I’ve seen this sort of thing before

It’s the last month or so before my goal race and, as typically happens, a host of physical issues are suddenly emerging on the horizon like thunderclouds only to recede just as quickly and mysteriously, having spared me from a soaking, or worse, a lightning strike.

Where have I seen this before? Oh, right. During every single previous training season. Looking over my logs of the past few years (you do keep detailed logs, don’t you?), I see that this is something that happens like clockwork in the 4-6 weeks prior to each marathon.

In the spring of 2007, it was chronic shinsplints. In the spring of 2008 it was a torn fascia in my right calf. In the fall of 2008 it was a general malaise that I couldn’t shake for days at a time, almost as if I was on the verge of getting the flu. In the spring of 2009 it was a twofer: a cyst on one of my left foot’s ligaments accompanied by a mysterious pain in my right quads that migrated from quad muscle to quad muscle for a few weeks. (Ironically, the iron/vitamin deficiency and/or overtraining — which eventually did me in — was the one thing I wasn’t accutely aware of.)

This time around is no different, although I’ve learned not to be completely freaked out by each new complaint. Two weeks ago, it was a hamstring pull. Yesterday, it was some sort of odd, painful ligament or tendon issue on the top of my left foot.

I dutifully take my anti-inflammatories, ice and massage the sucker, and hope for the best. If something persists, I go to the orthopedist, who at this point can probably set his watch by my twice-yearly appearances. After a completely unnecessary, “defensive medicine” x-ray, I usually leave with a good dose of cortisone surging through the area in question and a “good luck” on my next race. Did I see him rolling his eyes too?

I’m like a car that starts to belch black smoke from beneath its hood at the tail end of a drive through Death Valley in July. As long as I can make it to Sacramento on December 6 with my radiator, suspension and transmission intact, I’ll be happy.

Fall Training: Week 9

09fall-training-09
This was by far one of my most enjoyable weeks of running in recent memory. I may not be as speedy as I’d like at this point, but I am becoming a stronger runner by the day, or so it seems. Even training with a dodgy hamstring, which was more a slightly worrying nuisance than a hindrance, I felt great this week.

By “stronger” I mean that I am evolving into even more of an endurance machine than I usually am. I can run seemingly forever at a moderate effort, and tacking on high effort miles has been almost easy. I’m also not exhausted after any particular workout or at the end of the week.

I’m not sure how you quantify training progress outside of racing times, but this week of training has me feeling that after two+ years of consistently running high mileage, I’ve finally adjusted to its demands. Almost as if I really do now have a “base” upon which to build further, as opposed to a base that I am working to build.

The highlights for the week, aside from running 95 miles without issue, were Wednesday’s tempo run, Friday’s speedwork, and a monster run in Central Park this morning. Tuesday was no slouch either, with 15 miles at a decent pace for 70% effort.

The tempo run was an experiment in hamstring healing. My ailing leg felt okay, so I decided to try running as far on the track going counterclockwise as I could. That turned out to be 3.5 of the 5 faster miles before the hamstring started to tighten up. So I finished up going the “wrong way” and, aside from the slower, cautious first mile, chalked the run up as a success, given the decent paces.

Another thing about that run: I realized while running my warmup miles on the way to the track that I no longer dread tempo runs beforehand or suffer through them. If anything, they’ve become too easy and I have felt in the past few weeks that the faster blocks are too short. I have said as much to Coach Kevin and he concurs that they are becoming easy for me. So we may schedule longer tempo blocks for the spring cycle.

Friday’s speedwork was worrisome insofar as I didn’t want to screw up my leg and compromise the Sunday run. Still, I was feeling brave, so I decided to once again run in the proper direction on the track and see what the leg would do. It held up well, possibly owing to the fact that I had trouble working up to 92% effort due to fatigue. Still, I’m happy with the splits, considering most of them were run at 91% effort.

I should also note that I only had two days of doubles this week, which is not bad for a 95 mile week. I have observed that I am overall less fatigued in the weeks that I only have one or two days of doubles compared to those in which I have three or four. I don’t know whether it’s a function of age or just my own particular physiology, but I suspect I need 24 hours between runs to recover properly. Fortunately for me, I like running long.

Friday evening and yesterday morning, my legs were completely trashed. Not just my legs, but ankles and feet as well. My confidence in being recovered in time for this morning was shaky, but I’ve learned that miracles can happen overnight.

As it turned out, today’s run was, again, no big deal. I’ve decided to do my final long runs in Central Park so I can get the benefit of the hills there. The California International Marathon course is by no means as hilly as Central Park is, but it does feature a net downhill drop. I’d like to avoid another thigh shredding exercise if I can.

I ran three full loops of the park starting at 72nd St on the west side, along with a 1.5 out and back north, turning around at the 102nd St transverse. Holding effort between 76-79% was easy and I felt energetic enough to run the last mile at 86% just for the hell of it. That got me a 7:26 mile over hills on extremely tired legs. I’ll take it.

A random test

I just hooked this blog to something called NetworkedBlogs on Facebook. This post is a pointless waste of bytes, meant only to confirm that that hook-in is working.

See? I wasted at least 20 seconds of your life just now. You’ll never get those back.

Fall Training: Week 8

09fall-training-08This week was a planned recovery week, although it featured exceptionally low mileage due to lingering issues with my hamstring. Interestingly, after watching Paula Radcliffe drop off to fourth place due to a hamstring problem in today’s New York Marathon, I can understand how that happens. It’s possible to run with a problem hamstring, but not as fast as you’d like to. I learned all about this on Friday.

I took Monday off because the hamstring bothered me running. Instead, I took a walk to get the blood flowing to it, then spent some time massaging it to try to head off any scar tissue buildup. On Tuesday I did a little test run in the morning, in which the leg showed improvement, although things were still iffy, so I did another walk in the evening rather than a run.

Wednesday was a turning point, as the leg no longer hurt while walking and I had a lot of range of motion back. It could also tolerate being rolled along the foam roller and massaged fairly aggressively.

I pushed things a bit further on Thursday, with a slightly faster run and an experimental stride at 7:15 pace. There was still some stiffness present, but no pain at that speed. Again, to give it 24 hours rest for the big test on Friday, I cross-trained, this time on the stationary bike.

Friday was the day of reckoning: Could I run fast on the bum leg? The answer turned out to be: well, sort of. But only in a certain direction. I ran to the track and all was well on the way there. Then I started into the tempo work and within half a mile of trying to run fast the leg stiffness evolved into pain. And, like Paula, I couldn’t run fast. The first mile was a disappointing 7:47, owing to my inability to extend my stride with my right leg.

I have no idea why this occured to me, but I thought about the fact that I couldn’t extend my right leg properly and realized that every time I hit a curve on the track I was forcing my right leg to extend further out than my left leg was extending. So, much to the confusion and annoyance of others on the track, I reversed direction for the next three miles and got much better results. At least I was considerate enough to take the extreme outside lane (there’s one guy there sometimes who runs “the wrong way” in the middle lanes and it’s confusing — and probably dangerous — on a track crowded with people).

So I’m not sure whether to call Friday a success or not. I could run fast, but only clockwise on a track. Is that good? Or just necessary for the time being?

For obvious reasons I skipped strides and any speedwork this week. Yesterday was very easy, with another experimental 30 second surge down to 6:40 pace. That speed had my hamstring not so much hurting as tapping me insistently on the shoulder, as if to say, “Uh, what are you doing?”

Fortunately, I knew I wouldn’t get anywhere near 6:40 pace on today’s run (boy was I right about that, as my speed sucked today). But the run today was about endurance and, without making too many excuses, I could still feel Friday’s effort in my legs in addition to having to fight a steady headwind for most of the miles.

I still consider it a successful workout, though. I easily maintained 77-78% effort for 12 miles and then had no problem stepping it up to 88-89% for the last five. I also wasn’t trashed by the workout — no need for naps or other forms of collapse. I credit that more to the lower mileage this week than I do to some leap in fitness.

Toward the end of the run I had matching fatigue and complaints in both hamstrings, which offered some comfort. Although now, six hours later, the right one is definitely complaining slightly more than the left. I have trained injured before, the latest example being the 10 weeks I trained with a mild groin pull, which I suffered on a cold and slippery half marathon in Central Park in January. That was probably worse than what I’m experiencing now (can you hear me rationalizing this away?). But it’s always unnerving to have in the back of my mind, every time I put on my running shoes, the knowledge that something’s not quite right. Kind of like living with faulty wiring and wondering if your house is going to go up in flames at any moment.

Marathon day reprise

In honor of the throngs running the New York Marathon this morning, I offer up a couple of past posts.

Last year I went out and watched the elites fly by (or not) at mile 20 in the Bronx. Then, in April, I followed a couple of runners as they took on the hills of Boston using an “athlete tracker.” I won’t be watching the marathon from the curb this year, as I’ll be out doing my own training run.

And even though I should be back, watching live coverage by about 10AM, I won’t track runners I know, as it’s just too anxiety-provoking.

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