Sunday, April 15, 2012

Aquatic Antisocial

It's a bleary-eyed 6am as I hang my legs over the edge of the pool about to embark on my workout.  Today the schedule calls for 8 x 5 minute intervals of pool running with 1 min. recovery, bookended by a warmup and cool down.  I know that in order to complete this I'll need a good deal of mental resolve but I'm not quite there yet.  In the interest of hastening bone growth I've given up coffee and beer- both known retardants of osteocyte function.  This is no small feat as anyone who knows my consumption habits can attest and this morning I feel the unmistakable foggy shroud of the former, amplified by a short night of sleep.  

All week I've been coming to this pool with the singular goal of just getting it done.  I don't chat it up in the locker room, sit in the sauna with that hairy dude, or otherwise engage in any form of social contact.  I wear a heart rate monitor, a waterproof Ipod, and I'm in and out: all business.

Wearing this walking cast problematizes certain things.  For instance, the obligatory shower before entering the pool.  To do so I must first remove the boot (which has a wieldy outer shell), hop over to the shower, shower, put the boot back on, walk out to the pool, then take it off again to get in the water.  In my desire for efficiency I've taken to simply walking over to the showers and getting my hair wet as I hold my leg away from my body.  I'll rub some water on my chest so as to give the impression of having taken a full bath prior to entering the pool.  I then hurry over to an open lane and jump in before anyone accosts me.

15 min. warmup.  Once I'm in and going I'm glad to be here.  I'm even developing a fondness for this routine, despite myself.  I begin my intervals.  The effort feels surprisingly hard and I'm again reminded at how intense the work sessions must be to elevate my heart rate appropriately.  The 1 minute recoveries pass almost instantaneously.

I pee in the pool.

I can't help myself.  Just being in water makes me have to urinate, even if I emptied my bladder immediately before entering.  I slow my cadence imperceptibly but keep a look of stern concentration on my face so as to avoid detection.  The only evidence of my infraction is a small envelope of surprising heat for several seconds.

As I finish #6 I notice that they are pulling lane lines to prepare for the aqua-aerobics class.  My heart rate is 160- with the 10% rule I equate this to around 176, or right around lactate threshold.  I'm now without a lane to run in but I keep going, hugging the plastic barrier as the deep end slowly takes on the feel of a geriatric unit.  There are only 8 ladies in this class and a vast swath of aquamarine real estate to be had so I feel justified in hugging this barrier, well out of their slow-moving, age-spotted, telomerically-compromised grasp.

The instructor- about 20-  is energetically jumping up and down on the sidelines but the old ladies pay no heed.  They are clustered in 3 small social groups chatting avidly, the water lapping at the hair on the base of their neck so that it hangs down in dark gray tendrils.  They bob slowly up and down effortlessly, legs moving in distracted, desultory circles: giant floating bags of jelly encasing small skeletons of brittle, osteoporotic bones.  

I continue straining, a slight wheeze on my expiration now. 

There are two aerobics participants that seem uniquely uninvested in the class proceedings.  As I slowly make my way to and fro across the pool I note them coming closer and closer to my line, eventually planting themselves directly in my path, now full outliers from the rest of their group and with their backs to the instructor.  I make a large slow-motion arc around them as I complete my seventh interval.  This takes longer than you might expect- long enough in fact to catch more than one dirty look.  On my way back on the recovery interval one of them addresses me haughtily: "this area of the pool is for deep water aerobics only.  You'll have to use one of those lanes."  She gestures with her head.  Those lanes are 5 feet deep or shallower, the suggestion untenable for my lanky body.  I say nothing, smile benignly, and begin my last interval, again sweeping wide around their pale, motionless bodies, distorted and condensced as seen through the refracting surface of the water.

Keep focused.  I can feel my face and head sweating.  It is now getting light outside and there is a fresh dusting of snow on the peaks outside the window: Mt. Wire, Grandeur, Mt. Olympus- all my regular training routes.  A ray of sun beams across the pool lighting it on fire and for a moment I am blinded, suddenly transported outside onto a summit, the front range of the Wasatch spreading out before me in entropic waves.  It is momentary but glorious and I get goosebumps.  Out of the corner of my eye I see one of them, the woman who addressed me, move more aggressively than she has all class to get to the edge of the pool, water droplets flinging off her hair.  She pulls herself out and pads determinedly down the concrete length to the lifeguard.  There is vigorous gesticulating and pointing but I can't catch what is said.  Only 2 minutes left to go.  I spin around on the east end and churn my legs as fast as they will go over the final stretch, all hamstring and hip flexor.  Tag the wall and I'm done.  I pull myself up out of the water, hop over to the bench, take off the flotation belt, strap on my boot, and without looking back limp to the locker room, my boot making heavy, echoed thuds with each step.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A Change of Plans...

Bummer.  After nearly two weeks of mid-foot pain after the Antelope Island 50m I had an MRI this past Friday. 

Stress fracture of the lateral cuneiform, bone contusion on the calcaneus, peroneus longus tenosynovitis, and mild achilles tendinosis.

Of course the only real game changer in that set of diagnoses is the first one.  The stress fracture: bain of the runner's existence and inevitable harbinger of 6 weeks + of no running whatsoever and then a gradual reintroduction of stress to the bone.  The imaging gives clues to the likely etiology.  I had entered the race with a slight achilles injury which flared at about mile 12 or so, forcing me to alter my biomechanics and foot strike.  The rearrangement of my gait, compounded over the course of a fast 50 mile race (in the context of having done very little specific training for this type of running) provided an overload of stress on my foot resulting in breakdown.  Seems like a good hypothesis at least.

It's interesting how quickly so many things can shift.  Just days prior I had been pounding up and down Mt. Wire and Mt. Olympus, telling myself that my foot was indeed getting better and it was nothing to worry about, that the Zane Grey 50 was still in the cards for me in a couple weeks.  I disregarded the fact that every step brought on a wince and my foot hurt to touch.  Running hard involves in large part the ignoring of bodily distress signal, or at least the recasting of this signal in a different light.  I've run through plenty of injuries in the past (for better or worse) so wasn't thinking this one was going to be very different. Now, suddenly I had a broken bone, a heavy plastic walking cast, a crushing sense of disappointment, and a lot of time on my hands.  The stark, honest rupture of calcium hydroxylapatite matrix and some tough existential questions.

As I re-equilibrated over the weekend, lounging about, doing housechores and spending time with family, I thought to myself, baffled: "so this is what being a normal person is like."  It's amazing how differently a Saturday goes when you aren't spending 5 hours running.   I might actually be a productive person if I didn't spend such large amounts of time either in aerobic exertion or basking in the hazy, contented afterglow.

Yup, not that big a deal in the larger scheme of things.  But the sense of loss highlights the tenacity with which running entwines itself amidst one's meaning-making machinery.  There are other factors at play here to be sure that help explain the malaise: the fostered dependence on one's endogenous opioid system (the associated squirts of dopamine and the withdrawal thereof), habituation to routine and expectation, the social outlets afforded, competitive goals.  And there is this: running has become an inextricable part of me.  It is a reflection of who I am, my means of connection and exploration, a domain to test myself and grow, an expression of love. 

With cycling out of the question for now I've been trying to make friends again with the pool in all her chlorinated claustrophobia.  Water running is likely the most mind-numbingly boring activity of all time, surpassed perhaps only by swimming itself with its insular immersion, redundancy, awkwardness, and peculiar cadre of lycra-clad, large shouldered, strangely-non-athletic looking mammals who, for some bizarre reason, have forsaken the sublime mountains just outside the window in favor of this overcrowded cesspool of chloramine vapors.

In sum, it is mental training par excellance.

Without the same gravitational forces to overcome and because of the compressive forces of the water which increases venous return, to achieve any semblance of a workout pool running you need to hammer at what feels like significant intensity.  Even so, heart rates are around 10% lower for the same aerobic efforts.  The plus side is that without any eccentric muscular damage you can do intervals every day without risking injury.  And so it is: Monday- 10 x 90 sec. with 30 sec recovery, Tues - 6 x 2:30 with 30 sec recovery (interrupted by Masters Swim class, arg!), Wed- 12 x 2:30 with 30 sec recovery (to make up for Tuesday's poor showing).  I read an article about Paula Radcliffe destroying herself with marathon pool running sessions and vomiting on her way home as she came back from injury and have made this my new goal over the next 6 weeks.

I've also resumed doing pullups in earnest.  While this has little if any specific impact on maintaining running form it at least provides a handy outlet for short-term goals.  Having neglected my upper body for the better part of 4 years my lats and biceps are as flaccid as Claire Meuse's (my grandmother).  My inaugural showing resulted in a pitiful 15 pullups: a far cry from the legendary 5 sets of 10 pullups of 2008 , but at least it is a starting place.