Monday, April 23, 2012

Running A Cookie Dash with a Gimpy Leg

Race day finally arrived. Even though I was hurt and knew there was almost no chance of me being healed enough to run in time I went ahead and drove to the race. I picked up my race number and shirt, and warmed up to run.

Calf sleeve
I wore a calf sleeve for this race. It puts pressure on the calf muscle and also keeps it warm. Somehow all of this helps keep it from hurting. Last time I wore it it gave me a heat rash, so clearly it works in the warmth department.
Because I was anticipating pulling my calf and having to drop out I stood at the very back of the pack for the start of the race. I was even behind old ladies who were only planning to walk and mothers with strollers. I couldn't even hear the race start, I was so far back. I think it took a good 3 minutes for me to reach the starting line and cross it. It sure seemed like it. I was at the VERY back, get it?

For the first half mile I was weaving between old women who were walking from the start while trying to focus on my calf and 'listen' for any sign of pain. I had to fight to resist the urge to get up on my toes and speed up. It didn't help that the first mile of the race is all uphill. I like to get way up on my toes and pick up my knees for hill climbing, but in this case that just wasn't an option.

Wooo! You go, girl!
The Cookie Dash is a strange race. There is a lot of overlapping of the course, so that the leaders run back past the rest of the pack several times. The course involves running through a neighborhood where each street ends with a cul-de-sac. The race takes advantage of that and simply has you run on the right side, around each circle, and back down the road the opposite way again. Because of this, I observed the young, thin, very competitive leaders blasting by, with the first 2 guys clearly only concerned with what each other was doing as no one else was even close to catching them. The first female was about 5 or 6 guys back, I suppose. She was blonde-haired, blue-eyed and pretty. We all cheered for her, mostly because she was good-looking. Whatever. A cheer is a cheer. We felt enthusiastic about her and so we expressed it with cheers. I suppose sporting events are the only time that it's considered OK for guys to scream "wooo" at good-looking women like that and have it considered a fully positive thing.

I managed to climb that entire hill of the first mile without pain. I was surprised. I don't mean to be negative, but let's be serious here, my blog is "OMG FML" so clearly there is an element of the negative here. I was fully expecting my calf to blow out right at the start.

I can't tell you how difficult it is to slow down in a race on purpose. I not only had to monitor my breathing and try to hold a steady pace, but also monitor my calf muscle for pain and constantly fight the urge to go faster.

The first mile time they called out at me was 11:33. That's pretty awful, but considering that lately I have averaged 10 minute miles it is better than I expected. And yes, I'm aware that 10 minute miles is awful, too. I used to run an entire 5K in around 18 minutes. That was a long time ago, back when I was skinny and actually trying to gain weight (muscle). Now I'm fat and trying not to roll like a bowling ball down the race course from being so fat. I'm the guy other runners see pass them and think to themselves "oh hell no, I'm not losing to THAT guy." I inspire people to speed up. It's not glamorous, but somebody has to do it.

Every time the group circled back and I had an opportunity to see the runners ahead of me passing back in the opposite direction I looked for the guy who first challenged me to run this race. It was 2 or 3 years ago and I was shocked when I actually beat him in this race. He runs all the time, bragging happily about how many miles per week he runs. He'll run 6 days a week, averaging 5 or 6 miles at a time with each run, and then show up early for every race. I ran about 3 times prior to last year's Cotton Row and averaged about 3 miles per run. I'm just not into it like I used to be. Running alone doesn't do it for me. I need a team. When I ran with a team I was into it. By myself running in the dark along my neighborhood streets I'd just rather be home watching TV or in a gym lifting weights. With a gym, if you establish a habit and always go at the same time, unless you go to a snobby gym, you will eventually make friends there and no longer feel as if you're exercising alone. With running, unless you find a group to run with, you'll always run alone.

Getting back to the guy who challenged me to run this race, I did not see him at all during the first mile. I actually began to wonder if he had missed the race for some reason. All week prior to the race he had been emailing me giving me a hard time about the probability that my injury was going to keep me from running. Now here I was running the race, injury and all, and he was nowhere to be found.

On the 2nd mile, as the pack turned around in another cul-de-sac, I finally saw my friend. He was wearing an olive-drab green shirt and plodding along without much appearance of enthusiasm. He was the same distance ahead of me that he likely was when the race began. He always gets as close to the front of the pack at the starting line as he can. I always start at the back. We end up starting with him well ahead of me before I ever get across the starting line because of this.

When I saw him the thought of speeding up to try to beat him briefly flashed across my mind. I had to remind myself that this was a 'test' race for me, a sort of rehab event and that the worst possible thing I could do would be to speed up and reinjure my calf in the process, forcing me to drop out and increasing the likelihood that I would still be hurt by the time the next race I'm signed up for comes around - the Cotton Row. So I noted that my friend was running and then tried to put it out of my mind and focus on my pace and my injury. "Don't go after him," I reminded myself over and over.

During the 2nd mile I couldn't help but notice that I seemed to have gained a little on my friend. Shortly after, though, it appeared as if he had pulled away and was back to the original distance ahead of me as before. I tried to use that to tell myself that chasing after him was a stupid idea and would only get me hurt. I was, after all, running more or less flat-footed in order to keep the pressure off my calf. Flat-footed running is not conducive to speed and catching other runners. It's what fat people, old people, and injured people do and I was running that way for a reason. "Don't go after him."

Run Rabbit Run!
On the third mile I saw a rabbit and was thoroughly distracted by it. I figured I was entitled to focus on the rabbit since I was basically treating this race as a rehab exercise and not trying at all. The rabbit was clearly confused. He was in the yard of a house that sat on a corner lot, with the race course running by the front yard and then turning and going around past the backyard. The rabbit was trying to figure out a place to run to that would take it away from the herd of running humans. It ran to the back, saw people, turned around and sprinted to the front, saw more people, and did NASCAR-style circles around the front yard before shooting back into the backyard like a bolt of lightning and disappearing. The rabbit's amazing speed simply served to remind me of how embarrassingly slow I was running. But at least it was a nice distraction for the third mile when fatigue/boredom was really setting in. After turning the corner past the rabbit's house, I saw my friend up ahead of me. He seemed to be plodding along without enthusiasm and was clearly not as far ahead of me as he had previously been. My 2nd mile time was about 30 seconds faster than my first mile time, but I assumed that was because the first mile was almost all uphill and the 2nd involved more downhill running. Surely that couldn't close the gap between us because he was running just as many downhills as I was. Whatever the case, I was catching him without meaning to.

With the third mile nearly done, it became apparent that I was going to catch my friend. I began to think about what I should do. If I got directly behind him and slowed down until the end, I could surprise him and pass at the finish line. He wouldn't have a chance to react because he wouldn't know I was there. But that would require me to sprint. If there was a sure way to blow out my calf and reinjure it, sprinting in an effort to beat my friend, while slowing down in the meantime and ending up with a worse overall time than I otherwise would have was it. I had been reminding myself all race long that going after him was a stupid idea and now I was considering the stupidest idea of all, sprinting at the end just so I could beat him at the cost of hurting myself.

I plodded up to him. I had my head down and was focusing on my pace and my calf. I didn't look at him. I was adopting the old childhood "if I can't see you then you can't see me" strategy in my attempt to sneak by.
I did pick up the pace a little bit simply because the finish line isn't far beyond the 3 mile mark and the race was nearly over. I hoped that my friend was as tired as he appeared to be and didn't have any gas left to speed up after me with. That's when some fool came sprinting up to me and quickly slowed down just before passing me, hanging back just out of my sight and drafting me. It wasn't hard to guess who that was.

At the final stretch, with about 100 yards to go, my green-shirted friend stomped into a flat-footed sprint and blasted by me, running like a man chasing his 4-year-old who is about to walk out into traffic. His form wasn't exactly textbook for sprinting, or much of anything else, but he was winning anyway. I fought the urge to sprint after him. I knew if my calf held up I could catch him and win. But I also knew that the odds of my calf holding up were slim to none and limping across the finish line, having NOT beat him because I got hurt, would be a hugely idiotic mistake. I put my head down and continued to hold my plodding pace all the way to the finish. He had beat me by mere seconds.

But I had finished the race without aggravating my nagging calf injury when I hadn't even expected to be able to finish the first mile and that was a small and important victory for me. It was all I came here to do and I had done it.

After the race I went and found him and we watched the rest of the runners come across the line. We never directly discussed our little competition on the last stretch. I was surprised by that. I fully expected him to give me hell for losing to him. And all the while I was thinking to myself, "I was injured and only half-trying and still I could have beaten you. I'll cream you next time!"

Next time!
One thing I discovered after the race was over is that our race bibs/numbers have no computer chips in them. There is no tracking of 'actual' times for this race the way there is in larger races. My published time was not adjusted to allow for the fact that I started from the parking lot behind the old ladies and the moms with strollers and didn't cross the actual starting line to begin racing until the race was well underway. I don't remember my published race time. I only saw it briefly on a prinout taped to a building as I was walking towards my car to leave. It was 33:something. It was awful. It was epic awful. So if you are ever planning to run the Cookie Dash 5K you might want to keep that in mind and not start way back in the pack like I did if you care at all about your final time. On the other hand, if you're running injured and using the race as a test of your injury and nothing more, don't worry about it.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Calf Testing Under the Light of the Full Moon

Last night I came home from work totally exhausted. It's a gym night. Time to get back to running or ellipticalling or whatever my calf was going to let me do. I didn't feel like it, but I have a race coming up so skipping wasn't a good idea.

My car is in the shop, so I dug out the keys to an old car that mostly just sits in my driveway and lets the battery go dead and I took that. It felt weird to drive this old car. Also, wasps repeatedly build nests all over and in this car every single year. One time they managed to find a way inside one of the rear doors and build a nest inside there. This year alone I have found wasp nests on the hood latch, inside the gas cap door, in a fenderwell, and under the rear bumper. Those are just the ones I found. I know there are others. So I'm driving along in this funky old car trying to think about my workout, but totally paranoid that wasps are going to come swarming around my head and attack me at any moment.

What do you do in a situation like that? Do you drive extra fast in hopes that if you get to the gym quickly enough the wasps won't have a chance to get you? Or do you drive slow and careful, so that if they do swarm your head you don't wreck and wind up paralyzed in a ditch with wasps stinging you over and over again and you unable to do anything about it?

I drove in a state of massive paranoia. A May fly was in the car bouncing off my windshield and floating around my head. I was convinced that if I killed the May fly then the wasps would come for me as some sort of insect vengeance force or something. So I left it alone.

I got to the gym and parked right up next to an SUV that some inconsiderate person had left parked crooked in their space, so that their rear end was in the space next to it. I think there may have been an inch or two of space between us. Hey, my car is old and has wasps. If you don't care about yours, I'm not going to worry about it. I'm totally in my space.

I walked up to the door. That's when I realized, the key fob that lets me in my gym is on the key ring for my other car, which is in the shop. I can't get in.

I thought about beating on the door and trying to get someone to let me in. Everyone hates that when people do that. I decided against it. So I got back in the waspmobile and drove home again.

It was a full moon. I live on a long street with a slope to it. Hell, why not just walk up and down the street under the light of the moon and see if my calf is up for a jog? We have no street lights where we live so without the full moon it is just pitch black out there. Also, we have coyotes and bobcats and packs of stray dogs belonging to a neighbor no one likes because he won't put them up and so they roam the neighborhood fighting with everyone else's dog.

I walked down to the end of my street, at the bottom of the slope, then I turned around and jogged back up again. My breathing wasn't good. This shouldn't be that much work.

I walked down to the bottom again. I jogged back up again, faster this time. I felt better and I had a slight sweat going.

My calf felt tight, but didn't hurt. It felt like it was tensing up to protect itself. That concerned me. What happens when it loosens up finally? I won't know if it is OK to run on until it does.

I walked back down to the bottom of the road again. I started running back up the slope. I was thinking about possibly getting up on my toes and doing a semi-sprint just to see how all my muscles felt. Ah, but that takes a good bit of energy and I'm still trying to test out this calf.

Ping! My calf muscle sent me a message, encoded in the form of pain. I limped back to a walk again. It's still hurt. Hopefully this was just a warning and nothing is reinjured.

I walk-limped up the street and back to my house, using my injured calf as little as possible. The moon had gone behind some dark clouds. It was as if my calf was fine as long as there was a full moon, but once it was gone I was a wreck.

I carefully stretched, not really needing to considering I had probably run a grand total of a mile, or maybe three quarters of a mile. I showered and then sat down on the bed with ice on my calf and watched TV.

Not an epic workout, by any means. But I have a race in 2 weeks. I'm still planning to run that race. My calf isn't really bothering me today, which is a good sign. Next week I'll make sure I have my key fob to get into my gym and I'll stick to the ellipticals. One more week taking it easy on this calf and I should be good to go.

And by the way, Happy Easter!

Jesus tops Easter Bunny by dying full moon and rising from death

Now go to church, you heathens.