Sunday, July 30, 2017

Still Running

I ran 20 km today, which wouldn't be that exciting, except it's the first time I've been able to run that far in the last two years that I've been struggling with IT band knee problems. I'm not sure what's changed but over the six weeks or so I've managed to extend my runs farther and farther without problems. My last six "long" runs have been 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 15, and then today 20. I kept expecting to run (pun intended) into problems, but it just kept coming together.

Honestly, before this stretch I was starting to think I'd never see 20 km again. To a non-runner that's probably meaningless, but for me it was sad. It's tough enough to accept your own gradual decay without it being quite so blatant. I've still been running but it's been limited to what my knee would allow. Because it's not the knee joint itself, I can still do intervals and hills and stay in shape. I just couldn't do long runs. I don't mind toughing it out through a certain amount of discomfort, that's part of the game. But this knee problem was a show stopper for me.

It wouldn't have been so bad except that a few years ago I got back into running more and found, to my delight, that I could still run quite far and hard (relatively speaking). I ended up running 20 km most weekends for the second half of that summer and loved it. The next summer I was raring to go again. I'd mostly just run on the treadmill over the winter, and mostly shorter interval workouts, but when spring came I felt I wasn't in bad shape. So it was a shock when I ran outside for the first time, and after only a few kilometers my knee was killing me and I ended up walking home. It seemed worse that it was out of the blue. I hadn't had any problems with my knee running on the treadmill over the winter. Not even a twinge.

I gradually (and painfully) worked my way back up to about 10 km but it was a far cry from the summer before. A couple of times we'd been away for two months on longer trips and I'd had a good long break from running. I thought surely that would give my IT band time to recover or heal or whatever it needed to do. But it didn't seem to work that way. As soon as I started running again it would come back full force. I tried various exercises and stretches and "smashing". None of it seemed to make much difference despite keeping it up faithfully for months.

After two years of this, I have to admit I was starting to think it was something I'd just have to live with. After all, I wasn't getting any younger and one has to expect certain betrayals from your body. But it seems like I've been given a reprieve, and regardless of how long or short it lasts, I am very grateful.

I like to think that I'm not very competitive but the truth is that's mostly because I avoid competitive situations. If I get into those kind of situations I'm as competitive as the next person, if not more. When I headed out on my run today I wasn't sure how far I'd go. I was hoping to make the loop around the bridges which is 17 or 18 km. Last week I'd managed 15 km without any trouble so it didn't seem too much of a stretch. But I took it easy, running at a moderate pace (for me) of about 10.5 km/hr. At that pace my breathing is still easy and my heart rate low. That worked well for about 7 km. Then I saw another runner up ahead. As much as I try not to, I always want to pass people ahead of me. So I sped up a bit and passed fairly easily. But then there was yet another runner ahead of them and I had to speed up even more to pass again. So now I'm running about 11.5 km/hr and my breathing and heart rate are picking up.

The bad part about passing someone is that then my ego insists on staying ahead of them. Usually that's not a problem. People often speed up when you come up behind them, but once you pass they usually settle back to their normal pace. But occasionally you make the mistake, as I did this time, of passing someone that is happy to go faster, and they stay right on your tail, forcing you to keep up the faster passing pace. So I ran the next 6 km faster than I'd planned. It was still an ok pace for me, I'd just planned to take it a little easier. I think my pursuer figured I wouldn't be able to keep it up, especially since it was just some old guy :-) I thought they might be right, but eventually I won the silent battle and my follower dropped further and further behind. So much for not being competitive! I have to admit it feels pretty good to out run someone thirty years younger than me. Gotta take our pleasures where we can :-)

As usual, I stopped for a quick coffee at about 13 km. It's probably not the smartest thing running wise, but it's a part of my routine that I enjoy. Although I get some recovery time and rehydrate (with water as well as coffee), getting going again can be a little tough. I'm careful not to let my knee stiffen up while I'm sitting (a lesson I've learned the hard way). When I started again today I could soon feel my knee and I was ready to be pissed off and depressed, but then I realized it wasn't the IT band on the outside, it was the inside of my knee and it was minor and soon went away.

Running is definitely a blend of mind and body. But at times like these, it's easy to start thinking of your body as something separate, as an opponent rather than a partner. Really, it's more like a good friend who isn't above telling a white lie or two "for your own good". So some of those odd transient aches and pains I interpret more as a ploy to try to make me stop doing things my body thinks are somewhat ill advised (like running long distances).

My plan had been, if all went well, to run 17 km. At first after my break, I thought that was going to be more than enough. But then I got back into the rhythm and actually felt pretty good. So I just kept going past home and added another 3 km to make a round 20 km. Although I felt decent, I was started to feel a little tired. Where earlier I'd been running over with a heart rate under 140 bpm, now I was running slower but at 155 bpm. It didn't help that it was getting warm - by the time I finished it was 24c and the sun was hot - not ideal conditions for running.

I finished the 20 km in an hour and 55 minutes, about 10.5 km/hr, a little faster than I'd planned (due to my competitive streak) but not far off. My heart rate averaged about 130 bpm which seemed reasonable. I've been working on increasing my cadence and I average about 85 this run. And the best part was that I felt good afterwards.

Don't get me wrong, it wasn't just a walk in the park. By the end my quads hurt, and I could feel my hamstrings, and my feet were getting sore. But it's been so long since I could get past the limits of my knee to reach those feelings that I welcomed them like old friends.

Nevertheless, I'm hesitant to get too excited. My knee problems could come back on my next run, possibly even as a result of this run. I'll just continue to take it one day at a time, and enjoy the "bad" days along with the good ones.

* Sorry for all the speeds, times, distances, and heart rates. No doubt they're meaningless to anyone but me.

See my other running posts

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