Battle plan

I had my podiatrist appointment last week, and it went way better than I expected it to. I had a bunch of x-rays, and nothing is broken or out of place, which is a big relief.

I had to give this guy my life story of the past 8 months: how it happened, what I’ve tried, which doctors I’ve been to, how it used to feel, how it feels now, what I’ve been doing exercise-wise, where I got my orthotics, the whole nine yards. When I described how the piano came flying toward me and crushed my ankle against a concrete step, he was horrified. When I told him I ran a marathon on it, he was incredulous, but pleased in the sense of “well, if you could do that, it can’t be that bad.”

There’s no name for what’s going on with my foot and ankle, with is annoying because it makes it cumbersome to describe. It’s not like “runner’s knee” or “IT band syndrome” or anything like that. Basically, that piano bashed the ever-loving hell out of some ligaments that tried to heal themselves and became knotted up with scar tissue and adhesions, which are stiff and inflamed, which prevents my foot from having a proper range of motion, which my foot adapted to because it’s lazy, which causes more swelling, which irritates some nerve in my foot, which makes it tingly and achy.

Solution: deep tissue “massage” and intense “stretching,” AKA torture. Basically, they are going to squeeze and smash the scar tissue out of me with assorted torture devices. I’m set to go to therapy twice a week for three weeks, then then see where I’m at.

While I was there, I also had him look at the custom shoe inserts I had made over the summer, and he was somewhat baffled. They cast the molds correctly and they fit my feet fine, but apparently they used a much stiffer material for the bottom half than what is common. Typically, they use a softer cork so there’s a bit more give when your foot hits the ground, but mine is really dense and stiff. He made a few adjustments and they’re fitting much better, but he said he’d like to replace the cork on the bottom with something more appropriate, so I’ll probably look into that after I see how therapy is going.

I ran 1 mile on the treadmill after going to the doctor Thursday, then Dan and I walked about 7 miles on Sunday. I don’t think my ankle is quite ready to pound the pavement just yet, and I’m definitely not comfortable dropping any money on race registrations, but I’m feeling much more positive about the situation and closer to running “for real” again.

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Unfinished business

I’ve only run a handful of miles since my marathon all the way back in mid-October. It total. It doesn’t feel good. My foot and ankle actually feel worse somehow, like my arch has fallen and I have no support through it.

Ever since I got back into running after a hiatus in college, I’ve noticed a trend: I pick a race, train for it like crazy, have some minor issue that I don’t take time off for, race and am disappointed with the results, then get sidelined because the minor issue becomes major. It sucks. I have wasted so much time the past three or four years recovering from stupid injuries when I could be building on my fitness levels to get faster and stronger. As a runner, it’s in my nature to be a hard-headed idiot, but it’s time for me to learn some lessons and get it together so I’m not constantly saying “if only.” “If only I hadn’t hurt myself. If only PT weren’t so expensive. If only I had a few more weeks to train.”

I’m ready for 2014 to be a PR year. As proud as I was after running my first marathon, hindsight and perspective have left me wanting more. I still haven’t attained my sub-2 half marathon goal, the one I set back in 2011. Why? I was so burnt out and sour after my first attempt that I stomped off in the other direction and did nothing for a while. Then Dan broke his leg, and I didn’t have the time, let alone the finances or energy, to sign up for something else and try again. Then inertia took hold, and I wimped out of really pushing myself toward that goal and settled for running races in distances I’d never done before. Automatic PR, right?

I’m Twitter friends with a lot of runners, and it’s driving me bonkers seeing all of the “I signed up for _____ as my spring marathon!” and “Just registered for ___!” posts. I’m freaking jealous! I want to feel like I’m achieving something quantifiable, something I can chart and compare and say to myself “this is better than last time.”

Now that the holidays are over and we don’t have any travel or excitement on the agenda, it’s time to tackle the scary questions: What in the hell is wrong with my foot, and what will I have to do to fix it? Will I ever be able to run pain-free? Will I ever be able to run long again? How much is this going to cost? I have an appointment with the podiatrist next week, so hopefully I’ll have some answers soon. Until then, my current race times will be burning in my brain, and my subconscious will be whispering “you can do better.”

So…now what?

Tricky thing about training for races, especially longer ones: They happen, you feel awesome, then you have a bunch of free time and no idea what to do with it.

In classic runner fashion, I went from excited about training, to feeling overwhelmed with it, to being irritated with myself for signing up, to being proud of my improvement, to looking forward to tapering, to losing my mind during the taper, to successfully finishing my race, to being so happy it was over, to missing running all the time.

So there’s that.

The same ankle that’s been harassing me this entire training cycle did so well during the race… then that same foot started acting up. Ms. Super Genius over here wasn’t thinking when I packed footwear for Chicago and spent all day Monday walking around the city in Chuck Taylors (I know). The outside of my foot started throbbing toward the end of the day and has a weird nob/bump on it. I went to the doctor, who promptly told me to quit being an idiot, put on real shoes, and stop running for a week or two lest I give myself a stress fracture. So, that’s where I’m at right now.

I’ve been icing, elevating, and calcium-ing it. I have to admit, it is feeling better. My custom orthotics have arrived, but the office can’t get me in to “fit” me for them (aka, let me pick them up and make sure they didn’t mess up my order) until Nov. 4. Until then, no running and minimal walking (as much as I can help it).

For now, I’m going to hit the weights and the bike, hard. I bought “The New Rules of Lifting for Women” some time last year and made it through the first few cycles with pretty significant gains, so that’s what’s on the agenda for now. I’m hoping to improve my strength, which shouldn’t be hard given how little time I spent in the weight room over the summer, and correct some muscle imbalances in doing so.

After that, it’s time to tackle my half marathon and 10k PRs (PR = personal record). They are old, outdated, and not indicative of my ability. Look out, spring racing season, I’m coming for you… as soon as my foot heals.

Not a training recap

I won’t bore you guys too much with the stuff I have/haven’t been doing re: my training plan. It’s been a little spotty the past few weeks, as my ankle injury from a moving mishap over Memorial Day weekend (yes, that long ago) has been flaring up.

I missed 2 significant long runs because my ankle was in such bad shape: a 12-miler and 16-miler. After going to a few doctors, it looks like I did actually do some damaged when my ankle was smashed by that piano. It seems as though I tore some smaller ligaments that healed funny, and now my ankle doesn’t have enough stability when I run. Luckily, taping up my foot really helps, and I have a few PT sessions set up to try and sort everything out. Because taping my foot has been so beneficial, my doctor is recommending some custom orthotics, which will hopefully be here in about 2 weeks. Not ideal, but better than a “no run” order!

For weeks 11 and 12 of training, I mostly stuck to the bike and elliptical with a few run/walks in there. Nothing worth writing home about. For week 13, I did a fair amount of walking but didn’t manage much gym time. Honestly, I was defeated and feeling pretty sorry for myself. Not a great thing when you’re trying to accomplish a goal that requires motivation and consistency.

Before all of that nonsense, I had registered for McKendree University’s Harvest Challenge “half” marathon (actual distance: 13.25, not the standard 13.1 miles). It fell on a weekend that my training plan called for 18 miles, and I thought it’d be nice to have some course support for a good chunk of that run. Plus the registration was less than $37, including Active.com service fees. After the issues with my ankle and significantly lighter training the past few weeks, I decided to just try and make it through the race and not tack on my extra miles. Turns out, that was a smart decision.

I had been dreading this “race” all week. Like I said, I was feeling defeated and I really didn’t know how/if I’d be able to make my way through it. It was weighing heavily on my mind and putting me in a terrible mood (sorry, everyone). We drove out to Lebanon, Ill., the night before and crashed at the Drury in O’Fallon (thanks, Dad!). I slept like a baby and woke up at 6 a.m. to get ready and eat breakfast. By the time we got to the university for packet pick-up around 7:15, it was 70ish degrees and 97% humidity. It only got worse from there.

This about sums it up.

This about sums it up.

The entire course was through farmland. Mostly corn fields. At one point, we ran past a place housing a bunch of thoroughbred horses, which was pretty cool.

The scenery for roughly 11 of the 13.25 miles of the race. Fields, fields, more fields, and no shade whatsoever.

The scenery for roughly 11 of the 13.25 miles of the race. Fields, fields, more fields, and no shade whatsoever.

This was a TOUGH race. Even if I’d had better training leading up to it, it would have been really difficult. Everyone I talked to was resigned to just trying to get through the thing. It was relentlessly muggy, and there wasn’t a single patch of shade to be found on the course between miles 1.5 and 12. Really, really tough. Not to mention, the elevation map looked like this:

OUCH. Think this looks bad? Imagine trying to run it at 80 degrees and 70% humidity.

OUCH. Think this looks bad? Imagine trying to run it at 80 degrees and 70% humidity.

I had decided that I wasn’t going to kill myself for this thing. My strategy was to make it through the first 3 miles, then walk for a bit and take some Honey Stingers (my favorite fuel so far). After that, I planned to run to each aid station, then walk for 0.1 to 0.25 of a mile. I mostly stuck to that, though I walked much more in the “hill country” of miles 8.5 to 10. Trying to run up those things was just a wasted effort at that point, they were so steep. It might not look like much to trail or mountain runners, but I don’t run a ton of hills like that on a regular basis! I tried to run halfway on the uphills, walk the rest, then run the downhills and flats. It worked out OK.

I don’t even know my official time, but my Garmin had me at 2:41ish for 13.35 miles. My ankle held up really well; it never hurt during the run. However, I ended up with some pretty good blisters on my feet from tape the doctor used to wrap up my feet. I hardly ever get blisters, but I could feel them developing from mile 9 onward.

Overall, dragging myself out to do this run did me a lot of good. It broke through my “woe is me” mentality and gave me a little confidence. Yeah, it was super slow. Yeah, I had to walk more that I ever have before. At the same time, my ankle was able to withstand the stress, and I don’t feel like I lost too much endurance with my lighter training the past couple of weeks. I also got to talk to some cool people and add another nice race shirt to my collection. Given the weather, I don’t feel too bad about the outcome.

It’s time to tackle week 14 with confidence and gusto!

Route 66 10k recap?

It’s a stretch to call this a recap, because I don’t have much to say. I woke up early, drove to Edwardsville, Ill., (Dan even came! I usually fly solo at races) and ran/walked a very slow 10k. No PR here, which was to be expected. I got it done in 59:29, about a minute per mile slower than what I had been aiming for prior to smashing my ankle with that piano. My time somehow landed my in the top 10 (out of 20 something) in my age group. So maybe everyone had a rough day?

The weather seemed nice at first, but the course went down into a valley and the  humidity was smothering. If I learned one thing, it’s that I’m not acclimated to the heat/humidity yet. If I learned another, it’s that I need to train myself better to sustain hard efforts for longer distances. I haven’t really figured out pacing for anything longer than a 5k, mostly because I haven’t raced other distances frequently enough to work out the kinks. My plan is to incorporate longer tempo runs into training, because I’m cheap and don’t want to pay for a bunch of races.

I felt OK for the first 3 miles, but I never really found a groove. My ankle started getting sore and tingly at that point and the humidity was getting to me, so I started taking walk breaks 30-90 seconds at a time maybe once per mile. I figured it wasn’t worth pushing it if my ankle was sore, especially since marathon training began Monday!

I felt really wiped out for a good portion of the afternoon. Dan suggested I might have had some heat exhaustion, which is definitely possible. It took a long time for me to rehydrate and feel human again; not something that’s usually an issue for me after only 6 miles.

Here's a picture of me at the (uphill) finish, trying to look happy and excited.

Here’s a picture of me at the (uphill) finish, trying to look happy and excited.

The course was mostly shaded and on a smooth bike path with some rolling hills. I would do it again. The shirts are also pretty cool, and they gave out a pretty decent gear bag, too. Not too shabby for a $30 registration fee.

In other news: MARATHON TRAINING IS HERE. It’s only day 2, but I’ve already impressed myself by waking up at 6:10 a.m. to get a workout in. Please, someone pat me on the back.

EDITED TO ADD: I can’t stop listening to this song:

I run because…

Today is National Running Day. I follow a lot of runners and read a lot of running and fitness blogs, and there was a prompt floating around: “I run because…”

It got me thinking…why do I run?

Short answer: I run because I can.

Long answer: I run because it makes me happy, it pushes me to become a better person, to eat cleaner, and to take better care of myself. It gives me alone time to clear my mind. It prevents me from having to take anger management classes. It gives me time to enjoy nature and get some fresh air. Running gives me confidence, physical and mental stamina, and peace. I run because I can’t afford a therapist. You get the idea.

I started running in high school. For whatever reason, I just always knew I’d be on the cross country and track teams. I don’t know why I had it in my head. I dabbled in softball and did some gymnastics as a kid, but I never really played organized sports. It just wasn’t my thing. My mom jokes it’s because I don’t play well with others. There might be some merit in that.

When I first started running, I was not good. (Disclaimer: I’m still not). I was the slowest girl on the team, and that’s not an exaggeration. Every race, I gutted it out for second-worst time on the team with one other girl, and she usually won. Many of my peers seemed naturally better at running that I was. There were several freshmen on the varsity squad. Now that I’m more experienced, I realize that I was running with some amazingly talented people. As a slow freshman surrounded by speedsters, I felt like a failure. But I kept coming back. And coming back.

And every time I came back, I got a little faster. Was I ever the fastest? Nope. Did I still feel inadequate compared to other, faster girls on the team? Sometimes. But I was still proud of my improvements.

I finally made the varsity cross country team off and on my senior year, always as the slowest on the varsity squad, and I had to bust my butt for it. I won “Most Improved” at the end of the season. From freshman to senior year, I took over 9 minutes off my 5k time (told you, SLOW). I was so proud of myself and incredibly excited for spring track season, which had always been my stronger sport (relatively speaking, that is!).

During winter training, I somehow managed to hurt my back. It took forever for the doctors to figure out why I was in so much pain. My legs were going numb and I couldn’t sleep. Sitting in a school desk was excruciating. I was miserable. Turns out, I had torn a disc in my lower back. I still have no idea how.

With that, out went my track season. I never got to see how much I had improved in the 3200m run. Watching from the sidelines was awful, but I had no choice. I was too injured, and recovery was going to take months. I felt really sorry for myself; luckily, had I had other activities to keep me busy. I didn’t get well enough to run again until about halfway through my first year of college.

I ran sporadically throughout college, but never more than 4 or 5 miles at a time. It wasn’t a priority and I had other things to occupy my time. I picked it up much more regularly after I graduated and started my first job in South Carolina, where I hadn’t made friends yet.

I’d gotten back into a serious fitness regimen in the spring of 2010 when I started having a lot of pain and cramping in my abdomen and back. As it turns out, I had a giant cyst in my ovary. One so big, they had to remove the cyst and the ovary via open abdominal surgery. I spent the next 8 weeks recovering. During that time of inactivity, I realized how important running actually was to me. How much healthier it made me, mentally and physically. Because I was a runner, I recovered from surgery faster. Because running made me more aware of my body and how it should feel, I noticed something was off and had it checked out, despite my doctor’s suggestion to “just wait.”

As soon as I got the OK to start running again, I signed up for my first half marathon. It was something I’d “always wanted to do,” but never bothered making time for because I thought I could do it later. That surgery made me realize that there isn’t always a “later.”

If you want to do something, go do it. This was made even more real to me when Dan tripped during one of our runs together and broke his tibia and tore his MCL, ACL, and PCL. He hasn’t been able to run since, and just had another surgery with the hope that he will be able to in a few months. So far, things are looking good. I had the same feeling last summer, after Kim passed away and I realized I’d never watch him come running down Royall Prairie Lane ever again.

So. I run because I’m here, I’m healthy, and I can.

Stupid things update

One week out, and my ankle still hurts and is black and blue like crazy. Thankfully, the swelling has gone down significantly. I had an appointment with my sports PT before I hurt myself (for a standard chiropractic adjustment), and she was kind enough to take a look at it while I was there. She confirmed that it’s a deep, stubborn bone bruise. Unlike my regular doctor, she was able to do something about it: ultrasound massage. It was glorious. She used Biofreeze, and it felt like I had an ice pack on my ankle for the next 4 hours. Took the majority of the swelling right out. I have another appointment tomorrow morning, so I’m hoping I’ll get more of the same.

I haven’t tried to run on it yet, but it’s still sore to walk on and really stiff. Ankle circles take a lot of effort. I’m going to try for some easy miles this week. As for my 10k on Saturday, I still plan to do it. It might not be too exciting, but whatever. I’ll get in some miles and snag a new tech Tshirt. I was hoping to average 8-minute miles for the race, but I’ll be happy if I can manage a sub-9 average. I ran a casual 10k “race” (more like a fun run) in April of 2012 after a long layoff and averaged 8:56 miles on a hilly course after going out way too fast and not bothering to train or really run much in the weeks prior. Saturday’s course looks like it will be rolling hills, but I’m hoping to improve a bit on my time. It will only be the second 10k race I’ve ever done. A PR might be possible, but I’m not going to push it too hard given my circumstance.

Official marathon training starts 1 week from today. Pray for me (no, really). And don’t forget to donate!