Monthly Archives: April 2010

The Reproduction of Everyday Running

Watching a recorded Ford Ironman competition on the internet one night I was struck by how incredibly difficult the race seems to be, but more so, just how elated the competitors are when the race is said and done. The looks on their faces are of complete joy and euphoria. There isn’t relief. There isn’t agony (not after the race anyways). There isn’t dejection, even from those who crashed and burned. There is just utter elation, satisfaction at worst.

Some of these athletes get paid to train and perform like this, no doubt, probably fueled financially by multiple sponsorships and multiple-year contracts, but so many must suffer through the training despite working full-time jobs as well. The dynamics are no different in the competitive running community. There are those upper-elite athletes who have the coupled benefit of natural ability and dedicated hard work, in turn securing contracts that open up their hours to only train and train some more. Must be nice. Then there is the rest of us, who fight to open up a precious hour or two in our days to devote to running, despite our full-time jobs. It’s not always easy. Sometimes our relationships take the hit. Sometimes our running takes the hit. But please, don’t take this as complaining.

What struck me most about those Ironman athletes was the excitement that came with the fulfillment of such dedication, such time involved in going for each respective athlete’s goals. Doing this, despite their jobs, which I found quite amusing. The attempt to achieve each individual goal consumed the athlete, no matter the physical struggle, no matter the hardship. That act became the central focus in their lives, sponsored or not. These athletes LIVE to race, no question. It is the core of their being, above all else it is what gets them out of bed every morning. I guarantee it consumes them, because the same consumes me.

And yet, this is just a physical act. This desire to compete, to reach new levels of physical prowess and achievement is merely the endpoint of so many repetitive physical actions. It’s jockishness defined, right? I never thought I, personally, would see physical activity and sports in this light. Sure, I’ve always appreciated the physical existence and often viewed my active life in a political light, reacting to the passiveness that comprises our authoritarian culture, our golden calves of work and obedience. I viewed my health as political victory, and in a way I still do. I won’t hide that, but it’s more (or some might say less) than that now.

I have gone quickly from “running” to “competitive running”, which means something entirely different to me. It’s no longer about a reaction to social passivity, but rather the equivalent of nihilism. Competitive running to me is related nothing to politics in any stretch of the imagination. It’s not about reacting to social restrictions of work and duty. It’s not tied to any cause, flag or creed. It’s no more than the completely stripped down and repeated effort of continuously putting one foot in front of the other if only to see where it takes me, physically and competitively. It trumps everything.

It trumps politics. It trumps work. It trumps any and all mental considerations. It is nihilism defined. And yet, it holds such immense ability to liberate the individual, physically and politically if one should choose. In the faces of those Ironman athletes was this absolute joy that could never be expressed in words, that undeniably rules over the untouchable and infallible interests of capitalist and authoritarian society. It is a feeling that rules over all demands to be realistic. It is a feeling that rules over any request to strive for the greater good, for the benefit of all. It is a feeling that looks at the externally expressed value of work and LAUGHS ITS ASS OFF.

Because, to be brutally honest, nothing, ABSOLUTELY NOTHING feels better than the pairing of mind and body, forged by years of hard, repetitive, rewarding physical work. ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. It is beyond any abstract perception generated by the mind. It is beyond any spiritual, political and social boundary the human mind can create. It is beyond anything and everything non-tangible. The physical act, and even more so the competitive physical act, is political nihilism, abstract purity. It is nothing, yet it is everything. Any and all mediated professed importance pales in comparison.

You simply can not create a thought or express an opinion or create a story that will feel better than actually feeling itself. You can not create a story more powerful than a story made real through a physical act. It is no secret, but it is an understanding that is constantly overlooked, yet often rediscovered in the competitive arena. Those Ironman athletes, my fellow competitive runners and myself are acutely aware of this power, whether we have internalized this idea in thought or not.

I dream of a world stripped bare of all externalities, all abstract considerations, all mediated and impartial absurdities. I dream of a world of running. I dream of a world whose value lies solely in the physical act and all else falls over like the house of cards that it truly is. Just one foot in front of the other, again and again, faster and faster, until we finally halt the reproduction of everyday life.

a mirage?

I’m in the desert, but I swear I see a huge water slide sitting just on the horizon. This is to say that I’m by no means in the clear, but I have reason for hope, honest silver linings in the clouds. I’ve been dying to write this post for 5 weeks now. Let me preface though, I’m by no means in the clear.

This past week however I have run. Not far, but I have run. Consistently even. A full 4, going on 5, days in a row!

It started Sunday when I couldn’t take the regiment of cycling in place any longer. Granted, it felt so good to finally get my heart rate up and sweat it out for at least an hour (the shortest of all my run time) fairly consistently, but in the end, it wasn’t running. Maybe it was the taste of fitness again, but I really needed to get back out there and run again, even if for only a block, just to see how my leg felt when I put weight on it. Leading up to that first attempt I hadn’t felt much in my leg anyways, so I thought maybe now was the time to try it out again, press my luck.

I wasn’t planning on it at first until while riding my bike I realized all I had to do was throw on a different pair of shoes and take off around the block. With the familiar sensation of sweat in my eyes and heavy breathing in my chest I jumped off the bike at an hour, quickly threw on my running shoes and started running around the block, trying not to lose momentum. Surprisingly, the circular motion of cycling and the activated muscles had me moving quickly and powerfully as soon as I started in and I was going at a good clip when I really just wanted to take it easy, not put too much stress on my fragile lower leg. But here’s the thing, it felt good.

It felt real good actually. Ok, not “it’s a miracle! he has been sayaved!” good, but good enough to run on without shin splint pain. This I knew, though, meant nothing. Still, in all I ran a good 800 meters give or take for my first try. Now, all previous attempts at running again have felt decent the first day and the subsequent day I was dying in pain, limping from the start and dragging, quite literally, my leg home the rest of the run. I wasn’t about to get my hopes up. Still, I had to start somewhere.

However, I was, of course, not in the clear.

I decided I had to try the next day as well, but this time go out a little farther, again testing out how it felt after a little stressor, but not risking going two steps forward, 10 steps back. So on Sunday I rode the bike to get everything warmed up again and at 50 minutes jumped off, threw on my long neglected running shoes and began another quick-paced run around the block, mildly wincing in fear that the first steps would repeat the painful pattern of my last few second try runs. But I made it just far enough to realize that restrictive, debilitating shin pain was not going to surface, not right from the start anyways, so I continued on unabated, not holding myself back. Oh how good that felt, even if I did only run just over a mile.

I held no delusions though, I wasn’t in the clear.

Tuesday came and I could barely contain my enthusiasm at work, finding it difficult to concentrate on work matters when all I wanted to do was go home and test my leg again, even if my running still wasn’t even a warm-up of my previous running-self. When the work day ended I rode my bike quickly home, nearly jumped out of my work clothes and into my running shorts before heading out the door. Although still a little tentative at first, I quickly found a natural stride and hit a decent pace sticking to my neighborhood streets in case my leg started flaring up in pain. I knocked out one mile, then two and with the confidence surging through me I ran just a little farther to really push the envelope. Daring, I know. Still, the shin splint pain came only in the most minor twinges before disappearing almost immediately and any other discomfort was entirely tolerable and episodic. A wave of relief washed over me when I completed a full 15 minutes of running without the pain and soreness that usually accompanied my lower leg upon stopping. It took a great deal of restraint from immediately thinking towards the future and recreating the fitness I had before this setback.

But again, as hopeful as I felt after each run, I tempered myself from declaring my injury absolved.

Today, with much anticipation, I jumped into my shoes and shorts after work, set my watch to chrono and bounded out the door without restraint. The weather was unbeatable and within half a block I was beyond a warm-up pace and getting my breathing up. I probably should continue to ease into my runs, but my emotional state is difficult to tether right now. I moved easily down the street and back towards the Monon rail-trail of which I’ve neglected for the past month plus. The crushed gravel felt like a massage under my feet as my rhythm kicked out a dirt and rock shuffling tune…the best song I’ve heard in quite some time. My form felt good and the restriction I had on my runs prior to this recent attempt was gone,  my leg loosened up and keeping the pain at bay. Now, I’m not going to pass this off as a problem-free run. I did feel a pain in my lower leg most of the run, but it was definitively different than the shin splint pain that stopped me in the first place. This was something inarguably muscular and located in the back of my calf, where I’ve been working on strengthening with calf raises, so this didn’t worry me or surprise me even. Still, I didn’t press the good thing I had going. I hit my turn around point at a mile and a half and headed back home to finish up, not letting myself get carried away with the relative success.

When I was almost home I treated myself to a strengthening exercise I’ve been wanting to incorporate into my running since this setback. About a block from home is a pristinely mowed stretch of neighborhood park grass that was begging to be run through…barefoot. I’ll save the whole barefoot discussion for a later post, but aside from its purported benefits, I just wanted to run barefoot for fun! So that’s what I did.

Running 5 striders with an equal length jog in between I let the cool grass and soft ground pad my feet. It was so nice and even nicer that the stress of striding didn’t inflame any muscles or create any worrisome pain in my shins. But let’s not get carried away..

I’m still not in the clear.

I’m still only at just over 3 miles, where my previous test runs were at 5, so I’m not making any big statements just yet. But still, right now…..it feels real damn good. Out of the clear or not, just being able to be out there again, the sounds, the sun, the air, and everything else that goes along with the running experience. Damn I’ve missed it, so bad.

Now, I still don’t know exactly what was/is going on with my leg, which is cause for great concern, but I’m continuing to do a handful of new strength exercises and stretches along with massage and spinal adjustments hoping that these are adding to my recovering and injury avoidance in the future.

Coach Matt keeps saying we just need to “flip the switch”, which means do what needs to be done to help the body start its process of recovery. Maybe we’ve done that. Maybe not. I’m not saying anything yet. I still feel what I call “oddness” in my leg, but above all else I don’t feel debilitating shin pain. That is what matters most to me right now, because it means I can get back out there and run.

Damn it feels good.  It’ll feel better when I can tell you I am undeniably “in the clear”. Until then….

Down and out, but on the way up.

Being down and out like I have been the past month and handful of days has had me thinking about my predicament constantly, which unfortunately has been dripping with nothing but negativity. Often that leads to a downward spiral of frustration wherein the weight of not being able to run causes my mental state to suffer which all but kills my motivation to keep fitness which again drags my mental state deeper and deeper. I suspect my coach understands this as his emails have continued to address my mental strength and have encouraged me to keep maintaining some level of fitness no matter what progress or lack of progress I’ve been having with my injury. The nudges are helpful and snap me back into action, but it hasn’t been easy. Last week though, I think I hit a new low point that jolted me a little bit and I found myself fighting to get back into maintaining fitness. On a whim I was flooded with a motivation that had me go out and purchase a trainer for my bike. I was determined to ride the crap out of that thing while my leg healed. I figured I’d make this keeping active stuff as easy as I possibly can. Hell, I sit around my house after work anyways, so if I have a bike to ride there, then I could at least be on that thing. So I bought the trainer and set it up as soon as I got home. I was good to go. And for the following days I rode that thing out of my depression and physical stagnation. And although it has it’s physical benefits, doing so also made me realize something else. I NEED strenuous physical activity. I NEED this sort of activity to feel accomplished, to feel like I’ve made something of my day, to keep me mentally excited and enthusiastic. I NEED the physical release I have been immersing myself in almost every day for the past 3 years.

Ask Michelle. Since not running I’ve been pretty damn miserable. Now, I’m not saying I’m a frickin new years eve party to be around right now, but since getting back on this bike and actually doing something about my situation, I’ve certainly felt mentally re-energized. As I’ve been consistently riding and sweating I’ve realized just how much I’ve missed that part of running. That intensity. That effort. Believe me, I’ve missed A LOT of things that come with running. The camraderie, the early morning sun rise, etc. etc., but more than anything else, I’ve missed that excitement and intensity that comes with the effort, that comes with overcoming what often seems like an insurmountable obstacle, whether that’s a speed workout or a long run. My days have simply become more routine than I like and I haven’t put myself in any situations that involve a mental and physical effort. Oddly enough, that underlying excitement is what I love most about running. It’s that intensity that takes me out of the routine and repetition of daily life. The daily grind as it is called. Running was the one thing I did every day that broke me free from those social constraints, that offered me the opportunity to immerse myself in both a simultaneous physical, mental and emotional intensity. How many people do that nearly every single day.

It’s that intensity I live for. It’s why I love metal music. It’s why being a bike messenger was the best job I ever had. It’s why I’m so attracted to anarchist politics. It’s why I love to run. Life is for the living and how better to live than immersing yourself in a physical, mental and emotional intensity all at once. And on top of that, do it nearly every day. That describes the undeniable value I’ve been getting from running nearly every day for the past three years….and now it’s gone. Almost.

Not forever gone, but certainly temporarily absent. This is what I reference when I say I’m going crazy not running. This is what most runners mean when they say the same. The effects not running has on my emotional state have been a shock that I haven’t quite comprehended until recently. I knew I was frustrated. I knew I was dejected, but I didn’t realize a lot of that stemmed from not being able to replace the intensity I feel while running with something paralleled. And I still haven’t, but at least cycling gets me that much closer.

Being on this trainer is not easy. There isn’t much of a rest when every pedal stroke is resisted by the flywheel and add the mental strength it takes to sit in one place without a change of scenery and you get a less than desireable suffer-fest, but here’s the thing, I’m actually enjoying it. I sweat puddles, my heart rate goes up and I’m forced to pedal through stretches of boredom, losing myself in various daydreams just to keep going. I even hit those points where I think I’m done, but manage to keep going, just like I did while running. It gets me by. Today I added an ipod filled with metal music into the mix and I was not only getting through the process, I was periodically enjoying it! Granted, my daydreams brought me back to the Chicago course and I envisioned crossing that finish line sub 2:19 over and over, so that didn’t hurt. I know I’m still not running, but being able to get that much closer to doing so felt real good.

And suddenly my days feel complete. I don’t feel like I’m missing out so much. I don’t feel like I haven’t accomplished anything. I’m content to just relax and be with Michelle and Noah without the frustration and anxiety that was consuming my every second. I feel more like that runner I was before this injury. And this is only a stop gap.

I CAN’T FUCKING WAIT to get back to being that runner I was a month ago. It’s going to be euphoric.

For the time being though, it feels good not to be such an emotional drag anymore. Here’s to living.

Dear Ryan Hall

If there’s one thing I can do just as well as running, it’s complain. I’m a highly critical individual and I think it’s one of my more positive traits. Granted, I try to direct my critical nature into more positive considerations of myself and the world around me, but hey, sometimes you’ve just gotta turn up the bitch knobs to 11. Plus, I’m tired of obsessing over my leg, so permit me the following rant.

Ryan Hall, I hate you.

Look, I can forgive your white savior -vanguardist-“here, have some clean water”-even if i’m only doing this to show you that you really don’t understand god sort of mentality. I can forgive you for being best buds with Josh Cox. I can forgive you for that annoying as hell, talking out of the side of your mouth, stoned out surfer drawl. I can forgive you for that hair. I can forgive you for those ridiculous Nissan blogging ads. I can forgive you for all this and so much more. But listen up, I can not, in any way, shape or form, ever ever EVER let slide what you did in Boston this past Monday.  

Seriously dude.

Ok, you pulled the field in the beginning like you did last year, despite last year’s outcome. That was your race, I get it. Then the field surged and you let them go, knowing there was a good chance they would come right back to you if you continued on with your own race, and that is exactly what happened. Good for you. Then it happened again and you continued running your race. I’m proud of you. You continued on and persevered, running a blisteringly fast and consistent pace. This is to be commended.

But then….then you just lost it. Running with what you’ve told us were the words “joy and freedom” cycling in your head, you admitted in the post-race press conference that you realized the final surge at the end of the race was not going to come back to you, so you reverted back to running your own race this time…..essentially throwing in the towel and just “having fun”, “running with joy”, “celebrating whatever the lord gave you that day”.

Now, I’m not a believer or anything, but damn, in your perspective, THE LORD TRIED TO GIVE YOU THIRD PLACE!!! And you blew it. But it’s not just that you blew it, it’s HOW  you blew it.

So it SEEMED like the leaders were out of reach and they mostly were, but this is a race. You don’t EVER give in during a race. You run like you’ll always catch first place, even if first place already finished. But you didn’t, you made the decision then and there to “just have fun”, and that’s not ok. You passed Meb and gave him a “swirly” on his head. If I were Meb, I would have decked you (not really, but you get my point). Then you turned onto Boylston Street and started waving to the crowd. How nice of you.

But this is the thing….you were GAINING on third place! This is why they call it a RACE! And a marathon none the less, where ANYTHING can happen, where even the most steeled of runners can collapse 5 feet before the finish line, and you started jacking around. Ok, so you waved to the crowd, big deal…but…but then…well, this is just the insult of all insults.

You started “airplaining” and zig-zagging on the course down the final stretch, playing it up for the crowd and acting like a damn two year old!!! And here’s the thing….you missed 3rd place by two seconds.

TWO FRICKIN SECONDS!!!! 

And I know, “placing isn’t everything”, true. But those are the sorts of things you say when you are Meb in 5th or Vega or anyone else behind 3rd with no possibility of making it to the podium. THOSE people are permitted to run their own race and congratulate themselves upon finish, knowing they ran their best.

But you….you DID NOT run your best. You may have run your happiest, but you did NOT run your best. You fucked around on the final stretch and lost a podium finish because of it!

And that’s an insult. It’s an insult to yourself and it’s an insult to every other competitive runner that suffers day in, day out and would KILL to be in your shoes. It’s an insult to put in the work you did, to sign the sponsorship contract, to gather fans behind you, to have someone pay for your entry fee into the race, and to have that sort of inherent talent in your body….and then to give up under the guise that you were simply “running with joy and freedom” or “running your own race” or “just having a good time”.

Damnit, they call it a RACE for a reason. They call it that because you are expected to RACE from the moment your foot leaves the start line to the moment it hits the finish. Again, it might have been something if you were in no position to race (but not really), but there you were in sight of the podium and you blew it. It wreaks of american arrogance. Those Africans are running for their livelihood, for their communities and you spit in their face when you just screw around and run as if your just joking around, like you snuck in to Boston as a fraternity prank. That’s bullshit my friend.

Look, I know you don’t want to burn out. I know you want to runwith joy, and I respect that, but damnit, there is a time and place. If you want to just enjoy the run and have a great time, go take your Josh Cox and your running congregation on a spiritual run up some mammoth lake mountain. Seriously, go have a blast….but don’t do it in Boston when you have 3rd place 2 seconds ahead of you. That was a smack in the face, whether you wanted it to be or not.

Man, I only wish you used a different excuse. Maybe there is still time to change your story. Say you were severely dehydrated and were out of your mind. Say you had no idea what happened. Say you don’t remember the last 4 miles of the race. But don’t tell us you were just having a good time. That’s just not cool.

So Mr. Hall. I leave you with the words of a wiser man, who took his life and his running with the seriousness that it deserved.

“To give any less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.” – Prefontaine.

He would have your head if he were still alive today.

-Love,
Me.

P.S. – See you in Chicago.

Wild goose chase to recovery

Today is my one month anniversary of not being able to run due to this mysterious injury plaguing my leg. I celebrated by going to the doctor. Ok, not really, but this is how I got to where I am today.

I first visited with Coach Matt to get a plan of action for the leg and making the judgement that any knowledgeable person would make given the information I supplied, we started icing and heating as one does for any case of shin splints. The only problem was that the normal time for shin splint recovery came and went with no progress in healing. Something deeper was at hand and Matt expressed concern that I was actually harboring a stress fracture, and although I did exhibit some of the symptoms the definitive pain test came up with nothing. That almost ruled out a stress fracture, but the pain remained. We upped the plan with shoe inserts and massage while trying to maintain fitness any way possible, but I won’t lie, my mental state was starting to deteriorate with my leg.

More time went by and the pain remained, but now spreading more noticeably around my entire lower leg, going from the shin, to anterior muscles to the ankle, to the foot and seemingly everywhere I had nerve endings. This despite running only very periodically just to test my recovery and see how my leg was doing. Each time out ended up with the same response, pain, inflammation and soreness. My mental state sunk even further.

By the graciousness of Chris Galloway at ProWellness Chiropractic, they offered massage services for my tightened leg muscles and I was enthusiastic to add one more tool in my recovery toolbox and started visiting every few days for focused muscle massages, which temporarily alleviated the tightness in the area, but I was still unable to run. I began suspecting that maybe this wasn’t as simple as shin splints or even a problem with my lower leg, but that maybe the root of this issue lay elsewhere. But where really? My quads? My hamstring? My groin? Who knows…but my mental state took an even greater turn for the worse and I lost motivation to keep up with bicycle fitness or core workouts. I became a miserable sourpuss around the house and felt terrible that I couldn’t be a positive and exciteable partner for Michelle. But I was done sitting around and waiting for this thing to finally relent and right itself.

I have a great community of friends who have taken a mild interest in my running and I’m always grateful for their attention. This past winter, when I was dealing with my groin pain, a friend of mine emailed me and said he sees me running on the downtown canal often and that he works with a trainer who has dealt with elite athletes and their injuries. He suggested I talk to him about my pains. I didn’t at the time, but decided to email him recently and see if I could get some more insight from him about what might be going on with my leg. He gave an involved and encouraging email response and although he couldn’t pinpoint what was going on with my leg, he referred me to the St. Vincent’s Sports Medicine facility and gave me the email of Darrell Barnes, (MS, LAT, ATC, CSCS) the performance medical coordinator at the facility. I was told he worked with Amy Yoder-Begely when she was suffering from mysterious injuries and helped turn her around into a Nike sponsored world class athlete. He also worked with american 5000 meter record holder Bob Kennedy. And hell, I just want to run races again. I figured I should send him an email.

I told Coach Matt that I was setting something up with Darrell and he was very enthusiastic that I was taking this step as Darrell had helped a number of his athletes and his highly recommended. I emailed Darrell about what was going on, my goal to qualify for the marathon trials, and he expressed that he was very happy to help me out. Today was my appointment and I wasn’t sure what to expect except a more thorough investigation of my leg issue.

I sat in a many chaired waiting room entirely by myself flipping through a National Geographic. After a few minutes I looked up to see an incredibly tall athlete walk through the door and I instantly recognized the Bulldog logo on his jacket. It was Gordon Hayward of Butler Basketball, the athlete who is not only the talk of the entire city right now, but quite possibly anyone in the country interested in college basketball. It was just announced that he is getting set up for the NBA draft. Admittedly, I don’t follow basketball and his celebrity status meant nothing to me except for one thing, if an athlete of his status and desirability is coming to this place for treatment then I must be doing something definitively right. After a few minutes I looked up to see him staring me dead in the face. I’m guessing he was wondering what my skinny ass was doing there and what sport I might be involved in. I only say that because I was guessing everyone as they walked by as well. Soon after Gordon and his freakishly tall framed was walked away Darrell met me with enthusiasm and a solid handshake. Then the fun began.

We started off by discussing the history of this leg pain and how it worsened. I pointed out the areas it has hurt, when it hurts, who I have seen for help and what I have been doing for treatment to no avail. He kindly explained how he was going to go through a number of motions to figure out what’s going on in my leg and what might be the underlying cause of all this. He started with the shin area, trying to invoke pain with certain points of pressure, but ended up with nothing. He took a tuning fork, banged it on the table and began moving it around my leg trying to bring a wince out of me. Nothing. The purpose of this is to locate a stress fracture, of which the vibrations of a tuning fork will bring out with force. Fortunately, nothing came of it. Along the same lines he used an ultrasound machine to vibrate around the bone, but again came up with nothing. Short of a definitive x-ray, he was convinced I am not suffering from a stress fracture.

He then talked to me about other symptoms and correctly guessed that “like any good runner, you probably have googled every running injury known to man.” I have. The interesting thing about it is that everything I have read I seem to have symptoms of. Stress fracture. Shin splints. Compartment syndrome. Syphillis. Oh…ok, not that last one. Still, it seems like my leg has everything, but not definitely anything. With a handful more questions and certain range of motion and pain-free stress tests, he then also ruled out Compartment Syndrome, which was a huge relief for me because I’m told the only way to alleviate that is through surgery.

So, we weren’t learning what I had, but we were certainly learning what I didn’t have. This is at least a step in the right direction!

Then as I was lying on my back doing more strength and alignment tests (my right leg is longer than my left) another trainer came up and told Darrell that he needed to take care of me, because “he is a DINO guy.” He then shook my hand and introduced himself to me as a fellow runner and DINO series racer from last year. Suddenly his face looked familiar. From that point on we continued with various considerations, motions, strength tests and whatever else the two of them could think of, but I could sense a confusion in all their sentences. They were stumped.

Then during a little more conversation Darrell says, so I was talking to Rebecca Bahn the other day when she called me up and says, “You need to take care of this guy. He’s a fellow vegan!” I’m humbled to be connected to such an interested and concerned group of people in my circle.

Interestingly enough, as we continued working on my leg they were moving higher and higher near my quads, then my glutes, my back and sometimes uncomfortably close to my private bits! Whatever it takes I guess. There was a lot of biology and medical talk being tossed around so I wasn’t quite understanding everything perfectly, but the confusion stemmed from tightness in some areas, but strength in others. Rotation in some areas, but over-rotation in others. Flexibility in some areas and frozen muscles in others. The assessments jumped from either leg, further confusing both of them. The only thing they were really deducing was that what was happening down in my shin and the side of my leg was somehow linked to the rest of my leg, maybe significantly higher up. It might involve a compressed nerve, a severely tightened set of muscles or a combination of the two.

Even more baffling, they noticed my right leg (maybe my calf area?) was “significantly atrophied”, which is to say much weaker and less muscular than my left. This could mean a number of things, that maybe my left leg is my stronger push off leg or something completely different, but they felt that this might have led to the underlying problems that are screaming themselves known out my shin. So, to connect the dots. Quite possibly I have a specific imbalance that has been sacrificing my leg in ways, possibly over-stressing some muscles, possibly over-stressing a nerve or two, possibly neglecting certain leg muscles and have finally screwed things up down there to the point that my leg is howling in pain, telling me to fix whatever the hell I broke (not literally…fortunately).

I was incredibly relieved to get this assessment, if only because we got MUCH closer to finding out the root of this problem than I have been so far. Sure, I don’t definitively know what is going on yet, but we have a greater deal of information to dig through from here on out. I could tell Darrell was mildly frustrated that he couldn’t give me a definitive answer during this visit, but I tried to convey that I was very appreciative with the information and that he certainly helped me out, mentally if not yet physically. Regardless, he wasn’t done. He suggested I see a running-specific doctor who also comes highly recommended by a handful of people I know. His name is Dr. Karey and I have an appointment Thursday. Darrell showed great enthusiasm for Dr. Karey and personally made the call for me to give him a rundown of what we just went through and where we need to go from here.

So, I’m still on this wild goose chase, seemingly getting closer and closer to a specific diagnosis that will give us a definitive and unwavering plan of action for recovery. Before I left the office Darrell gave me a stretch to focus on, a strength and balancing exercise that involves holding a tennis ball between my heels and a pressure releasing stretch that involves sitting rather uncomfortably on a couple of fingers in an attempt to loosen a nerve in my buttocks.

After my appointment Thursday I’m to call Darrell again and schedule another visit to work on more focused strength, balance and loosening muscles and nerves. Of course, in hindsight, I wish I made this appointment 4 weeks ago. I could have been so much further along in recovery than I am now, but hey, you live and learn. And although this injury knocked me out of a number of races I was really looking forward to running, and at such a high point of progress, I’m grateful this showed its seemingly inevitable face now instead of a much more inopportune time, like right before the Chicago Marathon in October.

So here we are again, undiagnosed, but filled with more information as to what I’m NOT suffering from and the knowledge that something more than simply waiting needs to happen before I get back to running. I can emotionally ride this through to my next couple of appointments. I think Michelle will be relieved to know that.

An even deeper level of hell

Today marks the 3rd complete week of no running, or at least no running without the following day resulting in a maddening limp, and it is taking its toll in new ways every day. 

A friend from The Running Company asked Michelle, “Is he a beast to live with right now?” and she bit her tounge, but I answered for her. “I’m not so much a beast, just a super bitter sour puss”, which is to say, an incredibly moody asshole. And I don’t like being this way, but the frustration that comes with not only NOT running, but expecting that to facilitate quicker healing…of which does not come, adds to my emotional frustration every single day. It would be one thing to experience an incredibly slow process of healing, knowing you are getting closer and closer to running everyday, but when there is no noticeable difference and the day when you can run without restriction and get back to training is completely unforeseeable, well, I just don’t know how to process and accept this. EVERYTHING running related eats at me.

I’m frustrated wearing my Annex jacket or Spirit of Columbus hat. I feel like a poser. I hate wearing my brand new running shoes (which are to help the healing) when I haven’t run a single mile in them yet. I feel like a poser. When I see other runners my heart drops into my stomach and I want to look away, but can’t help following their every step, just really missing that feeling. Last week I rode the Monon on my bike and passed my team who were just heading out for a warm up. I joked with them about their embarrasingly slow warmup, but the second I rode past I wanted to fall over and bury my head in my hands out of dissapointment. That SUCKED. Michelle and I have been riding the Monon a lot recently and when I get up to the Broad Ripple area there are so many runners in their gear, of all levels, a number of them training for the Mini-marathon that is here in a month, and it’s almost too much to take. I want to turn off to a side road and pretend that running was never invented. I just feel like hiding in a hole until this all goes away. I don’t want to see anybody else running when I can’t.

Speaking of the Mini. I had high hopes for that race. It’s such a high profile local race where the best of the best in this region come to race, to see where we stand. I was really looking to run in the top 10 and set a significant PR, but now, well, not only are those hopes gone, but I’m most likely not even running that race now. That will be the 3rd race I have to miss out on because of this setback. I missed the Papa John’s 10 miler, the Race for the Cure 5k this weekend and now the Mini. That does not feel good.

My one consolation in this is knowing that Chicago is still eons away, well, 6 months away anyways. That’s plenty of time to get back into it, even if I was out for another month. It’s not exactly how I wanted things to play out, but this is just part of the process, and I have no option but to make something positive out of this and train smarter when I’m back in it, listening to my body more and not trying to run through those SOS messages it was tapping out into my leg.

Still, I can’t help but wallow in this frustration. I want to be able to just wait this out patiently…but I’m not patient. I mean, it would be one thing if I was ready for a break, ready to relax for a month or so, but that certainly is not the case. This part of my life was taken away without any warning, without any consolation, just like that.

Still, I’m trying my hardest to work through this with some sense of positivity. I’ve just started getting massage therapy from ProWellness Chiropractic and I haven’t resorted to throwing my fitness habits all away and going back to eating bags of cookies every night. I’m still trying to take care of myself and maintain something, anything, while this..this…THING repairs itself. I’ve been getting supportive comments and I certainly appreciate them. I’m told when I get through this I’ll be stronger than ever. I’m holding on to that, cause it’s all I feel I’ve got right now.

Once again, said with a deeper tone of frustrated resignation, “Here’s to hopin.”

Run the Risk

Every so often a discussion arises debating the safety of running or if not a discussion, then a defensive reaction by non-runners. They cite the dangers of high-impact activity and all the stories they’ve heard from others regarding exercise based injuries or mishaps. And they aren’t all wrong, but certainly not all right either. I speak from the experience of my currently injured state.

I’ve heard a good deal of running defense based on unresearched anthropological perceptions of early humans running down prey and living to tell the stories. I find it amusing that in no way would we be able to gather data on what happened to their bodies after such supposedly inherent running efforts. Did land based people get shin splints? Did they get tendonitis or rupture their achilles? Did they suffer from stress fractures? Who knows. But still, runners like to cite the inherent natural dynamics of running, as has been so aptly put that we were “Born to Run” (That’s Springsteen’s version, not McDougall’s). But what does that mean exactly?

Recentely, it has meant that we are to throw away our protective foot covers and go barefoot, bounding across the idyllic plains of our birthright, well, in actuality, go plodding up our asphalt rail trails. Because apparently that’s “natural”. Still, runners like to think our sport is the most pure of all efforts and any injuries are due to shoes being either too bulky, or too minimalist, or simply due to our shoes period. And granted, our shoes, or lack thereof may contribute to the many injuries that runners tend to sustain, but how often have to stopped to consider that maybe it’s not running itself that is so unnatural, but maybe the WAY we run. And I’m not necessarily speaking biomechanically.

Entertaining the idea that humans are “Born to Run”, it follows that we have legs that propel us forward and our bodies adapt in various ways, sometimes allowing us to run further or faster than other humans. Fine. But put our ability to run in the context of civilization and all its motivations, specialized labor, competitive dynamics, etc. etc., and our ability to run is shaped in a way that really doesn’t mimic any sort of idyllic, anthropologically based, instinctual running past. Show me the evidence that land based peoples ran for at least an hour to two hours each and every day and rotated bouts of speedwork, hill running, tempo runs and carbohydrate depleting long runs…and then we’ll have a good discussion. I don’t buy it though. My awareness is that earlier peoples ran out of necessity or the context that is in no way parallel to ours. Sure, they ran, but not in the way we do. And that is where I believe so many of our injuries are sustained, in the way we run, not in the inherent act of running.

I’m always amazed when we break down running into a ratio of time spent per day. Excluding the ocassional long run, MOST competitive runners (those of us with full-time jobs, kids, spouses, obligations, etc.) spend about an hour to an hour and a half every day running. That’s it. Not much. Considering we spend 8 hours a day working, running is a drop of activity in our daily bucket. Sure, some elites put in a second run, or even a third, but most of us do not have that sort of time. But even so, that small amount of time we spend running takes its toll on our body, no matter what shoes we wear or don’t wear, and not because we are running, but rather the way in which we run.

Even building my muscles and systems up over the past three years is no defense from the strain that I put on my body during that hour or so each day, because what I do is really not “natural” (in the shallow sense of the word). What I do during that hour or so is stress the hell out of my body, hoping only to stress it to a point where it will recover sufficiently in the time that I’m not stressing it, but spend enough time without recovery built in and you run yourself right into injury, even if it’s only an hour a day. That’s all it takes.

All this is to say that running isn’t inherently dangerous, it’s simply risky. In my current experience, I lost at the risk and am currently paying the price for running outside of my body’s current state of evolutionary progress. I overstepped the bounds and was reeled back by the simple physical processes of recovery. So yeah, let’s add some levity to the debate here. Running is good for you. It’s valuable. And I think most people that run from time to time are doing a great service to their quality of life, but let’s also not deny that the way we currently run makes it a risky endeavor. The rewards are greater and more consistent for sure, but be careful. Run smart and know your limitations. I know I’ve been put in check for, if nothing else, running past the risk.

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The re-recovery plan as of now. Continue to rest from running. Get back on the bike and ride the hell out of it for hours on end. Take large doses of ibuprofen a few times a day. Massage and ice.

I’m also going to start visiting ProWellness Chiropractic (see links bar/sponsors page) for an assessment on possible chiropractic work along with massage therapy. I have high hopes that this will help my situation for sure.

I’m also debating meeting with St. Vincent Sports Medicine to get an indepth analysis of my injury, what caused it, and further prevention methods.

Regardless, I’m off the trails for now.