Rob's Blog Archive

November 2, 2014

One Hundred and Fifty Miles










It’s been nearly three years since I learned just how much my running had deteriorated.  I was visiting my mother’s house on the Palos Verdes Peninsula for Thanksgiving, 2011, and went out for a jog.  While I’m sure I could have slowed down enough to jog the entire 2.0 miles, I decided to stop and walk.  Along with the persistence that could have gotten me to the finish, I’ve developed a bit of wisdom.  At 30, I simply didn’t worry about a heart attack.  At 55, it was a real consideration. 

Prior to 1986, jogging was my main form of conditioning.  That year, I bought a Nordic Track.  The idea was to use it for day to day training and save my left knee, which had been giving me trouble for several years.  I’d add in runs when I wanted. 

I pretty much followed that plan. Over nearly two decades, how often I ran varied a lot, but the Nordic Track did keep me in good enough shape to jog at a respectable pace, even after a long hiatus.  While when I ran had very little pattern, where I’d run did.  Usually, I’d drive to someplace that at least looked more like wilderness than city streets.  While living in Silicon Valley, my favorite run was along the Wildcat Canyon trail, about 5.0 miles on hills----there were exactly seven switchbacks going up the way I typically took the loop, counterclockwise. 

It was less than six months after I arrived in Montana that I fell on ice and started the destruction of the cartilage in my left hip.   I did run a little bit the first summer and autumn after the accident, but that was it.  Still, I continued to work out on my Nordic Track, albeit with a limp, and with it I kept myself in pretty good shape.

For reasons I can’t explain, I waited three and a half years after I fell to have my hip x-rayed for the first time.  That was in spite of the advice of a physical therapist I had seen on and off since the accident.  The two weeks that followed were among the most depressing I have had.  The surgery the first doctor recommended would not have allowed me to run.  Carrying anything over fifty pounds for any distance would also have been verboten.  With this, heading into the backcountry for anything more than an overnight would have become a thing of the past.  Thankfully, a friend told me about a procedure, the one I eventually had done, that would allow me to do anything,

After my surgery, I pressed as hard as I could without violating the protocol my surgeon had prescribed.  Friends pointed out that, if I didn’t want to go back, doing what the surgeon suggested would be a good idea.  He had a very conservative protocol---I wasn’t allowed to weight bear at all for four weeks.  After that, I took two weeks to work from partial weight bearing to full weight bearing.   I was then allowed to do anything except run and jump---that would be another four and a half months later. 

Come October of 2007, I was free to do whatever I wanted.  On one of the last warm days of the season, I did a two mile jog.  I’d occasionally run after this, but not like I had in years past---not until Thanksgiving of 2011. 

The great thing about my Nordic Track is it really does give a workout comparable to jogging.  The bad thing is my speeds on it are not near as sensitive to my body weight as jogging is.  My weight never got out of hand---my body fat percentage peaked at about 22% as a 55 year old, but it clearly slowed my running.  The jog in 2011 woke me up.

With mushing, skiing, and writing, I didn’t jog at all between Thanksgiving and when the snow melted.  Spring of 2012, I started jogging two or three times a week.  I’d also work out on my Nordic Track.  With these, I quickly got into condition to jog several miles.  They were just very very slow---I could clear 12 minute miles, but barely. 

Part of the irony of that spring and summer was my other motivation for starting to jog again was to help drop my weight.  Unfortunately, switching some of my workouts from the Nordic Track to jogging made no difference.  Eventually, I figured out that, running or not, I needed to watch what I ate if I wanted to drop my weight.  The full crystallization of that reality hit me in November of 2012.  With it, and dropping just a couple of pounds, primarily by having less food in my stomach, I was able to do two miles in under twenty minutes. 

That year and the year that followed, I knocked off about 110 miles of jogging during the seven snowless months.  The first year, my getting back into jogging kept the mileage low.  My second year, 2013, I focused on mountain biking rather than jogging---I only did 110 miles of jogging but did more than 600 miles on my mountain bike.

After I put my skis up this past spring, I set a goal to do 150 miles of jogging between May 1 and December 1, two 2.5 mile jogs a week.  I’d also do a few hundred miles of mountain biking, basically a ten mile ride once a week.  Add in a couple of Taekwon-Do workouts, and I’d be complete. 

With the end of November on the horizon and my last mountain bike ride in the books, I ended up doing a little over 400 miles of biking.  The hills near my house have great dirt roads that, while not particularly challenging technically—technical mountain biking is something I’ve only tried a few times---offer views of mountains as they pass through lodgepole, larch, and aspen, not to mention some pretty good wildflower displays. 

The other consequence of the biking, however, was that I jogged a little less than I had planned. And so, less than four weeks away from my nominal cutoff date, I’m at 122 miles.  If I jog 7 miles a week, I make it, and I’ve been doing close to eight---three 2.5+ mile runs instead of two.  I’m a little off track from where I had hoped I’d be, but barring an injury, should complete the 150 mile goal. 

During the three years since that TG disaster, I’ve learned two things.  First, I have a much better idea of what my age has and hasn’t affected.  When I started jogging again, I didn’t know how much of my speed loss was due to age and how much was the steady increase in my weight.  It ends up that my inability to separate those two was because they weren’t really separable.  Like it or not, at least based on the best data I have, an increase in body fat by virtue of an increase in visceral fat is inevitable, and this clearly affects jogging speed.  There’s also some decrease in physical ability, but like skiers and bikers where weight counts, but less, it’s not a lot.  My Nordic Track times on standard tests I do have hardly changed during the past decade.  

Second, and most important, was just how great it was to be able to jog or mountain bike or ski in my neighborhood and be outdoors.  Wildcat Canyon was crowded, but I still saw some wildlife.  It also was a great example of the California chaparral.  Here, I just step outside.  I’m not sure what fraction of my workouts will be jogging and what fraction will be mountain biking next summer, but I’m sure they will both be covered and I’ll get outdoors. 

The winter before I got the Nordic Track, I’d often wake up early and head up to the Eldora X-C ski area.  The skiing itself was pretty miserable---I had started skating and was doing this with standard gear at that time, altogether incorrect for skating.  Add to that that the track was groomed for diagonal stride only, and I topped out at 5 km runs.  Still, I have great memories of being on the track before anybody else, including several early mornings on virgin Colorado powder.  It was the forty minute each way drive that got me to buy the Nordic Track, not the skiing.  Now, a groomed skate track is ten minutes away.  Snowmobile trails are also great ski trails---they’re also groomed as “corduroy,” and they’re even closer.  Add to that that mountain biking and jogging through areas that are much closer to wilderness than anything in the Bay area are right here, and it’s not just a surgery that allows me to jog that I am thankful for.

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