week 20

I don't want to pass too much judgment on the last week.  Just report it and move on to the next.  Weather and family obligations laid waste to Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, but I got a great road run in on Thursday and too pretty satisfying trail runs over the weekend.

I'm going to have to climb the learning curve quickly if Laurel Highlands is going to be anything more than another humbling day in the woods.

Bright side?  Who couldn't use another dose of humility?

Thursday, May 19 - Quick (at least at my current fitness) mid-day run...really stoked on consistent splits.

Saturday, May 21 - Three loops at Speedwell Forge County Park...rediscovered the smooth, undulating singletrack - forgot to restart the GPS on the second loop so probably shorted myself 1.2 miles on the log.

Sunday, May 22 - Running Pump and State Game Lands with Jefferson - legs held up but I definitely could feel the effort of the day before - early season heat is proving more challenging than it should.



Don't let the smile fool you, we didn't get off to the best of starts.

Michael took one look at my feet and proceeded to say very, very unflattering things about them.  I tried to shield them from the criticism, but they heard and recognized, as with the cruelest of heckles, just how much truth hurts.

It was my Achilles that had brought me to Drevna Physical Therapy Associates but discovered there were outlying issues causing my pain.  Michael filled me in on planterflexion and dorsiflexion, the first being the downward movement of the foot at the ankle and the latter being its opposite.  Turns out I don't have any issues with planterflexion, but my dorsiflexion flat out sucks.

The extent to which you can bring your toes toward your shin is measured in degrees with 15 being about the max. Running as much as I do (or want to) would benefit from at dorsiflexion of at least 10-12 degrees. Let's just say I didn't come anywhere near double digits on my bum foot. And then, just for kicks, we measured the good foot which, um, isn't any better.

But being a professional, Michael agreed to give things a go.  Hence the photo that opened this bulletin documenting his attempts to manipulate my foot into a more flexible state.  He tried and tried, session after session, but even the best of physical therapists aren't magicians.  Six sessions later my dorsiflexion has improved very little.

The upside is that we worked on far more than that.

I rode the bike.

I stood shakily atop a platform on one leg and lowered my other leg to the floor.  I stretched, squatted, jumped, struck tai chi poses.  I did none of this gracefully, of course, but with utmost of conviction.

Much of what Michael asked me to do, he asked me to do perched on unstable objects like whatever this thing is:

At first, I fell and fell often.  Slowly, I progressed to weebling, wobbling but no longer falling down.  I got stronger and gained more confidence.  

Each session ended with the minor miracle that is ice and I assume it deserves a good deal of credit for my suffering no swelling during therapy.

My toes didn't draw any nearer to my shin but there were positive signs.  My balance improved dramatically.  Leg stretches that had been a struggle became doable.  What little running I was doing happened without pain.

All of which added up, eventually, to my not needing to go to therapy any longer.  This should be, and is, fantastic news, but I must admit that it's slightly bittersweet.  I came to enjoy the inching of progress from one session to the next and the teensy but unmistakable victories.  When you're healthy and fit, it can be hard even impossible to recognize improvement, but when you're down a peg steps forward are refreshingly evident.

So, Michael, you've done it.  The curse of a good therapist is that he or she ends up not being needed any longer.  Of course, I'm likely to need help again sooner than later and when I do, I know where I'm headed.

Thanks, buddy.  For real.


baby steps (weeks 18 and 19)

May is here, people.

Yes, there's been plenty of rain here in Pennsylvania, but there's also been a wealth of sunshine and warm (not hot, not yet) temperatures.

I should be cranking out the miles but I'm doing my best to pull on the reigns and give my Achilles time to heal.  Or, more importantly, I'm trying to improve flexibility and leg strength to help alleviate the undue stress I'm putting on my Achilles by being weak in other places.

Thankfully, I am also managing to log miles, if not nearly as many as I'd like.  I laid low for the first week of May but have again gotten back to lifting my feet, moving my legs and loving every minute of it.

Because I'm not ready to write off summer entirely, I've been using these relatively slow miles to get used to running with water.  That might not immediately make sense and, admittedly, I don't need to be carrying water for the current efforts of 3-5 miles at a time at 7:30-10 minute mile pace.  But one of these days I'm going to feel all the way better and be ready to get back to 25K, 50K and beyond distances.  With any luck, that'll be sooner than later and is likely to coincide with the wicked humidity that visits the Mid-Atlantic each and every summer.  When that day arrives, I'd like to be tackling runs without having to condition myself to carrying the extra weight of a couple of bottles.

How's that for spotting the last drop of water in a formerly half full glass?

For now, it'll have to do.  Here's a look at May thus far:

Sunday, May 8 - So happy to be back on the Horseshoe Trail that I forgot to restart the GPS after we stopped and chatted at Eagle Rock - probably went 1.5 miles further than the photo suggests.

Tuesday, May 10 - Short loop on Penryn and White Oak roads - tentative to push in the Minimus. 

Thursday, May 12 - Out and back on the Lancaster Junction R2T - feeling the effects of the ab work from the prior day's therapy session.

Friday, May 13 - Ran the Penryn/White Oak loop in reverse on my lunch break - stronger effort.

Sunday, May 15 - Horseshoe Trail and Explorer Lodge Road (?) - Struggled a bit early with the humidity/climbing but finished feeling strong and pleased to feel the legs rebound late in the run.


little birdie rides.

I can't remember a time when I wasn't in love with birds.  Their varied plumage, the trilling melodies and seemingly effortless flight have forever fascinated me.

To my delight, both of my children are equally captivated.

Lily, like it or not, spent a good many of her earliest days riding on my back as I traipsed along wooded paths and stomped through creeks.  I can still recall vividly the first time her arm reached over my shoulder as her tiny finger pointed out an Eastern Bluebird that I'd have missed without her spotting it.  Her little eyes shined in wonder and I suspect mine did too.

A couple of weeks ago at Long's Park, Piper and Lily were mimicking a pair of mallards when they noticed some of the downy feathers left floating on the surface of the pond in the wake of the ducks.  They spent a good half hour on their knees at the miniature pier watching the "fluffy boats" vanishing beneath the planks before reemerging bobbingly moments later.

I could've watched for hours.

That same afternoon, I glanced up from the lower level of one of the wooden playground structures to find both girls peeking down at me from above.  Lil determined immediately that I was a hungry baby bird and announced that she and Pipe had returned to the nest to feed me juicy grubs.

With collected sticks and hand-picked fabrics sewn into perching songbirds, Lindsay built a delightful mobile that has hung above Piper's crib since the day she first arrived home from the hospital.  Not surprisingly, "bird" was one of her first decipherable words.

Each night after I've turned out the lights but before I've closed her bedroom door, Lily sleepily demands to know what I plan to dream about that night.  Sometimes she'll skip past my response to tell me of her expected visions.  Tonight she informed me that she was going to dream of being small enough to take "little birdie rides" on the backs of the sparrows that come to our feeders.  I find this idea so much more thrilling than my own less creative childhood daydreams of simply being able to fly.

Even after 36+ years of those daydreams, I've not managed to take wing myself but have settled for birdie rides of my own on commercial planes.  I seemed to enjoy those flights a lot more before they resulted in me being far from my wife and children.  Lily has told me before that when she looks up and sees "airplane tracks" while I am away, she wonders if they lead to wherever it is I've been transported.  That concept makes me smile but also makes me a little sad, imagining those tracks thinning, fading and all too soon blending in with the other clouds in the sky, a dead-end trail.

I look forward to boarding planes again in coming months to run trails framed by landscapes more sprawling and at higher elevations than Pennsylvania offers, but I do not look forward to more short term goodbyes.

When I'm gone it's hard not to think about hopping the next available birdie back home to more playground adventures, enthusiastic backyard chases, and the stories and songs that precede bedtime.

Last night at a minor league baseball stadium, I watched Lily and Piper giggling laps up and down the bleachers, screaming "charge" at the loudspeaker's prompting and gasping wide-eyed at the post game fireworks.

At times like those, I wouldn't want for wings to take me anywhere.


week seventeen.

Let's all agree to skip right past week sixteen.  Treat it like the 13th floor in a high rise.  Per my physical therapist's orders, I did not run one single step.

Week seventeen would consist of a trip to the high desert of Escalante, Utah to attend the Mountain Hardwear Basecamp with the accompanied warning to NOT climb and think hard, really hard, about engaging in running of any sort.  If I could return from Utah no worse than I left Pennsylvania, aggressive therapy could begin on the following Monday and we'd see if working order could be restored.

Breathing in the rugged beauty of Utah while surrounded by the stoking energy of kindred spirits, I found myself lacing up my sneaks and giving things a go.  Surprised?  Me neither.

Still on East Coast time, I had no problems rising early on my first morning at Escalante Outfitters and heeding the directions given the night before to head right down the dusty road towards the nearby state park.  Even on a slight downhill, my lungs were feeling every inch of the 5812 feet of elevation.

Sliding past the trailhead gate, I initially veered away from Bailey's Wash, following instead a broad old farm road that skirted around the ridge line.  Almost immediately, I kicked up no less than 30 mule deer.  Most of the herd vanished over the hill but several remained on the horizon watching my slow approach.  I pushed the herd around two or three more bends before deciding to try to get up to higher ground. 

Huffing and puffing and progressing mostly on all fours (or at least three), I made it to the top of the ridge and turned to look back toward town.  The famed Grand Escalante Staircase was now visible in the distance.

Pleasantly surprised by how my Achilles felt, I dropped into the wash and settled into something more like an actual run.  A few stray sets of human footprints led the way past high red rock cliffs, scrub brush, tumbleweeds and small, silent pines.

I didn't set a great pace in the sandy track of the wash, but was pleased to return to camp with over seven pain-free miles.  With fingers crossed that I wouldn't be hobbled by the end of the day, I popped some Aleve, showered, stretched and joined new friends for a day of hiking along Pine Creek.

I awoke the next morning relieved to find no ill effects from the prior day.  Howling winds helped the easy decision to shelve any further running for the moment.  I spent the day exploring the Spooky and Peek-a-Boo slot canyons and managed to avoid doing anything too much like "climbing".

Knowing that I'd need to leave before the sun rose on Friday, I wanted to make the most of Thursday.  Feeling strong and encouraged by the continuing cooperation of my Achilles, I awoke shortly after 4:00 AM and began a 46-mile drive to the indescribable beauty of Bryce Canyon.

I literally did not see another set of headlights the entire way which was absolutely fine by me.  I passed through the unmanned gates and headed to Rainbow Point at the far end of the park road.  At more than 9100 feet, the point was certainly going to test my cardio.

There was plenty of snow still on the ground and route-finding was difficult as I tried to find and follow the Under the Rim Trail down towards the canyon floor.  The pace was slowed even further by my need to stop every few minutes to soak in the view and bask in the rising sun.

Neither words nor photos will do any justice, so I'll simply say that it was a miraculous day to be alive and I spent that hour and a half marveling at my surroundings and reflecting appreciatively on what a real privilege it was to be where I was at that moment doing something I love to do.

Finally returning to the Rainbow Point parking lot, I made a quick call back to camp to report where I was and that I was on my way.  I grabbed a coffee enroute and felt certain that I still had energy in the tank.

Shortly after hopping out of the car, I climbed into Jon Webb's station wagon and joined a small group headed to Lower Calf Creek for more running.  We settled into a shared rhythm and I didn't hesitate to offer a "maybe a little faster" when asked if the pace was satisfactory.  A moment or two later, I was eating those words as the increase left me gasping for air.  We may have been 4,000 feet lower than Rainbow Point but we were still much higher than what I'm used to and I struggled to adjust.  Jon was kind enough to settle back into something closer to our original pace without any prompting.  Arriving at the end of the path, I found him welcoming me to the amazing spectacle of Lower Calf Falls. 

I shrugged off my initial apprehension after dipping my hand in the pool at the base of the falls and decided to take a swim.  The icy water made it a short swim, though, at the urging of my companions, I did go in a second time in what proved to be a failed attempt to swim out beneath the falls.  The payoff was the shared laughter over the frozen state of my testicles.

Zak and Ed had joined me, Jon and Cory and a kindly day hiker snapped our photo in front of the falls. Soon thereafter, we set out again at a comfortable but solid pace, talking and laughing the entire way back to the trailhead.

Even after two separate runs, a good bit of climbing and a day of double-digit mileage, my legs felt great.  I was extremely thankful to not be favoring my Achilles in the slightest and relished having logged trail time at elevation.

Back in Pennsylvania, April is in the rear view.  It was, by far, my lowest mileage month to date in 2011 and came with several disappointments. It's hard to complain, however, when I was able to close the month with running I will remember, vividly and fondly, forever.