Keep on running

Yesterday's most important thing was going to my local Bauhaus (a home improvement / building supply store) to buy some clamps so that I could repair two pairs of sunglasses that I broke playing football at the beach with my son (for some reason, I can't resist a header, even when I know that each header has about a 5% chance of hitting the top of my sunglasses' frame, and each such hit has about a 20% chance of cracking the plastic). Since Monday's football practice was cancelled due to insufficient numbers (turns out that over-35 dudes are sometimes a bit lazy), I felt that I needed some exercise, so I decided to run there and back instead of taking my bike.

It turns out that it's about six kilometres to the store, at least the way I went. I knew ahead of time that it was a decent distance, and I had committed to doing a nice long run, so that was just fine by me. I hate retracing my steps when I run, so I took a different route back, which turned out to be shorter. I realised I was only one kilometre from my house after running only about four kilometres, so I decided that rather than running straight home and accepting an 11 km runβ€”I had my heart set on 12+ kmβ€”I'd hang a left through the forest and tack on a bit more distance.

I use Runkeeper to tell me my distance and pace every 500 metres, and I must have missed the 10.5 and 11 km notices (lost in a podcast I was listening to about the French Constitution of 1793, no doubt), so I was a bit annoyed that I hadn't added as much distance as I thought by detouring through the woods, so instead of heading straight onto my house, I took another left turn down a long hill (knowing full well that meant I would have to run back up the same long hill further on in the run 😬). A little over halfway down the hill, Runkeeper informed me that I had now run 11.5 km, which was a pleasant surprise for me.

Feeling satisfied, I finally turned for home, which I knew to be about 2 km away. When I arrived home and took a look at my final stats, this is what I saw:

A screenshot of Runkeeper showing 13.52 km distance, 1:20:24 time, 5:57
min/km, 1119 calories, 2nd fastest run of 11-17 km, and -0.03 from best time,
with a temperature of 17Β° C, 62% humidity, and a 20 km/h wind from the

I was quite happy with this, until I saw that it was only my second longest run, and only my second fastest in this distance range. Noooooooo!!! This is the curse of metrics: you're feeling one way, then the cold hard facts slap you right in the face. πŸ˜‰

For those of you who are runners, 13.5 km isn't that long, and 5:57 min/km is definitely not that fast, but it is an achievement for me nonetheless, and I'll explain why once I return from the dentist's appointment that I completely forgot I had until 20 minutes ago, when my calendar thankfully reminded me. πŸ˜…

A clock with other clocks swirling around it

OK, I'm back, and with no cavities! πŸŽ‰

So, I was about to tell you why my not so long not so fast run was so pleasing to me. As I've most likely previously mentioned, I play football (soccer) with my neighbourhood club's over-35 men's team, which they euphemistically call the "veteran's team." About five years ago, I was at training, as I am every Monday night unless it's snowing too hard to see the ball. I call it training, but we actually just play 7- or 9-a-side matches against either other. In any case, we were playing a training match, and there was one of those 50/50 balls that a guy on the opposing team and I were both running towards. I was pretty sure I could win it, so I slid in, but at the last minute, wasn't sure I was going to get it, so I pulled out of the slide tackle a bit so I wouldn't catch the other guy.

As any good football pundit will tell you, pulling out of a tackle you've previously committed to is when you get hurt, and that imaginary pundit was right on this occasion. I kinda got the ball and kinda got the guy, and was rewarded by the guy falling onto my right knee, which bent a bit sideways. I knew it wasn't great when it happened, and knew that it was actually kinda bad when I stood up and put some weight onto it. I did the responsible thing and stopped playing... outfield. I switched to goalkeeper for the rest of the training session, and then limped over to my car to go home. At least I hadn't taken my bike to training on that particular day!

By the next morning, my knee was a little swollen, and putting weight on it wasn't really a thing I could do, so I did the responsible thing and grabbed a bag of frozen peas out of the freezer and attached it to my knee with one of those elastic bandage things. I figured I'd keep an eye on it and go to the doctor if it was still hurting at the end of the week (this was Tuesday morning). Tragically, this was years before working from home was a normal thing to do for most people, so I had to take a vacation day from work (we have 30 over here in Sweden, so I don't use sick days unless I'm out for a few days, since you get paid less for those).

As the week went on, the swelling went down, and the pain lessened to the point that I could limp to the bus and then limp to the train and then sit with my right leg straight out and hope the bandage on it communicated to people that I had a legitimate medical reason for having my leg stuck out a bit into the aisle and therefore would not choose to accidentally on purpose trip over my leg to punish me for being an inconsiderate prick.

By Monday of the next week, I could bend my knee a little bit, so I decided that I was healing and didn't need any medical intervention. I did actually do the responsible thing this time and skipped football training, since I could barely walk and definitely couldn't run or kick a ball with my right foot, or even plant my right foot to kick a ball with my left because my right knee didn't like it when I asked it to hold up the 70+ kilograms of the rest of my body all by itself.

I ended up staying away from training for nine months or so whilst my knee healed. For the first four months or so, I didn't even go out with my son for a kickabout, which is something that we did at least once a weekend normally. When I resumed kicking the ball with him, I only used my left foot, which was at least good practice, since I'm right footed normally.

When I did start going back to training, I noticed that things would be fine for the first hour, then my knee would start hurting and I'd need to go in goal for the last half hour. I also started running again, and found that I could do three kilometres at a decent pace before my knee started hurting. Strangely enough, I started to realise that it wasn't always my right knee hurting; now it was occasionally my left. Amateur doctor that I am, I decided that nine months of favouring my left had put too much strain on the ligaments around that knee. I asked my friend Caroline, who is a doctor and also one hell of a distance runner, and she said that it was a plausible explanation, but that I really should see a specialist.

I knew she was right, so I did the responsible thing and booked an appointment with a specialist... a few months later. In fact, I didn't do it until my masseuse, who is also a physical therapist, told me that she was going to yell at me every time I came in for a massage until I went to see the knee doctor. Unwilling to incur her wrath, I finally made the appointment and went to see the doctor.

The doctor turned out to be this no-nonsense German woman, pleasant and friendly, but not the sort of person whose advice you'd dare ignore. She had me sit down on the examination table, took one look at my knees, and said, "OK, I know what the problem is." She hadn't as much as examined the knees with her hands yet. "I'm going to take an ultrasound to be sure," she continued. She put some of that cold gel on my knees and moved the wand around, then motioned me over to her computer screen as soon as the images came up.

"You see this bit here?" she asked. "That's your kneecap. Now this white stuff here is your vastus lateralis muscle. See this gap between the muscle and the kneecap? That's not supposed to be there."

Apparently, when I hit my growth spurt sometime in my mid teens, my legs grew slightly too fast, and the vastus lateralis muscle, which is supposed to attach to the femur right above the kneecap and keep the kneecap from moving side to side when you run and walk, attached a bit further up, leaving this gap that allowed my kneecap to move laterally. At that age, the cartilage around the kneecap was strong enough to compensate, and since I kept quite active as an adult, with lots of running and sports and stuff, the cartilage stayed strong. But when I hurt my knee playing football and stopped running for nine months, the cartilage weakened and couldn't keep the kneecap in place, thus putting too much strain on my ligaments, which would start aching so that I would stop hurting them.

I was really impressed that the doctor could tell all of this just from looking at my thigh, and I told her as much. She laughed and said, "I assume you're pretty good at your job, right? Well, I'm pretty good at mine." Mic drop.

Anyway, she told me that it was nothing to worry about, and I just needed to go to a physical therapist and rehabilitate my knees so I'd be able to run without pain. She referred me to someone near my office and sent me on my way.

The physical therapist gave me a programme of exercises to do that would strengthen my cartilage (I didn't even know you could do that!) and recommended that I start going to the gym three times a week to do them, something that I had successfully avoided in my life to that point. I sucked it up and got a gym membership and became one of those people who go to the gym all the time, but at least I didn't become one of those people who actually enjoy it and can't stop telling everyone else how they go to the gym all the time.

I did this for about a year, and finally got to the point where I could make it through 90 minutes of football training and 5 km of running without pain, and then the pandemic hit. 🀦🏼

So I let my gym membership expire and haven't been back there since, but I have been running a few times a week, slowly building up distance. Last summer, I came up with the idea of running to the beach, which is a little over 4 km away from my house, taking a swim, and then running back. I found that I could do this without much pain (and my physical therapist had assured me that running through a little pain wouldn't do any harm), and really enjoyed being able to cool off in the middle of the run. As summer turned into autumn and people disappeared from the beach, I also found that I loved swimming in an almost deserted lake. In fact, when the weather was cold and grey and a little rainy, it would just be me and the geese at the beach.

I kept up this routine until the beginning of November, when the water temperature dropped to about 10Β° C and I just couldn't anymore. πŸ˜…

Sometime in the winter, my friend Pippa convinced me that the human body was actually capable of regulating its internal temperature when it was cold outside, and we'd just gotten all civilised and soft and forgotten how to do it, so I started slightly under-dressing to train my body to handle the cold. She also introduced me to a friend of hers who went in the water every single weekend, all year round. I couldn't quite imagine walking into water so cold that you had to break the ice just to get in, but towards the end of March, Pippa and Simon invited us for a cookout at the beach near their house, and said that we'd be going on a 3 km run finishing at the lake, and that the last person to run into the water was the loser and would have to wear a rubber chicken on their head for the rest of the day.

I ended up finishing last, but I did run into that water, and oh my was it ever cold! According to Pippa, it was 6Β° C, in fact. My sense of pride at having gone into water that cold more than offset the shame of wearing the rubber chicken, and I decided to run down to the beach near my house the next weekend and go in. Which I've been doing ever since, every weekend, rain or shine. In fact, rain is even better, since that keeps the people away and lets me enjoy the beauty of nature.

I like running, but I do find it boring to always run the same route, so I started looking for different routes to the beach. It turns out that there are many, so I started varying my route and adding a bit of distance on. I found one route that was 10 km, which was the longest I'd run since my knee injury. Last weekend, I decided to do a little more than that, so instead of taking the path straight up into the woods from the beach, I took the path that went along the shoreline, and ran about a kilometre down it before turning into the woods and towards my house. By the time I got home, I'd done 12 km!

So yesterday, I was determined to beat that. And I did it! Not only did I run 1.5 km farther, I also ran it fasterβ€”5:57 min/km as opposed to 6:09 min/km last weekend!

So despite my run being short and slow by the standards of most serious runners my age, I'm pretty pleased with myself! πŸ™‚

🏷 diary
πŸ“ Published: 2022-08-31