jan 26-Feb 1
M: swim 1 hour—all form and drills (1.0)
T: 5 miles, 1 wu with drills and strides in fieldhouse, then 4 on treadmill, Tri Club swim workout (1.75)
W: 30 minute spin in morning, 90 minute swim team workout (2.0)
R: 2 30 minute rides on trainer (am & pm) (1.0)
F: 6 miles at Pettit, 2 wu with strides, 16 laps of 200 hard, 200 jog, times on 200’s were slow! (av. 40), legs didn’t feel that bad, so surprisingly slow, maybe just tired? (0.75)
S: run/walk in snow (approximately 2 miles running), knee felt okay on smooth ground, not on bumpy (0.5)
S: Treadmill run 6 miles, felt pretty good (0.75)
(RUN: 19 miles)
TOTAL TIME: 8.75 hours
M: rest day
T: 5 miles, 1 wu in fieldhouse, mostly drills, 4 miles on treadmill, first in 8:00, then increased speed, last 3 miles in 21:45, easy 30 minute spin on trainer (1.25)
W: 1 hour weight/core workout then 15 minutes shootaround w/10 jumps to backboard, swim 45 minutes, 500 in 7:43 to start then drills (1.75)
R: 5 mile run, 1 wu in fieldhouse, 4 on treadmill in 29:45 (15:15/14:30), felt good, 35 minute swim workout (drills) (1.25)
F: 4 miles (1 wu, 3 on treadmill, felt okay), slower than yesterday but harder (different treadmill or just tired?), 45 minute swim, mostly drills then 10 50’s all under 45 (1.25)
S: 1 hour weight/core workout, biked 45 minutes on trainer with lots of single-leg riding (1.75)
S: 8 miles on roads, felt pretty good for 4 then legs got pretty tired, but worked them hard on Saturday (1.0)
(RUN: 22 miles)
TOTAL TIME: 8.25 hours
M: Swim workout: 20 min wu, 5 200’s in 3:08 av, felt pretty good, then 5 100’s in 1:30, some kicking at end (need to do more kicking!) (1.0)
T: 8 miles on roads, felt pretty good, 8 fast strides at end (1.0)
W: 30 minute weight/core workout, then 1 hour tough! swim practice (1.5)
R: 6 miles, ½ mile wu in gym then 5 ½ on treadmill at about 7:30 pace, legs didn’t feel great, knee achy (but not sore) (0.75)
F: 75 minute swim, good workout, lots of kicking (1.25)
S: 7 mile run to Navy Pier (with wind, very cold day!), felt okay but knee achy afterwards at night (on outside of knee, not inside) (1.0)
S: core workout at home (1.0)
(RUN: 21 miles)
TOTAL TIME: 7.5 hours
M: 3 miles, ½ drills in fieldhouse, 2 ½ on treadmill, good energy but knee started to hurt a bit, on outside of knee, maybe too many miles? (29 in a week from Sun-Sat), weights 30 minutes (1.0)
T: spin 30 minutes on trainer, 1 hr. swim workout in small pool with kicking (1.5)
W: 30 minute swim, 500 in 7:54, then 5 200’s in 3:06, 3:06, 3:07, 3:06, 2:59, felt good, 2 miles running at Pettit 11 300’s (untimed) with 100 walk, knee okay (1.0)
R: spin 30 minutes on trainer, swim workout wu then 16 75’s hard, w/ 25 easy, arms tired from Wednesday (1.25)
F: 3 ½ mile run, 1 strides/drills in fieldhouse, 2 1/2 on treadmill, felt good, up to 6:40 pace for the very end, knee ok (but achy afterwards) (0.5)
S: Nordictrak 1 hour, felt pretty good, HR av 128 (1.0)
S: Spin on trainer, mixed it up with some intervals, one-legged riding, standing up, HR av 128 (1.0)
(RUN: 8 ½ miles)
TOTAL TIME: 6.75 hours
I really couldn’t have asked for a much better week of training. I’d had some good workouts the few weeks before this, but had not strung things together with any sort of consistency. First I was busy with work, and then not feeling so great. But this week I was back to full health, had time every day, and no excuses (even the weather cooperated, as much as it can in December). Of course, it’s one thing to lay out a training plan for the week, but something else to pull it off. Even if circumstances allow, sometimes the body doesn’t want to go. With me, my knee has been the thing holding me back, but sometimes it’s just fatigue, that is, I just get too tired to follow through on my plan. It’s not laziness (I tell myself), just being tired to the point where it’s better to scale back, when it seems the result will be to weaken, not strengthen myself. Luckily, that was not the case this week. Not only did I run 16 miles, my highest total in over 2 years, I did weight/core workouts 3 times (even putting 50 pounds on the barbell for my squats), got in 3 swims, did a little biking, and maintained a good pace on my 2 six-mile runs. I took it out a little too fast on Tuesday and walked a minute at halfway because I felt like I was starting to limp, which, of course, could lead to all sorts of problems. When I run, I’m focusing on maintaining good form, but also staying relaxed. I haven’t quite gotten there yet, but it’s feeling better. And after that short walk, I held together well. I felt good on my Sunday run too, but didn’t time that one because I knew the week would be a grand success if I just completed it (especially after being out late the night before for my sister-in-law’s cocktail-themed birthday party), and I didn’t want to ruin it by getting done and wishing I would have gone faster. A 16 mile week is not anything to get too excited about, but I wanted to revel in the nonetheless, stretch out on the floor, watch the Packer game, and feel accomplished, which I did. And my knee? No problems this week. My Physical Therapist watched me run on the treadmill again and said my form was much improved. Much improved. So, there you have it. I almost felt like a runner again last week. And if I can keep this up, well, I suppose it’s better take it one week at a time.….
Weekly totals for Dec 15-21
M: good weight workout at gym, 30 minute swim workout, mostly drills, some fast 50’s at end (1.5)
T: 6 mile route in 46:45 (7:47average), which included a one minute walk at halfway, felt good through 2 ½, hard after that but knee okay. Tri Club swim workout, felt good (1.75)
W: Weight/core workout 1 hour (1.0)
R: 45 minutes on recumbent bike then 30 minute swim—all drills and kicking (1.25)
F: 4 miles including ½ mile at PT, 1 ½ wu on track including strides/drills, 4 800’s in 3:11, 3:08, 3:07, 3:02 (2 minutes recovery) concentrated on good form, felt pretty good, weight/core workout 30 minutes (1.25)
S: swim 1 hour, mostly drills, good workout! (1.0)
S: 6 mile route, untimed, felt pretty smooth (0.75)
RUN: 16 miles
TOTAL TIME: 8.5 hours
Well, Frank—here finally is that next blog post you’ve been asking about. I know it’s been a while, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve written my “next” blog post– wrote it, revised it, reviewed it, and then, at the last minute, realized whatever I’d said wasn’t worth sharing after all. Why? you might be asking. What was wrong with them? Well, I suppose this goes to the whole nature of why people write, and what they share, and what people want to read, but in the end what I’d written just seemed so self-indulgent and depressing, and maybe I needed to wallow through it, but you sure didn’t. No one else did. I mean, I was using words like “despair” and “midlife” and quoting Hamlet and it was all so gloomy. And I realize now maybe you are wondering what I’m talking about, what could be so terrible. Ha, that’s the thing. Nothing is terrible. Everything is good. In fact, everything is great! I just didn’t know it. Or maybe I knew it, but couldn’t feel it, so I just kept writing about what I was feeling, even though I knew that was wrong. Anyway, if I posted more regularly, I wouldn’t have to begin with apologies and explanations, and I hope this is the last time I have to do so. But enough about that. What is the news?
Well, the good news is my knee brace “seems” to be working. I say “seems” because I don’t want to get ahead of myself as I’ve had good stretches before, only to have my hopes dashed. But in the eleven weeks I’ve had my brace, the donjoy oa nano, I’ve done 24 runs, for a total 102 miles, including a 7 miler, without any of the sharp pain that had stopped me before. I’m not pain free, walking up steps sometimes still hurts even with my brace on, I still ice after runs, but at least it seems I’m in a position to manage the pain and finally put together a training plan to get back in shape.
That’s great news, you’re probably thinking. Great. So, what was the problem, what accounted for all those gloomy unpublished posts? Well, quite simply, being able to run further, I realized how out of shape I am. I am so slow! I call it “creepy slow” because I feel like I’m just creeping along when I run. I regularly do runs now at 8 minutes a mile! The first time I checked my pace I thought it must have been a mistake. But it happened again, and then again. And yes, I know it’s all relative, but it’s not just the pace, it just doesn’t feel right when I run, my body’s so out of synch, and I have to work so hard just to maintain it. I have to concentrate, I gasp for breath, my legs get heavy. At 8 minutes a mile! I can hardly believe it. When I wasn’t able to run, the thing I missed most about it was the feeling of it, which had always been so natural for me. But on some of my runs these past two months, I’ve felt like such a phony, a “creeper,” huffing and puffing my way through it and thinking to myself: this is not running. I know what running is, I know what running feels like, and this is not it.
So that frustration, that panic, that horror, was the germ of all my doomed earlier posts, and I’m so glad I didn’t share them with you because I know now I was seeing it all wrong. I guess I’d hoped to just pick up where I’d left off. As you know, though I haven’t run much, I’ve stayed in shape in other ways. I hoped it could just translate to running fitness again once my knee would allow it. But limping around and keeping weight off my leg for over 2 years, running a total of 417 miles since I hurt my knee, for an average of 3.7 miles per week (as opposed to the 50-60 per week I’d been averaging for years before that), it makes sense that I wouldn’t be able to run like I used to. I figured that out, and then realized it’s better this way. Being in such terrible shape is not a burden, it’s an opportunity. To get back in shape! I’m actually excited about being a slug because now I’ve got a real challenge ahead of me.
I’m tempted to share with you some of the ridiculous things I wrote over the last couple months, but I’m going to resist and look ahead. It’s going to be a long, tough road and instead of focusing on running goals right way, I’m going to focus on “rebuilding the machine,” my body, that is, getting it back in shape and whole again so I can then go after my running goals. Knee willing, and thanks again to my donjoy oa nano knee brace (which I recommend for anyone after microfracture surgery), my training plan is:
Run 3 times/week. I’d like to average 15 miles a week to start, a mix of steady runs and interval workouts, strides every week. I guess the first hurdle I want to get over is maintaining sub 7:30 pace for 4 miles without feeling like I am doing a tempo run, then I’ll take it from there.
Spin class/ride my trainer at least once a week. These workouts are good for leg strength, a nice change of pace, and a chance to get a good workout in on cold, snowy, dark, icy days.
Swim 2-3 times/week. This is still a great cardio workout for me and good for overall strength. Maybe I’ll do a little aqua jogging, but honestly I get a better workout when I swim and I don’t think the aqua jogging helps strengthen my leg at all. Working the kickboard, though I do not enjoy it, is also a good way to get my legs stronger without any impact on my knees.
Weight room 2-3 times/week: I’ll focus on my legs and core, but still do some upper body stuff. More strength will help me when I swim and I’d still like to meet my goal of 12 pullups this year (I’ve gotten to 10). I’ve had to stop doing pushups because of shoulder pain, but if that goes away, I’ll see how many of those I can do.
PT once a week: Yes, I have finally started Physical Therapy. I should have earlier, but I was too optimistic, I guess, hoping things would right themselves naturally. But I’ve got a good therapist and she quickly discovered I have core weakness, glute weakness, and leg weakness. At my last session, she videotaped me running on the treadmill—just for a few minutes, at a jogging pace, and honestly, I felt like I wasn’t limping too badly, that my form was solid. But when I watched myself run, oh, the horror, the horror, it was nothing like I’d imagined. To see myself struggling like that, with my sloppy left leg swinging along, my foot slapping the belt of the treadmill, it was awful. But my mind had already begun to turn before that. This helps put things in perspective, I told myself. This explains why I’m so slow. This is my starting point and now I get to get better.
In addition to going to PT once a week, I need to do the core and leg exercises she prescribes 4-5 times/week. These can be done as part of my weight room workouts, after my runs, or just while watching TV. 15-20 minutes a day will do me a lot of good.
In addition, over the winter I’ll mix in a little cross-country skiing, Nordictrak, elliptical, rowing machine, jumping rope, et cetera. All this is dependent on how my knee feels. For now I’m going to put as little weight on it as possible on the days between my runs. But if I can get to the point where I can alternate running with Nordictrak or elliptical or biking, then I should really be able to get back in shape. Hopefully, the brace and my strengthening will allow me to do this (and you’re probably thinking I wish I’d gotten this brace a lot sooner, right? I admit I have thought that. But if I had gotten it sooner, I wouldn’t be on the brink of undertaking this great challenge right now, December 12, 2014. I’d probably be in good shape and running workouts at 7 minute pace easily—and how boring would that be? Really boring, right? This is so much better, and if by spring I’m back to feeling my old self again, well, then it’s all going to be worth it) .
So, Frank, that’s my plan. Apologies again for making you wait, and thanks for reading all the way to the end like I know you always do. In addition to my change in attitude, I think I’m going to change the format for this blog and actually start posting weekly, with workout details, turn it into a training blog once and for all and forget about all my philosophizing about running and bellyaching about getting old and congratulating myself on finding my lovely, perfect wife. I’m just going to write about getting back in shape finally! That’s what most running blogs are like. That’s how I imagined this would be when I started it. I just haven’t had the chance to do that yet.
I also think I’ll stop regularly putting the link to the blog on my Facebook page so don’t look for it there, because really, most of my Facebook friends are probably not that interested in my workouts, for example, the fact that I ran 8 gut-busting 400’s on the track on November 5th in an average time of 86 seconds and did the same workout again on December 5th with an average time of 83.5 seconds (that’s not bad progress, is it?). If all goes according to plan, I’m hoping to post a lot more information like that. And if I can’t, if my knee or something else fails me, well, let’s not think about that right now. We’re looking forward. Hope springs eternal, right? I sure hope so.