Injury. Patience. Optimism.

In my last post I laid out my ambitious plans to run 3 miles a day for the upcoming week. I managed to run four days, totaling 17 miles for that week. Then I headed into the next week with high hopes and promptly fucked up my back. Still, I traveled 28.5 miles that week, 8 of them walking. I also gave up my office chair and converted my desk into a standing desk (because I couldn’t sit for 5 minutes without sending my back into spasm).

By the end of the week my back issue had abated. Then I went out of town to a rental cabin where I Did Nothing. I didn’t run at all for 5 days. I did nothing for 5 days except lie around sleeping, reading and writing (in a bad office chair at the rental). Came home. Went out for a run. Suffered shooting sciatic pain on one side after 1.5 miles. Hobbled home. Took the next day off. Marveled at how fat I’ve gotten.

So the grand total for last week was 1.5 miles.

Here we go again.

This week I’m committed to running on whatever days I can. Much as I hate to, I will run on the treadmill until my injuries subside. I can’t stand heading out for a run and wondering at what point something will stop working, and I’m stranded miles out and have to do the walk of shame back home. Plus I’m too fat to be seen in public.

I’m really not that fat. Not nearly as fat as I used to be. I haven’t weighed myself in a few weeks, but the last time I did I was about 8 pounds up from what I’ve held at for the past 18 months. That has got to go.

I eat salad every day. I snack on apples. I don’t drink beer. Or anything. Except when I go out, which is rare. Okay, I had a beer on Saturday, the day of my 1.5 miler. But I was being social. Tomorrow I’ll go back to the gym and lift wimpy weights after a month-long absence.

So let’s talk about optimism. With the exception of a brief window in late 2011 and early 2012, when I ran a couple of PRs and was not injured, the last four years of running have been THE SUCK. I have usually been injured with something, on and off. I’ve been injured non-stop for over a year now. I’ve got PF in my right foot — which I’ve had since a year ago February — plus intermittent achilles issues on both sides. This makes it hard to run, impossible on some days.

I’ve also been, uh, challenged in my personal life for 1-2 years, depending on which personal debacle you use to start the clock. I don’t write about everything here because it’s personal and also involves people close to me. But trust me — I’ve been clawing my way through an Irwin Allen-scale shit storm for many moons. And, you know, it has not been all bad by any means. Some great things have happened in that time too. But the bad has usually outweighed the good by a significant margin and the nature of the bad has been just, well, relentless. I had a stretch of very bad luck, which is how math works sometimes. Bad luck comes in double digits. The sorry state of my running just fit right in. After awhile it was just, Eh, whatever. Why not pile on bad running too? Whereas in the past I have looked to running to help me deal with other issues in my life, to provide me with a physical and emotional outlet plus a source of focus and accomplishment, I didn’t have that this time around. It was just another thing that wasn’t going well.

So now the clouds are parting. My personal life seems to have finally achieved some badly needed equilibrium. Some very good stuff is happening on almost all fronts. This is emerging, oddly, in conjunction with having thrown up my hands and decided to back off and stop trying so hard and expecting anything at all except more calamity. I had started bracing myself for more water landings, treating the future as a fist poised to fly. Truly. There is a kind of liberation that comes from having a bunch of really terrible stuff happen and coming through it dented, scratched and with parts missing, but more or less intact as a human unit, ready for more assault. Facing the future after a couple of years like this feels like a kind of dare I’m presenting to Fate and Fortune: Go ahead, you two. Keep throwing garbage at me. Your arms are going to get tired eventually and I’ll still be here, fuckers.

I’m working my ass off right now to get a foothold in several areas. Again, where is personal. But I want to not give the impression that I’ve become complacent or hopeless. I was pretty hopeless for a while. I’m not anymore, and that includes in the realm of running.

I would like to be able to train for and race the 2013 Fifth Avenue Mile — and by that I mean train for it consistently and race it well. Not limp through the thing. That’s what I want. I may not get what I want this year. Or ever again. Maybe my days as a competitive runner are over; I’ll be injured forever. Wouldn’t that be awful? Yes, it would. But I don’t think that’s the case, any more than I think terrible things will continue to happen to me and people close to me every single month of the year, forever. If I did then I would have stopped running months ago. To Say The Least.

Maybe I should stop running now. But why would I choose to stop running if there’s a chance I can run well again? I could spend brain cycles thinking about the worst that could happen or I could spend them on the opposite. It takes the same amount of time and the same outlay of electricity. But here’s the thing: thinking about the worst thing seems like a way to ward if off. But it doesn’t. If it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen. And you’ll be no more prepared for it if and when it does. You’ll just already be in a terrible mood. So why not spend that time and energy considering a positive outcome instead?

If I can run on the treadmill tomorrow then I will. That’s what I say every day now. That’s all I can do. I’ll wait this thing out. If I’m still alive, then I’m winning. It’s a strategy that’s worked out in other areas. I’m optimistic that it will work here too.

Training and trying vs. giving up and getting fat

And. I’m back. Maybe I’ll post more than once per season in 2013.

When I wrote that last post I was depressed and stressed out. Could you tell? I was also injured. I pretty much stopped running in any consistent way for the next couple of months. I averaged 8-10 miles during the weeks in which I ran. Many weeks featured no running whatsoever. I stopped going to the gym altogether. I’ve gained 6 lbs, and it would be a lot more had I not been a total calorie intake Nazi.

I’m now free of all Achilles issues and I have extremely mild plantar fasciitis in my right foot (yeah, I know; it’s been there for a year now). But it goes away after two miles on the treadmill usually; some days it’s not there at all. I had forgotten what a pleasure it is to run with no pain, it’s been so long. I started running fairly consistently about two weeks ago, usually 4-5x a week. I’m mostly on the treadmill due to ice/snow on the running path. I’m around 20-30 mpw average now with no major issues. About once every 10 days I do a slightly faster run. I am in remarkably good basic aerobic shape, considering all the neglect. I started doing weights again, once a week, two weeks ago too. Next week I’ll start going twice per week.

It’s probably nuts to talk about goals at this point. But I have them. I always do, in the back of my mind. The goal over the next month is to be able to run 30-40 mpw free of injury. I will probably do most of the runs on the treadmill since I think the reduced impact has helped me to heal. I will continue to do at least one faster workout per week. I will also do some trail running in Van Cortlandt.

Come April I’ll start doing 5K training again. Then I want to race a 5K in late May or early June. No time goal. I just want to get back to racing. Then if that goes well, and I remain injury-free, I’ll focus on the Fifth Avenue Mile again in late september. It’s the only NYRR race I still give a flying fuck about doing well in. I’ve also been invited to do the Green Mountain Relay again in late June. If I can get short legs (no giggling) — and my teammates are cool with my not racing them all out — then I will probably do that again, because it’s fun!

I still want to crack 20:00 in the 5K. I’ll be 48 in a few weeks. I’m probably an idiot for wanting this, because that way lies more injury, failure and frustration. But I’m realizing that if I don’t have some sort of racing goal it’s nearly impossible for me to care about running anymore. So it’s either train and try or give up and get fat.

Oh, well

I’m injured again. This seems to be a perpetual cycle. My right Achilles got tweaked on a run a little over a month ago, a new problem on top of plantar fasciitis on the same side. Since then I’ve nearly stopped running altogether. I’ve gone running once in the last three weeks. It was four miles on a treadmill at the gym. It hurt, so I stopped.

So now in addition to not being able to run without pain I’m also rapidly falling out of shape. That’s a vicious circle — the more out of shape I get, the more unpleasant it is to run, and the less I want to run, so the more out of shape I get. The days are shorter now. It’s dark. We also had a hurricane and Nor-easter that totally fucked up our lives for two weeks. I guess I shouldn’t minimize the impact of that event. I was trying to deal with life with no heat, power or connectivity. Running and tending to my Achilles was the last thing on my mind.

I need to start running again, if only because I’m gaining weight. I do belong to a gym and sometimes I think that if I can’t run that I should at least go and do the elliptical just to get back to some semblance of basic aerobic fitness. But I can’t bring myself to do that. I hate the elliptical.

I would like to run the Cherry Tree Relay (a 3-person relay in Brooklyn in March) again in 2013. I am sort of assuming that I’ll be able to train again and at least not be embarrassingly slow. But I don’t know why I’d assume that.

A year ago I was on an upswing after the Fifth Avenue Mile, a payoff for patience and faith after a couple of years of disastrous running. Now I’m injured, out of shape and the owner of a rapidly expanding ass. I’ve also got competing pressures and priorities that are pulling me in other directions, like writing/performing and the need to make a living, among other things.

I feel my age, my body’s lack of resiliency. I wonder if I’ll ever run well again. Where’s the faith?

God, this sucks.

I’m closing comments. Just venting. We’ve all been here before.

Running with sanity

Although I’m rarely a running blogger lately, I nevertheless remain a running runner. I have been running on a steady basis, and doing one hard workout a week since late August. Low mileage, around 25 most weeks. No trackwork. It’s mostly been fartleks (treadmill) and throwing in a few miles at tempo effort over the course of a longer run on hills. We found a dirt cheap gym that’s three miles away, so I’ve gotten back to weekly strength work, now up to 1 hour, twice weekly. I’ve maintained a weight of 124 with some effort. I’d like to get back down to 120, because I feel better running at that weight. I’d also like to get my mileage up to around 40 mpw.

A year ago I was training like mad to run a fast 5K road race over Olympic Trials weekend in Houston. I did not run that race. I did a little racing in the late winter, but then I got injured in March with PF in my right foot (still there, but mild). It’s been a wild ride, the last nine months, with lots of highs and lows. None of them having to do with running, at least not directly. This has been good for me, not only because I’ve recognized the value of focusing on other areas of endeavor, but also because it’s given me a chance to think about my running, where it fits into my life. Perspective and distance are helpful things.

One realization is that I do miss some aspects of marathon training, but I don’t miss the time and energy commitment. Nor do I actually miss racing marathons. I’m still fairly certain that I won’t run another. I’ve also realized that I’ll probably always be a competitive runner. And by that I mean I’ll care about seeing improvement in myself (although as the years pass, that’s all relative) and doing well relative to my peers. I still want to have tangible goals.

I do have a goal right now, which is to break 20:00 in a road 5K. What’s different this time around is that I’m not attaching that goal to any particular deadline or race. I will train during the fall to run a fast 5K this winter. Will it be under 20:00? I have no clue. I have a training plan, but it’s loose. I got so sick of trying to follow a strict schedule, not hitting target paces, going into each “tuneup” or “time trial” race with pressure to see a certain time on the clock. The truth is, some days I don’t feel like running. So when that happens, I usually don’t run. On other days, I’ll go out with a plan to do a hard run, but my legs don’t feel great. So I’ll give them a few miles. Sometimes they come around. But usually they don’t, and when that happens I abandon the workout and try again a few days later.

I’m seeing steady improvements in fitness. But mostly I’m seeing an improvement in how I feel about running. I like it again. Sometimes I love it. I never dread it, and that’s new. I have my first track workout in about five months next week. It’s not even really a workout. It’s mostly going to be me running around a track wearing an HRM to see what speeds I can maintain at various efforts. I just want some sort of baseline at this point.

I have this crazy suspicion that my radical change in attitude and looser approach to training and racing might yield greater success eventually.

In which running moves up a few slots

I sat down this morning with plans to compose a detailed, entertaining and photo-strewn record of my time in London and Edinburgh touring with ENDURE: A Run Woman Show. But I won’t. Or, rather, I can’t. Sorry. Think of one of the most intense experiences you’ve had in your life. Then imagine it going on for roughly three weeks. How can you then do any justice to it with a blog post? Especially when you’re still trying to process everything you saw, felt, learned, gained, lost, did, appreciated, regretted, succeeded at, failed at, and otherwise experienced.

So I’ll write about what else is going on.

I am on a creative tear lately. I have ideas for half a dozen stories. I just published one this week. I have a novella-length story that I’m trying to finish but can’t publish for various reasons of privacy, so that’s a big problem to solve this year. I am looking at getting back into live storytelling regularly again. I am taking two performance-oriented classes starting next month: one is a vocal training class and the other is in standup comedy. I have been writing standup material for about six months and wondering what to do with it, missing the obvious answer to that question (just get up and perform it, dummy) until quite recently. I am trying to figure out how to get myself back to Edinburgh for an extended stay because I loved that place so much. I would like to at the very least be there for next year’s Edinburgh Fringe Fest in August, in some capacity but of what sort I don’t know yet. If it’s possible to spend the entire summer there, then, yes, that’s an affirmative and a no brainer.

Finally, there’s running. I wasn’t running much in the UK but I was hardly idle. I estimate that I did around 5-9 miles of walking a day (and a little running as part of the show I was crewing for). I did a few harder runs while there and was surprised that I hadn’t lost that much basic fitness. The best discovery upon returning home was that my hamstring and Achilles issues cleared up during my time away. My plantar fasciitis, while not gone, is extremely mild and responds to babying enough that I can train on it.

I’ve got no racing plans to speak of. Missed Percy Sutton, I’m skipping the Tuckahoe and Fifth Avenue Miles. What’s the point? I’m out of racing shape and not trained for any distance. I probably won’t run any races through the rest of 2012. But 2013? That’s another story. Here we go again.

The plan: a return to Fair Lawn, NJ for the First Day 5K on New Year’s Day with a goal to get as close to 19:59 as possible. This means 8 weeks base building + 10 weeks 5K-specific training. I’ve joined a gym again — one that isn’t a half hour away — so I can get back into regular strength training. I’m getting sports massages for as long as I can afford to. Barring horrendous weather, injury or other personal disasters, I think I have a shot. Hey, Weather? Guess what? If it’s cold, icy or windy, I have indoor options. Injury? Bring it on. I’m used to you and I am totally willing to work on your schedule, use the stupid elliptical and drop race plans. And, Fate? Fuck you. My dad can’t die twice.

Training is Priority #17

This is a running blog. So you’ve probably come to expect posts about running. Here, instead, is a post about perspective and priorities.

My running has been touch and go lately, so I haven’t had much to post. I seem to be chronically injured with one problem or another. I’ve had plantar and achilles issues on my right side since March. Then I screwed my back up last month and couldn’t run at all for over a week. Now I’ve pulled something in my right hamstring.

So, basically, I’m unable to train consistently because I’m always injured. I’m doing about one serious workout every 10-14 days. That’s not going to help me do much at all from a competitive standpoint. Still, I try. But I’m also realistic. Between these ongoing setbacks and a three week trip to the UK during which training is going to be about 17th on the priority list, I’m no longer taking the Fifth Avenue Mile all that seriously. It may not be the year to do so.

And that is okay.

Really. It’s okay.

That race isn’t going anywhere, and neither am I.

My body is simply not cooperating, or when it is it’s doing so only grudgingly. I have to respect that. For whatever reason, serious training isn’t happening right now. So I’ll let it not happen for awhile.

I leave for London/Edinburgh in under three weeks. I will try to run most days, and I will endeavor to not advance from the mildly injured state I’m in right now to a seriously injured one. I hope to do some scenic runs while in Edinburgh. If I can do some harder runs, that’ll be great. But if I can’t, I can’t. I just want to have fun. I want to enjoy my time there. I want to watch the Women’s Olympic Marathon in London. I want to work hard, see a lot of shows, hang out with my cohorts and drink good beer.

Fun: Priority 1. Working Hard: Priority 2. Training: Priority 17. And that’s fine. Seriously.

Running? Oh, right.

Here it is — May already — and I’ve yet to have posted a single training log. That hasn’t been a deliberate omission. I just haven’t really been training lately. My next goal race, the Fifth Avenue Mile, isn’t until late September, and I’m not going to train for five months for the mile. So…

I’ve been running consistently, usually six days a week, although my mileage has been at an historically low average of 30-35 mpw. I’ve been racing occasionally and recently bested my previous 10K PR. But I have also been injured for the past two months, although for most of that time the injuries have been mild enough that I can at least run easy most days. I’ve had three issues: a left hamstring tweak (which finally went away about a week ago) and Achilles issues and plantar fasciitis on my right side. It’s only in the last couple of weeks that the latter two have let me do any hard workouts without paying for it for at least a week afterwards. The Achilles problem is nearly gone and the PF is so mild that it’s more an irritation than pain at this point.

I baby the hell out of both of them: icing, massaging, rolling and NSAIDs. That discipline has paid off, as has only doing a workout once a week and only then when I’m pretty sure it’s not going to make either of those two areas of my right foot blow up again. Racing the Scotland 10K probably delayed healing, but it was worth the PR. Now I can say that I am doing something resembling training again. I’m still just doing one workout a week, but I’ll be increasing the frequency of those efforts pretty soon, with three workouts every two weeks. Eventually, assuming my body holds up, I’ll move back to two workouts a week.

I’m doing rough 5K training now, with the idea that I’ll go into mile training later in July for Fifth Ave (on Sept 22), using the Percy Sutton 5K in August and the Tuckahoe Mile (which I won last year…but, hey, it’s in Tuckahoe!)  in early September as tune-ups. I may throw in a few track races at Icahn if my schedule permits (and perhaps the Van Cortlandt 2×2 relay), but I will not over-race, especially if I’m injured. Making that mistake in March is what got me into the injury hole I’m just now crawling out of.

I’m doing some fast running in Central Park every couple of weeks, interspersed with track work. I did my first track workout on Sunday after nearly nine weeks away from it. I’m only slightly slower than I was at the peak of my pre-Houston 5K buildup, which both surprised and delighted me. Plus my right foot feels better after track work — also a nice surprise. Walking to the track with no small degree of trepidation, I was prepared to both run badly and get re-injured in the process.

It’s good to be running fast again. I missed it a lot.

Speaking of missing things: I will miss the NYRR Club Championships in early August for reasons that I will detail in another blog post very soon. Let’s just say that I’m looking forward to a very interesting and adventurous summer, and that I’m glad my passport doesn’t expire until October.

Scotland Run 10K

It’s more than a little ironic that my inexplicable improvement in running speed coincides with my plummeting interest in writing about it.

I got injured about a month ago after racing Coogan’s and the McCarren Park Track Classic back to back (and was already slightly injured going into both). Three days after that track race I did a track workout (15 x 300m at 67-71 per) and then the two days after that say “Injured.” For a few weeks I puttered along at around 9:15-9:45 pace on a hurting Achilles and hamstring (opposite legs). Then, last weekend, I got up on Sunday morning and felt pretty good, so I headed into Central Park thinking I’d run a 6 mile loop at around 8:30. Instead, I ran 10 miles at 7:46. No real pain to speak of. Well, alrighty then.

This morning I raced Scotland for the third year in a row. My 10K PRs are all on the roads and since I haven’t focused on that distance those are soft PRs. Still, I was happy to break 45:00 by one second last year. This year I ran 44:44, a 15 second PR. I didn’t look at my watch, save for the fourth mile, which is the one that hits the two huge hills at the top of the park. That was an abysmal 7:40. Between that and the very crowded and slow first mile, I figured I’d come in somewhere around 45:30. Needless to say, I was surprised and happy when I looked at my watch at the finish.

I have no idea what’s going on. I ran easy for three weeks at 31 mpw average. Then I did a hard 10 miler in the park, followed by a couple of moderate progression runs this week: a 6 miler ending with 2 miles at 8:10 on Tuesday followed by a 4 miler with one mile at 8:00 yesterday. I took Friday off. So some faster miles coupled with a mini taper of sorts. That seemed to work.

I will get back into “training” (whatever that means) after a week of recovery. I learned my lesson a month ago. The next race is the Mini 10K, which I’m not even sure I’m running since doing so means I will have to go to a three hour class immediately afterwards and inflict my rank self on a roomful of other humans. Baby Wipes will only get you so far.

It was good while it lasted

I managed to run pain free for about eight months. But I’m afraid I’ve broken my streak.

It was probably not a great idea to go out and do a track workout four days after doubling in a track race, especially when I already had a slight issue after Coogan’s (right Achilles) going into that race. Yeah. So the track race was a dumb idea. That brought hamstring pain afterwards, probably because my stride was off because of the pain in my Achilles. So now I have a messed up left hamstring and right Achilles. When I get up in the morning I also have pain under my right heel bone.

I took Thursday and Friday off. Yesterday and today I jogged 7 miles each day at around 9:30-9:45 pace. (I’m typically running 8:05-8:30 on my easy days, so that is ssslllllooowwww.) The hamstring is merely stiff on the runs, except when I go up or down hill, at which point it yelps. If I try to extend my leg, as would be required for faster running, or, say, walking up stairs or lifting my leg in the shower to shave, it hurts like a mother. The Achilles hurts with every single step.

I’m icing 3-4 times a day, slathering on Voltaren and hoping for the best.

Fucking injuries.

And now for my next disaster…

Four years ago I watched the women’s 2008 Olympic Marathon Trials race on television and, noting that a few of them were over the age of 40, thought maybe. Maybe. About six months later, when I ran a 3:19, I again thought maybe. Maybe. I embarked on the pursuit of a 2:46 marathon time, believing there was some outside chance I could run that fast one day, despite all evidence to the contrary. I went through two coaches, about 9,000 miles, lots of shoes, and bouts of overtraining and injury. I finally gave up in May.

Over the years this pursuit turned into a chronicling of expectations that have gradually lowered over time. Scratch one race, target another one in six months. Hope I come back from injury. Okay, so I wouldn’t run a qualifying time at all. But maybe I could get the first masters award in the 5K race in Houston that weekend. At least I could go interview some professional elites. But I got turned down for a media pass. Okay, so maybe I’ll just interview some of the amateur elite runners I know who will be there. Or at least meet them for dinner. Drinks? Anything? Okay, if not, I’ll just go watch the Trials then.

In the meantime, my partner in running, travel and life was beset by his own injuries and setbacks. A rock placed in his path by some mischievous running valkyrie on a 20 miler resulted in a sprained ankle mid-training cycle, then a compensatory injury in his quad. This was on top of years of injuries. So rather than running the stellar comeback marathon he’d planned, his sights were on just running a halfway decent pace and finishing in one piece.

We got to Houston on Thursday the 12th. Had dinner. Slept. Got up. Had breakfast in the hotel restaurant. Went out to buy groceries, $92 worth of food and drink for a long racing weekend. We even bought extra beer to host people with, just in case. Entering our hotel room, I saw the red message light blinking on the room phone. I figured it was hotel management pushing room service or something, but it was a terse message from my sister to call her as soon as possible. I put down the phone and said to Jonathan, “Something terrible has happened. I am about to get some bad news. You need to prepare yourself.”

And I did indeed get bad news, on Friday the 13th. My father had been killed in a car accident near his home on Long Island while we were out buying $92 worth of groceries.

I won’t go into all of that here.

We left immediately to come back east and spend the long weekend closer to home, with family and family friends. On Tuesday afternoon we got back to our house in Yonkers. That evening, in a daze, I watched the Marathon Trials coverage, dutifully recorded for us by Tivo. I looked for my Houston Hopefuls, the runners whom I’d interviewed (or just meant to interview),  the handful of women who had both carried and achieved the dream. I didn’t see them, but that didn’t surprise me because they wouldn’t be in the front of the pack. Then I looked at Jaymee Marty’s blog post about the Trials. Jaymee (whom I had so hoped to meet up with in Houston) finished last, and she ran most of the way with Susan Loken, who had also been hobbled by injuries. Both started the race with Ruth Perkins, who was running with a sacral stress fracture, the same injury I had in 2010. Perkins would drop out early.

Marty, Loken and Perkins

These two women, Loken and Marty, bookended my experience as a Trials wannabe. Susan was the first masters runner whom I followed, as the face of the now-defunct More Marathon, the late-starter masters runner, someone who took up jogging in her thirties to get in shape, who went on to run in the 2004 Trials (at the age of 40) and 2008 Trials and win multiple masters championship titles. Jaymee was the second masters runner I followed and my first Houston Hopefuls interview — the woman who inspired the series, really. I have followed Jaymee’s running career for at least three years and was elated when she qualified for the trials in Chicago in 2010, the third-oldest first time qualifier in history (sorry, Jaymee; that’s not a backhanded compliment, just a fact). Not only did both of these women make the Trials, but they are also both phenomenal runners when they are running well. But now, here they both had been, struggling just to finish.

And, you know, I’m really proud of them both for running and finishing. But at the same time the whole thing — marathoning, the Trials, setting goals — it just seems like such a giant cosmic joke. You can make all the plans you want, but in the end life is going to happen. And just when you thought you’d lowered your expectations as much as you possibly could — “I’ll just race the 5K and watch the Trials…” — you end up having to lower them even more.

Why do we strive? Why do we set goals? Fate laughs at them sometimes, reminds us of how temporary we all are, and renders our grand plans totally trivial. But what else are we to do?

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