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

Two steps forward, one step back, another shot of cortisone and I’m back on track…

where-to-run-in-chicago

Sure, I’ve missed out on enough running days this October to last a lifetime, but it’s all good.   Yes, each runner I biked past on the lakefront trail this month put a little stab in my heart, but I’m not complaining.  Because it’s fall, glorious fall, and with every run I get to enjoy, all the bad feelings go away and I thank the running gods (and my doctor) that I can get out and lose myself in the crisp air, sunshine, falling leaves, and all the glory of the season.  I feel optimistic for what is to come, because we all know anything can happen, I mean, the Cubs are in the World Series, which just goes to show (again) that good things come to those who wait, and not just wait, but wait and plan and look ever forward and believe.

So at my last report I was coming off of my amazing summer of travel and feeling pretty good (knee, legs, fitness, et cetera) but not sure what kind of shape I was really in.  I hoped, as we all hope, and has actually happened for me in the past, to find myself somehow stronger and faster than expected (you know how it is when sometimes you put away the watch for a while and then bring it back out to be pleasantly surprised).  Alas, it was not to be….

Wait, before I get to that, I should explain that I couldn’t start back on a hard running program right away because I had to prepare for a 5K swim!  Yes, the Big Shoulders 5K swim in Lake Michigan on September 10th.  I remember saying to myself when I saw my lovely, perfect wife swim this six years ago that I could never swim that far.  Well, a couple knee surgeries and lots of swimming later, I did it.  Luckily, the water was flat that day (I big-shoulders-pre-raceprobably could have made it in rough water, but I’m not sure) (and I wore a wetsuit, which real swimmers will say is cheating, but I’m not a real swimmer—I’m a runner).  But in the service of being able to survive the event, I focused a lot of attention on swimming the last few weeks before Big Shoulders and couldn’t fully dedicate myself to running faster.

Okay, so back to my running…I did a few sessions on the track, including a broken 5K, which I enjoyed (“broken” is a swim term which means you break up the total distance but only keep track of the total time–I ran 200, 400, 600, 800, 1000, then back down the ladder (with about a minute rest between each) in 18:01.)  Not great, but at least I knew where I was (and I plan to do this workout again to see how I am progressing).  For my next workout, I met my friend Bill for a set of half-mile repeats on the bike path in Milwaukee.  We did 4 and I had to fight to average 3 minutes (Bill maybe 4-5 seconds ahead of me).  But these were very instructive.  As I tried to keep up with Bill, I could feel my legs were simply not strong enough so I decided (literally that day, as we were jogging back to our cars) to be more deliberate about lifting weights/doing core workouts, including lifting with my legs, 1-2 times per week.  It seems this is always my plan and I haven’t been able to maintain it, at least to the level I want, but I think it’s key for me.  Because of my knee, I can’t rely on  high mileage or hill repeats get stronger.  I’ve got to find other ways.  And so far, so good.  I’m even doing squats every time (which does not bother my knee, even when it’s bothering me) and I’m going to keep adding reps and weight and see what happens.

So, a week after our first day of half-mile repeats, Bill and I met again that day I was able to average 2:55, and felt better doing it.  I did a few other workouts (by myself, which means I’m inevitably a little slower than with someone else) but was happy with my progress.  I thought about doing a fall race, maybe a 5K or maybe something longer, but I’ve ruled that out now because it seems like every time I just start thinking about signing up for a race, my knee starts to hurt.  In fact, my knee was achy after my run on October 5th and I took a couple days off.  Then I had to actually stop only a half-mile into my run on the 8th.  Walking back home was depressing, yes, but I also knew it was just time for another shot of cortisone. It had been only 4 ½ months since my last, and I’ve been trying to make each last six months (though my doctor says every 4 months is fine) and so I missed a lot of beautiful days running both waiting to see my doctor and then for the inflammation to really go down after the injection. knee-cortisone

But now I’m feeling good again and it’s full-speed ahead (that’s a relative phrase, of course) for the rest of October and into November.  I am NOT going to sign up to do any races or even think about it, but I do have 2 workout goals I’ll be working towards.  The first is 3 times a mile averaging under 6 minutes a mile.  The second is 8 quarter-miles (well, 400 meters) averaging under 80 seconds.  These are not wildly ambitious, but I could not go out and do either one today so they are ambitious enough.  If I accomplish these, I may do a time trial on the track in lieu of a race, maybe 4000 meters or maybe a full 5000 just to see where I am before winter comes.

I remember when I did this some years back, it was November or maybe even early December after recovering from a fall marathon.  I hadn’t timed any workouts since the race and was just wondering what kind of shape I was in.  When I got to the track it was already so dark I couldn’t read my watch so I just set my countdown timer for 18 minutes and wanted to see how close I could get to cruising 3 miles in that time.  I felt great that night from the start, better after each lap, and was thinking to myself, I’m surely going to get to 3 miles or very close.  As I got closer and closerto 3 miles, I picked up my pace and when I crossed the line for the completion of 12 laps my timer still hadn’t gone off so I kept on  going.  I hadn’t planned for this and every stride thereafter felt like a gift, I grew  more and more buoyant with each one, like I was floating through the darkness, and I was able to run a whole nother half a lap, going a few strides past the 5000 meter mark and into the turn before my timer congratulated me and it was really one of my most enjoyable, memorable runs ever.

So I’d love to be able to replicate something like that, not quite that fast, but maybe close.  Of course, it’s probably not healthy, or productive really, to want to go back in time, though in a way that’s what I want to do.  I suppose that is one the burdens of life, wanting things we cannot have.  Does this make life more interesting or just more frustrating?  I don’t know, and right now I don’t care. It is a beautiful October morning and I am going out for a run 🙂

forest-preserves-cook-county-photo

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.

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!)