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Man in the Mirror

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When I look in the mirror I do not initially see a 41-year-old man looking back at me. The man, er boy, staring back at me is still young.

But as I lean closer to the mirror, the wrinkles become more apparent. The amount of salt on my unshaven face is ever growing. The gray in my hair is spreading, slowly, but steadily spreading nonetheless.

That guy in the mirror is no longer 22 or even 32 (which is the age I always foresaw myself staying at forever). No, that guy is 41.

41.

41 is not old necessarily, but it definitely is not young anymore – and that’s hard for someone who has always had somewhat of a Peter Pan complex. All my life I felt that if you stayed young in your mind and heart, your body would reflect that. When I re-discovered running three years ago I became convinced that I had found the Fountain of Youth.

6 months into my discovery I was 25 pounds lighter, had more energy than I had when I was 20, and felt as mentally sharp as I ever had been. I was convinced that I had turned the clock backward.

The problem of course is that you can only hold back Father Time for so long. Over the last three months it has suddenly taken me longer to recover, I’ve required more energy to motivate and my cracker-jack timing has been, well, a little off. Despite all of that I continued to push myself, hard. Eventually I had to stop and listen.

During a time that I should have been at the peak of my training (70 miles per week) for my upcoming marathon at the end of the month, I was instead asleep and running haphazardly (20 miles per week). Obviously I needed a break. 6 marathons (along with training for them) in 18 months had taken their toll.

I felt old. Suddenly running wasn’t my fountain of youth anymore. It was more like the wrong cup at the end of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

With just two weeks until the Run Around the Lake Marathon, I’m still working my way back to loving running again. My mojo (lower-case “m”) seems to be back – I was able to throw down 20 miles in 95° heat and just this morning I ran some pretty strong intervals – but it hasn’t been/isn’t easy yet.

One nice, and unexpected, thing about missing runs due to lack of motivation however has been fresher legs when I DO run. Maybe as I get older, less is more.

Under normal circumstances I think that I would be losing my mind right about now knowing just how crappy my training has been this cycle, but something Joanne over at Apple Crumbles said to me several weeks ago has kept me steady despite my lack of mileage. She said:

“As for the marathon training, you’re a seasoned marathoner. You know what to do to get from mile 1 to mile 26.2. Don’t worry”

You know what? She’s right.

And so I look at that man in the mirror. He may not be as young or as strong or as fast as he was even just 18 months ago (actually I know I’m faster than I was 18 months ago…I just may not be as fast as I was 9 months ago), but he is wiser and has the accumulated knowledge of 6 marathons under his belt.

For the first time since November 2009, I am nervous about running a marathon, but this time it is tempered with the knowledge, as Joanne said, that I “know what to do to get from mile 1 to mile 26.2”.

I will worry, but dammit if I don’t enjoy myself too. We, most of us anyway, don’t do this to finish first – we do this for fun!!!  And if I squint my eyes just a little bit, it easily takes 10 years off that guy I see in the mirror.

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Symmetry

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A big, fat 0.

That’s the number of miles I have run in the last 7 days.

0.

Zip.

Nada.

I’m definitely starting to get a little grumpy.

But now I am battling myself on two fronts.  The fire, that internal engine is still stuck in neutral; motivation to train is at a low; but even if the desire were back, I am now facing an issue of pain in my right heel, my right knee and right hip.  The latter two, I am convinced, are offshoots of the first.

Not to get too graphic, but a callused part of my heel decided couple of weeks ago to crack. That has led to a sharp pain in my heel, which has led me to alter my gait, which I am convinced has thrown off the fine-tuning on my right leg.  It doesn’t help that my right leg has always been noticeably smaller than my left, that I am weaker on the right side.  My symmetry has always been a little off, but this cracked heel has thrown everything way off balance.

Those aches and pains that have kept my motivation down these past several weeks are waxing, not waning.

It is not the expected result of rest.

I’m going to have a serious problem if things don’t turn around in the next week or two.  I still believe I can be ready for my next marathon on 5 weeks training, maybe even 4, but the last time I tried to fake my way through on anything shorter (my first marathon), the result was frozen quads at mile 20.  At least if it happens at Around the Lake, I’ll be no more than a mile and a half from the finish.

Ugh.

I hate this feeling.

My motivation may be in the crapper right now, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to run.

I.

Want.

To.

Run.

I want to sweat, I want to breathe hard, I want to feel spent.

It is my therapy.

Hopefully the heel heals soon and a modicum of symmetry is returned to my body.  I really think that once I stop limping, the knee and hip will right itself.

At least that’s my hope.

I hope I’m right.


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Unintentional

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It’s been almost a week since my last run.  I’ve officially only missed 4 runs on my training schedule and am most likely to miss a fifth tomorrow.  Although I am starting to feel a little antsy, I don’t have that sense of urgency that has driven me in the past.

When I wrote a couple weeks ago about losing my mojo, many of you left me comments saying that maybe my body was just trying to tell me something; maybe after training all winter for Boston and then starting right back up a few weeks later for another marathon, my body just needed a break.  At the time I took it all in intellectually, but in my heart I did not, could not accept that.  Giving lip service to the idea that I may have needed a break, I decided to rest on my scheduled recovery run days.  All I ended up doing was pushing myself harder on my other training days.  It worked – for about a day or two and then my body finally said, “Enough!”

For the last week, the little aches and pains that simply come with training – those badges of hard work I wear so proudly – have intensified a bit.  They are not debilitating by any means, but they are uncomfortable.  For the past week I have been waking up in the mornings and simply letting my aches and pains dictate whether I would run or not.

The answer has been clear:

Rest.

Heal.

Truly recover.

And so each of those mornings I have done just that.  I did not set out to take a week off, but it looks like that is what my subconscious has decided I need.

Despite being only 6 weeks away from my next marathon, I am not panicked, I am not worried, I am not afraid.

This Sunday I hope to go out for a Fathers’ Day long run – no intensity, just some nice, long easy miles.  Maybe I will get back into the training program.  Maybe I won’t.  Either way, I am still signed up for Around the Lake and I will still be shooting for a 3:15.

The next 6 weeks are going to be interesting.


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So this is it. The training aspect of my 2011 Boston Marathon is done.

This morning I ran an easy 4-miler. All that is left is 48 hours of rest and the 26.2 miles on Marathon Monday.

What will happen?

How will I do?

I don’t know.

It’s weird to think that the nearly 800 miles I have put in since mid-December all come down to one little stretch of road, taking me from Hopkinton to downtown Boston.

If you are running on Monday, may you run the race that you want to run.

Whatever the result, I will see you on the other side.

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Bounce

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Do you feel that?

That almost rhythmic bounce? A rapid, nervous hammering?

Do you feel it?

Do you know what it is?

It baffles scientists every year around this time.  It’s in the air, it’s in the ground, it’s in the pit of our stomachs.

I finally figured out what is causing it.

It’s the up-and-down movement of over 27,000 knees as runners preparing for the Boston Marathon enter their taper*.

***

Despite this being my 6th marathon in 18 months, I can already tell this taper is going to be the hardest yet.  I’ve trained harder and run longer than any other training cycle – I just want Boston to get here.

What do you do to deal with the taper?

*For the uninitiated – the taper is the last 2 – 3 weeks of training for a marathon.  During this time, runners reduce their weekly miles somewhat dramatically, leading to what many call Taper Madness – an overflow of nervous energy where runner don’t know what to do with themselves and often get a little grumpy.

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6.5

<1.8%

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The average American sleeps over 106 days per year.

The average American watches almost 78 days of television per year.

The average American surfs the Internet nearly 30 days per year.

The average American eats for nearly 23 day per year.

How much time does the average American spend on exercise?

Less than 20% of the American population participates in regular exercise. Of those 20%, 65% spend less than an hour doing it. For 80% of this Great Nation, the average amount of time spent during the year on truly sweating is less than 1 day.

***

Sleep and food are necessary. Television and the Internet are not.

***

And no, it’s not just lack of exercise; it is also what we are doing with the time we COULD be spending exercising (staring at a screen, mindlessly eating). It’s a double-whammy.  Mindless eating is not about hunger or nutrition. It’s not even about pleasure, as a fine meal can be.  But junk/fast-food is not the enemy. It’s what we are doing with it that is – a topic for another post I suppose.

I digress.

***

So what’s your health worth to you? 20 days? 10 days? Would you believe that you could significantly help yourself with just 6.5 days a year? 6.5 days.

Can you spare 6.5 days?

That averages out to 3 hours per week.

I can already hear some people saying, “I don’t have an extra 3 hours per week.”

I hear you. Loud and clear. Time is precious. Choices have to be made. Issues must be tended to. But I take you back to the statistics above. How many hours per week do you spend in front of the television or the computer?

Be honest.

I have friends who are constantly traveling, constantly working and literally don’t have the time. They don’t watch TV and time spent on the computer is for work. For them, I’m not sure what the answer is. Some kind of multi-tasking?

But there are others. Other who complain or come up with excuses.

3 hours a week.

Not only are you receiving the benefits of physical exertion during that time, you’re getting the added bonus of not sitting in front of a screen, munching on HFCS (high fructose corn syrup).

So let me re-phrase – can you re-allocate 3 hours per week?

***

Isn’t your spouse/child/parent/friend worth 6.5 days?

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Itchy

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I took the entirety of last week off from running. My body didn’t fight it. In fact, during the first 5 days after New York I never had a strong urge to put the running shoes on. This is quite unusual for me. In the four previous marathons I’ve run, I have been eager to get right back out there on the pavement the next day, whether I am physically able or not.

I don’t know if it was just the beating I took running the five boroughs or the cumulative effect of running 5 marathons and 3 Half-Marathons in 53 weeks, but physically I just didn’t want to run. I think after what I’ve put it through though, I owed it to my body to listen.

A full eight days out now, however, and I’m starting to get itchy. I woke up yesterday morning and seriously thought of jumping in as a bandit in a local half-marathon that goes right by my house.  I chose to be smart, knowing I wouldn’t be able to resist the urge to let the throttle out.  I could have paced a friend of mine as well, but at that distance, at some point I wonder if I might not have felt the need to just go.

Yes, I am getting itchy. My shoes (both my Bikilas and my Kinvaras) are calling to me; or maybe it’s my feet that are calling to them. Either way, before this day is through, there will be miles run.  It is time.

What’s my point in all of this?

Just that after beating your body into the ground, maybe it is best to listen to it when it is asking for a break.  Recovery and rest are no joke.

Like I mentioned earlier, in the past four marathons I have been eager to get back out running as quickly as possible.  I wonder if it that urge has more to do with fear than desire. I wonder if some small part of me was afraid if I didn’t get out there as soon as possible, I simply wouldn’t.  Some runners (and I know I have been guilty of this) also have this irrational fear that if they don’t run as often as possible they will lose fitness*. It can sometimes border on the edge of compulsion.  And seriously, aside from maybe flushing out some built up lactate, I can’t imagine just how productive those post-marathon runs really are.

So this week, I’m taking a new approach. Mentally I know I’m ready to run. My plan for my assault on Heartbreak Hill is coming together. Boston is only (only?) 5 months away.  I may not PR at Boston, but I know I’ll improve on last year’s performance.  My official training cycle doesn’t start until mid-December (or mid-January, depending on whether I follow an 18-week or 12-week program).  Until that training cycle starts, I’m gonna listen to the legs and let them lead the way.

This last week has been luxurious, surprisingly pleasant really.  This coming week I will take it slow and easy.  And if my legs are ready? Next week it’s back to some real mileage…but only if my legs (and the rest of my body) tell me so.

***

How long do you take to recover after a marathon?

***

*I don’t mean the “oh my God I’m gonna gain weight!” fitness.  I mean the “oh my God, I’m gonna lose the ability to run a certain distance at a certain pace” fitness.

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I’ve taken some time off to rest my knee.  In fact, when I resume my marathon training schedule on Wednesday with a medium long run (12 miles at a nice and easy pace), it will be my first run in exactly 2 weeks.  My original plan was to take 10 days off, but that meant starting yesterday with a 17 miler.  Felt a little much, so I decided to give myself one more day before resuming my schedule.  Fortunately (or unfortunately as the case may be) the schedule said that today and tomorrow were off days.  With 8 weeks to go I have the luck of coming back on a recovery week.  Nothing like a well-timed injury.

That said, I’m still a little nervous.  The knee feels pretty good, but I know that can change with one misstep, one tweak.  Maybe I need to face the fact that I’m not 20 anymore and that I can’t push myself as hard as, well, as hard as I wish I had pushed myself when I was younger. 

Isn’t it a shame that youth is wasted on the young?

Had I had the determination I have at 40 at the age of 20, who knows what kind of runner I might have become?  World-class?  Definitely not.  But could I have run a marathon with a 2:–:– handle?  Maybe…just maybe.

I am in better shape now than I have ever been in my life, save maybe when I was 16 or 17, when I was practicing kung-fu 2-4 hours a day, 6 days a week.  But being in the best shape of my life doesn’t change the fact that I’m 40 years old and I don’t bounce back as quickly as my mind and will would like.

Looking ahead at my schedule (I’m following the Pfitz 12/55 program from Advanced Marathoning), there are some interesting weeks coming up.  Some lactate threshold runs, some marathon pace runs and some VO2 Max runs – all sessions that produce a little extra pounding on the knee.  Running in VFF’s help reduce that pounding, but the fact that I’m still a heel-striker doesn’t help.  I’m actually toying with the idea of buying some shoes that may play to my heel-striking tendency – not to convert back to regular shoes, but just to mix it up.  My buddy Pete is pretty convinced that he has remained injury free in part because he mixes up what he puts on his feet from run to run.  There’s actually some science to that – maybe a topic for another post.

Where am I going with this?  I don’t know.  The heart and mind are determined, but the body is not as enthusiastic or resilient.  Is that enough?  Can it be enough?  I’ve only been running for 20 months.  Do more experienced runners go through this?  Or are they simply physically more gifted? How do they adjust?

The next couple of weeks will be telling.  I want to be able to complete the plan, knowing that if I do, and am healthy, I’ve got a pretty good shot at 3:20:59 at Smuttynose.  I have two friends, Brendan and the aforementioned Pete, who will be running it as well.  Brendan is shooting for 3:20 like me.  Pete, if all systems are go, may be shooting for a 3:15.  Running with those guys will be a big help to all three of us.  Like any daunting task, it’s much easier to tackle 26.2 miles with a group as opposed to alone.   The thing is, I can’t push myself to complete the plan and go into the Smuttynose hobbling – defeats the whole purpose of training, doesn’t it?  I do think I have to finally face the fact that I’m older now, so maybe it’s a little more important to stretch, do the warm up runs, do the cool down jogs and stretch afterward.

So I take my first steps back on Wednesday with a mix of anticipation and trepidation.  I’ll have to resist the urge to go all out, but also have to be careful not to run too conservatively.

When did I get old?

What’s your approach to training when coming back from an injury?  And for the older runners like me, has your approach changed with time?

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This post was inspired in part by akbutler. (You will run that 5K!)

That’s right.

Be selfish.

I don’t mean cut people off  in line or swipe the last food item without asking.   I don’t mean hoard all of the ice cream, talk without listening, or think only about yourself.

What I do mean is go out for that long run, go to that gym class, schedule that massage, meet your girlfriend for a manicure and pedicure, book that haircut with your hairdresser, and occasionally, eat your cake too!  And don’t feel guilty about it! (Unless you are one of those people who ONLY does those things…then I’m not talking to you.)

I think that people who work very hard taking care of others very often forget to take care of themselves.  I see it in the eyes of my wife and others who spend so much time tending to the special needs of their children, siblings or parents.

The focus.

The Go-Go-Go.

The exhaustion!

Even when a particular need is met, there is often still a mountain of needs that are waiting to be taken care of.

No time to rest. Must get to the next task!

But what we all need to remember, that in some cases, being selfish is the most selfless thing you can do.  By taking care of yourself, you are better prepared, better able to deal with the challenges that you face.  It allows you to be more than just there.

Taking care of yourself could be getting some sleep, getting a run in, or maybe even something simply cosmetic like getting your hair done.  It’s important.  It’s important because if you don’t do it, you’re gonna crash and be useless.  Who can take better care of the ones you love better than you?  No one, except a rested you.
There’s a problem of course.  There are only 24 hours in a day.  Those hours can come and go very quickly.
When, Luau, when am I supposed to be able to do these things for myself? I hear ya.  I really do. Let me pose it a little differently with an unrelated short story:
Many years ago, the wife and I were struggling with a recommendation from a doctor regarding little Brooke.  I won’t get into specifics, but suffice it to say that it was a very difficult decision that took a lot of soul searching.  We kept asking ourselves, what happens if we do this?  What are the possible negatives going forward?  In the end, and I can’t remember whether it was the wife or I who came up with it, but we flipped it and asked ourselves, “what is the price if we don’t?”  Once we approached it from this perspective, our path was clear.
So I ask you this.  What is the consequence if you don’t somehow find the time to take care of yourself, both short-term and long-term?  And if you ultimately break down, who will be there to take care of those you have been working so hard to take care of?
I am selfish about my running.  4 – 6 hours a week.  Those 4 -6 hour are mine and no one else’s.  Sometimes it’s 90 minutes at 4:30 in the morning, sometimes it’s 2 hours starting at 11:00 at night.  If I’m lucky, I get a lunchtime run in.   It keeps me up even when the world conspires to bring me down, but it also contributes to hopefully keeping me around for at least another 50 – 60 years.  If I can be relatively sharp-minded and able-bodied until I’m 90, Brooke will have me around until she’s almost 60.  Hopefully by then she won’t need me the way she needs me now.  That is why I am selfish.
What do you need to be selfish about?
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This post is written somewhat stream-of- consciousness style. I have had two streams in my life running parallel to each other the past few weeks. I’m not sure what one has to do with the other, but they somehow feel connected…at least to me.

***

So a few weeks ago I tweaked my right knee again. I’ve been trying to ignore it, thinking that if I run more slowly, if I run more lightly, if I stretch more regularly, the pain will eventually go away. I’ve been following a training schedule for the upcoming October 3rd Smuttynose Marathon, and my rest days have helped, but honestly, after every run lately, I battle with varying levels of soreness.

***

Over the past several weeks, autism has raised its open hand on several occasions and slapped me pretty hard in the face. Every time it did, as much as I tried to put on a brave, happy face, it hurt. A lot.

I have, for the most part, long been the happy-go-lucky member of my family. As a kid growing up, I just kind of rolled with the punches. Now, with a family of my own, I still am the one who stresses the silver lining in any situation. I am the one who emphasizes the positives and ignores the negatives, almost to a fault. It’s not always easy, but I work hard to remain positive in just about any situation.

Even when autism slaps me in the face, I will often turn the other cheek and smile. Even when my Brooke goes to hide in the bathroom for 25 minutes, shredding a plastic bag meant for her wet bathing suit, because both the visual and auditory stimuli from a camp activity is overwhelming, I say, “well, at least she’s using her tools to remove herself from the situation instead of having crying fits like many of her typical peers.”

Even when she goes to a birthday party for one of her classmates and just can’t seem to appropriately break into the social interaction of several of her friends, awkwardly trying to insert herself and ultimately failing, I say, “She’s socially motivated! She’s not shying away!”

See? Silver lining – quite possibly augmented with a dose of mild denial. Though denial may be the wrong word. I am not in denial of the fact that my baby girl has autism. Shoot! I’ll tell anybody who will listen about it. But maybe I’m in denial about some of the aspects of her autism that affect her life.

I have never been one to dwell on the negatives. At least, not on the outside.

But I’m tired. I try not to show it. I try to re-frame it. And very often, I convince myself everything is going to be all right – even when things look bleak. But those slaps get harder and stronger. As she gets older, the gaps become bigger and more noticable. My attempts at smiling have become less genuine. The tears that I shed in private when no one is looking have become more common.

I wonder and worry about the future (both immediate and more frighteningly, distant) of my little Brooke.

***

On Tuesday night I attended the Kick-Off for the Autism Speaks Boston Walk. Don’t worry. I’m not here soliciting donations (that’s the topic of another post). The Kick-Off is meant to pump up the walkers as they get ready to shift their fund-raising into high gear, usually done with inspirational speeches from parents and politicians. I think they did a good job of that, but for me, it was Autism Speaks’ President Mark Roithmayr’s speech that struck a chord with me. He talked of the scientific research Autism Speaks funds and the recent findings that are helping to unlock and solve this puzzle we call the Autism Spectrum. There may never be a “cure” so to speak for autism, but the more scientifically based knowledge we have, the greater we will understand this disorder. The greater our understanding, the better equipped we will be to help our autistic sons, daughters, siblings and friends. It gave me renewed hope.

That hope was buoyed by news of the passage of an Autism Insurance Bill in both the State House and Senate (unanimously I might add) and a video-taped promise by our governor that he would pass the bill if it made it to his desk. Awareness is making a difference!

***

Yesterday I had the great pleasure of meeting a scientist who has been working in the field of autism research for over 35 years. She was delving into solving this puzzle long before most people had even heard of autism. Dr. Helen Tager-Flusberg spoke to a small group of us who have been touched in some way by autism. We had been invited to see firsthand where the dollars go and how they are used. She spoke of her ongoing research, concurrently studying the receptive language of non-verbal children and the infant siblings of children with autism. Her enthusiasm, even after 35 years in the field, is infectious. She is still eager to learn, to discover. I could feel myself get excited for the research she was doing, thinking, “gee, I wish I were 22 years old again so I could apply to graduate school and come work with her!” But the most joyful part of my experience of meeting Dr. Tager-Flusberg and touring her lab, was seeing the fire and energy of those that worked for her. These young women are the future of autism research, they are excited by what they are doing and they quite obviously knew their stuff.

It was somewhat bitter-sweet to see this because much of what they do will more directly help those that come after me and my little Brooke, but there are bound to be some things that come out of their research that will help all people on the spectrum, whether it is directly or indirectly.

I walked out of the meeting with renewed strength. Autism will continue to takes its swipes at me, of that I have no doubt. The private tears will continue to be shed, but my resolve to help has been hardened. I can feel that resolve bleeding into other aspects of my life as well.

***

I have long compared our family’s personal journey with autism as a marathon, not a sprint. This was long before I started running regularly. A year after Brooke started receiving therapies to help her cope and communicate better with the world, I said that we were no longer crawling a marathon, we were walking. We still have a very long way to go, but we are walking. Her progress has been phenomenal, but it has had its up and downs. We will often take 3 steps forward, 4 steps backward and then 2 step forward again. A painful but ultimately positive path.

***

What does this have to do with running? with my preparation for Smuttynose? With my troublesome knee?

2 days ago, I sat looking at my knee. I’m pretty sure it’s not a joint issue per se. I pulled, possibly ripped, something over a year ago in my hamstring. Something actually popped behind my knee. The doctors never found anything, but it’s never been quite the same. 3 marathons, 4 half-marathon and several shorter races later, I am faster and stronger overall, but my knee hurts. 2 days ago, I wondered how I was going to deal with this. 2 days ago, emotionally hammered by the recent trials of autism, I wondered what I was doing. Why was I running? Smuttynose is 10 weeks away. New York, 15.

After the event of the last two days and speaking to Mark and seeing his enthusiasm about my running for Autism Speaks this November, the purpose became clearer. I need to do what’s right to be ready to run in October and November. Maybe these last few days were about not having to be in denial to have hope? Maybe one doesn’t need to be Pollyanna to be positive? I don’t know.

What I can tell you is that after the Kick-Off and after my tour of Dr. Tager-Flusberg’s laboratory, the pain I have been ignoring (both autism and the knee), have my full attention again. The focus is back. I’m going to take a week and really let the knee heal through real rest, massage and stretching. How else this is going to manifest itself over the next 3 months, I am not sure, but I want to thank Mark Roithmayr, Erica Giunta, Kelley Borer, Christine Pecorella, Dr. Tager-Flusberg and the rest of the Autism Speaks team for helping me regain my footing.

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