A year ago…

A blogger I follow had a short post up last night that was a look back through key times in her running life. Unfortunately, the post has disappeared. Maybe I’m not the only one who “Ambien posts.”

I like the idea, though. So here’s my walk backward along my blog’s November garden stones:

A year ago, I was injured with a tendon problem on my foot. This was three weeks before the California International Marathon. That would turn out to be a dreadful race, one that made me rethink everything.

Two years ago,  I hired my first coach. I was still on a post-race high from running 3:19 at Steamtown. I also had a cold.

Three years ago, I won my first age group award. This race was the culmination of many months of base training as I prepared to do my first proper marathon training cycle for a spring 2008 race (the More Marathon, in which I would easily qualify for Boston).

Four year ago, I was racing lots of local Turkey Trots. My race pace for a flat 5 miler was about 8:00. This blog was about six months old at that time. I was still fat and slow. But I was determined to improve. Four years on, I still am.

Epiphany? Or a big steaming pile of obvious?

Today I was thinking about the cross-training session I did yesterday. It was two hours in the pool at a steady effort equal to a general aerobic run (75-82%), but with a very tough 20 minutes of short intervals/short recoveries toward the end. At the 45 minute mark I seriously flagged in energy and attitude. I thought, “I don’t know if I can keep up this effort for another 1:15.”

Around that time Coach Sandra appeared, quite unexpectedly, and, as she often does, cheerfully suggested that I make things harder. In this case, by throwing in 20 minutes of very hard running. I couldn’t say no without looking like a slouch. So I did the intervals when she said to do them, even though she was on her way out when it was time to start. Still, I did them as if she was there. Meaning I did them as hard as I could. Somewhere, I found the physical energy to do them. But, perhaps more surprisingly, I found the mental will to do them too.

Therein lies the epiphany that took me about 30 hours to have. The cross-training sessions are hard. I tend to come away with them focused on how hard they are physically. Yesterday, even as I rested on a bench afterwards — patiently waiting for my heart to stop going “Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang!” — I felt the mental effort. Not just the mental effort required for that particular session. No, it’s the cumulative nature of cross-training that hit me. Unlike running outside, there is no sensual pleasure in cross-training in the gym. I bear with it by telling myself this is an investment that will pay off. But it’s like throwing money in the bank rather than frittering it away on fun stuff from day to day. It’s hard to do. But it adds up over time and you’ve got something you can use. You skipped the new shoes and now…now you can go to Switzerland for two weeks.

This is a sloppy post. Here’s my point: all this cross-training isn’t really physical training. It is. But that’s incidental. This is, at its core, mental training. It’s the best mental training I’ve done. I have had to find my own gratification in this work, to have faith and to maintain my optimism; otherwise it’s all just suffering. But, mostly, the fact that I can do this day after day, indefinitely, is proving to me that I care a whole lot about becoming a better runner.

A few minutes with Shannon Rowbury

Shannon Rowbury, 26, is one of the better known American middle distancers. You’ll mostly see her running the 1500 (where she placed 7th in the 2008 Beijing Olympics) or the mile; although she’s done well at the 3000 (winning the National Indoor Championships at that distance in 2008) and 5000 distances too, as well as the 800. Personal records of note include: 2:00.47 for the 800, 4:00.33 for the 1500 and 4:20.34 for the mile. I hired my former coach, Kevin Beck, partially on the basis of a 2008 Running Times article he wrote about Rowbury (and her then teammates Erin Donohue and Shalane Flanagan). I figured anyone who could connect that well with his article subjects and write as intelligently as he did about them and about running would probably be a good person to work with as a coach too. Kevin has described Rowbury as a “sweetheart” — and she is. I enjoyed talking with her about her running and other things — and even received the bonus of getting some injury advice from a real, live Olympian.

On your blog, maybe about a year and a half ago, you had a couple of posts — they were kind of poignant — about the difficulty of adhering to drug testing requirements? Has anything improved since then?
After I’d made those posts, and there was some talk about that problem, the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) came out with a list of “suggested” supplements. There’s still a lot of work to do. They still say to use things at your own discretion. But they said, “These are some things that are a little bit more…”

It was crazy, because they were saying “You can use this kind of Midol, but you can’t use that kind”…
Exactly. I felt, and I still feel, that it’s so naive to say, “Just don’t use anything. Don’t take any vitamins. We can’t guarantee that any of them are good. You can get everything from your food.” I wish that were true. There have been times when I’ve tried to do that. But when you’re training five or six hours a day, when you’re trying to get a workout every other day — you’re asking your body to do these things that are somewhat unhuman, and then expecting that you can eat a good sized salad to get all the vitamins that you need. It’s just not practical.

Would you ever want to get involved in influencing the drug testing policies to make them a little more doable for runners?
My goal when I finish running is I’d love to be involved with the sport in another capacity. Taking what I’ve learned and taking my experiences and trying to help future athletes to have better opportunities and a better situation. Because I think it’s so important for the athletes who’ve lived through it to then go on to share their experiences and help shape the direction that the sports heads in. So I’m hopeful.

You’re kind of already involved now in that way with the Bay Area Track Club. What are you practically contributing to that club?
For the club right now I’m involved with David Torrence, Magdalena Lewy-Boulet, Bolota Asmerom, Tony Kauke and Crosby Freeman. We’re the founder’s committee, if you will. So we meet to talk about what we want to do with the BATC and what direction we want to head in. For me, specifically, I manage the blog that we have for the website. We’ve also got a cross country race that we’re putting on. So I’ll get on different committees we create to try and help with specific projects. But across the board the six of us are just doing whatever we need to do to make things happen. We’ve been around for a little bit more than a year now, but all of us are still working for free because we’re passionate [about it]. So if something needs to be done, it’s like, “Okay! I’ve got the time! I’ll do it!”

Do you ever get sick of wearing the same Nike racing kit? Are you ever tempted to “customize” it?
[Laughs] You know, I don’t get sick of wearing the same thing. I’m a product of the “uniform system” growing up, from elementary school, and I kind of liked the consistency. “This is what I wear.” But I do wish — and I have shared this with some other friends — I think it would be really cool if the Nike athletes could ID their uniforms. Because in, like, the women’s 1500, in a field of 20 athletes, 15 will be wearing the same exact uniform.

Right. Sometimes you can’t actually pick out the individual athletes.
Yeah. Nike already has the Nike ID set up for shoes. I wish they would have, maybe, a small color scheme of, say, five colors that are allowed and then let each athlete go in and ID their uniform the way that they wanted. That would be cool. And then I’d wear that all the time.

This one is from my friend Joe: Have you ever finished a workout and thought, “I should really go back to stepdancing.”?
[Laughs] Sometimes I do think that after some of those monotonous, really boring workouts. I think, “It would be so fun to be dancing again.” You get to learn a routine and have music, and it’s so energetic and lively. So there are times when I miss that creative aspect. But not so much from workouts where I’ve been so trashed that I didn’t want to run anymore. Usually after that I just go home and melt into my bed.

You struggled with injury a few years ago. What were the details of that?
I was diagnosed in April of 2007 with a stress fracture in my left femoral neck.

Hmm. What were your symptoms?
It first started with tightness on the side of my hip. Then it went back into the glute. Then, with that kind of injury, you’ll feel it in your groin, kind of in your adductor.

That’s what I have…
Uh, oh.

I have an injury and I’m convinced that’s what it is. It’s been seven weeks, so I think it’s healing.
I would suggest getting some really good massages and chiropractic work — when I was diagnosed I started getting that twice a week, every week, for, like, three months. In order for me to even get that injury in the first place, all my muscles had just gotten so knotted up and were misfiring. So one of the biggest things for me was getting everything back in alignment so that, once I was healed, I wouldn’t have that same bad pattern.

How long were you unable to run?
After six weeks I started running on an Alter-G treadmill. It was about three months until I ran on the ground.

Did you do any other cross-training during that time?
Yes. I first did swimming, then biking and then elliptical/Alter-G — my doctor kind of saw them as synonymous. That was mainly it. Primarily either bike workouts or Alter-G.

Did you do speedwork equivalents when you were doing elliptical or just steady paces?
I did do workouts. The pool, not so much — it’s more for recovery, like jogging. For the bike, I would do interval workouts there that were harder than some of my running workouts. And then on Alter-G I would do uptempo stuff. The highest intensity work was on the bike, just because there wasn’t the impact or the danger of reinjury.

Did you have trouble accepting the injury mentally?
It was weird, because I’d had a period from late February into March where I was injured and unable to run “right,” but was being told by my trainer that it was just tendonitis or something. So I should be able to run, but I couldn’t. So once I was diagnosed it was actually a relief. “Okay, I’m not crazy. I’m not a wimp.” So once I had that diagnosis and a plan of attack, I was so focused on getting healthy. It never crossed my mind that I wouldn’t be running again, that I wouldn’t be back by the fall, training. So I just powered forward — cautiously — but kept making progress in small steps.

Did you feel that you lost any fitness, or did the cross-training help you maintain — or even gain — fitness?
It was one of the best things that could have ever happened to me. It was extremely hard emotionally. But it gave me a separation from college. It pushed me towards my new coach. It forced me to sit down and study where my weaknesses were biomechanically and across the board — and really fix all of those problems. It really set the foundation from which I could move forward in my professional career. Maybe I lost a little bit of fitness base from not running for that many months. But I think I gained general strength that I’d never had before.

A lot of the European races this year were ridiculously crowded.
Yes.

I’m curious to know how you deal mentally and strategically with a race of, say, 20 people vs. something more manageable in size.
It is a little bit frustrating. It’s crazy, the difference that even three extra athletes can make. That being said, I have no control over the entries in a race, so when it is a really packed field, I just try and do my best to get out, get into a good position, and just be very aware of what’s going on. I fell once at Worlds last year, which was more of a trip than a stumble. I think my dancing background helps me stay on me feet. I try to just defend my space and get myself into a good, clear position. Also, I think it’s important to be relaxed when you’re in these big crowds. Because if you start getting frantic, then that’s when falls happen, that’s when you get into trouble. So I usually just try to “go to a Zen space” or something [Laughs].

It seems like a lot can go wrong very quickly at those speeds.
There were falls in multiple races this year. It definitely was not a clean season. It was frustrating with the 1500. I would always get so jealous of the men’s races because they would have David Krummenacker perfectly pacing every single 1500 that was raced. [In our races] every single rabbit would go out in 61 and then run 66 for the second lap or something. So, it was kind of challenging for that race to have a good one. But it’s good practice, because the Championship races are always tactical, so getting better and better at that [is important]. And you can really only get good at that through practice.

And they’re rough races sometimes.
Yeah, they’re also good practice for that. I try to, in general, be a nice, friendly person. But the more I get into these tactical races, the more I can get good at just defending my space. Not being a jerk, not being aggressive just to be aggressive — but learning how to keep other people from taking advantage of me. As I’ve gotten more adjusted to it, I think I’ve developed more confidence in myself to not let other people push you around, like when they try to guide you or take over your space. Usually you can see ahead of time if it looks like someone’s going to impede your space, and you can just tap them or make a little noise to let them know that you’re there. But it’s about protecting the little space that you’re in.

Have agents complained to the organizers about the size of the fields?
I think a lot of the field sizes come as a result of the agents. A lot of the agents are pushing to get a dollar or two out of having one or two more of their athletes in a race. They’re hoping to get something from the prize purse. So there’s still some work to be done to figure out how to make these races a little bit more fair in size.

How do you get yourself through really tough workouts?
I remember a workout in Mexico — a tempo run at altitude in the hot sun — where I was making a deal with myself in my own head as I was finishing the workout and feeling exhausted. “Okay, body, just get through this and I will give you a great lunch afterwards, we’ll take an ice bath…” Bizarre, neurotic deals you make with yourself.

It sounds like, from a professional standpoint, you want to stay involved in running once you finish your competitive career.
When I studied film I was really interested in the production aspect of things. Had I not gone into running I think I would have done further schooling to try and get an MFA to work in film production. But because film and running are mutually exclusive, that’s kind of taken a backseat. But I enjoy multimedia and media — and being a distance runner, you’re kind of Type A — I enjoy being involved in a project from many angles. And so I think when I finish with competition [I'd like to] be involved in some sort of role of helping to promote the sport and getting to have a hand in many things.

Do you see yourself as a “behind the scenes” person or someone who’s out front, like a spokesperson?
I could see myself doing either or both. I like the behind the scenes, organization, making things happen [role]. But I also really enjoy getting out and getting to talk to people and hearing from them. That interaction is really important. So ideally I’d get to do a little bit of both.

I know last night you co-hosted a fundraising event by the Young Professionals to raise money for the youth programs that NYRR runs.
It’s a group in their late-twenties to mid-thirties. It was so cool to walk into a fundraising event and see a crowd that was so young — see my peers already starting to “give back.” I think that’s really important and it was really neat to see that.

You seem like a fairly outgoing person. Are you comfortable playing that role? The public aspect of competitive running is something that you wouldn’t necessarily think of when you start out.
You know, I’m excited by it. When I first started — you know, I came from a dancing background, where you had to learn a routine, and then practice it and get it down. In high school and college, we had to do some extra stuff, but it was pretty straightforward [running]. I found it not very stimulating mentally. Once I started with Coach [John] Cook, there were more drills and things like that to work on that I enjoyed. And finally, as I’ve been doing this, to have more opportunities to speak to people, to challenge myself mentally — I fell in love with the sport even more, because the mental aspect comes into it. I feel like I can be doing my career and being a complete person rather than just a runner.

Training: Oct 10-23

The grind continues. Today marks 11 weeks since someone or something gave my running the stinkeye.

I continue to train hard using alternate methods. To break up the monotony, and make sure I’m working hard enough, I’ve started getting creative with cross-training:

Spinning: I naturally tend to work harder in a spin class than when I’m on my own. Unfortunately, my schedule does not always mesh with the gym’s, so I’m doing a lot of spinning on my own these days. I focus on getting my heart rate up, evidenced by a) a high heart rate and b) getting myself to sweat like a pig. I achieve this with lots of standing up while pedaling alternated with 2 minutes of pedaling like I’m being chased by a mob of zombies — the fast kind, not the slow kind.

Elliptical: You can do speedwork on the elliptical. You can also do hillwork, but I’ve been told to stay away from doing that because it could aggravate whatever my injury is — plus the focus for us distance runners is high turnover, strength and endurance, not being able to do the equivalent of running up stairs carrying a dishwasher. So I do surges here too, getting my reps up to 210 (and making sure I’m pouring off sweat) for 2-3 mins with 1 min recoveries. In the case of both spinning and elliptical, I note the days I’m doing intervals with a plus sign.

Weights: I have yet to have found a way to make this work creative. Although I do enjoy the fact that I’m usually the only woman in the weights area. I feel so special. Let’s move on.

Pool: I’m beginning to not mind the pool so much. For one, I’ve developed some mind games to play. But when I’ve got an entire lane to myself for upwards of an hour and a half, there are no distractions and the act of running in circles becomes meditative. Pool running is the priority among all these gym activities, so it’s where I work the hardest. I tend to “save my strength” for the pool — meaning I am conscious of not trashing my legs in whatever I’m doing before I hit the pool for a hard session, meaning anything harder than an hour’s steady effort of 72-75%. What are hard sessions? Right now it means three things: long run (80-90 mins at 75%+), fartlek session (around 18-25 minutes of short and long intervals with very short recoveries), progression run (I start at 65% and work up to 85% in 10 minute increments). Once I’m back to regular running training, I’ll still be hitting the pool 3x a week as well as doing 3 sessions of spinning and frequent weight work.

I met up with Sandra a couple days this week at the gym. She was doing a little training, but as she’s dealing with a knee problem, couldn’t do everything with me. Still, she hadn’t seen me at work in a few weeks and she seemed surprised at the effort I was putting into it. I also sent her my training log and her reaction was that I’m probably training a lot harder than I was when I was “just running.” She swears I’ll be faster when I hit the roads again as a result of this conditioning work. I hope she’s right. At least I’m getting a nice pair of legs out of the deal.

So, where do things stand right now? An MRI should provide some clues this week. If it’s a stress fracture then I guess I’m sidelined according to how serious it is. I would be very surprised if it needs surgery, but what do I know? The other possibility to be ruled out is a hamstring tear. I have not looked into what that involves because I’ve already wasted so much time Googling injury-related information. I can’t do it anymore. I’m sincerely hoping it’s merely inflammation in the joint that can be treated fairly quickly so I’m back on the road next month.

As for training and racing plans, there will probably be adjustments. In the training realm, one piece of news is that Sandra and Khalid are moving to Colorado Springs next month to pursue some opportunities she has out there, live at altitude and leave the high cost of living in New York State (and horrible weather) behind. It’s also a quicker trip to Mexico, where they spend a fair amount of time every year.

I knew when I started working with Sandra in July that this was their plan, but now it’s really happening, which has not been easy to accept. I got a mere month of road/track training in before I got injured. So that’s been a source of disappointment. But I have to acknowledge that I learned a lot about training in that month — and in the “injury months” since then in terms of how to apply cross-training (both while injured and as a supplement to regular training). Sandra and I communicate well, so I’m feeling confident that we can keep up the good work using the various modern tools at our disposal — Skype, Google docs and email. I was also encouraged to discover that the majority of the Houston Hopefuls are successfully working remotely with their coaches.

As for racing, I have no idea whether I’m going to Houston in January. If I can start marathon training in, say, two weeks, it’s probably enough time — around 12 weeks — to get me in shape to run a good marathon, if not a great one. If it’s a longer wait, another option is to train for and race the Houston half instead. I love the half and working toward a PR there would be a good stepping stone to returning to the marathon, so that’s a compromise I could live with. And if I’m completely screwed for a January race, one idea I’ve proposed is switching my plane ticket and targeting the Napa marathon in early March.

Nearer term, I would love to race something, anything, as soon as possible. Watching the Fifth Avenue Mile last month — not just watching, but limping around as a volunteer — was enormously depressing for me, as will be watching the New York Marathon next month. I don’t want to get greedy and demand a race when I should feel lucky to be able to run anywhere for any distance, which I still can’t. But I’ve appreciated in the past couple of months that, while I enjoy training, the racing is what the training’s all for. I have it my head to try to run the Joe Kleinerman 10K in Central Park in early December. It’s a carrot to chase after mentally. But, ultimately, my body’s going to be the one calling the shots.

At least I’m not living alone in Injury Land. And I have a reliable cross-training partner most days, although he recently had to drop out for a bit while battling an infection. Anyway, here’s yesterday’s quote of the day, triggered by the arrival in our mailbox of an entry form for the Marisa Fund 5 Mile Turkey Trot.

“It’s amazing to think that just five months ago, I won their 10K on that course. And now I couldn’t even win a snail street-crossing contest.”
— Jonathan Sumpter

Houston Hopefuls on Runners Round Table…

Whee! That was fun. Listen up! (Link to MP3 is at page bottom.)

The Runners Round Table: Episode 103 – Houston Hopefuls

New Houston Hopeful Interview: Julie Wankowski

“Don’t sweat the small stuff; focus on your goals; take it day by day; and never doubt that you can do it.”

If these aren’t words fit to live by, then I give up.

Houston Hopefuls > Julie Wankowski

New Houston Hopeful interview: Tamara Karrh

Tamara embodies a kind of runner that I was just talking about yesterday with Coach Sandra: she is a runner who has moved her status from recreational to elite without losing her love of running in the process. Once you step up training and start having to work it around other life commitments — of which Tamara has many, including four young kids — it’s easy to start to experience training as a grind, a burden. As Tamara says, “A lot of it is just the love of it. I love the training…it’s something that I thoroughly enjoy and look forward to each and every day.”

I should note that Tamara is no longer technically a “hopeful”: she qualified for the Trials with a 2:40:22 last fall. This weekend she’s going for the A standard, a 2:39:00 or better.

For the full interview: Houston Hopefuls > Tamara Karrh

Lots of good stuff

So things are a little nuts.

I just started a sizeable corporate writing job, although I capped it at 20 hours a week. It runs through New Year’s Eve. Whee! If I gave you the description of the project, you’d probably wonder why I haven’t shot myself in the face by now. But in fact, it’s just the sort of project that appeals to me. I will be making real improvements to a big mess and the work taps into some of my obsessive-compulsive content strategist skills. I’m even getting to do a little on-the-fly usability work.

I’m putting the finishing touches on my second article for Running Times, the subject of which is “what do race participants want from their race directors?” Sound familiar? Yes, there was a reason behind that survey. To round things out I did some great interviews with directors of races both large and small, along with runner Kim Duclos, of Emerald Nuts Midnight Run gatecrashing fame. Unfortunately, because of tight space considerations, I could only use about 1% of their material. But maybe I’ll use it for something else eventually. That article comes out in December (Jan/Feb issue).

In the meantime, my first paid byline, a portrait of masters Marathon Trials qualifier Tamara Karrh, appears in the November issue, which should be hitting newstands and doorsteps in about two weeks. There is a companion profile for Karrh on Houston Hopefuls. That’s scheduled to autopublish tomorrow (I think — I put it on autopilot for a reason). Now I’m just trying to find the hours to transcribe and publish the latest excellent interview with Chicagoan Julie Wankowski. I may find those hours over the weekend as I…

…jet off to Arizona for a family get together from Saturday through Monday. I’ll have much time in airports and on airplanes. I am also hoping to do some work on the Fifth Avenue Mile elite interviews I did last week. They will take the same structure as my previous “A few minutes with…” pieces. Those seemed to work well and my questions are not tied to the event the runners were here for, so I can take weeks to publish them (much as I hate to). I’ll take this opportunity to say this again: professional runners are delightful people, by and large. They seem to like their jobs and most of them are, I suspect, brighter than the average person. When I find myself sitting there talking to one of them, I still feel like I need to pinch myself.

As far as what you have to look forward to, I had great chats with Shannon Rowbury (who won the women’s race), Leo Manzano, Molly Huddle, Alan Webb and Morgan Uceny. I’ll get those posted eventually. My one mistake with this race was not taking NYRR up on an invitation to sit on the “press truck.” This is a flatbed truck that drives along at the front of the race, outfitted with bleachers, from which gawking members of the press sit rearward, enjoying a panoramic view of the race as it unfolds. Well, that looked like a total gas, if incredibly dangerous. Yeah — like I said: total gas! My hope is that next year I can run in the race myself, go shower at someone’s apartment nearby, then come back and jump on the crazy truck for the elite races.

And there’s more. I’ll be at the finish line (and perhaps also along the course) of the NYC Marathon on November 7th, serving as aide de camp to photographer Stacey Cramp, who’s shooting the event for Running Times. I get a groovy press pass, a nice Asics jacket and entre to a big party on the Friday that kicks off race weekend.

And there may be still more. Later in November, Coach Sandra, who has several parallel careers, is agenting 10 elites from all over the place (people I’ve mostly heard of and, in the case of Adriana Pirtea, met) to a 10K race in her country of origin, the Dominican Republic. I may be able to get comped on travel costs in exchange for doing a writeup. That’s a big “we’ll see” at the moment, but it should be a lot of fun if it happens.

All these developments are almost enough to make me forget that these days I am a runner in theory only. But not quite. It’s been seven weeks since I’ve gone running. Since my insurance sucks, meaning my stratospheric deductibles require that I  pay out of pocket for things like MRIs and bone scans, I am going on the assumption that a stress fracture is what ails me and will take another 4-5 weeks off (or, rather, spend another month doing insane cross-training only and not running at all). Then I’ll try a run. It will have been three months by then. If I’m still in pain, I’ll bite the bullet and shell out the thousands required to look inside myself.

This was a long-winded way of saying that things might quiet down on this blog. But only because my offline life has gotten considerably more noisy.

Except for the running injury, everything else that’s happened is exactly the sort of thing I wanted to happen when I jumped ship from my corporate gig over the summer. Let’s hear it for leaps of faith.

Training: Sept 5-18

Yellow has always meant "day off from running". I am living in a world of yellow.

I was originally going to title this post “Cross-training: Sept 5-18″ but then decided against it. Although “running” has always been synonymous with “training” the fact of the matter is that I can’t run at all anymore. So cross-training is my only training. Therefore, “cross-training” is now synonymous with “training.” I may as well drop the compound and save you a few milliseconds of download time.

A week and a half ago I joined a gym. Now I spend much of my time there. I feel like I’ve been going there for six months.

Cross-training is a total grind, let me tell you. It takes hours. There’s a lot to do: spinning, ellipticalling, weights and circuit training, general stretching/strengthening, and lots and lots and lots of pool running. And it’s all indoors.

Outside the windows of the gym the air is cool, crisp and dry. It’s perfect running weather. I have a terrible feeling that, after suffering through probably the hottest summer I have experienced since moving to NYC in 1984, I will miss the fall entirely and — if I’m lucky, that is — find myself out running in another brutal winter.

But I shouldn’t get ahead of myself. I need to focus on the here and now. The exploration into what’s wrong with me continues next week. Or at least I hope it does. The person Sandra wants to send me to is proving difficult to get hold of. In the meantime, I am bracing myself for the worst. Sandra is starting to say things to also prepare me for such eventualities. Things like, “I did this pool running for two months when I had IT band syndrome and ran a good marathon afterwards.” It’s helpful and not helpful.

I got incredibly depressed on Friday evening. Meaning “in tears on the couch with vodka” depressed. I don’t usually do this, but what set it off was trying to run and failing again. Reading about stress fractures keeping people out for six months was also a contributor. And, really, it’s looking at my race times and seeing that the last time I made any real progress was two years ago.

These days, I have a tremendous amount of time to think about things while I’m driving to and from the gym, and plodding along in the pool. I often find myself wondering why I’m so driven to continue. One insight emerged during an interview with Houston Hopeful Julie Wankowski (to be published soon) one evening this week. She described her first sub-3:00 marathon in magical terms. It was one of those rare, ellusive “perfect” races. Such races are transcendental (see also: Flow). Those experiences are among the few during which I’ve felt most alive, masterful and accomplished. I offered to her that those magical races are what keep us striving mentally, despite failure, stagnation, injury and other setbacks. And they keep us training. Or, in my case, cross-training.

Reader contest: guess my injury and win a prize!

My coach is officially stumped by my injury. I am much improved and can do everything I want to do (and don’t want to do, like pool run) except run for more than 90 seconds. So next week I embark on seeking more outside help, from expensive people who I’m sure don’t take my insurance.

We both have several ideas about what’s wrong with my ass. Maybe you do too! To make the process of diagnosis a little more fun (actually, let’s face it: it’s not fun in any regard), I’m holding a “Guess My Injury!” contest.

It’s easy to play. Here’s how:

  1. Leave a comment below describing in simple terms (i.e., “Piriformis Syndrome,” “Illiotibial Band Syndrome,” “Brain Cancer”) what you think my injury is.
  2. From the correct answers I will randomly pick a name out of a sauce pan (as I own no suitable hats) and the winner will receive, by email, a Barnes&Noble.com gift card/pin number good for $25 in online purchases. Or at least I think they’re still good.

The contest deadline is whenever I get a fucking diagnosis.

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