Cody Angell took one look at the scars on my knee and knew he had his work cut out for him.
"Wow," Angell said. "Bet you have some stories."
Angell, who operates St. Pete Running Company with his wife, Janna, prides himself on getting battered runners such as myself back on the road.
"Even an old warhorse like me?" I had asked.
He nodded his head and smiled. "With proper technique and the right equipment, you will run again," he said.
"I am going to call you the Shoe Whisperer," I replied.
Angell asked about my athletic history and the injuries that had sidelined me so many times over the years. "I have had long, close relationships with several orthopedic surgeons," I explained.
But my last surgery, a total replacement of my anterior cruciate ligament, had hit me particularly hard. About to turn 55, I just don't bounce back the way I used to.
Angell, a former collegiate runner whose shop was voted as one of America's best running stores last year, started off a quick assessment by having me stand on one leg.
"I can see right away that you favor that knee," he said. "You have to strengthen that leg."
After surgery, I assaulted physical therapy with a vengeance. But once I was released, I forgot about my "daily" exercises, started running again and was quickly reinjured.
"You are not alone," Angell said. "Roughly 80 percent of all runners get injured in a given year."
His recommendation: Stand on one leg when I brush my teeth.
"You will be surprised how quickly that will strengthen your leg," he said.
After the initial assessment, Angell had me take off my bargain-basement running shoes and put on a pair of loaners. "I usually buy anything that is on sale," I told him.
Running in the wrong shoes, especially if you are coming off an injury, is one sure way to get hurt.
"Somebody with your history needs a lot of padding," he said.
After fitting me with some shoes, I hit the treadmill for a gait analysis. Angell noticed instantly that my stride was too long.
"You strike heel-first, just like a hammer," he said. "You should shorten your stride and have your foot land more like a spring."
St. Pete Running Company, like most bay area running stores, has a group that meets every week for a regular run. "We show people how to run without hurting," Janna said. "Most of us have run at some point in our life, but very few people were actually taught how to do it. We have found that by teaching people an efficient running form, they tend to stick with running longer."
After figuring out what was wrong with my technique, Angell talked to me about shoes. I looked at several pairs and settled on a model from Hoka. A few years ago, everybody wanted minimalist shoes: the lighter the better. But while ultralight shoes might be ideal for some athletes, for a big guy with bad knees, cushion counts.
Now, ready to hit the road again, Angell developed a training plan suited to my particular needs.
"You are going to start off walking for nine minutes and running for one minute during the course of your workout," he said. "Gradually, you'll increase the amount of time you run and decrease the amount of time you walk."
In 12 weeks, this wounded weekend warrior plans to run his first 5K in years. Here's how:
1. Take it slow. Life is a marathon, not a 100-yard dash.
2. Focus. Continue physical therapy, even if it's just standing on one leg when you brush your teeth.
3. Forget the past. Who cares how fast you were in college? What matters is here and now.
4. Stay positive. Keep at it and you will see results.
5. Cross-train. Work on strength and flexibility.
6. Take each day as it comes. If you hurt, rest. Give your body time to heal. Then get back at it.
This is common sense advice, but if you have a serious injury, consult your doctor before beginning any running program.
Contact Terry Tomalin at [email protected]