Two days after my half marathon I opted to go for a Tuesday evening run. The Kid was skipping her class because a track meet overlapped. The crew was meeting for some icy tempo training. I was feeling a bit leaden in the legs, but I figured that was probably more of a reason to get out than to stay in. Six klicks later I’m limping. Not my legs: I’ve got a nagging pain in the arch of my foot. Hopefully just a temporary aggravation of some tendon or muscle, but I’m noting it here in case it hobbles me for anything longer than a couple days! Gah.
It’s almost embarrassing (but not quite) to admit that as a runner I’ve never had a black toe.
I only say embarrassing, because like any rite of passage, pushing yourself hard enough on a race or just a run to crush and/or bruise a digit to the point where your toenail turns a lovely shade of purplish-black is a mark of semi-crazy honour.
Or so I understand it.
Everyone seems to brag about their black toes. I’ve heard of races being named after black toes. Run clubs calling themselves the black toe runners. Or just look up the hashtag on your favourite social network.
My winter runners, the shoes with the Vibram rubber treads that are almost as good as spikes, have manifested some little toe pokes. That is, I’ve run so much in them that on the top of each toebox, a centimeter-wide hole has appeared where the thousands of impacts have broken through the mesh.
Because of this and because I’ve been running through fresh snow, the tips of the inside of my shoes have been filling up with bits of loose snow, slowly but surely. After a few klicks this is no big deal: remove, shake out, replace, run on…
But we got a little lost in the wilderness yesterday and my toes filled up with snow… which melted into ice pellets… which filled up around my toes… which was cold, numb-inducing, and (because I wasn’t going to take off my shoes in the wilderness and do the shake out) ultimately caused an impact injury to the middle digit on my right foot.
Thus… my first black toe.
The picture (and I know I could probably use a pedicure or something) was taken a few hours after the injury, but it has since overnight added some additional ugly colour… and some extra pain. Which leads to my next quandary: It’s lunchtime and sometime before I go to bed tonight I need to squeeze in a four klick run… in the snow… with a really sore toe.
It’s not super serious, but with just two weeks until a double-header race season begins, I’ve been sidelined for a few days with a ankle injury. Two weeks AGO I went out and did some wilderness. It was an awesome, single-track trail run, with some challenging terrain. And an hour after completing it I could tell that my ankle had only just barely cooperated. Not rolled. Not sprained. But maybe a little bruised. I didn’t push myself for the rest of the week and it felt pretty much fine. Then I opted in on the group’s nineteen klick long run on this past weekend, and fifteen klicks in I could tell that my ankle was not fully recovered. I limped back to my truck after coffee and it’s been pretty sore since. Well, mostly. Five days later I can still sense that it’s not one hundred percent right, but it’s not hurting nearly as much. So the age-old runners question blossoms once again to the surface: which is more important two weeks prior to a race? The last long training run, or ensuring that an injury is completely mended? I think I just answered my own question.
It’s been two years since I wrote a week of lists, but I thought I would start this last four months of 2016 with revisit to that old meme. So, starting on the first, the eighth edition of the Week of Lists begins, called the “Turning 40ish Edition” with deep and engaging topics such as this one…
I started running (seriously) when I was just around 30ish. In that vein, my thirties have been defined by this sport in which I’ve chosen to participate. Through it I’ve changed my whole life: I’m healthier than I was in my twenties, I have a wider circle of friends, I meet people because of running and I make professional contacts because I run and know other random corporate folks who run. It’s been a wild trek through the fast footfalls of this random sport and the wonderful culture that swirls quietly around it.
But almost ten years in… well, I see 40ish approaching on the horizon and while logically I know it’s just a number, an age, a minor intersection on the single-track trails of life, there is this acknowledgement, in my runner’s mind, that sometimes an uncharted trail changes, gets steeper, curves in a way that you weren’t quite expecting… at least not expecting if you don’t take a minute to plan and ponder where those curves might appear.
Such as that…
5. I Can Suddenly Feel Every Joint Every Morning
You’re not getting any younger. None of us are. I go to sleep each night trying to find a position that isn’t going to leave me waking up in the morning with a crick or a cramp in a strange muscle that I didn’t remember existed until I slept on it wrong. I don’t remember doing this ten years ago. I don’t remember waking up just achy from sleeping. I mean, it’s not a chronic ailment… well, unless you classify aging as a chronic ailment that is. I don’t want to alarm you and make you think I need to see a doctor or whatever. I’m just in a 40 year old body that takes a licking through a desk-sit job all day and a stupidly optimistic marathon training program at night. I need to cross-train more, but I wake up at five thirty to do that and it still takes me thirty minutes just to feel normal. *grumble, grumble, old man comments* People keep telling me that you know you’re 40(ish) because your hearing, eyesight, taste, and all those fun thing start to decay, suddenly and aggressively. I don’t know if that’s true, I guess I’ll find out… but if my creaky morning joints are any indication it doesn’t bode well from here on in.
4. I Take Longer to Mend
I was sick this past winter. I had this deep cough that hung into my lungs for a solid two months. Maybe it lingered so long because I tried to run through it… not push through it like a wall, but just keep up the base fitness level in between fits of coughing and terrible sleepless nights. Two months. Two. Frigging. Months. Sick, it seems, used to mean a bad weekend or a half a box of decongestant before you rejoined the land of the living. Yet as 40ish approaches my body seems to have taken a more casual approach to immunity: I not only went through more than one box of decongestant, I actually became a decongestant connoisseur, a virtual expert on the various brands and blends, and their effects on my mind and body. And then, of course, climbing back out of that training deficit was a pain in the ass.
3. Missing Work Costs Just More When You’re Older
And I’m not even just talking about money here. My jobs have always tended to be a me-and-the-trees kinda situation, but when I was younger my work was usually a little more patient. With age comes responsibility… maybe. Or maybe you’re someone plugging away at a small business. No one steps up and steps into backfill the kind of job many professional 40ish-ers have. No one steps in to do your work when you take a week off, either to go to Disneyland or ice your Achilles tendon because you can’t put any weight on it since running stairs the other morning, no matter how much fun that was. Realistically there are simply just fewer people who can (or will) do you job when you are sidelined. So… to points 4 and 5 above, it’s no longer just a week of binge watching on Netflix: it’s the associated worry that comes with a work vacancy due to a hobby. Explain that to the project manager who wants to know where their status update stands.
2. The Field Gets Increasingly Serious
One of the neatest guys I run with is this older dude who shows up on Sunday mornings and then shows us up on Sunday mornings. He’s told us his age a few times and I should know, but let’s say, easily, conservatively, 70-something. He jokes that when he races he always places in his age category: usually first… and simultaneously last. Only. I asked him how he ran in his prime. In his 40s he was running 2:30ish marathons. Which is hard core, if you don’t know marathons: not Olympic speeds, but enough to place in something like the Edmonton Marathon today. I run with a lot of people in their 30s and 40s. A bunch of people in that 50ish range. A couple people who are 60ish who can clean the floor with me. One guy who is 70ish who runs circles around us. The field gets narrower and stronger. And not that I’m looking to place, but unless I’m some magical outlier to this trend, I either need to get faster… or age is going to kick me to the curb sooner than I realize.
1. Life Seems Busier
Ultimately I know it all comes down to priorities. Setting them. Keeping them. Putting time into yourself and being a little selfish about a handful of hobbies that keep you from becoming a burned out wreck of a human being who is unbearable to be around. But 40ish hits in stride and (it being September this is acutely obvious) life gets jam packed with a rigid schedule of kid, work, activities, family obligations, and commitments. We need to shop for renovation stuff at the moment. Next week I need to spend a couple hours getting a the annual maintenance done on the truck. The lawn needs mowed. The garden needs tending. I have evening events planned on Saturday, Sunday, and Thursday. Kid needs to be here. Wife needs to be there. So-and-so wants to do dinner. This weekend is packed and the next three have tentative plans that involve travel and eating and sitting around not actually training for that race I’m supposed to run. Deep breath. So, yeah… priorities. Planning. And being a little selfish seem like the words of the next decade.
40… we’ll work it out, I know.
I’m starting to feel a bit guilty, but sometimes you gotta practice what you preach. I’ve been on the injured list. And this calf thing, whatever it was –strain, tear, pull– has taken longer than expected to heal up. As of today, a week after the injury and ten days since I’ve been out running, I feel pretty good. I’d call it 99%. I’d call it not hurting unless I think about it and twist my way into certain pose to make it hurt. I’m going to try a short run tomorrow after one more night of rest, but I’m starting to grow restless.
Apparently, as much as I figured I could sprint up and down twenty-seven flights of stairs –and despite winning the fastest time for the feat– my calves (as much trouble as I’ve been having with them this year) were not on board for the gig. I’ve had two days of debilitating pain following Thursday’s effort, and after stretching, rolling, pills, and creams –well– I’m still limping around the house like a guy twice my age… and that’s starting really say something. Working on some recovery for my run tomorrow, but as of right now I’ll be lucky to make it down the stairs without limping, let alone a ten klick run. *sigh*
At some point, much earlier this year, before randomness, injury, and life interfered (as it always tends to do somehow) I made a Faustian-esque bargain with the running gods that I would attempt to complete twelve half marathons, one per month, over the duration of 2015… in exchange for Ultimate Running Knowledge.
Or, maybe I just thought it would be an interesting idea… I’m not exactly sure how that all came about.
Anyhow, it may seem premature to be throwing in the towel and declaring my loss in this wager quite yet, there being two full months of the year left, but I’m going to tack up a virtual notice right here that after this past weekend’s completion of my sixth half marathon of the year, I think I’m officially done with halves for 2015.
Finding local races in November and December were going to be tricky, anyhow, and having run what I’d call my “slowest but most satisfying” race of the year on Saturday, I’m leaving this goal half fulfilled.
In 2015, in fact, I’ve run twelve races to date, but only six of them halves:
- Resolution Run 5k
- Disney Star Wars Half Marathon
- Edmonton Hypothermic Half Marathon
- Red Deer Hypothermic Half Marathon
- Edmonton Police Half Marathon
- Calgary Half Marathon
- Banff-Jasper Relay, Leg 6 (18.3k)
- Edmonton Canada Day 15k Race
- Color Me Rad 5k
- Melissa’s Road Race 10k
- Edmonton Fall Classic 10 Miler
- Kathy’s Run Half Marathon
…and have one more 5k on the docket for early December to make it a lucky thirteen on the year. That last 5k will tally my race distance for the year at a hair over 200 klicks. And all this while dealing with a side-lining calf-and-back soft-tissue injury that left me barely able to stand up straight in mid-July, let alone run.
But I pushed on… for whatever that effort is worth: Little to you, but immeasurable to me. Some of that recovery has been very much a solo effort, but there has also been a long list of patient and encouraging running partners who have nudged me along, pushed me to keep up one day and on another, to resume that vague quasi-leadership role I always seem to reluctantly fill. They know who they are and I doubt they want to be called out too publicly for that, but without any and all of them, I’d have probably resumed a couch-potato lifestyle over the summer and I definitely would not have been standing in the chill October air on Saturday morning waiting for the start of yet another half marathon.
It was not fast.
But sometimes races are about competing with others, and sometimes they are purely about competing with some vague and ineffable demon who is holding you back with self-doubt and the haunting knowledge that with any and every step that damnable pain could lurch back through your muscles and send your flailing into a month or two of random spasm and unending discomfort.
Not fast is not necessarily bad.
The air was chilly, and the hundred or so runners launched into a winding and somewhat convoluted route that toured some of the best trails in the south half of the city’s river valley. Fresh asphalt, pocked stretches of old re-purposed road, gravel paths through the trees deep with autumn leaves, four crossings of the river, a collection of rolling shale trails, a construction zone through a busy park, and finally a sprint across the dewy grass and through the finish gate.
Jenn, dealing with a similar leg-cramping issue as I over the summer, had registered in the race just a week prior to the date, and was even more reluctant than I about our hope for success. “Two-twenty,” I had joked to our small gaggle of run clubbers who were participating, and she shot me a dubious look before I could correct my jest: “I’ll just be happy to finish on my own two feet.” I had tracked along at her pace until about seventeen klicks in, but her injury was nagging again by that point and we’d lost ten or fifteen minutes to breaks so she could stretch out her nearly-cramping toes. I was reluctant to leave her behind, but there is a balance between being a supportive running partner, and dragging someone up to a pace where they risk further injury… and I was dabbling in the latter. So, we parted ways and, the clock already past two hours, I sprinted the last four klicks, feeling good, but feeling the total distance too, finishing with a clock time right around the two-twenty I had joked about.
Someone slung a purple participant medal around my neck. Claire dragged me to the food tent to get her a cupcake. Photos were snapped. Backs were slapped. And we watched the last few stragglers, including my abandoned training partner, roll in with near-tears of satisfied pain on their faces.
I went home. Hydrated. Ate. Relaxed, and I may have even dozed a little on the couch in the warmth of an autumn sunbeam while the dog slept nearby and the television babbled away in front of me: all roads eventually lead to the couch, it seems.
Did I gain Ultimate Running Knowledge in my quest to race this year? Probably not. I took on a stupidly ambitious goal, but a goal that inspired me to push myself harder than I would have otherwise dared, and a goal that (or so I’ve gleaned from various conversations) has inspired a few others to push themselves too, to run faster races, more races, marathons in faraway places or distances at spectacular paces. In that way it was not a failure: just a very high bar that turned out to be a little too hard to leap, what with a bum leg and all.
While the running gods may have won their bet this year, it’s not over: our game has a few more rounds and a few more inspired goals before I finally someday, far off in the future, hang up my shoes and settle back into the couch. Until then… I’ve got some thinking to do about next year.
In less than a week I’ll be running another half marathon. It’s been nearly five months since I’ve run even that distance, let alone a race despite my (as Leon jokingly pointed out “failed”) goal of running one per month for the duration of 2015. Injury has a way of crushing little things like that, but I suppose it’s more about how you decide to face the challenge of injury and turn around a setback. On Sunday morning we narrowed that distance gap a little further, setting out on what turned into an awesome fall run for nearly nineteen klicks, through trails and streets, from secret side paths to main roads. It wasn’t a run meant to train our physical fitness or make us stronger, so much as it was an outing to boost our confidence… that after five months a half is still within reach. And apparently it is.
Goals are funny things. If you are like me and you track your running goals down to the fractional klick, you can look at the progress as a set of numbers. If you are really like me and you make a multi-coloured spreadsheet with timelines and ledgers relating to compounded and accumulated distances, you can see with glorious pride when you are rocking your goals and are, say, nearly a hundred klicks ahead of where you need to be on the year. You can all see when, after dealing with a sidelining injury, you fall behind and are in distance debt: meaning you need to get in some klicks to catch up on the annual tally. I’ve been seeing the latter for about a week now. Must. Recover. Soon!
I ran last night. Just three laps around my local park, each lap roughly one klick and change. I’ve been mixing it up with the strength/core training too, so after warming up with my first lap, I ran the second at two-and-a-half minute intervals interspersed with a baker’s dozen worth of push-ups in the damp grass. A short twenty-five minutes in the late evening heat had me feeling pretty beat, but not in the leg-failing, pain-cramping sort of way I was dreading. Hopefully this equates to the start of a slow rebuilding and not a too-soon trigger for a more epic collapse. The trick, I figure, is to keep the endurance and core strength building while not re-straining my overworked piriformis muscles in the process. Day one: so far, so good?
It’s Sunday morning at 8:30 am and I’m sitting at the kitchen table in my pajamas writing a blog post. This is odd if only because this is the time usually reserved in my hectic schedule for plodding through the streets in neon fabrics and getting sweaty in the trails with my friends. I’ve taken a week off so far hoping that the rest and light cross-training I’ve been doing will improve the situation with my legs… which are still bugging me. As I mentioned in a previous post, I’ve narrowed the problem down to a sciatic nerve issue. It’s not pinched. It’s not compressed. It’s just irritated because I’ve let my core strength fall below the threshold whereby the abuse I put my body through is mitigated by strong muscles that prevent too much injury. The balance has been tipped, and I need to rest, strengthen, and rebuild before I start pushing myself back into the winter of training. So, I’m missing my Sunday run. And this probably means I’ve written off the whole “half-per-month” plan as I would probably die on the side of the route if I tried a half right now. Frustration fills my legs as they itch to get out on a trail, but that is quickly countered by a familiar tingling in my tissues. Soon… but not too soon. *sigh*
That I need to work on my strength if I want to keep pursuing my running.