Pumping Irony

Craig Cox, EL’s director of business operations and resident geezer, explores the joys and challenges of aging well.

Posts Tagged knees

Experience Life Magazine

A Compassionate Gesture

Saturday afternoon, I went over to Lake Nokomis and laced up my skates to crank out a few laps on that trusty old oval. Once out on the ice, however, I found myself rumbling over frozen tire tracks — left behind after last week’s rain and pond hockey extravaganza — and doing my best to avoid some fairly prodigious cracks and crevasses. It was a sunny and pleasant day, though, and My Lovely Wife would not be returning to pick me up for a half hour or so, which left me with little choice but to give it my best. Which is what I did until one of my blades found a crack in the ice and sent me sprawling, slamming my left knee and right elbow into that unforgiving surface.

It’s always embarrassing, of course, to get horizontal in this context, when you’re supposed to be vertical. But I wasn’t concerned about the impression I might be creating. My knee and elbow were throbbing in a way that had me wondering whether I’d done any serious damage. I hauled myself back up onto my blades, brushed the snow off my body, and took a few tentative strides to see if my lower extremities, at least, were functional. They seemed to be, so I pushed myself through a few more cautious laps without incident before MLW returned to fetch me from my foolishness.

The next morning I was plenty sore. My elbow was creaky and both my knees were complaining about the fact that I had scheduled a 12:30 tennis match with The Baseline Machine, now fully healthy and fresh off her first victory in her USTA league (she had made a point of calling me last week to inform/intimidate me). I nonetheless headed over to Martin Luther King Park at the appointed hour, slightly revved up for the challenge, despite my infirmities.

After only a handful of warm-up volleys, though, it was TBM who was in pain, clutching her right hamstring and hobbling around with some difficulty. She tried to stretch it out, but to no avail, so we spent the next hour with her at the net, volleying to and fro with little of our accustomed intensity. It was a pretty good workout, actually, as she had me scampering from backhand to forehand to backhand again — a regular tennis lesson. My creaky knee seemed to be enjoying itself and my bruised elbow voiced no complaint. In fact, I was whacking it around pretty good for an old guy.

At a break in the action, I thanked her for hanging in there. You plunk down 20 bucks for an hour on the court, after all, and you want to use it up. It was a compassionate gesture, I suggested. She said I was the one who was being compassionate, since I didn’t insist we proceed with the match after her injury.

“I’m actually keeping score in my head,” I admitted. “I’m winning.”

I received my punishment Monday morning, when I rolled out bed wondering how I was going to pull on my pants. Knees, elbow, back all rose up in protest at the smallest suggestion of movement. As is usually the case, however, everything gradually loosened up to the point where only specific tweaks and creaks made themselves known. And they were sufficiently boisterous by the time I was trekking home from the office that I skipped Monday night basketball in favor of some general recuperation.

The body has a remarkable ability to heal itself, if you give it the chance. While I was recovering, I stumbled upon a new study out of Lund University in Sweden showing that people with ACL injuries who decided against surgery had similar outcomes to those who went under the knife. Indeed, researchers concluded that more than half of all ACL reconstructive surgeries could be avoided if the injured parties were willing to undergo physical therapy. In other words, letting their body heal naturally.

Now, I admit that I’m no poster boy for natural healing. My right knee was “scoped” in 1998 after I blew it out playing basketball. And I do tend to push myself a bit beyond my limits from time to time (last weekend being a case in point). But I have learned as I’ve hit advanced middle age that you’ve got to listen to your body once in a while and be willing to take it easy when necessary.

After all, if you can’t show yourself a little compassion, how can you practice it with anyone else?

Experience Life Magazine

In Praise of Anonymity

Wednesday’s workout left me with some nasty DOMS (delayed
onset muscle soreness), so I decided to take it easy Friday night — avoiding
The Pit in favor of some serious cardio work. I found a vacant Elliptical Death
Machine facing a TV screen showing Hardball
with Chris Matthews and settled into burning off the burrito I had for lunch. I
cranked the resistance up to 10 and waited for something to go wrong.


But unlike my last bout with the EDM, when my knee didn’t
seem to want to travel in a straight line above my toes — angling rather in a
(coincidentally?) elliptical pattern accompanied
by a mysterious jabbing pain — tonight it pumped up and down like a well-oiled
piston. There’s no explaining such things without an MRI, I suppose, so I
decided to just chalk it up to the added lycopene in the pico de gallo that
spiced up my lunch. So I cranked it up to 15 and then all the way up to 20 and
kept at it for a full 30 minutes while Matthews let Ron Reagan Jr. wax poetic
on how Obama was getting rolled by congressional Republicans.


Seeing the former president’s namesake on the screen
reminded me again how easily celebrity waxes and wanes in our culture, and I
was momentarily struck by the fact that I was probably never going to ascend
even to the modest level of notoriety that would earn some B-list politico like
Ron Jr. 90 seconds on CNN. This delivered a glancing blow to my ego, until I
recalled how I’d once been interviewed by someone at the Star Tribune, who asked me what I’d wish for if I could wish for
anything and I said something about taking batting practice with the Twins or
having lunch with Barbara Flanagan. The Twins, of course, never called, but
Flanagan, the legendary society reporter/schmoozer, did and we wound up having
a lovely lunch at a now-defunct bistro on First Avenue, after which I could
never make fun of her again.


All of which is just another way of saying how great it is that
the gym has these big flat-screen TVs lined up in front of the cardio machines.
They can just transport you out of your aching body in a way no other appliance
really can. Was my knee aching? My calves cramped? Who knows? I was back at a
table at Faegre’s in 1986 grazing on French fries and listening with great
interest to the gravely-voiced Flanagan describe her days on the crime beat and
how back then every editor had a bottle of whiskey in his desk drawer.


Nostalgia can be a wonderful thing, even without flat-screen
TVs, but my calf was beginning to cramp up, so I ambled over to the stretching
area and decided, quite out of the blue, to try rolling out some of the kinks
in my hammies and calves with a foam roller. For those of you unfamiliar with
the foam roller, it’s a cylindrical piece of fairly stiff foam, about 6 inches
in diameter. The idea is to kind of sit on top of it and pass your cramping
muscles over it, a motion that, I’m told, will smooth those knots right out.


Regular readers of these pages will know that I’m not the
sort of guy who tries a lot of new things in the gym. Just not the cut of my
jib. Find a routine that works and just keep doing it until you hurt yourself –
that’s my motto. But once you make up your mind to strike out in some
intriguing new direction, it’s imperative that you do so in such a way that appears that you do this all the dang
time. So, when I strode confidently into the closet where I assumed they would
store the foam rollers and found only a short, semi-circular chunk of foam, I
naturally picked it up as if it was the precise piece of equipment I needed for
my well-practiced routine.


I set the hunk of foam on a vacant mat and placed my
hamstring atop it in what I guessed might be a strategic location and with some
effort scraped back and forth between my gluteus maximus and the back of my
knee. After a few futile repetitions, I happened to notice a few foam rollers
tucked neatly into a nearby shelf and, taking the time to complete my
“routine,” I put the useless hunk of foam to the side and replaced it with the
real thing.


Most fitness experts will tell you that no matter how dumb
you look trying to do stuff at the gym, most folks tend to ignore you, unless
you’re a celebrity or something. I always try to hold onto that thought when
I’m working out. Anonymity is not such a bad thing after all.

Experience Life Magazine

A Healthy Pessimism

The problem with
optimism is that it gets you all optimistic.
And then you do something you have no business doing. Last week, my knee (yeah,
that knee) seemed to be gradually improving, so on Friday I figured it would be
OK to grab my umbrella and hoof it the short mile in the rain to work. I
probably could’ve climbed on my bike, but why not test the knee out and see if
my optimism was warranted?


Bad idea.


By the time I
got to the end of the block, it was already barking at me and demonstrating with
each excruciating step the difference between wandering around the house and
trekking a mile on an unforgiving sidewalk. I tried shorter strides, longer
strides, a little pitiful shuffling, then finally settled into a sort of
Bataan Death Limp that got me over the bridge and up the hill to the office.


Runners are
accustomed to hearing about the damage their knees can suffer from the constant
pounding on the pavement, but I’ve never heard the same said of walkers or bicyclists
or guys who are just standing around. After Friday’s little adventure — yeah, I
hobbled back home after work, too — I spent the weekend trying to undo the
damage by bicycling several miles and generally flexing the recalcitrant joint whenever
I found myself standing still. It doesn’t seem to be helping very much.


I know this
doesn’t make for scintillating reading; though it should prepare all my younger
readers for the stark realities of late middle age, when conversations
routinely seem to tilt toward pharmaceutical discoveries and
diplomatic descriptions of recent digestive functionality. That, at least, is
something of a public service. Besides, blogs are by nature confessional, and I
have to confess that this whole knee thing has now moved beyond the interesting phase.


Typically, when
this sort of thing has cropped up in the past, I would simply back off on the
activity in question and it would heal up in due time. I waited out a nasty
rotator cuff injury that way several years ago. Couldn’t throw a pillow across
the room. Stopped trying to throw stuff for a while. Cleared up. Can now throw
lots of things across a room. When the bursitis in my knee first flared up a couple
of years ago, I stopped running and it cleared up.


So, I’m embracing a little pessimism. I’ve told my
tennis buddies that I’m out for the rest of the season, with an eye toward
getting back on the court next spring. That should give me enough time to rehab
this thing. Back to Dr. Needle on Thursday for more magical therapy. And no
more walking to work for the time being. Any other ideas out there — short of knee replacement? I’m all ears . . . though you should know that I’m a bit hard of hearing.


Experience Life Magazine

There and Back and Back Again

So, I skipped the gym on Friday but made up for it on Saturday. Not on the lifting front — unless you count flipping burgers on the grill (yum!) — but I got plenty of cardio.

Weekend mornings around here tend toward leisure: tea and the newspaper, speculation on whether The Boy (AKA Martin, 18) will rise in time for dinner, and perhaps a trip to the co-op to restock the pantry. But Saturday, My Lovely Wife had other ideas. So, we climbed on our bicycles and headed (into a fierce northwestern wind) for the downtown library, some 6 miles north — with a breakfast stop at the Citizen Cafe (“Food for the People”) on 38th Street, about a fourth of the way to our ultimate destination.

Properly fueled (try the Organic Scramble), we resumed our journey into the intermittently gale-force winds, and a half-hour or so later found ourselves rolling past the Metrodome, when my cell phone rang. It was my older brother, The Siding Mogul, inviting me to join him at the Dome later that evening for a Twins game. He always has great seats (who knew vinyl siding could be so lucrative?), so I happily agreed to meet him later — just a few blocks from where I was standing at the time.

We resumed our trek into the wind tunnel that was 3rd Street and eventually coasted to a stop at our new, cantilevered downtown library, where we intended to rest our weary knees and dive into a little local history research for MOQ, the quarterly zine we publish. I was happy to use the elevator to get to the Special Collections section on the fourth floor.

An hour or so later, we were back on our bikes heading south, past the Metrodome, wind at our backs, knees happily pumping away as we zipped over the Sabo Bicycle Bridge (just for fun), under the Lake Street light rail station, and along the Hiawatha Avenue Bike Freeway toward home.

All along the way, I’m thinking: Am I going ride all the way back to the Metrodome in a couple of hours? There’s always the train, of course. And the forecast spoke of rain. But the train is so packed at the Metrodome station that I’m always forced to walk to the next station up the line to avoid the chaos. Wouldn’t it be nice to just jump on the bike and pedal home? But, then I’d have to buck that wind going in, though it would be at my back going home. You get the idea.

We fired up the grill and enjoyed the aforementioned burgers, MLW departed for her daily bike ride to the coffee shop, and I was left to ponder the imponderable (see above). I was supposed to meet The Siding Mogul “around 5:30″ and it was already closing in on 5. I could walk the four blocks to the train station and be there in plenty of time, but I grabbed my rain jacket, stuffed it into my basket and started pedaling instead.

The wind was still an affront to all bicycling humanity (at least those of us heading north) and I could feel my hammies burning after just a few blocks. Though I’ve made the trip downtown hundreds of  times over the years, I really had no idea how long it might take me to cut through the gale, so I was checking the time at every opportunity. Around 38th Street, my phone rang. It was The Siding Mogul letting me know that he was running late.

I caught my breath, downshifted into a more comfortable gear, and pedaled slowly on. It was barely 5:15. I rolled up to the Dome a mere 15 minutes later, slightly stunned by how quickly I’d covered my third 6-mile leg of the day. The Siding Mogul was nowhere to be seen, of course, so I locked up my bike and spent the next half-hour smugly congratulating myself on my athletic prowess and the brilliance of my transportation choice.

The Siding Mogul did have great seats. The Twins pounded on the Angels. And three hours later I was back out on the sidewalk unhitching my steed for the gallop home. Bonus: It was not raining.

In fact, it was a gorgeous evening, and I flew down the Bicycle Freeway with much more joy than effort, covering the fourth of my four 6-mile trips that day in what felt like record time. Only when I closed the garage door and strode toward the house, however, did I begin to feel the creakiness in my left knee.

The next day, the back of my knee was swollen and tender, and I confined myself to my desk chair for most of the day. And it was raining today, so I left the bicycle in the garage. It’s supposed to be sunny tomorrow. But I’m thinking 5 miles, OK? And I think I’ll skip the stationary bike at the gym, if you don’t mind.

Experience Life Magazine

Walk Like a Man

borchin-valeriy-392-cp-080816.jpgValeriy’s my new hero.

It occurred to me on the walk into the office this morning
(glorious blue skies, soft NW breeze, 32 degrees) that I’ve maybe been
beating myself up a bit too much about this running thing. I think I’ve
been trapped in some weird paradigm that’s dictating some false
assumptions — namely that running is sort of the ultimate fitness
test, and that I’m wimping out if I don’t suck it up and get that knee
replacement so I can get back on the treadmill on a regular basis.

it’s true that whatever jogging I’ve been able to do since I began this
fitness regimen almost two years ago has lifted my heart rate in a way
that other activities generally haven’t been able to match, the toll on
my knees, calves and, lately, my left ankle have been akin to cruel and
unusual punishment. And, I mused while striding vigorously across the
Intercity Bridge (ice now beginning to form on the Mississippi), why
can’t I — and the fitness gods — attach some similar value to a brisk

No, it’s not the same as a 2 1/2 mile jog from
Minneapolis to St. Paul, but my morning commute does involve covering
that distance on foot at a moderately brisk pace. I mean, people who
run marathons often walk part of the way, don’t they? I’m just walking
the whole way.

The more I think about this, the more
this whole glorification of jogging/running is beginning to annoy me.
Why isn’t there a magazine called Walker’s World? How come we don’t have 5K and 10K walking races? Why does the sporting press worship guys like Usain Bolt and ignore Olympic 20K walking champ Valeriy Borchin (above)? It’s not because he’s Russian, I’ll bet.

I’m suddenly feeling like an oppressed minority.

instead of moping around, I  think I’m going to simply create a new
trend, right here, right now: Walking is the new running. Maybe I’ll
get T-shirts printed, start a Web site, lobby for a shoe endorsement
from Keds — turning down all offers from the walkophobes at Nike.

like this. I can save my lower appendages, do something everyday that I
really enjoy, and maybe even create a cult following. What’s not to

(Photo: Anja Niedringhaus/Associated Press)