The minute I felt it, I knew my back was screwed. At least for awhile.
I used to get sciatica pretty bad in my early 30s, and then I didn’t get it again much until the past year. Yet I don’t know for sure that the thing keeping me from running this past weekend was sciatica. It might be muscle spasms of some sort. It might be arthritis. If I check WebMD, I’m sure it will be cancer. I don’t think it’s anything terribly serious since, after 48 hours, the pain and discomfort has largely subsided.
However, it’s mighty inconvenient.
I have a half-marathon to run in five weeks.
Here’s the reality: Come April 29, I’m traveling 13.1 miles, even if I crawl it. Last year, I over-trained in my most humble of opinion, and while I bested my time from the previous year by five minutes, I also wasn’t sure I’d be able to run it at all, as late as the night before, when I was pounding Advil because of foot pain.
Mind over matter. Good chemistry over both.
But I’m not messing around with an achy back. I spent my Saturday largely on the couch with an ice pack and a fair amount of ibuprofen, before I was told by my chiropractor sister-in-law that I needed to be walking. That led me to go to the grocery store, and I freely admit that the walking helped.
Sitting bad. Walking good. I guess it keeps the joints lubricated.
Nevertheless, I wanted to get some kind of value out of a wasted weekend. I say “wasted” because I’m not the type of person who sits around and does nothing. This was a wasted weekend, but yet it was valuable because rest and recovery are valuable. They’re absolutely necessary, and if I’m guilty of anything in my journey to improve as a runner, it’s that I’ve taken the running part of it seriously but not any of the rest of it.
The recovery. The stretching. The strength training. The diet. Documenting it all.
I’m the Allen Iverson of running. “Practice?”
I’m the anti-Joel Embiid of of running. I don’t “trust the process.”
That’s two 76ers references in one post. Impressive.
I joked in one of my recent YouTube videos that I’m not a runner, I just like to run. That makes no sense. Of course I’m a runner. Look at all them selfies!
But I’m a slow runner compared to most. I’m really rollin’ when I average a 11:30-12:00 mile. Most of the time, I hover around 13:00.
All that matters is that I started running.
And I got started running nearly four years ago when I started walking.
And I started walking because of work.
I worked in the corporate communications department for Love’s Travel Stops & Country Stores. They’re super passionate about supporting Children’s Hospitals across the country, and especially the Children’s Miracle Network. I worked closely with the Love family on this. Their support is genuine. They’ve raised $20M over the years for this terrific organization.
I did NOT get to meet Marie Osmond. That would have been cool. I would have told her of my love for the song, “There’s No Stopping Your Heart.” Seriously, I would have.
Anyway, CMN had this new thing called a Miracle Marathon, where folks would walk a mile each day over the course of a month, eventually reaching 27.2 miles, which is one mile more than an actual marathon.
Our team walked together each morning, a walking morning meeting of sorts. I was into it, even buying a pair of walking shoes from Amazon so that I could walk without wearing out my dressier shoes. And that walking turned into lunchtime walking, which turned into running.
I think the thing that really made running click with my personality is the idea that I could compete on a regular basis, and it was all on me. Yes, I’m referring to 5Ks and 10Ks, not that I didn’t know they existed. It’s just that I never really put it together in my head that, theoretically, I could go to any city, anywhere, and run their event. By myself if need be.
The sheer solitary nature of running is appealing to me as an introvert.
I don’t want to run with the pack.
I want to run by my ********* self.
Once this clicked, running clicked, at least mentally.
Except for the running part. The one-leg-in-front-of-the-other part of it. The slowness. The heavy breathing. The out-of-shapedness. It took some time for the sport of running to click physically with me.
I attacked the sport (yes, it’s a sport) the same way one would attack eating an elephant: one bite at a time. I couldn’t run a full mile without stopping at least once. I might have been able to run three total, if I took enough breaks. However, I was determined to give it a go, setting a goal for myself to run the 5K at the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon in April 2015.
That causes me to chuckle a bit in 2018, the idea that I was kind of intimidated by a 5K. Alas, while I laugh about it relative to me, I’m hyper-sensitive about that relative to other people, folks who might feel inferior because they can’t run a mile much less a 5K. In my eyes, anybody who decides they want to run, to take a serious stab at the sport, is embarking on the holiest of personal efforts.
Running is about improving physically.
Running is about sharpening mentally.
Running is a competition of one: You vs. yourself.
And, truth be told, you could substitute walking for running, or make it swimming or any activity that gets the blood pumping. I find all these quests to be sacred.
However, I chose running.
I finished my first 5K in 2015, the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon 5K, in 43 minutes. It’s my slowest race 5K to-date with my best being 33 minutes. I have yet to break the 30-minute mark, but I truly think if the weather were just right and I had an extra bounce in my step and the right tunes, I could break 30.
Truly, I need to be doing more 5Ks. They satisfy the itch to get out there among other runners and test yourself.
For my first one, I was truly worried about finishing it, and was slightly embarrassed that I wasn’t able to run the whole thing — that is, until I realized that maintaining a gallop isn’t required. You can stop and walk for a bit if you feel like it.
That’s right. Other people do that, too. Heck, nowadays, I run races where packs of good runners walk often to catch their wind and drink a Gatorade.
And just like that, a little more shame peeled away. Shame is everywhere on this planet, and the more we can rob it of its power, the better.
Alas, I thought, “I can do this!”
Of course, the competitor in me wanted to finish a 5K faster, much faster than 43 minutes. There are ultimately limits to how fast I’d be able to go. I’m 47 years old, and I wasn’t fast when I was 15. It’s funny. I asked a friend of mine, a fantastic runner, about speed. He told me it’s shockingly simple. You just have to run faster. Your body will get used to it after awhile.
He’s several years older than me and in killer shape.
I don’t think it’s that simple.
At first, I trained by running the treadmill at my local YMCA in Norman, Okla. Eventually, I took it outside and started running around my block. Five times around is exactly three miles. Ten spins around the ol’ block is just about a 10K, and I guesstimate that 22 times around constitutes a half marathon.
However, I graduated from that quickly. I plotted a course in my neighborhood that runs up and down Robinson Street. I started running to the beautiful University of Oklahoma campus and back. After awhile, I started running at Lake Hefner in Oklahoma City. One trip around the dam is exactly 9.73 miles per Map My Run from last year.
The idea that I’d run 9.73 at any point with only a couple of walking stops was ludicrous to me in 2015.
And yet there I was in 2016, preparing for my first half-marathon.
For the record, I didn’t follow a plan or run with a training pack, although I did run a Red Coyote event at the Oklahoma City Zoo that was really enjoyable. I’d use apps like Map My Walk or Run to keep track of my miles, and I’d loosely review half-marathon plans to gauge whether I was doing too much or too little.
I tried to be sure to listen to my body religiously, to the point of not taking Advil when I was sore because I needed to listen to my body. I’m not convinced that’s a smart thing because NSAIDs help reduce inflammation, which I understand to be a good thing. I’m torn.
Eventually, I ran ten miles one weekend and then almost 12 on another, and it damn near killed me. I was gassed by the end of the run, walking into the 7-Eleven at Robinson and Flood and Norman and guzzling a Gatorade right there on the spot. Luckily, I carried some means of paying for the product, lest my running habit land me in the pokey.
In retrospect, two runs beyond ten miles for a half-marathon was overkill. Here’s why: whether it be a 5K, a half-marathon or probably a full marathon, if the event is worth its salt, then you’re going to be filled with adrenaline.
In the case of the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon, you’re also filled with a lot of emotion, especially if you’re from the Sooner State and happen to know anybody impacted by the terrorist attack of April 19, 1995. The emotion plus the adrenaline is easily worth three miles.
Add the cheering fans and drumlines and the gorilla along Gorilla Hill, and it might be worth five miles!
I recall at my first half-marathon in 2016 overhearing several people say they didn’t train at all. They’re just running 13.1 miles cold. Mind you, they’re in good shape. But still.
The Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon, as an event, cemented my love for running and absolutely set the bar for me as to what a great event should feel like. My first half-marathon in 2016 ended with a time of 2:53:00.
My goal was to be under 3:00:00, and I did that.
My next goal was to eclipse 2:53:00.
And I did. 2:48:xx.
Half-marathon, Year 2 disappointed me quite a bit, initially, because I was pacing at 2:30:xx for the first half of the run. I used my MapMyRun app, and I saw that I was running 11:30 miles from the starting line to the state Capitol. That’s pretty good.
But that gave way to 13:00 and 14:00 miles once the cheerleaders and drumlines and local cheerleaders faded away, by the time you’re running across Northwest 50th Street. The last 4-5 miles of the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon half-marathon route are pretty sparse. That’s when runners need the encouragement the most.
If I may, a note about encouragement: The folks who cheer runners on are a big damned deal, and I never would have guessed that before I ran my first half. I had no idea how helpful it was, but that encouragement is powerful.
Nevertheless, I finished with a time better than the year before, and that was the goal. So, I’ll celebrate that. I’ll also recognize this: it felt significantly easier the second year than the first.
What was different?
Well, I was suffering from foot pain toward the end of April, probably from over-training, although I hadn’t trained as much in Year 2 as I had in Year 1. I did a 9.73-mile run around Hefner and called it a day as far as my longest training run. The pain was so bad that I was not 100 percent sure I’d be able to run the half, as late as the night before.
The other thing that was different was my carb loading and night-before routine. First, carb loading is real and effective for a long run. Basically, you eat as much Italian as you can stand between Thursday and Saturday before a Sunday event. Fill up those carb stores to the max. Second, Kristi and I got a hotel downtown, blocks from the race, so I didn’t have to wake up at 3:30 in the morning to eat breakfast and then drive downtown and park.
Again, that’s a secret for me that wasn’t a secret to anybody else. Of course it helps to stay close to the race, especially if it’s big. I get two extra hours of sleep and don’t have to expend as much energy between home and the course. Our choice was the Hampton Inn, and we snuggled in by 9 p.m. the night before and watched a re-run of Johnny Carson from about 1975. Back before 1980, Johnny was on for 90 minutes every night, and the absolute best era for Johnny was the 1970s.
I brought my pre-race breakfast, too, and stuck it in the fridge: Waffles with breaded chicken breast and syrup. The waffles are frozen and the chicken breast, too. It was all soggy after I microwaved it the next morning, but my body couldn’t tell any difference in terms of energy. I needed that protein, those carbohydrates and all that sugar.
It fueled me.
And that takes me back to today, recovering from a tweaked back and a sore ass. Aging is not for the timid, but stretching and other techniques for self-care are available to the willing. I just can’t run and run and run without training and stretching and massaging, foam rolling and plenty of rest.
My goal for the 2018 Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon half-marathon is anything below 2:48:00. My confidence isn’t real high; I’m 15 pounds heavier than I was last year.
However, I’m also a year wiser, and maybe there is something to not training as much. Maybe I’ll be fresher.
Besides, like my in-shape runner friend told me, “If you want to go faster, all you have to do is, well, go faster!”
Makes sense to me.