Column: Dancing into the 5K

They’re off in last year’s 5k for Breast Cancer run.

As I periodically do, I got back into my fitness routine this summer.

In these latter years, the regimen has been boiled down to two machines at the nearby health club, the stationary bike and the rower. The days of doing a full circuit of muscle-toning machines are long gone. All I want is to work up a sweat and get the heart rate up. A runner since the 1970s, a 5- or 10-mile jaunt used to be like an elixir.

Not anymore. It’s work, and too many friends have developed knee problems from years of pounding away. I’ve retired from running.

But, to my surprise, I began hitting the club five or six days a week, instead of the two or three I usually settle into. This got me thinking about the Island’s 5K in October. I used to run that (and the 10K, too) but have been walking them in recent years. Last year my older brother came in first in his age group in the 5K (running), and I was sort of impressed. Of course, at his age, three years older than me, the competition keeps shrinking every year.

I decided to run the 5K this year and beat him. I still could not bring myself to do any preparatory running, either on a machine or a roadway. Surely I could eke out a one-time 5K with the competitive juices kicking in.

I got off the North Ferry and headed to the office to pick up some resident ticket books before walking two miles to our home in the Center to prepare for some 5K visitors. I was headed for the Prospect Hotel walkway either deep in thought or not thinking at all. I missed the final step before the ferry line.

It’s just a few inches, but to my brain it felt like two feet. I went into a twirling, swirling, flailing crazy dance that seemed to take minutes. I was acutely aware that if I didn’t get under control I would smash into a box truck in the ferry line. I stopped inches from ramming into the truck and caught my breath. I had been nursing some minor lower back pain, and my circus gyrations seemed to have eliminated that. I tested my legs and discovered, remarkably, that they were intact. I sheepishly crossed the ferry line and headed up the hill for home.

Other than my clownish spectacle for the ferry line, I seemed none the worse for wear.

I did the usual errands, made some dinner, watched some news and turned in early. The next morning I could barely walk. My wild performance at North Ferry had indeed stressed out my right knee. I popped some Ibuprofen and learned a new way of walking. Running was out of the question. My 5K plan was up in smoke.

We and our visitors diligently showed up for the 5K. I was planning to walk it, for actual walking didn’t hurt that much; getting out of a chair starting to walk did, big time. So with the best of intentions, I set out. I made it past the Perlman short-cut and soldiered on. The Pridwin short-cut was too tempting since my knee was beginning to bark a little. So I took it and limped toward the finish and made a beeline for a hot dog and some chili. My brother ran it, but three guys ran it faster than he did, so my stealth bid to win the age group was probably never in the cards.

Back in the city I dug up an old Ace bandage for my knee and made friends with a very large jug of Ibuprofen. But six weeks later the knee was getting no better, and I reluctantly decided to have a sports medicine specialist look at it. It would, after all, make occasional clicking sounds, or so I imagined.

It took me three tries but I got an appointment the same day, not with a physician, but with a physician’s assistant at the Hospital for Special Surgery about 15 blocks away. A kid who appeared no older than 16 took me downstairs to the X-ray salon and zapped my knees. Then back upstairs to wait for Michelle, the physician’s assistant.

Michelle arrived and I told her my tale of the flailing dance and she laughed in a highly attractive manner. Then she flicked on the X-rays. There they are, my knees looking entirely intact with nothing out of place to make a clicking sound. I just have to wait it out for the pain to go away, which she guessed will be a couple of more weeks.

Keep wearing the Ace bandage and get back to the health club if I can tolerate it, she advised, which I can.

I told her about the jug of Ibuprofen and Michelle shook her head. Nope, too hard on the stomach. On the way home pick up a jug of turmeric, Michelle instructed. Turmeric? Isn’t that a spice of some sort used in cooking? Yes, she said, but it’s also an anti-inflammatory. Find it in the vitamin aisle.

Truth to tell, it doesn’t seem to have much effect. But if Michelle said so, that’s all I need to hear.