I had to pinch myself today when I got an email from Coach Tom detailing my next three weeks of training and it included miles and miles of running. Glorious running. The fact is, I am running pain free after last Friday's visit to see Dr. Lau. I haven't been back to see him in a week, and the work he did has lasted through four runs.
I had forgotten how nerve wracking it is coming back from an injury. Over the last couple of months, my running had become rather predictable. I'd gear up for my run, hopeful that this day would be the day I was going to run pain free. I'd start out with no symptoms only to feel a sharp pain in my knee within a few minutes. That's when the negotiations would begin. Would it improve with a few more minutes of running or was I doing damage by continuing? At some point, I would stop and hobble home, sometimes with tears in my eyes feeling absolutely disappointed and helpless. By far the worst experience was taking a number of complete rest days, thinking I was doing myself a favor only to experience the same level of pain upon return to running. This was the worst because I knew I was losing fitness AND not getting healthier.
Each day that I have run without pain, I have gained a little more confidence. There are the little decisions: should I be so bold as to run across the Watt Avenue bridge all the way to the bike trail (1.2 miles from my house)? That's a long walk home if I start to feel pain. I have thrown caution to the wind these last few runs and crossed the bridge, all the way out to the 2 mile point, then turned around to head back home. No pain. Not a lick.
I must admit that I am in awe of my recovery from this injury right now--maybe even in a state of disbelief. How is it that I can be hobbling around while walking with severe knee pain one day and running pain free on the treadmill the next after just a simple tweak to my back and butt?
The body is a mystery.
While I return to running, I am trying not to lose hold of the lessons from this experience. A big one for me: we use a lot more than our legs when we run. This is pretty obvious, yet for many of us, recovery and strength activities are focused mostly on the legs. In my case, I could have kept rolling my left quad muscles and IT band for a decade and they would have just kept getting the same knots in them despite my efforts. There is a lot of maintenance to be done to keep me up and running, but at least I now understand the cause and that is worth its weight in gummy bears.
A few months ago, I was talking about how important upper body flexibility was for running to anyone who would listen. I remember hypothesizing that a lot of injuries were caused by a tight upper body, and now here I am: living proof. In addition to core flexibility I have also begun to realize that core strength training is not just about doing planks and crunches. I got a core strength training routine from my coach recently and was a little baffled by the name since there weren't any crunches and only a few minutes of planks in it. It started to sink in that the best core exercises are those that challenge your entire core rather than those that isolate your abs or lower back. Terrance Mahon wrote a great piece in Master The Shift on January 21st that underscores this point and highlights a few of the mistakes runners make with core training.
The word "beginnings" in my blog title is plural for a reason. I am beginning a new running program, and I made a big decision last week to adopt a new dog after losing my best Buddy. Buddy left behind his life-long companion, Sadie, but I thought she would be fine as an only dog. I was wrong. I have heard stories of dogs dying in close succession out of grief for the loss of their companion, but I always thought it was a wives' tale. Sadie was absolutely grieving after her loss, and I felt horrible leaving her alone each day. She is a very good dog, but she doesn't like many other dogs. So, introducing a new soul into this house was a risk.
I am pleased to introduce Logan, a Coonhound, Plotthound, Leopard Cur mix from Hornbrook, California. He is six months old and is a very sweet boy. He has so many of the same characteristics as Buddy (pillow nesting, sitting up like a person, a proclivity for dance) it is a little scary. The most thrilling thing of all for me is how accepting Sadie has been of him and how much spirit he has enlivened in her. Whereas she could barely make it through a 20 minute walk a couple of weeks back, now she is romping around the back yard with this little puppy leaping and hurling himself to her left and right. The other morning, after they were done wrestling I looked out in the back yard to see Sadie sharing her special spot in the sun with Logan, and I knew all was right in the dog world again.