Little progress outside. Lots of progress inside.

I spoke too soon regarding being able to run again. On Monday I did a test run and made it all of two minutes before I had to stop. This beats 20 seconds of running a week ago. The pain was not terrible, but it was there. For the little that I was able to run, I felt really weird. I’m so used to running in the pool now that I felt like I weighed 800 lbs.

Approaching the six week mark of not being able to run, I am getting pretty depressed about this situation. Especially when I see things like the Houston Marathon’s Facebook updates: “Only 20 weeks to go! How’s your training going?” Fuck you, Houston! I don’t want to hear it.

I have more massage scheduled — this remaining knot is tiny, but it’s in a critical spot (deep in the right glute, at the juncture of everything that moves during a forward stride), so it’s enough to hobble me when running, although not while walking. A tiny knot shouldn’t be able to prevent me from running, so the next step is to go see someone to discuss a possible nerve entrapment issue. I’m working on that for next week.

I hate getting faked out like that.

But I’m making tons of progress on the cross-training front, in just six days. I’m a pro at the elliptical now, meaning I can run fast intervals (200+ strides per minute) totally hands-free. I can stand up on a spin bike without whining too much. But the real progress has been in the pool. Witness:

  • Session 1: 30 mins; 8 x 45 second surges with 3 minute rests. Total fast: 6:00
  • Session 2: 35 mins; 5 x 90 second surges with 2 minute rests. Total fast: 7:30
  • Session 3: 35 mins; 5 x 2 minute surges with 2 minute rests. Total fast: 10:00
  • Session 4: 40 mins; 6 x 2 minute surges with 90 second rests. Total fast: 12:00
  • Session 5: 47 mins; 6 x 3 minute surges with 2 minute rests. Total fast: 18:00
  • Session 6: 50 mins; 7 x 3 minute surges with 90 second rests; 3 x 30 all out with 45 second rests. Total fast: 22:30

Yes, it’s boring to read. Too bad. I need to have little goals while I do this stuff or I will lose my mind. Tomorrow I go for 6 x 4 minute surges with 90 second rests. I am told that I need to work up to doing 5 minute surges as the immediate goal, and eventually work up to 30 minutes of solid hard pool running. Khalid does this for an hour. I have a goal to eventually work up to that as well. Why not?

Spinning: initial impressions

First an injury update: I am so much better that I’ve been given the all clear to go to the track on Monday and attempt a run. I can run until I feel pain, or for 40 minutes, whichever comes first.

Okay, this morning was the third day of my gym-enabled cross-training odyssey. I was told to meet Coach Sandra for the 9:15 spin class. I have never spun. I admit that the first time (about 12 years ago) that someone said they “did spinning” I couldn’t imagine what that meant: spinning around and around? Crazy Manhattanites!

No, like most things it turned out to be a case of some normal activity having been rebranded (and made expensive) by someone much smarter than I. It’s more than stationary cycling. It’s Spinning®! See? Now you can charge a lot for it.

So I apparently did everything wrong today. I’m getting used to this. First I showed up to the spinning studio to find people frantically wiping down the bikes as if there’d been a toxic spill in there. I was trying to figure out if they worked there, but they definitely didn’t, as they resembled me. So then I was trying to determine if they were from the last class, or waiting for the next one. I think it was a mix.

My first question: why bother detoxifying your bike at the end of the class if the next person is going to detoxify it themselves anyway because they didn’t trust you to do it?

With some unease, I saunter over to a bike that’s not receiving this extended foreplay from anyone. I suppose I can claim it, but I have misgivings since people seem strangely attached to certain bikes. I start to adjust its seat and, just as I’m about to climb on, a woman (who was nice about it) comes up and says, “That’s my bike.”

Why does being in this gym take me back to Junior High shop class? I don’t know how anything works and I’m in danger of sawing my fingers off. I continue my strategy of asking strangers for help and she directs me downstairs to a desk where I have to ask for a bike. She helpfully adds that if there are none available, I can come back up and see if the person who claimed it doesn’t show up at 9:15. Then it’s mine for the spinning.

There are no bikes, according to the front desk guy. So I go back up and spot one lonely bike. Sandra is still nowhere to be seen. So I wait for 9:15 and climb on it. The music starts. What I’ve dreaded: I have no idea who it is, but it’s mindless, loud and shrieky. Fortunately, this club understands its demographic and soon enough they are playing Stones, Hendrix and (meep! bad choice!) Golden Earring. Take that, Gen Xers!

Sandra comes tearing in and finds the other sole bike, up at the front, near the instructor’s. (Can you guess why I didn’t take that one?) She questions me with a thumbs up. I return the thumbs up and we’re off.

The class starts. It’s led by a woman wearing something that looks like a customer service headset. She seems calm. But in five minutes she’ll be yelling at us: “Go fast! Turn the knob a quarter turn right! Stand up! Sit down! Position 2! Saddle!” It reminds me of the sole Catholic Mass I went to one Christmas Eve (don’t ask). As happened on that evening, everyone seems to magically know what to do when. I can’t make her out half the time over the din, and I always seem to be standing up or sitting down at the wrong time.

I pedal like mad and realize that standing up while pedaling is hard. At first I lean my forearms on the handlebars, but that’s tiring. So I figure out that you need to be very straight and move your feet as though you’re stomping grapes. It’s somewhat similar to the elliptical in that regard. I also realize that I pedaled too hard during the warmup (and my legs are shot from two days of elliptical and water running) and I’m already tired at seven minutes in.

The next 38 minutes go by slow. The music helps to distract me. I can see why it’s there. Plus we’re supposed to pedal in time to some songs — but not to others! It’s all very confusing. But I eventually figure out how to pedal while standing properly (and see that doing this at higher resistance is easier than at lower resistance). My thighs are burning, as are my calves. This is what is supposed to be happening. I will be spinning throughout marathon training — three times a week. It is Sandra’s substitution for hill workouts.

Then 10 minutes of stretching. Then 30 minutes in the pool, pool running again. I’ve gotten better with yesterday’s practice. But I’m told I need to go faster. If I’m not hurting, I’m not going fast enough. This is becoming a common theme.

Then, after that, it’s back to Sandra’s massage table where I am, amazingly, a lot better. Like at 95% of perfect. I have no idea what’s happened — whether it was the last session, or the pool running or what — but I have one remaining knot (the one in the gluteus) and it’s tiny. We will still work to get rid of it, but at least when I’m walking and doing all this other stuff, it’s not even something I’m aware of.

Even if I can start running again next week, we won’t do hard running until October. I like that she’s cautious, given my history. With all this other stuff I can do to maintain/build fitness, there is no reason not to be cautious.

Next week: the weight room.

Various and sundry

Just a bunch of random stuff.

The injury clouds part (seemingly)

My right hamstring and ass felt — well, they felt normal today, actually. Which for me means they felt fantastic. I felt nothing there — like a normal person. No pain, no limping. Are you generally aware of your ass and hamstring? Well, me neither! I think giving $200 to a gym yesterday must have cured the problem. Ha ha. See? I haven’t lost my sense of humor.

So I hinted to Coach Sandra via an email this evening that I’d like to try running soon. In a typically terse response (English is not her native language, so she’s a telephone kind of gal), she said not to run (I picture her picturing me as a troublemaker, going all rogue on her and her plan). Or, rather, she thinks I should try again on Monday. That’s fine, as I was going to give the wonderfulness of a pain-free ass and leg time to establish itself as something that isn’t temporary.

Cross-training continues

I did another session, this time on my own, on the evil elliptical. It went better. I was able to run hands-free when “ellipticaling” (what do you call what you do on the elliptical?) normally. I still had to grab on for the faster surges I did, but not as much. I’ve determined that you need to change your form slightly when moving faster. I’ll try again on Sunday, probably.

Then, after some stretching I’ve been assigned, another 30 minute bout of pool running, also on my own. This I can confidently say that I’m getting the hang of. I was able to establish good running form, and with that I proceeded to do a bunch of 45 second intervals. It still sucks, but at least I know what I’m doing now.

And now, a few hours later, I am beat.

Tomorrow is another virgin voyage, a spin class. This is a break from the elliptical that I welcome. Also, the spin bike supposedly doesn’t engage the gluteus in the way a regular stationary bike (which I have at home) does. After spinning, it’s — yes — another half an hour of pool running. Then another aggressive session of myotherapy.

Another day, another byline

I got my second assignment from Running Times. This time it’s for the feature in the Racing section (toward the back of the magazine, after the regular features) for the Jan/Feb issue. I won’t give away too much, but I will say that I will be asking the online runnersphere to participate in a survey that I’m putting together. I hope to launch that tomorrow afternoon. Your participation is important! And I’m looking for input from the entire spectrum of runningdom, not just you highly competitive types. So get ready, people. A detailed survey is coming.

As for the first one, a profile of masters phenom Tamara Karrh, who qualified for the 2012 Olympic Marathon Trials with a 2:40 (!) — that should appear in the November print edition in roughly a month.

Bye bye, Summer — don’t let the door hit you

I think we’ve seen the last of the hellacious dryer blast weather. It’s cool and lovely here. I wish I could run in it, but for now it’s enjoyable to get up and feel a cool breeze wafting in. Sometimes I just go sit outside on our porch to feel the non-heat and non-humidity. The cat is in a considerably better mood these days too.

The elliptical and pool running: initial impressions

Today I made my way up to Briarcliff Manor to Club Fit, a HUGE gym off of Rt. 100. Coach Sandra lives about 5 minutes from the gym and is herself embarking on an ambitious regimine of cross-training and will be spending 2-3 hours a day on her own fitness activities. And Club Fit was having a deal — two months for cheap (for both Jonathan and me), no long-term commitments. Perfect timing! Sandra can show me the ropes and probably train with me more days than not, assuming we can coordinate our schedules.

It’s bigger, cleaner and more well-appointed than the Y. And about the same price. For now. I’ll worry about the fact that it’s 3x as expensive annually later on.

I have never belonged to a gym. I had been to one gym exactly once in my life prior to this — a visit to my (sort of) in-laws’ gym in Pretoria, South Africa a few years back. I was totally overwhelmed that day and similarly overwhelmed today. I felt like a hapless member of some remote Amazon tribe, plunked down in the center of the Mall of America. How do these lockers work? Where do I find the tiny towels? Is it okay for me to be naked in this room? What’s this thing for?

I threw myself on Sandra’s mercy and, when she occasionally disappeared into the multi-corridored abyss, on the mercy of those around me. It worked out. I’m in at least through October. I may just keep the membership beyond that as they have a 200m indoor track and I get really pissed off about not being able to do track workouts all winter. Plus they have about 30 elliptical machines, three pools and a sauna, among other goodies. It’s a good thing I don’t have a real job, as I’ll be spending quite a lot of time there over the coming eight weeks. I’m apparently still expected to go there, even when I can run again, to do major weight work twice a week and spinning, both of which Sandra swears will pay dividends when I hit the last 10K of a marathon.

First, the elliptical. At first, this felt like an exercise machine designed by a prankster. Whee! Your feet go round and round, but you feel like you’re going to fall off the fucking thing every five seconds. So today’s session was “learning how to use the elliptical.” I started out holding on for dear life, then learned to relax my hands (which was good, because my shoulders were killing me after 10 minutes). Eventually, I got to where I didn’t have to hold on and could mimic a proper running form. I was told that this was good progress, less spastic than most. But when trying to run faster, all bets were off. I still couldn’t keep my hands off the thing, the little temptress, when trying to do faster running. I’m told in two weeks I’ll be doing intervals like a pro. Okay.

Elliptical grade: B

Next, pool running. The first thing I discovered is that the AquaJogger belt sucks dead donkey dicks. I may as well strap a large block of styrofoam to myself with duct tape. It’s about as streamlined and comfortable. The thing rides up and fucks with whatever progress I’m managing to make with my “form,” which in itself is laughable. Since I’m going to be doing a lot of this, I’m biting the bullet and buying what Sandra had on, a Wet Vest. It’s thin and it actually fits. Sure it looks like a giant diaper, but that is the very feature that keeps the thing from riding up around your neck.

Simply put, pool running is really hard. It’s difficult physically, in that getting to a point where you’re using an actual running form is hard to do. And it’s difficult mentally. You run and run and run and, while you go somewhere, it’s nowhere fast. Imagine running a 400m repeat as hard as you can while trying to push a wheelbarrow full of sand. That’s what pool running feels like. Side note: the upper body work involved is not to be sneezed at. Sandra says I’ll have incredible strength up top after about six weeks of this. Maybe I’ll be able to bench press the elliptical.

I’ll get better at it with work. But learning how to run in the pool reminds me of taking ceramics a few years back and trying to learn to “throw” clay — meaning form symmetrical objects on a wheel spinning at incredibly high RPMs. Preferably things like vases that didn’t weigh 30 lbs. It got easier, but it took forever to make even a little progress. I finally decided that I would save ceramics for my old age, when I would presumably have a lot more free time for messy, pointless endeavours. I’m motivated to move along the learning curve of this particular messy endeavour as quickly as possible so I can actually get some real training done. For my bigger pointless endeavour.

Pool running grade: C

If you don’t like reading about the elliptical, pool running, weights and spinning, then stay away from this blog for the next couple of months. I hope I can run again at some point, but I have put it out of my mind. At least I have plenty to distract me in the meantime.

August Training: Super Deluxe Depressing Injury Edition!

I’m approaching the conclusion of my fourth week in which I’ve been unable to run. Had I not seen steady progress, I would be a lot more depressed about this state of affairs than I am. But I will say that the first two weeks were grim indeed.

First, let’s look at the stellar week of workouts that I enjoyed before my gluteal erruption.

I had a well-timed day off on the first of August, which was great because our house was in dire need of attention. So it’s not like I didn’t exercise that day. On Monday I had a fantastic progression run on the OCA Trail north of Sleepy Hollow High School. Then a track workout with Sandra the next day that also went fabulously well (for example, I gave her a 3:08 800m when she wanted a 3:15). Wednesday the heat wave reasserted itself, but I did fine over the next few days, having comfortably picked up my pace on recovery runs. And then Saturday was my disaster in Central Park.

The next five days were not happy ones. My log entries for Sun-Thu of that week are all identical: “Hip/buttock/hamstring issues continue. On painkillers, anti-inflammatories. Walking is extremely painful.”

I could not walk properly, or move anywhere on my feet for more than 5-10 minutes. Over subsequent days I experimented with various forms of treatment and relief, with mixed results. Later in the week I had the first of several myotherapy sessions with Sandra. Those were helpful for confirming that the problem was muscular (specifically, knots or “trigger points”), but in some ways the cure was worse than the ailment. Painkillers dulled the pain, but if I happened to forget to take one, I was completely screwed.

So that was Week 1 in Injury Land.

Week 2* wasn’t much better. This was the week that hopelessness and fear of a long-term layoff began to settle in. Lots of frustration too, because not being able to walk and being in constant pain gets really old after awhile.

This was the week I started sleeping like a cat. I needed 9-10 hours a night. I needed naps. I suspect a myriad of reasons behind this need for sleep: for one thing, the massage sessions were really rough on me; for another, I was worn down from the constant pain and I think the painkillers were accumulating in my system; finally, I was getting depressed and if there’s one thing I can do well when I’m depressed, it’s sleep excessively.

Sandra had to head out of town until early September, so I was heading into Injury Week 3 without a good massage therapist.

I attempted some cross-training on the bike, but that aggravated the knots, as did many of the stretching/strengthening exercises I had. I checked out my local YMCA and YWCA during this and the following week, which were great facilities, but my timing was terrible: all of the local Y’s pools were closed for cleaning until after Labor Day. So my last option for non-impact cross-training — pool running — was no longer on the table. The local health clubs up here are really awful, and I couldn’t accept joining one just to get a week or two of pool time.

I would describe my state of mind that weekend as bereft. Coupled with this was the awareness that I would start losing fitness quickly if I didn’t do something. But what could I do? I was going to have to take matters into my own hands. I started a 10 day course of Nabumetone to try to help kickstart a reduction in inflammation. I also iced like crazy. Lots and lots of ice baths and sitting on ice packs. Sugar free fudgesicles too.

By the 22nd I’d managed to wean myself off all forms of painkiller. I wasn’t even taking Tylenol anymore. The problem muscles had calmed down and things were looking up, however subtley. The next day I started a regimen of massage to attack the knots, now that I could actually get to them. I knew that working on them, however painful, was not going to make the problem worse and would only make it better. So attack them I did. Or I should say “we” did. Once or twice a day I’d aggressively work on myself with various tools. Then, in the evening, Jonathan would play amateur myotherapist and also work on them.

On Tuesday the 24th I had what felt like some sort of breakthrough — I could actually walk around in the house that morning with minimal pain. But that confidence was severely erroded upon attempting a shopping trip. Within 10 minutes, the area had seized up again. It has taken me quite awhile to figure out that it’s not walking that screws me up — it’s driving.

On Wednesday the 25th I was finally able to get through one of my stretching/strengthening routines without incident. Biking was still a problem, so I avoided it. On Friday I did another routine and then (on Jaymee‘s advice, which turned out to be spot on), took a break from all massage for the next 24 hours. Whatever I’d done in the preceeding days was like some sort of magic, because my training log for Saturday reads: “Today was a miracle. I felt really good in the morning. Around noon I decided to try 20 mins on the bike at low resistance/high turnover (Resistance Level 4, 80RPM). That presented no problems. So I walked for an hour on the treadmill at 2.7 mph/22:00. A litlte pain/tightness, but it didn’t get worse. Felt fine afterwards. Went shopping and had no problems. I have renewed hope.”

Over the next few days I did some treadmill walking, each one progressively faster. I attempted a few seconds of running, but it was too painful. I also kept up the massage and stretching/strengthening work and got some bike time in.

On Tuesday of this week I was (not surprisingly) exhausted and took a nap, then decided to attempt a real workout on the bike. I did 90 mins at average 72% effort with four 5 minute surges at 85-86%. That felt really, really good — almost like running! — and presented no issues. Since I was due for a day of rest from the massage, I left myself alone. I also took the following day (yesterday) off from exercise. I had a meeting that I had to drive an hour to each way and, once again, I was semi-crippled upon arrival.

I’ve got two clearly-indentifiable knots from the original five. So we’ve made huge progress. But the one bad one is deep in my gluteus medius, and I believe that this is the knot that gets aggravated by driving. I’m also not convinced that I can get rid of this on my own. Fortunately, I see Sandra again next week, so she can whale on it with her expert hands and elbows then.

Not being able to run has been frustrating and upsetting. But at least I’ve made progress. Today’s Thursday. I have plans for another big bike workout today, and some treadmill walking again. Then an easy day on Friday and another bike workout on Saturday. I have optimistically scheduled a half mile test jog on the track on Saturday morning. But I’m fully prepared to jettison those plans if I’m obviously still not ready to run. Tried to run on Sunday, Sept 5. That did not go well.

*Apologies for the fact that all my week numbers are screwed up on my training log. I’m too lazy to go back and fix them.

In treatment

I had session 2 of myotherapy this morning. My next one is on Thursday to be followed by a fourth on Saturday. Sandra leaves town after that so I hope this gets me well enough to run since she’s not back until early September.

Since I did session 1 without any pain relief whatsoever, I decided to take a painkiller before this round. She’d said that was probably a good idea as she needs to get deep into the muscles and that’s difficult when I’m screaming and attempting to squirm off the massage table.

Today I revised my opinion of Percocet (Oxycodone), which I previously thought was the bee’s knees. This morning it made me feel like warmed over dogshit. While I know it killed some of the pain, it also made me nauseous and drowsy (sensations that don’t go well with driving), and, eight hours after taking it, I’m still incredibly fatigued even after an hour nap. Not just tired, but also dimwitted and hopeless. It reminds me of my occasional bouts with moderate depression, with a touch of flu thrown in.

Much as I’m tempted to take it again before Thursday’s mauling, I’d rather experience pain than lose the entire day to feeling like this again. I think these sessions are supposed to get easier anyway, since I’m getting used to it and with each one the knots and scar tissue are broken up a little more. In my next one I get heat and ultrasound.

It’s only been a week since my hip implosion, but this issue feels intractable. Part of the problem is that I still can’t even walk without pain. Every morning, I get faked out — I get out of bed and for the first few minutes I think everything’s fine. Then the pain comes back and settles over me for the rest of the day. If I try to do anything that puts significant weight on my right leg, the problem flares up and I’m screwed for hours, meaning I limp and grimace. On Saturday, after a few pain-free hours, it happened when I did just one dynamic stretch on the right side. Yesterday, again feeling relatively pain-free and hopeful, I took a few exploratory jog steps — meaning I just hopped across the dining room to assess if I could go for a short run. My hip complained bitterly about this latest transgression and there went the afternoon and evening.

I am walking like my dad did right before he had total knee replacement surgery. I list to one side and grab onto any available item for support. It’s pathetic and infuriating. How did I go from running an 82 second 400m repeat on the track to not being able to walk just a few days later?

The good news is that both Jonathan and I got into the Houston Marathon, which is using a lottery system this year. Houston in late January is my goal marathon. Even though I’m prepared to travel there alone, I registered Jonathan just in case he wants to train for it (assuming his fall plans are blown due to his own injury, which it looks like they are), or just run it for whatever reason. He is running again, with some pain. But, hell, he’s running. That’s after two months of not running — so he’s lost a lot of fitness despite having biked like a fiend.

The idea of running a marathon seems entirely theoretical now, for both of us.

One other piece of hopeful news is that I can ride our stationary bike without it making things worse. I did 90 minutes yesterday. If I can manage to tear myself off the couch, I’ll probably do 2 hours later on today. If I still can’t run this week I’ll also look into pool running somewhere. I can feel my fitness ebbing away. I’m glad my motivation is still there, at least.

Fuck. I really miss running.

I’ve used the word “hope” in this post several times in both positive (“hopeful”) and negative (“hopeless”) forms. Sandra said something to me this morning that made an impression on me, and which in an unintended way gave me hope: “You’ll never run faster if you don’t fix these problems.” That got me thinking about the possibility that one reason I may not have been able to run faster so far has been because of tight muscles. I like to think that all this painful work will lead to not only being able to run again, but perhaps — as a bonus — also running faster than I could have otherwise.

Oh, how I wish I were a masochist

Today I hobbled up to Coach Sandra’s magic workshop in Ossining for something she’s been promising for several weeks — an examination for “weaknesses” (I have lots of them, but I don’t think she’s talking about vodka) and imbalances. But it got put off due primarily to her travels.

Because of my recent incident, however, this visit turned from one of mere examination to therapy. Or should I say torture? Sandra is a myotherapist. I think myotherapy should replace waterboarding as our nation’s preferred interrogation technique. It’s certainly less messy.

The good news is that I don’t have anything seriously wrong with my hip. The bad news is that I was compared to a kitchen sink that has for years gone unwashed. It takes a lot of scrubbing to undo that kind of neglect. The hip is just the tip of the iceberg that is the whole of my problems, it seems. In fact, Sandra was amazed that I haven’t had more issues given how totally fucked up I am below the waist.

To summarize, here’s what happened on Saturday. The hip issue was the final straw in a cascading series of events having to do with tight muscles in my legs. My right hamstring had been giving me trouble for days beforehand. During the race it tightened up to such an extent that everything around it went into spasm and seized up as well.

My hip is not actually the problem — it’s just where the problem is most acutely expressed at the moment. The most notable issue is a large muscle knot (two, actually — but one is much worse than the other) deep in the heart of my right buttcheek (gluteal muscle). It sits at the top of my iliotibial (IT) band, which is no great shakes either. The IT band is not only tight, but it has scar tissue all up the side of it (both of them do, actually, although the right side is much worse than the left is). Did I mention my calves? They are also tight enough to bounce quarters off of.

I got scolded for running on pavement all these years. And not stretching or getting proper massages (meaning deep enough to be painful) all this time. Who knew?

What does this mean for me? A world of pain, the intensity of which I can scarcely describe.

For close to 90 minutes Sandra dug into these problem areas and made me alternately shriek and weep. Lots of her athletes break into tears while she does this, so I was told not to feel bad about it. I was also told that since she is undoing years of neglect, it’s going to really hurt and take at least another few sessions. She said the muscle knots have been there for a long, long time, given their density and size.

I also have about around 50 (seriously) stretching and strengthening exercises that I am to do twice a week now, working up to three times a week.

I was also told that, when she was still running competitively, Sandra would go engage in this process for 10 days with a guy in Ireland who is the best at this in the world. It was basically a Torture Holiday. Myotherapy, then run, then check things and do myotherapy again. Khalid still goes to him for this treatment. She ended up studying under the torture master and forging a parallel career.

Here’s what happens in these sessions:

  1. Sandra picks an area to work on. She digs into it (often using her elbow with full weight on it). I scream and cry. She expresses sympathy, but also warns that she’s just warming up the area — loosening the surface tissue so she can get closer to the source of the problem (knots and scar tissue).
  2. She digs and stabs. Then checks the muscle or tendon. Then digs and stabs some more. Then asks me if that last round of digging and stabbing was any less painful. I am tempted to lie sometimes, but I don’t because I know that will only prolong the process.
  3. Then she focuses on another area, letting the first recover a bit. Then she goes back and works on the original area some more. In the meantime, neighbors call the police because it sounds like horrific crimes are being committed on the second floor.
  4. I go home and take an ice bath. I do my stretches. I go running and see how far I get before it becomes painful. Then we do this again a few days later.
  5. Repeat until knots and scar tissue are gone.

There are some bright spots in all of this. For one, it’s not a serious injury. I was worried about a hip stress fracture or that my award-winning left bunion was causing all of this and would require surgery. For another, if I get all this shit worked out and do my stretching like my life depends on it (and try to stay off of pavement as much as possible), I should never have to go through this “cleaning the kitchen sink” process again.

Quicker recoveries

This post isn’t what you think it’s about: how to recover more quickly from hard runs or races. Although I will give a nod to an article by elite runner Julia Lucas — well-written, witty and informative (that’s three elite women runners who can write clearly and appealingly: Lucas, Lauren Fleshman and Shannon Rowbury) — in the September issue of Running Times.

No, this post is about the fact that I’m doing my recovery runs faster these days than I have in the previous 18-24 months. A lot faster. Despite the horrible heat and humidity. Some of it can be explained by the fact that I’m actually trying to run faster on these runs. Coach Sandra noticed a recent recovery run that was an 11:00 pace and she said, “If you’re running that slow and really can’t run faster at a very easy effort, then stop the run. It means you need more recovery in the form of not running.”

Then she said, “You should be doing your recovery runs at 9:45 or faster. Why are you running them so slow?”

I had to think about that. I suspect it’s because when I was doing 80-95 mpw most weeks last year, that truly was as fast as I could go on those slower days. I even remember meeting Robert at our Blogging Runners meetup and feeling a little ashamed when he asked, “Why do you do your recovery runs so slow?” I just thought at the time that it was because I’m in my forties. But now I know it’s because I was just tired on my easy days. But the answer to her question was “habit.”

But now I’m running half that mileage. There’s no reason to be running 10:30+ miles. In recent weeks I’d started getting more toward the 10:00 side of the speed spectrum naturally anyway. Now I’ve picked things up further and seem no worse for the wear. I feel better when I’m running a little faster, and the boring recovery runs get done more quickly too. It’s also no longer such a dramatic shift in pace between fast and slow days.

Now I’m very curious to see how fast I’ll be doing these runs come fall/winter. 9:00? Or faster? That would be pretty neat.

Track Talk #8 with Bill Aris

I’ve been catching up on podcasts and came across this one from back in April, a 90 minute interview with Bill Aris, who is regarded as probably the best high school track coach in the country.

Aris has a healthy, rational approach to training, using ideas that can be applied to anyone who is looking to improve. I imagine anyone who’s coaching would find this useful as well. His philosophy is based on fitting the training to the runner and making each runner’s goals about the process of improving rather than chasing after a particular race time.

I also loved this quote: “Running is all about delayed gratification.” Yet he somehow manages to productively coach teenagers, who are not always known for their ability to delay gratification. Probably because he applies a perfect balance of structure, compassion and respect for his charges. He’s passionate about what he does and it shows in the way he talks about it.

Here’s background on the interview. And here’s a link to the MP3 download.

Well worth a listen.

Training July 25-31

Yesterday marked the official one month anniversary of starting work with Coach Sandra. This week was a true assbuster, the first entire week that I can apply that qualification to, although there have certainly been some difficult individual workouts in the past few weeks. But the hard work was piled on this week, three really tough sessions over five days.

The hard work began on Tuesday morning, when I met up with Sandra bright and early at Sleepy Hollow High School’s track. This is a good place to train. While the track is not as fancy as the one at Bronxville High, it’s also not crowded with amblers. There were only two other runners there. Given that Sandra was standing in lane four with a stopwatch and yelling at me, they stayed out of our way.

Okay, Sandra wasn’t actually yelling at me. I just enjoy that image. She was yelling splits and, most of the time, encouragement. I won’t go into what we did, but it was really fucking hard. She even scaled back things a little when she saw that I was struggling through one of the repeats. I felt bad when she did that but she assured me that it’s the whole point of having a coach there and it’s better to be conservative than to overtrain.

To be honest, it’s nervewracking to have someone scrutinizing how you run. I don’t come from a track (or running at all) background, so this is a new experience for me. There’s a lot of pressure to run faster when someone is standing there at each lap, waiting for you. I don’t have trouble doing my workouts alone — meaning I will apply myself regardless of who’s around. But having that extra pressure was a real motivator to pick things up when I felt like shit. After next week Sandra won’t be there for most of my track work, at least through the rest of the summer. But I feel I have a better sense now of how I should adjust the intervals as I go along.

Here’s this week’s running tip: always run your recoveries in the opposite direction. This keeps you from stressing the same outer leg/hip (your right one if you do the hard stuff counterclockwise).

On Thursday I did a longish tempo run. It was absolutely horrible weatherwise: 82F with a dewpoint of 72 when I started. The average time is slow because my warmup/cooldown was practically walking, and my tempo miles were no great shakes due to the weather (around 7:30). I did this run on the northern section of the Old Croton Aqueduct trail and it was really, really lovely. I can’t wait to run there in the fall when it’s cool and colorful. Although there is a .6 mile long section of extreme up/down hill in the form of switchbacks as you head to and from the Hudson’s edge. That was murder to run up fast.

On Friday I got a massage and discovered just how nasty I’d been to my legs over the previous days. Hamstrings, quads, calves — everything was fucked up. Even my arms hurt, especially the forearms for some reason. I wished I’d gone for a 90 minute session since 60 didn’t seem like enough. But I ambled home (it’s a short walk from my house through suburban streets) and collapsed on the couch for a few hours. I felt okay this morning, more or less ready for another epic run.

This time I tried the middle section of the OCA. I didn’t like that one as much. Much of it is a narrow track of dirt cutting through grass. Some of it is rooted and rocky. And it’s broken up by streets (including one that required a full seven minute wait at a stoplight where four streets converged), which slows everything down. My legs felt the week’s earlier abuses at the 8 mile mark, but I kept at it. Fortunately, the weather was so pleasant today that it was almost not noticeable. In the low 70s and very dry. I ran the last few miles as fast as I could, which wasn’t very fast. Still, faster than the last few progression runs. I was happy with the effort considering that it was on top of two earlier faster sessions.

Next weekend is the NYRR team championships, so the mileage and intensity get dialed down again. After this week, I’m grateful for some down days.


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