The first steps towards running again.
Muscle memory: a good thing, or is it?
Two days after seeing the physio, and exactly six weeks after my surgery I dug out some kit and pulled on a pair of running shoes; selecting the shoe equivalent of wrapping myself in cotton wool. My road shoes: with their plush cushioning and rocker. Bouncy, bouncy, float along light as a feather. Would it feel bouncy, bouncy light as a feather?
I felt quite nervous as I set out at a brisk walk until I had warmed up. It was time to find my big girl pants and I cautiously increased the pace for a few strides. Ooh, that felt good, so I increased to a gentle jog for a short distance of around fifty metres. Yes, definitely good. It felt positively normal. I continued walking and then did another jog, and another and another. With each one my confidence grew as I realised my knee was solid, strong and able to take the impact. By the time I had finished I had walked about two and a half miles with half a dozen jogs.
Running is an addiction and that rush of happiness I felt after my first taste in months made it so tempting to get out there for another hit, but I avoided temptation. I tempered my enthusiasm and did not go and run some more intervals the next day. Instead, I stuck with my plan to alternate daily between cycling on my spin bike and walk/run sessions. The plan was to ease back into my familiar weekly routine, not overdose and gradually re-introduce things and take my time to increase effort and distance. It was re-assuring to be taking baby steps back to towards normality.
In my strength training I started to add some load or additional reps. My core work had been a constant through this and remained so. There was ebb and flow with the spin bike sessions. I increased time and distance before increasing the resistance at which point the time and distance would drop until my capacity built.
Muscle memory kicked in with my running. The intervals of slow running increased steadily and the transition from mainly walking to mainly running happened over the following two weeks. We generally regard muscle memory as a good thing, but in reality, it can be like releasing the genie from the lamp. It has to be handled with care. Muscle memory enables us to perform repetitive movements (running) with little conscious effort and reduced the need for attention. The muscle memory will at times compensate for lack of training or fitness. And therein lies the problem, that lack of attention.
The genie was out of the bottle and I wasn’t paying attention. A bad combination and one guaranteed to end badly. What was I thinking? Well, I wasn’t thinking and as for that lesson that I had allegedly learned a few weeks ago?
In week nine post-surgery I completed three run sessions and reached five miles on my longer session. I was ecstatic! I was going to reach my end of year target of six miles early. Whoop! Whoop! But let’s not forget that there had also been two spin bike sessions, strength and core training. On the spin bike my cadence was up, the resistance back to around three quarters of my pre-surgery level and I had covered pre-surgery distance. Caution had been thrown to the wind in favour of the hit.
You know what is coming next. After a few rest days I awoke with a sore knee. Cue a repeat of the anxiety and panic of a few weeks earlier when I had overdone the walking and cycling. This time I was convinced I had re-injured my knee, but more objective, logical and re-assuring brains around me said; ‘No. It’s fine. You have just overdone it a bit. And remember the scar tissue is still settling’.
Two weeks of near complete rest followed and the pain subsided. Thankfully. I have stuffed the muscle genie back into the lamp; given myself a stiff talking to and significantly reeled the effort back. In week twelve I made a gentle return to the exercise bike and running.
So far so good. I will be honest, however, there are days when I get twinges, but I just have to remember that this is normal and that my knee is still settling down. Will I make my year-end target of reaching six miles? Probably not, but I won’t be far off. I am able to do longer walks of eight or more miles and know that the running distance will continue to build steadily as long as I am diligent and keep my enthusiasm in check.