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I was able to get outside for a run for the first time in a few weeks today.  It was a tad chilly, but I was fine with tights and one long-sleeve shirt, and I headed out along my normal week-end route along the Bronx River Parkway without a watch or my MP3 player. Very few folks out, runners or otherwise.

For some reason I thought back to 2005. This was a bad running year for me. I decided to focus on track races and did a fair chunk of speedwork, often at Baker Field as a member of the Central Park Track Club. CPTC is a long-time rival of Warren Street, but the group at Baker Field was described by a friend who brought me there as the “Lost Boys” who unlike the larger CPTC contingent were track-orientated. So while I was a member of CPTC I had few if any dealings with those who did not do track.

I had two bad injuries. First, in the early part of winter I had sciatica. It knocked me out for over six weeks. After getting back into shape somewhat and running a few decent races, I had a knee go out in the opening 100 of a 1500 at Icahn. That was the low point. I didn’t know if I’d run again.

But I decided to head to physical therapy to see if there was something mechanical, and went to someone recommended by Devon Martin, my CPTC coach. My PT looked at my back and pointed to a muscle that she said shouldn’t be as large as it was. I was, in short, compensating for some imbalance. I was put on a simple regimen of exercises to strengthen parts of my leg that were relatively weak.

More important, and the point of all this, was that I made some slight alterations in my stride. My reference to “Tree Pose” is to a yoga pose in which you stand on one leg with the other bent and the bottom of the other foot placed on the standing leg. Like a 4. You visualize that your leg is a tree trunk growing straight from the roots, or feet. The key is that the weight and force are evenly distributed up the leg. Neither the lower leg nor the upper, or the hips, knee, etc., bear an undue burden.

After these sessions, I entered 2006 able to build-up mileage. I kept awaiting a breakdown. It never happened. I increased my mileage and was able to get 20-milers in and run the marathon. I did tons of speedwork at pretty good paces. It was not until the summer of 2008 that I had any injury that knocked me out for more than a few days. At my age, I tend to be conservative and follow the “twinge” rule, i.e., if there’s an unusual twinge, I’ll stop. Of course, it can be difficult to distinguish that from the normal aches and pains that are normal. But it’s worked out.

In 2008, I had a quad issue that came out of nowhere and that took a few weeks to get over. That’s why I had some bad race results; I was in recovery phase.

Frequently on runs, I think of Tree Pose. I try to keep things aligned. When I do repeats, they are meant to focus on my form so that when I’m running and getting tired my form is somewhat memorized and it at least doesn’t fall apart. (That’s one of the points about distinguishing among various types of speedwork and the various purposes they serve.) Of course I still run with a marked tilt of the head to the right — as I’ve always done and which allows people who know me to recognize me coming from a distance. I don’t accept the notion that running fast or running distances is unnatural to the human body. Benjamin Cheever made that point in his “Strides: Running Through History With an Unlikely Runner” (a book I most recall for its chapters on runners in the military, especially in Iraq; Ben did a reading at Westchester Road Runner and then to dinner with Sound Shore, another of my former clubs, and was shy but a pleasure to speak to).

For a while now, I’ve been getting physical therapy two or three times a week at a Lawrence Hospital PT office in Eastchester, in a building that was a bowling alley when I was a kid. My therapist is known as Tintin, because she’s one of a number of Christines and so each gets her own handle.

Last night was typical. Arrive at 6. Fifteen minutes of heat on elbow and hand. Then Tintin works on my hand. This consists of rubbing and stretching each of my fingers. The index and middle fingers are in relatively good shape, but the ring finger and pinkie are another story. It may not seem like much, but these won’t bend enough to touch my palm. So she works on them and works on them. Over time, they are getting better, but the pain is pretty intense right at the joints. Indeed, I seem to be the only patient who regularly vocalizes pain and have been known to mutter “fuck” and “shit” half under my breathe at certain moments.

Then it’s to a computer, on which they have games! Balls drop and you have to move the basket to catch them, using different devices for work the wrist. Then there’s soccer goalie. Here you have a device that you operate by closing your hand. It’s calibrated for your maximum grip-strength. My left hand is 85. My right, 8. The goalie goes over to block PKs depending on how hard you press. So that’s fun.

Then the tough part. The elbow. Tintin raises the bed so I can scoot my chair below it and put my elbow on the bed like an arm-wrestler. She manipulates the muscles and then stretches the lower arm down. She calls over one of the assistants, Dana, to hold my shoulder because I can’t keep it back. Calling me “Hon,” she warns me not to fight. Suffice it to say, it is painful, but mostly from the feeling that the muscle is stretched as far as it can go.

Finishing with a game of pick up the grains of rice, literally, then cold packs and two hours after I arrive I’m done. It sucks.


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