The Trail to Philmont, February 2020

I expect to learn a lot on the Trail to Philmont. In February, I learned that if you run a lot … you need to periodically buy new running shoes.

I bought my Hokas when I started running again after breaking my ankle. With thick soles and excellent support, they were like running on pillows (especially when compared to my then-disintegrating Nikes). They were my first dedicated running sneakers and, being a novice runner, I didn’t realize just how much wear and tear I was putting on them. The treads looked ok (again, especially compared to my previous, years-old sneakers) and they seemed to be holding up well.

Except in late February, after about eight weeks of running three times a week at three miles a clip, my left knee started to hurt. It wasn’t bad, but it was distracting. I assumed I was pushing myself too hard, and when the fabric on one of my sneakers ripped, I decided to take a break and focus on climbing stadium stairs in my hiking boots.

A photo of grey sneakers taken on a staircase. A football field appears in the background.
My new Hoka running sneakers.

Posting photos of my now-damaged Hokas online, I heard from friends who suggested that running sneakers need to be replaced at regular intervals – maybe every six months or after a couple of hundred miles of running. Honestly, I was a little skeptical but the advice is sound. I bought a new pair of Hokas (despite the tear, they served me well) and the difference between the new pair and old pair was startling. Without realizing it, the performance of my old sneakers had degraded significantly; running with the new pair was once again like running on pillows.

The soreness in my knee has subsided, though it still lingers. I did a little research and suspect that I may have a touch of runner’s knee, which can happen when you increase mileage and your form isn’t great because of a lack of core strength. This brings me to my next topic…

Back to the Personal Trainer

I love to run. I love to swim. I love to hit the road on my bike or cycle at the gym. I even enjoy rowing. Cardio-based exercise is clearly my thing … but I know it shouldn’t be the only thing. Stretching, strength exercises, weight training – these are things I should be doing too, but left to my own devices … I often ignore them.

So I’m back to seeing a personal trainer again. After a nearly year-long hiatus, my employer restarted its personal trainer program. There’s a fee, as one would expect, but it’s well worth it. The first meeting with the trainer was about assessing my current status (pretty good cardio-wise, not so good with everything else … which I knew) and setting goals:

  1. get stronger for Philmont
  2. diversify my routine
  3. lose weight

The trainer, rightly, summarized my goals as getting stronger and leaner and recommended not being overly focused on weight (the logic being that as I put on muscle, I’ll also be adding weight). It’s good advice, though I do still have that 200-lb target weight for Philmont so I can go horseback riding (the horses having a 200 lb limit for their riders).

I got in about 3 sessions in February, which consisted of learning my warm-up stretches and exercises, about half of which involve a foam roller. I look like a flopping fish when I’m doing them (part of the reason I don’t really like these kinds of exercises) but I definitely feel better after doing them. I started my “A” Day exercise plan, which is focused on strength training and core exercises with things like squats, planks, box step-ups, and dumbbell work. We’ll be starting the “B” Day exercises in March.

So far I’m loving it. My trainer is great, and she’s pushing me in the ways that I need to be pushed. It illustrates why I think it’s great to have some sort of an exercise plan – left to our own devices, we’ll avoid the things we don’t like doing. With a good exercise program or personal trainer, you’re compelled to leave your comfort zone, which makes you stronger overall. Hopefully, strengthening my core will help with my running posture, which will lessen the soreness around my knee. I’m not relying solely on that though: I’m also going to be diversifying my workout by doing more indoor and outdoor bike riding complemented by indoor rowing and swimming.

New Gym Sneakers

In addition to new running sneakers, I bought new gym sneakers. My old Nikes had been disintegrating for years – as in, they had a hole in one of the soles, the seams were ripping, and parts of each sneaker were flaking off. I’ve got a lot of bad excuses for why I kept using them and those ran out when I started with the new personal trainer. She recommended getting some flat-soled sneakers, specifically some Converse All-Stars (yes, you can actually use them at the gym).

I got a pair of black sneakers for the gym, though I’ve started wearing them out into the real world as well because they’re so comfortable. Getting a pair of Chucks has been the single most commented-on aspect of my new exercise regime – as a guy who usually wears hiking boots to work, showing up in black Chucks is apparently a big deal.

My new black-and-white Chucks appear on the left; my disintegrating black Nikes appear on the right.
A side-by-side shot of my new sneakers (on the left) and my old ones (on the right).

Losing a little more

As far as the weight loss part of the trek goes, I lost about 4 lbs., going from 212 at the end of January to 208 at the end of February. Overall I’m down 14 lbs from my starting weight of 22 lbs. What the numbers don’t show is that I feel better. One of my goals is to lose the dreaded backpack belt muffin top, and I’m definitely making progress in that regard. For years, I wanted to get back into my size 36″ waist jeans. I hit that goal last year, but now I find that those jeans are getting loose … and I might need a size 34″ waist. I’m not quite there, but if and when I hit that milestone, it’ll be the first time I’ve worn 34″ waist jeans in … well, I don’t know how long. College? High school? Regardless, it feels great.

Looking down the trail

In March, we’ll be going on our first backpacking trip of the season: a two-day, 14-mile hike in the flat pine forests of Worthington State Forest in South Jersey. The park is located in the Pine Barrens, and the trip is an excellent beginner hike … as well as a good refresher for those of us who haven’t been out with a pack since last fall (or even last summer). It’s our first big hike as we get ready for Philmont, and the first chance I’ll get to test my overnight gear in field conditions. I can’t wait!

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