Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Call me a crazy, stubborn old dog if you will, but...

I was out on a walk with my dog again this morning, taking the direction towards the next town, till we were on that very same spot where that stabbing pain hit my right foot eight weeks ago. That pain sent me home limping, not really finishing my fartlek, and eventually passing on a weekend race that would have been my first for this year. That pain, which I thought at first was only due to a pinched nerve but which an x-ray later showed was from a stress fracture on a metatarsal in my right foot, had me sidelined pretty good - foot in a cast for four weeks, unable to do the thing I loved doing most: running.

Being passionate about something does get you into trouble sometimes. I wanted to do well in that weekend 17k which some close friends asked me to run. They got me registered and all, and I wanted to give back by doing well. Winning was way out of the question of course, but a great finish is a good way of showing gratitude. I put in the fartlek as a final speed workout, and on that last fast stretch before I end with an easy final kilometer, BAM!

Walking on that very same stretch of road this morning, I told myself it most probably was the combination of my speed, the downhill, and the banked road that caused that stress fracture. I pushed myself, my fatigued foot muscles faltered under the pressure, the bone gave in.

I remember the doctor telling me, "We sometimes forget we are not as young anymore." I heard the same thing from a few others who learned of my injury.

I know. At 56, I don't have a body as fresh and as strong as it was two decades ago. But at 56, I had just experienced the best year so far of my second wind as a runner. A year that was perhaps even better than any single year I had in my whole running life. I posted PR after PR in almost all races I did. I ran my 5th marathon with close to half a dozen killer hills without walking for the first time, breaking my previous best by 30 minutes, topping my age group by finishing 10th among male runners. And I was able to do all of those because I didn't let my age hold me back from pushing myself. I faced my fear of going fast and conquered it. I learned to live with the discomfort of oxygen debt and the difficulty of going against gravity when running up hills and made these my friends, the same way I befriended the fatigue that came with every single long run and just went the distance. It would have been easier and less stressful to my ageing body if I stayed within my comfort zone. But I wouldn't have discovered a better me, I wouldn't have felt more alive, and I wouldn't have been happier.

I don't have any regrets for doing that fartlek. The injury would have happened on any other day if it indeed was bound to happen. It would have happened on that weekend race if it was meant to. And when I am finally able to really run again, I wouldn't be totally throwing caution to the wind, but I don't think I would be losing even just a wee bit of the passion and the desire to always do better either.

Call me a crazy, stubborn old dog if you will, but I wouldn't want to be any less happier.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Getting back in stride

When I started running a little more than two decades ago, it wasn't in a slow and programmed manner.

Two packs-a-day smoker me got bit by the bug, decided to run, went out into the street early the next morning, and went off. I walked after about 500 meters, turned around, and started running again back to where I started. The rest as they say was history, which I wouldn't go into in detail, because that is not the point in this post.

This one is about getting back in stride. It's about starting to run again after being sidelined by an injury, the first -and hopefully the only serious one that ever happens- in my far from illustrious running career.

A stress fracture of a metatarsal bone is definitely not something a runner would welcome. Mine had me sidelined since January 31, and put my right foot in a cast for almost a month. The cast came off March 17, I gave my right foot another week of rest, and then came this morning. I started my journey back to running fitness.

I woke up at 5 a.m., got off the bed, and went through my usual pre-run rituals. There wasn't going to be a run for me though. I was scheduled for a walk, and I decided my trusty old friend, Dog (that's how I call my dog; every single dog I've ever had in fact), should join me.

The walk took Dog and me all of 45 minutes and covered just a little less than 3 kilometers. My right foot wasn't really painful, at least not in that specific spot where it did when I limped my way back home without really finishing my interval session that morning of January 31. I take that as a good sign. My forefoot though, the area just where the toes connected to the foot, felt a bit stressed. Perhaps it is because my right foot has been immobile for quite a time. I wore that cast close to four weeks. Even my ankle was complaining a bit. I wasn't though. It felt good to be out there again.

It was unlike the day I started running, this first day in my quest to get back my stride. This day is part of a more programmed approach, one that starts with walking and, over a month or more, gradually builds up to running again. I felt the urge to try a short jog, but I held back. Better just be patient, stick to the plan, and be better rewarded for it.

I didn't savor my injury, or the days I was sidelined. Not a bit. But I wouldn't say I didn't learn anything from it all. Relaxing more and giving my ageing body a longer time to recover, strengthening my feet more as I stress them less, I learned those things. But more that those perhaps, I learned that I wouldn't go crazy like I thought I would when my doctor told me I had to have my foot in a cast for 4 weeks. I really had no choice, yes, but it still wasn't easy.

A couple of running books and a bunch of running movies helped get me through the boredom of inactivity. So did my running friends on the web. The biggest help of course is having a loving wife who was the one who really insisted I see a doctor, and still persistently keeps me from doing crazy things, and a son who doesn't fail to put joy and laughter into my life. I'm glad there's Dog, too, to keep me company as I start off in getting back my stride.