Life has been pretty weird lately, with the death of my father, a hospital stay for my mom and a brother in law who’s decided to make a career change: senior corporate management for alcoholism. And, as I haven’t had the time or energy to be all that active here, I decided to post something that I intended to post back in April:
Back in October ’11, we went away to Cambria, a small town along the central California coast, for a long weekend as kind of an extended family vacation. It was a great time and all but one of the more memorable things for me was gaining the ability to run after having jaw surgery the previous week. This week, we again headed down to Cambria to celebrate my daughter’s birthday and, as was the case in October, my running has been hampered, this time by runner’s knee. And I was really hoping that, as was the case on my previous trip, I’d have a successful run and return home with the ability to continue running. Well, things didn’t quite work out the way that I hoped.
I took off on a 5 mile run with the sky partly cloudy but sunny, a beautiful day along the coast. But, within literally two minutes, it began to rain. Not just a light shower, but hard, cold rain. You’d think that I’d take that as a prophetic sign. As I continued my run, running on the Fiscalini Ranch Trail, the skies cleared and the sun came out, giving me spectacular views of the rocky cliffs meeting the Pacific – the birds were plentiful and, because of the rain, I had the trail all to myself. And, as I ran, the only thought that came to mind was: man, I’m darn lucky to live in California.
As I was on my last mile though, a familiar tightness started in my hamstrings and the pain returned to my knee. Crap. And, like the clueless moron that I am, I continued running, thinking that, with only a mile or so left, it wouldn’t get too much worse. Bad move. I’ve been reminded of my stupidity ever since when I attempt to do strenuous things like walking up stairs or bend down to pick something up.
So what’s next? Having absolutely zero experience with Runner’s Knee, I’m reaching out and getting some help from a running coach. This is huge for me as I’m the kind of guy who thinks that I can fix everything on my own – my home is littered with projects in various state of repair or construction to prove this fact. But, at some point, stubbornness needs to give way to common sense so bring on the coaching.
Injuries: some say that they can be avoided while others say that they’re a part of running. Some in the minimalist and barefoot movement will say that running injury free is possible if we run how are bodies were designed to run while ChiRunners will say that, if we can just rediscover the stride of our youth, we’ll all be well on our way to making injuries a thing of the past. While I can’t say for certain if any of the above is true, I can say that injuries are frustrating, irritating and sometimes make me wonder why I do this thing called running.
As many years as I’ve run, I’ve come to realize that injuries are a part of running and, as many claim to have one size fits all solutions to any injuries, it’s been my experience that they simply don’t exist. Take the recent experiences with Lauren Fleshman for example: an Olympic hopeful who has been sidelined by an IT band gone bad. And, as many resources as she has at her disposal, the opinions of exactly why she’s injured seem to vary quite a bit, which doesn’t give me a whole lot of hope since I’ve recently begun a battle with ITBS.
My only other “major” injury was shin splints -- I call it major because it kept me off the roads for darn near sixteen years. Like many, I too hit the interwebs looking for that single thing that would cure what ailed me (adding a bit of hair on my head while it’s at it?) but, time after time, that sure-fire cure didn’t work. Instead, it took a lot of trial and effort on my part to bring myself to a point at which I was running regularly. And, for almost two years, I was a happy runner. Sigh.
So, as I stare down the face of ITBS, or more commonly referred to as runner’s knee, I’m left wondering what the cure will be and how long I’ll be off the roads this time. And, in the same sentence, I’m left wondering how to avoid this in the future. After all, I tried to be careful, listening to my body to the best of my ability as I built up my miles. I also followed the 10% per week max increase by increasing roughly 5% week over week. And, I had a few weeks of lower mileage mixed in. I did everything right, so why do I hurt?
I remember a conversation that I had years ago with a fairly successful motorcycle racer. At the time, I was pretty into going fast on bikes so I had a ton of questions for him about his mental approach to getting through corners quickly. One thing that he said stuck with me: “If you’re going to ride fast, you’re going to go down.” I think, to a certain extent, this applies to running as well: if you’re going to run, you’re going to go down to injury at some point. It’s a necessary evil, and one that can test our dedication to the sport. As much as I want to complain about pain and being off the roads, I still maintain that I’m darn glad that I’m a runner and, especially now that Spring’s right around the corner, I can’t wait to be running once again, uninjured and for the pure joy of it – until I’m injured again.
If you’re a runner and have read anything even remotely running related, you’ve likely heard of the rage that is minimalist running and its partner in crime, barefoot running. Before I go further, let me say that there’s something strangely fascinating for me about running barefoot. Perhaps it’s that it reminds me of a soul surfer type mentality — a state of mind that rejects the strict and conventional and embraces a mindset of the casual and the free. It brings about feelings of being in the moment and living without boundaries and deadlines as opposed to being subjected to and living within the fences that politics, business and others attempt to constrain us with. Nice idea. But, the problem is: I think the “running naturally” premise sucks. And, to support my option I had an experience the other day that convinced me beyond a shadow of a doubt that I’m right.
Before I reveal the exact source of my new-found wisdom though, allow me to run my mouth off a for a bit longer.
My disagreements with the barefoot craze are many. Probably the quickest to mention however, is that there are a rather large number of experienced and capable running shoe sales persons who will give testimony after testimony of runners who, through the use cushioned and motion control shoes, have become runners. And, by the way, I count myself as one of those success stories. I had tried shoe after shoe for years until I was properly fitted with a set of over the counter orthotics by a local running only store sales guy. And, even as early as the first few miles using them, it became painfully obvious, or lack of painfully obvious, that these things were what I needed in order to realize my goal of becoming a runner again. And, while barefoot promoters would likely say that I need to learn how to run more naturally or that my shoe purchases are doing little but giving money to evil corporations that probably kick puppies at every chance, I say this: “Did you know that a human head weighs 8 pounds?”
Ed Ayers, on his blog Endurance and Sustainablilty, wrote an article about Chris McDougall and his book Born to Run. If you’ve never read Ed’s blog, he’s an incredibly talented writer and has a wealth of experience from which to draw when it comes to writing about running. In his most recent blog, he discusses some common sense problems with barefoot and minimalist running with a far greater degree of articulation that I could ever write so check it out! But enough about Ed, back to me and what convinced me that my views on barefoot running are, without a doubt, 100% correct.
They say (and who is this “they” anyway? If anyone knows, let “they” know that they’re wrong about the old dog-new trick thing) that I picture is worth a thousand words. See below:
Ok, ok, it’s been a long, long time since I’ve written anything. What can I say but life is incredibly strange, very busy and I’ve been going through a really weird time lately, call it a mid-life crisis without the Corvette. During this time, I’ve been evaluating absolutely everything about my life, including this blog. And, for reasons that I can’t really explain let alone understand, lately I’ve been having trouble moving forward in any area of my life beyond the basics. After a lot of processing though, I have come up with a few things that I refuse to give up on. And, as much as I hate lists, the non-negotiables are my faith, my family and my running but anything beyond that is fair game. So, where I go from here is anyone’s guess but I’m sure that anyone who reads this will hear about it as things come to light.
One thing that is an incredibly big deal to me though is today, May 17, 2011. And, before you go there, no, I didn’t join the “50-something” crowd — I ain’t that old! The reason why it’s a big day is because exactly one year ago today, I started my most recent attempt at running. And, while this may not seem like such a big deal to most runners, understand that I’ve been trying to once again become a runner for the better part of 16 years but, with each and every attempt, injuries have sidelined me at fairly early stages. This time was different though. Instead of buying books, shoes and taking advice from unshaven, overweight and typically drunk ex-athletes, I came to the party prepared with the greatest weapon that mankind has ever known: the internet. After all, who needs a degree in PhysEd when wifi’s so readily available? So yes, I’m a really, really happy guy today.
As I’ve tweaking with my running schedule lately, my body was a bit sore and stiff this morning and anyone with even a hint of wisdom would probably opted to take a rest day. Last time I checked though, my hint of wisdom wasn’t anywhere to be seen. So, I headed out on a slightly hilly 6 mile run.
As I ran, my mind cycled through all of my running experiences over the last year. I thought about some of the injuries — shin splints being the big one. I’ve also run through Runner’s Knee and a weird pain that migrated from my shin to the back of my knee, down my calf and onto my heel, back up my calf and back to my shin before going away — possibly the weirdest injury (?) that I’ve ever experienced.
I also thought about the different places where I’ve been able to run and the lessons that I’ve learned from the varied geographies. I was reminded of what it’s like for we who live on sea-level to run in higher elevations such as the Sierras. I’ve also had the opportunity to run along the foggy coast of Mendocino and seen more vultures that I’ve ever seen in one gathering which, more than anything else, reminded me of my mortality big time. Kauai taught me exactly what runners in humid climates such as Florida and Georgia have to deal with for months at a time and brought forward an appreciation of the climate in my stomping grounds. Southern California and Disneyland was crazy — 5.5 miles of either incredibly crowded sidewalks or inner city concrete and asphalt, take your pick.
For me, it’s truly been a good year for running. And, though I’m frustrated that my speed hasn’t come back as quickly as I’d hoped and that I’m not yet below 160lbs, if someone would’ve told me a year ago that, one year later, I’d be averaging 30 miles per week while being 20lbs lighter, there’s no way that I would have believed it.
So, I’ve got some goals for the next year. And hopefully, you’ll hear about them over the next few days. Keep running and stay tuned….
I started running again on May 17 of 2010. I had been trying on and off for the better part of the last 16 years to get back into running but injuries had sidelined me early on in the process time and time again — until this time. This time, I took things very, very slowly. I started with the Couch to 5k program, even though I wasn’t “on the couch” and I put in a freakish amount of effort into managing and working through the injuries that have popped up over the last year.
I started running on a 3-day per week schedule and I didn’t allow myself to add a 4th day until a few months ago and, even when I did, I had to bump myself back down to a 3-day schedule twice. As running 4 days each week demands two consecutive days of running at some point in the week, my body wasn’t quite ready for the additional punishment so it took two or three months for my body to adapt. It seems though that, once my body did finally make the adjustment, the result was better than I had hoped.
Two weeks ago, as I’d like to fit a half in before too long, I decided to move up to a 5-day schedule, which requires at least 3 consecutive running days. My body handled it with ease — no problems, no pain. This week, I decided to go 4 days in a row, the last one of the 4 being today. And, no problems, no pain!
There are quite a few other reasons why I wanted to move to a 5-day schedule but it’s past midnight right now and I have absolutely no idea how to position my reasoning without sounding like an obsessive compulsive hypochondriac. So, those reasons will have to wait for another entry when I’m a bit more awake. Until then, stay tuned and keep running.
One of the things that I’d love to do this year is to get a few half marathons under my belt. I’ve been wanted to do one for years but, for the last 15 year or so, I’ve been sidelined by injuries. And, as I’m pretty prone to heavy research when I set out to do something, I’ve looked at and evaluated a myriad of training plans. As expected, I found most to similar in that there’s a slow build up in miles but, beyond that, they can vary quite a bit. One variance though is in the number of running days that were allowed — some were based on six-day run schedule and others allowed only three.
Initially, I had considered a three-day plan simply because my body was only allowing me to run three days. And, since thousands have run halfs and fulls using three-day plans through organizations such as Team in Training, it seemed like the way to go. After giving it a lot of thought though, I opted to wait until I was able to run four days a week before starting any official training.
Being a musician, I’ve learned that more, the more frequently you practice, the sooner you’ll notice improvement. While this may sound like a no-brainer, there are those who opt to practice fewer days but for longer durations — I’ve never found that to be as effective as daily practice though. I think that, the more frequently you do something, the more familiar to it your body and mind becomes with the activity and the more quickly you progress. Extending this to running, it seems to me that heading out more frequently gives the body more of an ability to absorb the punishment that running dishes out and, let’s face it, the ability to get more weekly base miles under your belt can prove to be a benefit later on.
My interest in this is that, again, I’ve only recently been able to run for days a week — the same types of injuries that have kept me for 15 or 16 years have kept me from running more than 3 days each week. And, as recently as three months ago, getting out the door even three days a week was touch and go. Fortunately I’ve made it to 4 days now for two consecutive weeks and my legs still feel great. A friend of mine takes part in a speed workout on Thursday mornings and, once I’m able to get out and do those, I’ll consider my Half training officially started.
BTW, I checked out MapMyRun’s iPhone app on today’s run, more on that later.
Since I’ve started taking my daughters through Couch to 5k last week, I’ve ran every single day. Ok, even though the first few runs of C25k are short and hardly a workout, it’s still getting out there and exposing the body to the punishment that running dishes out, the jolting and jarring that comes with lacing up and hitting the pavement. In my defense, we skipped week one and went right to week two.
Today was my first off day in a week — no running, no workouts, just a good ol’ fashion recovery day. One thing that I discovered about recovery days is that they’re pretty anti-climatic. I’ve found that I actually like getting out there every day and not getting out there today has left me wanting to be out there. Tomorrow, I’m doing a solo run — either a long six or a long seven — but today, nothing. Intellectually, I get that my body needs to recover, that, without at least one day off, I’ll likely be facing an extended break from running because of some injury that I’ve sustained from going too far, too fast. As much as I’ve read about this and have experienced pain that has kept me from running in the past, I still found myself wanting to get out there. I actually became restless today, restless to the point that I started mapping out new runs, even to the point of mapping out runs in Kauai for our vacation in April.
It feels freakish to me, like I’ve completely given up the on the prospect of handling running with sober intellect. Then again, none of us are perfect, we’re all flawed to some degree and, if the only flaw that I have in life wasn’t that I’m freakish about running, it could very well be an addiction to drugs or gambling worse yet, an inability to make an accurate self-assessment. Fortunately for me, it’s just the attitude towards running.
So I'm officially through chapter 4 of ChiRunning and, so far, it's a pretty good read but there are some things that are starting to get a little repetitive. As I'm fairly curious to see if this will help me run sans-injury, while casually walking at school today, I decided to try out a few things that are in the book. Dreyer talks about keeping the spine nice and straight, letting it rotate and twist as the hips and shoulders move opposite each other. And, as the hips move, they should act like a springboard of sorts, providing propulsion for the legs to move back and forth.
As I walked and paid attention to my spine, how it moved and how my hips and shoulders interacted. And, as I was doing this, my body started to relaxing fairly significantly. I also noted that a pain that I have in my lower left leg wasn't there. It seems to me that this pain that I experience is at its peak when I'm pulling my left foot off the ground -- when, as I push my ankle through the step, release the tension and start to move my foot forward. While I was walking today though, I noticed that I wasn't pushing my with my ankle at all as I went through the step. Rather, my foot felt like it was sort of along for the ride. Cool! When I got home, I decided to take this technique out for a 5 mile run.
The first 200 yards or so was painful as usual but, after that, the pain noticeably deadened. As I ran, instead of focusing on my stride and my foot strike, I was focusing on my spine, my hips and my shoulders -- feeling my spine twist, my hips move back and forth, recoiling as my shoulders smoothly rotated to counteract the movement of the hips. And, once again, my ankles and legs were loose, I wasn't physically pushing. Then, I thought about how Dreyer writes about paying attention to your whole body -- being aware of everything that's going on as you run. I listened to my feet, my shoulders, my legs, everything. I found though that, the more I concentrated on one part, I'd sense another part that was failing. For example, I focused on keeping my shoulders relaxed when I noticed that I was falling back into a heel strike stride. Mental note: fix that. I switched back to a mid-foot stride and I became aware that my ankles were pushing again. Crap. Ok, that's fixed. Now my shoulders were tightening up again, but I was carrying my phone. Was that the reason or was it because my form was bad? Throughout my run, I found that my brain was on overdrive, paying attention to so many things that everything started to suffer. It brought me right back to golfing. How, on my down-swing, my mind cycles through more pieces of information than I thought was possible. How, in the .61 second that that make up my down-swing, my shoulder's drop too much, too much arm and not enough hips, my left foot isn't planted firmly enough, hands aren't at the right angle, etc... In the end though, my run did wind up being more comfortable and I didn't experience anywhere near the same level of pain that I have over the last few weeks. And, as I sit here writing this, I'm still not feeling all that uncomfortable, which ain't normal.
A few years ago, I read a book by Jack Heggie called Running with the Whole Body. In the book, he takes readers through exercises that teach spine rotation and focusing on the movement of hips and shoulders. Honestly, my experience with ChiRunning today brought me right back to Heggie's exercises. I was also reminded of an article that I read by Matt Fitzgerald of Competitor.com. In the article, Fitzgerald wrote that the body, when enough miles are put in, will naturally develop a stride that is both comfortable and economical (he's written a book that I bought on the topic -- it's two books away on my list). I then began to wonder if ChiRunning, Running with the Whole Body, Matt Fitzgerald and other are all saying the same thing -- if they're all talking about the same destination, but also happen to be promoters of different paths to that destination. As far as I'm concerned, I really don't care, I just want to get rid of this pain in my leg. So, if ChiRunning will do that for me, call me a ChiRunner. Then again, I spent actual money on books from Fitzgerald and Heggie and, since ChiRunning's on loan from the library, I've spent nothing on that. So, the fights more likely to be between Heggie and Fitzgerald.
Run far, run often, run smart.
Being injured sucks. Being a runner with an injury that keeps us off the roads and trails sucks even more. If you have an internet connection -- which is pretty much assumed if you're reading this -- you've likely read about the various running philosophies out there, such as Chi and Prose, each one claiming to hold the key to the nirvana that is injury free running.
Being a natural skeptic, and being one who likes to figure things out myself, I've shied away from many of the "one size fits all" running styles and have instead looked towards the tried and true methods of stability shoes and inserts in my attempt to run without pain -- I can't say that I've been too successful. So, I did something that I never thought that I'd do: I picked up Danny Dreyer's book, "Chi Running". Keep in mind that I don't like to be told what to do and Chi Running, Prose Method, etc... all seem rather fad'ish to me -- like pet rocks and mullets, they'll be around for a while and that's about it. I got to thinking though. In just about every single sport that we play, there is proper form. Take baseball for example -- though there are a million ways to stand there and wait for a pitch, at the point of contact with the ball, many of the top hitters will look darn near identical. Then think about things like hitting a tennis or golf ball, the throwing motion of a Quarterback at the professional level, how to shoot a free throw in basketball -- each one has a proper form, ignore it and performance drops significantly.
So why can't it be the same with running, why can't there be a recommended form that is not to be ignored? Thinking about it, we have some pretty cool cameras that allow us to break down every phase of the stride, computers to run simulations and some really smart guys in lab coats who can perform any number of experiments. But then think of the sport of running in general. It's made up of a bunch of people, each with varying degrees of ability, fitness level, weight, dedication to the sport, available terrain, history, age, and the list goes on. I can imagine that, with the myriad of variables, and the fact that there probably isn't a whole lot of financial motivation to dedicate the required resources, there probably won't be an undisputed champion of running form declared any time soon. Which leaves us right where we started, being a bunch of runners who are trying to figure things out for ourselves. The good news however, is that we have books, the internet and well intentioned shoe salesmen to assist us in becoming more evolved in our abilities to gather confusing and contradictory information. But I digress, back to the Chi thing.
Honestly, I haven't read much more than the introduction but, over the past few months, I've incorporated very Chi'ish things into my form such as shortening my stride, creating more of a straight line between my hips and head, things like that. And to an extent, it's helped. So I'll read and experiment, hoping that Chi Running will be the answer to my problems -- that it will give me the ability to go out for a run without icing down post run, to run those marathons that I've been looking forward to, to be rich beyond my wildest dreams and for the hair follicles on my head to once again produce locks that will be the envy of all men. Then again, like my mullet, Chi Running may soon be something that exists only in our minds. .
Run far, run often, run smart.
Recently, I turned, uhmmm, 40-something -- September 27, 2010. Normally, I hate birthdays but this year I hated it even more. Though I'm not exactly sure why they're so distasteful to me, I do have a guess. I'm not the type to seek after attention rather, I much prefer to be a wall flower in the back of a room and birthdays do two things: they attract attention and make you realize that your time on this earth is coming to an end. And 40-something? That just sounds, well, old.
A few days before the dreaded day, I started reading Haruki Murakami’s, What I Think about When I'm Running and, in hind sight, it was a pretty bad move. It's basically a collection of memoirs that lightly touch on Murakami’s struggles in facing his mortality as he realizes and accepts that his body is growing older. Along with all of the aches and pains, the thing that seems to bother him the most is that, no matter how hard he trains, no matter how much punishment he dishes out to his body, he's reached a point at which the times of his races will likely become slower and slower. And, as I read his words, I find myself wanting to throw the book across the room in frustration. I think about the aches and pains that I deal with on a daily basis, and the fact that those irritations are probably only going to increase in number. And, what's worse, is that I haven't even been running long enough to have respectable PR's, and already I'm going to be slowing down? You have no idea how frustrating this is to me -- well, maybe you do.
So what's a guy to do, accept it? No way, I'm far to dumb to do that. Instead, I'll keep running and mountain biking, keeping plenty of ice and Advil on hand in the mean time. I'll push to run sub 6 minute miles like I did when I was 30 but this time, I'll try to do it over 13.1 and 26.2 instead of keeping the distance to a 10k. Yes, I'm that stupid. And, because of all of this, I'll no doubt pay the price with forced time outs from running and a thankfully sympathetic wife who'll just stand there and shake her head.
What is it in us that doesn't allow us to accept what is obvious to those around us? We grow older and reap the benefits that age brings, but we have a hard time accepting the physical limitations that accompany the blessings. Some of us walk around with the need to be immortal and have the mindset that things like cancer, death and freak accidents with a plate of nachos only happen to other people, never to us. As I'm running the risk of thinking way too much here, suffice to say that I'll leave that question of mortality to those far smarter than me to answer but it does make me think -- obviously not hard enough though. After all, I've got to plan my route for tomorrow.
Run far, run often, run smart.