Thursday, July 28, 2011

Fun Adventures While Running With a Dog

I'm ready to run!
My typical morning these days is pretty routine: wake up (usually by the sound of Tucker being awake), do some dynamic stretching/strengthening, and take Tucker for his walk/run.  This is great, because it forces me outside, even when I don't feel like it.  Like for example, this morning, since I had played my 1st softball game since I've been able to run again and let's just say that I haven't used those muscles in a long time (ie I was very creaky when I stepped out of bed this morning).  But before I could even have a chance to talk myself out of it, I saw those big eyes staring at my, excited to sniff a new day's worth of grass (and other mysterious things).

I normally start off with a bit of walking to let him get out some of that overnight bladder pee, but then we get moving.  Sometimes though, I notice that he's not quite ready to run at our normal pace.  Usually, that means he's got to take care of some "other" business.  But the best trick for making that happen is to do a little bit of running (1 or 2 minutes).  By the time you stop, he's off in the grass and in a matter of a few seconds of cleanup on my part, we're ready to get back to running.  So that's the typical run/walk. 

Ok, so maybe he didn't look like this
Today was a bit different though.  After his usual business, we were about 4 minutes into our running while no less than 3 inches in front of us comes a squirrel across the trail.  For anyone who has a dog with hunting instincts, you know that squirrels are the nemesis of anyone walking a dog.  The squirrel was literally within range of his mouth as it scurried by.  At that point, we had to take a timeout from running to calm down and focus on not trying to eat the squirrel (easier said than done!).  But after some stern and forceful nudging away from the crime scene, we finally made our way headed toward home.

All said, we ended up with about 10 minutes of running, which for me is a new high since coming back, and a fun memory of the time a squirrel almost took its own life by crossing the trail in front of a hungry dog.  Not a bad way to start my day if I do say so myself :)

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

One Mile At A Time

That's right, progress is now being measured one mile at a time!  This past weekend, I crossed the one mile marker.  To me, this is a pretty significant confidence booster.  While progress is slow, it can be measured - from starting at just one minute of running, I am at the point of one mile of running, or something in the neighborhood of 8-ish minutes.  By the end of the run, everything still feels fine.  These are self imposed limits to carefully build back my muscular skeletal system, but I am happy that I am able to progress in such a way.  The good news is that I know I could go out there and just run right now.  The hard part is holding back enough to keep my body in check, but provide enough effort to keep my brain happy.  So far, that plan seems to be working...

Thursday, July 14, 2011

A Chance to Look Back - New Things I've Learned

A number of posts back, I mentioned at the end that I've learned quite a few things as a result of this latest doctors visit.  The gist of it all is that our past can somewhat dictate our future.  There is a saying that is along the lines of "past performance is no guarantee of future results".  And this is absolutely true.  But the more I learn about my body, the more I learn about how my past IS dictating my future.

I am a firm believer that everything happens for a reason.  I'll be the first to say that I've had my fair share of random injuries in my time.  But I'm also pretty sure than anyone who has been playing competitive sports since they were 5 can spout off a laundry list the different injuries, broken bones, surgeries, etc that they've had over the years.  In fact, I consider myself lucky to have "only" had the number of injuries that I've had.  Growing up, the major sports I participated in included:

- 13 years of soccer from Kindergarten through high school (playing on as many as 4 teams per season)
- Cross country, indoor track, and outdoor track throughout high school
- 4 years of rugby in college
- A handful of other recreational sports leagues (basketball, baseball, flag football, etc)

And with that kind of past, I'm proud to say I've "only" had 3 broken bones (wrist, nose, finger), a torn hamstring, 1 surgery, and 3 physical therapy sessions.

Of course, then there is my post-collegiate endurance life - which has resulted in its own share of injuries including:

-  Runner's knee
- Severe IT band tightness
- Plantar fasciitis
- Peroneal tendonitis
- Chip fracture in first metatarsal
- Countless other niggles, twitches, pulls, etc

You can see that the result of playing so many sports growing up and the associated stress from it all, may be at some of the root causes of the issues I now experience in endurance sports.  Put in more simple terms, my involvement in sports has left me with somewhat disadvantaged biomechanical issues. 

But don't worry, this isn't some pity party.  It is just an observation of the correlation between my past and present.  However, not everyone who is a former athlete falls into this category - there are certainly tons of former youth athletes that continue to progress through life without much issue at all.  But I would also label them advantaged biomechanical athletes.  The truth is, my body has taken a lot of abuse over the years.  Certainly nothing I'd change about my past, since I've enjoyed every aspect of every sport I've played, but you can't deny the facts - I've been pretty hard on my body.

While many people get into endurance sports later in life, I've been doing this stuff for a while.  For those who enter this sport in their adult years, you're blessed with a mostly clean slate and a full bill of health (at least in terms of your musculoskeletal system, maybe not so much from a cardiovascular perspective).  Not to mention, you can learn how to avoid many of the common pitfalls people make along the way.  When you're young, you just go out and do as you're told without thinking and you only stop when you can't go forward any longer.  When you are older, you know when to take it easy and avoid pushing too hard (usually).

I'm not really sure how much of this applies to others who haven't been quite as involved in sports, so this post may be more of an introspective look on myself,  but what I've learned that can apply to everyone is this:  We are all given a body for which we choose to use in whatever fashion we want.  If you choose to utilize your body in an active way, be sure to take care of it.

Has your past dictated your future in a similar (or different) way?  

And no, this is not just a case of me getting old...although I'm sure that is part of the equation as well ;)

Monday, July 11, 2011

Things That Have Kept Me From Going Insane While Injured

As I alluded to in a previous post, I have been doing a lot of walking as part of my effort to keep some semblance of fitness and muscle while my foot injury heals.  Well ordinarily, I'd say that just plain walking would be boring to do day in and day out.  But for me, it isn't.  Why?

As you can see, he's a little out of breath from a recent walk/run :)

Let me introduce you to Tucker, the newest member of our family.  Rebecca has mentioned a few posts about the loss of Whiskey and ultimately our adopting of Tucker, but let me be the first to officially introduce him and his big smile.

We adopted Tucker as a rescue around Memorial Day.  He is a Boston Terrier mix (with a whole bunch of other breeds for good measure), 3 years old, and 30 lbs of pure lean muscle.  The little guy has some power!  And while I haven't been able to do any real running with him, Rebecca has managed to take him on a number of runs so far.  With as much energy as he has, I'm hoping that I'll be able to start wearing him out myself...once those pesky orthotics get in.

Regardless, I've been taking him on daily long walks around the neighborhood, with each day averaging between 3-4 miles.  So while I wasn't able to run much, I've still been getting out and doing something.

What I'm most proud of though, is that fact that during this 6 week period, I haven't gained any weight.  I got a little more focused on my diet and the quality of the foods I've been eating, but I also attribute a lot of it to the fact that I've still been burning a fair number of calories strutting around town with Tucker, instead of being depressed about not running and eating Cheetos.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Good News Bad News

I had a follow up to my follow up foot appointment this morning, so I wanted to provide an update on my status.  But first, a quite aside - Why is it never just good news?  It seems like everyone always says "Do you want the good news or the bad news?, but rarely is it "I have great news!".  But I digress...

The good news is that my foot is ready to begin action again.  Today.  Everything is healed and I have restored the same mobility (which isn't much, but that is a story for another post) in it as I had before my injury.  Actually, I've known this for the past week or so, as I've been out of das boot for a while now.  While not all shoes feel good on my feet, most of my running shoes have wide enough toe boxes that I can put them on and off without a shred of pain.  I've also been walking quite a bit to keep my muscular-skeletal system intact (also a topic for another post), so that when I do return to running, it will be a much easier transition than going from zero impact.  While it isn't quite as impactful as running, it does maintain some sense of normalcy for my body.

So what's the bad news?  Well, I'm glad you asked!

The bad news is that after inspecting my orthotics, I pointed out several mistakes that were made, which required them to be sent back.  I'm glad I took them time to look them over, because I found 2 issues that I believe may have put me back in a boot, had I taken them out and started running in them.  Both of the issues have to do with the rigid lining under my big toe that serves to prevent it from going into the position that caused the chip fracture.  To summarize the issue simply - there was no rigid lining!  Correction - 1 foot had padding that I was told "might" do the job, while the other foot had none, which was noted as a mistake.  MIGHT?!?!?!  WTF?  Serious oopsies on that one.  So I told them to fix it - NOW!

So here I am, physically able to begin running again, but I am hampered by a technical difficulty.  To say I am frustrated would be an understatement.  But, I've been patient this long, so I'll just keep progressing in the meantime and hopefully they'll be here faster than was forecast (up to 2 weeks for a "rush" order).

I'm happy that I have healed in the lower end of the spectrum of time that is typical for a bone fracture (6-8 weeks).  I have to look at the positive here, which is the fact that I can begin running again.  And at this point, that is all I can ask for.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Don't Be Afraid of Pain

I tend to think most people who participate in endurance sports enjoy pain to a certain degree.  If you train or race enough, you're bound to experience some pain at one point or another.  After all, overcoming major obstacles while in pain (like a tough workout or a PR) is what tends to bring about endorphins and the oh so coveted "runners high".  But I also feel like a lot of people run away from the painful part of training and racing, as if people gravitate toward long and easy all the time vs throwing down some tough intervals or tempo sets. 

There is a saying that goes something like this - "Anyone can run long and slow, but not everyone can run fast".

This isn't to say that one is better than the other, such as saying going faster is better than going long and slow.  They both have their places in training, depending on what you are training for and what you are trying to get out of training.  It's just that a lot of people who have an interest in getting faster are afraid to run fast because it hurts and only a few are actually willing to admit that to others.  These same people choose to just run in one gear all the time and see little progress and/or plateau, rather than train at different, faster paces depending on the intent of the workout.  And that is what the quote means - anyone can go out there and glide along the trail effortlessly, but not everyone is willing to put in the effort to dig deeper to find pain and run fast.

This isn't to say that there aren't benefits to running easy or that people who run easy do so because they are afraid of run fast.  What I am saying is that many people express that they want to get faster, but then resort to just running more easy miles in the hopes that they will magically get faster.  These same people tend to be the ones that fear pain.  And while there is some speed to be gained from "just" running, since you will still be building your aerobic system and thus, increasing your fitness, there are far more efficient ways to get faster...if that is what you are looking to do. 

And when I use the term fast, I mean it as being relative to your abilities, not as a self-defined value of something like sub-5 minute miles.  Fast running means pushing beyond your comfort zone (wherever that is for you), which for most people, their comfort zone tends to be somewhere between their long run pace and their other pace they sometimes run at.  That other pace may be something resembling a "tempo" pace, but most people make their tempo pace either too fast for their abilities (typically based on a pie in the sky goal pace they don't have the fitness to train at) or too slow (because of said fear of pain). So what do you do about it?

I'm going to use one of my favorite sayings to summarize the key point - "In order to run faster, you have to run faster"

It's so simple, and  yet so many people want to avoid it, like it is some kind of bad thing.  They say things like "I'm just not build for speed".  To me, that is just an excuse to opt out of even trying.  Everyone can run fast, it just takes effort.  So while the first quote I stated said "...not everyone can run fast", it is only in the context of those that are willing to face their fears.  And this is why not everyone can run fast - those that don't aren't willing to face the fear of pain.  Does going fast hurt?  Of course it does!  You may not feel like you can go fast, but I can assure you that you can.  You just have to put forth the effort and try.  It may hurt a bit more at first if it is new to you, but it will get (relatively) easier over time as you adapt to the feel of the effort.

Going fast is that time in your training when you stare at the little devil on your shoulder saying "slow down, it's much more fun that way" and flick him away because you are stronger than that.  You battle the internal demons, but come out the victor.  Not to mention, you begin recruiting additional muscle fibers (fast twitch and intermediate muscle fibers) than you would be if you were just training at your typical easy pace.  This is where you develop the successful building blocks for being able to execute to your potential by maximizing the benefit of a given run. 

I'm not trying to say everyone should run hard all the time, but what I am saying is that it should be part of your regular routine.  Typically, once a week of shorter faster intervals and once a week of longer but still relatively fast tempo work is all you need.  Everything in between is generally easy paced to allow you to recover from the intensity and stress from these faster workouts.  Running faster teaches your muscles how to work efficiently while uncomfortable and your mind to shut up when all it wants to do is quit, both of which are skills that will serve you well on race day.

Without it, you can't push through the same mental barriers that may be holding you back from a breakthrough performance.  Without it, you can't just magically go from running 9:00/mile in training to 8:00/mile in racing.  And without it, you'll never toe the starting line of a race knowing that you trained to allow yourself to race to your potential and truly surprise even yourself on race day.


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