Running, walking, etc.

I went for my first outdoor run of the year on Sunday. It was the first day that the paths were clear enough of ice and snow to make it possible.

Although the paths were mostly clear of ice and snow, there was a lot of melt water, flowing across the path in hundreds of rivulets. I found myself integrating into my run hundreds of small leaps, in a (partially successful) effort to keep my feet dry.

I was well aware of the leaps as I did them—I remember making a conscious effort to refrain from favoring one side over the other, trying to execute each leap with the most natural foot leading, based on my current point in my stride as I approached.

For some reason, all those leaps were not the first thing that came to mind the next day, when my calves were as sore as they have ever been. I was just sad at how much more out-of-shape I must be than I had realized, to be so crippled by a simple three-mile run. (They hurt a lot more than when I actually tore a calf muscle a couple years ago.) It was only late Tuesday, when I was heading to teach my taiji class, that I jumped over a similar stream of water in a parking lot—one calf screaming when I launched, the other screaming when I landed—that I realized that it was the leaping that had done such a number on me.

With that reassurance I felt much better, and by Wednesday my calves were feeling much better, which was good because Wednesday Jackie and I went on our first long walk of the year, part of the series of long walks we’re taking to prepare for the 33.5-mile Kal-Haven Trail walk that we’ve been meaning to take for a couple of years now. We’re quite determined that this will be the year.

For our first long walk we walked to taiji, attended our class, and then walked on to downtown Urbana and had lunch at Crane Alley (good beer). After lunch we walked back through campus. Having exceeded our planned distance (we wanted to do 10 miles and got in 11.5), we caught a bus at the south end of campus to go the rest of the way home. (The walk home from the south end of campus isn’t far, but there’s no good footpath. I think during the summer, when it’s possible to walk along the side of the farmer’s fields, it’ll be a fine walking route, but yesterday it would have been too wet and muddy.)

It was warm enough that I was able to expose my forearms to the sun!

My training plan, such as it is, covers just the long walks—we’ll include many shorter walks in our daily activity, and plenty of medium walks as well. But the long walk plan looks like this:

  • first-half March: 10 miles — done
  • second-half March: 15 miles
  • first-half April: 20 miles
  • second-half April: 26.2 miles (because why not?)
  • first-half May: 30 miles

The main event is planned for roughly June 18th, but it will depend on the exact schedule of when we go to visit my dad and what the weather looks like those days. I figure we’ll be fit enough to do a very long walk of the planned distance any time after mid-May, so that gives us a month’s cushion to allow for any glitches.

I’m kind of excited about possible medium-length walks from our new house, here south of town. All of south campus is reasonably close, including, for example, the Arboretum with its cherry trees, which should be in bloom in about a month. It might make sense to walk there several times in early April, to keep up with the progress of the cherry blossoms, and take the opportunity for both haiku and photographs.

The most obvious way to walk (starting with the exact route from south Campus that I rejected yesterday) would be about 3 miles each way, the first half along the sides of country roads. As I say, it should be an entirely satisfactory route anytime the ground isn’t too wet.

Here’s the details for Sunday’s run:

And here’s the details for Wednesday’s walk:

Long run, fast run

Last week I got out for a long run. At 5.14 miles, I exactly matched the distance of my previous longest run of the year. (I ran the same route.) I also just about matched the time, running it in 1:07:04 versus 1:07:50 back in June (a 13:03 pace, versus a 13:12 pace).

At this point, I’m pretty happy with the duration of my long run. I want to be able to run for an hour, and I can now do that. Running for an hour makes me feel great. I like to attribute this to endocannabinoid production, although I don’t actually have any evidence for that. Whatever the cause, running that long makes me feel good in a way that running for 20 minutes doesn’t.

At this point, I don’t see much reason to ramp up the distance further. It might be that running even further would make me feel even better, but I hesitate to risk finding out. Where would it end? More particularly, would it end before my body broke down from the stress of running ever-longer runs?

On the other hand, I’d like to run a bit faster. In particular, I’d like to be able to run 6 miles in the hypothetical one-hour run that makes me feel so good.

To see whether I was in striking distance of that, I went out for a fast run yesterday, doing what I call a tempo run. (I run a tempo run simply by running a comfortable distance—the same as I might run for an easy run—but running pretty hard.) I ran my Kaufman Lake loop, which is 1.5 miles, and I did it in 14:12 for a 9:36 pace.

So that’s pretty promising. I can run the duration I want to run and I can run the speed I want to run. Now it’s just a matter of closing the gap—getting fit enough to run that speed for the whole distance.

I think that’s doable. Today I did my usual easy run of 2.2 miles, but I ran just a little faster than I’ve been lately, setting a 10:43 pace.

In fact, I don’t think I even need much of a plan. I’ll just go on doing a long run of about an hour every week or two, picking up the pace a bit as it feels comfortable to do so. And I’ll try to fit in a fast run every week, letting the distance creep up a bit as it seems like my fitness supports it.

With any luck I’ll be running an hour at a 10-minute-per-mile pace before the snow flies.

Running injury officially healed

This is just a quick post to note that my calf injury seems to have healed completely.

Last week I did two test runs—a 0.5 mile run with no turns, followed (after a rest day, to see if I had any delayed pain or swelling) by a 0.63 mile run with some turns.

When neither of those caused any problems, I went out later in the week and did my usual early-season short run of 1.5 miles.

Over the weekend, Jackie and I hiked nearly 6 miles at Fox Ridge, a state park about 60 miles from here. It’s another place where there’s elevation change available, and a set of trails to take advantage of it.

I took a rest day after the hike (having learned that lesson), and went out this morning for a 2.15 mile run, my usual mid-season short run.

All went well. No pain, no soreness, no swelling. There’s no tender spot in my calf when I poke at it.

I’ll take it quite easy as I ramp up speed and distance going forward, but I’m declaring the injury officially healed.

Enough exercise (and a calf update)

I recently came upon an old livejournal post about my struggles to get enough exercise.

It had been written in April 2008, some seven or eight months after I’d quit working a regular job, and was about how I’d always blamed the job for keeping me from getting enough exercise, and how I was unhappy that I hadn’t seized the opportunity that came from my new regular-job-free lifestyle to get into better shape. Here’s an excerpt:

The big advantage of not working a regular job ought to be that I can exercise anytime I want.  In the spring, I can run in the afternoon when it’s warm.  In the summer I can run in the morning when it’s cool.  I can pick the nicest day of the week for my long ride (minimize the chance of being caught miles from home in a thunderstorm) and then organize the rest of the week’s workouts around that.

I say “ought to,” because I haven’t taken full advantage so far.  Last summer I was still working until the end of August, and then I was trying to focus on my novel while still cranking out four or five Wise Bread posts a week.  I tried to get the running habit set up in the fall so that I could continue it through the winter, but didn’t really manage it.

Now, though, it’s spring, and I’ve decided to make exercise–that is, fitness–my number 1 priority.

Reading that post, I realized that I have, finally, succeeded. I now get enough exercise.

Brief aside: Except, of course, that I’ve scarcely run in a month, because of my injured calf.

I’ve tried three times to go out for a short run, and each time the result has been re-injury. After the third time, I realized that I was doing more harm than good, trying to get back to running as quickly as possible. I decided to wait until the symptoms were completely gone, and then give it at least a full week for further rest and recovery, before trying to run again. On that schedule, my first run would be roughly Saturday. In fact, it’ll be delayed at least two days further, because Saturday Jackie and I will go to Forest Glen and squeeze in a long hike in the morning, ahead of a spinning and weaving event there. (And not taking a day to recover from a long hike before a short run is how I hurt my calf in the first place.)

Basically, though, my calf is fine. It doesn’t limit either my walking (we walked 10 miles yesterday) or my taiji (I’ve taught my class on schedule every day). It has been completely pain-free, except when I re-injure it—then it hurts for a couple of days.

I wrote two years ago about my winter fitness regimen. (Three times a week I lift weights and then do an hour of taiji; the other four days I try to walk for an hour.) It proves to be satisfactory to maintain my weight and maintain a base level of fitness.

In the summers, I’ve been doing more. I preserve the lifting and the taiji (and much of the walking, which is mostly incidental to getting other things done) and augment it with running—before my injury, I had been running 7–9 miles most weeks—and have also added a weekly very long walk.

That livejournal post has a chart with the amount of time I had been devoting to exercise the last time I’d been in really good shape. Here’s a similar chart for what I’d been doing until a few weeks ago when I had to quit running:

Activity Minutes per workout Workouts per week Minutes per week
Lifting 30 3 90
Taiji 60 3 180
Short walks 60 4 240
Long walks 240 1 240
Short runs 22 2 44
Long runs 60 1 60
Total 854

The first thing that strikes me is just how similar this is to what I was doing in the past when I’ve been fit. I’ve replaced the bike rides with walking a very similar number of minutes per week. I’ve added the taiji, which adds 3 hours a week, and I’ve reduced the number and length of my short runs, to gain back maybe 50 minutes of that time. But the bottom line is that I’m now spending about 120 minutes a day on fitness-related activities.

Now, that’s great. Certainly it feels great—I feel great when I’m getting this much exercise. And having gotten here, I believe I’m prepared to declare victory, and say that getting and staying in shape is a solved problem.

But how could anyone with a regular job manage such a thing? And yet, much less exercise than this would not build and maintain the capabilities I want. If I want to be able to run for an hour, I need to run for an hour pretty regularly. If I want to be able to walk for four or six hours, then every week or two I need to walk for four or six hours.

I don’t really have an answer here for people who find that making a living limits their ability to be fit. I managed it temporarily a couple of times, but only by letting things slide temporarily—things that I couldn’t let slide permanently.

Still, just at the moment, I’m feeling pretty good. Thanks to the taiji, I move with more ease and control than I’ve ever had before. Thanks to the lifting and the endurance exercise, I have more power and stamina than ever before. I’m looking forward to Saturday’s long hike. And I’m looking forward (after a day or two to recover from that) to trying to run again. (Because, as Steven says, “Running is great exercise between injuries.”)

Running injury (minor, I think)

Last week I was perhaps a mile into a short run when I felt a sudden, sharp pain in my right calf. It hurt quite a bit, and hurt more on each of the two steps it took me to come to a stop without falling down.

My brother likes to say, “Running is great exercise between injuries.”

I’ve had pretty good luck with injuries. I did get hurt the first time I took up running, back in 1992. When I pushed my long run up to 6 miles, so I could run in the Allerton Park Trail Run, I upped the distance too quickly, irritating my Achilles tendon. It took over a year to heal completely, and by then I was no longer a runner.

I’ve taken up running several times since then, without injuring myself. When I gave up running those times it was simply because winter came and I couldn’t make myself spend enough time on the treadmill to stay in shape. Spring would come and I was no longer a runner. Some years I managed to get back into running shape. Other years I didn’t.

After I hobbled back home, I did a good bit of internet reading about strained calf muscles. The injury is most often caused by sudden changes in direction, such as in racket sports. My scenario is the second most common: even a very easy run, when the muscle is tired—I had walked 16 miles the day before.

I rested and iced the calf, and it got a lot better right away. By the second day after the injury it didn’t hurt to walk, I was able to lift weights (skipping calf raises), and I was able to teach my tai chi class without pain. After another couple of days, I was able to walk five miles without discomfort. Once the initial pain and swelling had passed, I’d been doing some massage of the injured spot, trying to minimize the adhesions that seem to be a problem for some runners with recurring calf injuries, and that had reached the point of being pain-free as well.

That all misled me into thinking it was more healed than it turned out to be.

On the fifth day after the injury I tried to go for a very short run, just to see if it was going to be okay. And it was. I ran a few blocks—maybe a quarter of a mile—and then back again, all without pain. Then, when I tried to turn onto my street: ouch.

That reinjury seems to be even more minor. A day of rest and icing and I think I’m back to normal as far a non-running activity goes.

Today I’ll try a mediumish walk, going 2 or 3 miles to lunch, with the option to switch to the bus if my calf hurts along the way. If it’s not sore at all after lunch, maybe I’ll walk home as well.

One of the web pages I read about calf muscle injuries said that after 10 days, scar tissue is as strong as muscle tissue. I’ll hold off on more attempts at running until 10 days after the original injury, and I’ll make sure there’s a day of rest after any other strenuous activity before my next run.

Then we’ll see.