|RICE: Rest, Ice, Compress, Elevate|
The thing that's most aggravating is that I've made this mistake before. Last year, while training the Flying Pig Marathon, I got it into my head that I was so much stronger than I had been the year previous, I no longer needed the Run, Walk, Run method helped me to finish my first marathon in Pittsburgh. A few weeks into my training, I started feeling aches and pains I wasn't used to. I immediately resumed the old intervals, and the pains went away. Well this year, when I started my 2014 reboot, I made the same stupid decision. I was going to train to run a PR in next year's Horse Capital Marathon. I had 15 months to get there, and I was going to run the whole way. So far, my longest training run has been only 4 miles, but my left knee finally let me know just how much that ambition could cost me.
It's ironic that a bone-headed macho stunt would bring me down. I'm about the least macho man you'll ever meet. A beautiful wife and mother who is a dear friend once complained about my driving saying, "You know, you're about 50% woman." Another recently told me tenderly, "I think you are much sweeter than I am." So parading manly prowess has never been my strong suit. On the other hand, ego has been my stumbling block, and my most unattractive personality trait since I was a fourth grader, singing in the youth choir in church. And it was pure ego that made me think I should be running at the same level as people a third my age, or with five times my experience. It's finally sinking in... the back of the pack is where I belong.
I knew that. And I really thought I was OK with it. But something made me want more this time. And the result was a big, frosty serving of RICE. That's the acronym for runners who get stupid. It stands for
Ironically, the first time I noticed anything peculiar, I was in the pool, the last place in the world you would expect to have knee trouble. I was climbing out of the water on the ladder when I felt a little click, like a rubber band snapping back into place. Now, I have taken pretty strenuous water fitness classes, but mine is not one of them. We do some strength exercises, about 15 minutes of cardio, a 10 minute free-swim, then about 20 minutes of core, cool down, and flexibility training. Nobody ever comes out of there feeling like they've had their butt kicked. It's just not that kind of class. So I did what every idiot does when his body gives him a warning sign. I ignored it.
My long run that weekend was 4 miles, and it felt, well, OK. The knee complained a little, but didn't really pain me. I took some Tylenol when I got home, and didn't think about it again. I noticed it was making crackling noises when I stood up and was a little stiff if I sat in a chair for a long time to write, but again... I ignored it. Until that Monday, running with the kids at the Y.
First mistake: I skipped my recovery day. I don't remember why, but I did my weekend run on Sunday instead of Saturday. Maybe the weather. Maybe a long night on Friday. Whatever the reason, I wound up running two days in a row, breaking one of my cardinal training rules. I never run on back to back days. I just don't. And I wasn't ten steps into the run that evening when I realized I was not ready for two miles with the kids.
Three times a week, I am on the trail with a group of kids, 9-13 year olds, in a program at the Y called Run This Town. We started in late March, and will finish the spring with a 10K race in May. It's a great program that involves running, good conversation, and mentoring for a diverse bunch of kids. Some of them are highly motivated. some have learning disabilities. One or two run like they're being punished. And right around the one mile turn, I found myself right beside one of the most profoundly unmotivated boys in the group.
He's a fast kid. Plays sports at school. Loads of potential. Zero desire. His mom has been dragging him out for a couple years. And he runs, walks, or just dawdles along like he hates every minute on the trail. For some reason, at the half-way point on this day, he decided he was going to run. And I decided I would run with him. I slipped just ahead of him. My thinking was that being passed by a fat old man might tweak his pride enough to keep him going, and for a change it worked. I could hear his footsteps behind me the whole way. Every time he got closer, I would pick up my tempo a little. I knew that if I stopped to walk, he would stop and not run again. I also knew, from my long run the day before, that I could finish this mile at a good clip. No problem. And that's just what happened. I ran my fastest two miles so far this year. He cruised in right behind me. Still much slower than he could have run, but at least he kept running. I felt like I had really achieved something with him. Then I felt that little click again. And this time, it would not be ignored.
I stretched with the kids, then limped to the car. Climbed in with pain that told me something was really wrong. When I got home, the climb to my second floor apartment looked like a scene in a nursing home. I dug the blue ice packs out of the freezer, found a couple of elastic bandages in a box in the closet, wrapped up, and laid down on the couch to watch the Wildcats lose to the Huskies in the NCAA finals. A little RICE, a little wine, a little Tylenol. Everything would be fine.
I wore a brace for class the next day. Kept the leg up. Iced it frequently.It's been feeling a little better each day, but this morning, when I stood up out of the bed, it immediately made that little popping sound that told me everything was still not all right.
Four miles to run with the kids this morning. I suppose it would have been really sensible to take another day off. But skipping the long runs, especially a month from race day, can really set your training back. And I didn't want to disappoint the kids. To be honest, I'm probably overestimating how much the kids would miss me. But, I would really miss them. So I showered, pulled on the big black brace, slipped into my lucky racing shoes, and headed for the car with a pronounced 'hitch in my gittyup."
We had a good sized group of kids today. Eight of them had managed to get out of bed in time for our 8:00 run. 48°. Gorgeous blue Kentucky skies. Just a light breeze. Perfect running weather. Three adults and Scooby the Labradoodle rounded out the team. I assigned the other two mentors to groups by speed... one for the burners, and one for the middle of the pack gang. I would be running 30 seconds and walking 30 seconds, bringing up the rear. Off we went.
The weather was fantastic. Just enough people on the trail to feel like a community, without us having to duck and dodge other, faster runners and cyclists. I started out at a pathetic, halting jog, and wondered how in the world I was going to be able to keep this up the whole way. Maybe I'd bail at the one mile point. The first walk break was heavenly, and much too short. Up ahead, the middle of the pack were pulling away quickly, leaving me and three stragglers in their wake. By the crest of the first hill, I started to close in on the straggling group, and at a half mile I caught them. Two girls and a Mom. I was surprised to see Speedy. She's the youngest, but one of the stronger runners. She had stayed back with M who was having a rough day, and Mom had kept back with the two of them, not wanting to leave them behind. Once I caught up, Mom and Speedy felt better about setting a quicker pace, and M and I brought up the rear.
M is a smart kid. Scary smart. She's voracious reader, loves the books about Percy Jackson, who is much cooler than (blech) Harry Potter. She has a terrific vocabulary and a wise-ass attitude that probably gets her into trouble now and then. She usually walks more than runs, and it's hard to tell if she's having a rough time or just being stubborn. She's a pretty willful kid. I asked if she'd like to run my intervals with me, and she shook her head. Her stomach hurt today. She had oatmeal for breakfast, and put milk on it, which she was sure was a mistake. I decided not to tell her that that was exactly what I had eaten for breakfast. We poked along for a couple of tenths of a mile, then I had an idea.
"What if we walk fast for 30 seconds, then slow for 30?"
"I love to walk fast," she perked up. "Let's do it." So, off we went. The funny thing was, that second mile was only about half a minute slower than I had been going with my run walk run intervals. After we made the turn, we did both of the final miles faster then I had started. And my knee felt surprisingly good. When we started the final quarter mile, we agreed to turn off the timer, and just walk fast the rest of the way. And then something kind of unforgettable happened.
I was a little worried about two things. First, that parents would have taken the faster kids home already, and second, that the tangerines I had brought for a post-run snack would all be gone. As we rounded the turn, and the pavillion at the Y where we assemble came into sight, we saw a crowd of brightly dressed runners heading our way, led by a small, black dog. Scooby and the gang were running our way. All of them. They were hooting, clapping, and waving.
"What are they doing?" M asked.
"They're cheering you home," I answered, proud enough to bust. "We're a team."
Kids can be pretty mean. That's what they tell me, anyway. But these kids shouted M's name, gave her high fives, danced and jogged around her, and wouldn't you know it, the whole bunch of them, including my pokey partner sprinted the last 50 yards, leaving me laughing and limping to the finish.
When we got to the picnic table where the sign-out sheet was, there were two tangerines waiting for us.
Yeah, my knee could feel better. And yeah, I may wind up walking that 10K in May instead of running it. But right now, typing by my window with the sun beaming in and my leg wrapped in ice... I sure am happy that I didn't take the morning off. Somebody asked me a couple weeks ago, "So why do you do this program? What's the point?" Well that's the point. Seven kids, running up a hill, congratulating their friend because she didn't give up. Making sure she wouldn't have to finish alone or go without a drink of water and a piece of fruit after a rough workout. Nobody coached them to do that. That's just who they are.
They're my kids.
And they're pretty damn cool.
After stretches, we circle up in the pavillion. One of them crouches in the center, while the rest reach in and join hands for our closing cheer. It's one of the highlights of my week.
"Shoes on the ground... Run This Town!"