Tag Archives: injury

Facing Your Hills

In middle school, we had field day once a year, usually in May, when students and teachers alike had pretty much wrapped the pretense of real work for the school year.  When my eighth grade year rolled around, I was deep in puberty.  My body was awkward and didn’t always respond the way I wanted to.  Luckily, that was wrapping up toward the end of the year.  When field day finally got here, I had mastered the use of my longer arms and legs.  We did the normal decathalon(ish) things we had never tried before…shot put…javelin (not the best of ideas).  At the end of the day, they grouped the boys together in pods for racing heats, 1/4 mile (1 lap) each.  They took the top boy, regardless of grade, from each heat, and moved him to the next round.  With over 1000 boys in my middle school, there were quite a few rounds.  I easily won my first two heats, but struggled with less than a 1 second win in the third.

In the final heat, to determine the winner, I found myself as the only white kid in the pack.  I got some ribbing by a couple of the other runners, but we had all grown up together, so it was all good natured.  We lined up and Coach Morgan blew his whistle and off we went.  Michael J. burst off the line and was 25 yards ahead of everyone before we hit the first turn.  So at this point, it was a race to 2nd.  Carl and I ran neck and neck through the final turn and he pulled a step ahead.  There was a well of strength I didn’t know existed, and I tapped into it and passed the finish line a fraction of a second before him.  Coach Morgan declared it a 0.1 second difference between us, but I think it was closer.   I was the 2nd fastest kid in my middle school.  Woohoo!  (I’m sure I’m the ONLY person that still remembers that)

Fast forward 32 years.  I’m 290, 75 pounds overweight, or more depending on which chart you use.  I started learning to run again a few months ago.  I fought multiple injuries because of my weight and non-use of any muscles not required for general living.  I was within a day of hanging up my shoes and going back to the couch, when I read Ben Dempsey’s story.  It inspired me to push through the frustration and pain.

I had registered for a 5K back in July when I started running and before all the injuries.  Saturday was the KALB Duck and Run 5K in Athens, Alabama, the first of my career.   The race was aptly named because it was POURING rain.  I run in Vibram Five Finger Bikila’s so I didn’t have to worry about soggy socks or blisters, thankfully.

I drove up feeling somewhat lost.  I had intentionally asked my wife not to go because I was afraid I wouldn’t make it and I didn’t want her to be there if I failed.  I walked to the pavilion where several people were already gathered.  Everyone was doing these strange moves.  I thought I had walked into a free style yoga class for a minute.  Apparently, I never learned how to stretch properly because these folks were in the most contorted positions I had ever seen.  I wasn’t aware a leg could maneuver behind someone’s head while standing on their tip toes.

The second thing I noticed right away was everyone was extremely thin, anorexic almost.  This tall guy walked by and I’m thinking one of my thighs is bigger than his waist.  Somebody get this dude a milkshake.

I felt very out of place.  What was I doing here?  Really, who did I think I was?  I’m at least 50 pounds heavier than the 2nd largest guy.  At 45 years old, I’m too old to start something new.  I tried to tune out the voices that were starting to amp up my fear.

Because of the rain, I decided to run in my Columbia rain jacket, more to protect my phone and wireless headset from getting wet.  I always run listening to something upbeat and didn’t want to change that during my first run.  Time was creeping closer and I zipped up my jacket.  The director made the announcements and herded everyone to the start line.

Everyone packed in relatively tight and the director “quacked” his toy duck (sounds kind of dirty doesn’t it?) and everyone took off…in a big hurry.  Where’s the fire?  What’s the rush?   The space in front of me cleared and I took off.  Pace pace… what’s my pace?  Because of the rain, I didn’t have my phone in my hand where I use an app to track my pace, distance, calories burned, etc.   I let the crowd rush by and found something that felt somewhat comfortable.

I reached in my pocket and started my music and tried to settle in.  The first turn was coming up and I glanced into the window of a parked car and luckily saw there were still people behind me.  Not that I planned on winning, but I just didn’t want to be last.  I passed someone walking…whew…good sign.  There were police at each turn in the race and I wondered if I cut any corners would I be shot in the back?  Crazy things go through your mind too, right?

About a minute after the turn a volunteer at the cross street keeping traffic blocked started clapping each time someone ran past.  I hope there’s a special place in Heaven for that lady because she has no clue what that small gesture meant to me because even though I had only gone half a mile, I was starting to feel the first of many walls.

I completed 95% of my training and running on a track around the soccer fields in the community I live…a FLAT track.  I had not prepared for the upcoming small hill and suddenly a little voice started whispering to me…”You’re not ready for this.”  I started up the hill, shortening my already short stride, something that I had read in a book.  I’m quite sure I looked ridiculous, but I didn’t get up at 4:45 AM and drive more than an hour to walk the race.  I pushed up the hill.  The next turn was at the top where a police officer stood, arms crossed.  I kept looking at him to give me some encouragement.  I just needed a little smile…SOMETHING.  I might as well have been looking at his car.  Nothing…he never met my gaze.

The music I normally let fuel my enthusiasm and energize my run was nothing but background noise.  My self-talk was like walking into a football stadium and trying to isolate individual conversations.  Where was my focus?

As I was coming down the hill, I crossed the one mile mark.  Several people passed me around this time because I refused to open up going down. I had heard that a lot of injuries happen on downhills.  As inexperienced as I am, someone could tell me most running injuries occur when putting on running shoes and I probably would believe it.

Things leveled out for the next portion of the run and I noticed the heat. Where was it coming from?    It wasn’t hot outside, but I was burning up.  Oh yes…I have my jacket zipped all the way up.  As I pulled the zipper down, vaporized sweat burst out, temporarily blinding me, and frizzing my hair.  I had been a moving sauna and didn’t know it.  My shirt was completely soaked.  The sudden coolness, however, gave me a (VERY) small burst of energy.

As I passed the two mile mark I found myself facing yet another hill.  I was able to catch up to a child, about 6 or 7 years old.  I couldn’t just pass him without offering him some encouragement.  I pulled out my headset and as I pulled even, I told him “Great job big man!”  I think there was a gasp between each word and it probably sounded like “Gra…GASP…ja…GASP…bi…GASP….ma…GASP!”  He looked over and said “I haven’t stopped.  Well, I did stop for a drink, but that’s all.  My legs feel heavy.  Do your legs feel heavy?”

I smiled and kept going.  That voice was back, whispering…”your legs feel heavy, don’t they?”

I came into the town square where a police officer immediately averted my gaze.  Dang it! Were they told it was poor etiquette to cheer?  I needed something, anything to keep me going.   I was fading quickly after that last hill.

After the square, thankfully, there was a nice downhill portion of about 300 yards.  I thought to myself…ok…I got this.  I saw the same clapping lady from the beginning of the race again and she was smiling big.  I read her lips…I think she said… “You can do this.”  I love that lady.

Then I turned left.  There is was.  The longest, steepest hill I had ever seen.  I almost stopped right there.  More voices joined the chorus… ”You didn’t train for hills”  “You can’t do this fat boy”  “Give it up old man”.  I heard recently if we had coffee with someone that talked to us, like we talk to ourselves, we’d get up and walk out.

Things became very surreal.  I can’t ever remember being this tired in my life.  The previous hills had taken their toll.  I kept moving, but took a moment to shut my eyes and clear the noise.  I pulled out my ear-buds.  When I opened my eyes, I glanced down at my feet and kept my focus right there.  Nowhere else.  I leaned into the hill.

I was only living in the moment and for the moment.  Not this hill.  Not this race.  Just this step.  Just this step.  Just this step.  Just this step.

In my head, I heard my late mom saying…”You can be anything.”  I heard my wife saying “I’m so proud of you” I heard my supporting friends scattered all over the country “You are AWESOME!” Those voices became louder and louder until I couldn’t hear the other ones that were trying to fuel fear.  Each voice gave me the strength for another step.

I crested the hill (felt like a MOUNTAIN) and staggered past the 3 mile mark.  I never looked back up until I crossed the line.  I glanced up at the clock and saw the time.  It was about a minute longer than my practice runs on a flat track.  I was in no way disappointed.

There were no ribbons or medals for the fattest guy running, nor was there any recognition for this being my first 5K.  I posted a post-race photo on Facebook and I got something much better than any award…awesome words of encouragement from my friends.  I wasn’t last.  My only regret was that I didn’t turn around and cheer for the 8 people that finished after me.  Next time.

By the way, I signed up for a 10K that night.  I can’t wait.

Go face your hills.

It Pays to Be Stubborn (Sometimes)

I’m stubborn.  Not about a lot of things, actually, very few things.  I compromise daily with my wife, 75% of the time yielding to what she wants instead of what I might want, if they happen to be different (she usually folds on what movie I want to see).  Stubbornness comes in handy when you are working toward a major goal.  I watched my ten year old step-son save up almost $1000 over a 6 month period of time to buy a touch screen laptop.  He was always doing chores for his grandparents, asked everyone for cash for Christmas and his birthday, delaying the instant gratification that the normal pile of loot would bring.  He went almost 7 months without spending a penny on anything to get what he wanted.  That is #awesomeness!

Just a little about me to preface the rest of this post.  At 45 years of age, and ~75 pounds overweight, I’m NOT the guy that’s suppose to take up running.  I’ve spent most of my adult life carrying around 50-100 pounds of extra fat, making every excuse in the book not to exercise.  “I’ll watch my eating first, THEN, I’ll start an exercise program” was my standard reply.  And, sure enough, I’d lose 25 pounds monitoring my intake, but I never took that next step.

In June of this year, my step-son had a soccer camp each evening at the local fields.  The field has a track around it, and on the first night, my wife started walking with one of the other moms.  I felt a little left out, so I walked a pretty fast lap to try and catch up.  Oh my gosh!  I had never felt the power of shin splints before.  I couldn’t even walk a single lap at a quick pace.  I shuffled the rest of the lap, feeling slightly embarrassed when a 70+ year old woman eased by me, asking if I needed help.  

That’s the day the change happened.  Not in my body, but in my mind.

The rest of the week, while soccer camp was going on, I would vary my pace and form, and I thought the shin splints were over as long as I went slow.  Oh, you innocent little boy!  

On the June 18th, the week following the camp, I decided I was going to tough it out and just run.  How hard can it be, right?  I’m seeing people almost as big as I am on the track running lap after lap.  My wife and I started out the first lap with a walk.  When we hit the starting line, we took off at a very slow pace.  At the 1/8th mile mark, I felt and heard a pop in my right calf and although I didn’t go down, I knew I was hurt.  I hobbled to the edge of the track and plopped down.  I started rubbing the area, but it was too sensitive to apply much pressure.  My wife helped me to the vehicle and I took a handful of Aleve (2) and put an ice pack on it.  

For the next 3 days, I kept ice on it around the clock.  My wife kept her walking/running up at my insistence.  On the 4th day after the accident, I began walking again…albeit VERY gingerly.  

It was at this point in time that I decided to give myself some encouragement.  I set a goal for myself by registering for a 5K in September and another in December.  I wasn’t going to quit.

A week later I was down again, this time because of extreme shin splints.  

I tried walking in my tennis shoes, my Crocks, a new pair of running shoes…I went to a running store in the city where I work and they analyzed my gait in slow motion and recommended yet another pair of shoes.  My shins AGONIZED me whenever I took more than a few steps at a fast pace.  

In frustration, I tossed off my shoes and tried walking barefoot.  What was this?  No pain?  You’re kidding me?  I began walking barefoot.  First a mile every other night, then two.  One night I looked a the bottom of my feet.  It looked like I had been walking on fire and glass mixed together.  To top it off, I had a blood blister about 3 inches long on my right sole. Something had to give.

I had toyed with a pair of Vibram Five Fingers several years ago as a novelty more than anything.  They rubbed my feet in an odd spot and I eventually gave them to my 16 year old son.  He loved them and ran in them during football conditioning.  

The selection of Five Fingers has really exploded and there are many more designs and styles than when I had looked before.  I tried on several other shoes, but kept coming back to the Vibrams.  They made my feet feel like they were singing! After I made the mistake of sharing a photo on Facebook of my new found treasures, I was promptly asked to turn in my man-card.  I took a lot of ribbing, but it was a small price to pay.

I began to run/walk a few more yards each time I went out, running for 20 seconds, walking for 20 seconds, and growing those numbers.  I was making slow steady progress.  Eventually, the doctor’s appointment I had set for my accident rolled around, and I was told I had ruptured a muscle in my calf that I can’t pronounce, much less spell.  And since I had already started walking/running again, it wasn’t a career ending injury.

The next evening, July 18th, the day after I turned 45, I started another run, and on the 2nd lap, SNAP!  I injured the OTHER calf in the exact spot.  You’ve GOT to be kidding me!!!  I hobbled over to my wife where she was talking to some friends and gruffly said you’ve got to get me home.

I took a full 2 weeks off running because this one felt much more serious.  I did some walking, but with very small steps.  The entire time all this is going on, I’m watching my wife progress with jealous pride.  I was very proud of how she was progressing, but felt sorry for myself at the same time because as her pace increased, I was stuck hobbling around.  

It never occurred to me that a 45 year old, obese man shouldn’t take up running.  My stubbornness had kicked in and I refused to quit.  Massaging my legs before each visit to the track seemed to let me go a little further each time.  We started going nightly instead of every other night.  I watched my fast walking time splits get better and better. 

A week ago, I started trying to run again.  On Sunday, I was able to run a complete lap around the track before I started walking.  Monday I pushed it up to a lap plus a quarter…Tuesday, a lap and a half.    I was drenched in sweat, gasping for air after those small runs.

Then yesterday, September 3rd rolled around.  I only slept 3 hours on Tuesday night, so I was really tired yesterday.  Several issues at work left me feeling drained.  I went to my in-laws for dinner, where I not only ate “non-clean” but I also ate too much.  When we got home and started getting our running clothes on, I told my wife I wasn’t expecting much because of all the above listed reasons.  She promptly told me to stop complaining, it wasn’t allowed.  She was right.

When we got to the fields, I spoke to a few people and made my way to the track.  I physically and mentally felt rough.  My only goal was to run 2 laps before I started walking.  I rearranged my play list to make sure I had the right music at the front to carry me through those two laps, started my RunKeeper App, and took off.  After 25 steps or so, I knew I wasn’t going to make it 2 laps.  Eating so close to run time was going to kill me.  I told myself that I was at least going to make it one lap.  

I made my way around and when I crossed the one lap mark, my inner voice told me not to wimp out, because my wife was running too and I didn’t want her to see me fade.  So I pressed forward.  

I travel on the outer lip of the track to get the most distance out of each lap.  It’s a mental trick, but it works best for me.  Unfortunately, it seemed like EVERYONE using the track was running in lane 7, meaning I was having to constantly go “excuse me” or “coming around”.  

I managed to get through the first lap without passing out, however the bloated feeling was taking it’s toll on me.  I kept running.  Slow pace.  Focused on the music.  I noticed I was passing the 2 lap mark and I asked myself if I could make it one more lap.  Boom.  Lap 3 was finished.

I made a new mental goal.  I was going to run 5 laps.  If I could do 3 then I could do 5.  I reset my music to start back over because I needed to hear those first songs again.  My wife passed me on the left and I gave her a little nod to let her know I was OK.  

Wait a minute… I lost count.  Was that 4 or 5 laps I just finished?  I’ll just think that it’s 4 and that way, if it were 5, I’ve got an extra one under my belt.  

I had a stretch with no other bodies on the track and while maintaining my snail’s pace, looked at my RunKeeper App.  WHAT THE CRAP?  I’d already gone 2.2 miles.  I wasn’t keeping up with the laps.  I was just running.  

New goal.  Run 5K.  3.1 Miles.  If I had come that far, I couldn’t stop.  Oh there’s someone I know on the track that look like they are going to speak to me.  I look down and keep going (sorry about that!!!).  I can’t stop.  If I do, I’ll never start back.  My wife is walking off the track to go sit down.  I gasp out to her that I haven’t stopped yet.  

I cross the 3 mile barrier.  I thought to myself, I’m actually going to make it.  That last 0.1 miles, my feet like they had concrete blocks tied to them.  I glanced at RunKeeper and it said 3.11 miles.  I stopped and thought I was going to pass out.  My head was very light, and my legs felt like Jello.  I managed to get to where my wife was sitting and I asked to borrow her chair.

I did a screen shot of my stats and posted on Facebook and the support was overwhelming.  I don’t think I’ve ever gotten as many likes on a post before.  That meant almost as much to me as actually accomplishing something I didn’t know if I would ever be able to do.

My first “OFFICIAL 5K” is 17 days from now, and I know I can do it.  Over the next 17 days, I’ll focus on shaving a minute or so off my time.  I have no illusions of winning or placing in this race, or any race in the future.

It doesn’t matter.  

I’ve already won.

Be awesome!