Even though I was clearly overweight and hadn’t really done any formal exercise program since high school, I still had this weird notion that I was sort of in shape. After all, I could run 3 miles on the treadmill, right?
(An aside: actually 3 miles turned out to be not 3 miles. My treadmill runs 10% slow for some reason. I discovered this when I tried to run on a hotel treadmill on a business trip and almost got shot off the bloody end of the thing. I figured it was the hotel treadmill that was wrong. Then it happened again, and again, at different locations. Finally, I had to face the truth that mine was wonky.)
When I started to have trouble breathing last summer, I had several investigations done and nobody could find anything wrong. Echo, spirometry tests, CT scans, everything was fine. My doc sent me for a fitness assessment at a local physiotherapy place for completeness sake. On the surface I was all bravado about it, but underneath I think I knew it wasn’t going to go well.
I arrived at the physio clinic and was taken into a back area by a dude who kind of looked like Tony Little without the long, bleach-blond hair. He asked me a few questions, primarily about what my recent activity level had been.
“Actually, I’m a runner. I run 15-20 miles a week,” I boasted. (Totally not true, by the way, but I guess I must have felt particularly macho that day.)
“Oh, okay. I’m gonna get you to do a 3-minute step test then. You should have no problem with this at all,” said Almost Tony Little.
The 3-minute step test is basically exactly as it sounds. You step up and down on a foot-high bench at a 96 bpm pace. The test is intended to measure how quickly one’s heart rate returns to baseline afterward as an indicator of one’s aerobic fitness level.
“Huh,” said Almost Tony after I finished.
Shit. I didn’t like the sound of that “huh” one little bit.
“Am I scaring you or something? I must be, because your test results are below average,” he went on, rather smugly I thought. So much for machismo.
He then went on to measure my hip-to-waist ratio, and my flexibility, both of which also proved to be subpar. My old corpse seemed to be having a bad day. “We just need to get your lower body a bit stronger. You ought to do some squats,” Almost Tony advised solemnly.
I wished I had a little flag so I could wave it around. Squats, woo-hoo. Fantastic.
“And you know – it wouldn’t hurt to join a yoga class to work on that flexibility. Plus there are other fringe benefits, with the scenery and all.” He winked with both eyes weirdly.
Ummm, yeah. OK. Thanks Almost Tony.
Of course, I never did any squats. Nor did I run out and join any yoga classes with the intent of staring at women’s bottoms. Instead, I went home and railed to Lori about how inaccurate the step test was.
In the end, the breathing problems turned out to be 100% related to anxiety and not to anything physical. And I finally came to grips with the idea that maybe, just maybe, I needed to do something about my slovenly habits.
This was around the beginning of August 2014, and I pledged to myself that I was going to run at least 3 or 4 miles 3-4 times a week. Additionally, I ditched the booze for a whole month. Completely.
By October, I had lost 13 pounds, and the running was a lot easier. Unfortunately, a new problem had emerged. I had never really had issues with shin splints before (probably because one of the advantages of sitting on a couch all the time is that you don’t tend to get them), but suddenly the sharp pains along the sides of my shin bones in both legs had gotten bad enough that they were hampering my ability to go up and down stairs, much less run.
So, it was back to the internet, where I found about 50 different opinions on shin splints. Heel striking causes them. Not heel striking causes them. Weak calf muscles cause them. Overpronation causes them. Run with them wrapped, run with them taped, don’t run with them at all. And so on.
I did find out through a gait analysis that I overpronate (I tend to run slightly splay footed), so I bought some shoes to correct that. It didn’t seem to help much, so I added taping, icing, and elevation, and judicious use of anti-inflammatories to my routine. Eventually I got the pain down to the point where it was manageable. Changing my running schedule to try to avoid doing too much also helped.
The thing that wound up being the magic cure for me was compression stockings. I had a pair that I got as a sample at work and decided to give them a shot one day – and I couldn’t believe the difference they made. I never run without them on now.
Getting the pain in my lower legs dealt with was a huge part of my decision to go ahead with the marathon training. Now all I had to do was actually get started.