Monday, March 31, 2008

Video: Making a Healthy Dinner!

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Compartment Syndrome?

The 5K run is coming up in one week and, although I am not yet nervous, I am becoming ever more curious as to whether my body will be able to hold up. I've been doing some research on the chronically tight calves that I have, that cause pain and numbness on many of my 2+ mile runs. Although shin splints do share some of the same symptoms, a telltale sign of shin splints is that the pain continues even after exercise ceases. In my case, the pain and numbness dissipate very quickly as soon as the exercise is over.

After much Googling, I am afraid I have come to the conclusion that I am most likely afflicted with what is known as "exercise-induced compartment syndrome," also known as chronic exertional compartment syndrome, which basically means that when I exercise, my calf muscles connected to my shin expand to such a degree that the sheath that contains the muscles, known as the fascia, does not have enough flexibility to expand and allow the muscle to function properly. According to the various websites I've seen, this leads to a very tight feeling in the legs, pain with each step, and tingling or numbness in the front of the lower legs and on the top of the feet as the expanding muscles and tight muscle sheath cut off blood flow to the peroneal nerve. Sound familiar?

The bad news about exercise-induced compartment syndrome is that the only foolproof method to completely relieve the symptoms is surgery. Apparently they cut along the length of the fascia, which gives the muscle room to expand without pain. However, surgery, like war, is a last resort. I have had this problem in the past, and I know from experience that when I drop a lot of weight, and generally get into better shape, my compartment syndrome symptoms virtually disappear. So I am hopeful that I can avoid a trip under the knife.

Currently, I have been able to reduce the symptoms by frequent deep tissue self-massage using The Stick. By massaging my tight calf muscles several times a day, I am able to effectively "pre-stretch" the muscles -- and possibly the fascia -- so that I do not get the symptoms while running. Most of the time, this is effective. Yesterday, I flung myself out the door and jogged 2 miles, walking twice for about 1-2 minutes each time, and I am very pleased to say that my legs were neither tight nor numb! However, a few days before that, I attempted a two-mile walk/jog, and my calves tightened up to the point where the pain was excruciating, and I had to walk most of the route. So, who knows. I have one week left until the race, and I will just do the best I can to keep my muscles limber until then.

I am also going to look into getting new shoes. I am told that several symptoms of compartment syndrome, and tight calves, and numbness, can be alleviated with the proper running shoes. Now, I had thought that my running shoes fit me just fine. But I haven't actually gotten fit for running shoes in seven years -- I have been using the same model ever since I was fit in a New Balance running store in 2001. All my friends who run in DC tell me to go to the Georgetown running company, where they will watch me run on a treadmill, and give me a shoe that will solve all of my problems. I am looking forward to this magical shoe, and I plan to go there as soon as the 5K is over. Well, maybe that week, as I am pretty sure that right after the 5K is over, I will be limping home and crawling into bed.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

A great treadmill run -- finally!

In my experience, the days when you really don't feel like running are the days you have some of the best running experiences.

Today was one of those days for me. I had told myself that I was going to see if I could run a mile on the treadmill without stopping, but when today actually came, and I had free time, I really didn't feel like getting off the couch. Watching television is so much easier than running -- why run when I can watch reruns of Star Trek Voyager?

Ah, the Eternal Question. But instead of laying there, pondering, I decided to get off my fat ass and walk three blocks to the gym. I am glad I did. What followed was the best treadmill workout I have had in years.

I have never been able to test my Run-a-Mile-Without-Stopping ability when running outside, because I live on the set of The Sound of Music -- you know, rolling hills that are so much fun to spin around and sing songs on but a bitch to run on? I can't run a mile around here because I hit massive hills after half a mile!

Outside, I have been training at about 4.2 mph, which is a fairly slow shuffle. Today, I wanted to go faster. My goal? Run 5 mph, without stopping, until I have traversed one mile. Twelve minutes of nonstop running. Doable? I thought so. But it was going to be tough.

Once on the treadmill, I walked one minute to briefly warm up. Then I pushed it up to 5 mph, and we were off! The first five minutes were a breeze, as my pulse steadily rose from 130 to 150. I was still below 75% of my maximum heart rate, so it was still easy. But my pulse continued to rise, and soon it was approaching 165. Now it was getting tough. I knew that once I hit 13 minutes, that would be the one mile mark, so I was eagerly counting down the minutes until I could stop running. As I counted down, my pulse continued to rise. 170, 175, 179...

And there it hovered, around 175, for the last two minutes. It was hard... but I did it! As the clock hit 13 minutes, I hit the off button and jumped up on the handrails. Sweat was dripping from every part of me, but I had done it! I know it is kind of pathetic that my heart was working at 90% of its capacity to finish one mile at 5 mph, but I was still ecstatic. The last time I had an okay treadmill workout was one month ago, but at that point I had to use The Stick every few minutes, my legs tightened up incredibly, and I had to walk every few minutes. This is the first time I have been able to run one mile on a treadmill without stopping in several years. (I had been using The Stick religiously the past few days, and it paid off -- no tightness, no numbness!)

After the mile, I got off the treadmill for a few minutes, walked around, talked to some trainer friends, and eventually got back on the treadmill. My only goal for the day was really to see whether I could run one mile without stopping. Having accomplished that goal, I was fairly open about what to do next. I ended up jogging for a few minutes, walking for one minute, and repeating that several times, trying to keep my pulse around 150. Once I had hit 2 miles, my instinctual reaction was absolutely unprecedented, and it went something like this:

"Well, I have already gone 2 miles -- I might as well go 3!"

I cannot remember, ever in my life, having uttered something like that. I've already gone 2 miles, why not keep on going? What the hell is that? That is something a runner says! I'm not a runner! I'm a guy who is trying to run -- there is a big difference.

Unfortunately, just as I was a couple of tenths of a mile into my third mile, having pushed the speed up to 5.5 mph, the damned treadmill shut off. "WORKOUT SUMMARY," it said. Noooooo! Alas, my momentum was lost. After several seconds, I was finally able to turn the treadmill back on, but I only ended up running about 2.5 miles. Still, pretty impressive for me. :-)

After the 35 minutes of running/walking, I felt great. Hungry, as I hadn't eaten in about seven hours, but great. Full of energy, chipper, and just generally content. It was a great run, and I am extremely glad that I got off the couch today. Star Trek Voyager is nice, but not nearly as nice as an unexpectedly great running experience!

Friday, March 21, 2008

Mountains and Flatlands

I have been slightly hampered in my training so far because I have no idea how fast or far I can run on flat land. You see, I live in the middle of what must have been a prehistoric mountain range, because it is impossible for me to run a block in any direction without feeling like I should have brought ropes and carabiners.

The 5K that is coming up in just over 2 weeks, however, is flat. How flat? As the map below shows, other than a slight 20-foot downhill at the beginning (and corresponding uphill at the end), it is completely flat. (Yeah, yeah, there are a few bumps here and there, but after routinely covering 300 feet of elevation on my training runs, a 10 foot hill over the course of a block is fairly inconsequential.)

Now, it is possible that my constant walk/jogging on hilly terrain will make running on flat land a piece of cake -- I know things get much easier once I hit the flat straightaway on Wisconsin Ave. after 2 miles of uphills! (See: When I'm Not Jogging Up a Mountain, I'm Actually Pretty Good at This.) But I do wish I had more flat running experience, if only to give me the psychological boost I need. Right now, having not really run on flat land from the beginning, I'm not sure how I will do.

So... maybe I should pre-run the course this weekend to get my bearings?

Tight calves, numb feet, and the power of prayer

I am surprised that I haven't updated my blog in an entire week. Well, work week anyway. I want to say a lot has happened in the past week, because it feels that way. But really, not lot has happened. I completed a jog of 3.7 miles Wednesday night, but I am using all of those phrases very loosely -- it was not really a jog, I barely completed it, it wasn't really Wednesday, and so on. Honestly, the whole thing was a mess. My calves tightened up within a half-mile, and although the soreness did not preclude me from running, it did get fairly excruciating at points. Oddly, the trouble this time was really with my left calf, specifically with a band of muscle that got so inflamed that I could actually see it swelling and pushing out my skin. Not a pleasant sight.

Oh yeah, remember how a few weeks ago my right foot and outside of my lower right leg went numb? Yeah, about that... this time it happened in both legs. Yes, that's right, after about 1.7 miles both of my legs started to go numb. As you might imagine, this made training difficult. It was distracting to try to practice proper form while I could not feel my god damn feet! I sat down for about five minutes outside the National Cathedral and prayed to Jesus for sweet, sweet relief.

Well, I wasn't really praying, and if I had it would not have been to this so-called "Jesus" character; it would probably have been to Obama. But anyway, that's all beside the point because I did not pray. I just rested. And after a few minutes, the feeling in my legs came back, and I was able to run the last mile or so -- with a liberal amount of walking.

The point is, I am a mess. Things are tight and numb and just plain rotten. But I persevere, because I am some sort of masochist, or something. Or maybe it's because I know things will get better as my fitness level increases, my legs become more used to carrying my weight, and for that matter, my weight drops. I know I am about 30 pounds heavier than my ideal. And I also know, from experience, that once I reach my ideal, the problems with my calves virtually disappear.

Unfortunately, I don't see how I can drop 30 pounds before the Cherry Blossom 5K, which is just over two weeks from now. Looks like I'm going to have to learn how to run through excruciating calf pain and numb feet...

Or pray to Obama.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Disgusting General Tso's Feeling

I just ate an entire meal of deep-fried chicken, fried rice with little bits of pork, several steamed dumplings filled with meat, and an egg roll.

I feel absolutely disgusting. If you look at my Twitter account, which is quoted at right, you'll see that I have come to a revelation of sorts: a good, solid run of 3 miles can make me feel far better than a good General Tso's chicken combination platter ever can. This is, in many ways, a momentous epiphany, because that is not something I would ever have said several years ago, or even several months ago.

On Saturday, after my easy three-mile walk/jog, I felt absolutely invigorated. It had taken 45 minutes, I worked up a good sweat, kept my pulse beating at a vigorous 150 beats per minute, and by the end, I had a big smile on my face.

Instead of taking the 45 minutes today to consume a massive meal that I did not need, I should have taken that time to go out and do the run that I was planning. I told myself that the reason I was not running is because it was too late and the run would keep me up. But, the answer in that case is not to consume a gigantic meal that will leave me feeling awful. The answer, if I choose not to run at all that night, is to have a light meal and do the jog early the next morning.

I am going to sleep now, and hopefully, I will be able to do the run in the morning. I know this has not traditionally happened. But, I also have not traditionally had such an epiphany as I have had tonight.

" entire meal of deep-fried chicken, fried rice with little bits of pork, several steamed dumplings filled with meat, and an egg roll."

God, even reading that makes me feel nauseous. I don't want to feel disgusting anymore. I want to feel invigorated. I want to feel like I felt at the end of my last run.

Plan for Tonight...

The 5K is coming up in a very short three weeks, and it is time to start adding some speedwork into the fold. Not much, because I am a weakling, but enough so that I'll feel it. So tonight I plan to jog to the nearest high school track, then do a couple "fast" laps on the track with rest in between. My goal is to run the full laps at 80-90% of my MHR, without stopping to walk.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

The Amazing Shuffle

I have been reading Jeff Galloway's book on running, called something very obvious and momentous, like, "Galloway's Book on Running." In the book, Mr. Galloway explains that on our easy jogging days, we should be keeping our heart rate around 65%. Definitely no more than 75% of our maximum heart rate. Now, my maximum heart rate is somewhere in the vicinity of 190 -- 195. When I run -- and I am using the term loosely -- my heart rate quickly exceeds the "easy" or "recovery" heart rate that I am supposed to be maintaining. On my last run, my training software told me that I was in the "zone four" most of the time. this means that my heart rate when I try to run is somewhere between 80 and 90% of my maximum. This is not good. Apparently, if I train too hard too often, one of three bad things will befall me:

  1. Massive injury.
  2. Susceptibility to nasty bugs and viruses.
  3. Something called a "slump," in which a sad looking pencil drawing of a man is slumping against a wall.
I routinely suffer minor injuries, such as calves that get extremely tight, legs that turn into numb blocks of ice, and a bruised pride whenever I tell somebody I ran 3 miles in 48 minutes, and they respond, "isn't that just like a brisk walk?"

Yes, asshole. It is. I'm learning.

I'm not sure if I have slumped yet, as I am neither drawn of pencil, nor have I had to lean up against the wall in lethargy anytime recently.

I am pretty sure, however, that several nasty bugs and viruses have set up camp in my throat, from which they have launched their weeklong invasion on the rest of my body, leading to fatigue, lethargy, and the desire to slump up against a wall. I can only imagine that the reason I have been so susceptible to viruses is because I have pushed myself on what are supposed to be "easy" days.

So today, I tried something different. I stepped out the door with no intention of keeping a particular pace, or finishing in a certain time, or wowing my friends with tales of 13 minute miles. No, ladies and gentlemen, my only goal was to keep my pulse around 150 beats per minute, which would put me at about 75% of my maximum heart rate, ensuring that the entire run would be "easy" and the nano invaders in my throat would soon be destroyed by virtue and good health.

The first few minutes started out like they always do: I walked for a bit to warm up, and then I started jogging at a too fast pace of 5 mph. My pulse was steadily rising, surpassing 120, 130, and hovering around 140. Great, I told myself, everything is going according to plan.

Soon, with my steady pace, my pulse continued to rise. As it was still below 150, however, I was still okay to go. Then, the hills. As most of you know, it is impossible to run up hills at the same pace while keeping your heart rate steady. My pulse quickly began to rise, and I quickly began to walk. The next half hour was an amusing journey, in which, every 30 seconds, I looked down at my watch to find out what my heart rate was, saw that it was over 150, and backed off. All told, my average pace -- not that I am worrying about these sorts of things -- was 3.5 mph. Yes, that is a brisk walk. Not even all that brisk, come to think of it. But that is also a rather slow shuffle. And that is what I did: shuffled over 2 1/2 miles. I kept my pulse at an average of around 150 the whole time, except on the very steep downhill in which I had to actually run at around 5 mph in order to keep my pulse high enough -- characterized as over 145.

So, here are my findings: I felt like kind of a jerk shuffling along at 3 1/2 mph under the guise of "running." But I managed to keep my pulse around 150 the whole time, I added almost 3 miles to my running base, and for once, I would actually characterize my run as "easy." Yes, I was running at a very slow rate, but I felt great. I felt like I was getting exercise, and I finally understood what an "easy run" is supposed to feel like.

I realize that I am very out of shape, that I have never run before, and that I am starting out as a pure beginner. But I also realize that, if I continue to do this by the book -- Jeff Galloway's book -- I will build endurance and cardiovascular fitness at a slow, steady, and maintainable rate. If I keep this up, jogging two or three "easy" days a week (including my long-run), and one harder day in which I push myself and keep my pulse higher for a brief time, I will quickly improve.

I'm not sure if I will improve quickly enough to beat a time of 45 minutes in the very upcoming cherry blossom 5K, or whether Granny Smith with her walker will walk the 5K more quickly than I will shuffle it, or whether my name will forever be inscribed in the annals of the cherry blossom website as "that guy who was beaten by several 80 and 90-year-olds," or --

Wait, where was I?

Anyway, the point is, even though my run was pathetically easy, it was just hard enough, and I feel great. And I look forward to feeling great on a regular basis.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Taking it easy...

I have decided not to run tonight. I have a lingering chest cough, and I'm still under the weather. It is possible that a slow jog, in which I keep my heart rate less than 150 beats per minute, will knock everything loose inside and get the blood flowing and help me feel better more quickly... or the run could just keep me out of commission even longer.

Not that I'm making excuses, but I do have a choir concert this weekend, and I want to make sure I'm healthy!

In other news, my new voice recognition software arrived today and it is amazing. It is called MacSpeech Dictate and it is exactly what I have been waiting for... for as long as I can remember. This program works like magic. What does this mean for you? Probably a lot more blog entries. :-)

Wednesday, March 12, 2008


It's a good thing I took the time to run last night because, as I predicted, there was no way for me to squeeze my exercise in today. Now, the plan was to run in the morning tomorrow, which I thought would be feasible because I was exhausted all day today, and I was positive that tonight I would flop down in bed and pass out. Unfortunately, I am a total geek, and choir rehearsal revived my spirits like a jolt of caffeine!

I want to be optimistic but I have to be realistic: there is essentially no way I will be able to wake up early enough tomorrow to run three miles.

I can try to squeeze it in tomorrow after work and before dress rehearsal at the Kennedy Center, but again, I have to be realistic. The odds are I will be able to squeeze it in on Thursday, which will mean I'll have gone two days without physical activity.

Perhaps I can fit in a few push-ups tomorrow. Ha!

This is the problem with being a Night Owl. I have fun at night, but I cannot run because it will keep me up for several more hours. Yet I am still unable to go to sleep early enough to run in the morning. For God's sake, man, something has to change!

Monday, March 10, 2008

When I'm not jogging up a mountain, I'm actually pretty good at this

I'm coming off an illness, which is why I haven't posted in a while. I tried to run on the treadmill this weekend, but I was stymied by weak and tired (sick, really) leg muscles that couldn't carry me more than half a mile.

Today, after not running outside for 9 days (!!!), I felt mostly back to normal, and this evening I set out for a 3 mile jaunt. Out of shape as I am, I find it interesting that "going out for a quick 3 mile jog" doesn't phase me anymore! It seems like for years, 2 miles was this arbitrary limit, above which was the domain of Athletes and Runners, and as I was neither, I wouldn't even attempt it. But tonight was the third time I've attempted 3 miles, and it's kind of become the New Normal.

Not that a "quick 3 mile jog" is either quick or a jog. It's more like a "a 45-minute 3-mile jog:walk." But that doesn't have the same ring, does it?

Fearing tight muscles, I brought The Stick with me, but I found that I didn't really need to use it. (NB: It feels neat to run with a 20" stick in my hand -- it's like I'm carrying a baton in some sort of relay race!) Jeff Galloway's tables say that at my pathetically slow pace, I should actually be running 30 seconds, walking 30 seconds, and repeating. But I can't bring myself to walk that much! So I ran 2, walked 1.

It was slow going. I had gotten about 1.5 miles into it, and I was exhausted. This was hard. I started shortening the running segments, and then lengthening the walking segments. I was really exerting myself, even at my slow pace, and I felt as though I was carrying a massive invisible weight... why was this so hard?

Then I turned the corner onto Wisconsin Avenue. And suddenly it was easy.

I had been running uphill for a mile and a half. THAT'S why it was so hard.

As soon as I got to level ground -- not a decline, just level -- it was as though that invisible weight was lifted. After 2 minutes of jogging, my watch beeped to signify that it was time to walk for a minute -- but I ignored it. I'm going to keep running! After a minute, the watch beeped again to tell me to start running, and I kept at it! Here I was, halfway through my run, and I had the energy to jog for 5 minutes straight. A few cycles later, I did it again. I was 2.5 miles into my 3 mile run, and all I could think was, To Hell with the walk breaks!

I felt good. I was heading into a downhill. I was flying. My right foot started to go numb, but I didn't care. I had just finished reading Dean Karnazes' Ultramarathon Man, about a man who ran hundreds of miles at a time. He routinely lost feeling in his feet! Granted, this was after dozens of miles in brutal conditions; mine was after 2 miles at about 4 mph. Still, I felt kind of like Dean. I knew I'd get the feeling back. So I kept flying.

Near home, I finally listened to my watch and walked the last block, with the biggest smile on my face. It had taken a long time, but I had made it 3 miles, and I felt great. And ya know what?

I could easily see myself going 4. :-)

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Running While Sick?

I skipped my planned 3-mile run today. Well, "skipped" is rather harsh; I prefer to think of it as "postponed" until tomorrow.

The reason I pushed the run back is because I felt kind of under the weather today. I have had a scratchy throat for the past few days, and today I felt lethargic and just kinda out of it. So I decided that a run might do more harm than good: it might push me over the edge of healthy into SICK.

One rule of thumb I've heard says that if your symptoms are in the head -- i.e. stuffy nose, sniffles, sinus congestion -- you can run. If symptoms are in the chest -- chest cough, chest congestion -- you should rest. But my symptoms were in my throat! Where does that count? Should I have run or not?

(The suggestion of Ian -- ever the engineer -- was that since my symptoms were halfway between my head and chest, I should simply run 1.5 miles instead of my planned 3. "It's simple," he said. Gotta love engineers.)

Sunday, March 02, 2008

We are Okay to Go!

I am very pleased to report that my planned 3-mile run with longtime friend Diana went off without a hitch yesterday! The numb foot of Thursday night was, thank God, nowhere to be found. Perhaps this was due to the regular stretching and massaging I had done over the past couple days, or the new "parallel lacing" scheme I found on that relieved pressure on the top of my feet, or fact that it was now a pleasant 45 degrees and sunny out. It was likely a combination of all of those things.

End result? A slow as hell 48:38 5K over very hilly terrain -- and by "hilly," I mean a 14% incline at one point. Ugh! Add to that Diana's refusal to let me deviate from her predetermined 3:1 run:walk ratio, and my 16 minute pace left me exhausted. They say you're supposed to maintain a "conversational" pace while running -- that is, be able to have a conversation without panting or gasping for air. Well, Diana will confirm that I did indeed keep it conversational... for about the first 8 minutes. After that, the conversation went something like this:
Matt (gasping): They ---- say ----- should ---- be ---- able ta ----- talk but ---- I can't ----
Diana (perfectly fine): Don't talk.
Matt (panting): Why --- can't ---- walk for ---- TWO minutes.....
Diana: No. We can reduce the running time if you want, but you can only walk for one minute at a time.
Matt (dying): Why --- aren't --- you ------- tired!
Diana (not tired): I am tired. I'm just not breathing heavily.
Matt: Wha? Howza?
Diana: I learn breathing techniques in Yoga.
Matt: bzz kjes fp eeee z (gurgle)
Diana: Don't talk. Focus on your form.
Matt (dead).

Mind you, this is all even more ridiculous than it sounds, as we were literally jogging at about 4 miles per hour. The only time I ran faster than that was when, around 2.5 miles into the run, Diana told me I could rest once we got to that Starbucks up there.


Yes, I sprinted 1/10 mile to the Starbucks, doubling my speed to 7-8 mph, because that way I could rest sooner! Diana chastized me for sprinting -- "You shouldn't sprint at the end of your run! You're not going to get any benefit out of it! You're just going to get sore!" -- but I was just happy to finally have a chance to rest.

Shortly thereafter, Diana and I parted ways, as I jogged a final 1/4 mile around my block to hit the 3 mile mark, and she took the bus home.

No, she actually jogged the 2.5 miles home, on top of the 3 she jogged with me, on top of the 2.7 it took for her to jog to my place in the first place!

I hope I am never as crazy as Diana.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

A Zone of Beautiful Contradictions

It is 9 p.m. on a chilly winter night in our nation's capital. The temperature is below freezing and our hero is sitting on the side of the road, immobile, poking at the top of his right foot and wondering why he can't feel anything. It looks fine, he thinks to himself. It can't be frostbite. He is a mile from home and afraid to run, for fear of doing even more damage. He has no cell phone, no money for a cab or for the bus. He has no choice but to hobble home, increasingly aware that although he was dressed warmly enough for running, he was nowhere near insulated enough for walking. As his Garmin counts down the minutes until he reaches home (20 minutes at his current crawl), he thinks back to a scene in one of his favorite books where the protagonist is left outside in the cold too long, and has to have his feet amputated. Surely that won't happen to me, our hero tells himself. Still... is this the end of my Cherry Blossom aspirations?

Tough Beginning

The training schedule said 3 miles, and even though I had gotten home late, and I don't normally like to run in the late evening because it keeps me awake, I had no choice. I mean, I had drawn up that nifty little 5K map and told the whole world about it -- and I couldn't disappoint the world, could I?

It was cold outside, but sweats, a long-sleeve wicking shirt, gloves and a hat keep me warm enough. I was rested, caffeinated even. I could make it.

After mapping out my route I uploaded it to the Garmin, so that it could beep at me angrily when I inevitably veered off course. I started on my adventure and my pulse began to rise... I walked for a minute every 3-4 minutes because that was the plan... but then around half a mile my calves became incredibly tight! I have had problems with tight calves for years, but I thought I had gotten over the problem several weeks ago. I stopped to stretch, and then continued running, and got tight again, and stopped to stretch. After about a mile, the pain hadn't let up, so I looked around for a stick to press against my muscles -- a poor man's version of the rolling-pin-like Stick that I use daily at home.

I found a suitable stick, rubbed it up and down my calves over my sweat pants, causing an oddly relieving pins-and-needles sensation. I felt better.

In the Zone

I pushed ahead, trying to keep my pulse in the 150-170 range. I jogged at a slow pace until my pulse hit 170, and then walked until it dropped to 150 -- since it usually takes one minute for my pulse to drop 20 points, this worked out well, averaging out to a jog 2-3, walk 1 pattern.

The jog wasn't altogether pleasant, but then something interesting happened: For a few minutes, I felt almost like I was in a Zone of Beautiful Contradictions:
  1. I was exerting myself, working hard, and it was tough -- yet I felt like I was in a groove and could continue the exertion with minimal effort.
  2. It was very cold out, the people I passed were bundled up from head to toe, and I could see my breath -- yet I felt comfortably warm.
  3. All I could hear was my own breath and the pounding of my feet on the pavement -- yet with my steady 2-2 breathing pattern, the sound was rhythmic, quiet, and almost tranquil.
  4. The world was dark and it was hard to see -- yet what I did see was beautiful: houses and paths bathed in the yellow glow of the street lamps.
At one point I passed an elderly couple walking a dog. One of them said to the other, "Hold the dog, there's a jogger coming." It took me a second to realize that they were talking about me. I smiled. Me? A jogger? Come now; I spend frigid winter evenings watching TV.

A Sudden End

As I passed the 2-mile mark, I felt good. With the walking and stretching, my overall pace was abysmal, but I told myself it's not about pace at this point -- it's just about conditioning my body to be able to keep moving. Speed will come later. Don't worry about it. Just keep putting one foot ahead of the other, focus on the feeling of each foot hitting the pavement.....

....hang on, is my right shoe coming unlaced?

I looked down. My shoe was fine.

....That's odd. Why can't I feel the shoe?

I stopped moving. With my left foot, I tapped the top of my right foot. Nothing.

Uh oh...

Contradiction #5: I had finally hit a running groove -- yet I couldn't feel my right foot.

I started to become a little panicky. I took off my sock, afraid of what I would find... but my foot looked perfectly normal. I reached down to feel it, but there was no sensation. It was as though the top of my foot had fallen asleep, along with the front and outside part of my right calf. Completely numb.

I didn't know what had caused the numbness, so I didn't want to risk exacerbating it by jogging the mile home. I didn't have my wallet with me so I couldn't catch a cab or take the bus. I had no choice but to walk. I realized that when you're jogging in sweats, 30 degrees feels like a comfortable 50. When you're walking in sweats, 30 degrees feels like THIRTY F#@$ING DEGREES.

On the walk home, I had a lot of time to think about what could be causing the numbness... and by the time I got home, I had figured it out.

Mystery Solved?

The working theory I had developed on the way home was that because I didn't warm up, and because it was very cold, and my right calf was far more tight than usual, the muscles in my leg ended up swelling so much that they cut off blood flow to the nerves running down the outside calf into the foot.

Within a few minutes of returning home and removing my shoe and sock, the feeling returned -- thank God! I turned my attention to the Oracle Google -- and I think I confirmed my theory. Several other people have reported the exact same symptoms, and no one is quite sure of the exact cause, but everyone is generally in agreement that it's some sort of pinched nerve.

But why did the numbness come on suddenly at the end of mile 2? Enter technology:

Look what happens 1.8 miles in: the elevation shoots from 330 to about 400 feet. That's equivalent to a treadmill incline of about 8 or 9 percent! Think about the angle that the foot hits the ground with a 9 percent incline -- it restricts the blood flow even more. End result?

Reduced blood flow to the nerve.


Now that I know what happened (I think), there is no need to stop my training. I just have to make sure I warm up before I go jogging in the cold, and I make sure to stretch and massage my calf muscles religiously. If it continues to happen, I'll make an appointment with a doctor, but this is the first time my foot has ever gone numb during a run -- and hopefully the last time for a while.

Next step: 3 miles with Diana. I am looking forward to showing her the Monster Hill that I have to face every time I jog through my neighborhood. It's not that I'm sadistic, just that I much prefer it if others suffer with me.