Thanks in large part to Run Fast Squat Heavy's extremely pared-down program, I haven’t done any direct upper body work in several weeks, and in my almost nine years of lifting, this the longest time I’ve gone without it. I’m glad about this, though, because for the last two weeks a lot of my upper-body energy has gone into holding up our puppy Luca’s back half in a sling while she pees, or trying to carry her in one arm while I open the door with the other arm to bring her back inside.
A few weeks ago, Luca bolted out of our (stationary) car window before she was properly secured in the back seat. When she landed, she fractured her pelvis and partially dislocated her hip. She’s been on strict crate rest for two weeks, and in the last few days seemed to be showing signs of improvement. But when we took her to the doctor for her follow-up appointment he pulled up her x-rays and said, “Have you been letting her run around a lot?”
“No, we’ve been really careful. I actually can’t imagine being any more careful,” I said.
Well, her fracture seemed to be getting worse and not better, with a wider gap between the cracked bones than last time. Three more weeks of somehow even stricter crate rest.
I know most people believe their dogs are babies. But Luca is especially a baby. Something about the orientation of her eyes and eyebrows gives her an undeniable pure and innocent appearance, which I’m astonished to hear myself say about an animal who interacts with me primarily via her teeth. While I waited for Luca to come out of the back during the visit where her pelvic fracture was diagnosed, I saw many dogs peacefully come and go through the waiting room, with nary a second glance in their direction, no fuss made by or for them.
When a nurse emerged with 37-pound Luca in her arms, she was swarmed by at least four other cooing and squealing attendants. They told me that she was popular in the back because, even while she is sedated, she shambles her way across surfaces like an otter until she lands in a lap and/or within licking distance of a face. I know this is true because she has spent many evenings doing the same thing from one end of the couch to the other, ottering between me and Seamus until she gets sleepy. I take this as incontrovertible evidence that, while all dogs are good dogs, our dog is a real and true baby-baby, whose babyness shines from the inside.
At first, Luca couldn’t bear any weight on the fractured side, and we didn't have any special equipment yet. So when we set her down to pee, we suspended her rear under her stomach by a ratty old scarf. She scooted slowly around our little yard on her front legs, sniffing for somewhere to pee where she would also not feel any pain, finding only through tremendous effort that that place did not exist.
Now that a couple of weeks have gone by, she can pee normally again by squatting, but she still needs to be supported by her sling at all times. When her medications wear off between doses, she is possessed, as you can imagine, by the zest of a puppy who has been confined to her crate for a double-digits percentage of her young life. If she catches sight of a bird or human being, her back half goes Scooby-Doo-sees-some-scooby-snacks mode, legs paddling the air so fast they become a blur. The vet says that it is precisely this impulse that is causing her hamstrings to pull down on her pelvis where it is fractured, separating the cracked bones even more. Now we have to medicate her and be sure she is subdued before we even take her out, lest she be driven to self-destructive madness by a passing Shih-Tzu (she, a relative giant, seems to prefer little dogs, though won’t turn down a big fluffy one).
Still, “half of a large puppy” is a lot of weight to try and be holding up and away from your body, a balletic suitcase carry, whether it’s for the several seconds it takes for her to pee or hobbling along behind/next to/over her, trying not to step on her feet when she suddenly stops to deeply inhale from a crack in the pavement. This is to say nothing of trying to pick her up delicately enough to not feel like I personally am making her fracture worse and then carrying her around in my arms, like a real-life Milo of Croton carrying his bull who gets bigger by the day. But what do I lift for, if not to be able to stand up from a couch with a 37-pound puppy in my arms so that she doesn’t jump off on her own?
I’m filled with sadness every time I have to gently place her back in her crate, where she will be very good and not bark or whine thanks to the influence of Trazodone, but will stare out at me, cocking her head in curiosity if I make the right noises, occasionally yawning in a way that reminds me of a fox. I can’t believe she has another three weeks of this. You cannot tell a puppy who desires only to go fast that injury recovery is the task now.
In the week before Luca’s accident, I was sick with a non-COVID flu that made me feel slightly delirious. I sent my paid newsletter that week around the day 3 peak, hoping I didn’t say anything too delusional. Just as I was coming out of it, Luca got hurt. We spent two different days in different emergency rooms figuring out the problem. By the time we got back into more of a schedule, almost two weeks had gone by since I’d done any Run Fast Squat Heavy training. I was square in the middle of the program, too far along to start over, too far from the end to decide I’d had a decent run. Even worse, I was about to travel for a few days without time to train.
It’s been a long while since I’ve had to reconcile “everything going to shit” with my personal lifting progress trajectory. While it was a fun experiment to start, I’m already mentally rejecting it, in part because it’s like I tried to bake a cake and I can see via the oven window that halfway through the cooking time, the cake is burned on the edges and still wet in the middle. I started it because I did want it to end somewhat perfunctorily and without incident, and now that I can’t have that, I would love to just pretend the whole thing never happened. I’d normally say to hell with progress. Life has duly interrupted and it was entirely appropriate for them to go out the window, except insofar as this is my very weird job. That said, it’s also my very weird job to explain what is supposed to happen when you try to do something and it goes less than ideally.
So—what to do? I was in the middle of week 6 when everything started grinding to a halt, and I’d just attempted a heavy single (250 pounds). In week 7 I was due for another heavy single; it seemed like a bad idea to just pick up there, since I’d just taken two weeks off. (The running was much easier to jump back in and/or calibrate, so I never worried about that; no one is threatened by running too slowly). I decided to do a weirdo week where my squats days were 5x5 sets at 70%, and then picked up again in week 7. After the first two days of week 7 (tempo running and 4x5 squats from 65-85%), I traveled, came back, and squeezed in days 3 and 4 into one day. It strikes me that Day 3, which is always the easy shakeout run day, could always be easily combined with the squat day before or after, probably with a day off rotated in after it. (If you were going to cut a workout from the week, the Day 3 would definitely be the one). My week 7 single was, again 250 pounds. I’m back on track now, so to speak.
I won’t know what the results of my perfectly-executed Run Fast Squat Heavy run will be. But I will get the imperfect, real-world results of “not managing to just check all the boxes in order and on time,” which almost seem more valuable, if only because it doesn’t seem like many of us are able to execute the perfect version of anything.
While I’m still shy about squatting, I’ve made a sort of informal goal of getting comfortable with 250-255 pounds as an “any-day-any-time single rep,” since doing it has come up twice in the last two weeks. That alone is progress right now.
I made it out to ski for probably the last time this season yesterday, and the program has made no appreciable difference in how skiing feels, beyond the generally great foundation that lifting has given me these last several years. I now feel sure that if "skiing better" was what I wanted out of this program, I would have chosen almost entirely differently. It's not cold enough for even the freshly fallen snow to remain fluffy powder; it almost instantly congeals into the packy kind that is perfect for snowballs. Like last time, the area where the ski lift unloads was blanketed in fog. "You can barely see anything," the lift operator yelled out to me as I unloaded, before he was enveloped again, like a Batman villain. But as the day went on the giant cloud passed, and on the way back down the mountain, for the first time, I could see clear all the way down to the valley.