Rob's Blog Archive

November 25, 2012

On the Road and Treadmill Again










It began the last week of June.  I decided to start running again.  So I did.  I got on the treadmill and out on the roads.

My first runs didn’t rise to the level of disaster.  It took two or three, but I did find that if I went slow enough, I could jog indefinitely.  However, slow enough brought back memories of watching people whose gaits were clearly a lope but who just didn’t seem to be moving.  After years of encouraging friends who started jogging to continue, but smugly thinking I would always be faster than them, I found myself moving at the same pace.  The correct word was humbling.

Prior to 1986, I ran regularly.  Though I enjoyed running, I did it primarily to stay in shape for other sports.  This started with wrestling in college and continued with Taekwon-Do, climbing, and skiing after I graduated.  Throughout grad school and my first post-doc, intermittent pain from various forms of abuse, including running, thrashed my left knee.  As a 30 year old, I decided to purchase a Nordic Track.  That was the fall of 1986.  I hoped that with the exercise machine, I could maintain my cardio well and even keep most of the musculature appropriate for running in shape without straining the knee.  Any time I wanted to run, add in a couple of weeks of more specific training, and I’d be good.

This seemed to work.  My running was never as good as it was when I was in grad school when I did both the Bay to Breakers and the Sound to Narrows at just over a 7 min/mile pace, but it was respectable. That said, my speed did degrade steadily, something I never really questioned.  As far as I knew, it was age. 

I moved from Silicon Valley to Montana in July of 2003.  I wanted to learn to run sleddogs and Montana was and is a center for this.  I had already done a number of skijoring races in California and Oregon, but I wanted to build a kennel, learn to sled longer distances, and do expeditions. 

The first race I attended after moving was in West Yellowstone.  They had a six dog and a twelve dog class and at that time I only had four.  I didn’t race, but I handled for my mentor, Bob Chlupach.  I also sledded with my dogs and then skied.  I was traipsing around a motel in my hard soled x-ski racing boots when I stepped onto a large patch of glare ice.  Hard plastic and glare ice are a very nasty combination.  I could weight bear immediately after the fall, but for the next four and a half years, I was never pain free. 

By March of 2007, I knew I needed something more than the intermittent physical therapy I had had to deal with the hip.  X rays, just like the ones I should have gotten when I first injured it but didn’t, shocked the surgeon (I had just completed the 320 mile Race to the Sky, not to mention all the training that that had required).  The hip needed replacement.

The first surgeon I saw gave me a pamphlet on the procedure he recommended.  It was clear—no running after the hip replacement.  The thought that I’d never again jog along, enjoying a summer day with the sun on my shoulders and back, rattled through my mind as I came to grips with how bad the hip was.  I was 51.  I’d seen others lose much more mobility than not running was going to entail.  This wasn’t going to be the end of my world.  Still, I spent an unhappy two weeks before friends pointed me in the direction of a relatively new procedure that would let me run---actually do anything I wanted.   

I tried to mush the next season but eventually gave up.  My hip was replaced on April Fools Day, 2008. 

My surgeon wanted to follow a conservative post-surgical protocol and I wasn’t going to argue.  I didn’t want a complication that would require a second surgery.  After four and a half years of pain, my hip was pain free.  Six weeks after the surgery I was allowed to do anything except run and jump.  Between speed walking, my Nordic Track, and Taekwon-Do I got myself into pretty good shape.  I pressed a bit, and my surgeon acceded to okaying my doing my first run on October 1.  With no running for a few years prior to that, I was happy with the best time I could muster on a two mile out and back from my house that included the driveway from hell---22:18 on October 17. 

Between then and June of this year, I worked out regularly---mostly my Nordic Track and Taekwon-Do.  I ran just a few times.  The one time I remember running, or trying to, was Thanksgiving of 2011.  It was on easy hills near my mom’s house, but I had difficulty completing it.  That had never happened before.  It was a wake-up call. I needed to start running again. 

By April, after sledding season ended, I started doing longer easier workouts on the Nordic Track.  With my Kindle Fire with the touch screen I found that if I wasn’t moving around too much, I could read while I worked out, ideal for Long Slow Day (LSD) training.  I hoped that this would help me lose a few pounds before I actually started running.  It didn’t. 

If I were going to move ahead, I’d have to begin running rather than wait indefinitely for weight loss that wasn’t happening.  So I started.  That was the last week in June. 

Just like the previous Thanksgiving weekend, I had difficulty completing the first and second short runs.  Quickly, though, I found that I could jog three miles without stopping, but only at a disgustingly slow pace. 

I set goals.  In the case of running, I had decided that I wanted to post my run times by mid fall.  July, August, and September saw my running improve, but not near as much as I had hoped. With my speed improving only very slowly, I kept putting off even assigning a date.  Finally, I settled on mid-November.  I chose the treadmill, two miles, and a 1% grade to match running outside.  My goal was something trivial by past years’ running, hitting ten minute miles. 

I arrived at the gym on Saturday, November 17 with just enough time to warm up and then try my two miles.  And I started.  Less than halfway there, I realized I wasn’t going to make it.  I suppose I could have forced myself, but part of the consequence of growing older is I am not completely sure that there is no downside to pushing past my perceived limit and to my real one, something I didn’t worry about when I was twenty. So I stopped, went home, and considered the world.

Like any good scientist, I sat down and plotted my speed as a function of my age.  What I saw was a straight decreasing line.  What I also saw was a decreasing straight line following my weight increase.  I couldn’t control my age, but I could control my weight.  Maybe it wouldn’t help much, but I had to believe that losing weight would help some.  My hopes back in June were to become a respectable runner and that running would help me reduce my weight.  Both failed.  Time for a different approach. 

By Saturday afternoon, I was on a real diet---not just “watching my weight” by being a little careful about what I ate, but actually limiting portions and eating more low cal foods that are filling like soups.  The immediate effect of dropping portions was to reduce the amount of food in my g.i. tract, something I had hoped for.  I wasn’t about to change my conditioning overnight, but a back of the envelope calculation said that dropping those three extra worthless pounds would get me over the hump. 

Armed with my three pound loss and a breathing pattern different from, well, the previous 35 years (perhaps another blog), I set out again to clear 6 mph on Wednesday, November 21.  And I did.  My posted time for two miles on a treadmill set for a 1% grade and at 4,000’ above sea level is 19:43.  I did that the day before Thanksgiving, not quite a year after I got that first wake-up call.  And I am on a real diet, just like when I cut weight for wrestling---cottage cheese is my best friend. 

With my frustration over my speed and only making slow progress at improving, two different feelings have actually dominated my thoughts.  First, I enjoyed the challenge.  With age, I have even learned to like the fact that I don’t and didn’t know where this will end up, only that I will continue to improve.  Second, I cherished that I could run at all.  One day, I do expect I won’t be able to run anymore, but I am hopeful that day is a ways off.

The answer everybody knows for why do you climb a mountain is “Because it’s there.”  At this time, I have several reasons for running, but in mimicking Mallory’s zen, I’ll summarize these with the statement, I run “Because I can.”  And on Thanksgiving weekend I am very very thankful for this.

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