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  • Writer's pictureChris Toepker

Doing good, going hard

I have had to face a funny fact: I don’t know what “good” is anymore!

Over the past few months, my thinking has taken the meaning of “good” through “nothing,” then added “faster” or “farther,” and also “heavier.” In the end, I think “good” might just mean “harder.” What do you think? As for me, I’ve come up with a way to measure progress so I know when I’m doing well and when I’m doing great, not to mention - when I need a rest!

How did I reach these conclusions? I’ve been nursing an MCL strain. It started as a twinge, and then some real pain. Best as I can figure there were two contributing factors. The first was as social distancing required, I took to running right along the edges of sidewalks and roads. I think this put a bend in my stride and slowly strained that ligament. I never felt a sharp snap, and certainly didn’t have any kind of impact. That’s the most common way of injuring the MCL.

After it was a really obvious problem, I took it easy, and have been gradually nursing it back over a couple months. Right now? I can still “feel” it, and so I can’t say it’s good, but surprisingly my distances and times have gotten back to earlier levels.

So, one definition of good is “nothing.” If I didn’t feel my knee, I would certainly call it “good.”

Most days recently I wake up stiff, the knee and Haglund’s deformity compounding into some real crotchety moods! However, after walking around, some yoga and calisthenics (not to mention coffee), the call of the road compels me to get out and put down some shoe leather. During the week I alternate between a couple mile sprint and a 5K. On the weekends I go for longer runs.

A few weeks ago, I hit a marathon distance. It dawned on me - wait. Isn’t this “good”? It’s a long distance! What was my time? It wasn’t great, to be sure. But I had to concede that accomplishing the distance on a bum knee was...well...good!

At about that same time, I started noticing that my sprints and 5Ks were getting quicker. In fact, where I had been running about 8:30 miles, I was now running 8:00 miles. How could that be? My knee wasn’t good, yet my pace had improved!

So, two other definitions of good are “faster” and “farther.” If I’m doing that, things can certainly be described as “good.”

Finally, I’ve been thinking about the Hong Kong Four Trails Ultra Challenge (HK4TUC) requirement of self sufficiency. While it allows for stops at available stores along the way, there are long stretches through the national forest area where there aren’t any supplies at all. I decided that I’d better test out some heavier weights because my usual 12 lbs pack might not cut it. So, I’ve upped it to 20 pounds. That’s mostly water, to be sure, but includes quite a bit of fuel too. (I mean “food,” of course!) After all, if you’re going to be out on the lonely trail for 15 to 17 hours, you’re going to have to eat! If I determine I don’t need so much food, I’ll be that much stronger for training with the extra weight!

Speaking of the HK4TUC, it has a lot of elevation. We simply don’t have that here in Florida! I’ve tried a couple routes that locals use for the hills, but it just isn’t enough. Another technique locals use is running stairs in parking garages. Why not combine that with some extra weight?

So, another definition of “good” is “more weight.” If I’m carrying a lot, I am getting stronger and have more self-sufficiency.

My next step is to put together a rating metric and see if there is something I am or could be doing to better all of the above.

Here’s a sample using standard metrics: April 5K runs with average pace (columns) and best pace (line). Looks good!

Here's a timewarp of the Marathon that got me thinking about it all!

Like I said, the pace and overall time is nothing to write home about. But on a bum MCL? I'll call that good!

I am now trying to come up with a way to visualize how upping any or all of these aspects increases the "goodness," but I have to admit that it simply boils down to: harder is better.

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