Thursday, June 25, 2015

Back in the Saddle and Feeling Better

It’s amazing what a difference a couple of days can make.
I’ll let you in on a little secret about athletes.  We have a tendency to let our self-worth get all wrapped up in our bodies.  This is even true—depressingly true—of over-the-hill former athletes with real jobs and families.  You can see examples of it in big-time pro-players of all kinds; they get hurt and suddenly they start acting crazy.  It’s because their whole lives, their senses of self-worth, are completely wrapped up in their physical abilities.  Their bodies are what make them special.  You take that away, and suddenly you’re left with guys and gals who’re super-motivated in a world in which they suddenly have little or no purpose and no way to occupy their time.

Working out is also a matter of habit.  As athletes, we get addicted to the endorphins of exercise, and when those suddenly become unavailable, it makes us sullen and difficult to be around.  I don’t know if that’s an example of withdrawal, but it’s definitely a thing.  I know I feel it, and I’ve heard others talk about it, too.
I bring all of this up because I got hurt a couple of different ways just a few weeks ago, and it’s been surprisingly tough dealing with it.  It’s been really, really hard.
If you read this blog a lot, you may remember that I suffered a knee injury in the early part of the spring.  It’s probably more correct to say that I’d been nursing a lingering injury all through the winter, but my knee finally flared up for real in March, and as a result, I ultimately decided to stop running.  I like to run, but I’m not particularly good at it, and by the time we’d gotten into April, it seemed like a good idea to spend my time doing different kinds of exercise.
It wasn’t as bad as it could have been.  When Sally and I first met, I was still on the same basic routine I’d been on in the Army; I was lifting and running but not doing much else.  I was also bigger than I am now, and full disclosure, Sally prefers the way I look when I’m lifting and doing less long-distance work to the way I look in mid-season form for triathlon.  I don’t know that I necessarily agree—okay, I feel fat, and it’s driving me crazy—but what can you do?  These are the compromises that make a marriage work.  Besides which, getting back in the gym was fun.
But then I hurt my shoulders and elbows at the Adventure Park in Bridgeport.  I’d done a heavy weight workout on the Wednesday before my birthday, and we went to the park as part of my actual birthday celebration, and yeah, it was great, but I walked away with a pretty bad case of tendonitis.  I did three runs on my own, including a run on a black diamond course, and if I’d stopped there as I’d planned, I probably would have been okay.  But then Emma wanted me to take her on one of the blue square runs (the Adventure Park uses the same green/blue/black system that ski resorts use), and I couldn’t very well say no, could I?  Skiers will know that it’s always the last run of the day when you hurt yourself, and that was the case here.  We finished the run, but I was definitely sore, and when I hit the pool the next day, my elbows hurt, but like an idiot, I swam through it.  Then I lifted the following Wednesday, thinking that as long as I avoided working my arms, I’d be okay.  That was incorrect for a variety of reasons you can learn about by Googling “Swimmer’s Elbow”.  Regardless, I couldn’t swim a lick by the following Saturday.  My arms hurt so badly that I had to get out after a mere thousand yards with my buddy, and they were so sore afterwards that I could barely control my bike during my daily commute.
This was not good.  I couldn’t run, and I couldn’t swim, and I couldn’t lift weights, and I don’t mind telling you that losing swimming was like losing a piece of my soul.  I’d never realized how much I rely on the quiet solitude of the water until I literally couldn’t swim at all.  It was depressing beyond words.  
No choice, I had to take some time off.  I could ride, but that was pretty much it.
True story: It’s hard to get away for a bunch of three-hour bike rides when you’ve got a job and a family.  This was doubly true because at the same time I was injured, we were entering a busy season both at home and at work.  With no outlet and an endlessly grinding workload, I found myself sinking helplessly into a serious emotional funk.  By mid-June, life was an endlessly black tunnel with no exit in sight.
Sally’s been pretty good, but I know it was hard on her.  She did her best to be supportive while giving me some time on the weekends, either to let me decompress or because she just didn’t want to be around me.  I’m not sure which it was, and frankly, I don’t know that it matters.  We’re still a pretty good team even when we’re not, but it’s still worth pointing out that I was a bear for several weeks.  
Thankfully, things are finally changing.  Sally’s schedule has started opening up, and the kids are on summer break.  We’re no longer running like crazy every weekend, and I’m not Mr. Mom quite so many nights every week.  At the same time, my buddy Jeff got me back running last weekend, and that turned out pretty well.  Wound up going a little more than four-and-a-half miles down by the beach, and if I was sore, I also really enjoyed myself.  I ran again on Tuesday; so far so good.  I’m trying not to overdo it.  
More importantly, though, I swam last night without any soreness for the first time since May.  It was no big deal—I put in 220 yards worth of easy aerobic-paced 200s—but it was awesome because I could do it, and I didn’t hurt either in the water or afterwards.  I feel like I’ve lost some upper-body strength over the last few weeks, but who cares?  It’ll come back.  I just need to keep at it.  
I rode in this morning and found myself enjoying the ride for the first time in a while.  I’ve had almost a week’s worth of good sleep, a week of swimming and running, and we had utterly perfect weather.  70° and sunny; not a cloud in the sky.  As I came down the hill from the reservoir this morning, a guy on a tri-bike passed me just as he was getting down into his aero-position.  I jumped on his wheel and let him pull me through the next mile at probably twenty-five miles per hour.  That is flying on a foldie!
I felt great.  Better than I have in weeks.

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