Sunday, January 31, 2010

Rails to Trails

Several years ago, the city of Columbus made a commitment to its citizens to build a walking/biking trail on the site of an old Norfolk-Southern rail line. Having been decommissioned years ago, the rail bed was the perfect location for a pathway of this sort. The path covers a distance of a little more than 10 miles and is a handy link between northeast Columbus and the Riverwalk downtown. Currently in phase 2 of a 3 phase project, the city is soliciting suggestions for a name for the trail but for now I'll call it:

Columbus Rails to Trails Pathway

I spent a little time on Saturday walking/jogging on a portion of the trail adjacent to Columbus State University and Hardaway High School. It is a really nice development. I congratulate the developers of this project for the first class work that has been done. Like any new idea, its inception/progress has not gone without detractors. Because of the nature of the rail bed on which it is built, it crosses several roads on its winding journey from the hills east of Columbus to the Chattahoochee River. Sure, there is potential for dangerous interaction between pedestrians and motorists but if one is to run/bike on any street, that is going to be the case. In response to those negative comments, a friend of mine has commented, "If you don't want to put up with the traffic concerns, run on a treadmill."

Most of the course is well off the main traffic flows through town and offers seclusion and an opportunity to experience the outdoors right in the middle of town. As the path approaches the downtown area, it is much less in the cover of trees but still offers a smooth, level and protected place to exercise on foot or on two wheels.

Much of the trail east of town is unfinished at this point in time but I have every intention of covering the distance from start to finish as soon as my running is back in full swing.

An Older New Year

On a cold and windy Sunday morning I concluded the first month of this new year's exercise regimen. Despite the mandate against running I have managed to cover a distance of 72 miles. That's really not too shabby since about 90% of the distance was covered at a walking speed, albeit a fast one, and the longest daily distance I covered was just shy of 6 miles. It is too much of a cliche to state "this year is flying by" but as we wave goodbye to January 2010 the fact that time passes too quickly is validated once again.

The rehabilitation continues on my lower back and hip on the right side. Since the physical therapist has directed me to walk only, the occasional jog I throw in with my daily ambulatory exercise is technically breaking the law. My problem is a matter of trust. I am doing everything he has prescribed except for the jogging. My sessions have been spaced out to three week intervals now so the treatment plan is getting drawn out. The prognosis is good and Mr. PT has declared I am improving. I have slight soreness in the lower back but no pain. The leg numbness comes and goes but is never unbearable. I guess you can tell I am justifying my decision to indulge in the occasional run. It does feel good to get back into that activity.

As February dawns, I am eagerly anticipating Spring though I realize we still have weeks to go before we're there. On the chilly mornings, it is difficult to envision how hot and humid it will be in the Chattahoochee valley in a few short months. Enjoy the cold while its here. All we Southerners should embrace this realism as the new year matures and approaches warmer days.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

What to Wear?

I can never again denigrate my wife's love of shoes or chastise her for the inventory of shoes she carries. Her love for shoes affirms her fit with the female stereotype; so what's my excuse? My philosophy of show wearing has always been to get a good pair and wear 'em until there are holes in the soles. And in the case of nice leather dress shoes, take them to your friendly neighborhood cobbler and get them re-shod. A good pair of shoes never wears out. That philosophy has changed in the past few years and I owe it all to my love for the sport of running.

I have had the fortune through the years to make friends with some fine individuals, many of whom I consider good friends. I have benefited from the wise counsel of those who have suffered similar injuries and offered proven treatment plans. I have gained solace on the cold, rainy mornings knowing my running buddies are up and at it just like me. One of the more expensive passions I have developed through my association with an excellent and interesting runner who has become somewhat of a mentor to me is a love for running shoes. Lest you think me vain and shallow, let me state up front that it has been proven that most running shoes have a useful life of only 400-500 miles; more or less depending on running style and mass of the one wearing them. So, there is proven, scientific weight to my reasoning for keeping a variety of shoes in my stable. Besides, when you look a the miles a marathon or ultra-marathon runner piles up in a year, that translates to a lot of new shoes.

Of course, one approach to the dilemma of keeping fresh shoes in the face of a 2000 mile year is to purchase and wear them in a sequential fashion. Get a pair and wear them day in and out until you have fairly flattened them and worn them out and then purchase the next victim. Another approach is to keep a collection and continually rotate them. "A pair for every day of the week", my wife has been heard to say. The latter approach is the one I have chosen and in addition to the the perception that it is a vain way to go, it does have practical merit. A regimen of long miles takes its toll on shoes and the feet inside of them. I have run in a variety of weather conditions including rain and stifling humidity; both of which thoroughly soak any clothing I may be wearing, including my shoes. It is not unusual for a pair to take a day or two to dry and no one likes to put on pair of wet shoes.

So, I will continue to feed my passion with running shoes, never partial to any brand or make, always looking for a new and interesting feature. I vow to never malign my wife for her verve for a new flat or snazzy pump, as long as she can lend an understanding ear to my pleas for another pair of running shoes.

Attention all running shoe manufacturers: "I am available to do shoe reviews."

Sunday, January 24, 2010

A Firm Foundation

"Therefore anyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house upon the rock. The rains came, the wind blew...but it did not fall. But anyone who hears these words and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rains came, the wind blew...and it fell with a great crash." Matthew 7:24-26 NIV

Many of us know these words that were spoken by Jesus as he delivered one of his most famous sermons recorded in the Bible. He was speaking to a group of individuals about practical ways of living and everything he said could be applied to our lives today. It was like a bolt of lightning when it hit me the other day how this passage applied to my life right now. So many times we get so caught up in our woes we forget the lessons that have been laid out for us and how we can learn from them.

When I crossed the finish line in the 2009 Rocket City Marathon last December 12th, I was on top of the world. I had just completed a 26.2 mile foot race in 3:40. Some 53 minutes faster than the last one I did and well ahead of the race goal I had set for myself of completing the race sub 4 hour fashion. Yeh, this time is nothing special in the realm of world class runners as the winners of this particular race were showered and on their way back to Kenya by the time I finished. But it was special to me because of what I had done to accomplish it. I was joined by members of my family that affirmed my special feat and was proud to hear my Dad exclaim I had become a well-trained athlete.

In the days following the race I was excited with the prospects of improving my time and even being able to qualify for the Boston Marathon. This race is so renowned and is considered the Holy Grail for all marathon runners. It is so popular, in fact, that participants must complete a qualifying run faster than predetermined times. The times vary depending on age and gender but for me that time is 3:30. Having just run one in 3:40, I felt the goal was more than attainable. I had been crafting my 10 week training plan for a local qualifying event when I had an episode which put it all to a screeching halt. My first visit with a physical therapist was scheduled for Wednesday, December 16th and it was there I began to understand why I had been suffering for so long with a sore lower back and numbing right leg. The therapist showed me the best way he could how my right hip was mechanically out of wack and this misalignment was causing an impingment on nerves and generally fostering a hodge-podge of painful events. “What I need you to do,” he began, “is to stop running for a while.” “How long is a while?” I asked incredulously. “long enough to get the situation under control.” He said. Well, I can tell you that response was probably the most nefarious thing I have heard in a while. The nerve of him to suggest I suspend an activity that had become such an important part of my life the past couple of years.

It wasn’t until one day last week, that the realization that this time off from running may be the best thing that ever happened to me. I immediately thought of the passage from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Without a firm, lasting foundation upon which to build, nothing will last. That goes for any experience in our lives; athletic training included. Over the past few weeks I have begun rebuilding my walking posture with the intention of translating this to my running posture. I have plans to insure I am developing a running style that is most conducive to injury-prevention. Does that mean I will never get injured again? Probably not. But it does mean I am going to be less proud of doing what it takes to run the right way and more concerned with enjoying the running experience each day and not taking it for granted.

God has given me the gift of athleticism. I will get back to where I was before and as I travel that path I am going to be building on a firm foundation of physical, emotional and spiritual development. That will be my gift to Him.

Monday, January 18, 2010

PT Visit Three

As luck would have it, I contracted some kind of vicious stomach ailment Sunday afternoon that had me down for the count...and down on the bathroom floor for around 12 hours. I don't know if it was something I ate or a malicious passing virus but it treated me unkindly. So, my scheduled PT appointment for 7;30 Monday morning looked doubtful. My wife came in at 6:45 to wake me from the recliner to which I was banished for the night and I peeled myself free and took a quick shower. The nausea had passed but I had very little energy. If these PT appointments weren't so hard to make, I would have passed but decided to tough it out and go.

I guess you could call me chief of all skeptics because I have the tendency to question anyone or anything I do not understand. So, it is with the procedures my physical therapist goes through when we meet. He has me sit on a stool, with my back towards him and places his hands on my lower back as I bend to the left and the right. He then has me sit on a bench with my legs hanging down and has me lift one leg then the other. From this he can tell I have made improvement. I am feeling less pain in my lower back and less leg numbness but he admitted that may never completely go away.

At the end of the 10 minute session, I popped the inevitable question. "When can I start back running?" He proclaimed my continuing improvement but failed to utter the words of accommodation. A few more weeks before I can be back in business. He did say I could start mixing some jogging in with my walks. Well, that was some consolation and I intend on stretching the envelope all I can.

It is tough showing restraint but I have got to use some creativity in coming up with ways to stay in shape in the face of these restrictions. Walking religiously, maybe twice a day and swimming should serve the purpose. Anything to ward off the ugly slide back to being unfit. That is one state in which I never intend to be again.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Missing the Run

A scuff of the heel against the concrete curb and I was off into a running gait...for only an instant. You know the situations where you trip and in an attempt to disguise the fact that you are clumsy, speed up to a run, looking around and hoping no one is watching. Well, this particular morning, I had done the same but I knew no one was watching because it was 4:30 am and the streets were deserted. Though I really wanted to keep running I knew better. My treatment plan prevented it.

I am on week four of my running abstinence and every time I go for a walk I experience the same temptation. If it wasn't for the fact that I had no pain when I ran, it would not be such a difficult tug on my conscience. The pain comes later when I am resting. A misalignment of the my right hip is impinging on nerves in my lower back causing pain in my back and numbness in my right leg. Neither condition is terribly painful; just an ever-present reminder that something is amiss. My physical therapist is a so-called expert in spine rehab so I guess he knows what he is talking about but his proclamation that I "stop running for a while" has caused me more than one moment of extreme consternation. "What if he doesn't know what he is talking about?" I ask myself. The answer keeps coming back that I need to rest and BE PATIENT! Being patient is definitely not one of my truest virtues but one I know I need to cultivate.

So, I press on and selfishly mourn every time I read about another runner training for an upcoming event. Not maligning their achievements but missing mine. The Albany Snickers Marathon, the Mercedes Marathon, the Nashville Rock-n-Roll Marathon; they're all out. If things continue to drag on, the Spring marathon season will be over and the next opportunity to race one will be in October. So, I really should be thankful. I should be thankful God has given me an opportunity to do something that brings so much satisfaction and joy. All you runners know the feeling. The experience of the run is nothing like anyone can describe. It is what pushes us all and what makes a mundane activity seem so exciting. It is what motivates us to run when we know we are way back in the pack and far from the pinnacle of recognition...except our own recognition. For we recognize the transformation in ourselves as we finish another race, log another long run, cover that unbelievable distance one more time. I miss the run. I hope I will find it again soon.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Layers Against the Cold

Stepping out onto my front porch this cold January morning I wondered if it was really as cold as predicted. It seems I remember something in the vicinity of 16-18 F. Had it warmed during the night or did my application of layers of running attire really do what they were intended to do? A further advance onto the street and into the teeth of the wind confirmed the latter. Yeh, it was cold , but I had dressed appropriately.

Alright, I may sound like a wimp for complaining about a little cold. You may even think I have no room to talk in the face of 16 F cold but you have to understand I have never lived further north than Charlotte, NC. Career choices and a very warm-nature wife have secured that fact. I've got Southern blood coursing through these veins for goodness sakes! So, this is really cold to me. The layers felt good, that is for sure. I thought they were adequate, until I turned a corner and headed north into the teeth of the wind. It never cases to amaze me how effective the wind is at robbing us of that layer of air that clings close to our bodies serving as thermal protection. But, wind chill factor is as real as anything. If the wind really blows, it doesn't matter how many layers you have on, you are going to feel it.

My decision to follow the treatment plan of my physical therapist has me walking this morning as I have done for several weeks. I have bemoaned and complained about my plight and I realize it is s simple choice; suck it up and treat the problem or ignore and let it get worse. Now, having made the choice to treat the problem, it is time to be quiet and move on. A component of that decision was the realization that I did not have to completely abandon all aspects of my previous running regimen. I have determined to get up and out at the same time I have done in the past and get in whatever exercise the PT would allow me. OK, it doesn't include running right now, walking only, it will in due time.

That brings me back the original purpose of this day's entry; talking about layers. The cold can't stop my progress or slow my goal of sticking to a regimen. If it takes layers to keep warm, so be it. So as I peel off the layers after 35 minutes of brisk walking, I am thankful for another chance to exercise. I'm not ready nor willing to tempt the full fury of winter weather by moving to the upper mid-west. I am content in the fact, though, as long as it doesn't get much worse, my layers are going to keep me warm.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

PT Day 1-6-10

I started the day out with devotional time then to the YMCA for exercise. For 25 minutes, the treadmill, set at 4 mph and no incline, was my residence. I met a friend of mine who has been giving my ideas on how to build up my core muscles and get in good enough shape to run pain free. Sounds like a plan, doesn' it? After Robert spent some instructional time with me it was time to head to my physical therapy session. I have been looking forward to this for the express reason I want to get on with the required plan of action.

As best I can phrase it, my condition is the result of a hip that mechanically misaligned. This misalignment creates a condition where the muscles in my lower back have to compensate and consequently are forced to "lock down" and create pain. These muscles also swell and this contributes to back and leg pain. During the PT session, the therapist bends me up like a pretzel and in the process is able to mobilize my hip so I once again have free range of motion. This is a good thing but the problem is that my normal motion forces my hip back into an unnatural position. It is going to take time to develop a routine of stretching and strengthening muscles in my core to make a lastiing difference. The treatment plan seems to be fairly vague; I've just got to trust the therapist knows what he's doing. I really miss the running, though!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Sunday January 3, 2009

Happy New Year Everyone!
Its great to be writing in a new year my first blog of a new decade. I have every intention of being more active in my posting this year. It is really a paradox that I do not write more as I really enjoy writing. Could it be the time it takes to transfer thoughts to keystrokes? I guess if this was my day job I would be in trouble.

Since this is the inaugural passage of this new year, it would be appropriate to speak of new year's resolutions. The only thing with that is I do not usually make them. At least not intentionally. I guess we all make them in some indirect way, but I shy away from shouting it from the mountains. I guess my beef with verbalizing resolutions is we often make these promises that are not only unattainable but down-right unrealistic. How about this one. "Hey, I resolve to lose 50 pounds this year, but do I have to really change my eating habits and start exercising?" Or, maybe this one. "I vow to be a better person this year. Oh, but does that mean I have to stop my back-stabbing to get ahead at work?" Need I say more?

OK, so maybe my hesitancy with making resolutions is more about making commitments Wouldn't it be great if we could make our resolutions retroactively. I guess we would claim more victories than we could imagine. I had no idea when 2009 started I would train for and complete a marathon and do it in record time. So, my retroactive resolution for 2009 will be "To train for the Huntsville Rocket City marathon and complete it in record time." OK, enough of resolutions.

Three weeks ago, a visit to a Physical Therapist revealed my back pain of many years was probably caused by a hip misalignment. He (the PT) went on to recommend I stop running for a period of time while he worked with my condition in an effort to correct the underlying problem which was causing my back pain. Walking only. You could not have hurt my feelings any worse. I mean, just two days before I had started making plans to train for and run in the Albany marathon in March. I felt like I really could run a marathon in a time that would allow me to qualify for the Boston marathon. Then, I found myself sitting there realizing those plans would be shoved to the back burner. Its time for patience and healing.

So, on this third day of January, 2010, I continue a program of reduced physical activity meant to aid in the healing of my body. My hopes are that this will be a speedy process but I pray I will have the wisdom and patience to faithfully follow a plan of action that may take more time than less.