Forward progress

In college football, sometimes an offensive player moves the ball forward and gains a few yards, but then the defense pushes him backwards. The rules give the offensive player credit for the gained yards–forward progress–rather than spotting the ball further back.

I think, on the opening Saturday of the 2014 college football season, this is a decent analogy for my running these days.

I’ve made some progress–a few pain-free five-mile runs, which is an improvement over the way things went in July. A couple of times, though, something road-blocked me and caused me to take a few steps back. This really messes with my head, so I have to work on acknowledging the improvements and not letting those backward shoves get me down, because in the end, I get credit for forward progress.

Last Saturday, B and I headed out for a bike ride. I was frustrated about my knee but still wanted to get some exercise, so I figured we’d meander through our neighborhood and the adjacent one for an hour. But 1.5 miles into it, the derailleur hanger on my bike snapped in half. The chain dropped off the gears, everything locked up, and I skidded to a stop. The street had recently been covered with a layer of gravel, which I think saved me from launching into the air. But it was nevertheless a catastrophic mechanical failure.

News flash: it won't work like that.

News flash: it won’t work like that.

There was nothing to do but walk home. About halfway, a kindly neighbor offered help or a ride, but I was so annoyed with the whole situation, I was determined to walk it so I politely declined. B rode alongside me–he didn’t want to leave me to walk alone, even though his bike was perfectly functional. But I wasn’t great company. I just let him chatter on about his Minecraft world and sulked silently.

That evening, B went to a sleepover at a friend’s house, so I decided to go out to Brushy Creek trail and try to run. I figured if the run was a bust, I could still walk. I managed a sloooooow five miles–it was about 7pm and almost 100* when I started–and I can’t decide if this is my typical “the August heat is making me slow” situation, or if I’ve lost endurance due to this knee problem. Probably a little bit of both. But at least my knee didn’t hurt.

Sunday I rode B’s bike (yes, our bikes are about the same size these days…) for ten miles, and Monday I went to core class. Everything felt pretty good, and I never tried to run two days in a row. But Tuesday evening when I went out to run the neighborhood loop, I only made it a quarter-mile before bailing for home because it hurt again. Back to the sports doctor on Wednesday, then another bike ride. Thursday I tried again, and I felt okay. It was more of a three-mile run-walk, really, but I can live with that because it represents forward progress.

This week was a busy one–school started Monday, and for the first time, B attends the school where I teach. It’s been fun watching him navigate middle school and hear about his classes. He loves his teachers and his enthusiasm is infectious–I really enjoyed my new classes as well. But by Friday night, I was exhausted. I decided I’d sleep in, then try to run when I got up. And that worked pretty well.

Overcast sky and thick humidity greeted me when I left the house. I cut through to the adjacent neighborhood and headed to the middle school track 1.25 miles away. There and back, plus ten laps on the track, gets me five miles. At first I was skeptical about the knee. It twinged a few times–I guess that’s the best way to describe it–but it was minor.

My strategy is to run two laps, take a water break, repeat. But somehow I miscounted. About halfway through I had to stop and shake something annoying out of my shoe, and I guess I lost track of laps. Because when I thought I had one more left, my watch said I’d run 3.75 miles, which is my stopping point. Hm. That felt kind of nice!

I ran the 1.25 miles back to my house, my ponytail dripping and my stomach growling. But my knee felt okay. It’s not 100%, and I feel like my gait is all wonky, but today I ran (not ran-walked) five miles without significant pain.

Forward progress.

 

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Run, interrupted

It seemed like my knee was healing.

I took it slowly, running short distances with rest days in between. I ran five pain-free miles last Saturday. I felt like I was gonna be okay.

And then Tuesday happened.

I went back to work Tuesday morning. Alarm clock, rush hour traffic, hours and hours of faculty meetings. I came home mentally exhausted and looked forward to running. Nothing too strenuous, just some easy run-walk intervals that would help me burn off my brain fry.

Except that by the end of three miles, my knee hurt.

I have an icing routine–I shove one of those freezer ice packs inside my neoprene knee brace thing. It holds the ice pack in place along the IT band while leaving me hands-free. After an hour or so, I noticed that the skin felt weird, like it had gotten freezer burn. I took the ice pack out and saw that the side of my knee was covered in snowflakey white gel. Apparently the ice pack had leaked, trapping the gel between the pack and my skin. I wiped it off and tossed the ice pack, but throughout the evening the weird freezer burn feeling intensified.

I don't know what's in this thing, but from here on out I'm going to DIY route with water and alcohol. YUCK.

I don’t know what’s in this thing, but from here on out I’m going the DIY route with water and alcohol. YUCK.

By the morning, my skin looked like a relief map of the Americas. Blotchy, red welts–hot to the touch–covered an area the size of my hand. Holy crap–the ice pack gel had given me a chemical burn!

Each day the blotches shrank, but they got darker too. Three days later, it now resembles a port wine stain birthmark, or perhaps a henna tattoo applied by a toddler. Like a bad sunburn, it’s still hot to the touch, it hurts when anything brushes against it, and it makes sitting cross-legged almost impossible.

But you know what? I could totally live with that. I would absolutely trade a henna tattoo in the shape of Brazil for another pain-free run.

I rode my bike 10 miles on Wednesday, I took Thursday and Friday as rest days, and I hoped to be able to run five or six miles this morning. But when I got home Friday evening, I ran a little test jog from my driveway to the street corner, and guess what? My knee still hurt.

So I turned off my alarm and caught up on my sleep instead. Maybe later today I’ll take another bike ride, and I’ll try to run tomorrow.

But I’m beyond frustrated. I’ve done everything I’m supposed to–foam roll, rest, cross train, ice, then gradually return to running. And it seemed to work. So why am I back at Square One?

Reflection

This morning, as we rode our bikes 13.5 miles along the trail and back, I thought about how I wanted to be out there, and how different that was from the old me. Younger Me would not have voluntarily exerted herself by bike-riding the day after running five miles–and would not have considered five miles a relatively short run. Not in a million years with a million dollars riding on it.

As I’ve mentioned before, I have never really considered myself an athlete. Yeah, I rode my bike and roller-skated endlessly with neighborhood friends, but I was a tiny kid uninterested in the effort required to play soccer or kickball or whatever other options girls had in the 1970s. During the summers, I competed on a diving team, and I was pretty good at it–I didn’t have to be strong, didn’t need endurance, and my small size actually helped me zing myself off the diving board.

I think I was eight here.

I think I was eight here.

After sixth grade, we moved to Texas, and we almost immediately fulfilled every Texan stereotype (and every little girl’s dream) by buying a couple of horses. But our house wasn’t in a traditional neighborhood–we had two acres, and only two other kids close to my age lived nearby. Unlike in Northern Virginia, pools were limited to neighborhood residents, and my neighborhood didn’t have one. We didn’t have sidewalks either, and there was no nearby school or playground I could bike to. Once school started, I made some friends, but many of them lived miles away or across a busy highway. I spent most summers lazing around, unaccustomed to the Texas heat. My exercise was limited to riding my horse. Not a bad gig, but really, the horse did most of the work.

The summer I turned 14

Me and Rocky

I wasn’t completely sedentary though. We built a pool, and swimming and maintaining it kept me busy. I took dance classes a couple of days a week, both privately and in school P.E. classes. I worked part-time for a weekly newspaper–everything from office stuff to writing and photography. But I wasn’t athletic. And when something went wonky with my knee around ninth grade, it conveniently got me out of any kind of running at school. So I spent most of my downtime watching MTV or reading. Back then if you told me that my friend D would become an Ironman triathlete 20-some years later, I would have believed it in a heartbeat. But if you suggested I might run six (and counting) half marathons, pretty much everyone–including me–would have thought you were mad.

My first two years in college, I lived on campus, so my trek to my classes wasn’t very long. I often took the stairs in my dorm, but my degree didn’t require any P.E. classes and I didn’t really have make time to be active. My last two years, I rode the shuttle from my apartment to school, then walked to class. But I worked around 30-32 hours a week on top of going to school full-time, and I didn’t make much effort for fitness. My clothes fit ok, but I couldn’t have run very far to save my life.

I started teaching in the mid 1990s, and I considered being on my feet all day sufficient exercise. I worked nine- or ten-hour days and often brought work home on top of that. We had a brief fling with a local gym, but we were too busy and too tired. In 2000, I had knee surgery, which gave me more excuses. Not good ones, but ones I took anyway.

Then B was born. I lost weight, then gained some, then lost some over the course of several years. Most pictures from this era have B standing in front of me.

2007

2007

Finally, in 2011, I decided to focus on becoming more healthy, and I downloaded the Couch to 5K app. At first I could barely run the one-minute segments. But eventually I ran a mile, then two, then three without stopping. Between the teenage knee problem and general laziness, I don’t know that I had ever run that far. So I entered my first 5K.

Chuy's 5K, 2011

2011 Chuy’s 5K finishers

And the rest, as the saying goes, is history. After three and a half years, running has finally become a habit. I feel lazy when I don’t run–or can’t run–and I find ways to fit exercise into my busy days even when I travel or am recovering from an injury. I’ve gotten up before the crack of dawn to run, I’ve run after dark. I’ve run when it’s over 100 degrees, and I’ve run when it’s below freezing. The day I dragged myself out of my warm bed to run 12 miles of hills when the wind chill was in the teens, people called me hard core. Me. The girl who knew every MTV video by heart. The girl who was always too tired or too busy or had too many excuses. The girl who started running at age 40 and has completed nine races this year–six of them 10K or longer–with at least seven more on the calendar for the fall.

Will run for bling, apparently

Will run for bling, apparently

I sometimes feel inadequate compared to other friends who run, and when it comes up in conversation, I always offer the caveat that yes I run, but I’m slow. Most people respond with things like “But you’re out there, and that’s what counts,” or “You’re doing way better than someone just sitting at home.” But I don’t just want to be better than the person doing nothing. I want more than that, and despite the not insignificant effort I’ve put in since joining my first half-marathon training group, I’m still not where I want to be. I work hard, and I want to see my finishing times drop into a more respectable area. So while I am in the best shape of my adult life, I’m frustrated that after almost four years I’m not thinner/faster/stronger too.

But as I rode 13.5 miles this morning, I thought about how good it felt to be riding with my family, to think of 13 miles as no big deal, to have my legs moving. I powered up the last incline toward the truck, and M said, “Way to finish strong.” I guess this is the new me. And I kind of like her.

Slow and steady

At the moment, I am sitting on my couch with an ice pack on my left IT band and a compression wrap on my right ankle, and I tossed back a couple of ibuprofen with my coffee. I feel like a football player after a game. Maybe I should ice my pitching arm too?

The good news is that it’s all pre-emptive.

Since my first successful post-injury run, I’ve taken it slowly. I have walked, biked, and busted my ass in core class. I ran 2.5 miles on Monday–it was cloudy and drizzly, and I couldn’t pass that up–then 3.2 miles on Wednesday. That second run, the first mile felt strong and awesome, but then my knee twinged a bit during the second mile so I walked on and off and didn’t push it too hard. I stuck to cycling and walking the other days, knowing that Saturday morning would be a pretty big test. I hoped to run five miles pain-free.

The humidity was about a billion and one percent 85% as I headed out. In my early-morning fog I forgot my little sweat towel, which would suck later. And I was testing out some new running clothes–a tank top and skirt. I’m not nine feet tall, though, so it looks a bit different on me than on the Athleta model. 😉 I’m not a total running skirt convert yet, but I like the way this one looks on others and thought maybe I could pull it off.

I ran the first mile–slowly, but without any pain. During the second mile, the humidity was killing me and I was already super-sweaty when the skirt’s shorts with the grippy stuff started to slide around a bit, and there was some chafing. After an awkward half-mile, I managed to get it straightened out and it was okay the rest of the way. But this is definitely a short-mileage item–not something I’d wear for a half-marathon or a long run over 5-6 miles. I love the shirt though–it’s some kind of microfiber and felt really comfortable.

On the way out, it’s mostly flat with a couple of downhill sections. I turned around at 2.5 miles, and on the return’s uphills, I walked. I wanted to take it easy on the IT band, and my ankle had been a little sore the last week too, so I thought it would be wise not to push too hard. I ran the last mile back–again, I was slow but pain-free. I’ll call it a win all the way around.

Afterwards I foam-rolled, then did the ice-brace-ibuprofen thing. But I feel pretty confident that I’m on the road to recovery. Slow and steady wins the race gets me back into the game.

 

“It’s 0600 hours. What does the “0” stand for? O my God, it’s early!”

I’m not a morning person.

One of my favorite things about summer vacation is sleeping late–without an alarm, I get up about 2.5 hours later during the summer than I do during the school year. Saturday morning runs at 6:30 are tolerable because I’m able to sleep in the remaining six days of the week. But when I go back to work, those days become inverted. Thus the quote from Good Morning Vietnam is a running joke in my house–once my synapses start firing in the proper sequence and I can recall movie quotes with relative accuracy, anyway.

There’s a lot about my job I really enjoy, but getting up early is not one of them. So I am not excited about the prospect of going back to work next week. And I’m struggling with my IT band injury and gradually getting back into running. I was elated on Thursday when I ran for 20 pain-free minutes, but yesterday’s run was so sluggish and pathetic, I feel like I’m gonna have to start over from square one with my training. I tried to work on speed this summer, and it got me exactly nowhere–and now summer is just about over. I’m trying to make smart decisions and take things slowly, but I’m an instant-gratification kind of girl and I’m frustrated with my progress, or lack thereof, right now.

So along with healing  my knee, I also have to work on changing the dialogue in my head. In many ways, that’s more difficult than physical rehab, but I already tried having a pity party and that didn’t work. So … it’s time to remind myself that I have improved so much over the last three years. Yeah, I’ve had a little setback with the knee, but it seems to be healed now. I have a plan to get back on that improvement train–it just won’t happen the way I originally intended. I have to accept that. Besides, there are bigger problems in the world than mine.

So until next time, Nanu Nanu.

Summer Safari 13.1

In Texas, anyone running more than a few miles starts before the sun comes up–waaaay before the sun comes up. Thus my alarm went off at 4:45 for the Summer Safari 13.1 put on by the Austin chapter of Moms Run This Town.

B and I signed up for this untimed race months ago, before my injury. Because I’m not 100% just yet, I decided to walk the entire distance with a friend, and I’d let B run ahead at his own pace. The day before, the race director called me and asked me to drive the course so that B could familiarize himself with the turns and the intersections, so when we stumbled out the back door of Rogue at 5:45am, he took off, confident.

But Mom of the Year here didn’t think about the fact that it was still dark, and B was wearing a grey shirt and black shorts. No lights. So I wasn’t surprised that about two miles in, we found him waiting for us under a street light because he had been worried about finding his way safely. He decided to walk with us to the turnaround, then run back.

We stopped for water at the 10K turnaround and briefly contemplated bailing for the shorter distance. But I wasn’t interested, so on we went.

Morning sunshine

Morning sunshine

Somewhere around mile four, we saw the sunrise. B began complaining that his foot hurt and he wanted to turn around–wasn’t this a race he could choose his own distance, and weren’t eight miles enough? But because he has a history of taking the easy way out, I told him I thought he was just bored and maybe a little tired, but not really injured. I reminded him that last year’s half-marathon is a huge matter of pride in his life–he put the sticker on his bike, on his school notebook, and on his closet door. And I thought he would later regret not going the whole 13.1. So he kept going. Reluctantly.

Safari animals. Terrifying, yes?

Safari animals are terrifying, yes?

He was briefly distracted by a real-life bunny near the sidewalk, horses in a barn, and what appeared to be a raccoon carcass hanging on a fence, but mostly he just scowled.

He carried my old iPhone 4–it doesn’t have phone service but the GPS still works with the Nike+ app, so he was using that to track his run. When it reached 6.55, he turned back. My Garmin was a bit behind, so Michelle and I kept going until we found the turnaround.

Foot selfie

Foot selfie

By now the sun was up–it had taken us nearly two hours to walk halfway–and my muscles were starting to feel sore. But it was exertion soreness, not knee pain. I kept telling myself that walking it was the right thing to do. And as each mile passed, my aching quads and sore ankles confirmed that decision. By the time we finished, I felt like I had run a half-marathon, not walked one! But finish we did. In four hours and thirteen minutes. B finished about 30 minutes ahead of us.

Finishers!

Finishers!

In the end, I got to say “I told you so!” because B finished strong (he said he sprinted ahead of one of the adult runners at the end) and is glad he completed the full 13.1 distance. He wore his medal most of the morning, but hung it on his medal rack when he went out to ride his bike. Me? I’m sitting on the couch the rest of the day.

The verdict is in

I ran yesterday.

And nothing hurt.

It was the hottest day so far this year in Austin, and I only ran for 20 minutes. But it was the best run I’ve had in a while. Not because of my pace or my distance or any other metric. Just because I got to do it.

IMG_1934.JPG

My goal was 20 minutes–distance didn’t matter.

But it’s not like I’m going to go do something crazy like run a half-marathon this weekend or anything.

Run being the operative word.

Some friends plan to walk the 13.1 miles, and I will probably walk with them. I don’t want to get too cocky and injure myself again, but I really want to get back out there.

As for B, even after we found out the route is different from last summer’s event, he decided that he wants to run the course alone, at his own pace. I’ve always encouraged him to be independent, so I’m not really surprised by his choice. We reviewed the map and course markings, and we talked about how to identify people he can ask for help. Then, because I’ve seen news stories recently about parents who got arrested for leaving kids unattended in public, I even asked him what he would do if someone asked where his parents are. He immediately said, “I’d point out that my mom is a few minutes behind me.” I offered to drive the course in advance, but he just rolled his eyes and said, “No, I’m perfectly capable of following the map.” All righty then.

It’s not the same as running it together, but I don’t want to hold him back if he’s capable of more, you know? Guess I’m not the only overachiever in this family. 😉

Now if you’ll excuse me , I have some celebrating foam rolling to do.