Sunday, February 11, 2007

Sometimes It’s Something Simple That Makes the Difference

I had a hard time on the last marathon because I ran into an old friend of mine… knee pain. I was experiencing some very familiar pains that I remember having my last year in the military. It only took me 15 years though to figure out what it was. I went to a running store to have my gait evaluated and it turns out that I am a suponator from way back. My feet are not adequately lined up with my legs when I strike the ground and my feet roll inwards causing torsion on the ligaments of my legs resulting in knee problems. I first found this out from a doctor at the UC Davis medical center that also happened to be a runner. He looked at my shoes and saw that the Sacouny Grid Hurricane 3’s that I was running in had already broken down as a result of my weight. It then all flashed back to me, all the times that I was having knee pain and just couldn’t continue. It wasn’t psycho sematic, it was real; I was wearing the wrong shoes all along. My tendonitis was being caused by an outside factor and it was something that I could control

Since that time I have made it a point to research prior to going out an just getting a cheap pair of running shoes. Because I am an inefficient runner and a big guy at the same time I am limited to running in about three different models of shoes. I found out two weeks ago that it is now down to two. It turns out the Asic Gel Evolution 2’s that I had been running in had already broken down in less than 500 miles and that the last of the shoe was not the same as the original ones. The result, a lighter shoe that breaks down easier and is not as supportive. The shoes essentially lasted long enough or not quite long enough to train for one marathon. This made Jill a little miffed and the idea of me having to go out and get another not so cheap pair of shoes when the ones that I had in theory should have lasted longer. She is of the belief that shoes should wear through, only then should you get a new pair of shoes. For a very long time that was the popular belief that shoes should last until they fell off your feet. I remember when first being introduced to running in the late ‘70s that runners would coat the bottom of their shoes with “Shoe Goo” a thick gooey glue like substance that would prolong the life of the sole.
With the improvement of plastics technology the days of having to Goo the shoe went out with Jim Fixx.

Running shoes are different now; they are more like shock absorbers than tires. The moment that the shoes no longer absorb shock is when your knees do. So now a shoe is considered to be worn when it goes beyond the breaking in point and begins to conform to the users foot, it is only then that a shoe is considered to be broken down.

After the last 5 pairs of Asics that served me so well I was hard pressed to go to a different brand. I like Nike, but they break down too quickly (even quicker than Asics) and are not supportive of inefficient, heavier runners such as myself. I like New Balance, they don’t break down easily, but you’re knees feel it as a result. I’ve had a bad experience with Sacouny, which left me with Adidas and Brooks. Brooks has a shoe that touts itself for big, fat, slow, heavy runners. Right up my alley. “It’s called The Beast,” the salesman at the Brooks booth at the PF Chang’s marathon expo stated. “You should get those as your next set of shoes, that sounds like you,” Jill chimed in. She probably thought that from, my size, stature, disposition and the amount of hair on my back that the name matched its perspective user perfectly.

I could tell the difference the moment I hit the road. I still have pain, but now the pain has shifted to different parts of the body that can be attributed to a lack of use rather than damage.

While I’ve been running throughout my life (more off than on), I’ve always returned to it, but I never really learn to run and enjoy running until after I left the Army.

After I left the military I had gained quite a bit of weight. It was my friend Roger McDorman that retrained me to run.

A true natural and talent roger displayed the abilities of a world class runner. In the Army he was able to run as fast as the best of them. On post the Army would conduct physical fitness test about twice a year. Without any regular training one morning he woke up and jogged to the PT field to run the timed two-mile test required by the Army. From a field of just under 100 runners Roger came in third, just behind a newly commissioned lieutenant and the battalion executive officer the then Major Frank Helmick (later on in his career he would go on to command the Ranger Training School, was at the pentagon at the time of the attack on 9/11 and was the officer in charge of “capturing” Uday and Kusay Huessin in Iraq). Roger finished with a with a time of 10:22. That was a 5minute 11 second mile! I was not sure if he vomited afterward as most of us would have, but it was clear that this was a stellar performance.

When we’d run our lap around the Rose Bowl Roger was gracious enough to stay with me for the first mile. We’d make small talk as we warmed up, then he’d hit the hyperspace button and would disappear.

During that time I learned some foundational Zen truths from Roger about running that the Army and previous P.E. coaches ignored:

• Find your pace, but push it when you can

• Work a distance but once you become comfortable with it, increase it

• Enter a race as part of your training regimen

• If you are injured, rest

• Time off to rest and recover is just as important as training time

• You run because you enjoy it, not because somebody is making you run

As a result of training successfully I ended up losing about 50 pounds in about 6 months and was able to run a 7 minute mile. I was in better shape then than I was in the military. Common sense, a tangible goal and persistence allowed me to get there.

I’m still on that road, trying to find that breaking point. The point were it all comes together and feels like you’re going downhill.

Someday, I’ll find it again…someday.