Wherein Fitness Is a Dangerous Thing

So I’ve been running a fair bit, training for this thing. I’ve run a bit on and off over the last few years, and the hardest bit is the first few weeks. My body wonders what it is I’m doing. It’s not that it’s tiring, but, rather, my legs aren’t used to the movement. Fitness isn’t really an issue. I reckon I’ve ridden near 50,000 miles over the last ten years (including several years of “serious” riding), so I have a pretty decent base. My fear for the GTR Ultra was that I’d do too much too soon, simply because my fitness level wouldn’t serve as a limiter for doing something stupid.

I had been kinda-sorta building my mileage–doing a few miles a couple of days during the week, then doing a longer run (up to an hour or so) on the weekends. After a few weeks, I felt I could try running the “short way” home from work (roughly seven miles). This felt pretty reasonable, and the following week, I ran the “long way” home (roughly nine miles) without much trouble. (Lest anyone think I am some sort of running freak, these runs are not at all “fast” and over those distances at this point, I’m content to run 9-10 minute miles). I followed this up with a longer run on the weekend, which was done primarily on the few trails that loop through the woods in Highland Park.

The longest length of trail, which skims the hillside overlooking Butler Street and Washington Boulevard, was designed primarily as singletrack for mountain biking. It’s the classic bench cut trail, following the contours of the land, never flat, always going up and down. There are a few sustained climbs, but those are branches from the main trail, bringing you up to Lake Shore Drive. The full loop of this trail (which is really not a loop, but a lollipop) is roughly a mile and half. So….I ran three laps on the lollipop, climbed up to Lake Shore Drive, followed short bit of singletrack to the reservoir, did a loop there, then finished with another loop and half of the the lower singletrack. Door to door, it was a little under 9 miles.

I felt good on the run, and made a point to open it up a bit on the rolling bits of the trail, as I typically descend like a snail. This felt good, too, most of the time, but as I finished, I noticed my left knee was a bit sore. The soreness continued through the day, and it was a bit painful to walk down the stairs. I wrote this off to just a bit of soreness after a hard run, and I followed up with a short run two days later. This was a disaster, and my knee was sore almost immediately, and the run promptly turned into a shuffle as I tried to maintain some semblance of form. I did a very short run the following day (obstinate as I am), and this was okay, but short, so there wasn’t much time for my knee to get sore. I did 10k run the following weekend, and that was a bit of train wreck. There was a fair bit of snow on the ground, and I couldn’t resist hitting a trail or two in Highland Park. Ironically, I felt great on the trails, likely because they went up, and when I ran down Highland from the reservoir, my knee was quite sore, and the grandpa shuffle returned, followed by a bit of walking as I approached home. I wanted to throw my running shoes into Heths Run and be done with this running thing, but I knew that really wasn’t an option and, anyway, despite the pain, I had been enjoying it. I shuffled home, acted like a two year for a bit, then got over it and wished I could be running.

Jen thought it was likely some IT band trouble, since my fitness heavily outweighed my leg strength (this is true, and getting up to nine miles within a month of real running could be seen as a Bad Idea). She suggested I talk to someone about it, so I emailed our running friends, and they concurred that, yes, it was probably IT band related. “Strengthen the legs, and keep running as long as you can do it without limping.” Okay, then. The Theraband is my new best friend.

This was a rough week for my psyche, fragile as it is. I’m staring down the barrel of this 30k race, and now I can’t run hard. Or very long. I did two more short runs, including a few sprints, and those felt alright. Not great, but I mostly managed to avoid the grandpa shuffle. I’m sore today after this morning’s run, but it’s time to simply deal with it if the pain isn’t immobilizing me. I’ll likely lay off the running for a few days, as we leave for Florida this weekend, and Jen and I have a few runs planned. It would really, really, really be great to do some reasonable distances.