Running for my life

My doctor gave me an ultimatum about two years ago. It was not a new topic but with the coming birth of my son it took on a whole new level of significance. He told that if I did not loose a significant amount of weight and start watching my diet I would probably have a serious stroke in my fifties. I had the triple threat of warning signs: obese (greater than 235 at one point), outrageously high cholesteral (and higher on the follow up test) and a family history of heart problems. Even I could not argue with the facts on this one. I got winded walking up stairs and could rest my drink on my stomach.

Biking has always been my favorite way to get a workout. I had lived near bike trails growing up, in college and even at my last apartment six year ago. Now, while I really like our house, it does lose points as it is a twenty or thirty minutes drive to the closest bike trail. Not very encouraging, having to waste an hour just going too and from a place to ride. No wonder it had been a few years since I had even touched my bike.

So I started by getting back into running, something I had not really done since my days in Army ROTC. This was the last time I had been part of a regimented workout program, so I went with what I knew. What I remembered from my early morning PT was doing two mile runs, so this was my first goal in training. It is good to have goals. It really helps if they are realistic. Mine may not have been very realistic at first. The two mile runs started off more as two mile walks with brief periods of what can only be described as shuffling. It was fun for a few months and I could see steady progress. Eventually I started noticing all sorts of pain in my left foot and shin splints. The pain in my foot got bad enough that I talked to my doctor. It was planar fasciitis. No fun and a long slow trek back to where I was when I realized I was injured.

So I started slow again, paid a lot more attention to the shoes I bought and did everything I could to make this become a habit I could realistically do for the rest of my life. About this time last year I was back to where I had been many months earlier. I could finish two miles and actually have run for most of it. This felt great.

We were making arrangements to visit family in Ohio for Thanksgiving, when my aunt mentioned that her family, all four of them, were running in that years Turkey Trot 5K and did I want to sign up for it? The first 1000 men and 1000 women across the finish line got a pumpkin pie. My dad and I said sure, why not, and did not think of it again until we got there. What did I have to worry about, 5K was only 3 miles, more or less. It was a stretch but I was due for a challenge. And I like pumpkin pie.

Imagine my surprise when I found out I was mistaken about the 5K distance. It was 5 miles. A bit more than I was expecting and about double what I had been doing. Ouch. And the weather forcast was that it would be windy with freezing rain turning to snow and a temperature in the teens. My father wisely decided that what he really needed was a good chance to sleep in and wished us all luck. My wife was convinced that was the wisest course. I think the was the thought of the pie that made me decide to brave the elements and do the run.

It was everything you think it could have been. Cold, wet and windy. The route doubled back on itself, so at least halfway the wind was helping you. And did I ever need the help. It was more grueling than anything I had done since I was a cadet running around downtown in the early hours or crawling through the bush at 3am on a nearby Army base. I loved it. Not because I did well or anything but becuase I was out there trying. Just getting off my ass is always the hardest part for me and there I was running in the gear I had bought, and used, many years earlier for a backpacking trip in the White Mountains. I did not get a pie, but three of the other four in my family did. And I was within ten minutes of the last pie. I came in at around 1 hour 4 minutes and the last pie was around somewhere in the 50-55 minute range. I had a new goal. I would come back and at least do better. Hopefully enough better to warrant getting a pie.

About this time last year the finishing touches on a new athletic center were being done at work. I could not ask for better timing. I had new goal for the year and a workout facility with 7000 square feet dedicated to machines and weights just opened at my job. Free of charge and between my office and the parking lot. Ok, I was more than a little sick of the building as I had spent the last few months making sure it got wired correctly but I could get over that little twinge.

It took a while but by this past spring I was really going two or three times a week. I used the treadmill and the bike machine. I tried getting into some of the strength training machines but after aggravating a few old injuries and losing a week here and there I put that on the back burner until I was comfortable with the cardio. Then I noticed my left foot was starting to ache a lot and I had to back down on how hard I could push myself in the treadmill. This felt discouraging as I had never really gotten past the point I had reached during last years 5 mile run. My two mile time was never lower than 22 or 23 minutes. Ok the first mile was usually around an even 10 minutes, but I could not maintain that in the second mile.

Then early in the summer I started getting the very familiar pains in my foot again. The only problem was this time it was in my right foot. So again I had to back off of using the treadmills for a while and let that heal. This time I think I caught it early enough and followed a reasonable course of treatment. Stretching the legs each morning and before and after each workout really made a difference. I found that I could use the treadmills but only if I did not go faster than 5 miles an hour. 5 miles an hour is 12 minutes a mile and that put me at one hour even for five miles, assuming I could even go that far. I was still in the two miles mindset and rarely worked out longer than 30 minutes. Again a discouraging thing to think about compared to the one year goal I had set.

One of my coworkers who was also making use of this new facility saw me working out and asked why I wasn't using the cross trainer? That stopped me in my tracks as the only reason was that it looked silly and I had never tried using it before. The cross trainer has a platform for each foot. When using it it can be adjusted from being like walking on a flat surface to climbing a ladder, as well as the resistance it takes to move the platforms. This thing kicked my ass the first few times I used it but I had found something I could do that gave me a great cardio workout with low impact on my heels.

Slowly this became the only machine I used, especially once I understood the significance of some of the readouts it was providing. Who knew that METS were so important a reference for gauging a workout? I had set myself a short term goal of increasing the time of my workout from the thirty minutes or so to a full hour. This machine gave me a great way to do this in small increments. I could increase the resistance a little one day or increase the level another day to give the workout some variation as I increased the time. And slowly I was able to get up to using this thing for a solid hour three times a week.

Since the start of my own classes the begining of this past month and the amount of reading that goes with it, I had started having to drop workouts. I even missed a week due to allergies or some flu thing that just knocked me out. I knew that while being able to go for an hour on the cross trainer was a very good thing, it was not the same as running. I had to find out where I was if I was going to be able to make any adjustments in time for this years 5 Mile Turkey Trot. So I set myself a new goal: run five miles on the treadmill. See if it kills my feet or does something to my neck or back. Just find out if I can do it at all.

I wanted to be able to do this several times before the trot and the first deadline was tonight, the last day of the month. I did it, despite having stayed in the office an extra hour and really wanting to come home and spend some time with my son before he went to bed. I ran five miles in just under one hour on the treadmill. It was great. The first three miles hurt but once I got past that point and got into a good groove I could just shuffle along like there was no tommorrow. It was not pretty but it felt so different than where I was a year ago, let alone two years ago. It really was amazing.

Now I am in a monitoring mode. I plan on taking it easy this weekend and see if any part or parts of my body start to complain about the abuse they are taking. I will go back to using the cross trainer for at least the next week or two, then we shall see about giving it another shot. That and stretching my feet and legs a lot.

Wish me luck. I will let you know if I get a pie, or at least do better than last years time.


btw, in the last two years I have lost about half of the weight the doctor wanted, enough to get me out of the obese category. While I have stalled at the 215-218 range, I feel much better and can really see a difference. For the first time in many years I have had to shorten my belt by a notch. Small steps. It took me ten years to get to this point, I do not expect it will happen overnight. Now if only I lived near a bike trail again...


this blogging thing is getting out of hand

I started out on yahoo's beta blog service, as my primary email is through them.
Check it here if interested:

We shall see if the joining of gmail with blogger will change my habits any.