Dallas, healing and recovery, injury, inspiration, marathon, White Rock Marathon

Training is done, all that’s left is to run

Screen Shot 2013-12-01 at 5.29.10 PM
Running the DRC Half with the 1:29 pace group: by Jesse Puentes

After a serious reckoning over a case of plantar fasciitis last spring, I ditched my Vancouver and St. George marathon plans and took some time off. It was awful.

In August I restarted running 20 minutes at a time. I began working with Coach Eric  more than a year ago, which has improved my running, but has been hard work. I have always worked hard at running, but in a haphazard way. Now it is channeled and focused. I put in several weeks this season of 80-100 miles sans injury (I am dealing with some calf pain during this last week, which I’ll mention in a minute) and by the November DRC Half Marathon, I was back where I was last year at this time, which was an all-time best for me.

I did track work and base building during August and September and averaged about 55-60 miles per week during that phase with two harder speed and interval workouts per week. In October and November I moved to twice-a-day easy runs with two harder runs worked in per week, one of them long. The longest runs I did were about two hours (16 miles) with an added hour (6 miles) later that same day — I think I only had a day or two that actually was that long.

Right before I started the two-a-days I had a half-week off due to a family emergency. I had two days off in November when I just felt like I was falling into overtraining territory. I took one day off the Friday after Thanksgiving. Other than that, I haven’t taken any days off since late September.

Many of my running friends have asked me how — with a full-time, demanding job and children — I manage to work in the mileage.

Here are a few tips:

Sheri Piers via masslive.com
Sheri Piers via masslive.com

1. Read about someone else who does it. Sheri Piers has become my inspiration. She’s about my age – a year or two older – and works as a nurse practitioner (they can prescribe medicine so basically, a doctor).  She has a slew of kids and manages to clock some 90-130 miles per week.

She has come in the top 10 in Boston two of the last three years, winning 1st and 2nd place respectively in the masters division in the last two Boston Marathons. She qualified for the Olympic marathon trials.

Someone reportedly asked her, ‘What happens if you don’t get up to run tomorrow?’ And [she says], ‘What do you mean? There is no not getting up. I have three alarm clocks going.'”

2. Learn to be alone. I love running with my group when possible, but I had to learn to love running alone, because I don’t have time to arrange for accompaniment through all these miles. (Though some have been known to meet me at the track for mile repeats at 5 a.m. or at the lake for a 9-mile loop at 4.). The secret to my getting through the long slow miles is – drumroll – a subscription to Audible, where I download books. When things got really tough, I began listening to running-specific books — there is a novel called Flanagan’s Run that I return to time and time again. It is about a cross-country (literally) footrace in the 1930s and it is based on a real event, the 1928 Bunion Derby.

There is a scene that gets me especially pumped in which the runners on their trek through the Rocky Mountains start mornings with a chant.

“’I am a distance runner, my bones are light, my muscles lean. My heart will pump blood forever flushing my blood with oxygen.’ Their voices would echo through the mountains … the litany occasionally would be shouted, as if it were not merely an affirmation of their nature, but a gesture of their defiance. ‘I am a runner. I live as a runner. I eat as a runner. I see the weather, the road the world as a runner.  I have come to run …”

In the beginning, one of the runners finds the words trite, like a prayer you recite in church, he says, but as the days wear on, he shouts and believes he is now describing himself.

I listen to all manner of books and novels and I mix in some runner and triathlete biographies and I also listen to music.

3. Mix up the terrain. Instead of the same routes day in and out, I drive to different parts of Dallas to do my runs, or I run from work in Lake wood or hit the Katy trail and Downtown Dallas. I love being out of town, where I can find new places to run.

Galveston morning run
Galveston morning run

One of my favorite runs this season was in early October. My cousin got married on a Sunday in Galveston. I stayed the night but had to be back to the office in Dallas by noon Monday, so I rose at 4 a.m. and hit the sea wall for a 90-minute (split into three intervals) tempo run. It was the first cool run of the season — 69 degrees. At first I could only hear the ocean, but as the first hour wore on I could see the hint of sunlight rising over the horizon and the last mile was done right on the sand in my bare feet. It was magic.

If you are running more than 70 miles a week, some of it needs to be done on grass (or sand or trail dirt). I do a lot of running at Richland College, on the soccer fields and track.

I do some treadmill too. I don’t mind it at all, because I have my books.

4. Want it. Really, no one is going to run this much unless they have a reason. And there is no good reason to do this, unless you are one of the handful of young people working toward a scholarship or sponsorship in distance running. You just find that you want to or you don’t. If you don’t care about dropping 20 minutes off your marathon time, then it would be stupid to spend 12 hours of your week trying to do it.

I started running because I wanted to say ‘I ran a marathon’. Now I keep working because I want to be a good runner. I don’t really know why I want to be a good runner. I am too old to become a professional runner or an Olympic runner. But still I have this tugging desire to see what my limits are. It doesn’t make any logical sense. It doesn’t make any logical sense that one would climb a mountain, risking his life, simply for the thrill of reaching the top and looking out at the world from great heights. He does it not for money or material winnings, but for a feeling. I haven’t had the urge yet to climb a mountain, but I think that feeling I get at the end of a well-fought race is similar to the feeling a mountaineer gets when he reaches the peak. The less attainable the peak, the greater the feeling.

Anyway, now I have essentially completed the training and the race is one week away.

One week ago, I would have told you I am in the shape of my life. My recent marathon pace runs — done by heart rate — have been in the 7:00-7:15 range. I ran the 8-mile Dallas Turkey Trot in 52:31, about a 6:31 per mile pace.

But I limped away from that race and am now nursing a soleus strain (diagnosed by the internet) and will do the last week of my training on the elliptical.

One important thing I learned last season was to not put all my hopes into one race. When I put in the work, all sorts of positive things happen. Maybe that includes meeting my marathon goals, or maybe something doesn’t work out and I learn a new lesson. Like the main character, Doc, in Flanagan’s Run, “He knew who he was … he had gotten to the center of himself … he had no need to prove anything …”

A new personal best and an attainment of goal time, however, is a much-desired affirmation.

Temps on race day, blessedly, will not be hot like last year. However we might freeze and we might get a nasty wind.

I do not care. I have been waiting for a cold marathon, one for which I am properly trained, for years. Bring it on.

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healing and recovery, injury, marathon, running, shoes

A running junkie’s withdrawals

I will be OK as long as I can consistently keep in my bloodstream a steady flow of that magical stuff with which running injects my psyche.

Alternate headlines — “how not running has made me a miserable bitch”, “Crazy, fat and pitiful”, or “I know I am a self-absorbed whiner, but allow me to continue” or, for Google-bility, “Running injury recovery.”

Happier days, last year at the DRC Half:Photo by Jose Vega
Happier days, last year at the DRC Half:Photo by Jose Vega

As many of my friends and readers of our city’s daily paper already understand, I have gone through drug withdrawals. Bad ones. If you want to know the whole gory story, my memoir-ette won a prize in 2011 and was published in a literary journal, and an excerpt ran in the Morning News last year.

But, as badass as it makes me sound, I am not here to brag about my drug addiction, jail time, rehab. The reason I bring it up is because withdrawal from running, though not nearly as intense, bears a striking resemblance to withdrawal from opiates.

As with drugs, I did not quit running because I wanted to. I quit because I was badly injured and had no choice.

Hitting bottom

In classic denial, through the end of springtime, I ran on a fasciitis-riddled plantar as my pace progressively slowed and my well-practiced gait deteriorated into an awkward unbalanced trot.

In desperation I paid a podiatrist some $300 to inject my feet with cortisone; the result was nil.

My intervention came in the form of firm lectures from my training partners Paul Agruso and Chris Stratton, strongly worded Facebook comments (this isn’t going away, was the overriding theme, peppered with some heartfelt sympathy) and, finally my coach’s refusal to further enable me.

After my planned spring marathon (Vancouver) came and went (I did not go), and after I — in a period of grief following my grandfather’s death — decided to walk 50 miles in one night, Coach informed me that he would not coach me for the October St. George marathon. It wasn’t going to happen, he said. He called it tough love, told me to stop running for six to eight weeks, let my foot heal … he didn’t come out and say this, exactly, but I felt that his point was this: If I train you in this condition, you are going to run that marathon very poorly and you will embarrass yourself and thus so you will embarrass me,  your coach. Continue reading

healing and recovery, inspiration, racing, running, training

Do your best. No more. No less. Duh!

If you haven’t read The Four Agreements, by Don Miguel Ruiz, I highly recommend it. The Agreements are simple principles that, when applied, make life smooth, peaceful, successful and happy. Deal is, these principles which include — “be impeccable with your word, don’t take things personally, never make assumptions and always do your best” — while simple, aren’t easy (that’s where the fourth one comes in – you just do your best).

Last week as I was reading the book, as I often do, especially during challenging times, something new hit me from the “always do your best” section:

Moment to moment, your best will be different — better when you are healthy as opposed to sick, well rested as opposed to tired … Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse and regret.

Here’s the kicker: If you try too hard to do more than your best, you will spend more energy than is needed and in the end your best will not be enough. When you overdo, you deplete your body and go against yourself and it will take you longer to accomplish your goal. But if you do less than your best, you subject yourself to frustrations, self-judgment, guilt, and regrets. Continue reading

healing and recovery, marathon

Late-stage marathon training injuries and fatigue and how to deal

Knees on ice

OK — I have been obsessing for weeks over my pains and aches, especially my knee. I know I am not alone. Especially as we get a few weeks out from race day, when training for a marathon, our bodies tend to start screaming at us. After all, most training programs aim to push you to the brink, before allowing you to heal a bit by reducing long runs during the last three weeks.

But it is most vital at this stage to make the right decision when it comes to either pushing hard or pushing over the edge — the wrong decision can break us on race day. And when you’re paying $500+ to attend race day in Philadelphia (or New York or any outta-town event) you really don’t want to blow it.

That type of decision is central to a note I started composing to this “Ask the Doc” -type forum, but as I wrote, I pretty much realized I could answer it myself or at least research the answers. Here’s my situation:

Throughout the summer I ran about 40-50 miles per week. Started training for a November marathon in August and upped mileage to 50 miles per week and steadily climbed to about 65 miles a week. (Not bragging CJ Wilson style, there is a point to mentioning this.)

For six weeks I ran 50-65 mpw including 1-2 quality workouts (intervals, hills or tempo runs) and I have done four 18-20 mile runs in the last several weeks. Around week five of that, my right knee really started hurting and swelling.

 X-Rays show nothing in particular; the sports chiro diagnosed possible bursitis, but said it was more likely a back issue, such as a slipped disk that is causing referred pain in the knee. He suggested I stop running for about six weeks and I punched him in the face. Just kidding. I told him ‘no can do’ and he compromised and told me stick to quality-work days only and to cross train or do yoga on the off days.

Here’s my fear: my advanced marathoning schedule, was precisely created through painstaking research to produce a marathon of a particular time. (I know it’s working. My 15k tune up a couple weeks ago produced a 2-minute personal best.)

Because of tremendous pain, I cut my mileage justabout in half the last two weeks, but was able to run a confidence-boosting, relatively pain free (until my slow cool-down mile) 20-miler last weekend. 

Am I better off fighting through the miles for the next couple weeks and then trying to spend the last month mending and reducing mileage, or should I just turn my focus to keeping the knee healthy? How much endurance/fitness/strength will I lose by sacrificing a couple of long tempo runs and hill runs six weeks out?

My answer to myself:

OK—whether you have plantar fasciitis, bursitis, fatigue or some undiagnosed pain, the first thing we have to admit is that there is no perfect answer. You have to be honest with yourself about the seriousness of your injury or pain. Even the pros who have coaches advising them have to ultimately decide for themselves whether to keep pushing or not. Decide to go through with the race or not, at least we know we aren’t alone.

(Remember, if you weren’t a stud, this wouldn’t bother you. You’d just stop running when it hurts, like normal folk.)

Since I’ve decided to run my race — assuming I can walk on that day, here are a few nuggets of wisdom I’ve uncovered.

If you have a strong foundation — you’ve been running 35-50 miles a week for several months, including some long runs of two or more hours, your base is going to hold up, even if you had to take a couple weeks off. Here’s what Olympian and sports psychologist Pete Pfitzinger told Running Times, in an article that is about this very decision making topic:

“If you’ve been out one to two weeks, enjoyed a consistent block of training before the layoff, have at least four weeks before your race, and are 100 percent healthy, you can probably shoot for your original goal.” Otherwise, he says, scale back your expectations.

Coach Greg McMillian says in the same article, “If you’ve been running consistently for years, all else being equal, your fitness won’t erode as quickly as it will if you’re relatively new or have had other recent setbacks. The more consistent you’ve been leading into a break, the more ‘savings’ you have to draw on, within reasonable limits.”

Rather than choosing all or nothing, the author suggests experienced marathoners can tweak plans to prevent further injury and possibly still reach goal time — like how my doc suggested just doing my quality workouts.

Sure it was confidence- and strength-building to run 65 miles a week, but if that’s going to keep my knee swollen and painful, I can do 30 miles of tempo, speed and/or long runs and 4.5 hours of yoga and/or pool running instead without much altering my fitness. And that is what I plan to do up until my Nov. 20 race.

Sometimes I wonder whether it’s the actual injury or normal late-stage fatigue and general marathon training weirdness that causes really bad training days. A recent interview by Peter Gambaccini with 5k specialist Lauren Fleshman, who is running her first marathon at NYC, reveals that even really good runners with professional coaches run into fatigue, confusion and mental and physical chaos when training hard for the for the 26.2.

“Marathoning is a sport of extremes,” she says, “Yesterday, I woke up and could hardly run.  I just felt terrible. It was supposed to be a 90-minute run, I thought, ‘There’s no way I’m going to get through this.’ It was awful the whole way. And then today I was thinking I was going to maybe take a day off or cross-train; there was no way I was going to be recovered from yesterday. And then I talked myself out the door and I felt amazing. It made no sense. That’s what I found more than anything with marathon prep, is that day to day, you can have so much variety in how you feel. And you just have to roll with it.”

She also talks about feeling fuzzy brain and mental fatigue. One thing I find interesting about this interview is that Fleshman’s marathon training consists of about 70-80 mile weeks, same as her 5k training, only with the “puzzle pieces fitting together differently.”

Oh, I also learned through reading that interview that Lauren Fleshman maintains a kick-ass running blog.  I’ll leave you with her timely metaphorical words about the edge between “build and taper”:

“For seven weeks I’ve been filling and filling and filling a water balloon without any problems, and suddenly I see that the skin of that balloon is stretched dangerously thin.

“Now here I am carrying this swollen balloon towards the promised land of the taper, aware that the slightest bump from the dullest branch can irreparably rupture what it would have taken a machete to pop five weeks ago.”

She adds that some days she and her balloon are better off spending the day on the couch.

healing and recovery, inspiration, marathon

Joplin marathoners and putting things in perspective

Photo by Advocate photographer Ben Hager

I was feeling pretty sorry for myself this morning, hobbling back to my car after a 20 miler, left at mile 13 by my pace group, who just couldn’t keep stopping and waiting for me to catch up (embarrassing).

The tears were welling up as I said ‘goodbye’ to my fellow runners — most of them had already settled in at Fuzzy’s Taco by the time I finished.

I turned on the car and NPR was playing a piece about the Joplin Road Runners, a running group in Joplin, MO gearing up for the city’s marathon, which is tomorrow. (I can’t find the actual story online yet).

One of the runners, a fast marathoner who had run college track, was recovering from a broken leg sustained when the tornado last summer picked him up and tossed him into his next door neighbor’s back yard. Same tornado turned his house into a pile of sticks — on the bright side, he said he dug up a couple running medals in the debris recently.

Anyway, he says he is disappointed that won’t be running the marathon tomorrow, but he is happy that he can get in “a few painful miles a week”.

Showed me, huh?

healing and recovery, inspiration, marathon, people with true grit, racing, running

Dallas runner makes a major comeback

White Rock area residents Colleen and Eric Nelson are what you might call overachievers — outstanding reporters, dang good runners. It was just following a fall Dallas Running Club half marathon in 2008 that their lives changed. That’s when the driver of a red sedan plowed into a group of runners at Flag Pole Hill.

Eric Nelson, an editor at the Dallas Morning News was hurt the worst. Sunday night, WFAA ran an inspiring piece about the couple’s comeback, which includes a Pulitzer Prize, for Colleen, who also works at the News, and a plan to run The Rock this year.

Watch the video here.

cross training, healing and recovery, yoga

Bikram yoga: not a waste of time if you hope to keep running (and improving)

Blocking out the overwhelming sweat stench and the slow-and-painful-death noises emitting from your neighbor, who might be mere millimeters from you, are but a couple of the myriad challenges you will face in Bikram. Oh, but it's so worth it.

A year ago I thought yoga, and stretching for that matter, was a waste of time, sitting relatively still while I could instead be logging miles. All it took was hearing Dean Karnazes say once in “UltraMarathon Man” that he never stretches, and I swore off even the little I did do.

But as the miles of 2010 added up — 50-, 60- and more-mile weeks and aiming to keep building for a stellar performance in NYC 2010 — I started feeling more-than-minor aches and pains and eventually I incurred some full-fledged injuries including runner’s knee (patellofemoral pain syndrome), tarsal tunnel syndrome and eventually the dreaded plantar fasciitis. Needless to say my November marathon wasn’t the 3:20 I originally was training for, but rather a somewhat disappointing (considering the goal) 3:33.

I knew I needed to reset, find balance and healing if I were to keep running and get to the next level. A couple times on my job at Advocate magazine I had interviewed local athletes who found physical strength and healing through Bikram yoga. Joseph Encinia was a sick kid with rhumatory arthritis. He took so much medicine for the condition that he had a heart attack at age 13. He started Bikram and is now healthy and pain free. He has a trim and strong physique and is a three time National Asana Yoga Champion.

Melisa Christian, a local elite marathoner (with whom I also attended grade school), also told me that one of her secrets is practicing Bikram a few times a week. I hesitated to commit to Bikram because it is rather expensive ($99/month at Bikram Dallas) and it is quite miserable — a 90-minute routine performed in a 105-degree room at  40-percent humidity.

I took a $40 intro month in December while recovering from the various injuries of the season and slowly my body began to heal. One of the most interesting things was that even though I took an entire month off of running, when I returned in January and February – alternating running days with Bikram days – I actually ran a personal best in the 5k (20:38) and ran just at my personal best for the 10k (43:00) and even the half marathon (1:35), and that was in nasty heat/humidity at the 2011 3M in Austin.

My only lingering injury is the plantar, but even that is moderate and almost benign following a hot yoga class. My knees, hips and shins feel great. I find my recovery from long or intense running efforts is way faster than in the pre-yoga days. I breathe more efficiently and I think I handle heat better (the next few months will be the real test). I’ve also lost about five pounds. By the way, there are 26 postures and 2 breathing exercises in Bikram. 26.2. Coincidence?

On Saturdays I usually do a long run (10-18 miles) in the morning and Bikram in the afternoon. Same thing Sundays but with a shorter run. Then I work one in on Wednesday or Friday. I practice at least three times a week and, for what it’s worth, the instructors say it’s more beneficial to clump yoga days together than spread them out.

Bikram is not easy or relaxing. In fact it can be soul crushing and nauseating. It’s hot. Sweat stings my eyes and goes up my nose. I sometimes think I am going to throw up. My heart sometimes feels as if it is coming out of my chest. I occasionally get bitchy during a tough session. (Sound familiar my running friends?) The teachers can be militant (they will push you, chastise you for leaving the room – I’ve never left the room, by the way – and correct you when you are off course). But when I finish, especially if I’ve done something I’d previously figured impossible, I am left with this sweat-dripping euphoria. A sense of confidence that touches other areas of my life.

It’s why any athlete (save the professionals) grinds it out in any sport. That feeling. It’s nice that I can find it in the Bikram room (though it’s not quite as great as finding it on the road, only in my opinion).

Oh, and did I mention? Dean has recently taken up Bikram too.