Saturday, May 26, 2018

First Steps and Thoughts on Form

  Yesterday was the first day I was allowed to start weaning off the crutches.  I was supposed to start putting more weight on the leg while using the crutches and to spread about 20 minutes of unassisted walking over the course of the day.  I have been religiously following the guidelines for my return and as such I have definitely been chomping on the bit the last few weeks to take some steps.

  My first unassisted steps came when I was carrying my morning tea and oatmeal to the table.  I am at best uncomfortable being waited on and not being able to carry liquid unless it was in a container has been very annoying.  As I have been  doing exercises and getting around and feeling very little if any pain it was shocking to put my weight on the leg and feel how stupendously weak it was.  I could only walk with a shaky slow limp and my upper body tilting heavily on the bad leg stride.  The best thing I can relate the feeling to is when you are lifting weights and you get to the last few reps of a max set and suddenly you can't seem to make the muscles do the task.  I was right on the the edge of that.   After only a few steps when I sat I could feel noticeable fatigue.   It cleared quickly though and I was able to keep mixing in bits of walking through the day.  I had no real pain just the occasional burning feeling around the scar.  As an aside I really should take a picture of that thing and post it, not really safe for work, given that it would basically be a pic of my ass, but it is about 8 inches long and not too pretty.  Melissa gagged the first time she saw it, which was a great reaction to get from a beautiful woman!

  The limp had me really thinking about my muscular cross training plan for re-balancing my muscles, and myself neurologically.  Imbalance and running are not good.  Honestly I'm of the believe you can generally get away with doing a lot of stuff wrong with your form if you can do it in a balanced way but if you are out of balance it is very hard to stay healthy.  To say I'm out of balance now is an understatement and a half.  I am entirely unaware on a conscious level that I am standing with all or nearly all my weight on my left leg and I can barely step on the right without some pretty funky upper body movements to get through the process.  This is all expected but experiencing it really has been hyper aware of the job ahead.

  My plan for neuromuscular work is two fold.  First more for the neuro side is feldenkrais.  I have been doing this for a year or so and am a huge fan.  These strange "exercise" sets are basically a rewiring of the connection from your brain to your muscles and cause you to run very differently, and much more naturally, without really thinking about it.  Teaching yourself to make even a small change in form is generally a long hard nearly impossible process and often the outcome is unnatural and not at all what the goal was.  This is the complete opposite, it is fast, it immediately feels natural and it looks natural and un-strained.   The one draw back is that it teaches you to move a certain way but then basically expects you to just do it and be better.  My experience, and in all fairness this could be largely caused by the volume and speed of the running I generally do, is that this doesn't work too well.  My muscles fatigue out and I end up falling back into bad habits and this really slows the change.  So part two is muscular work.  I will be slowly adding back in my functional muscular exercises.  These range from Olympic lifts to drills and jumping exercises.  These along with a ton of massage to undo the knots in my back and hips from crutch-ing around for two months will be key to avoiding setbacks once I can get running again.

  In terms of timing I will start the feldenkrais long before I can run as that is movement stuff, not even body weight lifting.  However I do need to be able to do a resistance-less clam before I can start and that is still a while coming. I follow an 8 exercise series of feldenkrais exercises from .  I'll do the main longer lessons, 50 to 80 minutes each,  only once or twice each.  I'll do the follow up lessons, 15 to 40 minutes, 1 to 10 times each depending on where I'm needing to make improvements.  Then I'll do the very short 3 to 4 minute lessons pretty much daily.   These shorter ones are more about maintaining good form and slowly touching up your form but they are super easy to mix in and they do a great job of preventing me from slipping back into old habits while ever so slowly actually helping my form improve.

  The muscular side will be largely under the control of the PT and then Anna.  This is not my area of expertise and I am a believer in finding good people and doing what they tell you when you don't know too much about something.  I have some basic things I'd like to do.  I would like to be back to dead lifting around 300lbs.  I want to be doing around 60 front squats, broken into sets, with around 100lbs and I want to be squatting my body weight for sets of 6 to 10.  Additionally I would like to get to doing sets of 10 to 20 pull ups, as I feel these really help my weakest point, my lats.  Which I think impacts my form and may be putting undue stress on some of my trouble areas. 

  I have started back at the pull ups already but the rest of the stuff is a while off.  Currently I'm just doing some super easy weightless motions or exercises with 1 to 2 lb wights or light rubber bands.  I am improving but I would rate my current fitness/ability with these as active grandma.  I'm hoping to get them to exceptional grandma but the middle of next week but we'll just have to see.

  The two things I see as most critical in this comeback are first the start.  I need to get out in front on some of this before I take a running stride to build the proper environment in my body for running.  Second will be the early stretch when I'm building up from zero running to about 4 miles.  If I can do good work in that stretch so that the running I'm doing is an extension of the good body work I'm doing I think I'll really be able to hit the ground running come October and I think I'll improve much quicker as I'll be firing on all cylinders and not be in a situation where my body is fighting itself.

  So that is where I am and where I'm going in terms of mechanical motion and standing on my own two feet.  I hope your ahead of me in both categories at the moment.

Monday, May 21, 2018

The Three Types of Specific Workouts : what I was thinking about on the bike today

    40mins and 15 "miles" on the bike today.  I am still using zero resistance and just spinning about as fast I can, around 240 to 250 rpm. My heart rate didn't quite get up to 110 bpm but I did sweat a little bit which was nice.  It also just feels so great to move a bit even if I am just in my basement cranking away like a lab rat.

  While I was on the bike I was thinking about how at its simplest form there are only three types of race specific workouts.  Meaning workouts designed to prepare you for a specific race distance and time.  Certainly there are many other types of workouts designed to make internal changes to the bodies physiology that will result in better racing capabilities but in terms of that last part of the puzzle you really have three options. 

  Option 1 is to run the distance and try to run it faster each time you repeat the workout.  IE today I ran 5k in 16:00.  I want to run it in 15:00.  So in a week or so I will run it again and try to run a little faster than 16:00.  I personally find this kind of workout very hard to improve on.  In fact I essentially don't do anything like this anymore.  I tend to increase distance at the same pace then when I have managed to go further at the same pace I come back down in distance and then increase the pace.  So if I had run the 5k in 16:00 I would go and run 6k in 19:12 and 7k in 22:24 and so on until I had run 8 or 10k at 3:12 a kilometer and then I would come back to the 5k and try and run 3 to 5 seconds per K faster.   Still for myself and I'm sure many others this was the first type of workouts I attempted and it seemed the most obvious plan to get better.   It just didn't work as well as it seemed it should. 

 Option 2 is to run the pace you want to run and try to increase the distance in an attempt to build up to the desired race distance.  With the same goal of 15:00 let us say we can run a mile in 4:48.  So in a week or two we try to run 2k in 6:00 then 2400 in 7:12 and so on.  This generally works really well for me in tempo workouts.  IE lactate threshold pace and slower.  Sometimes I hit a wall and have to do some other workouts to  make a jump in fitness but very often I can make a lot of progress with this approach.  I have much less success with this approach in the more lactic acid limited distances and paces.  So If I am trying to run that 15:00 5k this type of workout quickly becomes a no improvement game. 

 Options 3 is the interval option.  At it's simplest level the specific interval workout involves running something close to the total volume of the goal race at about the goal race pace.  This is the most common type of workout in running.  The results vary greatly but when this is done correctly they can be quite profound.   I think the greatest key to real success is that you should be reducing the rest and extending the distance of the intervals no increase the pace.  So if the goal is that 5k in 15minutes and you can do 25x200m in 36 with 100 jog rests the goal should be to do 300's in 54 then 400's in 72 and so on always with the short rest.  OR if you can do 3x mile in 4:48 but you need 5mins rest.  To continue to do the 3xmile at 4:48 but each time try to reduce the rest until you can manage the workout with only a short jog rest.   Most likely you use some combination of these two.

  The biggest mistake I have made in intervals in my time as a runner and probably the most common mistake I see in runners workouts is to try and do the workouts faster.  I am talking about specific workouts here.  An example.  My senior year in high school I entered spring track with a 9:57 2 mile personal best.  I desperately wanted to be a sub 9:00 2 miler.   Very early in the season I did a workout of 8x400m at around 68 seconds with a 400 meter walk/jog break.   Now we can discuss the over ambitiousness of the goal another time and certianly if I was coaching myself in the same spot now I would have pushed for a goal time of no faster than 9:20 for that season but I digress.   On that day I did 3200m of work in just about 9:04.  I repeated this workout with similar rest a handful of times over the spring, sometimes the rest would be standing while a teammate ran a hard 400 as we did them relay style.  Sometimes I would walk or slowly jog the 400.  By the end of the season my last hard workout I ran 8x400 and averaged just over 60 seconds.  To this day that is the fastest set of 400's I have ever done.  My flat out PB is 58.8.  So 3200m of work in right about 8:00.  That is an improvement of 1:04 for 3200 meters.  In other words that was the exact amount of improvement I was looking for to become a sub 9:00 two miler.  However I only lowered my 2 mile race best to 9:47.  An improvement of 10 seconds. 

  What had happened?  I had taught myself to get very good at intervals.  I was recovering better and better between very hard efforts.  So that I could improve the quality of those efforts.  However I was not getting much better at running the specific pace I wished to hold for 2 miles without any breaks.  To be clear no single type of training was going to get me under 9:00 that spring.  That was out of my reach at that time but I am certain given the extreme improvement of my intervals that spring that I could have run in the 9:20's.  If I had set out to run my 2 mile workouts at the same pace, 68 to 70 seconds but reduced the rest each time out until I was doing a 100m jog.  I could also have increase the distance and perhaps done something like 4x800 with 200 jog rests at the same pace.  This would take similar or less improvement as I showed in the intervals I did but would have provided the type of improvement I needed to race better.  I have done workouts like 4x800 with 200 jog and 8x400 with 100m jog many times in the years since and I never fail to race within a few seconds of the total time of those intervals.

  Anyway that is what was rolling through my head as I spun away today.  Nothing new, nothing shocking but good thoughts all the same.  

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Cross Training Begins

  The cheap spin bike I bought for my comeback, came in yesterday and I put it together last night.  Normally it would have been very quick to assemble but on crutches EVERYTHING takes me longer to do.  Melissa dragged the box to the back room of the basement where we wanted the bike and helped me get it out of the box and then I sat in a chair and put it together.    Since it took a while I only rode it for a couple minutes last night.  I have been riding for 5 minutes at the physical therapist but that is literally the only aerobic exercise I have done since surgery on April 13. 

  This morning I did 30 minutes on the bike and covered "10 miles."  I have very little faith in the little computer on this cheapo bike but it gives  me something to compare session to session.  The effort on this was very light.  At this point I can't have any resistance so I'm limited on how hard it I can go.  Still it was amazing to actually do a bit of exercise. 

The view

  Moving forward from this point I am pretty much a cyclist for the next couple of weeks and then I'll be able to start on the Elliptigo.  Also around that time I can also start adding some resistance on the bike which will enable me to do hard efforts and even some workout simulations.  For today I am just stoked to take a big step towards actual exercise. 

  Cross Training day 1 complete.  30 minutes on the stationary bike with no resistance.  The effort was light but I don't think I have ever enjoyed a stationary bike so much in all my life. 


Friday, May 18, 2018

Operation Return to Sub 15

 I had surgery April 13th.  I will remain on crutches 100% of the time until the end of May.  I am cleared to start cross training on the stationary bike next week.  The elliptical a couple weeks after that.  If all goes to plan I can do my first run, 1 minute, on August 13th.  Melissa's due date is September 11 and I am supposed to be able to be doing a reasonable amount of running starting October 13.  That will leave me a very short time after a very long lay off to try and run a sub 15 5k.  Now indoor track races are available in the northeast in December but generally a 5k is tough to come by in the last couple of weeks of that month though I may be able to find something in one or both of those last two weeks.

  I have already written out plans for both my build up from one minute of jogging to actual training and from that actual training start to the end of the year.  I will embed those training plans below.  They look very specific and detailed but I am very good at viewing training plans as written in  pencil and can guarantee many changes will be made in the coming months.

  In terms of cross training I haven't done anything so formal for a few reasons.  The first is the unknown aspect of it.  I don't know what kind of fitness I have after a month on my ass.  I am not in charge of the types of training I am allowed to do.  I don't fully understand the limitations that have been set out in my rehab plan and so some things I need to try a little and others I need to clear with my P.T. and/or my doctor.   The first type of training I am cleared to do is the bike.  Currently only with no resistance but that is soon to change.  It was also made pretty clear that a fall on a bike would be an absolute no go.  So I purchased a cheap spin bike.  Additionally we already have an Eliptigo with a trainer that I will be able to start using a few weeks after that and we have a concept 2 rower, which I'm unclear when I'll be able to start using but given that it is a smooth motion I'm sure it will be before I'm allowed to run.  Finally our treadmill goes to 15% incline so I may do some walking on that.  That last one I have not run by my medical team so we'll see when/if that gets worked in.

                                           My first partner in my long slow return to fitness.

  My hope during the cross training phase is first to get my weight down.  After 6 months of jogging about 4 miles a day and followed by a month plus lay off I'm coming in at around 185 lbs which is close to the heaviest I've ever been.  If I can go into running training particularly the more serious part in October at something close to 170 lbs it is going to be a lot easier to make gains and stay healthy.  I also want to help my transition to running by simulating all types of workouts on these cross training devices so that as I transition to running the only new impetus will be the pounding.  Which should make the transition to training much less risky and a lot quicker.

                                      Mine doesn't say Atlanta Track Club but it is red so...

                                    This bad larry will likely be the final piece of my cross training.

  On August 13th, if all goes to schedule, I will be going for my first run. This is the schedule I have set up.

  As you can see the majority of my fitness at this time will be coming from cross training.  I don't get too specific about what types of workouts I'll be doing but basically I'll be doing a mix of hard 30s to 2 minute intervals for VO2 max, hard 20 to 30 minute tempo runs, progression workouts, and if I can find a way to get the effort right harder efforts of around an hour to simulate aerobic threshold running.   I have no doubt I'll end up making adjustments to the majority of the runs just because so much of the early running is listening to your body and building, as well as stepping back, as it dictates but I'm pretty hopeful that I'll be able to end up on point by the end of the 8 weeks.

  After this initial build up my plan is to do a well balanced training plan based on the principles laid out in Joe Vigil's book "Road to the Top"  I won't be in a place to do the workouts as laid out in the book.  I will however be able to put together a plan that is based on his basic structure of running sub maximal mile and 1k repeats steadily building those into VO2 max workouts, running LT tempo's, aerobic threshold medium long runs and doing a good bit of basic speed work in each micro cycle.

As you can see the volume is very low by my standards and stays low.  There is a lot of quality running but much of it is easier than it might look.  There are certainly some points where the workouts make a jump in what it takes to finish them and I don't know if I'll be able to make that jump at that point.  First that is always a bit of an unknown but second I'm 38 and there is a good chance I'm not going to progress in the way that I have in the past. 
Something else that I'm not able to plan for is my cross training.  I will basically be rehabbing for at least a year.  Physical Therapy will obviously be done before then but you don't just get chopped up and end up back at 100% in months.  It will be a long slow process and I'm not sure how much that cross training will be taking out of me but I will need to prioritize it over the running training and so if the choice is to cut back on the running or the cross training I will have to cut back on the running.

  Finally we have a baby scheduled to arrive in early September so I'm planning this build up during a time of extreme change and most likely sleep deprivation which will certainly mandate some changes.

  Either way after 6 months of only light jogging and 5 weeks of being epic-ly sedentary I am full on PUMPED to do any sort of exercise.  The thought of being able to go for a half hour on a stationary bike or just take the dog for a real walk is thrilling to me at this moment. Right now I do about 10 minutes of VERY easy pt exercises two or three times a day and it is a real highlight.  I am not a person who is comfortable sitting and doing non-physical things too much.  Don't get me wrong a little scroll through facebook at the end of a long day can be nice and relaxing but when it is your main activity for the day it is not super fulfilling.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Evolution of the Blog

  I started blogging my training back in or around 2003 on a friend's website.  Over the years I continued on, and here on blogger.  The first three websites are all now defunct. I'm not promising blogger is doomed but just don't say I didn't warn you.  Through each of these sites my basic blog didn't change much.  It has always been pretty much just a training log.  In the age of strava this type of blogging is to my mind largely obsolete.  As such and during a time when I have been injured with little or nothing to report in the way of my training I have gone back and forth on how to or whether to continue this blog in some form or another.

  My thought process has been that at my core I am not comfortable with the general social media self promotion style that is standard fare in our current culture.  To be clear I don't dislike it for other people.  I just don't like it for me.  I don't run with a cell phone.  I've snapped maybe one selfie in my life and it was to capture whatever I was standing in front of.  It's not that I'm a private person or that I'm against self promotion. I am neither.  It just isn't my way of expressing myself.  Additionally I have almost certainly left my best running behind me.  I will be 38 years old before I do any real runs.  I have thoroughly documented my struggles with the coordination in my right leg and even if this latest surgery has fixed that problem, which is unlikely, I would be a bit old for a full on comeback.  Additionally I have a wife, a mortgage and very soon a son.   At this point I'm a middle school math teacher with a running problem, not the full on road warrior that I once was.

  Despite these reservations I can't shake the feeling that I still had something to add to the conversation around running.  A feeling that I could add a type of content that would be worth reading and that I felt could provide something that isn't necessarily missing from what is available currently but something that could add some depth to what is available.  Specifically I have enjoyed writing about specific training plans and workout types and how they can be used to make yourself the best you can.  Additionally I like the idea of still providing a personal story that isn't necessarily focused on the attempt to make a U.S. team but instead is focused on a more short term story.  Additionally to try and keep up with the times I would like to focus less on the specifics of my training, while still having those available via strava, and more on how I am planning, implementing, enjoying and not enjoying the process of that training.

  There are, for me, a handful of unknowns when it comes to this plan. Will I have the time to produce a blog.  Life is pretty busy and I waste more time than the average person. Additionally with a baby coming it is probably a lot to ask just do some training never mind to write about it.  I also don't know if there is an audience for it.  Beyond my personal issues I am also aware I'll never win any prizes for my prose and I'm not sure how interested people are in a person like myself with less lofty goals. Still I have always felt I got more out of doing a blog than I put in and so I think I should at least give it a try.

  So what are my "less lofty" goals.   Long term I would still love a return to the marathon however that would be entirely depended on the coordination if by some miracle this last surgery has fixed that issue then in fairly short order I would turn my head in that direction.  Regardless of that I simply love to run, race and train.  I have never been the type to quit at my best.  I honestly don't even understand the desire to do so.  Even as a kid I couldn't understand why there was so much pressure for the best to quit "at the top of their game."  To me it seemed much more interesting to see how long they could continue to be good enough to compete, good enough to be on a team or qualify for a given level.  I still think it would be more awesome to see some superstar stick it out and still be playing in the pro's at 50 then see another one walk away at the top of their game.  Luckily in running, like golf, we have the structure for people like me.  So I am certainly eyeing my entry into masters running on whatever level and distance my body will allow.

  Short term I am first and foremost trying to come back from this surgery and return to a reasonable amount of running, training and racing.  What exactly that will be I'm not sure but generally speaking I want to be able to run daily, I want to be able to do workouts and I want to be able to race.   As an extension of that return I have run at least one sub 15 minute 5k in a race every year since I ran my first in 2003.  I would really like to continue this streak.  It will be quite tough to do so as I did not run one this year before surgery.

  Along the way I would like to blog a few times each week with a mix of reports on how my training is going and how I'm handling the process, explanations of how I'm going to change and adjust my training plans in response to how it is going and more general blogs on running and training.

  If there is anything you would particularly like me to cover please leave a comment and let me know.