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The achy knees chronicles

Training to be The Man. Oh wait, I can’t be The Man, Becky Lynch is The Man.

A week and a day removed from the Mid Winter Classic, the first hard, long effort I’ve put in since the Kennebec River Rail Trail Half Marathon in September (well, the MDI Half was a sort of hard effort, basically 13.1 miles at marathon pace), I’m left with the same question I had after racing in September:

Will my knees hold up through marathon training and the marathon?

In the days after both the KRRT Half and the Mid Winter Classic, my arthritic knees were sore, my right one more after the half, my left more after Mid Winter. There was a dull ache in both knees for a few days and running was not my favorite thing to do. Last week it took a mile or so for my left knee to warm up and stop being sore.

I’m not sure my knees hurt here, but I’m pretty sure everything else did. (Photo by Maine Running Photos)

That dull ache in the days after a 13.1-mile race and a 10-mile race has put some doubt in my mind about the possibility of running 26.2 miles in October. If 10 miles at 8:28 left me feeling that beat up, what am I going to feel like after 26.2? I mean, I know it is supposed to hurt, but will I even be able to finish it?

I have a few reasons to optimistic about my chances in October.

First, my training for both of those races wasn’t exactly stellar. I wasn’t doing a ton of workouts in preparation for the Rail Trail Half and I was sick as a dog for at least two weeks leading into Mid Winter. My mileage has been pretty low and my body hasn’t had time to acclimate to that much time on my feet. I am confident (hopeful?) I will work harder this spring/summer/fall (I’m already making progress) to prepare myself for the marathon. I’ll run enough miles, I’ll do enough workouts, I’ll get better about doing strength workouts to build myself up enough to hold up for the marathon.

Second, I have been smarter about my diet and keeping up with my physical therapy. I ran the half at 180 pounds, the Mid Winter Classic at 177ish. I know the numbers on the scale don’t mean everything, but I’m overweight. I’m clearly better than I was when I weighed 235, but I’m still carrying around too much. With bad knees and a tired back, that extra weight isn’t helping.

I put on a bunch of weight right before running the Sugarloaf Marathon in May 2017 because I got injured and got lazy and ate my feelings. It made for an ugly day and I’m still not quite over the whole thing. (Photo by Maine Running Photos)

The good news on that front is, I’m down about 7 pounds in 2019. I was stuck between 180-185 for a long time, probably since I ran the Sugarloaf Marathon in 2017. I started this year at 182 and when I weighed myself Monday morning, I weighed 175. I can credit that mostly to giving up beer, eating a smaller breakfast, and not crushing half a jar of peanut butter after work each night.

I’ve also done my physical therapy every day and done at least 30 pushups most days this year (I skipped three days, and one of those I did 50-plus burpees). All of this is hopefully going to make me stronger and put me in a better position to be finish the marathon strong in October.

I’m trying to stay positive and not fret about what lies down the road in three months, six months, nine months. If you know me, however, you know I’m constantly asking questions, constantly doubting what’s possible, constantly questioning my abilities.

That’s the other thing I need to work on as I train for the marathon. And I’m trying, but that has been a life-long battle, so it’s hard to say if I’ll ever win.


Lesson learned at Mid Winter Classic 6.0

Climbing that hill at the end of mile 5. It was pain train time. (Photo by Maine Running Photos)

When I signed up for the Mid Winter Classic in November, I had high hopes. I was continuing to make progress, a little more than a year removed from two months on the shelf because of my bum knees, and I thought I was ready to dive into some hard training.

It didn’t exactly work out that way partly because I got a little lazy, partly because the weather was a jerk, mostly because I was sick for almost a month.

I battled my way through the 10-miler, undertrained and finished in a little bit of pain (it’s OK, I’m not injured, I’m just out of shape and have bad knees). I battled the voices in my head telling me to stop, I ran consistent splits, and run negative splits.

And I learned a few things along the way.

• Don’t listen to the voices in my head.

This is a constant battle, but even more so now that I haven’t been racing very much and I haven’t been putting too many workouts to really, truly make myself uncomfortable. When I started to hurt just before all those hills in mile 2 on Sunday, I almost turned around and jogged back to the finish line. I gave myself permission to run just 5 miles hard-ish, then jog the final 5 miles. I almost stopped and walked during mile 8 (I even pulled over to the side of the road). I was hurting and wanted to stop, but I didn’t listen to my head and kept going.

I need to focus on my core.

My back started to get tired and sore climbing that huge hill at the end of mile 5 and the start of mile 6. It has been getting sore when I work out or when I stand up at work. That’s a sure sign that I have been neglecting my core. I’ve been doing pushups and I even did a couple of CrossFit workouts (that shit hurts), but planks and other core work … well, I’ve been slacking. That has to stop.

I have a lot of work to do.

It took a pretty big effort for me to average 8:38 miles for 10 miles on Sunday. Granted, it’s a pretty tough course, but my goal for Chicago is to run that pace (or faster) for 26.2 miles. Running 25-30 miles a week and slacking off on strength work is not going to cut it. I found that out, struggling through those final 5 miles at “marathon pace” on Sunday. Big goals take big work and it’s time to get to work.

• Don’t skip my warmup or my cooldown.

I spent most of the time before the race catching up with friends, and I don’t regret that at all. I do regret not warming up. I didn’t do any dynamic stretching, I didn’t jog, I just stood around and chatted, then when the canon went off (and scored the shit out of me), I started running. My hamstrings were tight, my calves were tight, my hips were tight. I felt miserable and that is a recipe for disaster. My hamstring have been too much of a problem for me to skip that step.

A day after the race I’m a little bit sore and my knees, specifically my left one, are feeling a little beat up, but I also have a ton of information to build on as I take the next step in training. These lessons should be valuable as I prepare to run the New York City Half Marathon in March and the Chicago Marathon in October.

There is a lot of work to do, at least I have some ideas what that work should be.

The good with the bad

The treadmill hasn’t been my friend this year, but Monday I turned on WWE Network on my phone and just made myself run for an hour. It was exactly what I needed.

We are not quite a month into the new year, a year in which I have set some pretty lofty goals for myself, and running has kind of been all over the place. There have been a few good workouts, a week and a half of feeling like garbage, and some not so great weather.

It really has been a weird stretch. Last Wednesday I put in a pretty good workout with the group over at FleetFeet and yesterday I had a nice little speed session on my own. In between, I bailed a mile and a half into a steady state run on the treadmill and I didn’t run at all on Sunday because the weather was awful, the roads were a mess, and everything was closed (except for work, I did have to work).

Those speed sessions on the past two Wednesday, were a nice little confidence boost. Two weeks ago, I did 6×5 minutes at 7:50ish pace with one minute of recovery. This Wednesday, I did 3×10 minutes at 8:15ish pace with two minutes of recovery. I have not done many efforts like that since starting my comeback from bad knees a little more than a year ago.

That workout I bailed on Saturday, well that just pissed me off, for a number of reasons. I’m mostly upset because I wasn’t tough enough to push through it. I was on the treadmill and 8:40 pace felt like sprinting. I smashed the stop button on the treadmill, feeling defeated and annoyed. I ended up spending some time on the elliptical and the rowing machine before giving up and going home. I’m also annoyed with myself for not going outside. I wanted to be comfortable and run in shorts and a T-shirt. The treadmill sounded like a good choice but the treadmill has been a struggle for me this year. I should have known better.

I’m not where I want to be right now and I have had to change my goal for the Mid-Winter Classic because of it. That’s OK, as I wrote before, my goal race is in October. Still, I would like to be in a better place than I am right now. I can’t really control that I got sick, but I need to do a better job of time management and motivation.

That stuff is coming along. This week is off to a good start. I did a little CrossFit workout Monday, which I thought was going to kill me, but I want to try to mix in a few times a week because I need to get stronger. I then played some tricks to get myself through a 6-miler on the treadmill, I had that good workout yesterday and I did a super-easy recovery 4 miles in the pouring rain today.

Hopefully, I can continue the momentum and get myself into a good spot for the NYC Half, then into a good place to crush training for the Chicago Marathon.

2019 is a year of big goals, for which I need to do a lot of training to reach. I just hope it won’t be such a mixed bag.

In a better place

This guy is having a much easier time running than he did a year and a half ago.

I was scrolling through old Facebook posts yesterday looking for a photo, when I came across a blog post I wrote in August 2017. I was trying to pump myself up, trying to get out of a funk, trying to come to grip with the fact that a few things were probably always going to bother me when it came to running, and to try to make the most of it.

I bring that post up now because I wrote quite a bit about how my left knee always seems to hurt and that feels like so long ago. It used to be every time I went for a run, that knee hurt for a least the first mile, and it always hurt after the fact. No more.

It was a couple months after I wrote that blog post that my right knee started to act up and finally put me on the shelf. While trying to figure out why I had a shooting pain in my right knee, I finally decided to address the issue in my left knee.

I read that post and I tried to remember what that felt like. My knee is not 100 percent, it probably never will be. I still feel a twinge here or there (it happened tonight as I warmed up for my speed workout), but the days where the first mile of every run has me wondering if I should stop, limp back home and get someone to put my knee back together, are long gone.

I’m not 100 percent sure exactly what was/is wrong with that knee. From what I’ve gathered from the doctors and physical therapist I saw there are a few things going on in there, including arthritis. It bothered me off and on for years, pretty much since I went knee to knee with a base runner during a baseball game while playing in an over-30 league.

It’s such a relief to run without always worrying about that pain. It’s taken a consistent (I need to do better) physical therapy routine and rebuilding my form to alleviate that pain. It has been a long, tricky road to stop heal striking and over striding, one I’m still working on over a year later, but running with better form has made an enormous difference.

I do worry how my knees will react when I start to really ramp up my mileage. Last year started with Couch to 5K and I never logged more than 40 miles in a week. When marathon training really ramps up, I’ll be running in the 50-mile per week range. Will my knees flare up when I do that? I have no idea and I’m not going to stress out about it. I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing (hopefully a little more, actually), doing what I can to keep myself healthy, and try not to stress about what the future holds for that creaky knee.

My hope is that the future continues to get better. I’m in a much better place as a runner than I was when I wrote that post. I’m not as fit or fast as I was back then but running feels a hell of a lot better.

And that pumps me up.

Getting back on track

Using my shirt to cover my mouth because, yeah, I’ve had some pretty good coughing fits

I finished the workout portion of my treadmill workout Wednesday night and stepped off the treadmill. I sat down to re-tie my shoes because my left foot was a little uncomfortable. While sitting on the floor, a puddle of sweat building up around me, I started to cough. And I coughed. And I coughed. And I coughed.

The woman on the treadmill next to me, who had also just finished her run, stopped wiping down her machine and turned toward me with a concerned look on her face. “Are you OK?” she asked, stepping off the treadmill and in my direction.

“Yes, thank you,” I answered between bouts of coughing. “It’s just, I have this cold.”

It’s been that kind of year so far.

I’m still dealing with that cold I wrote about Saturday, but I am on the mend and I have been able to get in some mileage this week. I actually started Saturday after writing that post with an easy 30-ish minutes. I was tired and sore and coughed quite a bit, but it didn’t feel awful, so I tried again Sunday. Another 30-ish minutes Sunday felt pretty much the same, but I was grateful to get some mileage in. I took my usual rest day on Monday and I tried to get back on the training plan Tuesday. I even did an abbreviated workout Wednesday (4×5 minutes at HMPish), though the coughing fit that ensued apparently left some thinking I was having a medical emergency (I’m grateful she asked, by the way, because if something really was wrong I would want someone to help).

I’m glad to be back at it a little bit, even if I’m not quite 100 percent. My lungs feel a lot better and my coughing isn’t quite so bad. I don’t have a ton of energy and my legs are a little heavy, but I’m running again and that feels good. I haven’t run outside, yet, I figure the cold would wreck havoc on my lungs and the roads are crap right now because of snow, rain, snow mix we had this week.

The best thing I can say is that during all this time feeling like crap, I’ve at least done my physical therapy every day, and I’ve done 30 pushups every day. I still need to do a lot more work and to be consistent doing that work, but considering I have felt like garbage for much of the first 10 days of the year, I’m calling that a win. I’m trying to build habits, hoping they stick and that I can build on them. That little strength work I’m doing every day is a step in the right direction.

Every thing I can do to be better and get ready to do the work for Chicago, is a bonus. Hopefully I’ll be able to do it without the coughing fits soon.

Fresh start put on hold

Coughing is a great core workout and by the time this cold is gone, I think I’ll probably look like Finn Balor (or maybe not).

I talked about getting a fresh start in 2019. This was not what I had in mind.

I haven’t run a step in 2019. I haven’t even looked at my running shoes, much less thought about putting them on and going for a jog.

Nope. Not happening.

The last time I ran was in 2018 and that was a whooping 1.3 miles on Sunday, Dec. 30. I was starting to feel a little under the weather before that failed run Sunday morning. My throat was sore and I was tired. Ten minutes into that run, I basically slowed to a walk. I had no energy, breathing was hard and I wanted to be home in bed.

Home is bed is basically where I have been all week. I left the house to go to work my usual work schedule (Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Friday so far), but the majority of my time, I’ve been in bed reading, coughing, sneezing and generally feeling miserable.

I’m starting to feel better, though I still have a pretty nasty cough. Oh, and my throat and chest hurt from coughing so much (I’m getting a killer ab workout). I’m still not sure when I’ll run again. I was considering hopping on the treadmill for a few minutes this afternoon, but I’m worried 30 seconds in I’ll have a coughing fit and have to quit.

In the grand scheme of things, this setback isn’t a big deal. It will certainly have an impact on my goals for the Mid Winter Classic, but my real goal races are in March and October. I have a long time to get over this cold and get some solid training in.

And while I haven’t been training super hard, I have pretty much been in the same routine since I started running semi-regular mileage at the end of March/start of April. I’ve hovered between 25-40 miles for the last eight months. I switched things up a little bit in the MWC class at Fleet Feet, mixing in some different workouts, but basically my mileage and my workouts have been close to the same all year.

I don’t think a complete hit of the reset button before fully diving into training is a bad thing.

If I am being honest, however, I’m a little worried and annoyed by this. I feel like every time I start to get into a groove, something pops up. I haven’t really been able to dive into training since my knees shit the bed without getting distracted or knocked off course by something. I’m worried about how I’m going to react when training for the marathon starts, my mileage increases and my workouts get harder. Will I hold up to all that extra work? Will I have done enough work in advance to be ready to hold up to all that extra work?

So, this is not exactly the way I wanted to start the new year. I’m not going to freak out about it, though, and I’m not going to rush out and go for a run because I think I need to. What I need to do is get over this freaking cold so when I do get back at it I don’t have any setbacks. My 2019 goals are to crush races later in the year, not crush training in January. So as frustrated as I am that I am not running, I’m trying to be smart and patient.

Eventually, I will get that fresh start.

Training with mixed results

This photo really has nothing to do with this post other than I’m trying to remind myself of what I am capable of when I believe in myself because this was one of the best races I’ve ever had.

I’m in a weird spot right now.

Some days I feel really good about the progress I’ve made, my ability to run a little bit faster and a little bit longer.

Some days, I’m feel completely overwhelmed, that I’m not capable of the things on my training schedule, and that I’m not making quite as much progress as I think I am.

In reality, I’m somewhere in the middle.

Starting Week 5 of the Mid Winter Classic training class at Fleet Feet, I have had mixed results following the plan. The Wednesday group workouts, despite my intimidation and doubt in my ability to finish all the reps, have gone well. 7×1 minute uphill. 9×1 minute uphill. Beat your last intervals. I’ve have conquered my doubts and accomplished the workouts, gaining a good deal of confidence in the process. My Friday or Saturday morning workouts, which I do on my own, haven’t gone quit so well. The fartlek runs were fine, 1 to 1:30 minute hard reps sprinkled into a longer run, no problem. Progression runs and steady state workouts on the other hand, I had a hard time with those.

Take Saturday, for example. The schedule called for 45-60 minutes of steady state running, with a 15-minute warmup and a 10-minute cool down. I felt like shit when I left the apartment, feeling the start of a cold that has knocked me off my feet today (I’m sitting in bed, skipping my run on New Year’s Day because I feel pretty shitty). For some reason, I thought the workout called for 30-45 minutes of steady state running, so after that 15 minute warmup, I picked up the pace.

Immediately, I thought the whole thing was a mistake. My breathing was labored and my legs were heavy. I was struggling and told myself to get through five minutes. After that five minutes, I told myself to do five more. I got through a mile and, without realizing I was doing it, I picked up the pace. I was supposed to be running between 8:00 and 8:20 minute per mile pace. The second mile of the workout portion of this run was 7:53. Whoops.

I slowed down both out of necessity and because I was trying to actually run the workout correctly during the third mile of the workout, and when I hit 20 minutes, I told myself to try for 10 more. Then I could call the workout a success. I did six more minutes and called it a day.

I was gassed. I was done.

After my cool down and a little stretching, I picked up my training log to jot done some notes, and saw the schedule. The workout was actually “45-60 minutes at Steady State Pace.”

Well … fuck.

I was feeling like I had a decent workout, getting 26 minutes at steady state, when in reality, I wasn’t even close to finishing it. I barely did half. Now, I cut myself a little bit of slack because I was sick. I ran 1.3 miles Sunday and stopped because I had no energy and breathing was hard. This illness definitely had an impact on that workout Saturday. But, it was a blow to the ego, a shot to my confidence to struggle so hard to not even get halfway through that workout.

I guess what I’m figuring out through this process is it is a long road to get to where I want to go. I not only have to work on my fitness, I also have to work on the mental stuff. It’s about developing the belief in my ability to do the work. It’s about learning how to pace certain workouts (like that progression run where I clearly ramped up the speed too quickly and had to stop 21 minutes into a 35-40 minute progression run). It’s about putting in the work and sticking my nose in there to make myself better.

I’m not where I want to be right now, and this cold isn’t helping, but I’m starting to do the work. It’s a weird place to be. Sometimes I feel like I’m over my head, sometimes I feel like I should be further along then I am, somedays I feel like I’m making really good progress.

In reality, it is all of those things.