And the flowers are still standing!

Coach Sandra indicated recently that I should just go back to the plan she originally drew up for me before I got injured, whenever I felt I was ready to train again.That plan was constructed to get me up to a half marathon (5 weeks before a full), with one or two shorter races along the way.

Okay, I’m ready. After a couple of hours with Excel this morning, I now have a 10 week training plan to take me to the Long Island Half, starting two days ago. Working backward from the May 1 race date was easy enough. The stuff I’ve been doing over the past few weeks were a good lead in to the revisited training plan.

Mileage tops out at 54 mpw and the longest run is 14 miles. There’s a lot of speedwork and progression runs incorporating race effort/pace. The Scotland 10K falls in a good place in training too. I hate to say I’m excited, but I guess I am a little. It seems like a manageable schedule and I was pleasantly surprised to realize that I have 10 weeks to prepare rather than the more measly 8 I’d been thinking I had.

The plusses: My body has held up well under some genuine training demands over the past month+ — the physical ones as well as the mental ones required by doing almost everything on the stupid treadmill. I can look forward to competing in one “important” race per month from now through June. And winter has to end eventually.

The minuses: Not many. I am afraid of getting reinjured, but that worry should manifest itself as a conservative approach to hard training and a prioritizing of recovery, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. After a few years of overtraining, injury and race-time stagnation, I am happy to trade arriving at start lines slightly undertrained for not arriving there at all.

This post title is referenced at 4:30. I have always loved how this line is shouted off camera.

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

Training: Sept 19-Oct 9

As I type this, I am sitting in a chair with a block of synthetic ice wrapped around my right upper hamstring and groin. I’ve tried to avoid my naughty bits, but to effectively ice your groin (more specifically, adductor) muscles, you need to let things slide a little geographically, as it were.

You know, and I’m not saying this sarcastically, for once — the past few months have been amazing. I’ve met some kind and generous people, both in person and virtually (although I hope to eventually bridge those digital divides with many of them). Many have been a great source of information and support. I don’t know that I could have accepted my current predicament without them.

I’m now convinced that I have a stress fracture of the femoral neck. So, here’s something fun: when I was interviewing the elites at the Fifth Avenue Mile event late last month, I got the opportunity to talk with Shannon Rowbury. Another reporter was asking her about injuries and she mentioned the femoral neck stress fracture that hobbled her after high school. I asked her the what the symptoms (and progression) were and they were dead on.

Several of you mentioned this likelihood as well — and don’t think I forgot about that exciting reader contest. If in a month I can actually run without pain, I’m going to declare that diagnosis sound (and, I hope, myself cured) and I will randomly distribute the virtual loot accordingly to one lucky amateur diagnostician, as promised.

Being the biggest amateur diagnostician of all, I have concluded that all of those incredible muscle knots were, aside from being red herrings, a reaction to the fracture. Or maybe they’d always been there and I’d never noticed them because I never had a proper massage or bothered to try rolling them out.

The update on those is that they are all gone. Not only that, but I have loosened up my IT band (and broken up scar tissue that ran along the top part) to the extent that I can roll happily and pain-free, where in the past such activity made me shriek in agony. I can only hope that once I’m actually running again, all of this loosening up will mean a bigger stride — and that means faster running.

But back to my current stay in injury purgatory. I did a lot of walking/standing around Sept 22-26, in conjunction with the Fifth Ave Mile event (interviewing and then volunteering) and also for a new freelance project. I felt all that walking afterwards — the deep, gluteal pain was back and I was a little mad at myself for having pushed things. I took a couple days off (and used the car more), which helped. Then early this month I made a quick trip out to Arizona, so obviously didn’t do anything trainingwise during those days. Then got back and work was crazy again. I was tired from the travel and sleep disruption anyway, so I took off the Tuesday I got back without much guilt.

Now I’m back and can honestly say that I’m working my ass off again. I am averaging 2 to 2.5 hours of gymwork a day. I have rarely gone twice a day, but I may start doing so on days that aren’t as busy with work, so I can break things up a little more and enable some recovery.

It’s not only physically difficult to, say, do an hour of spinning, then stretching/rolling, then weights, then pool running. It’s also quite hard mentally. If I don’t get it over with in the morning, then I literally have to drag myself to the gym in the afternoon. By which time I’m in a terrible mood and seething with a mixture of resentment and despair.

How have other runners dealt with long term injury? I wonder about this. On one hand, I think that doing the alternate training helps because at least I feel like I’m doing something and I get to maintain the chemically-based mood enhancers that I have come to depend on getting from hard exercise. (You think I’m depressed now? You should see me without exercise.) But on the other hand, the whole rigarmarole is a daily reminder of the fact that I can’t run.

I got up this morning at about 7:00 and it was 52F out, sunny and dry. It was the kind of day that I would have loved to have run the 14 miles up to White Plains and back. I know I’m whining. I know it’s unattractive. I can’t help it.

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.

Thanks, Matt!

Matt T. is the host of the running podcast Dump Runners Club. I had the pleasure of spending two exhaustion- and laughter-filled days with him in Vermont for the Green Mountain Relay back in June. He is a talented runner, as is his twin, Mike. Unfortunately, like me he is also struggling with an injury at the moment, in his case a troublesome achilles.

Matt's considerable endowments go beyond the intellectual.

I don’t know how Matt gets through his cross-training sessions, but his podcast has been a sanity-saver for me these past couple of days. As I mentioned in my last injury-related post, I’m spending a minimum of three hours a day on self-rehab, some days as many as five. Now that I’ve discovered that I’m able to ride the stationary bike and walk on the treadmill, that number’s going to go up.

I was sick of my music playlists before my problems set in three weeks ago. For some reason I haven’t spent the time looking for new music (too busy with other stuff, I guess — and being in pain much of the time, which I now no longer am, takes away from things like enjoying music). This week I rediscovered Matt’s podcasts and now am working my way through the older ones.

The Dump Runners Club is unique: it’s a valuable combination of personal experience, reviews, advice and recaps of the world of elite running. There is something for everyone in these 20-60 minute audio treats. Once again am reminded of how marvelous the web is as a medium for enabling individuals with brains and passions to enrich other people’s lives with self-published content — like Matt’s!

New Houston Hopeful interview: Heather May

This one’s with a twist: Heather has qualified for and raced in the Olympic marathon Trials twice already, making her our first “Trials veteran” in the series. Yet her experience has not dampened her enthusiasm for going after a threepeat. Having become a marathoner as much out of ignorance (“I’ve run 10 miles. Now what do I do?”) as out of a desire to qualify for the Trials, Heather’s path as a Trials-calibre runner has been both fraught with peril and filled with opportunities for self discovery.

For the full interview: Houston Hopefuls > Heather May

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