Friday, June 22, 2012

Triathlon that never was

Someone else's bike
So 2 weeks ago a friend and former track teammate from high school days asked me to join her in a sprint triathlon. I had mentioned several months ago that I was thinking about trying one out, so when this one came up she thought of me. I was flattered.

I was tempted.

My calves still aren't healed, so I said "I think I'll miss this one."

And then I began to think about the 2 out of 3 sections of the race that I haven't even tried in I-don't-know-how-long. I haven't been in the water in over a year. Haven't swam a single stroke. And I wasn't a strong swimmer anyway. And my road bike, the antique Italian once-up-a-time racing bike, was stashed somewhere in my tool shed with tools piled on it and a wheelbarrow pinning it to the wall. It has no kickstand, so technically the wheelbarrow was doing it a favor. But ask any true cyclist about that and they'll curse in Italian and tell you it's sacrilege.

The race day came and went. But it was on my mind the entire time. A sprint triathlon? I could do that. Swim 200 yards? I could do that. Bike 10 miles? I could do that. Run 3.1 miles? I just did that a few weeks ago. No problem.

Just to satisfy my curiosity, I went out to the toolshed on Tesday night and dug my old road bike out from its tomb of yard tools. The tires were not simply flat. They were squashed in the permanent shape of the concrete below. Even when I rolled the bike out, the flat spots on the tires remained right where they were, rolling around and around. The tires had a layer of dirt on them that seemed rather permanent as well. The whole thing had a layer of dust and dirt on it. And it didn't roll with the kind of ease that it should. Something or other needed oil.

The first thing I did was get out the tire pump and try to pump up the tired, old, flat, flaky tires and their innertubes. I don't know when I last installed new innertubes, so I was halfway expecting a small "boom" followed by the tires instantly going flat again as I pumped them up. It has happened to me before, when a bike has been left sitting for so long that the tires turn to dust and the innertubes lose all flexibility and become brittle. But the tubes held the air without explosion.

I rolled the bike around to the back porch and started spraying WD40 on everything. Something was dragging, but none of the brake pads appeared to be touching, so I didn't know for sure what was the source of the problem. I just sprayed everything. I'm sure some bike expert somewhere reading this is cursing me now and saying "WD40 isn't for oiling a racing bike, you idiot!" Well, it was what I had, so cut me some slack.

Once I was satisfied that the tires weren't going to exploded on their own and the chain was still intact and the wheels would turn, I got onto the bike, fumbled with the toe clips and peddled slowly down my long driveway. I was still anticipating a sudden blow-out from the tires, so I rolled along in a kind of 'ready position' just in case. Nothing exploded or fell off or broke, so I started peddling harder and headed out for a quick lap of my neighborhood.

The quick lap didn't last long before I headed out for a longer ride. I had JUST eaten supper, and I was quickly reminded of what effect milk and biscuits tend to have on me. This was never an issue when I was younger, but it is now. They bloat me up like a bullfrog, expanding my stomach to what feels like 10 times its normal size.

When I was younger, I didn't have a stomach, so having it blow up like a small raft wasn't an issue. It just didn't happen. Now that I'm a little older and my physique is considerably less sleek, a bloated stomach combined with being bent over the handlebars of a racing bike doesn't go together well. My knees come up and there's something in the way. Oh, it's me. I'm a bullfrog on a bicycle. Yay. So excited.

I tried to sit up taller to get my big bloated stomach out of the way of my knees as I peddled, but it was awkward. Anyway, I wanted to focus on the bike itself, and on how well it was holding up. It seemed to be doing OK.

More than I could say about myself.

I rode about a half mile down to a stop sign located at an intersection at the bottom of a hill where I like to run. I briefly considering riding the hill, but I had discovered on the ride up to the stop sign that I was no longer at all familiar with the gear shift levers of this bike. I had no clue what I was doing. So I shot a U-turn and headed back, consciously choosing to shift gears a lot just to refamiliarize myself with which lever did what and whether I wanted to shift up or down and what that did.

1 mile, maybe, was all I rode. That's all. It should have been nothing. 1 lousy mile at most. Not even close to the distance required for a sprint triathlon.

I put the bike away and walked inside the house, dripping with the sweat of the season here in the Southeastern Humid States of America. It's a tropical jungle here in summer. I showered off and stretched a little. I figured I'd ride again tomorrow night and go a little further.

Tomorrow came. And I was sore. SORE! From that tiny little ride. Oh, how far I have fallen.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Quit Calling Me

Dear Black Man Who Keeps Calling Me,

I can see your phone number on my caller ID. I know its you each and every time.

I tried to answer your calls, but you acted like you were too busy and too cool to care when I picked up. I could hear you screwing around being all "I don' even care" and all that. I said "hello?" two times. That's all you're going to get. You didn't respond after the 2nd "hello" so I hung up.

You have called me 10 times in the past hour alone. Don't you have a job or something to go to? I am at work. Why aren't you?

You finally left a message after the 10 calls. I could not comprehend what that sound you made into the machine was so I put it on the computer and had it try to translate. It came up with this:

"haygooit ..."

I guess you're drunk? Or does that mean something where you live?

If you were less concerned with acting cool and more concerned with actually communicating with the person on the other end of the phone line then you'd know by now that you're dialing a number that doesn't lead to anyone you know. The reason you don't know this by now, though, is that you're stupid. Stupid people are more concerned with acting cool than they are with effective communication, having a job, or much of anything else that doesn't help them look cool to other losers like themselves.

My phone has a volume control for the ringer. Just for you I set it to 0. Now you can call all you want. I won't hear you. Unfortunately, I won't hear anyone else's calls coming in either, but all the people I want to talk to are intelligent enough to know how to use an answering machine and leave a message which communicates with me who they are and what they want. I'll trust them to do this while I leave you to waste the day calling a wrong number and being all cool.

Cuz I know you don't even care, right? Sure, losers usually don't.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Gibson 5K and my calf injuries

Gibson Guitar 5K race
I signed up to run the Gibson 5K which is held down on Beale Street in Memphis, Tennessee. It was held last Saturday night at 7 pm.

Wednesday last week I drove to Fleet Feet on Poplar Avenue and picked up my race packet, which included my shirt, my race number, and the computer strip which records my official time as I start and finish the race.

I was pretty excited about this race. I don't know why. I've never run it before. I don't know anyone who has run it before. I never planned to sign up for it. I only recently even found out about it. I signed up on the spur of the moment. And I'm still rehabbing an injury from the Cotton Row race about 2 weeks ago.

Making matters worse, on Thursday I felt sick. Something was wrong with my stomach. I wanted to go home from work and sleep, but I couldn't afford to leave just then. Whenever I ate it didn't sit well. I never really felt hungry and when I ate I felt like I was overfull somehow, as if I just didn't have any room in my stomach for any food at all.

Friday I was still not feeling right. I had hoped to do a run on Thursday, just something short and easy, but I had to cancel that. Friday wasn't much better. I didn't even go for a walk.

Meanwhile, my calf problems have continued. All week long I could feel something bothering my left calf. It feels like something pressing into it just below the calf muscle and just above what I'd consider the ankle. It's just enough pressure that I wasn't terribly confident the muscle would make it through an entire 5K run.

Seriously, are you up for this?
I went onto the internet and began reading about my calf injury problem. Apparently I'm not alone in experiencing this. That didn't surprise me. What did surprise me was the number of people who began having this problem who never seemed to find a solution. So many runners experienced this issue only to have it come back again and again and again. Most said they found that they could run shorter distances without trouble, or that they could run on treadmills without any pain. But if they tried to run a race or run outside up and down hills then the injury would continuously return.

I read all kinds of suggestions. Try different shoes. Try stretching more. Try warming up more. Try eating more bananas. Try this and try that and no one seemed to really have a solid answer.

What I gathered from what I read is that there is a muscle sheath inside the lower leg that wraps around the calf muscle. Ironically, it acts sort of like a calf sleeve, which is what I wear due to the injury. This muscle sheath isn't terribly flexible. When a new runner, or an older runner, begins to rapidly increase the intensity of their training so that the calf muscles are pumped with more blood than they have been for a long time, or ever, and that 'pump' remains in the calf for a long period of time, long enough to almost complete a 5K race, the muscle sheath seems to constrict the muscles because it cannot stretch or expand enough to allow for this. It's apparently choking the calf muscles, but it can feel exactly like a calf cramp or muscle pull.

I read a number of suggested treatments, but no solid cure. I even read about some people having surgeries. I used to lift weights a lot. I remember getting shin splints in high school cross country after I'd spent a summer doing a lot of very heavy calf raises to build up my calves while running long, slow workouts to maintain my endurance. I had no calf problems during that summer no matter how far I ran, but I wasn't running fast. I wasn't running up on my toes to any extent in an attempt to get a fast time. I was just trotting along for 5-10 miles each workout. I had thought that working my calves very hard all summer would improve my running when cross country season began at the start of the next school year. Instead, I started the season with an immediate shin splint problem that appeared as soon as I began running competitively with the team again. At the time I had no idea where the injury had come from or why.

I haven't read anyone suggesting this strategy, but I'm going to try working the hell out of my calves at the gym. I'm going to try jumping rope and leaping on those metal platforms, I can't think of what this excercise is called, and doing a lot of toe raises, all in an attempt to pump up my calves and make them grow long-term, so that the sheath around the muscle is stretched more and more often. The fact is, it does stretch over time. Bodybuilders who pump up their calves to ridiculous proportions couldn't do that without crippling themselves if the sheath simply never expanded. I'm going to assume that steady work on my calves will make it stretch eventually.

The bottom line is, with my calf injury problem, plus feeling somewhat sick, I decided to let the Gibson 5K go and not run it. I didn't even drive down to watch the other runners compete. I know how I am. If I went to watch, I would run. I can't stand on the sidelines. In every sport I ever participated in, when I was on the bench I was going crazy. Either put me in or let me go home. Running is no different. If there is a race and I am registered to run it, if I'm there at the moment they say "runners take your mark" I'm going to tense up and start running as soon as I hear them shoot the starting gun. So I stayed home.

I don't have another race until September. And that race isn't a competitive event where anyone cares about what time you run it in. It's the Warrior Dash and I run that for the fun of it. There's nothing to compare it to time-wise, what with all the obstacles to climb or crawl through. Other than that, I can't think of any events I'm planning to enter. That should give me time to work on my calves and try to get them back into the groove of a regular running habit.

I'm also planning to order a tool called The Stick for sprinters, which is a deep muscle massager you roll along the muscle that you are trying to rehab. I have heard that this tool helps a lot with muscle injuries and tightness. Once I get it and begin trying it out I'll let you know how it works for me. There are several different versions. There is one for marathoners, but from the description of it, I don't think it is what I need.

So anyway, I signed up for and skipped the Gibson 5K. But maybe next year I'll have this injury problem beat and take another shot at it.