Return to fitness: a process


fence 66
Sunrise over I-66, before gridlock builds.  The streets I’m on are mostly empty.  I’ts strangely peaceful!

After months of fits and starts, I’ve decided that, for the time being, I’m going to have to eliminate running from my fitness regimen.  This has been a painful and difficult decision to come to, but I think I need an extended period off to strengthen my legs and give them a break from running’s impact, and just allow them to heal.

(But bear with me – it’s not all bad!!!)

It’s four years since I’ve been able to run for more than a couple of months at a time.  Just when I feel I’m starting to get back to normal, something happens, whether it’s my Achilles, my calf, or my hamstrings.

The final straw was April’s Parkway Classic.  I was concerned coming into the race, with my longest run only hitting six miles, but I took it slow, never going faster than a 9:15 mile.  By the fourth mile, I was tiring, which was expected, but then my right calf started giving me trouble.  By the fifth mile, it felt as if the calf was splitting in half vertically.

By the sixth mile, I was resigned to walking the rest of the way.  I tried a couple of times to start up again and maintain a slow shuffle, and only made it worse.  I wasn’t able to walk normally for three days.

About three weeks later, I tried to run a half mile at a 10:00 pace.  I didn’t make it a quarter mile before the calf reacted badly.

End result:  rock bottom reached.

At this point, I recognize the need to strengthen, but without the impact that running brings.

work route
The way out is nice.  The way back…not so much!

Fortunately, I started a new job this week, and have a trail available to me that allows me to get to work without being killed by texting drivers.  It’s about 20 miles one way, is fairly hilly, and will certainly give me my cardio and calf/hammy work.

I’ve got to add core work.  I’ve never been big on weights, but I’m getting older and have to acknowledge the need.  I’ve spent so much time on the shelf over the past few years that I can no longer deny the toll atrophy has taken.

I’m not sure how I’m going to feed my need to compete, but am considering aquabike races.  Of course, that’s going to require me to head back to the pool at least a couple of times a week, but I can make that happen!

I’m going to spend this week developing a workable routine to return to fitness.  The end result may or may not include the distances of running that I used to cover, but it will result with me getting back to the level of fitness I’m accustomed to.

The shame of stairwell stretching

I’m not sure why I’ve waited so long to simply get over the odd looks and occasional comments I get when doing Achilles stretches in my building’s stairwell.

They are almost always harmless – stuff like “You OK, man?” or “What’re you doing?”  Other times, it’s a confused look or the occasional “hmmph” as someone has to slide to the other side of the stair to get around me. Continue reading “The shame of stairwell stretching”

The beatings will continue until morale improves!

So I’ve simply decided to ignore Achilles pain and drive on with a conservative training regimen.

OK – maybe ignore isn’t the best way to describe it…. In the past, I’ve been advised to stay off the treadmill or trails for a couple weeks after a flareup.  It led to a cycle that played out something like this:

Achilles flareup -> one week no stretching at all -> two more weeks no running w/light stretching -> start running very short distances -> add a mile each week -> another flareup after a few weeks

beatings will continue
I’m looking at YOU, Achilles!

After several of years of this, I’ve decided that a more aggressive stretching plan is needed.  The heel drops and toe raises do not stop just because of a flareup, and neither does running, and a wider program is needed.

At the moment, if I run on a Monday, I’ll be somewhat hobbled on Tuesday, a bit better on Wednesday, and ready to do a split elliptical/treadmill run on Thursday.  So that’s the plan.  Run, stretch/recover from soreness for two days, re-engage.

I’ve noticed that even while I’m slowly increasing the mileage, my Tuesday soreness has lessened over the past two weeks.  I’m attributing this to the fact that I’m not passing on stretching and strengthening, regardless of the level of soreness.  Tuesday morning sees me limping a bit, but by Tuesday evening, after at least three stretching sessions during the day, I’m walking normally, albeit with some discomfort.

Starting this week, I’m adding more stretches and strengthening exercises aimed at the Achilles/calf/hamstring/glute chain.  While I think the real problem might be having a slightly reduced range of motion in my left ankle (many, many sprains in my youth), it can’t hurt to increase my flexibility.

After three weeks of NOT giving this thing a break, I’m starting to see results, which always makes me worry, as I wait for the other shoe to fall.  I’ve increased mileage to five miles, and my level of soreness is slowly dropping.

I’ve got the Parkway Classic 10-miler scheduled for April 23.  I will not be racing this.  It will be a slow run, aimed at nothing but enjoying the scenery (which this race is known for), and finishing.

If all goes well, I’m looking forward to a healthier summer than I’ve had in years!

So many things to do, so little time

I want my time back!!

Sorry folks – it’s been a couple of weeks since the last entry.  Time is at a premium these days.  In addition to the full-time job, I’m working my way through a military training course (several hours a week) and I’ve recently picked up a part-time marketing gig (another 5-7 hours each week), so time to write is getting hard to come by.  The good news is that this military course is done the first week in May.

So here’s a quick update – It’s been four weeks since the hamstring(s) injury.

As I suspected, it’d be either one week for a strain, or perhaps up to 3-4 for something worse.  Well, it was something worse.

While I was moving around fairly well after a week on the shelf, it was fairly obvious that I wasn’t going to be running anytime soon.

At the 3 1/2 week mark, I decided to go for a short run through my neighborhood.  Of course, my ‘hood features rolling hills – not ideal.  But my gym membership ran out last week, so treadmilling it wasn’t an option.  (That gets fixed next week on payday!)

About a quarter mile into the run, it was clear that my left hamstring isn’t where it needs to be.  While not painful throughout the entire run, any unsure step gave me feedback, telling me that it just isn’t up to speed.

It’s a strange thing – with this being a hamstring injury, I figured I’d only be limited in speed.  Not the case.  The uncomfortable part occurs when I’m swinging my left forward to take a step, as opposed to bounding forward.

Not sure what to do at this point, beyond taking it easy.  I’ve been doing more cardio stuff on the elliptical, and swimming.  I haven’t tried biking yet, although I’m pretty sure that won’t work just yet.

Three days after running, my entire left leg is still very sore.  Fortunately, it’s the good kind of sore, so I’m not super-worried about that.

I’ll be hitting the treadmill at my local military base tomorrow, and will provide an update!

Swimming instead of running


So true!  The first thought I had after injuring my hamstrings was not whether I was OK.  The first reaction was whether it’d be one week or three before I could get back on the trails, followed quickly by “how far will this set me back for my next race in April?”

Injury was nine days ago, and I’m just today back to walking normally.  Hammies still bark when walking uphill, though.  So it looks like a few more days before running again.

The morning swim (the first in several months, as I’d been focused on getting back on the road) replaced this morning’s run.  If you don’t think you use your hamstrings while swimming, I’m here to tell you…YOU DO.  Especially while kicking and simultaneously turning to breathe!

Still, I got 1000m in, followed by a 45-min walk, and felt pretty good – can’t complain too much about that!

Happy Monday!

Happy ‘second opinion’ day!

achilles-treadmillI suppose it’s a little early to be happy about the results from today’s second opinion on what to do with my right Achilles.  I had set up the visit to confirm (or not) my first doc’s recommendation for surgery to lengthen it.

Coming in, I was pretty much resigned to the thought of the extension surgery, or another process (I forget the clinical name for it) which would require the doc to loosen the Achilles with a cut somewhere in my calf, and drill several tiny holes in the tendon.  The tendon would then be wrapped with a sleeve of substance (again – can’t remember the name) to promote the healing process.

Seems very much like a nuclear option to me, but given the time I’ve been dealing with it, I thought I was out of ideas.  At least that’s what I thought prior to today’s discussion.

My doc talked with me about a procedure called Tenex.  It’s a minimally-invasive option in which the surgeon uses ultrasound imaging to guide the removal of damaged tendon.  Down time is only about 2-6 weeks, and the limited internet research I’m seeing suggests an 80% success rate among those suffering tendinosis.

If true, 80% is more than enough for me to be optimistic about this treatment.  Not sure if my provider covers the procedure, though.  Here’s hoping!

If any of you has experience with this kind of procedure, please let me know how it worked out.  I’ve still got some time to make decisions!

Quick update: Still not training, Virginia Beach, surgery

2016-va-beach-finisher-medalsSo it’s been well over a month since I’ve been able to run with any regularity.  Some of that was self-imposed after the last Achilles flare-up, and some of it was imposed upon me (in the form of a military school I had to attend).

Training’s been limited to sporadic elliptical sessions and the occasional swim.  I’ve got a doctor’s appointment next week to discuss the way ahead, and whether knives – well, scalpels – will be part of my future.

I had been scheduled to run the Virginia Beach Half this past weekend, but without any actual road time built up, I felt it would have been foolish to try to churn out 13.1, so I downgraded, and ran the 5K with my daughter.  We ran slowly (like 10-11 minute miles slow), but it was enjoyable.

Hurricane/Tropical Storm Hermine narrowly missed Va Beach, but many stayed away, so the crowds were much smaller than normal.  I haven’t seen the final numbers, but I’d guess attendance was probably down by about 30%.  Ironically, the weather held up just fine.  72 degrees and overcast?  I’d pay money to have that weather for every race!

The good news is that I had very little soreness the following day, so going forward with some light running is part of my plan.  I still have the Army 10 Miler left on the schedule, and barring any further setbacks, I plan to give it a shot.  But if things go south again, I’ll be on the sidelines again.

I’m looking forward to getting the second opinion on surgery.  I’d still prefer to avoid going under the knife, but I’m afraid I’m just about out of options.

I’ll know more next Monday.  I’m just looking forward to a final decision being made.  I can accept surgery if I’m done for the fall and winter, but only if there is a high likelihood of the procedure being a permanent fix – I’m done with physical therapy and hoping for the best.

How quickly should you come back from injury/sickness?

Running-InjuryThis current stint on the shelf (now entering its third week) got me to thinking about the time it might take to get back to my original fitness level.  I’ve typically been the type to go with a reduced workload for about a week, and get slowly build back to where I was.  Recognizing that this isn’t the most scientific approach, I wanted to see what experts say on the subject.

Based on some of the articles I’ve been reading, I’m wrong.  Here are some of the guidelines I’ve found:

1)  Don’t try to make up for missed workouts

If you’ve missed workouts, no amount of added mileage or crowded workouts will make up for that.  In fact, you’ll put yourself on the fast lane toward injury and overworking.

2)  You don’t lose nearly as much cardio fitness as you think you do

I came across this article, which lays out the numbers.  While I won’t get down into the VO2Max numbers, the example used was a 20-minute 5K runner.  According to the piece, “After 2 weeks of no running, the 5k runner…would now be in 21:05 shape, according to most estimates.

After 9 weeks of no running, the same 20-minute 5k runner would now be in 24:00 minute 5k shape. After 11 weeks of no running, our poor running friend would be in 25:30 shape.”

So, if you only have missed about a week or so, you’re not really losing much, in terms of your fitness level.  As long as you’re not within a week or so of a major goal event, you’ll be fine.

3)  Get over the fact that you’ve missed time

Missing time doesn’t make you a bad person, so don’t feel like you’ve fallen off the horse.  Accept that sickness, injury, or just life happen.  You know your level of discipline, and you know how likely you are to stick to a training schedule.  Instead of looking at it as lost time, look at it as time for your body to recover or refresh.

So what do I do now?

Well, a lot of that has to do with how long you’ve been out.

If you’ve missed less than a week, just scale back the first few workouts.  Ease the pace a little.  The goal is to make sure you’re completely healthy.  After 2-3 workouts at a slightly lower than normal intensity, jump back into your normal routine.

If you’ve missed a week or two, make sure you limit the intensity for the first 2-3 runs.  Drop down to about 3/4 of your planned distance, and increase it day-by-day.  After a few days, consider some shorter runs that sprinkle in light speed work, to get your “fast” legs under you again.