Running: knee troubles

My second day in Bethesda was another run, this time heading towards D.C. More hills to deal with, and less shoulder on the road. From where my parents live if you turn right towards Bethesda the houses get bigger and nicer. If you turn left, they get older, closer together, and closer to the road. The hills also get longer, which was nice because I have to work on my hill running. And biking. Thankfully there’s no salmon run in triathlon so I can leave the uphill swimming to the fish.

The trouble with hills both running and cycling is that I start to get sore in my knees. I’m usually of a mind to back off the moment I feel pain anywhere. I like the Marine Corp motto, “pain is weakness leaving the body”. But I also believe that sometimes pain is my body’s way of saying, “I didn’t stay enrobed in a protective layer of fat and gristle just to be abused, fucker. ENOUGH.” As I’ve posted before, I don’t know when I’m not pushing hard enough and being a wuss, or if I’m pushing too hard and heading into an injury. I also can’t remember if the idea is to “train hard, race easy” or vice versa. I have real problems remembering binary mnemonics. Feed a fever, starve a cold. That sort of thing. Often this is what I think about while climbing the small hill that leads to my pain cave. My knee starts to hurt and I wonder if I’m supposed to muscle through it or if I’m supposed to back off. Usually I ignore it and just keep going. More often than not the pain subsides and I can continue with my run. Then I remember that endorphins are the body’s natural painkiller and I wonder if I’ve just ignored the road warning sign telling me to slow down, curve ahead, and I’m now accelerating into disaster.

People often ask, “what is you think about when you’re out there for hours?” I can lose hours wondering if I’m doing something right or wrong, trying different ways, and the random reward of waiting for the next woman jogger to come by. No, really. Public exercise is as much for the love of doing it as it is a giant, open-air B. F. Skinner lab full of random reward. 

There appears to be a large cycling community in Bethesda made up almost entirely of fifty year old guys. They’re friendly, they wave, and respond to hand signals. I counted about two dozen cyclists on my morning run, and only one was on a tri bike. One lone, 60+ dude cranking it out by himself. I like seeing that. In L.A. there’s a whole triathlon community, hundreds of miles of training roads, the entire Pacific for swim training, and a gym every ten feet there are ample places to get in the miles. But in Bethesda you’ve got to work pretty hard to put together a training plan. A tip o’ the hat to the random stranger slogging through his gears in the backroads of Potomac, avoiding maniac Republicans in Corvettes.

Not sure what to do about the knee. It’s beyond time for me to hit the gym and do strength training to bolster the muscles around the knee, as well as build up my quads for more power on the bike. Rapidly I am reaching a point where my reach is exceeding my grasp and I see the need for proper coaching. I can guess/research my way through a lot of this, but I I’m sure I will still doubt my own conclusions. More to think about during the long hauls.


5 responses to “Running: knee troubles

  1. Geopolitical note: The DC area splits demographically into blue and red, with DC and Maryland (and Bethesda in particular) being more liberal/ democratic wine-drinkers and Northern Virginia being more conservative, republican gunrackers, beersluggers. So the big houses you saw in Bethesda were mostly left-leaning fat cats and the McMansions you see in Virginia are more likely to be GOP.

  2. Are you running on asphalt pavement or, God forbid, concrete? My uncle, who was a semi-pro runner for about 50 years (and senior olympics medalist), before he was hit by a car while on his bicycle, always cautioned me against running on pavement. He did as much of his running training as he could on track (hard rubber) or grass. Human knees do not like materials that don’t allow shockwaves to disperse in them, and instead reflect them back up through your ankles and into your knees.

  3. I primarily run on asphalt. Concrete rarely, but it does happen. Your uncle is right, running on pavement sucks and can cause serious problems because of energy displacement. I plan on adding trail running to my arsenal, but it involves driving to parks far away. More time I don’t have. The local bike path is mostly concrete, so that’s where I’ve run for my long runs. It sucks, it’s hard on the legs, and I avoid it. As a result I’m not putting in enough long run miles as evidenced by my workout log here.

  4. I notice that you wrote about what sounds to be knee pain. My best friend also has knee pain, due to knee arthritis. She tried a knee brace and it really helped. Just thought I would share what might help you out. She went to

  5. Thank you!

    It turns out the knee pain has greatly diminished since I switched back to New Balance shoes. It is amazing what proper shoes will do. Though knowing that I am prone to knee pain I appreciate the link and the lead very much. Thanks!

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