Monday, January 31, 2011

The Slow Return

I feel like every time I launch into a story about my injury, I start it the same way: "The hardest part about getting hurt is..." Today, I can definitively say that the hardest part about getting hurt is coming back. It hurts. It's soul crushing and it takes an incredible amount of restraint.

I started running again on January 22nd, 17 days after my Doctor told me I could start back when I thought it was appropriate. That was a challenge in itself. The first run was really just a jog. 18:43 seconds at a warm-up/cool-down pace with Caitlin, Aaron, Ben and Billy. But oh, it felt so good. Nearly 19 minutes of bliss. The CRC Board of Directors had travelled to Asheville for our mission and vision retreat and to run the Hot Chocolate 10K. I had really looked forward to the race, but after accepting the fact that I wouldn't be at the starting line, I simply looked forward to being AT the race. Seeing people working the flats and the hills wasn't depressing, it was inspiring. Lauren, Aaron, Allen, Matt, Boriana, Sarah, Scott, Billy...they all had great races and it reminded me that I've had and will have great races too.

What's tough about building back up your strength and endurance is that it is just that --
building. Just like any project, when you rush, you are bound to screw the whole thing up. Runners who've been down seven weeks, can't just start running 80 miles a week again. Instead, you run a fraction of that distance and continue to cross-train to make up for the rest. After that first run in Asheville, I was back to my monotonous, yet important activities. To supplement my tiny running workout, I found myself in the pool at the Asheville YMCA, passing over the same band-aid stuck to the pool floor 100 times. Gross. Sunday morning when everyone got up early to find some trails in the mountains, I got up early and got in my car to make the two-and-a-half hour drive back to Charlotte. I drove almost directly to the Dowd YMCA (stopped for coffee and to see Pepper) where it was two hours of spinning and swimming.

Monday: Spin lift.
Tuesday: Perhaps the best proof of my desparation and lonliness. I woke up at 4:45am just to meet the Miner's Run group by 5:30 at McAlpine, run two miles out with them, then turn around and run back by myself. In the evening, I swam.
Wednesday: Spin, swim.
Thursday: Five easy miles in the morning before flying to Austin, Texas. When we got to Austin, Lauren was nice enough to take me a YMCA, where I swam a mile in a heated outdoor pool. I have to say, I am stunned by her willingness to aid in such an obsesion.
Friday: Off, although Lauren and I rented a kayak and rowed for an hour.
Saturday: 6 miles in Burnet, Texas at sub-7:00 pace. I've still got it! My legs hurt, but my heart feels fine.
Sunday: Only because it was run or do nothing, I did my first back-to-back runs. I only had a couple of beers on Saturday, but I must have drank enough to forget the marathon I apparently ran. Wow did my legs hurt! I limped along, waiting for five miles to be done and over with.

Today it was an hour on the elliptical and a swim. I'll try to run every other day this week. The thing is, running is so easy. You don't have to go anywhere to do it if you don't want to. You don't have to fight off all the people fighting for a machine at the Y. (Side note: it appears people are sticking with their resolutions a little longer than usual. Come on people, it's February! Wendy's is calling your name! Square beef!). You can get up and go, and that's why it's so tough to stop yourself.

On a non-running related note (I can do that, because it's my blog), Austin, Texas may be the coolest city I have ever visited. There is music everywhere, and good music to boot. Every eatery we walked or drove by looked like one I'd like to stop at. As we sat at an outdoor coffee shop listening to a jazz/bluegrass band on Sunday afternoon, I found myself wondering how a city like Austin landed in a state so incredibly different.

But it wasn't just Austin itself that was awesome. We were there to see Lauren's family. It was her granddad's 80th birthday and we celebrated at two lake front cabins about an hour outside the city. For me, it marked the first time I'd be meeting all the aunts, uncles and cousins I'd heard so much about. I have to admit, it was intimidating and at times overwhelming. But it was also really cool. I'm sorry I don't have a more eloquent word, but that's what it was. I'm already looking forward to getting to know everyone better and becoming part of their family.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Please forward my mail to the Dowd YMCA

The injured runner has two choices, both of which include a certain amount of wallowing in self-pity. He can chose to be defeated by the injury and recover with weeks of armchairs and reruns of "How I Met Your Mother", or he can chose to find creative ways to keep the injury from keeping him down. You can probably guess which one is more diffulcult.

Since beginning my cross-training regimen five weeks ago, I have been telling people that being injured takes way more dedication and willpower than being healthy. Maybe when I can run again, I'll forget all this. But, in the past month plus, I have concluded that dragging yourself to the gym for a spin class, a lap swim or an hour on the elliptical machine no matter what time of day, is exponentially harder than getting up for a 5:30am run where you know you're at least going to have the support of friends.

But oddly enough, it's the promise of the latter that keeps me trudging to the Y every day. Whether it's true or not, I tell myself that if I work really hard to maintain fitness, it will be easier to keep up with the group of runners I miss running with so much.

The Y is a quirky place. I know this because I spend anywhere from two to three hours a day there. In my hours of cardio substitutions, I have been on a bike in between two very large men, both of which were singing at the top of their lungs to songs that only they could hear. I have been in the pool alone on the snowiest, iciest day of the year, aquajogging with such intensity that I am sure the lifeguard thought I was some sort of lunatic. She may have been right. I have been adjacent to many an exerciser who is either immune to deodorant or simply chooses not to wear it. I have a reguarly attended a spin class tought by a the world's biggest Alan Parsons Project fan who kicks off each session with one of their weird progressive rock tunes.

Yesterday, I came home from a morning of cycling and swimming with a stupid idea. I would get up the next morning and do my own triathlon. I'd swim, take a spin class and aquajog. My attempts to recruit fellow indoor triathletes failed, but I charged on. A least I knew I would win. At 8:15am, I yelled *bang* and then slowly eased into the pool to begin the swim. Since this was my own triathlon, I would determine the distance. I figured a mile was sufficient, and started counting the lengths until I hit 72.

I hopped out of the pool with 15 minutes to spare before the 9am spin class. Thanks to the annual New Years Resolution rush, bike space was slim, but AJ had signed me up while I was in the pool. I attacked the bike with vengance, upping the resistance when the instructor said and not just reaching down and pretending to turn the dial as I have been known to do. I burst out of the saddle when we hit a "hill" and made sure the RPMs on the bike stayed exactly in the prescribed range. By the end of the class, I was drenched in sweat. Since the class was only 45 minutes, I kept pedaling to get in an even hour.

Transition two was me walking out of the cycle room, down the stairs to the pool locker room and changing back into my wet jammers.

The ability to aquajog is a fairly recent development. I saw a second doctor about a week ago, who painted a much prettier picture of this injury than the original physician's assistant I saw. After examing the x-rays, he added elliptical, walking and aquajogging to my repetoire. He also took me out of the boot. So, here I was at the last leg of my triathlon. Anyone who's ever aquajogged knows it's a mind-numbing activity. One has to do something to segment it. I went with a 5-4-3-2-1 x 2 interval workout. As I hit the intervals, I could feel my heart rate soaring, and despite being mostly submerged in cool water, beads of sweat were forming on my forehead.

As my stopwatch hit one hour, I jumped out of the pool feeling victorious. Obviously, there was no medal, no high-fives, and I chose not to throw my hands in the air out of fear of looking like an idiot. But I did have a big smile on my face. I wasn't happy for exercising for three hours. I've done that before and the workouts have been harder. I was celebrating the triumph of mind over matter. Each time I finish one of these workouts, which give me no adrenaline rush and are usually done with no company, I am amazed I was able to stay in it. I am not trying to brag, but to illustrate that the pull to just stay in bed, or just walk the dog and call it a workout are so strong sometimes that it takes willpower I didn't know I had to overcome it.

As for the injury, it's progressing. As I mentioned, a new doctor and CRC member took me out of the boot. He left the return to running up to me, which is a dangerous delegation. But I am trying my best to handle it like a mature athlete. With pain as my guide, I will attempt to run again on January 22nd when the crew goes up to Asheville for a 10k. All I plan to do is jog the warmup, then slip into the Y for something supplemental. Pain will be my guide. If it hurts, I'll stop. Caution is key. I will run Saturday but probably not Sunday. Monday might get two or three miles then Tuesday it's back to the pool. As eager as I am to get out there, I am eager to get out there and stay out there.