I’m starting to get increasingly irritated at whatever is sidelining me, lately. Here I am, after crashing out on the Sunday long run, Wednesday evening and my legs are still achy and feeling tender. I know: a few days off shouldn’t bug me, but… GRRR! Just GRRR! Hydrating. Medicating. Massaging and rolling. Rest. Heat. Stretching. Nothing seems to have any real impact. Perhaps I’ll just take up competitive whinging.
Is it possible to be fit while being completely out of shape? Perhaps that is a contradiction in definition, but lately I’ve been feeling that way.
Random aches and pains.
Localized malfunctions during runs.
Struggles with getting my hydration and electrolyte balance just right.
I’ve been pushing myself pretty hard along this running fitness path for a few solid years and it’s netted some amazing things, but the other side of that lucky coin has been some pretty hard core damage to other bits and pieces of my body.
As we plan for a winter beach vacation and I look down the barrel of age forty, now just a year and a bit away, I’ve been contemplating how to balance out the super-endurance, super-fit awesomeness of running with the increasingly frequent breakdowns of this aging organic shell.
It’s more than food. More than eating. More than tweaking. It’s a lifestyle change… yet again.
And summer seems like a great time to contemplate hacking the process yet again. Simple hacks. Realistic hacks. Hacks to the way I think about living that have compound results that can last a lifetime if implemented properly. It’s not magic: it’s behavior adaptation towards the positive.
Part 1: Target Acquired
Right now, I want to start thinking about three different, but interconnected body hacks, each of them tough, but I think with some simple mental reprogramming that I can go a long way with each.
Flexibility – Improving my muscle function and elasticity through improving my flexibility. I’m going to need to do a lot more reading in the coming weeks. I’m not even sure how to evaluate improvements in this.
Nutrition – Eating and drinking a lot better. I need to balance my diet, reduce my caffeine intake, manage all those sapping micronutrients, and –y’know– generally eat like a grown up with more veggies and less simple sugars. Oh, and definitely more liquids. All that good stuff: we’ve been here before.
And then the big one:
Strength – What has me worried is that a lot of these aches and pains are due to me neglecting basic strength over the last couple years. I’m not talking about getting buff, but simply that core strength and general muscle mass balance ties to all sorts of the little things that have hobbled me in the past year. I’m thinking of setting up a basic program to follow. And it’s probably going to hurt a bit at first.
The SMART goals — simple, measurable achievable, realistic, and time-linked — will follow in coming articles. Stay tuned.
I was feeling pretty good at about 7:30 Sunday morning when I was standing at back of my parked truck contemplating the planned 20 klick run with the gang. I’d had some tightness in my calf a couple days previous –lingering pains from last week’s sciatic flare-ups, I assumed– but all felt good in the cool perfect-run-weather morning as we set off. Some light trails, some short climbs, and we plodded along chatting and keeping a reasonable pace that wouldn’t have set any records but was feeling strong and steady. At ten klicks I would have told you I could have run a marathon. At eleven, breaching the top of a short hill I was pondering the pulling feeling in my calves. At eleven and a half, that same calf had cramped up like a rubber band in a blender, and even the standing-still weight was borderline unbearable. At the furthest point and turnaround of our run I waved my crew off and called for a pickup, riding home in the passenger seat feeling sapped and sorry for myself… and pondering another few days off. Damn.
Yesterday felt ok. I did some stretches at my desk to work out the lingering tightness in my legs, took a couple long-ish walking coffee breaks to keep things loose, and didn’t push too far on anything requiring range of motion. By six o’clock I was feeling game to try a short run. I also figured it was probably a good excuse to break out a new pair of runners, and since I’ve been stashing my last set of Mizuno Wave Elixirs for over a year now, just looking for any old excuse to get them dirty, it didn’t take much convincing to call “fresh cushioning” and do the official unboxing. I joined a few of the gang for a casual six klick, mixed surface run and twelve hours later everything is feeling steady. Hills tonight?
While it probably wasn’t a way I’d recommend to deal with a minor injury, going camping this weekend meant (for sheer survival and pain tolerance reasons) I medicated more uniformly and consistently than I would have were I sitting around the house. I’m not a pill-popper kinda guy, normally, but I hit the painkillers with the dedication of a junkie this weekend and managed to pull through and pretty much shelf the injury to the archives for the duration. Monday morning rolled around and the old leg is pretty stiff and achy from (probably) overdoing it, but the bulk of the sciatic nerve jumble that was killing me late last week seems toned down to the level of minor annoyance. I’m almost tempted to go out for a short run tonight to test the waters… but I’ll gauge that on how I feel by the time the end of the day rolls ’round.
I don’t even know what I did this time. I woke up Wednesday morning with a dull ache going all the way up and my calf and up the back of my leg. By late in the day it hurt to walk (so I skipped running, obs) and rested instead. Thursday it was a kind of electric jolt pain, and last night I was up most of the night barely able to lay down without feeling that oh-so-familiar back twinge that had sidelined me for a couple weeks last year. The catch: it’s on the other side of my back. It’s not even the same injury, but a mirror of it. I might be limping for a few days. *sigh* And… yeah: I can’t even tell you why it hurts. I just seems to have come out of nowhere.
As Jenn reminded me during Sunday’s run, it’s was right around the May long weekend last year when I injured my back resulting in nearly a month (not long enough) on the sidelines. In fact, it was exactly the May long weekend last year, exactly a year ago today, when I was unable to move, prone on my bed, with a sciatic pinch of some kind that benched my training and my Calgary half marathon race day. I still get the occasional twinge now and then, a reminder that I shouldn’t overdo it and that I’m not twenty anymore… but nothing so bad as last May. I’d like to say that there were lessons learned or advice I could give, but really the only thing I can say is that a year later, that few weeks of rest seemed like forever but was really only a blip and that I should have rested another month. I’m not worse for rushing, but that time off was so insignificant in the grand time frame of even just a year of training that putting health first and body second should always be the choice. So, if you’re stumbling across this post after Googling for “sciatic nerve” injuries and “running” and wondering about a quick fix: there isn’t one. Rest. Relax. Stop running for a couple months. Don’t follow my example. It will still bother you in a year… probably two… and that’s just part of the struggle.
More bad luck. Slipped on the ice carrying luggage into the house after vacation. Back injury? Again. Thank goodness for #Robaxacet! But, damn!
She is in her room, supposedly putting on her pajamas and getting ready for bed, when a blood-curdling scream erupts from her bedroom. “Daaaaaa-deeeeeeee!” She yelps at the top of her lungs before loudly barking out a percussive shouts of of “help me! help me! help me!” from a short distance down the hallway.
Five seconds later I’m standing in her doorway trying not to laugh as I’m watching her writhe around on the carpet, buck-naked save for a pair of underwear around her ankles. Blood is dribbling down the arch of her foot, and spattering on the light-toned carpet. “What the heck did you do?” I ask.
She’s hyperventilating, and barely able to answer. “I… I… hit my… f… foot… on the… b… b… bed!” She stutters, implying by the acrobatic nature of this injury that she was goofing around and that the tiny slice on the sole of her foot had been entirely preventable.
I don’t push that particular issue. Not now, anyhow.
“Well, get your pants on and I’ll get some tissues.” I say, deliberately too casual over the droplets of blood on the floor and the obvious pain.
When I return to her bedroom with a wad of tissues, a bandage and a glass of water, she’s sitting up, underwear where it should be, and trying to twist the bottom of her foot into her field of vision.
“Are you going to live?” I ask.
She glares at me and says in a voice still trying to gain its full composure a weak little “yes.”
“Then let’s get into the bathroom,” I say placidly, almost coming across a little too indifferent, but reaching down to help her upright and walk her to the other room. “I’ll wash it up and put a bandage on it, ok?”
fostering independence, rule 016
set an example for handling emergencies: keep calm and carry on
One of the toughest things I had to learn about being a dad with a kid who has a world of opportunity open to her, is that sometimes that opportunity has a sharp edge. She’s going to get scrapes and cuts and bruises, and so long as there aren’t too many of the kinds that end up with a trip to the hospital, I’m probably doing my job. I still feel that hurt every time I see it, but I’ve made a conscious effort to keep calm and just play out those situations with a calm demeanor and a little humour.
Not over-reacting to those injuries is tough, but a valuable example to set. A level-headed response to minor wounds or simply not panicking when blood is dripping onto the bedroom carpet undoubtedly leads to practiced parallel responses when lives are actually on the line and when a “freak out” could cost valuable response time. As a parent, we’re important role models for how to handle emergencies, and doing so in a calm, deliberate way can’t help but build a kid’s independent nature in encountering the inevitable sharp edges of life.
I’ve been doing math and the logical, cynical, lazy part of my brain keeps telling me that the year is a write-off. Deep down I know better, but logic has always been a solid ally in my life so even when it trails off into the shadowy paths of pessimism I tend to follow.
It has been a disappointing summer of running. Or, more accurately, not running very much at all.
Rather, it’s been a bit of a walkbreak. Run for ten months, walk three. Not exactly the right kind of interval training, and not when it came as abruptly and as unplanned as it did. I mean, in the do-as-I-say-not-as-do school of running, I would encourage that exact sort of thing. Take a break. Train for a goal … two maybe … and then take some time off, enjoy your new-found fitness, restore connections with family, have a beer, relax.
But there is a difference between choosing to take a break, and having a break thrust upon you mere days before … before … reaching a goal. It hurts. It aches. It jabs a knife into the dark recesses of your heart and …
This is what the math tells me: the math tells me that in the three summer months, June through August, I ran a total (including that botched half marathon a couple weeks ago) of two hundred and fifteen kilometers. Compare that to the summer of 2013, when I was … admittedly … training for a marathon and I racked up five hundred and seventy klicks over the same span of time. Heck, in July alone last year I was only a handful of meters short of two-hundred training klicks. Even the roughest, most generous of math, will tell you that I just barely ran one-third the distance this summer over last summer. One third. And those weren’t shorter runs, either. They were fewer. More scattered. Skipped. Leaving gaps and gaping holes in my plan and schedule.
Just as you are very probably shouting at your screen right now, that logical part of my brain is too: telling me to chill, relax, get over it.
And maybe I should. I mean, I have those excuses, of course.
I’ve been on a long, multi-year training schedule that has bent me into strange and crazy shapes, consumed swaths of my time, and sent me into a number of epic running events that will forever haunt my memory and fill my future moments of nostalgia with prolific bragging points.
But then a sciatic nerve injury in late May led to weeks off, completely off, with no running. Followed by a slow, frustrating rebuild. Then sporadic training where I never really got my groove back.
A two week vacation in the middle of August was lovely, but I logged less than ten klicks on the Icelandic trails, and those were only vanity runs, little more than souvenir GPS trails for my collection.
And then? Well … there is part of me that wants to blame the calf muscle cramps for another week-long hiatus and slow rebuild, but there is another (much more honest) part of me that knows the reverse is true: the sporadic training and lax summer is responsible for the muscle cramps. Too little training. Too much confidence. And…
A walkbreak. A long, dark and unwelcome walkbreak of heartbreaking, soul-crushing frustration.
More math tells me that to meet my annual goals, even the adjusted mid-summer step-down and plan B, even that, I have over five hundred klicks to run in 2014. In less than four months. I would need to average nearly four and a half klicks per day, every day, on average to meet that milestone. Thirty klicks per week.
Part of me knows I could probably do it. I could set my mind on the task and push through to my imaginary finish line. But the other part of me is still stuck in that long, dark walkbreak and needing to find a way to listen to the beep of my less-logical mind and start running again.
In a way it is true that I already have. The plan is to go out tonight again and the runs-in-a-row tally will hit an even ten. But in my mind I’m still stuck, still seeking to un-stick … carefully, methodically, and without re-injuring my still-fragile self … and I’m not sure I’ve figured out how to do that yet.
Despite suggesting I was going to only do short distances until I felt fully recovered, the ninth run –last night– in my daily running series was a 10k with Jenn and Stacey. Some aches and pains, and some minor tweaking and questionable nigglings from the calf region at about the six through eight klick mark, but (a) stretching at walk breaks and (b) adding a bit of a heel-to-toe foot roll to my gait for a few fifty meter stretches worked out most of the issues. This morning: feeling fine and looking forward to run number 10 tonight.
I hesitate to call it another “run every day” event because I sorta feel that at any moment, on any day, the whole streak could get derailed… flailed… into oblivion and then? But I’ve been running every day. Six days in a row now. Not long distances. Usually about four klicks at a time. Not far, not pushing, but running. It seems so odd ot be bragging about such short distances, but when your training is curbed and you find yourself laying in pain on a race course one sunny, Sunday morning, well… you take what you can. This is called recovery. It’s also called building back some of the strength I lost after a series of injuries and interruptions over the summer. I was looking at my training logs, and up until about the last week in May my running was like clockwork. A regular tick-tock-tick-tock. A heartbeat. Four days a week. Run-rest-run-rest-run… and so on. And then that back injury. And then summer. And then travel. And now legs cramping. So, running every day is like CPR for my training, jump starting, and nudging it back into some kind of rhythm. I hope. And as for my legs? It’s there. I can feel that they are still tight, even stretching them often and working them as much as I can bear. But they are more cooperative these days, and I may actually be able to ramp up my distance in a few weeks.