Thursday, July 29, 2010

Injured reserve

I am in week 3 of training for a marathon in November, although I have been running all year in preparation for this training and completed a 10K in June. This blog will serve as the lasting record of all of my steps, and mis-steps toward making that goal happen.

When I first started these crazy shenanigans, I set about trying to read up as much as I could about successfully running a marathon.

Most of my reading was done online, which means I’d start to read an article on “The 25 things you must do without question in order to complete 26.2 miles,” get distracted after Tip No. 4 and spend the next two hours watching funny pet clips on YouTube. 

Spotty as most of my information was, the one thing on which everyone seemed to agree was simply this: During the course of training for a marathon, one has to come to terms with the idea that at one point or another, they are going to get hurt.

Get hurt, I say? I can deal with that. 

I once nearly hacked off the tip of my finger with a … well, a hacksaw. I’ve chipped teeth, did my best to walk straight through a Plexiglas window thinking it was a door, shredded some cartilage in my knee, stepped on a nail, fit my whole fist in my mouth on multiple occasions and even fell off a pile of crates and used the corner of one such crate to cushion the fall with my forehead.

I can deal with getting hurt. That’s what I said at least.

I mean, what are we really talking about  -- Shin splints? Hip flexors? Plantar Fasciitis? Pulled hamstrings? ITB Syndrome? Stress fractures? Sprained ankles? Contusions of the male ego? Carpal tunnel?

Child’s play. All of it, it turns out.

What no one was willing to talk about, at least not before Tip No. 8 in the “100 Easiest Ways to Avoid Getting Injured While Taking On An Ill-Advised Running Program” article, was that when you get hurt, it’s not something you’re going to be willing to talk about either. At least in mixed company.

I’ve fallen victim to chronic bloody nipples. 

Seriously. Stop laughing.

It’s actually a surprisingly common affliction, particularly among those of us men with upper bodies shaped much more with Jell-O molds than granite chisels and who wear cotton or other “textured” clothing during long, decently warm runs.

What happens is, the moisture from the heat of the run (a.k.a. sweat, but I don’t want to gross anyone out, especially while writing anything about bloody nipples) gives some extra weight to the fabric. As the miles add up, the fabric repeatedly brushes across the skin and, particularly in sensitive areas, begins to wear a raw, bloody wound on your chest.

Gross, right?

The thing is, it really hurts.

There’s really no way to compensate during the actual run, like one might be able to do after rolling an ankle or tweaking a hamstring.

Once your nipples start bleeding, you either stick your chest out and run proudly with red circles growing on the front of your shirt or you more or less tuck your wrists in toward your body, flare your elbows out and run like you’ve got chicken wings for the remainder of the run. 

The pain doesn't really set in until after you're done. 

But it’s not like a sprain or a pull, where you can just stretch it out real well before the next run, wrap it up and hope for the best. It’s just kind of there, and it only gets worse.

I mentioned what "excruciating" pain I was feeling to my wife, who’d just recently finished breast-feeding our second child through his first eight months.

She laughed.

And she laughed. 

A couple days later, when she’d finished laughing, she offered me the use of her leftover nipple shields -- which basically look like the top of a baby bottle. I gave it some honest consideration …

In the end, I turned back to the internet for help and read about wonderful inventions like athletic body glide, which is basically some sort of Teflon-infused substance you apply with something resembling a stick of deodorant and your clothes just slide freely over the sensitive areas. 

Apparently, some people go the cheaper route and just use generic petroleum jelly. Others just go without wearing a shirt (an option I declined because of the above-mentioned Jell-O mold defect) while others still buy shirts made of special anti-chaffing materials. 

One guy out there said he bought a ladies’ training bra and began wearing it during long races. He said it easily hides under a T-shirt and stops the chaffing.

 My first thought was, “But, dude, you’re wearing a bra!” Plus, can it really hide that well under a T-shirt? He closed his statement by saying “Go ahead, laugh it up. I‘ll see you at the finish line bloody nipple free” So I did. I laughed it up. For a long time.

A couple days later, when I’d finished laughing, I decided to buy a big roll of waterproof super-adhesive tape. I read that there are some who put a square of tape over the sensitive areas and that takes care of the problem. Because it’s waterproof, you don’t have to worry about it coming off once you get all sweaty.

What no one said is that this is not the option to use if A) your bloody nipples are still healing or B) you, like most men susceptible to bloody nipples, are exceptionally hairy. I know, I know, common sense, right?

First time out, the tape worked like a charm. No blood, no chaffing. 

But the problem with waterproof super-adhesive tape is that it lives up to its billing, particularly when it comes to chest hair. I found a little disclaimer in the fine print later that read “WARNING: This compound may form a symbiotic relationship with whatever it comes into contact with. It’s highly likely this will never come off. Just so you know.”
So, logically, I hopped in the shower because surely the best way to remove waterproof tape is to get it wet. 

The water didn’t help with the actual removal, but it did help mask my shrieks of pain..

In the time since, I have seriously reconsidered keeping the windows open in the evening, because I secretly dread a conversation like this drifting out into the neighborhood air:


Me: (unintelligible whimpering)

Wife: Honey, are you watching YouTube again?

Me: No … I’m in the shower.

Wife: Are you OK?

Me: I’m fine. I’m just …  (incoherent mumbling)

Wife: Can you speak up? I can’t hear you over the water.

Me: I’m pulling the tape off my nipples. 

Wife: A bullying ape coughed on your nickles?


Wife: Why in the world did you tape your nipples?


Wife: WHAT?


You get the picture, although I’m not sure the neighbors would.

So I stuck with the tape. I’m slowly developing a tolerance to the pain of taking it off, which in the grand scheme of things is about the same as the actual bloody nipples. 

Either way, I feel like I’ve now logged my proper battle scars for this journey. I won’t complain again until the shin splints set in -- or the roll of tape runs out. Whichever comes first.

I’m in the middle of a 15-mile week and it’s going well. Things start to pick up quickly in the next three or four weeks, so I’ll be able to tell by the end of August if this is actually going to happen or not.   

Friday, July 23, 2010

My Mortal Enemy

I am in week 2 of training for a marathon in November, although I have been running all year in preparation for this training and completed a 10K in June. This blog will serve as the lasting record of all of my steps, and mis-steps toward making that goal happen.

I have a mortal enemy.

I know, I know. Who would want to kill a nice, harmless, goofy fool like me?

I met my mortal enemy (MME for short) at a Christmas party about seven years ago. We formed an instant and convenient friendship.

Turned out I wanted get into running and MME was a fantastic motivator. What could possibly go wrong?

When spring rolled around, we arranged to go on our first run together. It was terrific. There I was running and there MME was prodding me along and keeping me going when I wanted to stop.

At the end of the run, I looked right at his face and saw a curious expression.

There was no smile of encouragement. No nod of approval.

He just looked right back and said, “35 minutes. That wasn’t very fast, was it?”

“Come on now, MME,” I said. “It’s my first time out in a long time. It wasn’t going to be fast no matter how well this went.”

“I don’t know,” MME said. “I’ve seen a lot better out of fifth-grade girls. Do you really want to be outrun by a fifth-grade girl?”

“How fast is she? Whoa, now wait a minute here,” my initial shock was melting into awkward arm-flailing rage. “I invited you on this run. I didn’t have to bring you with me. If I wanted someone to make fun of me, I would’ve invited the high school track team. Just who do you think you are?”

“Hey man, it’s just what I do, OK?”

In that moment, our friendship was no longer instant or convenient. MME was an uncomfortable and often unwelcome partner on my runs.

The worst part about it was that he’d wait until the end, when I was too exhausted or too out of breath to fight back, to pour on his insults.

“43:05. I really thought you were going to pass that snail there at the end …”

“38:04. Does it really count as a run if you had to take a five-minute break to hyperventilate over there by the fishing pond?”

“36:15. Have you thought about taking up chess?”

The abuse was manageable -- perhaps even a little motivational. But it wasn’t long before MME, as most super villains do, began to develop a hyper-evil alter ego.

He took on a Spanish name (because everything sounds more sinister in Spanish) -- El Cronómetro -- and his evil game evolved from simple insults to cruel tricks.

When I’d be running exceptionally well, I’d look down at him in search of his approval only to find that he wasn’t paying any attention, or that he’d stopped entirely.

“How am I supposed to know how fast I’ve run?” I’d scream in exasperation.
MME, or El Cronómetro as he now insisted on being called, took to taunting me entirely in Spanish.

“Usted hombre tonto, lento-footed. Es mejor Está aquí. Le salvo la desilusión de realización usted podría mirar todo "Titanic" y volver tres veces para mirar al Rey de la secuencia Mundial en el tiempo esto le toma para dirigir 5 kilómetros. Ah, ah, ah,”

Which is to say, “You silly, slow-footed man. It is better this way. I save you the disappointment of realizing you could watch all of "Titanic" and go back three times to watch the King of the World sequence in the time it takes you to run 5 kilometers. Ha, ha, ha.”

“EL CRONOMETRO!!!” I’d scream his name as I‘d fall to my knees, shaking him violently above my head. Turns out everything is more dramatic in Spanish as well.

But he insisted on continuing to torment me.

Seven years he’s accompanied me on my runs, his eerie face beaming at me with that incandescent indigo-tinged glow as he ticks off every second, every step, all the while reminding me exactly where I stand in real time.

Feel like I‘m doing exceptionally well?

“No está tan bien como usted piensa, pero tengo que decir que usted se mueve un poco más rápido que la pintura secante.” (That means: Not as good as you think, but I have to say you are moving a little faster than drying paint.)

And on those days where I’m just completely off my game?

“Este es por qué usted no come dos libras burrito antes de que usted corra. Su principio para parecer usted tiene una pelota de bolos que arde cubierta del queso nacho que rueda alrededor del interior ello. ¡Oye, tal vez si usted encendió un partido y lo ingirió, usted podría ir más rápido!

I had to look that one up, but it essentially means, This is why you don't eat a two-pound burrito before you run. Your start to feel like you've got a flaming bowling ball covered with nacho cheese rolling around inside it. Hey, maybe if you lit a match and swallowed it, you might go faster!

Thanks, El Cronómetro.

The point here, is that in the last week I’ve had a revelation. The time has simply come for Old Crony, as I’ve started calling him, and I to part ways.

I thought about it as I picked him up before a 3-mile jog and thought, “Why are you still here?”

“Sólo fastidiarle,” meaning, “Just to tick you off.”

Everything about every training program I’ve read has said for your first marathon, all that really matters is the distance you put in, especially if your goal is just to finish.

Why not start taking that seriously?

No one ever asks how fast you run a marathon, (“Whoa, 5 hours. What is that, like two minutes per mile?”) They’re only interested in whether or not you finished.

I’ve even read that if you go in with a time goal your first time out, your chances of actually finishing greatly decrease.

So time, as of last week, is no longer of any essence in this endeavor. Which is good, because Old Crony was really starting to stink after running with me for the last seven years.

As a result, I’ve had some of the most enjoyable, relaxing runs I’ve had, well, ever.

I’ve been taking the kids out in the jogging stroller, because it really doesn’t matter how long it takes. We can stop and look at things, or talk to people. All that matters from hereon is the distance.

So that’s what I’ll do.

As old Crony would say , “Esto está bien, porque este tipo no podía dirigir 100 metros en el tiempo esto le tomó para leer este blog.”

I’m nearing the end of a 13-mile week (it was supposed to be 16, but we took the kids to the park on Tuesday, which was infinitely more fun). Next week is a 15-mile week. We’ll see.

P.S. El Cronómetro = The Stopwatch.

Friday, July 16, 2010

9 down, 453 to go

For those of you keeping track (because I know you’ve all really been waiting on pins and needles), this is officially week 1 of the marathon training program.

Over the next 18 weeks, I’m supposed to run more miles (453) than I have run over the last three years combined (431.2). 

Thankfully -- because this is a novice training program after all -- I don’t have to run them all in one day.

Right now, that’s about the only positive thing going for me in this whole ill-advised plan (and when I say ill-advised, I’m taking a jab at that fool who was looking back at me in the mirror eight months ago when this idea first took root in my head. If I recall correctly, he said ‘Yeah, you should totally do that. It’s better than swimming with sharks.)

Since the end of stage one (the 10K in early June), I’ve done some running, but not nearly as much as I would’ve hoped. On one hand, I know I am woefully under-prepared for the next four months. On the other, it’s probably best that my legs got one last stretch of rest before I wear them into oblivion. 

What I have developed in the last couple of weeks, though, is a better feel and appreciation for the neighborhood we recently moved into. It’s grown on me quickly, to the point where I much prefer running here to our old neighborhood. 

It’s not nearly as polished, quiet or clean, but it has boatloads more character, which can make an hour-long run seem much, much faster.

This is a place where more people hang out at the 7-11 than the bowling alley. It’s a place where some people still say “Yo”, while others erupt into violent bouts of tourettes. 

Most of the men in the area are acutely allergic to wearing shirts while every dog allowed out of its house boasts an allergy to wearing leashes.

It seems there are enough feral cats to have one for every house in the area, although most of them hang out at that one house with the refrigerator on the porch and the boat parked in the garage. 

Toddlers clad solely in diapers ride industrial hand trucks around like box cars and fledgling biker gangs ride around on, well, bicycles.

The air hums with the sound of dirt bikes in the afternoon and pops with the sound of firecrackers at night. 

Everyone barbecues. All the time. I think I saw someone grilling a breakfast burrito the other day. 

There are people who call their kids “Spike” and their dogs “Matty.” There’s an unspoken code that anything piled up in front of the house is free for the taking, unless of course, it’s affixed with a sign reading “Not Free.”

One man offered me all the bedroom furniture on his front lawn. For free. I politely declined, explaining I wouldn’t  be able to carry it home with me. Fearing I was about to trigger one of those sudden bouts mentioned above, I sped away at a brisk walk-jog.

“Yeah, well if you know anyone else who needs some furniture, you just have them come on by to see me,” he shouted after me.

The thing of it is, I enjoy this neighborhood. The people are well-intentioned, if not outright friendly and for all of its quirks and idiosyncrasies, I feel strangely safer running out here than when I lived in town. 

And that’s a good thing, because running is just about the only thing I’m going to be doing out here for a while. 

So with that, I seal week one in the books. I’ve got a six-miler on Saturday, which leads into a 16-mile week next week. Wish me luck!