All right, doctor visit over, and aside from dealing with an extremely rude whatever-she-was at the checkout desk on my way out, it seems to have been a success. At least, so far.
After lots of questions, twisting and turning, pushing and pulling, poking and prodding, yanking, cranking and spanking -- OK, no spanking -- the knee was pronounced structurally sound, which means no surgical procedures needed for ligament or cartilage damage, or any of that.
He showed me a set of "normal" x-rays, explained what a good, healthy knee looks like, and then showed me my x-rays. The difference was basically space between the upper and lower leg bones, where they connect. Normally, there is a nice little, even space in there, where the meniscus sits and acts as padding between the ends of the bones. On the side of my knee that hurts -- the inside -- that gap, which should be the same size all the way across, is considerably thinner.
This, according to the doc, shows that the meniscus has been worn down some over time, and the pain comes from that and some osteoarthritis. The solution? An ultrasound-guided injection, which hopefully will do the trick.
As I lay on my back on an exam table, getting ready for the shot, the doc asked if I minded a resident who helped with the exam giving me the injection. I said, sure, that's fine, and so the young man took over, with doc watching and advising his movements. At one point, the needle hit something and I straightened out with a loud grunt and gritted teeth, as he adjusted the position of the shot, then it was over.
The doc apologized, and I said, "Hey, as long as it works, I'll take that."
He said, "Oh, it'll work," and told me to avoid any high-impact activity on the leg until next Wednesday.
So, that brings me to Day 5 of my Shawn Francis three-month pole vault conditioning program. I won't be doing any sprints for a few days, or any of that painful hop, skipping and jumping around that is supposed to improve fast-twitch muscle fiber action and increase speed. But there are some parts of the program I can still do, like the plank circuit, core strengthening, weight circuits, and other goodies.
Gotta go look at tomorrow's workout and decide on modifications ...
Today's schedule for my three-month vault conditioning workout called for a similar series as Day one, with a little extra. After a light upper-body only strength workout yesterday, the knee felt a little better today, but suffice it to say I'm still looking forward to that doctor visit tomorrow morning.
My buddy, Shawn, who developed this program I'm following, gave me some great advice on modifications after I struggled a little bit through the first two days, mostly because of my sore appendage but also because I ain't no spring chicken. Here's what he said:
"Hey man! A few thoughts if things keep hurting. All training programs are just an outline and outlines can be broken. If you don't feel like you're recovering enough yet, maybe think about doing the program in days vs days in the week. For example, if Monday is Day 1, Tuesday is Day 2, etc,, maybe try Day one with 2 days active recovery, then do Day 2 with 2 days active recovery, Day 3 with 2 days active recovery, and so forth. If you feel good down the road, maybe just take one day in between. The goal in any training is to improve, so if you feel like it's only hurting you physically and mentally, slow it down. You've got all the time in the world!
"P.S. if that knee is being a pain (pun intended) bike sprints, pool running, etc. are great alternatives until you can see that doc and figure out what's going on. Hope this helps a bit!"
It definitely helps.
Today, I took my weighted sled, measuring tape, and stopwatch down to the park, measured out 20 meters, 30 meters and 40 meters. Then with a 10-pound plate on the sled, I did four 20-meter sprints (one minute rest in between each), four 30-meter sprints, and then three 40-meter sprints with no sled.
I did pretty well with these. A little pain, but not too much. Just for grins, I finished with a 20-meter sprint, stopwatch in hand, and I clocked it at 3.9 seconds, roughly the same "speed" as Monday's workout.
Next, the plan calls for multi-jump series no. 2, which basically involves 20-meter sets of different kinds of toe hops and skipping and frog jumps. Neurological, plyometric type training. On these, I do great with hops, skips, and jumps on the right side. On the left foot, not so much. But I knocked it out the best I could, and that was it for today.
I skipped one section that calls for jump squats (should have gone ahead and done those), bench press, barbell squats, bent-over rows, and Russian twist. Next time, I'll hit the gym on the way home and do these, but I slept a little late this morning and was running out of time before a lunch date with my youngest darlin' daughter.
I'll continue to follow the plan as best I can, doing as much as the knee allows me to. Hopefully, tomorrow I'll get some answers at the doctor's office and be able to start getting things straightened out.
See y'all tomorrow!
One thing I've learned during my pole vaulting journey is to listen to my body.
The first time I ever held a pole vault pole, at one of Brian Elmore's practice sessions down around Austin, Texas, I tried six little jumps, decided that was enough for one day after stubbing my toe and pulling a groin muscle a little bit, and was later told that my decision to stop like that (before things got worse) showed good instincts, and was highly unusual, especially among older athletes.
So, after two days of Shawn Francis' challenging three-month vault conditioning program, my body (especially my knee, but pretty much everything from the waist down) and my brain were telling me to back it down a little. Shawn told me the same thing: "Just keep listening to your body and if you need a cross training day (bike, pool, walking) take it!"
So, I did.
On the program schedule, Wednesday is either a vault day, or an acceleration (sprint) workout day. I hadn't lifted weights this week, and my knee was so angry by the time I finished my shift last night at the gym that I decided to make today a free weights day. So I got up early, had my coffee, went to the gym and did a little lifting. Some incline bench supersets with cable pulldown (I like to combine push\pull exercises), then some dumbbell shoulder press combined with dumbbell rows. Probably did, I don't know, about 30 sets in all.
As I walked back and forth in the free weights area, my damn knee was still bothering me. I usually warm-up with 6-10 minutes on the treadmill, and I even cut that short because my knee was hurting so much. So after that fairly brief weight-lifting session, I grabbed a 50-pound small barbell, sat down with my left leg extended along a flat bench, and rolled that barbell slowly up and down my quad (thigh).
It's no wonder my knee hurts so much. My quad was full of knots, and after I rolled them out a little bit, the knee felt better. Not a whole lot better, but a little better.
Tomorrow's going to be a lot like Monday, with sprints and plyometric hops, skips and jumps, so I'm sure my knee is going to be quite upset with me by the time I go to lunch with my youngest daughter. I work a four-hour shift at the gym tomorrow evening, too, and so I'll have to get there a half-hour early and do some myofascial release, rolling that quad again with that barbell. Thankfully, my doctor appointment is Friday, so we can start to get to the bottom of what's going on and hopefully get this knee back to normal, or at least close.
Stay tuned, folks, for a report after tomorrow's session. Meantime. you can check out my book, "Finally Fit," the story of my learning to pole vault beginning at age 60 by clicking right here. Go ahead -- it's a really good story. You'll enjoy it.
As a trained physical fitness professional, certified a year-and-a-half ago by the National Academy of Sports Medicine, I consider myself fully qualified to make the following statement:
Losing a bunch of weight does not necessarily mean a person is "in shape."
Thinner maybe. Healthier, for sure.
But, in shape? As in fighting trim, ready to rumble?
Take me, for example.
I just got back from my second round of Shawn Francis' three-month conditioning program for pole vaulters, and I tell you what -- Shawn is a beast. Hell, all these incredible athletes I get to rub elbows with once in a while are beasts. They don't just look good, all lean and muscular, fit and trim. washboard abs, and all that, but my goodness, their physical conditioning is incredible.
Since I started learning to pole vault two-and-a-half years ago, I've lost somewhere in the neighborhood of 30-35 pounds, re-shaped my body somewhat, dropped a few pant sizes, been complimented many times on my appearance. But doing the workouts in this program -- I should say attempting to do the workouts in this program -- is a whole new ballgame.
Today was gymnastics and general strength day.
My sore left knee felt a lot better than it did after yesterday's workout, which involved a lot of sprinting and jumping around, so I slipped on the ol' compression sleeve and headed down to the gym to knock out day two. For gymnastics (core training to help improve the invert part of the vault, where you go upside down after take-off), Shawn recommends starting off with a total of 140 reps from a selection of things like knee raises while hanging from a high bar, raising your toes to the bar, shins to the bar, quads (thighs) to the bar, and Bubkas (going completely upside down).
How many reps? 140? Ahem ... well, let's see ...
Since I can't accomplish a majority of those exercises, I decided to stick with knee raises and hanging leg raises. I also threw in some farmer's carries to work on my grip strength. This is where you grip a pair of heavy dumbbells and walk back and forth with your arms down by your sides. Might sound a little simple, but it ain't easy.
So ... 140 reps? Not even close. I did four sets of eight knee raises, and one set of four. Three sets of farmer's carry, and one set of five hanging leg raises. By that time, my shoulders were screaming from hanging off that high bar, and I was swinging back and forth (which you're not supposed to do) as much as lifting my knees and legs. But, hey, it's a start.
Then, I grabbed an exercise mat, went and unlocked one of the empty group fitness rooms so there would be no witnesses to the next display, and attempted the group strength circuit. This involves push-ups, bodyweight squats, core bicycles, v-ups, Russian twist, jump squats, alternating lunges, skydivers, burpees, and alternating lunge jumps. Don't ask me to describe all of those. Twenty seconds of each, followed by 40 seconds rest. Pretty much non-stop.
I did pretty well on everything, except for V-ups, where you lay flat on your back, legs extended, and lift your upper body and lower body off the ground to form a 'V.' Ouch. That wasn't happening. Maybe next time.
Burpees? Oh, geez ... I've watched my fellow personal trainer at the gym, a young dude named Jason, lead boot camps that always include burpees, and I vowed never to do those. I haven't done anything like that since what they used to call "tweet tweets" at teenage football practice. But I did it. Two sets of five burpees, with a nice little break in between to catch my breath.
Alternate lunge jumps? I managed 10 of those, five for each leg, and that was it. I was drenched in sweat, and I normally don't sweat very much.
Sitting here writing about it, I feel pretty good. Tomorrow is supposed to be either a vault day, or acceleration workout, but I'm not going to be able to vault, and not sure if I'll have time to go to the park for a sprint workout before an important freelance writing assignment, so I may get up early in the morning and go lift weights and ride the stationary bike instead. I can already see that in the beginning, probably for at least the first month or so, this program is going to require some modification.
I'm sure Mondo Duplantis or Sandi Lynn Morris could easily knock it out of the park, but like I said, I may be in better shape than I used to be, but I ain't "in shape."
This is going to be good, y'all.
Oh, yeah, CLICK HERE for a copy of my book, "Finally Fit," the story of my journey from overweight, out-of-shape couch potato to Masters pole vaulter competing at the National Senior Games in Albuquerque.
Stay tuned ...
Howdy, physical fitness fans -- long time, no see!
Well, I finally pulled the trigger, so to speak, and made the big jump into semi-retirement. No more public school teaching for ol' John Henry -- praise heaven and pass the mashed taters, please.
And to celebrate, I started today on the first section of my buddy Shawn Francis' three-month training program for pole vault. Depending on what happens with my left knee (which has ranged from bothersome to nearly crippling over the past eight months) when I go to the doctor Friday, I plan to be a lean, mean, jumping machine by the end of summer.
Today, I headed down to the local park with my new 100-foot tape measure and stop watch. I was supposed to do some initial testing first, but wasn't going to have time before I had to high-tail it somewhere for an appointment, so I just went through the work-out, but I did time myself the best I could in some sprints.
The first part of the workout was a warm-up that had me huffing and puffing, tested my coordination a little with a couple of the movements, and hurt a little bit with others. Then, it was on to an acceleration workout, with three 10-meter sprints, three 20-meter sprints, and three 30-meter sprints. Balls to the wall on the sprints, according to the instructions. I timed myself at 4 seconds in one 20 meter run, then 3.7 seconds on another one. For 30 meters, my hand-held times were: 5.68 seconds; 5.21; and 5.84 (I think I was a little late hitting 'stop' on that last one).
The purpose of the acceleration workout is building speed on the runway -- something I sorely need. So, it will be interesting to see how much those times improve in the next three months.
After that came a multi-jump routine, with eight different exercises, including several that hurt the crap out of my knee. I should have iced it when I got home, but didn't have time, and by the end of the day, it was really uncomfortable, so I got a bag of ice from the corner store and took an ice bath for 20 minutes. That helped quite a bit.
Tomorrow, the workout calls for some gymnastic stuff: rings and high bar, which I should be able to manage without much knee strain, if any. Then, a general strength routine has a couple of moves that might hurt some, but I think I'll be able to mostly get through it OK.
Hopefully, I'm not going to need surgery on my knee, although it was really hurting this evening during my shift working front desk at the gym. No, I wasn't sitting at the front desk for four hours, but walking around emptying the trash, doing lots of cleaning and other assorted duties. My knee was not real happy, but hopefully it will feel better after some sleep.
CLICK HERE to check out "Finally Fit," my book about learning to pole vault for the first time ever at 60 years old.
More tomorrow ...
Yesterday, I went down to Austin to watch the men's pole vaulting finals at the NCAA Outdoor Championships.
It was really cool, as it always is to sit there and watch guys jump 18-19 feet in the air. There were so many good vaulters in the competition.
But getting there is a tremendous pain in the ass.
Austin was once such a great town, and in a lot of ways, it still is. But it's just getting too big and overcrowded. On the way home, I sat in stop-and-go traffic on I-35, pretty much all the way from downtown Austin to Round Rock. This was at 7 o'clock! It was ridiculous.
The countdown to the National Senior Games continues. I'm as ready as I'll ever be. I've worked pretty hard so far this year, on conditioning and on my vaulting, but I do have one regret.
Earlier in the year, I started working on my core strength to help me get inverted during the jump. This exercise I started doing involved grabbing onto a set of low parallel bars, swinging upside down, so that the bottoms of my feet are on top, and the top of my head is on bottom, pulling myself up and keeping my arms bent, then lowering my body as slowly as possible toward the ground.
This is the negative part of the inversion movement. When you get to where you can control the descent, instead of your feet quickly dropping back to the ground, then you start working on lowering your body and then rotating back up.
I had gotten to the point where I was ready to start lowering myself and then rotating back up, when I got sick for about a week, and didn't do the exercise at all. One thing led to another, and I quit doing it completely. That was probably 4-6 weeks ago, and I lost quite a bit of what I gained. No excuses. I just quit doing it.
So this week, I'm back at it, and part of my self-destructive mind still tries to talk me out of doing it. I don't understand it.
But I'm back at it, and that's the main thing.
In thirteen days, I'll be on the runway at the University of New Mexico track stadium, jumping with the best 60-64 year-old vaulters in the country. And, guess what -- I'm one of them.
Pretty damn cool.
National Senior Games is two weeks away, and I'm having to learn to balance training with trying to be strong, injury-free, and as pain-free as possible.
My right elbow has been sore since I jammed it on a sliding pole box at practice a couple weeks ago. My right shoulder is always a little sore, just from vaulting, and my left knee has been bothering me for a few weeks now -- just "routine" soreness, I think, and nothing serious.
So ... I don't want to lay off completely, but I don't want to do any more damage before Nationals. I want to feel as good as I can when the time comes.
This morning, I did my core-strengthening low-bar exercises, then I set up my new low hurdles in the side yard, and did some sprint drills through those with a medicine ball and a pole.
I've iced my knee twice today, and I'll do it again here in a little while. It feels pretty good, really, so I don't think there's anything going on inside there, except maybe some inflammation and maybe a little swelling. There's no visible swelling, but completely bending the leg at the knee is not comfortable.
Goodness gracious ...
About a month ago, I went down to Austin for a vaulting session with my friend, Ben Ploetz, who owns Austin Pole Vault and Throws. Shortly after we started warming up, Ben said something about the heat and whipped off his shirt. I don't think Ben has gained an ounce since his days as a decathlete in college. Must be nice.
As for me, I ain't taking my shirt off in public for nobody right now -- maybe never again. When you're 60 years old, and still carrying around 20 pounds too much weight, that bare, saggy chest and love handles are not something anybody wants to see jiggling around.
Today was one of those days it would have been nice, though.
I went to pole vault practice a little before 4 o'clock this afternoon, and it was h-o-t. Damn, I bet it would have felt great to go shirtless. Too bad, that is never gonna happen.
Aside from the heat, though, it was a pretty good workout. I was jumping at a 9-foot bungee, and although I never actually cleared it, I was getting up there, which I'm hoping means I'll be able to at least clear an 8-foot bar at Nationals in two weeks.
I really think I have a good chance to go 8-6. Nine feet is stretching it, because I'm still not getting my hips up high enough, and I'm still not very good at turning over the bar. I've got to lose another 20 pounds, work on my speed, and get my core stronger.
I guarantee this much -- by the end of the year, I'll be jumping 9 feet.
When the Expo Explosion rolls around at the end of December, I'll be clearing 9 feet. At the National Pole Vault Summit in Reno in January, I may go even higher.
Two more weeks until Nationals in Albuquerque, and then some serious training begins ...
Humans holding on to their dignity ....
When my mother was gravely ill with brain cancer, I took her to one of her doctor appointments. She was in a wheelchair, really sick, but took the time to get dressed up, looking as pretty as she could. Always an attractive woman, she still had her pride. She still had her dignity.
I saw some of that same thing today when I went to a maximum security prison in Gatesville, Texas, to do some freelance newspaper work covering a college graduation ceremony. Inmates who attended college courses in prison and earned their degree.
It was all a big pain in the ass, as visiting a prison unit is like nothing you've ever experienced. If you think airport security is ridiculous, try going as a visitor to a prison. Good grief ...
A lot of stand around and wait, and I wish this would hurry up so I can get back home and write my stories, and then do some relaxing.
It's Saturday, for heaven's sake.
Then, early in the ceremony, the prison band played two songs. The first was "Heaven," by Los Lonely Boys, and the second was, "Always on my Mind," by Willie Nelson.
The band was outstanding, and obviously took great pride in their performance. All wearing white jumpsuits, criminals housed in a maximum security prison for who knows how long. The kind of people society looks down on; puts away and forgets about. Yet, they stood up there on that stage and played their hearts out. It almost brought tears to my eyes. I would have paid money to watch these guys play for an hour.
They still had their dignity.
It was something I'll remember for a long time.
I'm really glad I went.
Good grief ...
I wrote a song a long time ago -- back when I was playing guitar a lot, and the wife and I were performing at open mics and coffee shops and such -- that was called, "Running." It was a pretty good song. Upbeat rhythm. Cool melody.
"Running ... always running. Running ... always running. Running up, running down; running in, running out ..."
One time, we played two songs at the Saxon Pub down in Austin, and when we finished "Running," people started cheering. That was pretty cool.
I've been running, running all day today, it seems like. A busy, good, and productive day.
Started off heading over to Lampasas to interview an old friend named Hippie for a feature story for the local newspaper. Hippie -- that's his actual (nick)name, from way back when -- is a lifelong biker who had a horrific motorcycle accident last year and lost his right leg below the knee. It was rough for a while, but he's up and at 'em again, even riding his new Harley once in a while.
Then, I went and got a haircut from a really nice young lady. We were talking and laughing about gray hair (mine is pretty damn gray when I leave it alone and don't use any of that men's hair color stuff from Walgreen's), and how it doesn't always want to act right.
After that, I came back to the house and had a phone review with our financial guy. That kind of stuff makes my eyes glaze over, and I think he is amazed sometimes how financially illiterate I am, but he says our accounts all are in good shape, and I have to believe him.
I wrote a book description for one of my new books. It's important to have a catchy book description, and I think this one turned out pretty well. Now, I've got to do that same for the two mini-books that go with it.
Oh yeah, I also drove to the newspaper I freelance for and delivered the month's invoice, so I can get paid.
A little while ago, I sent in my senior fitness column for next Friday's paper.
Now, I'm working on this little batch of words, and I think I'm done.
Off to watch another re-run episode of my favorite, NYPD Blue.