10 years later, running is awkward again

10 years (well, two days shy) of my first “run” I went for a similar run.

I don’t remember exactly how much distance I covered on foot during my first “run” on May 29, 2011. I’m not sure if it was more or less than what I covered on my “run” Thursday afternoon. I know that it was close, and they both felt super freaking awkward.

In 2011, running felt awkward because I hadn’t done it in so long. In high school I jogged during preseason soccer practice and logged some miles (more like a mile) before baseball practice started trying to work my way into shape. I jogged around campus once or two with my roommate my freshman year of college, but got most of my physical activity on the basketball courts in the field house. After graduate I played some pick up basketball and a few years of men’s league baseball, but running wasn’t something I had much interest in. I ran the trails at UMA a few times with my work colleagues, but it wasn’t something I ever really wanted to do.

But in 2011, my weight had climbed to close to 240 pounds and I had to do something differently. I joined the gym on May 3 to start my journey, and started to run on May 29.

My first race in June 2011.

It took a long time before running felt like anything but awkward. I was carrying a lot of weight, I was running in worn-out cross trainers, baggy basketball shorts and XXL cotton T-shirts. Eventually, weight came off, I was fitted for running shoes and bought running clothes.

And running became a part of my life. I broke 30 minutes, then 25 minutes, then 22 minutes in the 5K, I broke 1:45 in the half marathon and 3:50 in the marathon. I’ve run races in New York City, Boston and Chicago, made a few friends, and jogged with some friends who had always been runners, but never convinced me to hop on board.

Almost 10 years later, running feels super awkward again. I’m running just a few days a week, I’m doing some walking during those runs, and I’m carrying around too much weight (though almost 50 pounds less than when I started).

Running is awkward right now because I’ve been injured, I’ve developed bad habits, and I put on weight staying at home trying to survive the pandemic. Running is awkward because I’m trying to break those bad habits and because of those 20-plus pounds I gained during the pandemic. Plus, I’m not completely over those injuries yet.

But 10 years after that first run, I am still a runner. I am not the runner I want to be, but I am absolutely still a runner. I am going to physical therapy twice a week because I want to be able to run, I want to be able to run pain free, and I want to enjoy running.

I’m not happy with where I am as a runner right now, but I am happy that I am still a runner.

Starting a long journey to getting better

Working on a form drill I just couldn’t seem to execute. It was until I watched the videos this still was grabbed from that I realized just how out of shape I am.

I heard the instructions and saw what I was supposed to do. Still, my stubborn brain wouldn’t send signal to my stubborn legs and I couldn’t figure out to to execute a simple drill that required me to scuff my foot along the floor. This drill to help me improve my running form made perfect sense to my eyes, but not the rest of my body.

I had my first physical therapy session to work on the issues in my left leg today and it was eye opening. My left calf/ankle/shin/everything issues appear to be caused by tightness in my right hip. That tightness likely is related to that injury I suffered training for the Chicago Marathon. I rehabbed that injury, but it has been a year and a half since I rehabbed it, and since I haven’t kept up rehabbing it, it is causing a bunch of other issues.

I won’t get too specific into everything I learned at physical therapy today because I am not smart enough to put it into words. Basically, I need treatment on my hip and my calf, I need to make some tweaks to my form (land with my weight under my body, not out in front), and I need to be consistent with stretching and rolling, drills and strength.

Honestly, my appointment this morning was pretty intense. I didn’t work very hard, but it was a lot to process. Not in a bad way, I understand everything we discussed and I wasn’t over burdened with things to do or think about. It’s overwhelming because it feels like there is a lot of work to do to get back to being the runner I want to be.

But, that is what I signed up for. I haven’t been doing the work I need to for a long time and that is a big part of the reason running has sucked so hard for the last year or so. It’s going to be a slow process, it’s going to take a lot of effort, it is probably going to suck sometimes. I know, and I have to remember, that it will definitely be worth it.

This is the start of Redesign. Rebuild. Reclaim. Take 4. I have to rebuild my body (lose the 25-30 pounds I gained during pandemic/quarantine/work-from-home and regain the strength I lost) and I need to redesign my form (they are small tweaks, but I can tell already it is going to be difficult for me to implement them). Then, hopefully, I can reclaim the joy of running.

Getting control of my blood pressure

For a multitude of reasons, I have spent more time visiting the doctor in the last year and half then I have in the previous 45 years combined. Asthma, allergies, skin infections, eye irritations, running injuries. I feel like I’m visiting a medical facility a couple times a week (in the last week of April and the first week of May, I was at a medical facility six times).

At most of those appointments, I have my vitals taken. Temperature, weight, blood oxygen level, blood pressure. And at nearly every one of those appointments, my blood pressure has been too high. Typically, in the doctor’s office, my blood pressure is 140 to 150/85 to 96. 

I have been on blood pressure medication since 2017. In 2019, when I was deep into training for the Chicago Marathon and newly sober, my BP at my annual physical was 132/84. Still high, but moving in the right direction. My doctor was encouraged, even with my BP still a little elevated, and said if things kept trending in the right direction, I may be able to ditch the meds. 

Clearly, they have not. 

In the nearly two years since that discussion about ditching my meds, I have been injured a few times and picked up some pretty bad eating habits. I’m not as active as I was in 2019 (I’m still sober though) and I rediscovered a love for salty chips, frozen pizza, and ham and cheese sandwiches. I did not stop taking a pill every morning for my blood pressure, instead I’m taking two (I was taking 5 MG of lisinopril, that has been increased to 10). 

There is a good chance, because of my family history, that I will be taking meds for my blood pressure for the rest of my life. My doctor told me I may not be able to outrun my heredity. 

It is because of that family history that I know I need to take this seriously. Being healthy isn’t just a matter of wanting to be a good runner, it is about avoiding heart disease that has touched too many people I love. If I don’t change my diet, stay on my meds and lower my blood pressure, I’m facing a future of heart problems I do not want to think about. 

I’m trying to do better. I no longer buy chips when I do my weekly grocery shopping and I don’t eat ham and cheese sandwiches every day for lunch. I’m eating more salads, more oatmeal and I’m trying to make my snacks healthier. I’m also trying to be more active. That should improve once I start physical therapy and once I’m fully vaccinated (May 14) and feel comfortable enough to go back to the gym. 

This will all help me be a better runner and being a better runner should help me get healthier. When I’m feeling good and able to train, it is easier to keep my diet dialed in (though it has always been a struggle), and hopefully keep my blood pressure in check. 

I’m 47 years old and I can’t ignore this stuff anymore. I spent the better part of my 20s and 30s treating my body like shit. I just can’t do that anymore.

Redesign. Rebuild. Reclaim. (Take 4)

This is the origin of my oft-used (because I’m oft-injured? or lazy? both both) motto.

Running hasn’t felt good for a while and I have a few answers for why.

Wednesday morning I spent about an hour at a orthopedist, answering questions, getting examined, and even under going an ultra sound.

The initial diagnosis is way more complicated than this, but the doc said, basically everything in my left leg is not very happy.

That calf pain I talked about in my last post turned out to be a from a small tear, which showed up quite clearly on the ultra sound, and is healing. It also looks like I have some tendonitis in my ankle and shin splints (mild posterior tibialis tendinitis and medial tibial stress syndrome).

Basically, my left leg is not happy.

The good news is, I start physical therapy soon and I’m confident that if I am willing to do the work, I’ll be running pain free at some point in the near future. The bad news is, running really sucks right now.

I wasn’t running a ton before the injuring my calf, in part because my ankle was hurting. I just started to get out from some jogging last week after my injury, but it doesn’t feel good. My left leg hurts every where. The doc thinks something off with my biomechanics, likely because I’m compensating. So right now, I just don’t feel like running.

I planned to jog a few miles Thursday, knowing that I will likely be laid up this weekend after getting my second dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine on Friday (the first one crushed me, but I was also dealing with a Staph infection, so maybe I’ll get off easier this time … either way, I’m super excited to get that shot). But when I left the house, I didn’t feel quite right, so I just walked 3 miles and was OK with that.

I’m not starting over, but I have a lot of work to do to be able to do the type of running I want to do. The good news is, I know I can get there, because I’ve done it before. I was forced to take time off at the end of 2017 when my knees flared up, and I worked my way back to just missing my 5K PR early in 2019. Later that year, while training for the Chicago Marathon, I strained a hip flexor, and was able to rehab in time to PR in the marathon a few months later. The marathon took a toll on my right knee, but after months of PT, I was getting back into regular training before the pandemic shut everything down and stole my running mojo.

I’ve talked a lot on here about my motto Redesign. Rebuild. Reclaim. That started 2017, when my hamstring was achy, but then my knees shit the bed and I failed on that mission. In 2018/2019, I actually did rebuild and redesign myself, dropping about 25 pounds (I’ve gained them all back) and reclaimed my love of running.

Now, though, it is time to really embrace that credo. If I want to run the way I want to run (training and racing and enjoying it), I can’t slack off. I have to do the work to rebuild my body, to redesign my habits, if I want to rebuild myself into the runner I want to be.

But just as important is to listen to my body and cut myself some slack. Forcing myself out the door when I feel like crap, isn’t going to help. Feeling bad about not getting out the door because I feel like crap is going to send me spiraling. I’ve felt like shit enough in the last 14 months, dealing with isolation and anxiety related to this freakin’ pandemic, I can’t add to that by feeling bad about not running.

I’m excited to get going. I’m excited to do the work. I’m also ready to take it slow and give myself some grace.

A forced break closing in on a milestone

One down, one to go.

The 10 year anniversary of the day I became a runner is a month away, and I haven’t run for 11 days. There are a handful of reasons I haven’t run, and I’m not worried about falling out of the habit, I just wish that when I celebrated 10 years, I would be in a better spot. 

My running break started last Wednesday when I tweaked my left calf during a speed session. My left Achilles/ankle has bothered me off and on for months, and Wednesday that pain grabbed my calf and forced me to stop running. Unfortunately, I was 2.5 miles from home. It was a long walk because every step hurt. 

My calf feels better now and I am scheduled to get some professional help with the issue soon. But other issues cropped up to keep my from running. Specifically, I have a painful infection on the back of my leg and I am experiencing side effects from my first COVID-19 vaccination dose. The past week has been kind of a shit show. Sitting hurts, my whole body is been sore, and I’ve had a fever the last few days. 

I want to run. I feel miserable being stuck in the house, physically and mentally unable to get out the door to even jog a few miles. As I wrote in the last blog, I was just starting to ramp things up and feel better about myself after struggling with motivation and other health-related issues during the pandemic. That desire to run is why I am not worried about falling out of the running habit. I’ve stuck with this for 10 years, I’m confident a little bit of forced down time isn’t going to derail my running habit. 

The whole thing is just super frustrating, but I have to pause and remember to be grateful. I’m grateful I’ve been able to do this for almost 10 years and accomplish things I never even considered before I started running. I’m grateful I have the means to take care of these things that are keeping me from running. I’m grateful that I’m having a few side effects from a vaccine for COVID-19 rather than dealing with the disease itself.

At some point before I celebrate my 10 year anniversary of that first run I’m sure I will log some miles. I won’t run much and I’m sure it will be super slow, but I’ll be sure to enjoy every step. I look forward to the day when I can actually train, when life returns to whatever normal is post-pandemic, when I have goals to chase and I’m able to get myself out the door to chase them. 

Until then, I’ll do what I have to do to clear up this infection, wait for these vaccine side effects to subside, get my calf taken care, and be grateful for all running has given me. And I’ll look forward to the day when I’m back on the roads, reaping running’s benefits. 

A workout to get back in the swing

I left the apartment Wednesday morning hoping I could convince myself to do some kind of hard effort. I started my warmup in the direction of Prospect Street, knowing that if I ended up on either side of it – Deering Ave. or Stevens Ave. – I had a good spot to do some hill repeats. I ended up my warmup on the Stevens Ave. end of Prospect and took a few minutes to do some dynamic warmup exercises and to talk myself into doing a little bit of work.

I had skipped doing any type of workout for most of the month of March. I threw in a couple of progress runs, but mostly I just tried to build my mileage a bit and not hate running.

But you know what? That is freaking boring. Don’t get my wrong, I’m happy to be logging some mileage, especially while we are still in a pandemic, I am still a few weeks away from being eligible to be vaccinated, and I’m trying to stay home as much as possible to keep from getting sick and getting other people sick. I don’t leave the house unless I have to. Those 35-50 minutes I get out of the house to run, even if I’m just going for a jog, has helped me hang on to the edge of sanity.

Still, I feel better as a runner and in general when I am pushing myself, even just a little bit. So Wednesday morning I did indeed talk myself into running some hills. The first rep, I wasn’t so sure how it was going to feel, so I did a hard 30 seconds. My breathing was a little labored, but I felt OK, so after a minute and half of recovery, I did 40 seconds on the next rep. I took a little effort to get my legs turning over, but again, it felt OK, so after another 1:30 recovery, I tried 45 seconds. Phew, this was getting hard, but I told myself to keep going. I did another 45 seconds rep, then another, then another.

I lost track of how many reps I had done, so I did one more 45 seconds rep, thinking it was eight total and decided to call it a win. Turns out I only did seven reps, but so what. I was happy to have done a workout. My legs were a little sore, especially my left calf/Achilles, but I was still in one piece. My breathing was OK, my asthma felt like it was under control. I was encouraged.

I threw in another workout on Saturday, doing 8×1 minute hard-ish (probably 5K effort) and, again, I ended it mostly in once piece. I ran in my neighborhood, on the severely cambered roads, which disagreed with my Achilles, and my hamstrings were a little tight, but I was able to run 6 miles the next day and, after a rest day on Monday, 5 more miles on Tuesday.

It feels good to be back on the horse a little bit. I have to be careful that those little barks in my Achilles and hamstring don’t flare up into something worse, but I really have enjoyed doing some harder efforts, getting my legs moving and getting a little uncomfortable. I have a long way to go to feel as good as I did back in 2019 when I had maybe my best year of running ever. I followed that up with probably my worst year of running, so this year I’ll be happy with mediocre.

It’s not much, but it is a start. I’ll see what I can do tomorrow.

A goal far off in the distance

In search of these kind of vibes

The final 10K of the 2019 Chicago Marathon was a painful experience. My right knee was creaky and hurt with every step and my left hamstring ached constantly. I finished the race with a new PR, a huge sense of accomplishment and thinking that my days of training for and running marathons might be over. 

I fell short of my goal (3:47) in that race, but I was still thrilled with how the race went. I ran a great 20 miles or so, finished faster than I ever have (by 11 seconds) and, despite the pain, enjoyed the experience. 

It wasn’t that I didn’t get what I wanted out of the marathon, I just wondered if all that pain was really worth it. I limped around the rest of the day, re-living the race and talking about how I didn’t think I ever needed to do that again. 

In the year and a half since crossing the finish line at Chicago, running has been a challenge. I worked hard to get over those knee and hamstring issues, built my mileage back up and started doing workouts again. Then the pandemic hit and eventually my motivation to do anything other than jog 3 or 4 miles went to shit. I’ve struggled with asthma and allergies, my body has been a little dinged up, and I just haven’t felt like putting in the effort. 

Training for and running a marathon hasn’t even been a thought because there are no marathons to train for, I haven’t run more than 9 miles since Chicago and in the last three months I’ve struggled to run more than 20 miles a week. Not exactly a recipe for marathoning success.

Yet, while jogging a slow, sluggish 3 miles Friday morning, with snow falling around me, a surgical mask covering my face making breathing even more difficult than my asthma, I started thinking about the marathon. I started thinking about the training I did in 2019, training that was harder than anything I had done before and went better than any marathon training cycle I’d ever put myself through. 

And I went back to my goal for Chicago, which has been my marathon goal since Oct. 2013, when I ran my first marathon in 4 hours, 47 minutes. During that slow-ass 3 miler Friday morning, I asked myself if I was ready to give up on my goal of running a marathon an hour faster than my debut. I fell two minutes shy at Chicago, and in the aftermath of the race, I decide I was OK with that.

I am OK with that, however, I still think about that goal. It is still written on the chalk board that hangs in my bedroom/office/gym. If I never ran another marathon, and 3:49:45 is my marathon PR for the rest of my life, that’s cool. There are other distances I probably enjoy more, plenty of other goals to shoot for.

A part of me wants to take another shot at it.

Not because I’m unsatisfied with my PR. I don’t stew over those two minutes at Chicago the way I did when I finished nine minutes shy of that goal at Chicago in 2014 or three minutes shy at the Maine Marathon in 2016. 

I think I want to give it another shot because 2019 was the most fun I’ve had running since 2013, when I was doing track workouts weekly and running 5Ks almost every Saturday. Both of those years I was training with purpose, pushing my body to new and different places, and doing it with rad people. 

During that run Friday, thinking about the marathon while struggling to make it through 3 miles, I gave myself a goal: Run that 3:47 marathon in October 2023, exactly 10 years after that 4:47. 

Why so far away? For a few reasons: 

  1. Two and a half years gives me plenty of time to get in shape. I’m overweight and undertrained right now, rushing into a marathon training plan is a sure fire way to get hurt and hate myself. 
  2. I don’t really love running right now and I want my focus to be on enjoying the miles I am able to run. When running feels better and is something I look forward to (I know it will be some day), I can start training harder. 
  3. Who knows when there are going to be marathons again. We are still in the neck deep in the pandemic and life won’t be anywhere close to normal for a long time. Virtual races are fine, but I have no interest in running a virtual 26.2 miles by myself, thanks.

Two and a half years is a long time. Maybe I’ll change my mind (I’ve already convinced myself this is a dumb idea two or three times). Maybe I will say to hell with running and find another way to work on my fitness (I’m almost 10 years into this running habit, I think/hope it is a part of my life for good). Maybe I decide that the 5K is my race of choice and focus on beating that PR that is about to turn five years old. 

This is where my head is at right now, though. I want to get back to that place I was in 2019, when the thought of running a 90-minute steady state run on a Wednesday is intimidating but also exciting. I miss the way I felt while training for the marathon that summer. I miss running the miles, I miss the camaraderie of training with friends, I miss being fit and feeling good about myself. 

It’s a lot of work, work I haven’t been willing to do lately, but hopefully it is work I eventually look forward to. For now, I’m going to go jog a few miles, during which I’ll probably talk myself into and out of this goal four or five times. 

A battle to hit my stride again

In Feb. 2019, I was starting to hit my stride. The first week of February was the last week of a 2 1/2 month training session for the Mid Winter Classic. I didn’t have a great race, but those two months were the first two months of decent training I had done since runner’s knee put me on the shelf late in 2017. I spent 2018 building my mileage back up and working to just feeling comfortable running again. In January 2019, I started doing the work and had one of my best years as a runner. I missed my 5K PR by 11 seconds, did the best workouts I have ever done, dropped a 7:22 mile at the end of a half marathon and PR’d in the marathon. 

I hoped in Feb. 2021 I would be in a similar situation. My knee shit the bed while I was running that marathon PR, so the plan was to get healthy and re-establish my running routines in 2020. Then, in 2021 I would pick a race and bust my ass getting ready. 

That is not exactly what happened. 

I was actually ahead of schedule, getting back into some harder training in March of 2020, when the pandemic shut everything down and canceled almost every in-person race. I was motivated to work hard for a while, but if you have been around this blog at all, you know it didn’t last. I slacked off, I didn’t run a ton of mileage, did even less maintenance on my broken down old body and running started to really suck. 

So now, in Feb. 2021, instead of hitting my stride, I’m trying to get back into a groove. Instead of preparing to do some really hard work to chase one PR or another, I’m struggling to run more than 3 miles. I’m hoping, when I layer up in running clothes and lace up my shoes for some mileage, that my recently sore ankle and my always sore knees won’t give me too many problems. 

It has been a struggle. Again, if you have been around this blog for any time at all, that is nothing you haven’t heard before. It’s a broken record that I keep on spinning. 

I have no idea when the world will get back to normal, when we will be able to put races on our calendar, and when I will feel comfortable going to the gym again (trying to do PT and strength work in an apartment I share with two other people and two cats who really run the show is a challenge, one I haven’t overcome). Until then, I have to find a way to make the best of it, to do what I need to do to stay motivated and to make running feel a little less shitty. Some days I am more successful at that than others. For now, that simply means running just enough so I don’t hate it. Some days that is 3 miles, some days it includes walk breaks. Whatever I can do to walk back into my apartment not hating life, is what I try to do.

Right now, I’m on speaking terms with running. I have a lot of work to do to, like I did in 2019, fall madly in love with it.

Back at it and trying not to hate it

If you follow along at all, you now I haven’t exactly been crushing it as a runner for a while. 2019 ended with a knee injury and 2020 … well, you know.

I’m not here to bitch about how shitty running has been for me. I won’t bore you with another bitch-fest.

No, that’s not the point of today’s post. The last time I sat down and wrote for this blog (about a month ago, whoops), I said I wanted to have fun running. That post didn’t change anything and running was a struggle for the rest of 2020. It was such a struggle that I allowed myself to take an entire week off . Seven days, zero miles.

When I finally suited up for some mileage again on Jan. 1, I cut myself a ton of slack. I walked as much as a ran, and I just tried to enjoy 35 minutes outside. And I have continued that trend for the first two weeks of the year.

I’m basically starting over. Well, not quite starting over (when I started running I had a hard time running for a minute at a time). What I am doing is starting super slow. That first run, I did 3 minutes of jogging followed by 2 minutes of walking. I bumped 3 minutes to 5 minutes the following week, and the last two days those 5 minutes have turned into a mile. I’m still breaking for those 2 minute walks and I start and end each day with 5 minutes of walking.

I don’t need the walk breaks. I could run 3 or 4 or whatever miles without stopping to walk, but right now the only thing I care about is not hating myself when I am out trying to get a little exercise. Walking allows me to get my breathing under control (which isn’t easy with my asthma and wearing a mask) and has limited the ache in my knees and my ankle.

At some point I will mostly ditch the walk breaks and actually start training again, but with no races on the schedule for the foreseeable future, thanks to the pandemic, why would I bother to put pressure on myself. If I want to throw in my headphones and listen to an audiobook while enjoying my time outside, why not? If I want to randomly stop and walk or check out some of the headstones in the cemetery, stop and walk. As long as I’m outside and being active, and not hating myself, well that’s good enough.

I do miss hard training and I do miss racing, but I those things haven’t felt good for a long time. That is my own fault for putting too much pressure on myself, for not taking care of my body, for not getting enough sleep and eating like crap. Those things can wait. For now, I just want to get some exercise and not totally hate it.

Looking forward to having fun

Last December, I was hesitant to set any running goals for myself because I didn’t know how my knee would respond after flaring up during the Chicago Marathon in October.

Well, we all know how 2020 turned out and I’m actually grateful I did not set any goals. I already feel bad about letting my fitness go to shit while being stuck at home because of the pandemic, imagine how shitty I would feel if I had set goals and then wasn’t able to accomplish them either because a race was canceled or I just got lazy when all of my routines were shattered by stay-at-home and work-from-home orders.

I’m in the middle of a nine-day vacation and I hoped that having some time off from work would spark a turn around in motivation. In fact, it hasn’t changed a thing. I’m just spending my time sitting at my desk watching TV instead of working. I’m walking to the kitchen even more often for snacks. I’m struggling to talk myself to go for a run, putting it off until later in the day because I don’t have to work, and then not going at all. Running isn’t any fun because stuff hurts (my left ankle right now, to be specific), I’ve lost all my fitness, and I have nothing to train for.

I’ve also had plenty of time to think about whether or not I want to set any goals for 2021. The new year starts in just over two weeks and while I don’t like to wait around for the new year to my ass in gear, it is a good time to pause and reset. It’s a good time to set some new goals.

In 2017 I deal with the same type of knee problems as I dealing with at the end of last year. I set one simple goal in December 2017, “JUST FUCKING RUN.” I spoke of that goal again last December and I guess I have to say I accomplished it both times. I have been able to run for much of this year, and I’ve had some good moments, it just hasn’t always felt great and hasn’t been a lot of fun.

So maybe that should be my goal, simply to have fun. Last summer, when I was training for the Chicago Marathon, running was fun. Earlier this year, when I was done with rehab and getting back to training again, running was fun. I want to have that kind of fun again. I want to drop these 25 pounds I have gained since the Chicago Marathon and be able to go run for an hour just because it is Thursday. I want to build back the strength I gained last summer and do speed sessions on Wednesday night that last for an hour and a half. I went to run 50-60 miles a week. I want to get fit. I want to be motivated to get out the door, to my physical therapy, to eat the right food.

Yeah, that’s a goal I can get down with.