Slouching Into 2010

On March 21, I’ll be running the Quivering Quads Half-Marathon in Troy, Mo. This is a trail race,  through a state park on a course that varies “from smooth to very rough, dry to very muddy, and flat to very hilly. Racers may have to cross ankle-deep streams as they pass through forests of white oak and limestone glades filled with turkey, deer and foxes,” according to the course description.

As often happens, it seemed like a good idea when I signed up, but now I’m having second thoughts…

In pain -- but still upright! -- at the finish of the 2003 Chicago Marathon.

My recent history of running has been, let’s say, checkered. Long story short, although I’ve considered myself “a runner” for more than half my life, I haven’t done much running the last few years. After a bipolar experience in my one and only marathon (Chicago 2003), I began suffering some serious knee pain, and there were many times in the next few years when I thought I would never run again, let alone try another marathon. Then I’d start up again for a couple of weeks, the pain would come back, and I’d quit for a few more months. Finally, about a year ago, I decided  it was time to get some professional help. I went to a orthopedist, who diagnosed tendonitis and gave me a ticket to physical therapy. For several months over the summer, the folks at the Sports Medicine and Training Center in Webster Groves worked me, bounced me, shocked me and stretched me, and although it didn’t seem to be working for a while, all of a sudden things started to fall into place, and by the end of the summer I was able to run basically pain-free. Amazing!

For Father’s Day/my birthday, Jean gave me a Garmin GPS watch with a heart rate monitor, which fueled my compulsion for keeping statistics on my running (in July I ran 51.5 miles, in August 77.93 miles, etc.) and got me started on keeping track of my heart rate.

In November, I watched as American Meb Keflezghi won the New York Marathon. He was an inspiration, of course, but it was also cool to see all of the back markers getting a tour of the city’s boroughs at six miles an hour. I could do that, I thought. Suddenly, my running had a new purpose. For the rest of the month of November, I did one run each weekend of at least 10 miles, and a during-the-week run of at least five miles. I began thinking about marathons in 2010.

Then, a nasty uppercut/jab combination laid me out. I ran the 10-mile Great River Road Race in Alton, Ill., at the end of November, and inexplicably took it out in a 7-minute pace. By four miles I was in agony, and by six miles I was taking extended walking breaks, my right hamstring in flames. A lousy race for me, but I figured I made a mistake, would learn from it, and bounce back. Nope. The next time I ran, the pain was in both my hamstring and my calf, bad enough that I end up taking about a week off to let them heal. I thought I was better when it was time for the Pere Marquette Trail Run two weeks later, but about two miles into that race my calf felt like it was ripped in half, and I finished the course in a humiliating mix of limp/walking and limp/running, and then basically shelved the running shoes for the rest of the year.

I decided to ease my way into 2010; I joined a gym, and, using a recumbent bike and a treadmill, I slowly worked to restore my fitness. By the fourth week of January, I got back out onto the roads — and felt pretty good. I actually managed a 10-miler on February 6.

Then it snowed. Not much, but enough that I needed to shovel the walk. It was a nice, light, fluffy snow, and certainly no trouble to shovel it off. But my 50-year-old back thought otherwise. I must have tweaked something in my lower back, because I was hobbling the next day. Actually, though, the pain wasn’t awful, and it had cleared up enough over the next three days that on Friday I did a two-mile “trial run” to see if running would hurt it more — it didn’t — and then on Saturday went for another 10-miler.

I spent most of Sunday lying down.

I guess 10 miles of pounding wasn’t the best thing for my back. I’ve been gobbling a cocktail of over-the-counter pain relievers all week (and of course not running), and only now is it starting to feel better. I’ve given up on the idea of a 10-miler every weekend — at least for this weekend — and now I’m just hoping to get back into it enough by March 21 to be able to finish that trail race with at least a modicum of respectability. I’ll keep you posted.

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