Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Stage fright

Every time I come back from an extended stretch of involuntary cross training, I must pass through the same series of stages. Experience doesn’t make the transition any easier; in fact, it’s almost worse to know what’s coming.

So consider this your warning. If you’ve never been injured (you lucky bastard), you might want to stop reading here. If you’re like me and have survived virtually every running injury ever, then you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.

Stage 1: It’s your first day back on the roads. The cold, gusty air is full of sharp bits of freezing rain that are stabbing you in the eyes. But you’ve never felt better. Your legs are fresh and pain-free. You are so happy to be breathing in fresh air that you don’t even notice the thin stream of half-frozen snot sliding down your face. You find yourself running to the rhythm of songs like “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah” and “Celebration.” You would probably smile if you had remembered to brush with Sensodyne this morning.

Stage 2: Approximately 2.5 miles into that first run, you notice that your legs are feeling remarkably less springy. Your stomach hurts, your lungs are burning, and that happy-go-lucky soundtrack in your head has faded into a playlist of Rage Against the Machine and Nirvana songs.

Stage 3: You return home exhausted and unsure of how you ever did this on a daily basis. You stumble into the shower, where you stand motionless for five straight minutes, letting the hot water run over your cold, achy body. You momentarily consider going back to pool running—permanently. Then you slap yourself in the face for being so stupid.

Stage 4: You wake up the next morning feeling like you spent the entire previous day at a Jackass tryout. Getting out of bed hurts. Going down the stairs hurts. That box of Apple Jacks on the top shelf of the pantry? Fugetaboutit.

Stage 5: Against your better judgment, you somehow force yourself out the door for another run. You proceed to slog through four miles of pure hell. You’re pretty sure Paula Deen will start cooking with olive oil before you’re back in shape again.

Stage 6: The next day, you are able to put on your socks without audibly groaning. You are flexible enough to reach the peanut butter on the second-highest shelf in the pantry. You experience the vaguely familiar desire to hit the road. Instead of focusing on not vomiting, you are able to shift your concentration to your usual mid-run topics of thought: What should I make for dinner tonight? Is it “gray” or “grey?” Is Mitt Romney’s first name short for something? What is Tang made of? Before you know it, you’re back at your front doorstep, feeling refreshed and rejuvenated. After a quick swig of water, you are inspired enough to bust out a few sets of planks.

Stage 7: Over the next few days, you gradually begin to incorporate other elements of your normal fitness routine—weightlifting, plyometrics, hot yoga. (Note: I’ve never actually tried hot yoga, and it sounds pretty disgusting if you ask me. But I’ve heard that lots of people enjoy it, so I thought I’d throw it in to show how culturally tolerant I am.)

Stage 8: Your injury is now a distant memory of a very dark time in your life. Unfortunately, since the sun now sets at approximately 4:30 p.m. and rises at 8:30 a.m., most of your life these days is, in fact, dark. So in the grand scheme of things, you’ve really only broken even.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Water fodder

If there is one thing I learned from the two-plus weeks I spent in the pool, it is that swimmers are not a very chatty bunch. I mean, why would they be? In the world of swimming, there is no such thing as “conversational pace” (for obvious reasons).

As I went about my daily pool running routine—which usually included a slow warm-up, an interval workout and a short cool-down—I noticed that I was often on the receiving end of some very confused looks.

None of my fellow pool-goers, however, dared to express their curiosity in spoken-word form. Luckily, I am well practiced in the art of decoding non-verbal communication. By that, I mean that one of my favorite pastimes is putting words in the mouths of unsuspecting strangers based on their actions and facial expressions.

So, in response to the slew of silent commentary I collected during my short stint in the water, I have crafted the following document.

An open letter to swimmers:

I know we will probably never understand each other. I never meant to invade your turf. (Or should I say surf? OK, lame joke, but I just had to.)

But alas—unfortunate circumstances have caused our paths to cross.

Over the last several days, I have kept a mental record of observations I would like to share with you.

First off: I know how to swim. But I am not a swimmer. No offense, but I would never voluntarily wake up at 6:30 a.m. to bust out 50 laps in a cement pit full of chlorine, bodily fluids and detached Band-Aids.

I am here because I have to be—because there are no other workout options available to me at this juncture, and I am pathetically addicted to my own endorphins.

Also, I realize that I’m not actually swimming—that’s the point. I’m not interested in learning the backstroke, or the breaststroke, or any other combination of bodily regions and strokes—I just want to have a shot at coming off of this injury in decent shape. Running shape.

I know this is a difficult concept for you to wrap your rubber-cap-covered head around, but it’s really quite simple. Instead of propelling myself forward in a horizontal, arm-driven motion, I move in a vertical, leg-driven fashion that resembles running.

So please stop looking at me like I’m some idiot who accidentally ended up in the pool on her way to the cardio room, even though that is basically what I am.

Yes, it looks strange. Yes, I am moving so slow that the old man with the snorkel in the lane next to mine looks like Michael Freaking Phelps on his way to another world record. And yes, I am breathing really, really hard.

Don’t toss me a pair of water wings, or a life vest, or even a noodle. I see your eyes nervously darting back and forth between me and the shelves full of flotation devices. I promise you I will not drown in this five-foot-deep, quarter-Olympic-size pool.

As for my workout attire—I do, in fact, own a bathing suit. It features purple bows and polka dots and is totally inappropriate for serious exercise. Therefore, I decided that this black sports bra and matching spandex shorts would be a much more comfortable, less wardrobe-malfunction-prone option. If you have a problem with it, check out what the pro swimmers are wearing these days.

Finally, I am fully aware that Aquacise starts at nine, so don’t get your Speedo in a bunch. I’ll be toweling off in the locker room before the instructor even hits play on the first Beach Boys song.