Sunday, September 21, 2008

Greasing the Wheels

If only it were that easy. Wouldn't it be so cool if, as part of an injury, you could just go to the "body" shop, get some new parts, a grease and lube, maybe bang a few dents out the fender, a glossy new coat of paint and then be back on the roads as fast as ever and only having missed one or two days.

But, as I'm finding out, it's not nearly that easy to come back from a major injury, especially when the odometer has over 70,000 miles on it. I've been pretty lucky in my 30 or so years of running and racing. I've had one stress fracture (1984) and some patellar tendinitis issues around 2005. But, even at that, I've not had a serious injury that not only kept me from running but prevented me from even keeping base fitness.

But, that all changed back on April Fool's Day of this year. On that fateful Tuesday afternoon, I had the misfortune of fracturing my kneecap. Even though surgery wasn't needed, there was a pretty extended healing period. First up was 8 weeks in a full leg brace to keep my leg immobilized and let the fracture knit back together. Turns out that when you have your leg in a brace and can't bend it, there are some serious limitations to the types of physical activity that you can undertake. Can't swim, can't walk, can't ride a bike, etc. Also can't drive, sitting is a bit of an issue, and don't even get me started about what it takes to go to the bathroom for a number 2.

So, we're now up the first of June. By this time the quad in that leg has atrophied to nothing and I have no range of motion. So, off to Physical therapy. I've got to tell you, it's a bit of frustrating experience to go from running a 2:30 marathon to the big success story being the ability to actually contract what is left of your quad muscle. Over the next month, which included a visit to Zombro, I was able to get the range of motion back and begin strengthening the leg. But, still no running. So, now we're up to 3 months - and it's pretty clear that all my fitness is long gone; plus, it's going to be a long road to get it back.

The first running steps took place on the 4th of July weekend on some soft trails. 4 minutes walk; 1 minute run for 20 minutes. Hey - a whole 4:00 of running. Well, running is a bit of a misnomer. Maybe 10:00 pace (maybe 12:00) that was awkward at best. More of a hop, hop, stumble, stumble. But, at least it was progress.

Over the next several weeks I followed the old Gallowalk concept. Walk a bit, run a bit. By late July, I was running more than walking - and my run segments were getting into the low 8:00 pace range.

Onto the last weekend of July and Camp Vermillion. My first continuous runs!!!! Again, slow and awkward. But, the knee seemed to be structurally okay. No pain at the fracture site and the joint, tendons and ligaments all seemed to be okay. The problem was that due to the muscle atrophy in the quads, there were imbalances that led to the kneecap not tracking properly. So, a bit of pain. Nothing severe; but, still an irritant. Add that to the fact that I was horribly out of shape and it was hard to get overly excited about being able to "run". For the next month, it was mostly a matter of run a day, rest a day with runs being 2 to 4 miles.

By early August, I was running several days in a row before taking a break with no apparent ill effects. Plus, lots of stretching and strengthening work to try to get the leg back in order. I lot of work; but, the hope was to be able to be able to actually have some semblance of racing fitness by Montana Cup.

So, here we are into mid September. I'm running pretty much every day. My quad is getting stronger and there is actually some muscle definition returning. The kneecap is tracking better (not quite 100% - but coming along nicely). I'm doing about 30 to 35 mpw with much of it at 7:30 pace or better. I've even had the ability to do a workout of short hills (uphills - I'm still pretty tentative on downhills). This Wednesday I did my first tempo run. A short 2 miler with a goal of 6:30 pace. I was able to hit 6:15's; but, damn, it was a lot of work. I'm really longing to get back to the days where 6:30's are hit during long training runs.

Now, however, the body is rebelling a bit. I'm sure it's a bit of compensation as the leg is getting it's alignment back together; but, my right IT band has flared up. It's incredibly frustrating to finally be coming back to some semblance of normalcy and then have to take a couple of steps backwards. And, that's where the title of the post comes from. If only I could grease the wheels and jump back on the roads full force it would be a grand and glorious thing.

But, that's not going to happen - so, it's a matter of keep trying to be smart - stretch, ICE, be smart with mileage and efforts, etc. Here's to hoping for the best.

See you on the roads, tracks and trails.

The Muddy Buzzard

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