Sunday, January 25, 2009

2009 Groundhog 5K: Fierce!

My whole family came out to support me in this race, which was awesome, both logistically and mentally. We arrived very early, and enjoyed taking in the scene while I took my time in a nice, long, easy warm-up. I had four layers on, and gradually peeled layers off, tossing them by my kids, which was highly amusing.

I hadn't run for three days leading up to this race, due to the cold that settled in Thursday morning. I was well rested, and was curious to see how I felt in some strides as the race time approached. I felt nothing but thrill as I allowed a few of these; I love running fast. I knew at that point I was going to have a very good race.

With less than five minutes to go, I pushed myself up near the front of the line (no small task the way they line people up). How the singer got through the National Anthem while they raised the platform on her, jerked her to a stop, slipping the flag in the middle of it, is a testament to her commitment to "The show must go on!" Unlike the race a few weekends ago, I intended to be ready for the gun this time :-)

We were off, and within a few hundred yards, I could feel my arms tingle, a sure sign I was going too fast. I allowed myself to pull back just a little, and let some people pass for a bit. I settled down, and passed the first mile in what read 6:22, which doesn't really seem possible. Actually, I'm certain that first mile must be off by a tenth, and I do recall hearing this from others as well.

I never slowed again, and just hung on to what felt like very low 7s, and did more passing than being passed. It felt good and exciting to run this fast, but it was a very hard effort. I knew I'd break 23 minutes, and was just counting down in 30 second increments.

By 19 minutes elapsed, the suffering was pretty intense, but I knew I didn't have far to go. I repeated this verse: "All things are possible through Christ who strengthens me." (Phillipians 4:13). I stopped looking at my watch when it passed 20 minutes and only focused on getting to the finish line. I ran all the way through (there is only chip time at the finish, not the start) and punched it. My watch read 22:35, which is about right, since I was probably about 2 seconds back from the start line.

Immediately after crossing the finish line, KC Photo snapped a picture. This was the peak of my agony from the race, so I imagine this photo will look particularly bad. I thought really ugly thoughts when he snapped that picture :-) (Update: Here's that priceless shot of visual agony for your amusement!)

We waited through the awards ceremony. Funny, I would have had a solid win in the 35-39 female age division. I took 3rd in the female 40-44 with an official time of 22:37. Last year, there were well over 100 women in this age group, so I'm very pleased with placing this well. This was a solid PR for me, my previous PR being 23:38 from August of last year.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Fierce or Wimp?

I headed to packet pick-up for the 2009 Groundhog run for this Sunday. I always like to get that out of the way. The one day I did packet pick-up on the day of the race, there was a problem with my registration. So, I drove the hour to get there, walked in and was quickly asked, "5K or 10K?"

For a moment my brain froze on this question, as if it were a challenge: "Are you really a runner? Or is this a charity event for you?" Or, "Which distance can you complete, the 5K or the 10K?" Even better: "Are you a wimp, or are you fierce?" Finally, I translated it to this: "Real runners, over here. You 5Kers, over there." I managed to mumble out 5K, and was pointed to the correct table, kicking myself the entire way.

What is wrong with me? What is wrong with a 5K? I've run / raced four full marathons, three half marathons, two 10Ks and maybe a dozen or so 5Ks. I could race the 10K on Sunday instead, and most certainly PR the distance easily. Why on earth should I feel remotely "less a runner?" In fact, I've run marathons more comfortably than the suffering I've experienced in an all out 5K. It's as if there's some badge of honor in running the longer distance being offered. Maybe it's just in my head (probably is). But I'll be running this 5K all out, and it will probably be one of my hardest racing efforts ever, if all goes as planned.

I had a fantastic speedwork session on Wednesday, felt like my energy just wasn't ever going to quit. But I woke up at 5 AM the next morning with a terrible sore throat that continued into today, which saw the addition of a congested nose to the mix. I skipped yesterday's run as a result, and today was a scheduled rest day. That's ok, though. I now no longer believe missing a day or two of training will make me lose fitness. In fact, I think I just might even have a better race for the super rested legs.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

So... You Have A Stress Fracture

In the past two weeks, I've heard from several fellow runners who also have suffered from stress fractures. And although I've tried to give some advice here and there in emails, I thought it would be useful to dedicate one entire blog entry to stress fractures (from running). So, this entry is intended for those of you who have a confirmed stress fracture, or aren't sure and think you might have one.

This experience has been the toughest thing I've gone through as a runner, but I want you to know that you CAN do things to speed your healing, and you CAN come back stronger than ever. I am living testimony to both!

Funny thing, only humans and racehorses get stress fractures.

Background: After several weeks of increasingly severe pain in my lower right leg (where I continued to run 50-55 mile weeks), I completed the Chicago Marathon on October 12, 2008. A little over a week later an MRI confirmed a significant tibial stress fracture. Continuing to to run on the fracture is not something I'd condone. Stress fractures are serious business, and continuing to injure the area will lead to a complete break in the bone. As bad as taking a couple of months off of running might sound, having a few pins in your leg and being in a cast and on crutches for many weeks is far worse. And that brings me to my next point.

Get a confirmed MRI-based diagnosis. If you already have this, then you know for sure. If you've had an X-ray, and nothing showed up, request an MRI. Mine didn't show up on X-ray at first either. If you think you might have a stress fracture, please get this checked out immediately. What you do next depends very much on what kind of injury you have. A soft tissue injury is of a different nature, and while some things below might apply, many do not.

The bigger the bone, the longer recovery. Unfortunately, the tibia is the most common site of a stress fracture in a runner, and it's also one of the bigger bones. It simply takes more time to repair the damage.

Active recovery. I was diagnosed a little over three months ago. Neither my primary care physician (an Internist) nor my referred orthopedic surgeon had any specialties in sports medicine, nor were they athletes. My instructions were as follows: Do nothing for four months. At the end of that four months, I would be permitted to do some stationary bike pedaling with no resistance. A few weeks of that, and I could begin running again. I was initially horrified. And, in some cases, this amount of time off may be required. But I'll give you some suggestions below to help you heal faster and determine when you are ready to run. Whatever you do, don't stop moving. It keeps your blood flowing, your cardiovascular fitness maintained, and your mind in a better place.

Initial rest. In order for you to heal quickly, you need to do two things immediately: Get ALL stress off your fractured body part, and start filling your body with the building blocks you need to recover. We'll get to the latter in a moment. For a few weeks (if you caught this early and it's not too severe, this is about two weeks) take it very easy. Only walk when absolutely necessary. No grocery shopping, mall walking. Limit stair climbing. Give your bone time to start that initial mending process with zero interference. This should include allowing yourself to sleep a little extra each night. Sleep is the time your body restores itself.

Cross training. For the first few weeks, while you are getting to the place of "no pain," this should be undertaken carefully. My fracture was serious enough that even kicking in the water was painful. So, obvious cross training (like swimming or rowing or elliptical) were completely out. I lifted weights, especially upper body. After two weeks, you can begin incorporating other things like aqua jogger, swimming, rowing, pedaling with low resistance, other obvious non-weight bearing activities. After another week or two, incorporate things like spin class or elliptical. Add lower-body strength training. The important thing is to get your heart rate up and keep it up, while maintaining muscle tone. The more cardiovascular fitness and strength you can hang onto, the easier your return to running will be. If anything causes you pain at the fracture site, stop immediately, and try again in a week or two.

Weight gain. You'll need to reduce your calorie intake, but don't worry too much about it. It's more important during this time to fill your body with what it needs to heal. I gained both muscle and a little fat during the process. If you're like me, you know what your body looks like at its peak. You might even have a special 'vein' that pops when you are super-fit. Get over it, you're going to lose that for a little while. Don't deny your body good, healthy food during this important time of recovery.

Get calcium supplements. Your body can only process 500 mg at a time, so plan on taking this twice per day. I like Viactiv, as it's a chewy caramel. I pick them up at my local grocery store. Enjoy dairy products, if you can tolerate them. I now have organic whole milk yogurt each and every morning.

Get vitamin D supplements. You need 1000 mg (yes, 1 gram). Take that with the calcium, preferably with the first dose. Viactiv has some, but not enough. If you can get a little sunlight too, that's great.

Increase your protein intake. I like muscle milk ready to drink form. It's readily available at GNC and many grocery stores.

Consider an aircast if you have a tibial fracture. Be sure it has the front tibial plate (otherwise, it's useless). I used this. The front plate is removable. I have done runs in the air cast, and I have removed the front plate and put it into a moderate to heavy compression sock as well (like the kind you would buy at Walgreen's or Osco). You can take it off if you're just sitting around, or only walking a few feet. But if you are walking from the parking garage, or grocery shopping (you get the idea), put the cast on. It's useful for the first several weeks. Don't get a boot or a cast if you can avoid it, as you cannot walk normally and it will weaken other parts and make you more vulnerable to other injuries.

Don't take any pain meds. That includes any Acetomenefen (Tylenol) or NSAIDs (such as Ibuprofen or Naproxen Sodium). Pain is your body's most important communication line with you right now. Don't hamper it in anyway. This is one time if you feel any twinge of pain, you need to stop what you are doing immediately. Don't ride it out or push through it. In the case of a stress fracture, pain means more stress on the already fractured bone. Continued use will cause further damage and delay your recovery.

New shoes. Toss any running shoes with more than about 50 miles and start over with a fresh pair. You'll need as much cushioning as possible.

Readiness Testing. When you haven't felt ANY pain for about two weeks (this might be about four weeks from the last time you ran if you caught your fracture early; longer if more serious), give yourself the 60-minute walk test. This is a brisk walk on a treadmill so you can stop at the first twinge of pain if necessary. The 60-minute walk test is your friend. Make sure you can complete it successfully a couple of times before you even think about running. If your stress fracture flashes even once during this test, stop immediately. Light jogging will put about twice the stress on your bones as walking does. So, a four mile walk is equivalent to a two mile easy jog.

Those first runs. When you do go out for a test run, it's better to run, take two days off, run again. Make these about two mile runs. Remember, the force on your legs for light jogging is about twice that of walking. Gradually work into more runs during the week, substituting cross training workouts for runs. First week, just run twice, three days apart. Second week, try running three times. Third week, try every other day, and work into it that way. If you experience pain at the site of injury, stop for a few days and go back to your 60 minute walk test.

Soft surface training. When you do run, only run on soft earth for awhile. Gradually work in treadmill runs. Don't run on concrete or asphalt for quite a while.

Consider acupuncture. I never did this, but several folks recommended acupuncture to stimulate the healing process. I have heard this is particularly good for stress fractures. I was about to finally try it, but ended up being able to run again.

Psychological issues. I had the pain long enough that it is entwined in my memory. I recently watched Prince Caspian, and the hard marching of the soldiers as they went into battle, and seriously felt pain while sitting still. When I began running again, I felt lots of interesting sensations. Buzzing, itching... a heaviness, almost as if there were a bubble there on my leg. I still fear the pain. Not because I can't handle pain, actually I have quite a high tolerance of it. But I do fear what it would mean if my fracture suddenly got worse. I've been through some pretty dark days, and I got through them. If you need help dealing with this injury or just want to talk to ensure you are not crazy, feel free to direct message me in twitter, I'm here to listen. There is also a stress fracture forum in Runner's Lounge.

I'm back to running now, six days per week. I have been doing some light to moderate speedwork for about two weeks. My pace is better than it ever has been, and I feel quite strong. I think there are some specific reasons for that I won't go into here, but I do want you--as a fellow stress-fracture sufferer--to leave this blog entry knowing that you can be back exactly where you were in just a few months, probably even faster and stronger. The rest might actually do you some good! Take advantage of it, and don't give up hope! You can recover from this, and unlike some soft tissue injuries that can linger for years, your bone will heal completely.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Losing Motivation

Have you ever thought about quitting running? Usually, I am the champion of motivation. I'm the one people go to for cheering and encouragement, be it running, weight loss or some other self improvement. And, I love that role, and am usually pretty good at it.

But, have you ever been out on a run.. or just in your normal daily routine, and you think, "Why am I doing this?"

My reasons for running have evolved as my running has evolved. And something that I don't talk about (yet), is the original reason I began to run. That reason has never gone away, but somewhere along the line, I fell in love with running--and it took on a whole new meaning.

I remember how obsessed I was when I couldn't run because of the tibial stress fracture.

But today, I had a crappy run (more mental than physical). Really, I have nothing to measure it against (left the Garmin at home), other than the fact I was pre-occupied, and wondered why I was even bothering. And the run felt harder than it probably should have. And then I wondered if I ever would or even could get any better as a runner.

What do you do on those days that you lose motivation? Surely, I'm not the only one with "off" days. Please leave me a comment or send me an email. Maybe you can help me--and others--when we find ourselves with less motivation than needed to keep on keepin' on!

Saturday, January 3, 2009

2009 Legacy Park Unleashed 5K

Here I am arriving for the race (left), getting into final configuration. To the right is me in the parking lot, sans hat and sunglasses, and below left is just before the start line.

I lined up at the front, wanting to be sure I knew who I was racing. This race was about the competition, not the time. I ran it in 25:18 last year, in an attempt to break 25 minutes for a 5K. I didn't care what my time was this year, I just wanted to come out on top of female master's. The starting time came and went, with nary an announcement, and I wondered how late the race would start. Several of us chatted nervously.

Suddenly a gun went off, and I was terribly startled and confused. Was that it? Was I supposed to run now? Oh, shoot, I have a wave of people behind me, MOVE! I punched my watch and started moving, sprinting too fast on the way out. Three ladies darted ahead of me, and we were all way too fast. My watched showed in the 5s for a bit, and I knew I'd blow up soon.

As we got our spots, I pulled back into the 7s, but felt the heaviness of lactic acid from the sprint and hoped I wouldn't pay for it later. I'm an idiot, and I got excited and surprised by the gun. I continued to rein it back, recalling that this would not only be my easiest mile, it was also the flattest mile. I finished that mile in 7:30, feeling OK and fortunately recovering from my mistake.

Mile two was getting harder, but I remembered I had to push. Three females (including one master's, one 20-24 year old and an amazing state record holding 7 year old!) were within reach but still ahead of me. The master's competitor was the 7 year old's mom). I knew it was really she I had to beat to get the trophy. I wasn't feeling great, but I had some gas left. I composed my plan to overtake her.

I visualized a fishing rod, and planned to reel her in, inch by inch, until I was right behind her. Then I would hang there and recover. Then, when I thought I had it in me, I would surge past her with everything I had and put as much lead in front of her as I could to discourage her and defeat her mentally. This was the hilliest stretch, but as much as the hills hurt me, they wore on her worse and I could see that because I was looking for it. I made my move at the crest of a hill, and gave my hardest move of the race at that moment. Now all I had to do was hang on.

I didn't dare look back. I kept running strong, certain to make my stride look easier than it felt. I didn't want her to suspect how much I was hurting. I didn't want her to think I was the least bit worried about her. So, I pushed. Mile 2 completed in 7:42 (and with the hills, not bad).

Mile 3 was all about just keeping it going and looking strong. I finished it in 7:23 and just ran through the finish line, knowing I took 3rd female overall and winning female master's brilliantly (final official time of 23:56)! I don't know how far behind me she was, but it was a very comfortable lead I had at that point, not even close.

I finally took home my first trophy!