Surprise #5 – Step-by-Step

I was cleared to run beginning May 1st – just short of 12 weeks post surgery. I had been planning for this re-entry for weeks and then it was here! I have now run four days, every other day, starting at 2 miles, then 2.5, then 3, and today 3.5 for a week’s total of 11 miles. Nothing fast or fancy but running nonetheless!   And all runs included running drills. To begin, I broke the two miles into half-mile segments, with about three minutes of walking, jogging, and stretching in between. Each day I increased the long segment half a mile. So today my final run was 2 miles. I’ll continue this approach for the next couple weeks until the total distance is a single run and I am up to about six miles. Then I’ll incorporate some faster pace and easy hills. By month end I look to be up to 20 miles a week. One step at a time!

So, what have I learned and how might this help others coming back from a similar layoff? First, as much alternative exercise I have done, mainly fast walking, water running, and StairMaster, it was not running. And certain muscles and joints let me know that! I had some soreness, technically called DOMS, or delayed onset muscle soreness, especially in my hamstrings. It wasn’t severe and I had hoped this would go away during the off days. But it persisted.   Ideally one waits to exercise affected muscles and joints until symptom free. So when I ran I paid attention to whether the running made it worse and affected my running stride. It didn’t so I kept it up and that must have been OK since today I had no DOMS in my hamstrings. So I seem to be off and running!   However, everyone needs to pay close attention in this re-entry phase to DOMS. Especially if you feel it in “deep” places like joints. This is the body’s way of telling us to slow down. It’s an effective feedback loop. True, I overrode the signs a bit, but I did not try to run through the DOMS. Rather I listened to it.

For me, the question remains whether I can come back fully from this injury and if so, how fast. In answering this question I will be as much an observer as participant. My initial plan (and we know how best-laid plans can change!) is to continue to build up mileage and speed in June and run three races: The Corrib Pub 5K on June 4th, then the 5M Ribfest, a USATF-NE Grand Prix event on the 18th and the BAA 10K on June 25th.   I have no illusions about being in top form for these races but hope by having some targets to shoot for, it will focus my training and yield respectable results. I expect to run 26-28 miles a week in June and then in July and August build up to 35 with more speed and hills.  The goal is to be in competitive form by September 1. In round months, I will have been off three months and then on for four.

I see two more entries in this blog series I’ve entitled Surprise. The sixth after the next month of buildup and what I learn and observe during that time. And the 7th after the June races. The story of coming back will continue to unfold in the fall, but I see those posts following various themes around aging and performance. I will continue to blog about other topics throughout this time.

I much appreciate the feedback received on this series of blogs on the fall and recovery. If it has provided a small level of inspiration and encouragement that in spite of set backs we don’t have to fold up our tents, then it will have been worth the time spent writing the blogs. As I said previously, it has proven to be effective therapy for me as well!

I’ll complete this post with a report on my efforts to continue resistance training throughout recovery. Those who I run with and/or have worked with me know I am almost maniacal (OK, I am maniacal) about strength and flexibility training. For years, I have spent nearly as much time in the gym as running. I continue to see this as a key to successful and enjoyable life-long running. So, a few days after surgery, I was in the gym doing lower body weights, albeit at much reduced levels. As the rib pain subsided, I increased the load. I was proscribed from lifting more than 10 pounds for over two months so I was relegated to machines with plates and pins. But this lid was lifted in April and I’ve started back doing the full portfolio of about 30 different full-body exercises with free weights, machines, balls, and ropes.

I was, however, reminded by my surgeon, that the full remodeling (i.e., healing) of the bone may take up to six months so to be careful and progressive. This was also emphasized at the American College of Sports Medicine’s Health and Fitness Summit I attended in San Diego on April 6-9, where Peter Ronai of Sacred Heart University presented on Resistance Training Through the Lifespan. He had a segment on injury recovery and noted (stressed!) that pain is not the indicator of remodeling of our various tissues (muscles, tendons, and bones.) That this takes much longer, sometimes months longer, before healing is complete. And to act otherwise often leads to re-injury.

I will admit I have pushed it a bit. For example, I started two weeks ago on the bench press, where pre-surgery I was doing 100 pounds with three sets of 10-12 reps. To begin, I used just the 45 pound bar and even that was uncomfortable – I could feel the pull on the ribs when the bar was brought down to chest level. But last week I added 10 pounds and then yesterday 20 pounds. It didn’t feel hard doing it but today I am pretty sore. So, I’ll need to take a few days off from the bench press and let the DOMS settle.

All in all, I am quite pleased with and most grateful for the progress to date.   And am even more convinced that our overall physical condition helps us navigate the rough waters that inevitably challenge us.

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