april 22/10 MILES

57 degrees
mississippi river road path south/lake nokomis/mississippi river road path north

Beautiful. Sunny. Hardly any wind. A perfect spring morning for a long run. Focused on lifting my knees and “activating my glutes.” It helped. My left thigh felt a little sore, but not heavy and I was able to run the entire 10 miles without any problems and without stopping. This is one of the main reasons why I’ve been working so hard these past couple of months on my running. So I could run today for a little over 90 minutes without pain or doubt, on the paths that I love. The Mississippi River Road path, the Minnehaha Creek path, the Lake Nokomis path.

Shortly before leaving for my run, I looked over some notes that I took a couple of months ago about writers who run. The writer/runner Rachel Toor discusses the state of vulnerability that both writing and running create:”When I think harder about it, what I believe running and writing have most in common, at least for me, is the state of vulnerability they leave you in. Both require bravery, audacity, a belief in one’s own abilities, and a willingness to live the clichés: to put it on the line, to dig deep, to go for it. You have to believe in the “it,” and have to believe, too, that you are worthy.”

I wanted to reflect on this statement as I ran. For the most part, I didn’t. I was focused on keeping my breathing steady, making sure I was using my legs properly and enjoying watching the creek as it gently flowed towards the falls. But, about halfway through the run I started having some dark thoughts about my son’s upcoming trip to Europe that he’s taking with many of his 8th grade classmates. He’ll be gone for 10 days. It’s his first time away from home for that long and his first time on a plane. I haven’t been too worried about him. He’s a confident, relaxed kid, so I was surprised that worries about what might happen on the trip were suddenly erupting in my mind. Would the plane crash? Would he get sick? Would something happen at the airport? Then I remembered this notion of a “state of vulnerability.” Running makes you vulnerable. Toor understands this as an opportunity to prove your mettle, to “put it all on the line.” Today during my run, I saw the state of vulnerability as an opportunity to be open, to allow the feelings that I’ve been hiding from myself to surface and be addressed. In the past, my inclination would have been to quickly tamp down my dark thoughts, to dismiss them as ridiculous or overly dramatic. Today, I let myself experience them, allowing them to linger beside me for a few minutes as I ran by the main beach at Lake Nokomis.

In an interview about their documentary, The Runners, the filmmakers talk about the purpose of their project of filming random runners in a park, while asking them serious questions mid-run:
“We were trying to understand what goes on in the minds of runners as they charge through the streets. What does it do to them and what can we find out about ourselves by interrupting them at this moment of vulnerability and clarity?”

I feel like now, almost 400 miles into this project, I’m finally using running to tap into my own vulnerabilities and being willing to acknowledge and accept them.

Hover over the entry to reveal the erasure poem.

april 21/4 MILES

47 degrees
mississippi river road path south

A beautiful morning. The run started and ended well. Somewhere in the middle, after running up and then down a steep hill by Lock and Dam #1 and Wabun Park, my right thigh started to bother me again. It never really hurt, it just became harder to lift. Then, when it became harder to lift, my right calf tightened up too. For 2 or 3 minutes, it was a struggle as I tried very deliberately to lift my right leg, focusing on my glutes and hips. By the last mile, I felt better and was running much faster than I had at the beginning of the run. Strange.

When do you take aches and pains seriously? When should you rest? Tough questions. I’m extremely cautious with my running; I’ve never tried to push myself too hard. It took me two years to build up to running 10ks, 4 years for a 1/2 marathon and now, 6 for a marathon. I have only had one substantial injury.

The Injury, first version

My first big injury happened exactly a year ago in April 2016. I had been struggling with running all winter. Had even taken half of February off–about 2 weeks without running, the longest I had gone since starting in June of 2011. March was okay. But then on April 2, while doing a flip turn at the pool, something suddenly hurt. When I got out of the pool, I was limping. Within a few days, I couldn’t bend my right knee. It was so strange. I forgot how to walk. My leg and my brain couldn’t get the motion right. The most I could manage was shuffling for a block or two. It sucked.

I didn’t know what was wrong with my leg, just that it was not good. Googling medical and sports websites convinced me that I had a meniscus tear (don’t know what is? don’t google it; blissful ignorance is underrated). I went to a sports medicine doctor to verify this diagnosis and discovered that I had a much less catastrophic injury: a bone spur in my knee. A jagged little knob on the inside of my knee. The bone spur wasn’t directly causing my problem; it was the tendon that, after repeatedly rubbing over the spur, had become inflamed. The area around my knee had swollen and I couldn’t bend it properly. The solution: lots of ibuprofen (9 pills a day), lots of ice (3 xs @20 minutes a day) and physical therapy for about 6 weeks. No running, barely any walking. I was able to swim and bike some. I can’t quite remember when I was able to run again–early May? I do know that my first 5K was on my fifth runniversary, June 2, 2016.

A few months after all of this transpired, a friend, who also runs, asked: “Will the bone spur go away?” I didn’t ask, I said. I was so freaked out about the injury and spend so little time in doctor’s offices that I didn’t think to ask. I’ve looked it up online and still am not quite sure. Sometimes spurs dissolve and sometimes they don’t. It hasn’t bothered me since.

Notes:

This is the first version of an account of my injury. In working to express how it feels to run, I’d like to develop this account to more effectively express my emotions surrounding this injury. Right now, it’s pretty boring and lifeless. That might be partly because I don’t like thinking about injuries–it’s my biggest fear. It might also be because I’m uncomfortable describing my experiences, which seem so trivial and ordinary compared to the physical struggles of other people I know.

Where to start on pushing this version?

  • Expand on “it sucked.” So many feelings crammed into those two words! Fear, frustration, anger, resolution and more. Push at these emotions.
  • What does it mean to forget how to walk? What does that feel like?
  • Say more about this: “The solution: lots of ibuprofen (9 pills a day), lots of ice (3 xs @20 minutes a day) and physical therapy for about 6 weeks. No running, barely any walking. I was able to swim and bike some.” Maybe write a list of what I know about running injuries?
  • Write some more questions and answers in response to this: Will the bone spur go away?

Update: After reading this post, I decided to experiment a bit with thinking/writing about injury. The experiment I did today was all about trying to lose some of the fear that haunts my thinking about injury.

 

april 18/3.1 MILES

54 degrees
mississippi river road path north

Ran in the rain. Didn’t mean to. Thought front had passed. It hadn’t. At the start, everything was just wet, still dripping from the heavy drizzle that had been going on all morning. Feeling the water on my nose, thought it was more dripping, then realized it had started to rain again. I don’t mind running in the rain, especially when I have on my favorite baseball cap and a jacket. Then I hardly notice it.

Not too far from the start of my run on the river road path, the walking/running path dips below the road, down to the ridge of the gorge. In the summer, when the leaves have returned to the trees, it’s a sea of green and nothing else. But from late October until mid-May, the trees are mostly bare. You can see how the earth steeply slopes down to a small bit of woods, with a floor of dirt and dead leaves and a worn path that leads to the river and a sandy beach. You can reach this path by walking down some stone steps that are closed during the winter. I remember the first time I finally noticed this section of the path. It was during early spring a few years ago, after the snow had melted but before anything had started to grow again. It was early morning and a fog was lingering on the tree branches. It was eerie and beautiful. A month or so later, my daughter discovered the steps, which had always been there, in plain sight, but I had ignored, and we hiked down them to the river. Now, it’s one of my favorite places. Today, there wasn’t fog there, just a soft, steady rain, but it was still beautiful. The grayish light made the colors of the early spring trees more intense: a rich brown mixed with vibrant shades of light green. It reminded me of some of the illustrations in one of my favorite books as a kid: Oh What a Busy Day! by Gyo Fujikawa.

Mundane things to note from the run: maybe due to the rain, my watch stopped tracking my run 1.26 miles in. My left leg started to feel heavy again, towards the end of the run. I probably should take at least two days off to let it rest. The wind was bad, about 17 or 18 mph. Running north, it was at my back. When I turned around, it swirled around me and then pushed the rain in my face.

Hover over the log entry to reveal the erasure poem. For more on this poem, see An Unexpected Erasure.

note: The walk down the steps to the river is featured in a short digital story that I created a few years ago.

april 15/2.5 MILES

80 degrees
ywca track

The rain and threat of thunderstorms forced Scott and I to go to the y track. It was hot and steamy and crowded. Even so, for the first twenty minutes it was great. I ran slow and did not care if other runners passed me. I wasn’t even bothered when Scott passed me.  I kept my heart rate down and felt relaxed. Then a class descended on the track and took over. They started with a burst of speed and then slowed way down, first to a jog and then to a walk. Dodging them required speeding up and weaving. My pulse rate soared and I decided to stop. Partly because I was going faster than I wanted, but mostly because I was annoyed that the spell of my happy, relaxed run had been broken. I was not annoyed with the class; they seemed new to running and a bit overwhelmed. I think I heard one class member call out to the other in fear and disbelief when her instructor told them to run a mile: “Is he fucking kidding me?”

Hover over the entry to uncover the erasure poem.

april 14/5.25 MILES

54 degrees
franklin loop

My right hamstring and calf are a bit sore. They have been all week. But, this run was better than my run on Wednesday when I took it out too fast and had to walk for a few minutes between miles 2 and 3. As always, heard lots of chirping birds and the wind gently shaking the leaves. Lots of cars. The hum of the city. And some random men’s voices yelling, or was it cheering?, from deep in the gorge, near the river bank. When I first heard them I thought they were on the water, rowing. I looked around, but couldn’t see any boats*. Later, when I returned to the same area, near the end of my run, I heard them again. This time there were more voices. Who were they? What were they doing down there? Were they just below me, or on the other side of the river? As I ran above, I scanned the gorge, trying to find them. I never did.

*An alternative name for a competitive rowing boat is a shell. I know this because I just looked it up. I’m a bit disappointed. I was hoping for a more interesting name. I do like the names of the different rowers, like the Engine room (the rowers in the middle of the boat), also known as the Power house or the Hammer (someone who is known for power more than technique). I’ve never rowed, other than on the rowing machines at 7 Flags Fitness Center in high school, but I’m pretty sure I’d be a Hammer.

Hover over the first paragraph to reveal an erasure poem with advice for this beautiful spring day.

april 11/5.1 MILES

44 degrees
mississippi river road path north

It was tougher than usual today. Running towards the Franklin hill, I felt tired. The sun was overhead and my shadow felt like it was on top of me, dragging me down. The wind was in my face, pushing at me, urging me to turn around and go back home. I persisted. I ran down the hill and felt better, but then ran up it too fast. Stopped to walk for 30 seconds to rest my cramped calf and to slow my heart rate. Ran the last few miles feeling a little sore and wondering why this run wasn’t as great. Was it because I ran so much last week? Because the weather was so strange–snowing last night and then melting quickly this morning? Or, was it just an off day? Whatever the reason, I ran anyway.

.

Hover over the entry to reveal the erasure poem.

april 8/10 MILES

53 degrees
mississippi river road path south/lake nokomis/mississippi river road path north

10 miles on a beautiful morning. Wasn’t sure if I’d run the 10 today or tomorrow, but once I started I knew that this run was my long run. I can tell that all the training and the increased mileage has made me more mentally tough. I used to spend significant portions of my longish (6+ miles) fighting against doubts and the desire to stop or start walking. Not today. There was no question that I would be running all 10 miles.

As always, heard lots of birds and fragments of conversation. Encountered lots of runners, most of whom passed me. In the last few miles, I was passed by 3 people twice who were running in the same direction as me. I noticed one of them stopping, so I expected he might pass me again, but the other two were a mystery. When did I pass each of them? Where and why did they stop? Maybe they didn’t stop. Maybe my brain was just on a loop, seeing the same people over and over again. Maybe, having run for over an hour, I had entered a new reality, where time didn’t progress but looped. If I had run any longer, would they have passed me a third time?

Random Memories of the Run

  • About 5 minutes into the run, heard a dog barking repeatedly, almost rhythmically. Decided to count the intervals between barks. Of course, the dog stopped barking, just as I started counting.
  • While running right by Minnehaha creek, heard a splash and a snort. Tried to see what it was but couldn’t. I wonder what critter made that noise? A muskrat? Beaver?
  • Encountered a bunch of runners just about to start a group run as I crested the hill between the Lock and Dam no. 1 and Wabun park about two miles into my run. Encountered the same group having finished their run and saying good-bye as I returned to Wabun on my way home. I wonder, how long of a run had they done? And, did they remember seeing me just before they started? Did they wonder the same about me?
  • Saw a woman walking her dog by the creek in a winter jacket and stocking cap. Wasn’t she hot, I wondered. Maybe she wondered the opposite of me in my running shorts: Isn’t she cold?
  • As I reached the halfway point of my run, near the little beach at Lake Nokomis, saw some kayakers in the water, many of them just about to get out. No ice on the lake! In just over 2 months, I’ll be swimming across that lake!
  • At about 9 miles, I felt really good. I smiled, knowing that I could run for much longer. At about 9.6 miles, I felt sore. I smiled again, knowing that I only had to run for a few more minutes.

Hover over the second paragraph for a hidden haiku.

april 7/3.25 MILES

41 degrees
mississippi river road path (south)*

A nice, easy run, with a faster last mile. It may have been only 41 degrees, but it was sunny and april and there was hardly any wind. It felt like spring. I love when spring arrives; it means summer is coming. And so are early morning runs and open swimming and biking and baseball and sitting on the deck, drinking a beer and going to outdoor concerts and walking around late in the evening with no jacket and reading by the lake and writing outside and hiking by the mississippi and going to the north shore and the UP and throwing pebbles into lake superior and obsessively watching the tour de france and eating cheese curds at the state fair and…hard core training for my first marathon. So far, my training has been pretty relaxed. Easy 10 mile long runs. About 25 miles a week. Towards the end of May, the training picks up. Will I be ready? I think so.

*up until this log post, I’ve been writing “mississippi river road path” without specifying which direction. About 85% of the time, the direction has been north, towards downtown. But occasionally, like today, I run south, towards Minnehaha Falls. As it gets warmer, I imagine I’ll be running this direction more, finishing at Lake Nokomis for a quick swim or continuing on to Lake Harriet. So, it seems important to start noting my direction on the path.

Hover over the log to reveal an erasure poem about opposites.

april 4/5.25 MILES

47 degrees
mississippi river road path

Thomas Gardner writes:

I’ve been feeling my way all week toward some still-unstated problem, running without a watch, not tracking my thoughts, trying to let the run distill itself down to breath, or rhythm, or attention–a single maple leaf suspended in a web, five feet over the trail. It’s hard to do. Thoughts rise and rattle, spread their wings, legs trailing them over the pond (35).

Was thinking about this as I ran. It is hard to “let the run distill down to breath, or rhythm, or attention.” I did have a moment, though, when I was focused on the river. Illuminated by the sun, it looked white, almost, but not quite, like it does when it’s covered with snow and ice. I like watching the sun and the river when they get together. The other day, the sun was focused on one spot in the river, a circle of light on the surface, inviting me to enter it. What would I find, I wondered, if I dove in?