Thursday, June 13, 2013

Running on Empty

I ran all the time as a kid -- on the baseball diamond, the football field (which were the same patches of grass at the school next to my house), the street hockey rink (?), at recess. But it wasn't until I was in college that the thought occurred to me of running for no other reason than to stay fit.

Even then, I didn't stick with it. I would run occasionally during the summer, and lift some weights and do push-ups and sit-ups, but I never stuck with it during those years.

I always wanted to be one of those people who ran year-round, no matter what the weather, or how sick or hungover I was. I wanted to have those tight calves and the lung capacity of a horse.

After college, I hiked, went on walks or rode my mountain bike every so often, but I didn't run for many years. After I got married I did a little bit of running, but then in April 1998, seven months after my wedding, I ruptured my Achilles tendon.

Six months after undergoing surgery and rehab, I decided to try running again, but I decided to commit myself to it a little more. The first time I went out, I barely made it half a mile before I had to stop for fear my lungs were going to expel themselves out of the top of my head.

I kept at it, and before too long I was regularly going a few miles, a few times a week. I even had favorite running gear for the colder days: a white sweatshirt that my Uncle George had given me as a Secret Santa gift a few years before. It said "Be alert. The world needs more lerts" on it. I wore it inside-out.

I can't say I ran regularly through the winter, but I definitely stuck with it, on and off, for the longest I'd ever done it. In 2000, Beth and I bought our first house, in Boston's West Roxbury neighborhood, and I continued to run.

In April 2001, I ran my first road race, a 10K in Dedham, Mass., called the James Joyce Ramble. I ran with my buddy Dave, a seasoned runner. Along the course at random points, there were kids doing Irish step dancing, and people dressed in period costumes reading from James Joyce books. It was a great time. After the race, Dave took care of me, fetching me a beer and a donut.

I became enamored of running and doing races. I ran a few 5K's, and then decided to try a half marathon, slated for October 2002.

I ramped up my runs through the late summer and into the fall, and felt good. I knew I should do some sort of cross training or strength training, but I didn't. I finished the half marathon in just under two hours, which I was excited about.

I ran that same race, the BAA Half Marathon, the next two years, and did pretty well. I ran the Ramble and other, shorter races in the next few years.

In 2005, when I turned 40, I decided I'd had enough of the softball I'd been playing for a few years, and give baseball a shot. I'd played Little League and Babe Ruth for seven years, and really missed hardball action.

I played for four years and had a great time, but I managed to injure something each year. The first year it was my groin/abductor muscles. Over those few years I also had hamstring, quad and more groin issues.

I did some physical therapy after the first injury, and strength training on my own at the YMCA off and on during those years. I continued to run on a somewhat regular basis.

I stopped playing baseball in 2009 because it was taking too much time from my family on Sundays in the summer. I got into a more regular running groove, and decided that, after several years off, I would run another half marathon.

I heard about a new race, the Chilly Half Marathon, being run right in my town, Newton, in November. I decided to train for it.

Once again, I had little problem extending my runs. I got up to between 11 and 12 miles a few weeks before the race, then tapered off. I thought about strength training, but didn't do it.

My first Chilly went very well. The weather was cool and I ran a pretty good time, somewhere right around two hours, although I don't remember if it was just under or just over.

In 2011 I decided to run the race again. And once again I blew off any kind of cross training and strength work. The training went pretty well, although I began to feel the miles in my left quad.

I finished the race but was pretty sore and stiff by the end. The pain and discomfort lingered for a few weeks, so I took a break from running. In addition to my quad, I was feeling pain in my groin and weakness just above my left knee.

I found myself wishing that I'd done some strength training.

Over the next several months I alternated between resting or going for walks, and testing things out by going for runs of two or three miles. There were times when I didn't feel much, if any, pain during and after a run, and I was encouraged. Other times, however, I made it only a mile or so before I had to walk, with a bit of a limp.

Finally, last fall I went to my primary care doctor for a physical, which I was overdue for anyway. He said I was in good health, but that my running career was probably over.

I decided I needed a more informed opinion, so I contacted a sports medicine practice. The orthopedist didn't see anything in my x-ray, so he prescribed six weeks of physical therapy.

The therapist theorized that I had a hip condition, although my groin was giving me the most trouble. After six weeks, I realized that not only was my groin not improving, but my hip and back were feeling worse.

Back to the orthopedist, who said I needed to get an MRI. Two weeks after I did so, I returned to his office and he told me I had a tear in my left hip labrum, and that he was sending me to a surgeon.

That guy took a look at the MRI, concurred with the torn labrum, and gave me the low-down on surgery and recovery. Unfortunately, I'll be on crutches up to six weeks after the July 25th surgery. And then I'll need more PT. When I asked the doctor if I'd be able to return to running at some point, he said, "If you were an elite 48-year-old runner, I'd say yes. For the rest of us, however, we need to do something new."

I've been walking two or three times a week for a while now, and while I have some discomfort afterwards, it's manageable. So walking is a post-surgery option. But I don't get enough of a cardiac workout doing that. Swimming seems like a good option, but I know it'll take a long time to build up to a point where I don't hate it.

Biking? I'll have to talk to the doctor and therapist about it.

If you've made it this far, congratulations. Here's a Jackson Browne song that I don't like that much, but which is sorta appropriate: