Author: Ari Scott

When a Runner Can’t Run

When a Runner Can’t Run

I was just looking at my blog stats and noticed someone had recently clicked on my post Ghost in the Shell. I couldn’t remember what the post was about (which I guess happens when you have a three-year-old blog) so I opened it. It’s from February 2018 – several lifetimes ago. At the time, I couldn’t run for a week because the ball of my foot was acting up, so I went to a podiatrist who recommended I didn’t run for a week. I was very sad that I couldn’t run for a week.

One week.

I sat down to write this post because I just spent four months not running. As someone who had gotten used to running 40-50 miles a week, 5-6 days a week, I wanted to write about what this experience has been like, as well as some things that have helped get me through it – while not losing all my fitness.

To recap, I was running just fine until last September, when I woke up one morning, the day after a particularly hard tempo workout, and found that my heels hurt when I walked. And then I discovered they hurt when I ran. They kept hurting over the next seven months while I trained for and ran (well, hobbled) a marathon, rested, started marathon training again, ran upstate after that marathon had been cancelled, and tried everything from acupuncture to massage to stretching to anti-inflammatory drugs to essential oils to prayer to fix my feet.

In April, I decided to take a break.

It made sense. The pandemic was in full swing, especially here in New York City. There were no races on the horizon. My running club had stopped in-person workouts. What was I even training for?

I was nervous about not running. I remember one of the last runs I did in April – a 6-mile run up to Riverbank State Park and back during which every single step hurt – thinking, “Why am I doing this? This isn’t enjoyable.” Still, I debated the idea of not running for a while. “If I can’t run, what am I going to do?” I thought.

Well, here’s what I did.

WALKING

For the first few weeks I didn’t run, my heels still hurt when I walked – but not that much. I wasn’t limping or anything. It wasn’t like hobbling after a marathon. More like a dull ache I could ignore here and there.

I needed to walk. I have a dog who needs to use the bathroom outside (still have not potty-trained him and, folks, it doesn’t look like I ever will). I need to walk him three times a day, ideally, for a total of an hour and a half to two hours. I also didn’t want to turn into a couch potato. I need to move.

My goal was to walk 5 to 8 miles a day, and that’s pretty much what I’ve done in the months since, with a few sub-5-mile days and a few in the 9-mile range.

As I got used to not running, my feet hurt less and less until I rarely noticed them. Looking back at my notes, the first week I didn’t feel any major soreness while walking was week 4 of this non-running period, the week of May 18th.

Speaking of which…

KEEPING A LOG

This is HUGE. I cannot express how important this has been to me – not just for this time period, but throughout the past few years. I’ve even thought of writing a whole separate post about my training log, what I put on it, why it works, and how you can make your own. It’s been so helpful and I don’t know what I would do without it.

My training log is a spreadsheet I made in Excel, initially stealing the idea from elite runner Allie Kieffer. I forget when I first saw it, but she tweeted an excerpt from her training plan a few years ago and I thought, “YES. THAT IS WHAT I MUST DO.” I created a spreadsheet for my first marathon training period, in 2018, and have kept it up ever since.

I won’t get into all the details of my spreadsheet here, but I will offer you a look at what it has looked like over the past few months.

The details of my workouts don’t really matter, which is good because this is impossible to read. Don’t worry about the details. I’ll just point out a few things:

  • It’s both a log and a schedule. Having this calendar helps me not only have a log of my past workouts, it offers me a look at my future workouts. In other words, it is as much for the future as it is for the past. Having this “thing” right in front of me, as something I can see with my own eyes, creates a sort of non-negotiable feeling surrounding workouts. If it’s on my calendar, as long as I am not sick (which, knock very hard on wood, I have not been since last December), I will do the workout. This helps me stick to a plan, and before I know it, working out is just one part of my morning routine. It’s also worth noting that I do not 1) have a job right now 2) have children 3) have a spouse 4) have anyone other than my dog who needs my attention. So, I have time for this.
  • I decide what to schedule and what to play by ear. I rotate through a series of six different upper body workouts, assigning those workouts different cell colors to make it easier to order them. The lower body workouts are not color-coded because I choose those based on how I feel that day – there’s no set order. I like the upper body to have a set schedule while playing the lower body by ear. Obviously, you can do this however you want. That’s the nice thing about creating your own training calendar – it’s yours. Use it however it works best for you.
  • I track walking miles. This is based off of my Garmin and includes all the walking I do while my watch is on my wrist (which is most of the day and every time I go outside). This includes purposeful walks, dog walks, walks to the store, walks across my apartment, and really anytime I swing my left arm. I’ve also added up each week’s mileage. I haven’t necessarily tried to hit any specific numbers, but sometimes seeing that I walked more than the previous week gives me a little motivation to try and beat that number the following week. It’s a nice metric to have when I don’t have running mileage.
  • I write weekly summaries. The column is chopped off because the details don’t matter (and would be hard to read anyway) but to the right of each row, I write a short paragraph about how I felt that week. This has been really helpful. I’ve made dietary tweaks here and there and it’s nice to look back and see things like, for instance, after a week or so of feeling sluggish I upped my carbs in Week 8 – and immediately started feeling better. I make note of how my feet feel, what shoes I wore, and anything else I can think of.

STRENGTH TRAINING

I can’t stress how important this has been for me, both in general and lately, and how important some kind of strength training is for everyone, runners or not.

I’ll summarize my advice.

  • Have a plan. My goal was to up my strength workouts from four times a week to six and have one day of dedicated stretching. Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday are for upper body. Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday are for lower body. Monday – my usual day off from running – is a half hour of dedicated stretching. This may seem like a lot, but I don’t lift heavy, nor do I work out for very long. I just want to keep my muscles active and I like doing something every day. As redundant as it sounds, having a schedule helps me stick to a schedule. It’s a lot easier to keep doing something when there’s a clear plan in front of you every morning.
  • Find routines you like. I do free workouts from Fitness Blender because there are so many of them, they’re easy to access, I’m used to them, and did I mention they’re free? (Fun fact: my most popular post on this blog is the one I wrote in March 2018 about my favorite Fitness Blender workouts!) But I want to make the point that it doesn’t matter which workouts you do or from which website, as long as you do some kind of routine involving resistance. This could be bodyweight resistance, or workouts with bands. There are so many free videos out there. Look around and find something that fits.
  • Lift what you can lift. This isn’t the time to copy anyone else’s exact routine. If you can only lift 3 and 5-lb. weights, that’s fine. As you get stronger, you can buy heavier weights. That’s what I have done. Just do what you can.
  • Remember that it makes running again easier. A couple of years ago, I didn’t run for a whole month because I had a weird thing with my leg that turned out to be nothing. I did strength, cardio, and HIIT workouts that whole month. When I finally ran again, I felt so strong, like I hadn’t taken any time off. I am positive this is because I kept my muscles active that month. The more you move around and stay active, the easier it will be when you return to running.
  • It’s just good for you. Keeping your muscles strong is one of the best ways to stay healthy, especially as we age and lose muscle mass. And, no, it will NOT make you bulk up to look like a body builder. Case in point: I have been lifting consistently with very few breaks for about six years, and I am trying to get bigger muscles and I can’t. I probably need to lift heavier, as I lift weights between 8 and 15 lbs. I promise, if you stay in that range, you will not bulk up. Of course, if you want to bulk up, please do!

RUNNING MAINTENANCE

I consider “running maintenance” to be any the above, but there are a few additional things I’ve been doing that I hope will make it easy for me as I transition back into running.

  • Foam rolling. I used to do this all the time back when I was running, then I did not do it at all for two months, then I started doing it again, and when I did, IT HURT SO MUCH. But that initial pain only lasted a few days and I was back to my usual self. I do it for 12 minutes three times a week, before each upper body workout, focusing on my quads and calves. I still have very little understanding of why foam rolling helps, but it does.
  • IT band exercises. When I was having some IT band pain last year, I started doing extra warm-ups before my runs. I got them from Outside Online – scroll to the end of that article to see them. I still do them, three times a week, before my lower body routines. I skip the jump squats but do the five others: single leg squats, regular/side planks, glute bridges, leg lifts, and clam shells. Even though I’m not running, I’m trying to keep my running legs strong and prevent injury.
  • Nutrition. This is a really broad category that I can’t delve into as much as I probably should, but my general advice for anyone whose movement has suddenly diminished is to pay attention to what your body needs. You may need fewer calories now, fewer carbohydrates or protein or more of either – it all depends, and there isn’t one right answer for everybody. I know I need fewer calories when I’m not running, but I need to make sure it’s not too little. You still need to eat! It’s good to play around with different foods and see how your digestion may be affected by not running. I know mine is typically worse. Just pay attention to what you’re eating and see what works for you.

THE MENTAL PART

This might be the most important part.

Earlier in this post, I’d mentioned that when I was thinking about taking a break from running, I thought, “If I can’t run, what am I going to do?”

I didn’t mean, “What am I going to do with my time?” Rather, “What is going to happen to my brain?”

This has been a struggle. Everyone needs some kind of outlet for their stress and anxiety, some more than others. For me, walking has helped a lot. Just having my dog to walk gets me moving at least 5 miles a day. If not for him, I would absolutely need to get outside and take purposeful walks every day (which I still sometimes do anyway). I need to move.

During our afternoon walks this summer, my dog and I have been sitting down in the park anywhere from 20-60 minutes a day. I try to read during this time – another nice way to get my brain out of itself. My dog loves it. It’s nice to get away from the computer for a bit. Fresh air is good.

I’ve spent a great deal of time over the summer on a couple of creative outlets: a new food blog (to come!) and family tree research. Both of these projects have been welcome distractions during a time in my life when I’ve had quite a bit of down time.

Keeping in touch with friends and family has been, let’s say, a challenge for everyone these past few months. I don’t live with anyone (other than my dog) and mostly only talk to other dog walkers, most of whom I don’t know by name. I am lucky to have an aunt who lives nearby and I visit her, outside and socially distant, every so often. Each time I leave, I feel like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders. And then I realize, “Oh, I think I just needed to talk to another human being.”

Whatever it is that helps you feel more relaxed, less anxious, more energetic, less stagnant – if you are able to make time for something each day, I recommend it. Running used to release a lot of tension for me. Now that I don’t have it, I need these other things in order to feel somewhat sane.

I hope this post has been helpful. If anything, it helped me to get this out. Oh right, writing. Writing is good. If you feel anxious, I recommend writing. It’s not a cure, but it helps.

Finally, I am happy to report that I ran two miles last Thursday. My feet felt okay during, but my heels, arches, and calves were incredibly sore later that day (to the point of limping) and for the next few days. Today, five days later, I feel normal again, so I am hoping to run again soon.

One day at a time. Little by little. Baby steps.

Distance

Distance

I’ve been wondering what my next post should be about on this blog. In my last post, I wrote that I wanted to transition this space into one that encompasses more about life in general, with not necessarily such a narrow focus on running. There are still running-related things I want to write about: plantar fasciitis, how to work out when you can’t run, playlist recommendations. I will write about these things and I will also write about other things.

My parents were writers. Not published authors, but I would consider them writers. My mother’s frozen-in-time twitter bio reads, in a surreal present tense, “I write; therefore, I write.” She kept a few blogs throughout the years – none had many readers but she didn’t mind, as long as she had places to record her thoughts. In 2011, she began a project of writing a poem a day for 1001 days. She self-published two books of poetry.

My father was an English teacher, a lover of language, a master of grammar and syntax, and would never hesitate to gently correct me if I used “less than” instead of “fewer than.” I credit both of my parents for not only my linguistic preciseness but for my love of reading and writing.

In the months before his unexpected death from COVID-19 last April, my father had been talking about starting a blog. He had unofficially retired from teaching and found himself spending more time at his home in upstate New York, with more time on his hands than he was used to. I encouraged him to start a blog on WordPress, using whatever knowledge I had gained over the years with this one to give him tips on starting his own. He said he wanted to write about his travels. Mostly I think he just wanted something to do.

Last January, right after the start of the new year, he emailed me a draft of a blog post. He wanted to make sure it was a good length, writing, “What do you think of the length of Blog 1? It’s about 460 words.” I told him the length didn’t matter. I read it, of course finding no grammatical or spelling errors – not that I was expecting to. I told him I thought it was perfect.

I regret that he never got around to posting it. He never started his blog. So today, I would like the world (or as much of it as I can reach) to read his post. I want people to see what a fine writer he was, and maybe gain a deeper understanding of what drove him to build a house in a small town called Andes in the 1980s, a place he loved dearly, a house that my family and I will continue to cherish.

Here is my father’s first and only blog post, in its original and unedited form. (Porch photos taken by me at his house last March, while he was in the hospital.)

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The following was written in January 2020 by Charles W. Scott in Andes, NY.

Voices from Andes: Blog 1

Distance has a finite measurement: twelve inches equals one foot. Except in Andes.

I discovered Andes, New York when I was looking for a future retirement place. Life on Long Island, New York was a necessary evil because that’s where I was employed. Divorced, I wanted to remain close to my daughters. The evil part came with the taxes, the traffic, and the encroaching urbanization of this finger of land, 118 miles long and just 23 miles wide, jutting into the Atlantic Ocean from Manhattan to Montauk. If you traveled by car on Long Island, odds were that you were going East-West or vice versa, torturing that commute into hours. You planned your journey not by your timetable but by the hour of the day. Rush hour meant all of daylight, into night.

One day I found myself free of traffic congestion in Andes. Distances were measured in miles, not in minutes, because I was no longer pressed for time. In the car were my daughters. As we drove down Main Street, one of them asked, “Dad, where do people buy food?” Suffice it to say that this Main Street had no supermarket, gas station, or other emblem of civilization. In truth, the nearest supermarket was a 30-minute round trip.

I turned off Main Street onto a backwoods road just to give my kids a sense of the area. As I drove, walking on the road toward my car was a man who smiled and waved at us. There was silence in my car for a few moments until my supermarket-asking daughter wondered out loud, “Who was that?”

More brief silence. Then I responded, “I don’t know.”

My daughter insisted, “Why did he wave at us?”

“I don’t know. Maybe he was being friendly.”

Clearly, my daughters were confused. Like me, they grew up in a suburban environment often venturing into New York City. When you rode the subway, for instance, you avoided eye contact. Sitting across from a stranger in the subway car was not problematic since you had the overhead ads to scrutinize. You pretended to be mesmerized by anti-acid remedies. You never actually looked at anyone across from you. You never stared. You never smiled. You certainly never waved.

So here I was in my car with my kids trying to justify why this pedestrian stranger in Andes (157 miles from Manhattan) was being friendly. Odd thing was, he started waving when my car was a good distance from him. On Long Island, you never acknowledged a person until he was right up close and personal. In Manhattan, you kept your head down and just kept on walking. In Andes I can’t imagine anyone would do that. Here, distances are personal, whether close or far.

dadalbum106

Chasm

Chasm

Last month was the first time since I started this blog back in 2017 that I didn’t write a single post.

There are a few reasons for this. I haven’t been running. I didn’t feel like writing. I haven’t had much to write about. I don’t know about anyone else, but the national discussion following the murder of George Floyd on Memorial Day took hold of my attention to the point where, for a few weeks, it felt tacky to post anything about myself.

I haven’t written much on this blog that isn’t about running. I mean, it’s been a “running blog.” It says – well, it said so, right at the top. Until yesterday, it said “Ari Scott’s Unfunny Blog About Running,” a tag I came up with back in the fall of 2017 when I thought the only people who might read any of this were people who knew me as a comedy writer from UCB Theatre. At the time, I wasn’t sure what direction the blog would take. I just knew I wanted to be a better runner and I wanted to document my journey.

My life was very different at the time. I had a full time job, a full race schedule, two living parents, and inhabited a world that had no firsthand experience of a global pandemic. The beforetimes. Several lifetimes ago.

I’ve done some writing on Instagram these past few months. Nothing long, as the app limits the number of words you can write (and I never want to hit the “continued in the comments” threshold). I’ve written about my father, my mother, their relationship, my childhood, life in NYC, my dog. Some normal posts, some not.

For a while, I’ve had the urge to write longer posts about… stuff. I never know where to put them. Writing about things other than running on my running blog felt weird. There is Medium. I posted one thing there, once. There’s my Tumblr, an old site that feels like a foreign desert at this point. Medium seemed like the best bet for more long-form content, but it was another website. I like the idea of having my own site. I considered starting a completely new WordPress account solely for other writing.

The main problem with all of these solutions is that there are some posts that are about running and other things. My post about the 56 miles I ran while my dad was dying might be a good example. I knew I would create posts and not know where they should live.

So it seemed easier to just change this blog to be a place where I can write about anything I want.

Once I made that decision, it felt right. I decided to change up the visual theme for the first time in years so it would look different and, as a result, feel different – even if just to me. It felt like a fresh start. It felt good. I am keeping the title. “My body is a machine” started as a race mantra, but there’s a dissociative aspect to it, beyond running, that appeals to me.

There is a lot going on right now that might feel like an ending. It can be hard (for me) to remember this, but endings always lead to beginnings. Maybe this is a time for beginnings. New roads, changes in direction, and paths we never expected to take. It’s only scary because we haven’t gotten there yet.

A couple of days ago, I posted a photo of my dad to Instagram and wrote about how the line that mentally divided my life in two was no longer my move to NYC at 22, but instead the day my father died in April. Everything leading up to that point was the first act. The second act will be everything else. Whatever is next.

This “new phase of life” is a feeling I had after my mom died, but I think my dad’s death cemented it. The death of my mother was heartbreaking, but still having my dad was like having a sturdy rope I could cling to whenever I felt unmoored or lost. I still had a living parent. That made all the difference.

The weird thing is, that dividing line wasn’t one day long. I think I’m still inside of it. I haven’t come out the other side. It’s less like a line and more like a deep, dark chasm. I’m not sure how wide it is or when I’ll make my way through. I’m not even sure what it looks like on the other side. There is another side. I am sure of that.

How Much Does Running Cost?

How Much Does Running Cost?

With the recent shutdown of [gestures to entire universe], I found myself thinking about how much money I’m saving by not buying things I normally buy. Unlimited MetroCard for $127? Don’t need that anymore – I have nowhere to go. I’m not renewing my membership to the NYC Rec Centers (which I mainly joined for the pool) so that’s $150 saved. Road races? Remember those? I’m getting refunds for the cancelled ones I already paid for, at least the ones NYRR has offered to refund so far.

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56 Miles in Andes, NY

56 Miles in Andes, NY

Wednesday, March 18

This is my first run upstate, ever. I’ve been coming here since the late 80s so this feels like a major achievement. Here I am. A city gal running in rural upstate New York.

I head in a direction I know, making a right onto Route 28 toward Main Street and its one stop light. From there, I’ll turn left four times until I’m back at my dad’s house. Google Maps says it should be about 6.5 miles, and thank goodness for Google Maps because otherwise I would not know how to get back.

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This Is Fine: 2020 Washington Heights Salsa, Blues, and Shamrocks 5K Race Recap

This Is Fine: 2020 Washington Heights Salsa, Blues, and Shamrocks 5K Race Recap

And now, for something completely normal.

If you read my last post, you’ll learn that there have been times during the past month I’ve wanted to write in this blog. One of those things was a recap of the Washington Heights Salsa, Blues, and Shamrocks 5K that took place on Sunday, March 1, 2020, which was exactly seven and a half years ago (or does it just feel like that??). Now that every race is being cancelled in the coming months (and, I am predicting, for the remainder of 2020), I might as well write this recap because who knows when the next one will be (2021, if we’re lucky).

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This Wasn’t Supposed to Happen

This Wasn’t Supposed to Happen

How do you write something you want to write yet have no idea how to write?

I’ve been asking myself this question for the past three weeks. I’ve wanted to write so many times. I could have sat down and started typing words with no idea what was going to come out, like I’m doing right now, finally, because the pain of not doing it has finally outweighed the pain of doing it.

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2020 Boston Marathon Training: Week 3 of 12

2020 Boston Marathon Training: Week 3 of 12

Here is week 3 of my training for the Boston Marathon! At the end of this post I have a little story about a running route fail, which might be amusing to anyone who has ever run an unknown route for the first time.

Week 3 wasn’t initially supposed to be a down week, but after fatigue set in at the end of week 2, I decided to make it one. I only ran three times this week: a speed workout, a tempo run, and a long run at an easy pace. Plus a few strength training workouts. I’ll link to all of it below.

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2020 Boston Marathon Training: Week 2 of 12

2020 Boston Marathon Training: Week 2 of 12

Thanks for hanging in there as I get caught up with writing about my training for the Boston Marathon! Which, as far as I know, is still happening!

Week 2 was actually my sixth straight week of increased weekly mileage and, by the end of it, I was feeling pretty beat. This was actually a blessing because it gave me permission to take it down a notch the following week.

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2020 Boston Marathon Training: Week 1 of 12

2020 Boston Marathon Training: Week 1 of 12

Since I’ve gotten behind (again) on posting about my weekly marathon training, I’ll keep this and the next few posts short until I’m caught up. Sometimes I ask myself why I feel the need to post these at all. I’m not sure. I love training. I enjoy writing. I like to keep track of stuff. Maybe one day I’ll look back on this blog and be glad I had it.

So! The Boston Marathon! I am running it! For the first time! And possibly the last!

Continue reading “2020 Boston Marathon Training: Week 1 of 12”