In the weeks and months leading up to this one, I wasn’t as hungry for sub-3 as I could have been. I didn’t put in the training necessary to execute it and found myself simply prioritizing other things. Still, I’d had a few encouraging runs before tapering, and a semi-dumb idea took hold starting about a week out from the race: that maybe I’d accumulated enough lifetime miles to get away with a little bullshitting in my training and still eke out sub-3.
Part of me knew this idea might be ludicrous. Part of me thought 3:10-3:15 might be a more reasonable estimation this time around. I hadn’t done enough work, didn’t have the benchmarks to know for sure…
Standing on the starting line, though, I knew unequivocally that if my first mile landed in the 6:40s, I was going to chase 2:59 and hang on for dear life until I couldn’t anymore. I don’t run marathons often enough to justify doing them “for fun” in the half-assed sense, so although my training hadn’t been indicative that this was a decent idea, I saw no harm in going for it. This was marathon number five for me, and I generally tend to play my races pretty safe, so it was a nice change to throw caution to the wind for a few hours. I knew there was a substantial chance I’d bonk hard and suffer through the second half of the race if I started with those 6:51s in mind, but at a certain point you have to say, “F*ck it, I’m taking a risk today.”
You all know the drill. I went out too fast, of course. I was averaging in the 6:40s until well through the half, and was on pace for sub-3 until mile 18 when my legs commenced with spasmodic cramps. It was eight-point-two miles of leg-buckling crampy not-sure-if-i-can-actually-finish agony from there. Not sure why, exactly – perhaps it was a combination of the warmer-than-usual temperatures and the product of having grossly overestimated my fitness for the first two-thirds of the race. In any event, I took that risk and didn’t run a particularly intelligent race. My half splits – 1:29 and 1:36, respectively – relay this fact effectively. Reflecting on the effort, I suspect that had I raced more thoughtfully, I might have PRd by a hair: perhaps somewhere in the high-3:01 to low-3:02 range. But where’s the fun in that? It would have been too close to three hours. It would have left too much room for What Ifs. I’m happy I didn’t play it safe.
Anyway, I clung on for sub-8:00s in the final miles and stumbled through to a respectable 3:05 finish, which I’m honestly thrilled with. The last hour was categorically miserable in the physical sense, but I was delighted to be out there shouldering the loneliness burden of the last 10K, working through it two minutes at a time, and savoring the leg cramps in a hate-my-life-right-now kind of way. At mile 24.5, I looked over into the crowd to give a feeble thank you wave to whoever was cheering my name… and saw that it was my parents, who completely surprised me by coming into town for the race! Naturally, I would have rather them seen me coast past, focused and impala-like, on pace for a 2:58 in lieu of the cramp-legged suffer-shuffle they witnessed, but it doesn’t matter because what struck me in that brief, hazy glance to the roadside was my mom’s full head of hair and how this time last year she was the one doing the real suffering, the chemotherapy, the bad kind of What Ifs, and this year there she was cheering next to my dad, the one who got me hooked on this running madness to begin with, and who taught me that sometimes in races you gamble, crash and burn, and you’re damn lucky to be out there regardless.
July has been a fun month for life and work, but rather piss-poor on the training front. Possibly my crappiest month of “marathon training” ever. It started out on an uninspired note with a bad race, continued with general fatigue that facilitated flagging motivation for early wakeups, and closed out with taking several days off to head off what might yet evolve into some kind of long-term hamstring problem. My right and left hamstrings have been trading off every couple of weeks in terms of which one decides to be the problem kid. The issue is exacerbated by running fast downhill, which I’ve been doing at the weekly Summer Series here (a trail route with some extreme uphills and downhills), so, not gonna do that anymore.
Self-diagnosis: It’s the same old lower back/SI joint misalignment and piriformis syndrome stuff. Self-Rx: A few days of rest, new shoes, tennis ball trigger point therapy, heat on the glutes and lower back, and a suite of core PT exercises I’ve put together for myself.
Right now I’m in a cautionary waiting-it-out-and-resting period. My mileage has been pretty spotty since January, but it’s still been high enough over the past two years that it’s not going to simply disappear if I have a few low-mileage weeks or months. And frankly, I don’t have a choice. If you are altering your gait for more than TWO DAYS in a row, if you are babying anything, if you can’t turn your legs over at your desired rate because something feels like it’s hitching up… you need to manage whatever it is as if it is a real injury – the type that lays you out for a month or more. Even if there’s no actual pain yet. That’s my mantra towards aches and pains, and though it causes me a lot of anxiety and the “you’re blowing it way out of proportion” mental-spiral-of-doom sometimes, it’s served me well so far.
After last week’s heat, the weather was incredible this week. Cooler, perfect, with a few crisp mornings that spurred my brain ahead to fall, leaves on the wind, sweatshirts, thermos filled with hot tea, the wet chill and the mist on the river, hard runs through the Wissahickon with my breath on the air. I was so ready to just CRUISE on my runs, start piling on the miles, fly, feel the fatigue flooding my legs when I fall into bed at night in glorious anticipation of getting out there again in the morning for more and more miles. And then, the adaptation period, the fight-back response of my legs as I get stronger and stronger — the feeling I had last year at this time.
I wanted all of that last week, but this little hamstring hitch kept holding me back, so I exercised a bit of self-control and avoided the temptation.
I want to be able to start my real marathon training on a fully healthy system so that I can train full throttle in September and October. Those are the months that matter. If that means base mileage loss now, okay. If there’s one thing I’m strong on, it’s base. I probably had too much last year. Maybe this low-key July is a blessing in disguise.
I haven’t been supplementing my lower-key weeks with anything else. A few half-hearted rowing sessions, a few half-assed body circuits. I don’t have the motivation to officially cross-train right now, which could mean I’m totally shooting myself in the foot, but I guess we’ll find out (personally, I file weeks like these under the “avoiding long-term hormonal damage” label and call them a victory).
Well, look what the cat dragged in after four months.
Here are the Sparknotes of my recent running adventures. In April, I set a 5K PR (18:43) on a really flat, fast course. Then in May, I ran the Broad Street 10-miler in 62:44 (6:16 pace), PRing at every distance from four miles and up along the way. Guess that’s what happens when you race a flat (shhhh, “net downhill”) course with no turns, ideal weather, and what was likely some variety of a tailwind. If you want to feel good about yourself as a runner, come run Broad Street. I’ve got a couch you can crash on.
Then summer happened and running has been not-so-good ever since, mostly because I’ve been working long hours in the field in New Hampshire and waking up around 3:45am in order to squeeze running in at all. I come home covered in ticks and mosquito bites, but the work itself is wonderful: I get to spend all day listening to birds, looking at plants, walking around in the woods, and playing with the data in GIS, all with some high-quality people at my side.
The really nice thing about having to fit in most of my mileage before sunrise in the summer is that it’s never too hot and I don’t have to fuss around with putting on sunscreen.
The cons are that waking up and finishing your run before sunrise in the summer is… rough. Because,
A. 3:45 am is an insultingly early time at which to wake up on a regular basis.
B. In the summer, NOTHING HIBERNATES. I scare up a bear or some other type of charismatic megafauna at least once a week, so I’ve been sticking to the same two stretches of road until it gets light enough to see, because due to crashes and sightings I’ve deemed all other accessible roads to be teeming with bears, moose, deer and skunks. Nothing on earth fills me with a greater primal sense of dread than hearing a crash in the dark woods, turning my head, and silently shrieking in horror as my headlamp illuminates a giant bear just bumpgalumping his way across the road. I’m fine with seeing bears or moose in the daylight when I’m on a more even ocular playing field, but not at dark-o-clock-4am when I’m trying to have a transcendent meditative running experience.
It’s tough to admit to myself that running has been hard this summer, because it’s usually something I find to be a joyful escape. I ran about 90 seconds slower than I expected to in a local 4-mile race. Although the reason is it was hot and I simply didn’t feel like running hard and consequently phoned it in for the last three miles, the result – a minute slower than last year’s – wasn’t exactly a self-esteem boost.
It’s all no matter, really. All I have to do right now is stay healthy and maintain a base. The big work starts in September. My only true goals right now are to keep on running high-ish mileage, keep my hamstrings from rebelling, and avoid getting Lyme disease, the last of which may be a challenge since I’ve pulled off at least eight embedded ticks since summer started, along with countless crawlers. The ticks are terrifying. I pull off my field clothes and wash them at least twice a week, and even on days that they’re washed and I hang them up to dry on the shower curtain, I’ll see 1-2 ticks that have crawled out of the seams and are waiting patiently on the white walls of the bathroom, slowly waving their shudder-inducing tick arms at me in hopes that I will graze by them and provide their next blood meals. Down the toilet you go, you creepy little assholes.
But here’s the real stuff. I’m signed up for the Philadelphia Marathon again this fall, and I want 2:59. I want 6:50s, 6:51s. I need to keep grinding through and putting in the miles. They’re going to be slow, because hey, most of the time when I start my watch, it’s somewhere between 3:49 and 3:57 AM, and I barely feel like a human being. It’s hard. I desperately want to find some joy in these early, early, early runs, and some days are better than others (especially the days that it isn’t raining. Is it just me, or has it been basically flooding all summer on the east coast?)
BUT. There is light at the end of the tunnel (LITERALLY!). Bird breeding season is dwindling down to a trickle, and just this week we finished our last point counts of the season, which means work won’t start until 7am most days from now on. I am so excited to sleep in until almost 5. It’s going to be incredible.
On Cutback Weeks. I have this idea that a cutback week for the type of mileage I do (75-85ish range) would land me somewhere around 60 miles. However, due to some kind of perception-based mental witchcraft, 60 miles doesn’t seem like a cutback to me. I’m still running about the same number of times, and I’m still running usually over an hour every time. That’s… not much of a break for my brain.
I bring this up because I’m racing the Broad Street Run this May, and figured this past week would be a good opportunity to relax. As it happens, I’ve been getting raging headaches almost every afternoon starting about ten days ago, so it was easy to make good on my plan. I took two days off entirely and just ran about 45-50 minutes easy on every other day with the exception of today (which ended up involving a glut of mileage due to multiple race warmups and cooldowns since I was freezing and got to the race earlier than I needed to). I liked taking the days off and I liked running only six miles at a time this week, so if I take a purposeful cutback in the future, I’ll probably do something more like this — the mental “refresh” button of 30-40 feels so much better than 50-60 would have felt.
10K #1. To review: After the Philly Marathon, I ended up being a sloth for about six weeks this November and December. I hardly bothered with cross training while I was injured. I relaxed, slept in, rested, went for leisurely walks, and didn’t worry too much about taking an extended break. I was post-marathon PR and thick into the winter weather and the holidays — there was absolutely no better point during the year at which to be injured. I still can’t believe my luck at the timing.
Before my mini injury-induced hiatus, I imagined that I might PR at one of these 10Ks. However, I took it pretty easy coming back from the injury and, despite having about six weeks of training under my belt, simply didn’t feel hungry enough for a PR to do any meaningful speed work or 10K-specific training. As a result, my expectations weren’t particularly high for either race.
The first race was the Northeast Road Runners Winter 10K at the beginning of March. It’s flat and fast and I would have PRed here if I had been a bit more focused, but I came through the half at a pace slower than a PR, figured it was out the window, and got semi-lazy and complacent. Bearing down on the finish line clock, I realized I had a chance to squeak under 39:00, but my kick wasn’t enough and I crossed the line in about 39:03 to match my current PR. I stopped my watch a second or so across the line in 39:04. Unfortunately, the results were wrong on the website and I’m listed somewhere around 39:16, so I guess I’ll never know what my time was and it doesn’t really matter to me because it definitely didn’t start with a 38:xx.
PS. This race was excellent. It was small, old school, and reminded me of being back in Juneau. There were about 230 participants. Chip timing? Hahaha, no. You got a cotton race t-shirt and bananas and water at the finish line. No extras or marketing ploys or gimmicks. I appreciate that.
10K #2. The second 10K was a fundraiser for colon cancer research, and it took place this morning. The course seemed fairly fast except for one long downhill in the second mile and a giant uphill in the fifth mile. I came through 5K at about 19:15 (pretty quick for me) but knew the hill would slow me down. The race was a combination 5K and 10K, and we linked back up with the 5K in the last 3/4 mile. I did the old frogger-zigzag-dodge-sidewalk-leap dance for about 1/2 mile around the 5Kers and felt pretty good about it until I STREAMROLLED A CHILD who unexpectedly leaped to the side and began to walk. Nothing is more horrifying in the middle of a race than running over a kid. I honestly would rather have pooped my pants or had a wardrobe malfunction. I stopped to check on him and make sure he was okay. He was perhaps 11 or 12 and very polite, and he apologized profusely to me which made me feel even worse about it. There is no excuse for running over a kid at a FUNDRAISER RACE. Maybe if it were the Olympic 10K final this would have been understandable. In any case, I still feel like an idiot and wish my reaction time had been better.
Where were we? Right, almost done. So, I trundled my child-steamrolling self across the line in about 39:34, a fair ways off my PR, but my body felt good and I didn’t feel like I was redlining or working too hard, just regular hard. Aerobically, I’m in decent shape, but I have a lot of work to do in terms of gaining speed, increasing my turnover, and getting my legs to catch up with my lungs and heart.
The cool part is that I was the first female in both of these races, and even though the fields weren’t particularly large or competitive, wins are fun. In any case, on to training for Broad Street, I suppose. Today’s zig-zagging and sidewalk-leaping might have been a helpful tune-up for the field size at that race. I’m hoping to land somewhere in the 65:00 range (6:30 pace, maybe?), but I don’t know what the course is like, so I might have to adjust that goal.
Winter insomnia. It’s happened to me in varying degrees every year of my adult life, these Januaries and Februaries littered with sleepless nights. Perhaps it’s a merely coincidence that at this time of year, the most trivial of life’s puzzles see fit to mystify me in the middle of the night, or perhaps, as I suspect, this phenomenon is some manifestation of seasonal affect disorder. Either way, starting sometime in January the sleeplessness begins, and by February, the prospect of attempting to sleep fills me with a languid sort of dread.
It started this week, and it happens like this: I’ll finally drift in and out of sleep starting around 2 am, have a few fitful dreams about things that make no sense, and then it will be 3:44 am and that’s very nearly not an unreasonable time to be awake, so I give in, give up, get up.
An abandoned sleep plies me with the gift of an everlasting morning, so this occasional insomnia is no terrible thing.
I make myself a leisurely pot of tea, lounge about, read, and suddenly I don’t feel like reading and drinking tea anymore and it’s still only 4:30 which is as good a time as any for a run and finally, finally, finally — this morning (Tuesday), after several weeks of uninspired slogs with achy knees, finally, running feels normal again.
It’s me and the ice and the streets of Philadelphia and the river path and the wistful whispered wish of wind against my throat. I can tuck the entire run in under cover of darkness, and I revel in this breeze blowing bitterly down the Schuylkill, and I think about the afterward, how once I finish this run, I can take my sweet time stretching and showering and making breakfast before work, and the whole day is fat with potential and stretched out cold before me.
Later on, the sky will be that thin wintered blue and the cars will all be out and I’ll have work and reading and class and interactions with other humans, and some will be the obnoxious ones I envy so much, the confident people who underestimate me, the ones who think they run the world. But here at 4:30 in the morning, it’s me who runs the world, me and a few fellow spandex-clad breath-chasers appreciating the icy inky prelude to a 13*F sunrise, the ones who won the fight against The First Ten Seconds of Waking Up, the ten seconds of that washing, sloshing, headsickness as the pillow pleads desperately with your head not to leave it.
Today, at least, we’re out here. And ice and wind and dark be damned, once we’re out here, there’s nowhere else we’d rather be.
I’ve been hesitant to write this post due to the possibility of self-jinxing, but it’s time to happily admit that I’ve strung together several days of pain-free running. I lucked out with the timing of this injury, because I’ve been visiting family over the holidays and my aunt happens to be a chiropractor. Not only that, she’s a runner and understands the desire to run high mileage, so I’ve been fortunate to have both wise counsel and a number of chiropractic adjustments in the past ten days.
Here’s what she found:
1. Prior to adjustment, my left leg was functionally two centimeters longer than my right leg, and
2. My left piriformis was “in spasm.”
Fascinating! Well, maybe not to you, but this is my narcissistic corner of the internet, so it’s fascinating to me. And it’s leading me to think about a few things:
- My crumpling butt a few weeks prior to the Juneau Marathon. It happened exclusively on the left side.
- The tendinitis under my fifth metatarsal before and after the Louisiana Marathon: left side.
- The biceps femoris issue in the months leading up to Philly, more or less magically cured by falling down a riverbank and cracking my back: left side.
- The current knee issue, hopefully resolved by chiropractic: left side.
DETECTIVES, DO WE SENSE A PATTERN?! Might this all be related to the functional leg-length discrepancy I tend to slip into over time? I’ve known for years about my finicky hips and SI joints, but news of my continued functional discrepancy was illuminating. I’m aware that many people associate chiropractic with quackery, but I’ve had good experiences, and it’s difficult for me not to suspect that almost every overuse ache I’ve had in my adult running life has been related to some kind of temporary misalignment that ended up stressing some tendon/muscle or another. (Of course, there’s often more to it than that, and I’m no kind of doctor…)
I gave up on the NSAIDs a few days before I was supposed to be done with them. I’d finally gone for a tentative run after several days on the drugs to give them time to take down the inflammation, but my knee started hurting after thirty minutes (yeah, maybe I pushed it a little too far). Post-run, it hurt worse than ever, so my conclusion was “f you, naproxen” and the only way I will use this bottle of pills in the future is if I require an impromptu maraca.
I’ve been getting adjusted, doing trigger point therapy on my butt, foam rolling, and getting in lots of piriformis and hip flexor stretching, along with yoga (…yup, yeah). All the things I willfully neglect when I’m not injured. I have no evidence that the yoga is helping, but I don’t feel like turning this into a scientific research experiment so I’m going to assume that it is and keep it on for preventative measure.
I’ll head back to school in a few days and see how long I can make it without adjustments. That seems to be one common complaint runners have with chiropractic: the idea that it’s only a temporary fix because you have to keep getting adjusted. I’m going to call the hip/core-based yoga and stretching my physical therapy and hope that it helps me hold proper alignments so that my knee continues to play nice.
Something else I’ve noticed — and this was the case for both my knee pain and the biceps femoris pain — is that when an “overuse” ache pops up, it seems to be correlated with me not being able to get my lower back to crack during this stretch:
Having known for a while about my sticky SI joints, I’ve gotten into the habit over the past few years of doing this hip/glute stretch with the goal of feeling a few nice little pops in my lower back as I swing my leg over to the opposite side. If I get to a point soon where I can’t get things to pop, I’ll take it as a red flag that it may be time to see a chiropractor again.*
*I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT. But I’m going to file this away in my mental injury-prevention catalog anyway and use it as an indicator.
The actual running.
I’m slow and out of shape, but I’m grateful to be out there and my fitness will come back soon enough. There’s a 10K I have my eye on in March, and if I’m not in shape to run well by then, too bad.
Okay. Hitting publish on this and crossing my fingers that the universe won’t punish me for prematurely assuming I’m mostly healed.
So, the knee pain. It’s still here. And I’m still completely stymied by how quickly it emerged. This noise sneaked in out of nowhere over the course of a half-mile stretch on ONE run, after two weeks of time completely off and low-intensity running. I was innocuously jogging along doing nothing out of the ordinary. WTF, knee. I just don’t get you. WHY COULDN’T WE HAVE TALKED ABOUT THIS BEFORE THINGS GOT BEYOND REPAIR?!
I saw the campus sports medicine people a few days ago, and the doctor diagnosed this as some kind of quad strain along with pes anserine bursitis. I’m not too worried about the bursitis. The pain I feel is mostly that “quad”(?) pain at the insertion point alongside the medial kneecap.
I’ve become so used to my injuries magically evaporating overnight that I’m really, REALLY ready for this to go away now. I have essentially taken two full weeks off from any notable form of cardiovascular exercise since the day this pain popped up, and, if we get down to it, I haven’t been very active at all since the Philly marathon.
I do have a rowing machine and have used it a couple times, but, man, I forgot how mentally tough I have to be to make it through any kind of meaningful session on that thing. Lately, every time I thought about taking it down and slaving away inside on it I just… didn’t want to. So I didn’t.
This past month has seen my lowest physical activity since maybe high school. I don’t feel like too much of a slug yet because I usually walk around a lot, and because it was good timing for a rest anyway… but I’m kind of over this “feel-like-half-a-person” and “the-days-don’t-seem-as-wonderful” thing at this point. I want to get moving and sweating again, and I want it to be in the form of running (wouldn’t say no to XC skiing either). I don’t want to be inside. Any motivation I may once have had to tough it out through indoor cross training is entirely absent.
I’ve been doing some really low-intensity body circuits focusing on core work, but yeah, other than that and walking, zilch. I keep convincing myself I’ll be able to run soon, and therefore this is fine.
The doctor said that if I was still in pain after school break, I should come back and we’ll get started on some real physical therapy and maybe a cortisone shot. I mean, after school break? That’s not until January. I really have no plans to be injured until damn-ass January. Unfortunately, I’ve tried a few runs and they usually hurt too much by the ~20 minute mark to warrant continuing on. The thing is, the runs start out feeling completely fine and don’t start hurting until about 10-15 minutes in. Not really sure what that means. I suspect, as with any ache I’ve had in recent years, that this problem stems from some kind of weakness or misalignment in my hips.
I expected to be back to running by now and I’m getting frustrated by the apparent lack of improvement. I also wonder if maybe this pain isn’t as bad as I think it is — maybe I can run through it? If I were training for something, I know I would have pushed this a lot further than I am right now.
Anyway, I guess I just have stretches and exercises to do, and a week’s worth of Naproxen. I’ve never used NSAIDs for an injury before, but I’m already at the point where I’ll try anything so I’m dutifully popping them every 12 hours. To be honest, I wonder if this might do more harm than good — it’s treating a symptom instead of the cause; maybe it’s masking pain that I should be heeding. I was also a little turned off by the immediate suggestion of doing a cortisone shot. Seriously? Again, at the risk of showing off how uninformed I am, what the hell is that going to do to treat the root of the problem? I guess I just feel as if this entire pain was exposed by some combination of weaknesses, imbalances, and misalignments, and I’d be best served to make sure I’m addressing those. Anybody with cortisone shot experience, feel free to share your thoughts.
Yeah, not super thrilled about this. I mean, walking is nice too and I’m glad for the option… it’s just not running…