Thursday, March 31, 2011

Moving on

I gave myself one afternoon to wallow in sorrow, but I'm done with that shit.  I've let it all go...

Cherry Blossom, Boston, pacing at the Kentucky Derby Marathon, and maybe even the Delaware Half Marathon.

I've picked the Baltimore 10 Miler as my comeback race.  Thanks to the course and the conditions, it won't be a time trial type of race but a real strategic race.  I wanted to win that race this year and I still think I can.  If I'm back to something resembling normal mileage by mid-May, everything might just come together.

I need something to get me through this because ellipticals really suck!  When I was driving to the gym today in 43 degrees and rain, I thought to myself: "I would give anything right now to be doing a track workout in this weather."  The warm cozy gym provided no comfort for me as I watched the little cursor on my elliptical screen go around and around a picture of a 400 meter track.

All in all...10.5 miles in 65 minutes on the elliptical.  With no posted rules and machines free, I don't see a problem hogging it.  Then another 20 minutes on a stationary bike.

Tomorrow I may try my hand at aqua jogging again.  Saturday and Sunday I'm going to use both the elliptical and get a couple of long bike rides in.  I'm really starting to ramp up this cross training now!  Thanks to that elliptical (even though it sucks), I finally feel somewhat like I've been "running" these past couple of days.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Truth be told...I knew all along

I have a confession to make, I'm not always as honest about how much pain I'm in to myself or my training log.  Deep down, I knew this time was different and despite my best hopes, was relatively resigned to the fact that I was going to be out for an extended period of time.

Today, I was officially diagnosed with a stress fracture of my lower left tibia just above the ankle.  The MRI shows considerable "activity" right around the area I have been experiencing pain.  It did not take the doctor very long to make that determination.  In 13 years of running, I have never suffered a major injury before this month.  Since my return to running in July of 2007, this period will be my longest time away from running.

Even though I knew, to finally hear it and have real evidence was still a tough pill to swallow.  I had the appointment at 11am and the rest of the day was just a blur.  After having a little time to think things through, I've realized what has me so upset.  It isn't so much the injury itself, it isn't the fact that I can't run, or the fact that I will lose some running ability.  It's really the fact that after waiting 1.5 years to run Boston that I will have to wait at least another year.  2.5 years at least to me is a long time.

I have to keep things in perspective: I'm still a very healthy and in shape individual, I can still be a productive member of society, my tibia isn't broken, and I can still exercise.  With that said though, I love running, it has become such a central part of me.  To ask on any given day if I had ran was a ridiculous question because the answer was always yes.  Now I have to deal with getting healthy, then getting back into it, then building back up, and it's just so frustrating.

What have I learned from all this?  Well, most of it is good. 
     1.  I now know how much I can handle and how much is too much.  That was an open-ended question and I was going to keep pushing the envelope until I had no more time or got hurt.  At least now I have some real basis for my training mileage.

      2. I have a really, really high tolerance for pain.  I know exactly when my tibia took a turn for the worst, and had assumed that it was only a reaction, because there is no way I could have done what I did on it.  However, I now know for a fact that I did 4 miles worth of speedwork in a ladder session, a 21 mile long run, a 1:16:13 half marathon, 32 miles over the next 3 days, and then after a few days off, a 16:27 5K.  During those races, I completely zoned out the pain.  I did all of that on a stress fracture...

     3. I'm a really big idiot that should be counting his blessings.  There was a very real possibility I could have broken my tibia if I continued to run on it.  Truth be told, I was probably extremely close to doing that.  The pain was truly unbearable in the days I took off before the Shamrock 5K.  I knew the 5K was a bad idea, but I did it anyway.  At any point, my leg could have given out, and my running life would have been in significant jeopardy.

My doctor told me that if I ignored him and continued to run, I had about a 70% chance of breaking my tibia based on the MRI.  I never did tell him how much running I did on it when it was hurting bad, but I can guarantee you that I was maybe a few days away from a break.  On my final 5 mile run, I limped the entire time and running faster did not dull the pain as it had before.  When I was at my furthest point from home base on that run, I was worried something would happen to me and I wouldn't be able to even walk back.  The worst part of it all is I still went and tried to run in the evening, but only made it two blocks before realizing that was it.

However, that pain, that limping, that struggle, and the true dread of taking a stride is forever burned into my mind.  Knowing the difference between pain and injury is still a fine art, but I have a pretty good idea of the difference now...

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

"So you're a running celebrity?"

A bit of motivation came from two people I had never met before.  Today, I rode my bike to work, 6.5 miles at 6 in the morning.  Afterwards, I rode back in the direction of my apartment but stopped off at the Maryland Athletic Club, a really nice gym downtown.  I was going in to redeem a free week pass and planned on trying out some of the cardio equipment to see if I could simulate running and get my heart doing something.

While one of the gym staff was showing me around, another guy stopped us and said something to the following effect.

Random Dude: "Hey, you're that 5K guy.  Well you pretty much run anything, 5K to half marathon."

My response: "yea, you can find me at a lot of local races."

Random dude to the woman showing me around: "This guy can run, I mean really run.  What do you do, like 6 minute miles?"

My response: "Faster than that."

Random dude: "5 minute miles?"

I half nodded.  The woman showing me around then told me I must be some kind of running celebrity.  It just gives me that little extra motivation to try and get back since apparently, I can really run!

I ended up using 3 pieces of equipment....something like an elliptical that was pitched at a steep angle (13 minutes), an arc trainer (18 minutes), and a traditional elliptical (35 minutes).  That uphill thing sucked, it was absolutely nothing like running uphill.  The arc trainer was better but still did not really simulate running, my knees never fully extended.

It was the elliptical that did the trick.  It felt very similar to running and if I looked down, could almost fool myself into thinking I was running.  My arms and legs come too far forward compared to my actual stride, but it feels close enough.

With the 3.5 mile bike ride home, and a hilly 1 hour ride yesterday, I think I'm getting the hang of this cross training stuff.  Of course, I'd give it all up in a heartbeat to be running again.  Tomorrow is my follow up appointment for the MRI.  I'm hoping beyond hope that whatever was wrong with me has healed and I can run again.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

More time...more biking

I hit up the NCR Trail on Saturday afternoon for 36 miles of riding in real cold wind.  Without good gloves, my hands were frozen completely solid most of the way.  I had to defrost them in my car before I could remove my quick release front wheel to get the bike back in the car!  Overall, I felt a little less sore than the week before and rode a little further.

Sunday I did some riding around my apartment before commuting to work, then of course commuting back.  In total, I think I ended up with about 15 or 16 miles.  It did feel good to ride my bike to work.

Runners who know me are starting to ask why they're seeing me on a bike.  I can't stay like this much longer!!

I think that gives me around 90 miles of biking this week.  It's kind of sad that it was easier to hit 97 miles of running, but I have to start somewhere.  I'll be kicking it up a bit this coming week and mixing in some stuff in the gym.  It's time to get my heart rate up a bit.

MRI is on Monday, follow up with the doctor is Wednesday.  Hopefully, I'll have some clarity moving forward.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Today was more like it!

Well today I finally got something done resembling a workout.  After another wasted day yesterday in which I bought an emergency pump, 3 tire tubes, and a tire lever, I kicked butt today.  I was able to replace my busted rear tire tube and pump it up all by myself.  With the pump bolted to my bike's frame, two spare tire tubes, and a tube repair kit in a backpack, I was off for a bike ride at 5:45PM.

I headed over to the area around M&T bank stadium, parked my car, and rode on the Gwynns Falls Trail 45 minutes in one direction before turning around and heading back.  It was decently hilly and there was even an off road section.  I'm certainly glad I bought a hybrid.  No flats this time, though I was prepared!  I ended up with 18.6 miles total, worked up a decent sweat, felt like I worked hard on the hills, and had a slight burn in my legs.

It still is not giving me the same kind of workout as running, but I think it's doing the job of at least slowing my loss of endurance.  My legs, back, and butt all seem to be getting used to the biking so I may try and push harder and further next week.  I'm still kind of concerned about riding at night mostly because I'm worried I won't be able to see where I'm going.  My front and rear blinkers and my obnoxiously bright Brooks Nightlife Jacket make me visible, but the blinkers don't really light my way all that much.  With so many road hazards in Baltimore, this could be a problem.  I do have a very bright headlamp that I use for night hiking, perhaps I can figure out some way to latch it onto my helmet.  Otherwise, I'll come up with some kind of solution for that, even if it means endless laps in Patterson or Druid Hill Park.

I'll be on an elliptical this coming Tuesday, my first day at a gym with a week free.  I'll also be biking to and from work that day.  I don't have a lot of time this weekend since I'll be watching people run at the National Marathon and volunteering at a BRRC race Sunday, but I'll still get a couple more solid rides in.

My ankle, or should I say tibia, is feeling pretty good right now.  I won't even bother trying to run on it, but I'm itching real, real bad to do it!!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

I know why I love running

These past three days have reminded me of a huge reason why I love running.  It is so wonderfully simple.  All you have to do is throw on a pair of shoes and run out the door.  It can be light, dark, or raining; you can leave from your home, office, car, or wherever.  You can also get by with carrying next to nothing.

Now with that in mind, lets explore my attempts at alternate activities to keep my endurance up.  To prevent my inevitable decline, I need to be out there almost everyday doing some form of aerobic exercise. 

On Sunday, I rode my bike for 2 hours on the NCR trail and made a little over 27 miles.  I've never rode a bike for that long, and have not used one in years.  I was more than a little sore after that one, but content.
On Monday, I rode my bike for almost nearly an hour.  I would have liked to go longer, but I ran out of daylight.  This was in part because I was still not completely proficient at reattaching my wheels.  The bike only fits well in my car if I remove both wheels (both quick release).

So I think, no big deal.  On Tuesday, I was planning on hitting up the gym for some aqua jogging, then riding the bike afterwards and probably getting close to 2 hours of activity in.  Of course, I had not been in a pool in years and do have a slight fear of water.  Regardless, I jumped right in and did my best.  It worked reasonably well, though next time I'm using two water belts so I actually stay afloat.  Since I'm so damn thin, the belt just rides up, causing my level of buoyancy to be over my head.  It's difficult to aquajog when it feels like I'm sinking the whole time.

However, I was encouraged knowing that the aqua jogging would be a viable answer.  I decided I would be back as soon as I could get a 1 week free pass to the gym I tried.  In the meantime, I thought I could get another hours worth on the bike, but oh was I wrong.  Once again, by the time I got out, daylight was fading.  I had stopped off to buy some much needed accessories such as blinking lights and a cage to hold water.  Once I was finally ready, I once again had trouble getting the bike together, especially in reduced lighting.

After some extreme frustration, and half wanting to just to take off at tempo pace screaming "LOOK HOW MUCH SIMPLIER THIS IS," I decided to just take the rest of the night to figure my bike out and eliminate some of this trouble.  So I figured out a way to get the bike in my car with only removing the front wheel, which is 1000x easier to put back on.  With my blinking lights installed, I also knew that I could ride in reasonably lit areas at night.

So Wednesday rolls around and I now have a master plan taking form.  I decide that I'm going to bike to work on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  On the way home, I can bike to the gym, do some ellipical or aqua jogging work, then bike home.  On Monday, Wednesday, Fridays when I don't have time in the morning to bike to work, I can just go for long rides in the afternoon, and possibly stop off at the gym at least one additional time (to make sure I get my money's worth).

To move this plan along, I had to practice some city riding (since my commute to work would be in the city).  I decided I would park in Canton near where I work, ride across town to roughly Pig Town, then hit up the Gwynns Falls Trail for some harder paced riding.  My assumption was that the urban riding would be a bit slower since I would have to be careful.

Riding through the city actually proved quite fun and a lot safer than I thought.  I stayed predictable, was very visible, and always assumed no one could see me.  The biggest danger in city riding has to be cars pulling out of street parking, or car doors opening, so I kept a big eye out for that.  I was actually surprised by how careful other drivers were around me, I felt more noticed on my bike than I ever did as a runner.

I got to the Trail in about 30 minutes, and decided to go for another 15-30 minutes out on the trail before turning around.  It would be a long ride overall, but about half of it would have been at slightly relaxed pace.  Everything was going well until I decided to stop for water.  At that very moment, when I was over 9 miles from my car, I realized my rear tire was flat.  A very small piece of glass wedged into my tire was to blame.

Of course at this point it started drizzling, and it was getting colder out.  I was actually closer to my apartment than my car, but both would have taken hours to walk to while dragging a bike with me.  Thankfully, I was able to call one of my running friends who so graciously picked me up and drove me back to my car.

So once again, despite my best efforts and intentions, I did not accomplish what I wanted to.  Once again, I became so frustrated by the fact that everything seems so much more complicated than running.  If I wanted to do a long run, tempo run, or speedworkout, all I had to do was get out the door and it would be done.  Now, every time I step out there, something goes wrong.

Trying to stay positive has been tough, but I won't give up.  Tomorrow I'm going to buy an emergency pump, replace the tube in my tire, and buy 1 or 2 extras to carry around with me.  I will have my pass to the gym by Friday, and I will get on an elliptical and back in the water soon.  I'll have to wait until next week before biking to work now, but that's ok I suppose.

My MRI is on Monday and the follow up appointment is on Wednesday.  By that time, it will have been 3 weeks since I've done any serious running.  If I do not have a fracture, it may almost be healed by then.

In other news, I have my bib # for Boston....#444.  They are given out based on qualifying time, so I know I would be starting near the front.

If I'm healthy for that race, I already decided I'm running it with nothing to lose.  Even if I blow up and have to do the 10K death march, I don't care.  This experience has really made me appreciate running that much more.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Less Than Desirable News....

It is now becoming quite likely that in 13 years of running, I have finally suffered a legitimate injury.  After an easy 3 mile run today, my ankle started hurting again.

I finally got to see a doctor and after a quick examination, he recommended me for an MRI.  There is swelling in my left ankle (which I never even really noticed), and he suspects either a stress reaction or a stress fracture on my left tibia.

My hope is that I caught it soon enough that it is only a reaction and not a fracture.  I feel like there is no way I could have run a 21 miler, a half marathon PR, and a 5K PR all on a stress fracture.  My ankle really took a turn for the worst right before that 21 miler, but I still banged out good times.

My MRI is not until next Monday, and I am under strict orders not to run lest I break my tibia which would truly be horrible.  I am seriously considering starting to bike everywhere during the week, the distances are very doable and gas is getting crazy expensive anyway.  Regardless, I'll be on the bike for around 45 minutes to an hour once a day, and will be trying out this aqua jogging stuff.

The problem I noticed is that my legs can't handle the bike speed required for me to get my heart rate up high enough.  I guess they are designed for running...

Friday, March 18, 2011

Encouraged: but sticking to the plan

I can rather safely say that if the HAT 50K was a goal race, I would be out there tomorrow in a heartbeat.  I would go into it full well knowing I would probably come out the other end with an ankle worse off than when I started.

However, since it is not a goal race, I am still staying away, and am actually volunteering at another race just to lock myself into staying away!  My plan in the meantime is to get some cross training in.  I haven't done much for 7 of the past 8 days, so it's time to start limiting the effects of continued time off.  I've decided I'm going to buy a bike; a huge dividend from REI + a 20% off coupon should allow me to buy something without completely breaking the bank.  I just need to make sure I can configure the trunk in my Eclipse to fit the damn thing.

I'm also going to either use the crappy workout room in my apartment, or join a gym and will suck up being indoors when I can't get outside on the bike.  I can see myself using at least a stationary bike and/or other non impact machines that can get my heart rate up.  I know at least one good rule of thumb is to spend the same amount of time on the cross training device as I would running, ignoring the actual distance traversed.  On Monday I'm going to hit up some aqua jogging (and basically just stick my middle finger up to my fear of water) to see how viable an option that is.  That is probably the closest I can get to actually running while not running.

Monday is also when I see a doctor, and will make an attempt to test out my legs again.  I need to make sure my ankle is at least slightly tender (if it is not 100%) before going to the doctor, just so I can actually give an accurate description of what's going on!  Assuming he cannot find anything wrong, that should help me hammer out a more long term plan between now and Boston.

I have a couple of viable plans based on when I can get myself back into it.  My drop dead date for returning while still taking a shot at sub-2:40 is March 28th.  Every day before that is a bonus.  Based on how strongly I came back from an easy December, I don't think it's too much of a stretch.  But for now, my goal is just to get back to sweating, breathing hard, and making my heart work.  It's already been dormant for one too many days!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

How quickly things change

I have finally come to terms with the fact that I am probably injured.  The last time I had an injury was probably in May-June 2010, but I only backed off because I was between training cycles anyway.  I really could have pushed through it, and ended up doing so as my next cycle started with that lingering injury.  It eventually just went away.  I had a lot of soreness in my left groin/quad, but it never affected my stride and never hurt all that much running.

Before that, in July of 2009 I had some knee issues which back then, were enough to make me stop.  19 months without true stopping due to injury is pretty damn good though.

This ankle problem is different, it makes me limp even while running.  Even during my regular day it will bother me.  In fact, right now it's throbbing a bit.

I've run 2 miles since my 5K race.  On Monday and Tuesday my ankle felt bad, and it only felt moderately better today.  My 2 mile run was not good, so it is clear to me something is wrong.  There is no way I should feel like this after a 5K.  If healthy, by now I'd already have 25-30 miles in for the week and one workout.  5Ks barely cost anything.

I'm already looking into cross training methods to keep my base strong.  Once upon a time, I would have just done nothing until I was healthy again.  But now, I've put in too much work not just for Boston, but for my 11th place on Sunday, for my 14th place at the RRCA challenge, and for me to be able to confidently start up front at any local race.  I'm not going to throw that away wallowing in sorrow because I can't run.  By Friday, I will have a plan in that regard.  I also have a doctor's appointment with a sports medicine/orthopedic doctor for Monday (good thing PPOs exist, something health insurance actually gets right) to see if he can shed any light on what's wrong with my ankle.

I know exactly what led me to where I am today.  I probably needed at least one more step back week thrown into the January, February mix.  I first started feeling pain after my last run before my step back for the Club Challenge.  Though a 97 mile week with a half marathon at the end accelerated my downfall, I'm convinced that had I been 100% going into that week that I would have survived.  I've done high mileage and racing before, and I've raced on back-to-back weekends before (including longer races).  Even if I only ran 70-75 miles with that half marathon, I think sooner or later, my ankle would have gotten worse as soon as I pushed into the 90s because it certainly was not getting better in the days leading up to the Club Challenge (even if I pretended it was).

I think I bit off just a little more than I can chew.  Too much, too fast, too soon (in this case too much), the bane of all runners.  70-75 miles per week was probably my sustainable sweet spot.  High 80s week in and week out was probably just a little too much.

Going forward, I'm pulling the plug on the HAT 50K, there is just no reason for me to do that race now.  Cherry Blossom is expendable, but it won't get the axe yet.  Everything I do from here on out is to get myself to Boston healthy with at least my base endurance in one piece.  I can still manage a decent showing without ideal training, though I don't know about sub-2:40 at this point.  I'm not counting anything out yet though.  If things go well enough that I can get back to training in early April, I'll train through Boston at higher than taper but much lower than peak mileage and just run the race with nothing to lose.  I've got a couple of other races lined up afterward where I can go for it as well.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

St. Patrick's Day Shamrock 5K Race Report

I woke up today to an ankle that did not hurt during non running activity.  That was a significant improvement over the past 3 weeks.  Everyday during that time I would wake up and limp around for a while before it loosened up.  I decided immediately that I would race this 5K all out and worry about the consequences later.

Temperatures were in the mid-50s with partly cloudy skies and a light breeze.  This was my third year in a row running this 5K, and the first time it was not cloudy!  This is one of the largest 5Ks in the area, with a cap of 4,000 runners.  However, that is not what truly makes this race unique.  Both the course and the competition make this race.  It is hard these days for me to find competitive 5Ks where I'll be surrounded by multiple runners of similar ability.  This is one of those few where I know the fast guys will show up.  Combine that with a fast point-to-point course with the first 3/4 of a mile downhill, and it becomes an all out battle to see who can run a fast 5K!

The start line is so close to my apartment that I was able to just run to the start for a warmup.  Unfortunately, it is always very crowded at the start with people piling into the area and a lot of the cross streets are still open to traffic, so warm ups become difficult!  I actually did not have time for my usual warm up after Back on My Feet broke their circle, but I could of cared less.  I was just so happy that my ankle was good enough to run on.  Though I felt it a little during my warm up, it quickly went away.  I never limped or even thought about limping so my usual stride was back.

I didn't do any stretching or strides, just a disjointed 15 minute warm up.  I knew it would probably make the first half mile more uncomfortable than usual, but once again, I was just way too happy to care.  With about 5 minutes to the start, I took my spot about 1 row back of the timing mats.  There are always a lot of spectators on both sidewalks, and this is one of the only opportunities where one can sprint down the middle of Charles Street at 12 miles an hour with no worry of traffic!

The actual race itself was over so quickly that I can't remember a whole lot.  We started off, and I made sure not to get too carried away on the downhill.  I got carried away quite badly my first two years doing the race and would not repeat.

Mile 1: 5:00

If I went sub-5, it would have been too fast.  This is the same 1 mile split I had last year, so I knew I was on track for a good race.  There was some passing back and forth early, but I mainly focused on staying in control.  With all the cheering, fast runners, and police motorcycles, it is so easy to just go crazy on that first mile!

As we looped around Federal Hill Park, for the first time in 3 years I was strong enough to gun people down.  I just passed runner after runner with no real signs of fading.  My breathing was heavy and my legs were a bit tired but I felt strong for the second mile of a 5K.

We hit the turn-around-point and I still felt decent.  I knew this was where I had to focus.  We were about 1.5 miles from the finish.  The initial adrenaline from the start was gone now, and there was no more downhill to help.  Now it came down to who could hold on longer.  I passed one more runner before the 2 mile mark.

Mile 2: 5:21

One thought went through my mind: "you earned that split."  Positive splits on this type of course are unavoidable.  My main goal was to just try and run the next two miles like my first two in a "normal" 5K.  I went through mile 2 right on my supposed ideal 5K pace, so I was stoked.

One cool thing about this course is seeing the rest of the pack on the other side of the road since it is an out and back.  This is of course a St. Patrick's Day race, and the overwhelming majority of the runners are more festive than myself (I just wore a red shirt, red shoes, and black shorts...sorry Irish folk!).  So as I was heading back, all I could see was a sea of green.  Though I was mainly focused on trying to hold on to my pace, it is hard not to admire the sight!

I got plenty of cheers from the Back on My Feet crew which really helped me from fading too badly.  There was a slight head wind and the next runner was just too far ahead for me to catch.  I was slowly reeling him in (and he was nervous because he looked back twice), but I had nothing left in the tank and was really just holding on.

We turned onto Pratt street (another road I never get to run down the middle of) for the final stretch.  I could hear someone catching up to me so I went on the defensive and just told myself to answer his move if he tries to pass.  He didn't sound very strong, so I figured a big surge was not going to happen.

Mile 3: 5:32

A couple seconds slower than I wanted, but that pesky wind did not help.  Of course, math is completely beyond me at this point, so I had no idea what kind of overall time I would end up with.  That runner behind me caught up for a moment, but I had one little surge in me and it was enough to defend my spot.

I crossed the line in 16:27, 11th overall, and felt like I left it all out there.  It ended up being an 18 second PR, a 26 second course record over last year, and a nearly 1 minute improvement over my first time doing this race in 2009.  I ended up 6th in the 20-29 age group, so with such a good time, I got no hardware!  However, I'd rather have it that way.  I'd trade in all my 5k awards to have 5 or 6 races with competitive fields like this around Baltimore.

My ankle started to hurt a bit when the adrenaline from the race wore off.  It feels better than it has the past week or so, but feels exactly like it did after the RRCA 10 Miler.  Despite the occasional pains, I never once limped or compensated during my cool down and it actually went away for a little while during that run.

I think that my ankle is close to full health but it still needs a little more time to get back to 100%.  I really want to kick this pain for good so I'm going to take the next two days off and see how it feels Wednesday.  Although I'm supposed to be peaking right now for Boston, I still have a chance to get a couple of solid weeks in and I already have quite the successful January, February, and early March under my belt so I am not concerned at all.  This might mean that I'll be trying to just squeak under 2:40 rather than blowing it away, but it doesn't matter.  Marathon runners have to be patient!

I never want the feeling of dread and hesitation I had earlier this week ever again.  Running should never, ever feel like that.  Excessive soreness or dull nagging aches that don't affect my stride are one thing, but limping and feeling choppy while running is my new nightmare, truly a scary feeling.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Path Forward

After no run Wednesday afternoon or Thursday, and a very light 3 mile run Friday, I don't think my left ankle is where I would like it to be.  My right is now fine and all the extra pain I had been feeling in my left is also gone.  However, the original pain on the inside is still present.

For the most part, I do not feel it walking around during the day.  I can cause discomfort by squatting down and then standing back up (which I actually do relatively frequently at work).  If I hop on my left leg, I can also feel jolts of pain in the same area.  The right leg is fine.

I could feel the ankle on that 3 mile run, but the pace was too slow for me to really evaluate how it felt.  I'm taking today off too, though I still showed up to the group I run Saturday mornings with.  It was difficult to stay back when everyone ran off, and more difficult to have to explain myself!  Everyone was saying that they have never seen me not run.

Tomorrow will be a good test as I am still running in a 5K race tomorrow.  I'll be racing just as I would any other 5K.  I'll be able to temporarily ignore any pain and force myself not to compensate.  I have real talent at ignoring pain on race day (which is why I have to keep myself on a tight leash when problems arise!).

Depending on how I feel during and after the race will determine my path going forward.  Boston still is the primary goal.

I'm beginning to see why there are so few people that run marathons in the 2:20 and 2:30 range, the journey is filled with peril.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Uncertainty: 3/9

The worst part of an injury and/or pain is the unknown.  Is it a problem, is it not?  If you run a lot, something always hurts.  The issue becomes deciding what can be ignored and what needs to be listened to.

I've had on again off again pain in both my ankles since the end of my 20 mile run on Feb. 20th.  I vividly remember feeling it then and thinking "this is new."  I retired my trainers a few days later and went into my slightly cutback week hoping the issue would not get worse.

For most of the week, it did not.  My right ankle stopped hurting and my left would only hurt for a moment or two when first starting to run.  I owned the RRCA 10 mile club challenge with no pain during the race and ran another easy 8 later that afternoon with essentially no pain.

The pain came and went the following week.  The most vexing part had to be during the day.  After my morning run, I would frequently have pain in my left and occasionally my right ankle for most of the day at work (I frequently stand most of the day), though it would eventually subside.

Things took a downturn on Friday during my evening speedwork.  Every time I started up another rep, I would limp for a few strides before the pain subsided.  Even if the pain was not so bad, I would still anticipate it and compensate anyway.

On Saturday, I forged ahead with a 21 mile run and came down with a tight arch probably from all that compensation.  The left ankle only would continue to hurt upon start up from rest and then fade.  I sat around for most of Saturday and by the evening, it felt good again.  Sunday morning, when I woke up for my half marathon, it felt decent.  During the warmup, it felt better than it had felt in a while and I never even felt a twinge during the race.  I went on to kill my half marathon PR and negative split the race on a big mileage week.

Then this week happened.  Monday, I did an easy 5 and had so much other soreness from the race, that the ankle "hid" itself.  I had also taken a day off from work and stayed off my feet most of the day.  Yesterday morning, I was still experiencing the "first few strides limp" but got through both my morning and afternoon runs decently well with manageable ankle pain.  However, the left and even right ankle hurt most of the day.

Today, it only got worse.  I could actually feel it during my morning run (instead of just at the beginning) and started dreading every stride, wondering if I would feel another twinge of pain.  I was hesitant to do a short pick up in the middle for fear of more pain.

During work today, though it didn't hurt all that much walking around, I was struggling to walk up and down stairs.  After finally dragging myself outside for an afternoon run today, I ran only a few blocks and the pain would not clear up in my left ankle.  The only other time in 2010 that I felt true dread before starting a run and hesitant to hit my stride is when I had an ingrown toe nail that caused my right big toe excessive pain, swelling, and blistering.  I missed a couple of days for having that fixed.

I'm going to listen to my body and take the remainder of today off, as well as Thursday.  Streaks and weekly mileage be damned, it's the race results that matter.  I'm going to reevaluate Friday.  At this point, my #1 goal is to be healthy for Boston, everything else is secondary.  I can only hope that I've listened soon enough, and that I can kick this pain for good.

I still would change nothing, and have no regrets from the past 2 weeks or for trying to push through this ankle pain.  I have two new awesome PRs to my credit.  I know the risks of pushing ever higher, and accepted them when I told myself back in November 2009, "man, if I really trained hard, I could make myself into a decent runner."  I take the good with the bad, and it's times like these that let me check myself and make sure I'm out there running and pushing myself for the right reasons.  It's not for some kind of obsession with exercise, but with a deep seeded motivation to get faster.  Running hurt does not make one faster, therefore, I will back off.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Runners Pay Debts with Pain: 3/7-3/8

To say that last week took its toll would be an understatement.

AM: 5 miles, easy.  My right knee felt awful, tight throughout.  I didn't have full range of motion after the run.  I'm sure the rain and cool temperatures at the race were to blame.  As the day progressed, it began to loosen up.

I woke up to absolutely no pain in the knee at all.  I also slept like a baby Monday night.
AM: 6 miles, easy/moderate.  I felt decent on this run, nothing specific hurt, the pesky left ankle was largely quiet, the right knee acted like nothing ever happened.

PM: 10 miles, easy/moderate.  This run in one word: SUCKED!  I still ran my usual easy/moderate pace but my legs were just dead.  The ankle was ok most of the way and my knee was fine so that was good.  However, my legs just had no bounce in them at all!

I am slipping into what I like to call recovery debt where my body starts to fall behind in recovering between runs.  In small doses I actually think it's a good training tool to train tired and uncooperative legs as long as the debt gets paid within a week or two.  Otherwise, recovery debt turns to over-reaching, and eventually, over-training which can have serious long-term consequences.

So for now I trudge forward!  I'm still going to try my hand at an afternoon hill workout tomorrow if I feel marginally better.  Of my four hard run types, the hill work is usually easiest to trick myself into getting through.  The faster running may also help get my legs moving with some swagger again.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Race Report: B&A Trail Half Marathon

I went into this race knowing my legs would not be fresh.  This was truly meant to be a test to see what I could do in a situation where most would give up.  My total mileage for the week including this race ended up being 97 miles, so my legs were anything but ready.

However, if I could somehow maintain a "reasonable" half marathon pace based on my training paces and recent races on such a heavy load, then I know I could handle sub-2:40 pace at Boston.  So with those thoughts in mind, I drove down to Severna Park for the B&A Trail Half Marathon, a race put on by the Annapolis Striders on the relatively flat paved B&A Trail.

During my warmup, my legs felt ok, and my left ankle and foot were not complaining.  I was a far cry from last week in terms of freshness.  My "A" goal was to run a 1:15:40 and get ranked by Washington Run Report for the winter season.  My "B" goal was just to PR.  I knew I had a shot at top 3 and maybe a win depending on who showed up to the race.

At the 7:30 AM start, we had overcast skies, a slight breeze, temperatures in the mid 50s, and a very light drizzle for most of the race.  Overall, the weather was favorable.  As soon as the gun went off, 4 or 5 runners darted out ahead of me.  Some of them had marathon bibs on, others had half bibs.  I assumed that this was not going to be an Olympic Trials qualifying attempt and that they either went out too fast, or were all running the half.  Immediately at mile 1, I could already feel it in my legs.

Mile 1: 5:56

Based on how I felt, a 1:15:40 seemed unlikely.  I needed to be closer to the mid 5:40s from the get go, but that was ok.  I had no intention on forcing what wasn't there.  Of course now I had to decide how exactly I was going to run 12 more miles being that I was already tired.  I passed a couple of runners and ended up in what I assumed was third.  One runner in white was far off in the distance, but within striking range.  The overall leader was no where to be found.  He bolted off the line like he was in a different world completely and I never saw him again.

I missed the 2 mile marker, but came through mile 3 in 11:38 total, for a 2 mile average of 5:49.  I think the third mile was faster than the second.  I was slowly gaining ground on the second place runner.  Thanks to a support bike that was alongside me, I heard over his radio when the lead runner passed the first water stop.  It took me probably a minute or two more to hit that same stop so clearly, I was not going to catch the leader.  Although I was closing on the second place runner, I still felt way too awful this early in the race.  I tried not to concern myself with the 10 miles I had to go and just focused on catching up to second place.

Mile 4: 5:54

Somewhere after mile 4, I finally caught that runner.  I alternated between closing the gap for 20-30 seconds and backing off just a little for 10-20 seconds.  I didn't really feel much worse picking it up, but I was still worried that I would run out of gas way too early.  Rather than stay behind the runner I caught, I just decided to pass him and take the lead when I finally closed the gap.  I figured with how bad I felt, I had nothing to lose by being aggressive.  If I was going to blow up before the end, my fate was sealed before I even walked up to the start line.  He stuck with me for a little while but was clearly struggling, and had been fading back to me since his hard early start.

Mile 5: 5:58

At this point I started to notice that I was not getting anymore tired than I already was and my legs were not getting any heavier.  Life still sucked, but things were not getting worse.  I kept telling myself to just keep the pace under 6 minutes per mile and take it a mile at a time.

Mile 6: 5:54

This was an out and back course and I knew we would be turning around soon.  It was roughly around here that the other runner with me started fading.  I knew I would most likely be running alone for the rest of the race.  My exhaustion level was still steady.  Mile 7 and the turnaround presented the only hill of the course.  It really was not all that impressive.  The downhill on the way out did not do a whole lot for me and the uphill was not taxing.  At least I got to see the lead runner who had a very sizable lead on me.  Third and Fourth place were still in my vicinity but I had a comfortable lead on them.

I missed the 7 mile mark, but came through mile 8 in 11:47, for roughly a 5:53 average.  At this point, I was starting to get used to how terrible I had felt for the whole race.  It had never gotten worse and my body finally just accepted it.  I could feel myself picking up the pace.  It also helped that I got to see the rest of the field.  The cheers were certainly helpful!  That is what makes out and back courses interesting.

Mile 9: 5:48

One of my fastest miles of the race.  It felt ok.  I still groaned at the thought of running another 4.1 miles but kept telling myself to just worry about the next mile.

Mile 10: 5:41

By now most of the pack had thinned out and I only had sparse crowd support at the water stops and such.  I never really "need" the extra support, I always consider it a bonus and it is for situations just like this.  I still had a 5K to go and crowd support or not, if I could hold on, I would get second overall and a PR.

Mile 11: 5:34

I missed the remaining mile markers.  They were shaped like rabbits, rather small, and sat low to the ground.  Though it was unique, it made them hard to see.  Of course, I was completely out of it mentally; I probably would have missed giant signs at eye level at that point.

As far as pace goes, I know I did not back down and finished hard.  Over the last 2.1, I ran a 12:01 for a 5:43 average.  I crossed the line in 1:16:13 and 2nd overall.  I was spent, my legs were sore, but I felt awesome.

My ankle and foot were fine and I just PRed by almost 2 minutes at the end of a 97 mile week.  I actually negative split the race because somehow, I got stronger as the race progressed.  I know the slow start is the reason why 1:15:40 slipped by, but I'll have more shots at that in the future on fresher legs.

For my efforts I received a rather nice plaque, and $50 straight cash.  This is the first race ever where I have received a cash prize.  If I got anything of monetary value before, it was always gift certificates.  The race cost $50, so I ended up breaking even.  Not too bad, 2 weeks in a row, two PRs, and two free races!

Now that I'm still alive, it's time to take the next 2-3 days easy.  Next week will still be a 90+ mile week, but I'm only racing a 5K (substantially less taxing than 10 milers and half marathons).  I may cut out a workout from this week and substitute easy miles.  I need to reward myself at least a little bit, I've kicked ass the past two weekends!  With this race out of the way, I can almost see Boston on the horizon.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

How many miles?!??! Monday 2/28-Saturday 3/5

AM: 5 miles, easy
PM: 8 miles, easy/moderate

I felt decent the day after my 10 miler.  The end of that second run was a bit tiring.  My left ankle was a little tender at the start of the 5 miler and throughout most of the day.  It was fine during the afternoon run.

AM: 7.5 easy
I was supposed to go for a ladder workout this afternoon but canned it and napped instead.  My ankle felt decent throughout the whole day so I decided to take my single run day today.  I still felt in "recovery mode" from the race.

AM: 6 miles easy
My ankle felt better than it had in about 2 weeks but my left hamstring was excessively tight for about 2 miles, gotta stretch more!
PM: 9.6 miles with 8xhill, 5 up and 3 down
No real ankle problems to report.  Hillwork tends to be continuous running with varied paces, not likely to cause aggravation.  I got out a little late for this one after eating a whole lot of sushi.  However, it sat well and I hit this workout strong despite stiff winds.  My hamstring was still tight at the beginning but loosened up very quickly.

AM: 5 miles, easy
PM: 6 miles, easy/moderate
No real ankle issues or hamstring issues to report.  I nailed the afternoon run and felt refreshed finally from that race.

AM: 4 miles, easy
PM: 9 miles total, Ladder workout: 400, 800, 1200, 1600, 1200, 800, 400...2 minutes rest between reps.

My ankle started flaring up a bit again in the morning and the pain seems to have settled in the bottom of my heel and arch area as well.  I really felt it during that speedwork.  The constant starting and stopping probably put extra strain on it.  It also didn't help that I started that run at 10:30 at night, but such is the life of an 80-90 mile a week runner with a full time job and long hours.

Despite the tender ankle, late start and slight fatigue, I was only maybe 1-3 seconds slower than what I was shooting for.  However, the paces felt right.

400: 75s
800: 2:39
1200: 3:57
1600: 5:20
1200: 4:01
800: 2:40
400: 77s

Overall, I held decently steady on the second half which is usually a goal of these workouts, come back in what you started out with.  The consistent 2 minutes rest between each was new, I would usually rest more between the longer reps, but figured that little tweak would make it more difficult.  It certainly forced me to actually run 5K pace on one of these workouts for a change!

I could really feel that ankle and foot running the cool down, enough to start to have concern.


21 miles, easy/moderate pace

This was just a 21 miler to get the miles in while still staying as fresh as possible for tomorrow's half marathon.  I didn't bother timing it and my pace varied depending on who I was running with.  I would feel the ankle for a few steps every time I started up from a stop, then it would fade away.  The pain in my foot migrated from my heel to my arch.  It was the worst in the early/middle part of the run and largely faded by the end.  It really just felt tight.

I think my problem is that I'm slightly compensating for my ankle especially for a few seconds when I start up from rest.  With all the starting and stopping from Friday, and the occasional stopping due to city traffic today, my arch just got really tight.  After stretching it a bit, it feels a lot better.

I need to do my best to stop compensating for that ankle especially since the pain just goes away after a few steps anyway.  Either that, or don't stop running once I start!  Having pain and stiffness when I first start up a run is nothing new, I'm just used to it being in my knees, quads, hamstrings, or calf muscles.  The ankle is a new experience.

Overall, it hurts less than it did last week, and that was on fewer miles.  With a higher load, it hurts less overall which means it is slowly getting better.  I'll keep an eye on it, but I see no reason currently to cut back.

Miles going into Sunday: 81.  This week will be a mileage PR after the B&A Half tomorrow.  With all this mileage, if I don't feel it in tomorrow's race, I won't run it all out.  I'll take whatever my body will allow.  However, if it happens to have 5:50 pace in it, I'll take it!