First, my dog skidded a bit as she ran in front of me. A half second later, my feet were no longer beneath me and my ass was on a collision course with the sidewalk. I had just enough time to partly break my fall with my left hand. My first thought: ‘Damn, I didn’t see that patch of ice.’ My second thought: ‘Do a quick damage assessment. Everything OK? Slightly sore butt, no problem. Wrist is also sore but I’m able to move it.’ My dog looked at me like I’m a pathetic biped. I got up and we kept running. The plan was to do our hour-long Saturday run, followed by a half-hour interval workout on the rollers.
So far this winter, I’ve been lucky. The sidewalks haven’t been that icy, and I’ve had plenty of mornings when I woke up to a fresh layer of snow. I love to be the first one to lay down a fresh trail in the snow on my runs with Lexi the Airedale. I wrongly assumed that I didn’t have to worry too much about ice patches if I had a decent layer of fresh powder. That certainly was my operating assumption Saturday.
My second fall happened about 30 minutes into the run when I slipped on an off-camber section of sidewalk, which bodyslammed me on my right hip. It wasn’t too painful, and I got up right away and continued running. But about five minutes later, I went down again – hard. My legs slipped out from underneath me so fast that I didn’t have a chance to break my fall with my hands. My left elbow was called in to do that.
I sat on the sidewalk for a moment feeling a bit woozy. I might have hit the back of my head on the pavement, but I had a thick fleece headband that apparently cushioned the blow. My lower back, shoulder and neck seemed to be suffering early symptoms of whiplash. The fall really shook me up, and I decided to walk the last mile home. About a block from my house, my dog went down on her left side crossing my neighbor’s off-camber driveway.
When I got home, I had the perfect reason to skip the roller workout. My body was sore and achy, as if I spent the last hour playing tackle football without pads on a frozen field. But I figured if I didn’t ride Saturday, I would probably also skip Sunday because the soreness would probably be worse the next day. I also thought I had a great opportunity to practice riding when I’m banged up; getting back on my bike after a crash and finishing a race. I did the roller workout and it felt great. Luckily, the pain and soreness could only be felt when I’m in an upright position. I felt fine when bent over on the bike. But damn, I wasn’t able to do the weight-lifting session I had planned for the weekend! What a shame!
A few weeks ago, I wrote about how I found a great way to stay in shape during the winter months: Running home from work, combining my workout with my commute. At first, it seemed like a bullet-proof plan, like all of my other fitness schemes. I did it for a while and enjoyed it, overlooking the negatives, which seemed minor at first. But then the negatives started to bother me.
This certainly isn't me running in my bare legs in January! I snapped this photo while I waiting for my bus to work.
One problem was that by working out in the evening, I found myself running with my dog less often. Originally, I thought I’d take my dog for a jog in the morning. This never happened, though. I didn’t want to get my running shoes wet and have to pack the soggy kicks in my workout bag. And I didn’t want to spend money on a separate pair. So my dog wasn’t getting the exercise she needs. I also really missed sharing the running experience with her. She just loves to get out on the road.
The other big problem was that I really don’t like to workout in the evening. I like to really chill after work. On the days I don’t run, I ride the rollers, and it really sucks to have to do this in the evening. I hate to have it hanging over my head, and often there’s too big of a temptation to skip it, drink a glass of wine instead.
So I’m back to working out in the morning. One wonderful thing about morning workouts is that my dog and I are usually the first ones out in the snow. The past two mornings, we ran on a fresh, fluffy white carpet of powder, with the air full of falling flurries. It was fantastic.
When asked for three tips for becoming a better cyclist, Eddy Merckx famously said, “Ride your bike. Ride your bike. Ride your bike.” I’ve been following the master’s advice for the past 10 years. It was easy because I was living in the subtropics and could pretty much ride all year.
When I moved to Michigan last year, I planned to cycle outside throughout the winter, and I was pretty successful at riding whenever possible. But there were long stretches when I couldn’t. I forced myself to head down to the pain cave in the basement to ride the rollers, but I didn’t do that enough. My plan was to start training like a maniac in March, but we didn’t have much of a spring. Throughout the summer, I felt like I was constantly two or three months behind where I should be. My training never got on track.
The lesson learned: Now that I live in a winter wonderland, I’ve got to be more serious. That’s what the frigid weather does; it focuses the mind and inspires one to be more disciplined. So to better maintain my fitness, I’m running again. Gasp, yes, I’m running. Well, Bernard Hinault used to do it in the off season.
It’s too icey to run in the morning and too dark in the evening. So I’m running home from work. It’s fantastic, so far. I take care of my workout and commute at the same time. The distance is about 8 kilometers so it’s a decent workout.
The only problem is that my clothes are piling up in my cubicle. It looks like a changing room at the end of a busy Saturday at Macy’s. The plan was to run every other day and to take the clothes home on the off days. But it’s so easy for my slacks and suits to get wrinkled on my bus commute home that I’ve just been leaving them at work.
To maintain my cycling fitness, I’ll hit the rollers during the week, usually on Wednesday, and go out for rides on the weekends. I forgot how much running boosts the cardio fitness, and it really shows on my roller workouts. I couldn’t be more delighted about this.
Lots of thoughts flit through my head while I’m standing at a starting line. Did I train enough? How bad is this race going to hurt? Am I really the only runner dressed in a cycling kit? But never before have I found myself wondering: Is that guy in the turkey suit going to blow the head off of that 4-year-old girl with that shotgun?
The dude with the rifle was the same gray-haired guy who starts the Gobble Wobble race every year on Thanksgiving Day at Lake Quivira, a gated golf course community built around a lake outside of Kansas City. Usually, he stands around chatting with friends until he realizes it’s a few minutes past 9 a.m. and time to get the runners going. Without bothering to call everyone to the starting line or going through the usual “On your marks…” routine, he just thrusts the rifle in the air and fires it. Bang! Jeez, this is America after all. There’s no reason to warn folks you’re about to discharge a firearm.
This year, I kept an eye on the guy because I didn’t want him to scare the bejeezus out of me again. The first time he tried to shoot, the rifle just went, “click.” He pointed it toward the ground as he checked the trigger and safety. He swung the barrel from side to side until it was pointed at the head of the little girl who was standing in front of him, with her hands over her ears as she gleefully waited for the gun to go off. Growing frustrated, the man popped out a shell and loaded another, but that one didn’t work either. Finally, he just turned to the crowd of runners and yelled, “Gooooo!!!!” We took off running and as soon as we got about 20 meters down the road, I heard a “Bang!” I jumped a bit and thought, “Damn, he got me again.”
What a wonderful new custom, the Thanksgiving Day races held across the country. I love the opportunity to do something physically challenging before I spend the rest of the day stuffing myself with classic American comfort food: sweet potato dishes with a crispy top layer of gooey mini marshmellows, the tangy sweet flavor of jellied cranberries from a can, stuffing that meets my monthly sodium quota, Bavarian sauerkraut made by my brother’s mother-in-law, and, oh yes, plenty of turkey meat. When the weather is cold (not this year, though), I finish the race with a phlegmy, hacking cough from breathing in the frigid air during the race. The cough usually stays with me throughout the day, a hardcore fitness badge of honor.
The Gobble Wobble at Lake Quivira is more of a fun run than a race. There’s no registration or clock or results or mile markers. I’m not even sure what the distance is. Between 4.5 and 5 miles, or thereabouts? I love the course, though. The first half mile takes you over the damn, an exposed stretch where the wind usually tries to pull you apart. The next couple miles go past lakeside McMansions and in and out of coves. The last half of the course is a roller coaster.
The event is popular with my high school cross country team, the fighting cougars of Shawnee Mission Northwest, a perennial powerhouse in the state of Kansas. This year, the boys placed second at the state meet and the girls won first. At the Gobble Wobble, my initial goal was to hang with a group of four of those state champion women racers. Their graceful, effortless shuffling stride made me recall how I used to run with such ease when I was a high schooler logging insane mileage. It didn’t take long for the girls to pull away from me, though, so I went back to my original goal: beat anyone who seemed to be the same age as I am. I was generally successful until the last two miles when two guys cruised by me. My excuse: It has been too long since I ran the course, and I was holding back for any surprises. The reality: I just wasn’t pushing myself hard enough.