How far we’ve come

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Runkeeper stats for the past 3 years. You can see a big gap between the marathon in November 2014 and August 2015 when my knee stopped hurting and I began cycling regularly.

The end of the year is generally the time to tally up miles and evaluate what has been accomplished in the past twelve months.

I remembered this as I was driving home from work yesterday and “How Far We’ve Come” by Matchbox 20 came on.  That song was on the playlist I listened to during the marathon, and it had felt so, so relevant at the time as I ran farther than I had ever run before.

But how far have I come this year? I recently got a new diagnosis for my knee, and the prognosis leaves me in much the same place I’ve been ever since I crossed the finish line of the marathon: Rest for a long time.

The new diagnosis is patellofemoral pain syndrome, and the fix is to continue physical therapy exercises and not irritate my knee for 6 months to a year.

Another year of rest is hard to face when I am so eager to get out and be active, and it is discouraging to think that the more I do to stay fit, the more I risk irritating my knee again. The best thing for me, I guess, is to remember that progress does not have to be measured in quantifiable units. While I love data and seeing how many miles I’ve logged, I did a lot more this year than what can be tracked by a GPS app or measured on a scale.

Here’s a run down of the past year:

Road cycling: 215 miles – I explored some new cycling routes this summer and got really motivated after cheering on my sister-in-law at a triathlon. I participated in two bike tours and finally learned how to use clipless pedals.

Running (with walk breaks): 15-20 miles – Weeks of practicing running drills at physical therapy resulted in a near-miracle: being able to run with improved form and no knee pain. In the late summer I began to alternate running and walking for a few minutes a couple of times a week. This new running form felt so much more efficient than my old habits, and I was sure that once I started training and racing again, I would make some big strides.

Yoga: In the absence of running and its meditative qualities, I was craving some mind/body goodness, so I tried out some yoga classes taught by my friend Kessiah. I found that I like to incorporate yoga into my daily life, and it might even be necessary in keeping my muscles flexible (since they knot and bind up unusually tightly). When I can’t get to one of Kessiah’s classes, I follow online videos. I found a 30-day program that was gentle and welcoming while also challenging me to strengthen foundational muscles that are vital to posture and running form. A new 30-day program is coming out on January 1st, so I’m looking forward to continuing practicing yoga in 2016.

Hiking: I began doing some light and careful hiking in the spring. I started bird watching and spent a lot of time taking the dogs for walks in the woods. In June and July, I made a point of watching sunsets from a fire tower on the Appalachian Trail after work when possible. It was beautiful to see and important, I think, to experience. Whether chatting with through-hikers or catching a glimpse of the Catskill Mountains, or having Pippin sit comfortably in my arms as I carried him up and looked out, these nights were some of the best of the year.

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In all of my hikes, I was cautious about foot placement and whether or not the terrain would irritate my knee, but after many months of no pain, I was surprised when a Black Friday hike was the culprit in bringing back the pain. I miss hiking just as much as, if not more than, running, but over the next year I’ll have to cut back and be even more cautious if I want to truly heal the knee. I guess the best thing to keep in mind as I go forward is that my favorite hikes this year were not long or particularly challenging, and mileage and working out do not have to be the main focus.

Rock Climbing: Time away from running allowed me to explore new sports, including this one, which had caught my interest over the years. I took a climbing lesson in January, and although I was partly scared, that didn’t hold me back from buying my own shoes and harness so I could work at it. I can usually make it to an indoor gym about twice a month to practice, and who knows, maybe the coming year will bring some experiences on real rock!

Paddleboarding: I took advantage of early sunrises this summer to take my paddle board to the lake with Pippin before work. In the dark mornings of winter it is so good to remember those days when I was on the water by 6:30, cutting a path through the mist with Pippin perched on the bow.

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Mountain bike skills: I attended an REI mountain bike skills class, as well as a skills clinic held by local bike shop Cycle Craft. Even after that expert teaching, I found myself afraid of obstacles in the trail and focused more on road riding. But after putting the road bike into storage for the winter, I have truly started to face my fears of mountain biking by practicing on my fat bike.  Whether it’s riding in circles in the yard, bouncing along over large ballast stones in the old railroad bed, or attempting challenging curves in go-around sections, I am building confidence and getting over the mental hurdles I’ve built up. Challenging yourself to face your fears is a transformative act, and even though I’m not logging lots of miles or dropping pant sizes, I’m changing and developing.

The more we live, the more we change, and even though it feels like I’m standing still (especially when my knee is in the same shape it was a year ago), there’s been a lot of living going on.

2016 will be about building up strength and flexibility. It will be about tending to myself to iron out the quirks and imbalances that initially caused the knee injury. It will be about practicing running drills and correct form to build muscle memory for later. It will be about improving my cycling and finding comfort in areas where I am fearful.

Here’s to new adventures in 2016!

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