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Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Plantar Fascists

So you've probably been wondering where I am.

Okay, that's not true. You've probably just forgotten that you signed up for this silly little blog, but I'm still here, and you're still reading, so I'm going to fill you in on why I haven't been writing. The reason is very simple (and sad). It's because I haven't been running.

Turns out, plantar fasciitis really sucks. For the longest time, I've been laboring under the (incorrect) assumption that plantar fasciitis was something that happened on the bottom of your feet, primarily in the middle. It was my understanding that the whole of the injury was related to a painful splitting feeling in the arch of the foot, as though the skin was splitting open. Incredibly uncomfortable, certainly, but ultimately very rare and ignorable.

Thankfully, I have a mother who is more inquisitive than I. She sent me to a website with information about plantar fasciitis from the National Institutes of Health. Immediately, I recognized the symptoms, especially the extreme pain the heel upon waking up. Bummer.

I hate this stupid injury. It's always been the scary collection of tendon names and excessive vowels that looks vaguely like Fascists, and we didn't like them much either. It's one of those things that gets brought up in running magazines as something to avoid, but until you've got it underneath your stride, you really don't have any clue just how painful it can be. Knowing that I've succumb to one of the big killers of running doesn't make me feel any better about the agony.

The good side of this coin is that I now know what the problem is. I mentioned before, I think, that I had some concerns about whether this injury might be something in the bone, but now I know that the outlook is better and treatment should not require anything more than a few adjustments. First, I'm getting a night splint (also supplied from my devoted mother) to keep the injury stretched in the night. Second, I haven't run a step since last Thursday. It's killing me a little bit, but at the same time, my foot is feeling much better. I'm planning to stay off of it until this coming Thursday, when I'll take the body out for a spin and see what happens. Hopefully, by then I'll my splint and the pain will be lessened or erased.

Finally, I'm devoting myself to other forms of activity that do not directly affect the pain in my foot. In particular, I FINALLY got myself a bicycle, which I intend to ride down to Barton Springs, where I will take a swim before returning. That's right, triathlon training. Cardiovascularly awesome, impactfully minimal. Runner: 1, Plantar Fascists: 0. (In my mind, I'm now personally competing against a bunch of hard-line government agents with an emblem that features feet.)

I still miss being out on the road, and I can hardly wait for Thursday to come around. Running has become such an integral part of my emotional health, that I've been more volatile than normal the last couple of days. I need to get moving again.

But I need to get healthy first.

Saturday, June 9, 2012


My foot hurts.

When I'm in the last few weeks of my training, it becomes necessary (at least in my mind) to ignore any and all defects in my body. I tell myself that I'm fine, and I keep moving forward, because the last thing I want to do is consider all the time and money that I've put into my training as a waste.

So for the last few weeks, I've been ignoring the fact that my right foot has gotten progressively more painful. It's a sharp pain in the heel, right where it connects to the tendons under the foot. What's really strange about it, though, is that I cannot quite pinpoint what kind of injury it actually is. I would think it a stress fracture, but it hurts less the longer I run. That doesn't make sense.

That tells me it's probably muscles or tendons. Gross. However, the good news on that front is that there is only one source of recovery: rest. So today, I rested. As I did yesterday, and as I shall do tomorrow.

It also helps that I've had an extremely busy weekend. With four different theatrical commitments, a borrowed car, a needy (but adorable) dog, and a wife out of town, my life has been happening in between  moments of driving, extreme heat, and avoiding a motorcycle rally. You know what I don't really need today? Extra running.

I still may get out on the road tomorrow, but I think it unlikely. I would have to wake up completely without pain, and I don't see that happening, as (strangely) the pain has gotten worse with rest. I'm telling myself that it's healing.

I know, I know. Go see a doctor. It's absolutely what I should do, but I'm quite sure they'll tell me what I know already: rest. Since I'm already doing that, I don't feel the need as of yet to pay someone else to agree with me. Fortunately, I've got a while before I have to race or anything, so if it turns out that I need more rest than I've currently planned, I've got the time.

Run smart, and you'll keep running.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

National Running Day 2012

In honor of the holiday, I worked on the hardest skill for a distance runner.

Today, I rested.

In my first day without running since the marathon, I felt like I was cheating myself out of a holiday. Everyone in my Twitter feed and on Facebook keeps talking about National Running Day as though it is something to be followed and observed carefully. And what was on my schedule? Nothing. Nothing at all.

Believe it or not, I really thought about skipping the rest day to get some miles in that I could report on any one of the hundreds of social media outlets asking for mileage totals. Then I realized that it would be insane. I needed a day off my feet to let my poor, poor muscles recover. They've had a long week.

There were a lot of other options for celebrating the day, but I took advantage of none of them. Luke's Locker downtown was doing a pub run this evening, but it didn't seem like a great plan to me to run from bar to bar in 97 degree sun. They were giving discounts on their gear, and I really need at least one new pair of shoes, but I couldn't even afford the sale prices. At least not this week. For much the same reason, I did not take part in Rock 'n' Roll Marathon registration day, offering a $20 discount on race registration today. They're still not cheap.

Overall, the one thing that I did today that actually identifies me as a runner is that I was smart enough not to do anything. And yes, that's a skill, too. You have to learn to listen to your body when your ego says that you can push more. My heel hurts a little, and it could really use a break, so I gave it one. I'll do enough miles this year; I don't have to do the risky ones.

My real question now is what to do tomorrow. My legs feel ready to do some speed work, but I worry that it might be coming back a little too soon. Eh.

We'll see how I feel when the alarm goes off.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Edge of Time

It's never easy to cross time zones.

Those who run destination races with any amount of regularity will readily warn you of the dangers of jet lag. As your body adjusts to the hours that you've skipped (or are repeating), every system gets out of whack. The experts will tell you to give yourself plenty of time to regulate before you head to the start line, especially when you've got a long way to go.

Now, I only crossed over one time zone, and barely at that, so for me, it was really more of a jet snag, and it didn't affect my race at all. What was really odd about the whole thing was how close we were to the crossover point. For one thing, my satellite watch kept picking up signals from Central Time, so it was off by an hour from South Bend time all the while that I was there. For another, the sun was behaving very oddly. Even though it was an hour later, the sun positioning was essentially the same (as far as my body was concerned) as it had been in Texas and Chicago. Thus, it didn't really get dark until around 9:30 at night, after I'd gone to bed the night before the race.

Not only that, but the sunrise was surprisingly early as well (because we were much farther north), so during the race, it was high in the sky by 7:00. This was all well and good until I went back to Chicago and the sun was up and shining at 6:00, right into the living room where I was crashing, which meant that I was up with no problems that morning bright and early.

But now I'm back home, and the sunrise is where it should be, somewhere in the vicinity of 7:30, which for some reason is completely throwing me off. It's just one more thing to which I must readjust myself after travel.

The really good news, though, is that my legs are back to form. I still have a little wobble going down stairs, but throughout a five miler this morning, I had no issues, and was back up to speed, running my fastest 5-mile course time since April 16th. I'm already on the path to my next race, which is currently scheduled to be the Chicago Marathon, but may be bumped up if I can find a decent race in late August or early September. I would very much like to run Boston next year, and Chicago won't be early enough to get it done.

To that end, I'm going to be changing a few things about my lifestyle in the coming weeks. I've already begun to commit myself to eating more regular meals, and with this will come a substantial increase in my water intake. I'm once again going to refocus my efforts on waking up nice and early in the morning, as it's getting too hot to run after sunrise already. My goal is to develop a strong routine that drives me to succeed. I need to increase my own personal discipline to make sure that I will have the mental toughness to push myself at mile 21. My racing career has just started, and it's time I got serious.

Now if I can only convince my sleep cycle to do the same.

Tuesday's workout:
85 degrees, sunny, humid
5.15 miles

Monday, June 4, 2012

2012 Sunburst Marathon: Personal Experience

I at least trained correctly this time, even if I didn’t race that way.

This morning, in the early morning sunlight of Chicago, I went for a four mile run, exploring the slight differences in the streets that I called home for three years. Some bars had closed while others had just changed names. At least one structure was completely new, but most of the neighborhood looked the same.

The real difference was me. When last I lived in Chicago, I was by no means a regular runner. I got into a rhythm for a few weeks once or twice, but invariably, the weather would take a turn for the awful, and I’d give it up. What had always been a challenging three mile jog was, this morning, a nice, easy part of a four mile recovery run. It reminded me just how far I’ve come as a runner, and just how well as I was trained for Sunburst.

After all, I haven’t been able to walk correctly within five days of a marathon before, much less actually go for runs. At times this morning, I was actually moving at my usual pace with relatively low amounts of pain. I’ve already done six miles since crossing the finish line, a recovery that is unparalleled in my racing past.

It’s great that I’m feeling good now, because it makes me a little less concerned with how I felt during the race. As I mentioned yesterday, I ended up running with a group that was much faster than they had advertised themselves to be. For the first three miles, though, I barely noticed. We were running well, a bit ahead of the pace that I had planned to do, but without pain or overexertion, so I continued on happily.

As it turned out, we were being paced by a guy whose PR is in the 2:30 range. His friend wanted to run a 2:57, and was following him. When our guide stopped for a bathroom break shortly after the 5K mark, I thought we were on our own. Not so. He caught back up within the mile, barely breaking a sweat.

We made it to the northernmost point of the course and headed back down the path by the river. At this point, there were five of us in a tight group, joking and laughing with one another as though this were any old group run. We talked about where we were from and shared racing horror stories while griping about the difference between our GPS numbers and the mile markers on the course. We headed into the more business-oriented part of town together, trading off the lead and getting a course preview from one of our number who had run the race before.

Together, we moved down the hill (that would loom large at mile 24) at around 12 miles, still strong. Unfortunately, our pace guide (who had taken another pit stop at around 7) felt his hamstrings start to give out, and he left our number. Without him, the friend he had been pacing dropped back with another member of our unofficial group. That left me and the course guide by ourselves. I checked our pace. We were going faster. This might be a problem

My first half had been the fastest half marathon of my life, and while I still felt strong, I knew that I would be fighting for the later miles. The path narrowed, and we continued on a seemingly endless out-and-back. At around mile 15, I finally started to drop back from my partner, still maintaining a pace at or above my intended goal. Almost immediately, one of the guys we had dropped passed me back and caught up with the guide, leaving me in no man’s land between groups.

By mile 18, the Wall approached.

I finally got to the turnaround (in 12th place at the time), and I could feel that I was going to have trouble. My hamstrings were starting to tighten up, and even though I had energy, it wasn’t transferring to my legs. Coming back across the bridge, I stopped to walk for the first time, unbelievably mad at myself.

Still, I got back up, so to speak. I was able to get my legs going again, and I did a run-walk alternation for the next four miles. With only four miles to go, I knew – and told myself – that the next time I stopped to walk, it would be giving up on a Boston Qualifier. I pushed as long as I could, and then the hamstrings went.

I remembered, in that moment, very sharply, the feeling of pulling my hamstring in the final mile of last year’s Marine Corps Marathon. I knew that if this happened to me with four miles to go, I was done for. So I stopped, knowing that it would render my chance at qualifying impossible. I did it in order to ensure that I would finish. I could still get a PR, and I did not want to risk that. I gave myself a minute to walk, at which point my legs cleared up, and I was able to continue.

Finally, at around mile 24, I came upon my friends. We had agreed that this would be the place to meet, since it gave them a chance to see me on the course without taking them out to the middle of nowhere. They cheered loudly for me, and I got a high five from a security person, which I had promised we would share many miles earlier. All of this incredible help did little to ease my journey up that hill that I mentioned earlier. I walked through the water stop at the base of it, and would not walk again.

What I’ve learned this time around will, I believe, genuinely help me out in my training. First, I think I have to push the pace of my long training runs a little more. I’m not saying I will run them really fast or anything, but at least faster than I have been, hopefully within a minute’s pace of my goal. Second, I’m going to do a lot of work on my hamstrings. My running style does not do much to bolster the strength of the backs of my legs, so when I use them continually for three hours, they get exhausted. By doing more of the high-impact workouts that I’ve found, I will develop those muscles and not have to worry about wretched hamstring cramps next time around.

Finally, I must learn to run my own pace. I want to run with groups, but the second I lose contact, I’m done. That can’t happen. I must increase my own mental toughness and pace awareness, assuring that I can do this on my own.

And I must also find a September marathon.

Monday’s workout:
Sunny, relatively cool
4.06 miles

Sunday, June 3, 2012

2012 Sunburst Marathon: Race Review

One hundred forty-two seconds.

That was the difference in my race yesterday. A meager 2 minutes and 22 seconds stood between me and the Boston Qualifying time for which I have been working for months. I’m not going to lie, I was a little disappointed.

And then I got over it.

How? By realizing that I still ran a personal best marathon by more than 5 minutes. Once again, I went out a little too fast, though for this, I blame other people more than myself. I thought I was going out with a group of guys shooting for a 3-hour race. Turns out , they had bigger plans, and I found myself tagging along at a pace that was nearly 15 seconds faster than I intended to run. No matter, I’ll just train for that next time.

In fact, I’ve got a lot of ideas for things to change in my training plan for next time, but today, I want to write about the race itself. Registration was easy, and as far as marathons go, the price was pretty reasonable. I don’t know anything about available accommodations, as I stayed with friends, but there are a number of hotels near the start line, so I imagine you can find something if you plan ahead.

I was a little disappointed in the expo, but I must acknowledge that I’ve been a little spoiled. I’ve never done a marathon with less than 3,000 finishers, and this year’s Sunburst Marathon had 446, according to my results page. The national scale to which I’m accustomed does not apply. The expo actually taught me a lot about what to expect from the race. Looking at it through local eyes, it’s much more impressive.

The start was well-organized, and fortunately the College Football Hall of Fame let us stand in the lobby, as it was a chilly 48 degrees at race time. The course itself was fine, but not one I would enjoy running again and again. The two long out-and-back portions were extremely fatiguing mentally, especially seeing everyone come  back at you after the turnaround. I saw some complaints (for past races) that the course was not clearly marked, but I found it easy to follow. The only issue with that was the lack of spectators in long portions of the course. When I found myself alone at mile 23, I honestly wondered if I had wandered off the course for a moment, only to find a water stop around the next turn.

My biggest complaint about the course in general had to do with the surfaces on which we ran. There was one insanely slippery bridge, a road made out of bricks (like cobblestone, but not), and lots of potholes and split asphalt. Late in the race, those things took a toll on my feet. Also, there were some issues with closing streets. I had three or four vehicles drive past me on the course at one point or another. Less than awesome.

It’s all worth it, though, when you turn into that tunnel. I raised one arm in victory as I headed to the field, a huge grin spreading across my face. I wished they had put something other than water on the field for us to have as we crossed, though. I understand that they want you to take your pictures and move on, but I wanted to savor the moment on the field just a little longer.

Swag-wise, the race was a little below average, though again, I know it’s a local race. The medal was nice; a very simple design, but pretty, and better than some I’ve seen. I like the shirt, too, though I’ve never been a huge fan of having the thirty sponsors listed on the back. Still, nice logo, and a tech tee at that. There was pretty much nothing else of value from the packets. Most of what was in there was information about other races in the area, which naturally doesn’t matter much to me. I think they were saving their money for the food at the end. There was a really impressive amount of food, but all I cared about was the chocolate milk. Every race should have chocolate milk at the end. It’s awesome.

Overall, I enjoyed the experience a great deal. I probably would not do the marathon again, but if I’m back for a reunion weekend some year, I might do the half. The staff was great, the volunteers were enthusiastic, and the finish line was unmatched.

Not a bad way to spend a Saturday morning.

Sunday’s workout:
Warmer than yesterday, but still cool
2.15 miles (Yes, I ran today, but more on that tomorrow.)

Saturday, June 2, 2012

So Close

I didn't do it, but I was awfully close.

Today was the Sunburst Marathon, and it was a very good experience. Not the best race that I've ever joined, but I had a great time. At the start, I joined up with a group of guys set on running a 3-hour race. Or so I thought. As it turned out, they were going for a 2:57, which meant that they (we) would go out and run the first half in 1:27. Whoops.

Around mile 16, I started to feel it, and by 18, the turnaround point in the second out-and-back portion of the race, I was worried that I had been cashed. My legs did not want to turn over anymore, and the energy was gone. I'd lost the group with which I had started, and it was now up to me. And I didn't have it.

That's not entirely fair. I still had enough for a brand-new PR. But I did not have enough to make it to a Boston Qualifier. I have some thoughts and training ideas that I think well help me get there next time, but as it turns out, I don't have a long way to go. I finished in 3:07:22, my best time by more than 5 minutes. I'm not going to complain about that, which means that, in order to qualify, I've got about 2 and 1/2 minutes to knock out. Not too bad.

For the moment, I don't have the energy to write a long, extended post about the race, but I've got a 2 and 1/2 hour bus ride to Chicago tomorrow to get a full race report. In the meantime, let me say that I'm exceedingly thrilled with my time. I was hoping for a lot more, certainly, but at least it was a PR. And I've still got time.

September marathon, anyone?

Today's workout:
26.2 miles

Friday, June 1, 2012


Less than 24 hours from now, it's on.

My last-minute change in plans has turned out to be a blessing in surprise. I got in to South Bend last evening and now have an entire day to relax in the city of the race. This morning, I went out for a quick two in the cold, rainy air, feeling like I was cutting through without too much effort at all. Given that my legs were not warmed up at all, I was very pleased with my pace, and everything points to success in the morning.

The extra day here has changed everything. The real downside with traveling all over the country to do these races is, oddly enough, the travel. Time spent in planes, trains and automobiles causes muscles to cramp up and the body in general to revolt. Not only that, but you also have the shift in weather or altitude  that comes with being in a new location. You have an unfamiliar bed, a different breakfast, and a whole host of other changes to which you have to get acclimated, and quickly.

So this time, I've got a whole day. I will not be rushed getting through the expo this afternoon. I get to visit a lot of my old haunts from college. If I'm lucky, I might even meet up with some other friends who might be in town. Cap this off with a dinner among friends whom I have not seen in a while, and I've got quite the Friday ahead of me.

And now, I have time to do all the other little things that come with running a marathon. I get to eat regular meals on time. I checked all my equipment last night, verifying that I have everything I need. Today, I'll spend some time putting everything into its proper place, once I've gotten my bib and safety pins. I'll stack up all my clothes in order of putting them on to avoid having to think too much in the morning. The plan is to be able to move on autopilot in the morning, avoiding mistakes and stress.

This has been an incredibly long training season for me, encompassing more than 900 miles and five months. I trust my training. I'm proud of my accomplishments thus far.

And tomorrow, I qualify.

Friday's "workout:"
50 degrees
2.15 miles