An admitted shoe geek waxes philosophical about running, triathlon, and life in general.
Comments welcome!

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Looking back...

It’s been a tough couple months. Almost three months now, actually.

As I last posted, I had started a tae kwon do class with my young daughter in August. And I’ve enjoyed it thoroughly. I’m getting close to my first belt test for the “advanced white belt” – yeah, that means I’ll be an absolute oxymoron (some would say “minus the oxy”), an advanced beginner. But it’s been with some struggle, along with some time on the sidelines.

You see, I got injured.

My wife warned me. She cautioned me about not pushing myself. She said I need to really take it easy because these are all moves I am not accustomed to… And she’s completely right. But it wasn’t actually the tae kwon do that injured me.

It happened not long after my last post. As in just the day after I posted. My second class.

I knew that these first classes would have a lot of unconventional things in them, being that it was the week leading into the belt test for the students that were already in the class, so it included a lot of “fun” kind of things to unwind a bit. After just a few warm-ups, we went into some line sprints. On the second sprint I noticed that my left foot was dragging on the stride recovery. And on the third sprint I felt something “go” in my low back. My left hamstring locked up, and I hobbled in. I finished the class, with squats and roundhouse kicks and all, but was pushing down pain the whole time. It wasn’t debilitating, but certainly wasn’t comfy either.

And this started me down my current path of chiropractic treatment (ineffective), an MRI which revealed the issue, physical therapy (also ineffective), and to where I am now which is waiting out the insurance approvals for a “guided injection” that should happen in about 5 weeks.

But this really goes back MUCH further. February of 2019 was a cold month, and my driveway got pretty icy. On one of those icy days I was climbing out of my truck, just getting home from work, and my left foot slipped. I didn’t fall, but it was a comical contortion of catching myself on the door and nerf bar. My hamstring really felt it, and for a couple months after I suffered from a lot of hamstring cramps. I just figured I’d pulled the muscle, and it was being slow to heal. You know, being an old guy and all, recovery needs more time.

The stiffness in the left hamstring kept increasing, but it didn’t affect my riding, so I delayed having it checked out. I wanted to get through my events before looking at potential time off.

Looking back, though, it’s clear that these were the early symptoms of the issue that became suddenly much worse in that second tae kwon do class – a lumbar disc “extrusion” between the 5th lumbar vertebra and the 1st sacral vertebra (aka. L5-S1). This is compressing the sciatic nerve, and causing pain, loss of strength, and sometimes tingling and numbness down the gluteal muscle, between the ilio-tibial band and hamstring, and down into the calf, as well as weakness in dorsiflexion of the left foot (pulling the foot up).

The MRI revealed several degenerative issues in the lumbar spine, the official diagnosis being that my low back is "messed up". But most of those things are somewhat common in my age group, and aren't causing symptoms currently. The real concern is that L5-S1 disc extrusion.

I ended up taking over a month out of the tae kwon do classes, but I’ve been back in and doing everything my pain levels and mobility will allow. I’ll have enough classes to take the belt test in December, and I’ll only be a month behind my young daughter.

And that is about when the injection should happen. And while it won’t solve the underlying structural cause, I’m hoping that it solves the pain and flexibility issue.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Following my daughter's example

I had posted a little while ago regarding my younger daughter’s Tae Kwon Do class, and the emphasis on discipline. I respect the instructors and dojang (literal translation from Korean: “house of discipline”), how they have treated the children and drawn out the behaviors from them with a gentle hand.

So it was inevitable, I guess, that I would join my daughter when she moved up to the “6 and over” white belt class. And I was pretty excited about it.

Last night was that first class.

I wasn’t really nervous. I had been told that the class would be in a review mode leading up to this weekend’s belt upgrade testing, so I’d be a little lost. Kind of like trying to take a sip from a fire hose. But it turned out to not be all that bad. Having watched Abbie’s classes and done some practice with her at home, I wasn’t completely clueless (only partly clueless).

Standing out in a class of
short people.
Sitting cross-legged on the edge of the mat before class, lined up with all the other students, was almost comical. Most heads were at my shoulder level. I was definitely the only one there with grey hair. When we lined up for the beginning of class, I had to move a couple of the kids forward as they outranked me (they ALL did, since I had no rank starting out).

Within a few minutes of the start, into the warm-ups, I was sweating. And it appeared I was the only one sweating. Yeah. Thanks to being conditioned to cool myself, along with a 20mph wind to help the process (absent in the building), I was blotting my head often, trying to prevent a pool from forming on the mat. Stretching? Yep, 55 year-old man does not do ANYTHING close to splits. Something to work on.

I made it through the kicking drills fine. Then we did some practice on blocking – a center sweeping block I hadn’t seen done in Abbie’s previous class. There’s a reason my chosen sports involve a lot of repetition in anything that needs a modicum of coordination. Going slow I could get it. Once the pace quickened, my coordination failed me. But persistence pays off. Or eventually it will.

Anyway, from there we did a short game. The kid I was paired with had treated the kicking drills like he was trying to send the paddles flying out of the instructor’s hands. I knew that this guy would kick my behind… Turned out it was a few rounds of rock-paper-scissors, with the loser doing 3 push-ups each round. Whew!

The class ended with the new students breaking a board to earn their white belt. I saw the three boards with the belts sitting on the mat in front of the class, and noticed that one of them was significantly thicker than the others… I was second of the three to show my anger to the wood, and sure enough, that thicker board was mine. The “18+ board”, I was told.

I think Abbie was more excited
about me breaking a board
than I was.

I took my stance, and unleashed my kick. The board still broke easily. Thank the in-grain pine!

I was wrapped with my white belt (and double wrapped – that belt was WAY long), received my broken board, and thanked my instructor (kahm sah hamnida). The last new student broke her board (with some encouragement from the rest of the class), we paid our respects to the flags, the instructor (sah bum nim), and senior students (sun bae nim), and then were dismissed.

Going to sleep was a bit of a challenge – I was a bit keyed up still.

Now being “the morning after”, I find that I’m not really sore, but I am tired. And I’m looking forward to the next class on Thursday.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Free to fly

All those who see me
And all who believe in me
Share in the freedom
I feel when I fly.
-          John Denver, The Eagle and The Hawk

My weekday lunchtime rides are mostly on a network of gravel service roads around the local company site, travelling around and through many, many acres of variable-age woods. Wildlife is prevalent. It’s a rare day that I don’t see at least one deer, and I get to see the new fawns grow up from wobbly spotted waifs to bold adults. Rabbits and squirrels are populous as well. I’ve also seen raccoon, coyote, and the occasional owl.

But yesterday I had a rare close encounter with, if I believed in such things, one of my spirit animals.

I have a sense of wonder about raptors, eagles and hawks in particular. I don’t know really why, but it’s always been there. Maybe it’s the sheer size (though recently I saw wild turkeys for the first time, and didn’t get that same sense). Or the hunting aspect.

When I worked in Southeast Alaska, bald eagles were often sighted. There was an area near the camp where a stream wound its way through an old-growth forest of firs, the ground moss covered. Eagles would congregate in this area, and we could walk through it without disturbing them. Standing at the foot of a massive tree with an eagle perched just twenty feet overhead is quite the experience.

So back to yesterday… I was doing my normal lunchtime ride, on the second lap of four, in a paved section between the trails. I had just crested the hill and turned to the left. I saw a hawk on an overhead branch about fifteen feet up. As I passed under, it unfolded its wings. I figured it would just fly into the woods.

The angle of the sun after the turn was directly at my back, and I could see the shadow of the hawk as it dropped off the branch, right in line with me. It swooped down over my head and went straight in front of me, gliding through two slow and shallow arcs, one right, then one left, never more than ten feet in front of me. It then gave one gentle push with the wings, accelerated and glided up to another overhead branch, just ahead.

As I passed under it, the wings unfolded, and down it swooped again, this time closer, coming within three feet of the ground in front of me. Then it arced up to eye level, moved left and watched me as we matched speed. For some time we just moved along together, a few feet apart, watching each other.

When the path turned again, the hawk turned left and into the trees, my way going right and into another gated service road.

I felt awed to have shared that time with such an animal. And thankful to the regal bird for allowing me to tag along and lend me some of that freedom.