12 June 2009

Fully Integrated

Back in the dark days of non-running, after the foot surgery on Mr. Big Toe, Dr. Foot Doctor told me that it would take six months for the tendon repair to become “fully integrated”. Well, a week ago, June 5th, marked six months since The Big Slice. I am officially fully integrated.

I’m not entirely sure what it means to be fully integrated. Six months after the slice, my lower right appendage has a new definition of normal, which will never be the same as the old. I’ve pretty much given up on curling Mr. Big Toe. Persistent stiffness and mild ache after hard workouts are part of life. But I’m running, and I’m getting back into the neighborhood of the pre-snap-twang-there-goes-Mr.-Big-Toe days.

Being slightly obsessed, I track my “Average Training Pace”, and being the neighborhood spreadsheet jock at the office, of course I’ve got it graphed and analyzed. Call me nuts, but this data has proven very useful and enlightening.

Somewhere around two years into my Second Lap, I pondered the value of this information, built the spreadsheet, and spent a few hours going back through my logs to fill in the historical data. Determining the pace of a workout wasn’t always possible, and some workouts, slow for social reasons, skewed the data, but what emerged was a striking trend of increasing fitness leading to increasing mileage and a steadily decreasing average training pace (the yellow line in the graph, note there is no axis for the pace, it’s just a relative number adjusted to fit on the same graph):

OK, at this point you’re convinced I’m a loony and should be locked up. Yeah, maybe, but perhaps I’m still just a geek at heart. And we all remember that the geek got the cheerleader in Revenge of the Nerds. Right, enough of that, onward…

So I’d been riding this train, faster and faster, when off the side of the trestle we fell, or smacked into the mountainside, or, pick your favorite metaphor. Four and a half months off, reset the clock to zero, and start again. Did you notice I cut off the right side of that chart? Now we reveal, as Paul Harvey used to say, the rest of the story.

March was agonizing, and April not much better, save for the joy of the Boston Marathon. My average training pace rocketed up to levels not seen since I started running four years earlier. And worse, despite being slow, those miles felt pretty awful a lot of the time. I wondered if it would take me as many years to work it back down as it did the first time.

But a funny thing happened. In early May my body simply started going faster. It was like a switch got flipped. I wasn’t really working harder – or if I was, I wasn’t noticing it. But that runner’s metabolism kicked back in, and my pace dropped from the eight minute range to seven and a half just like that, nearly overnight. They say it takes 6-8 weeks for your body’s metabolism to adjust, whether you’re starting or stopping a major fitness program. Whoever they are, they’re right. Again, the chart – this time the whole chart – tells the tale:

The pace drop in May was dramatic. Now a week and a half into June, it continues to slide closer to the previous definition of “normal”. I still don’t know if I’ll really get back there, nor will it be a big deal if I don’t – after all, one must get older someday – but it’s nice to be back in the neighborhood.

A week ago I got the 5K back down to nineteen and a half, on a tough course and having turned a speed workout only 36 hours prior (a fact that I truly regretted about a mile and a half in…), and took 5th of the 160-runner field. Nineteen and a half is well off my best last year of a bit below eighteen, but it’s progress.

A couple days after the six-months-since-surgery milestone I accidentally turned a course PR on one of my commonly run training courses. I felt like crap the day after, but it still felt good. It felt like, even though my foot gets uncomfortable, things are working again.

Perhaps that’s what fully integrated means.

On another topic, Shout Out to Chris: I can’t fail to recognize Chris Russell for his ongoing podcast series. I don’t own an iPod, and I’d fallen behind in listening to his work. But my 1100-mile adventure to Belleville and back with a detour to mom’s place in a CD-equipped car (hey, it may be common in your life, but it’s exciting to someone who until a month ago drove a ’96 Corolla with a cassette deck!), gave me a chance to catch up. The interviews were great. The grunting bits while running, a little weird. The comic bits, brilliant. Mr. Obsessive Mileage Man? That one was clearly for me. And the bit about the Equality Race, where talented runners get bogged down with weight belts and are forced to run longer distances, well, I had to play it for my wife when I got home. Great work Chris, keep it up!

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