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

Summer, don’t leave me now

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

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

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

Safari:

elephant from car

 

girafferhinos

 

elephants at waterhole

The Wild Coast, South Africa:

river lodgewild coast clear water

Bulungula, an African village:

village hill

 

sunset in villagevillage hut and full moon

Franschhoek (wine country):

panaroma wine country

rainbow in wine country

Cape Town and the Cape of Good Hope:

cape town from apartment

 

hike lion's headcape of good hope panorama

And then Alaska:

alaska eureka view

alaska lake

panaroma hike from cabinpanaroma copper river hike

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

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

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

perfect running beach

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

alaska road

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

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

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

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

The Amnesia Training Plan

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

enjoying-memory-loss

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

dwight.jpg

 

 

Dear July,

july-2015-calendar-wallpaper-2560px

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 road back goes through winter….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stupid knee!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the meantime: Stupid knee!

Screw it, I’m gonna run!

At last report I’d decided I was going to let my running come to me—unplanned and in small doses, when the mood struck me or I couldn’t help myself, thankful for what I could get but with no expectations.  Well, that didn’t last long.  Once I realized I could run (even on a limited basis) and not hurt my knee (at least apparently not make things worse), I was plotting out a rough schedule for my triumphant (ah, I hope) return to running.

And really, how could I help myself?  It seemed to me everyone else was running.   First off, my son started the cross-country season with an 18:25, knocking over 20 seconds off his PR.  When I saw him come through the mile mark in that first meet with teammates he wouldn’t have been able to keep in sight last year, I couldn’t help but point him out to the stranger who was watching the race next to me then dash (well, limp) across the park to see him at the next spot.  By his third meet, he was down to 17:49 and I can see he’s got much faster running ahead of him.  Even if he wasn’t having success, there’s really no place like a high school meet to put a person in the mood for running—I mean, herds of kids rolling across the grassy fields, rambling through the woods, sprinting for the line, decimating themselves—any runner watching will feel compelled to do the same.

photo ccBut it’s not just him, every morning I check the latest news on let’s run.  Ipavlov-experiment read other blogs too, and my fellow bloggers report on their running!   Sometimes, like Pavlov’s dogs, I literally salivate when I read about races, 20 mile runs, and weekly mileage totals.  This doesn’t make sense, of course, unless I need running like I need food, unless it’s become an essential part of my existence.

On top of that, I’ve been seeing it in places I don’t expect.  For example, my lovely perfect wife’s cousin, a lifelong non-runner, reports on Facebook that she’s now a runner.  My nephew, who’s told me he doesn’t like photo cearunning, is halfway through his middle-school cross country season (highlights include an asthma attack and getting stung in the achilles by a swarm of yellow jackets), my friend’s wife Holly, a big fan of this blog (ha!) and self-proclaimed non-runner, has built up to 4 miles.  My lovely perfect wife and I are going to Colorado in October.  I contacted my friend there to see if he was free for dinner on the 19th.  He said, Sure, let’s go out for pasta—I’ll be carbo-loading for the Denver Rock and Roll marathon the next morning! 

Of course, even with all this, I wouldn’t have started up again if I didn’t feel ready for it. I’ve still got pain and my leg is still weak, but it occurred to me that no matter when I began again, it was going to be hard.  I thought maybe I needed to run to get my body in shape to run, that the very thing I’ve been avoiding is the only way out, and that I’ve got to confront the pain instead of avoiding it to get my knee strong again.

While my previous runs have been unmeasured and untimed, I decided I should do my new workouts on the track.  I liked the idea of starting from scratch, 100 meters at a time.  Plus I wanted to be sure the surface would be consistent for every step.  I also wanted to know how far and how fast I was going and figured it would be better to run in shorter spurts, paying strict attention to my form to keep myself from favoring my right leg.  But I think the main reason I wanted to go to the track was so I could pay close attention to my running, be focused on that and nothing else.  Sure, the goal of lots of runs is to relax and let one’s mind wander, see things and lose track of everything, but I didn’t want that.  I mean, for the last 11 months my mind has been wandering to thoughts of running, so why would I want to dilute the experience with other people or beautiful scenery or anything else?

track1When I got to the track the first time I walked around a few times to warm up, then timed myself for 100 meters, focusing on good form.  23 seconds.  Not bad, I thought, as I walked the curve.  For the next one I ran 22 seconds.  Times don’t matter, I told myself, but old habits die hard, I guess, because for the remaining 6 100’s, I tried to maintain that speed, and even got down to 20 on the last one.  My knee hurt a little at the onset but loosened up nicely.  Though definitely weak, it seemed fine afterwards.  No swelling and pain only up steps, which had been the case beforehand as well.

For my next workout (5 days later) I ran 4 200 meters repeats at the same speed (averaged 40 seconds, last one in 39).  My knee felt the same as the first time.  Five days later I was back at the track and ran 6 300’s in 62, 60, 60, 58, 58, and 57 (that’s just under 5:20 per mile pace for those of you who haven’t already translated it in your heads).  Coming down the final straights for those repeats was tough, tough, tough, but what an exquisite form of torture.  In all my other hard training since getting off my crutches in February, there was nothing quite like this, nothing that put me up against the edge of oblivion like digging in to cover those last stretches of track.  Of course, I loved it as I guess there’s nothing quite like that mix of pain and exertion to make me feel alive and whole.  After the 4 days it took for the soreness from that workout to dissipate, I was back on the track for 400 meter repeats (why “just do it,” when you can “just (over) do it,” right?).  The first 3 were at 84, 83, and then 81.  My left hamstring tightened up a bit, so I backed off but still averaged 83 for 6 of them.  Not bad, I told myself.  Not bad, considering everything. 

For my next workout (a wonderfully dark and rainy morning), I told myself to back off on the intensity, and after my warm up, ran a mile in 6:38, stopped, caught my breath, then ran another in the opposite direction in 6:32.  Maybe the slower pace made the difference, but it felt like my leg had gotten a little stronger.  Again, no big problems afterwards.

And so how does it feel to be running again?  Well, there’s the exhilaration I’ve just tried to describe, the satisfaction of the craving I’ve had for so long. But there’s also trepidation, wondering if that stabbing pain is going to return.  And I feel awkward, my form and rhythm off kilter, my body not quite remembering how to bend and un-bend itself in the right ways yet.  And in some ways I feel foolish too—that I’m doing this too soon and all wrong, that I’m going to look back and chastise myself for these workouts, the last ones I’ll ever be able to do.  Coming back from microfracture is just such a mystery.  There’s so many different stories out there—successes, failures, and surrenders.  I don’t know what mine will be yet. 

Before the first of my track workouts I was leaving the locker room at work and one of my colleagues, an ex-athlete himself, who saw me on crutches the first 6 weeks of the year, who’s watched me limp around since then, asked me if I was going to run.

“I’m going to try,” I said. 

“Runners,” he told me.  “Are notorious for making bad decisions.” 

I laughed and nodded, because he was right, of course, because I knew I might be making a huge mistake, but I thought to myself,  Screw it, I’m gonna run!  And so that’s what I did.  And that’s what I’ve done.  And so far, well, so good.