Sunday, September 14, 2014

#allthebooks #allthewine

It has been So. Nice. Lately to run whenever I feel like, whatever I feel like, at whatever pace I feel like, without any pressure to cover a certain number of miles or complete specific workouts or hit specific paces. Obeying my doctor's instructions to ease back a bit has been no problem, as "whatever I want, whenever I want" has been translating roughly to 6-7 miles a few times a week, which thus far, has all been pain-free. (I actually would kind of like to go for a nice 15+ long run, but I have a feeling that would be pushing it.) On Sunday I ran six miles and found myself happily clocking near-half marathon pace miles near the end; on Tuesday, I felt like lazily running the tough parts of the Bay-2-Breakers course & turned in my slowest (and probably hilliest) run in years. Both of which made me super happy.

As I write this, I'm packing for another quick New Orleans trip; when I get back I'll have my follow-up with the doc, and five days after that it's off to RunSafe, and at that point I assume I will have more to say about running.

In the mean time, I've been indulging in two other equally important parts of life: Books & wine. Which, if you have good ones, it turns out are not a bad short-term substitute for pounding the pavement.

BOOKS:

Let's start with the winners:

2014: The Year of the Classics has proceeded pretty much as planned. There have been books I've enjoyed more & ones I've enjoyed less, but I have to say there's been nothing that I've regretted reading. They've all had some value & been worth my time, which I guess is part of what makes something a classic to begin with.

To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee. I don't fully understand the magic with which Lee has woven this story, but somehow she managed to write a sober, poignant, heartbreaking tale addressing some pretty hardcore themes (race, class, gender, family, community, loyalty, justice, rape, murder, and on and on and on) without it being depressing as hell (though I'm sure having the story told from the point of view of a precocious 7-8 year old has something to do with). I've been avoiding it forever because it sounded so dark and depressing, and though it deals with some pretty serious stuff, it's all unquestionably underlined by the ideas of hope, optimism, compassion, and unwavering belief in the fundamental goodness of human beings.

The Black Prism, by Brent Weeks. I'm always a bit wary of starting a fantasy series because there are just so many ways they can go horrifically bad. The Black Prism was a rare treat, though. Sure, there are a few cliched elements (false/mistaken identity, long-lost progeny of important ruler-person swept up into adventures, powerful beloved ruler-person weighed down by responsibilities/dark secrets/unrequited love), but I didn't mind them because they were executed in such unique and fresh ways, which kept things interesting and (mostly) unpredictable. The young, brilliant, wise, gorgeous, powerful, beloved ruler/religious leader ("The Prism") has a sweet relationship with his mother. His long-lost-suddenly-resurfaced bastard is a sassy, chubby, uncoordinated 15-year-old who is too smart for his own good but has a heart of gold. The ex-fiance for whom the Prism still carries a torch is a hot shit, tough-as-nails soldier & one of his personal bodyguards. Book #2 was if anything better; can't wait to read the last two in the series. (Be warned, though - only the first three of four have been published & there's no word yet on book 4.)

The Farm, by Tom Rob Smith. So this book was based on actual events that happened to the author. In the spring of 2009, Smith received a call from his father saying that he needed to come to Sweden immediately because his mom had suffered a psychotic episode & was in an asylum. And almost immediately after, a call from his mother saying she'd just been released from the hospital, everything his father had told him was a lie, that his dad was involved in a criminal conspiracy, and she was flying to London to explain the truth. You might think, well, obviously, this book has to go one of two ways. Nope. Smith keeps you guessing all the way to the end, with a couple of twists I'm happy to say I never saw coming. Ditto with the resolution. A smart mystery, tight writing, fantastic storytelling, and rich, believable characters? More of this, please.

Jitterbug Perfume, by Tom Robbins. After Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates left me rolling my eyes, I wasn't totally sure I wanted to wade any deeper into Tom Robbins. Jitterbug Perfume has become such an iconic book, though, that I felt I had to give it a chance on the strength of the recommendations I've gotten from people who loved it, and I'm happy to say that I enjoyed it. In a lot of ways this is just the type of book I'm looking for when I've been reading a lot of intense, srsbzns stuff -- it's whimsical, irreverent, and overall on the light-hearted side, but still well-written and possessed of a unique, intriguing plot and interesting, well-rounded characters. A quick, fun read if you're in the mood for something a little quirky & irreverent but still clever & well-written.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, by Mark Haddon. My only complaint about this book is that it was over too soon. Short, cute, & entertainingly written, it's probably just a *little* too serious to properly be called a beach read. A commute read, maybe. Just what I needed to cleanse my palate after Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates.

Books I've read recently & could have done without include Off To Be The Wizard, Madame Bovary, Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates , & The Fault In Our Stars.

WINE:

This rosé:

Kenneth Volk 2011 La Rosa Loca, Paso Robles. If you make to Paso & like quirky, unusual varietals like negrette, blaufrankisch, & cabernet pfeffer, you absolutely must make a stop. Listing for ~$18, it is a bit pricey for a rosé, but the last time we were there was in the fall & they were clearing it out for 30% off or something, which made it pretty reasonable for a good pink. Would buy again for maybe up to $15ish.

This grenache blanc:

Tangent 2011 Grenache Blanc, Edna Valley (SLO). This, you actually stand a chance of finding outside of the winery, and at ~$15, it's a nice find. Don has a co-worker with a connection to the winery, which is where we learned about it; we also drank a bunch of it in Kauai last fall, since apparently every restaurant there stocks it. When we visited the winery for the first time, we found that we enjoyed just about all of their whites, which are equally reasonably priced.

This Italian-style merlot:

Caperone 2003 Merlot, Paso Robles. Italian merlot??? Yes! You won't find it in stores, but you CAN order it online. Caperone is one of the oldest wineries in Paso Robles & makes several lovely Italian-style reds, all of which we really like. Unlike most wineries, they tend to sell bottles with a reasonable amount of age already on them (pretty sure we bought this 2003 in like 2011), and they're STILL only ~$15, with discounts for half & full cases.

This SLO pinot:

Claiborne & Churchill 2009 Pinot Noir, Edna Valley. Another random find on our trip to SLO last fall. I always kind of cross my fingers any time I open a bottle I know I bought towards the end of the day, so I was incredibly pleased when I opened this a couple weeks back to have with grilled salmon. I don't remember the exact price, but I'm guessing it was probably under $30, and any time you can find a solid pinot for under $30, you're doing quite well.

This single-vineyard Sonoma pinot:

Porter Creek 2006 Hillside Vineyard Pinot Noir, Russian River (Sonoma). More salmon = more pinot. This maybe a little trickier to get without visiting the winery and is a bit pricier (apparently the current vintage will set you back $65? Pretty sure it wasn't *quite* that insane when we bought this one), but GOD was it worth every penny.

So yes. A little break from running is survivable with good books & wine. If you find yourself needing one, you now have my recommendations in both categories. :)

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

MRI Results + The Future

MRI:

Relevant Plot Points:

  • On-&-off hip(ish) pain since late July, identical to what I was having last summer leading up to spectacularly crippling myself at M2B marathon.
  • Since then, lots of missed workouts/general suckage.
  • Friday before Santa Rosa Marathon, my doctor ordered an MRI & made me promise to quit the race if I had any pain & then not run at all after that until we find the problem.
  • I started the race but felt sort of tight/"off" with my stride & dutifully stopped at mile 15 when it was clear I'd be risking a bigger injury for a non-PR race. (Race report = here.)

All caught up?

So. I had the MRI last Friday, which was noisy & took a while but was otherwise uneventful. (I didn't have any claustrophobia issues but I TOTALLY see how someone could if that's your particular bugaboo. It is a bit like being in a really noisy white plastic coffin.) On Tuesday the doctor called me back to say that it showed a tiny, very fine not-quite-crack on my right ischium, which was one I had to look up:

It wasn't advanced enough to call a stress fracture, but was clearly a stress reaction of some kind and probably would have headed in that direction had I tried to run through it. As for the cause, well, you get them from any one or more of the same list of 20 things that cause every other running injury on the planet, which means god only knows. Apparently, even though the reaction is in that one bone, pain in the glutes, groin, adductors, hip flexors, lower back and sometimes thigh or even knee as a result is fairly common, all of which I've had at some point in the last 1.5 years. (Apparently pelvic stress fractures are commonly mistaken for adductor strains since that's where those muscles insert, which explains A LOT.)

The good news:

  • We have some clue about what was causing the pain.
  • The damage is very, very minor and should completely heal in a few weeks (whereas full-blown pelvic stress fractures can take 3-12 months of zero impact to heal, depending on the severity).
  • I can still run on it while it heals as long as I keep the volume low, don't do any speed work, and stop if there is any pain with impact. (Currently there isn't.)

The bad news:

  • The stress reaction is still a symptom, not the root cause.
  • I am probably headed back to physical therapy to try to figure out & address said root cause, which could be just about anything related to moving my body.

One more bit of good news is that I have a RunSafe appointment at UCSF booked at the end of September, so if there is something to be found biomechanically, they should be able to find it.

THE FUTURE:

As disappointing as it was not to be able to run Santa Rosa the way I wanted, having the whole thing over and done with brought with it an enormous sense of relief. Ever since the issue with my hip returned after SF2HM, running has been so stressful. I haven't really been able to enjoy it because even when I've been pain-free, it's been with the stress of August 24th bearing down on me & the constant fear of the pain coming back and/or finishing the race in the same shape as after M2B. Training is supposed to be (mostly) fun & races are supposed to be exciting, but it's hard to have fun with something when you're constantly worrying about it. On Saturday before I left for the race, I said to Don, "Twenty-four more hours & one way or another, all of this will be over." So you can maybe tell what my mindset about it has been for the last few weeks.

And now it's over. I only ran 16.5 miles (btw, it's pretty entertaining to tell non-runners you "only" ran 16.5 miles, heh) so I didn't have the usual post-marathon physical exhaustion to deal with. Mentally, though, I've been Jello this past week, as if something in my brain went, "Look, we got you through that crap, and now that it's over, we are DONE."

That week saw one bike ride and one karate class, but other than that I've been a complete slacker. I worked at home (read: slept in) most days or went in late/left early, spent hours sitting on the couch reading, and happily abandoned any pretense of eating like an athlete. I read almost no blogs and looked at almost nothing running related. In short, I essentially detoxed myself of all things running, which was exactly what my brain needed.

That week also gave me some time to reflect back on my training cycle and think objectively about it. DNF nonwithstanding, I think I learned a lot and accomplished a lot in those 15 weeks.

For one, I'm proud to say that not once did I miss a workout for a cop-out reason. Yes, I had trouble with my hip (11 workouts) & Achilles (2 workouts), got sick a couple times (2 workouts), had a couple of super-packed travel days (2 workouts), and took a few extra rest days when I was concerned about overdoing things (6 workouts), but not once did I ever say, "Eh, I'm just too busy/tired/not feeling it." Not once. I think this may be the first training cycle where I've really been able to say that.

Also, with the exception of the weeks when I was traveling & the week before the race (where I was busy mentally self-destructing), I've been consistent with my strength work. I think it'll be good to get re-assessed at the PT and/or RunSafe to make sure I'm still doing the right things with the right frequency, but up until that last week, I did not slack.

There were also some bright points to starting & running a good chunk of the race. For one, it gave me some additional practice with managing marathon logistics like clothes, packing, fueling, the whole pre-race routine, etc. I feel like I've run enough 5K/10K/halfs to have all that down for shorter races, but since I run marathons so rarely, it's not something I get a ton of practice with.

For another, the fact that I was in okay/not bad marathon shape, ran 16.5 miles, & then stopped means that at this point, I'm still sitting on a pretty solid base without having wrecked my body. Yes, a lot will depend on how the next month goes, but there exists at least the possibility that in the not-too-distant future I might be able to start training for something farther out with a solid base already in place. (Which, hey! Wouldn't that be novel!)

Obviously, it's too early to start setting any specific running-related goals. But, being a pretty goal-driven person, I can only lounge on the couch with my books and my wine for so long before I need SOME sort of target in my life, if only a small, short-term one. So until I can get back to thinking about racing and training, I have two (I think) very reasonable, very achievable goals for the month of September:

1) Get to RunSafe as healthy, fit, & strong as possible. These appointments are not cheap and I want to be sure I get everything I can out of it. To that end...

  • Be very careful with the hip/stress reaction. I want to do some non-trivial running over these next few weeks since the doctor okay'd it, but never at the expensive of letting the injury heal.
  • Get as strong as possible. Like I said, I was incredibly consistent with the strength work this summer up until the end of July, so I'm still pretty strong. But if I go in with the same weaknesses and imbalances that I already know I'm prone to, they're only going to be able to tell me things I already know. I want to know what's wrong when I'm at my absolute best.
  • Get reasonably lean. Again, I think I was in my best shape at the end of July, but I never managed this summer to really get to what I think of as racing weight/body composition, and since then all the missed workouts/lack of strength work/emotional sabotage/week of mental recovery hasn't helped. September seems like a nice, chill month to focus on that & try to get back into really good shape before I start training for something again.

2) Maintain the fitness (at least in terms of endurance) I've developed over the summer.

  • As long as my leg stays pain-free, try to do longer runs with more rest days rather than shorter runs more frequently. (The priority, though, is taking care of my leg.)
  • Supplement with time on the bike (particularly short, fast intervals) when I can stomach it. Gaaaaaaaahh...

I am not as strong now as I was at the end of July, but I still have a respectable level of endurance, & if I can hold onto that until I'm ready to pick a race & start training again, I'll be in a much better place than I was in May.

AND FINALLY, because the universe must always maintain a balance between the sucky & the delightful, get thee to White Rock Vineyards in Napa & stock up on some of this.

Quite possibly the best chardonnay I've ever had in my life, and that's coming from someone who generally *loathes* California chardonnay. Amazing.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Race Report: Santa Rosa Marathon

So in case you've been absolutely dying of suspense, my hip felt good enough to start the race, but as I'd more or less expected, it just wasn't cooperating fully enough for me to feel comfortable trying to run the whole thing. I made it to about mile 15, plus a ~1.5 mile warm-up and really felt totally fine the next day, so as much as DNFing sucks, I think I made the right decision & was glad to find that I hadn't pushed it to the point of needing major rehab & a bunch of time off.

BUT, I'm still very glad that I went & ran as much as I could. I really did enjoy the parts of the event I participated in & feel like I experienced enough of it to be worth writing a race report. (I do have more thoughts & things to say about what's going on with my hip, but I think that's a separate enough topic to warrant its own post.)

On Friday morning, I saw my spots doc, who did not want me to run but grudgingly accepted the compromise of my starting the race if I was having no pain but immediately stopping if I did & doing absolutely no running whatsoever after that until the problem was identified. (I'm getting an MRI on Friday.) That was fine with me since it was pretty much what I was already planning on. I'd run four miles on Thursday at ~8:10 pace, which felt perfectly easy & better than any running I'd done in the last month, so I felt reasonably confident that I would be able to run at least some part of the race without anything terrible happening.

On Saturday I drove up to Santa Rosa through the most craptacular traffic I have ever seen on that route (what is normally a 90 minute trip took me 2.5 hours) & arrived at the expo at DeLoach winery around 5pm, significantly later than I'd planned. It was open until 6pm, though, so I was still able to get my stuff with time to spare. Afterward I headed back to my hotel in the city, did a quick two-mile shakeout run that felt totally fine, then met Amy & her husband at Third Street Aleworks downtown for beers. It was fun to finally meet them after following their training over the last few months, & also helped take my mind off of worrying about the race.

(I have to say, sitting around alone in a hotel room the evening before a race because you had to be there by four or five or six or whatever to get your stuff is my absolute least favorite thing about out-of-town races. Waaaaaay too much time for my brain to stew/freak out.)

I'd planned to be up at 4am for the 6am start, but at 3:20am this happened, so at that point I was pretty much up to stay.

(In case you haven't seen these pics, this is what happens when you have a 6.1 earthquake in wine country:


Most California picture ever?

My poor friends in Napa apparently lost everything glass in their house, plus their chimney, but counted themselves pretty lucky considering that 200+ ended up at the hospital with injuries, a few in critical condition. Still, aftershocks with a two-year-old are apparently not much fun.)

I'll say more about this below but one of the things I enjoyed about this race is that it's about as logistically easy as a marathon can possibly be. My hotel was less than a mile from the start, & there is ample free/cheap parking just blocks away. I left the hotel around 4:45, drove right into one of the free garages & was parked by 5am, which gave me time to make the five minute walk to the port-a-potties & back, read about the earthquake on social media, make my last-minute preparations, throw all my crap in the trunk, & start warming up at ~5:40.

6AM HOE-DOWN! #form #wow
I was a little disappointed that at that point it was already 58F, which Weather Underground wasn't predicting it would get to until around nine. I was also disappointed that there was no water available anywhere at the start. In spite of drinking several glasses before leaving the hotel & then finishing my water bottle in the car, I was suddenly incredibly parched about ten minutes before the race & no one anywhere knew of any source of nearby water.

My favorite thing about small races is that you can time your warm-up so that you finish just minutes before the start & can jump right into your corral with no problem (not that there even was a corral, really, just people self-seeding according to the pacer signs) & don't have to stand around getting cold. At 6am on the dot we were off, and I began the tricky business of trying to ride that slowest possible BQ pace as finely as possible.

I started off running right in the 8:12-8:14 range, which was where I wanted to be for at least the first third of the race. For a while that felt fine, but around maybe mile 5-6 I started to feel some tightness in my leg & pain in my right quad. It was still pretty minor & I was keeping the pace pretty easily, though, so I decided to ride it out for a while. Over time, though, the tightness just got worse, and the twinges came more and more often, and it got harder & harder to hold the pace. I hit the half at about 1:48, which would have been fine except that I knew I was already working too hard to be only halfway done.

The thought of keeping this up for another 13 miles was just demoralizing. I kept waiting for my average pace to drop so that I could quit in good conscience knowing that it was hopeless, but miracle of miracles, it never actually did. It stayed at 8:14 for miles and miles, then finally slipped to 8:15; based on how I was running, I couldn't believe it wasn't up to 8:20 or more. I kept telling myself, "One more mile," "One more aid station," etc., but the stupid average pace number refused to drop any farther.

~Mile 10 after running through the DeLoach barrel room. My superpower: Smiling through pain in race pictures.
I knew it was only a matter of time, though. I don't know how much of it was hip trouble & how much of it was missing half my workouts in the last month, but if I was very honest with myself, I knew that I shouldn't be feeling like this before mile 20. By which I mean I was pretty sure I could hold on for maybe 5-6 more miles if I had to, but there was just no way I could keep it up for 12. So, around mile 14 I made a decision to stop at the next aid station rather than continuing to run at this pace until I couldn't and potentially risk serious damage to my leg.

Now you might think that if you go up to race volunteers & are like, "I've got a joint injury that's really bothering me so I think I'm done running, can you guys help me get back to the finish?," they'd be like, "No problem!" But OMG they did NOT want to let me quit. One guy looked intensely into my eyes & was all, "LOOK, you've come 15 miles, I know you're hurting but YOU CAN DO THIS!" and I was like, "Uh, no, seriously, dude, I'm getting MRI'd on Friday for this shit. I really need to stop running." And he was all like, "NO! NO QUITTING!" and even though I don't actually think I have a stress fracture, I finally told him, "No seriously, I might have a stress fracture in my hip. I need to stop."

And then the paperwork. Did you know paperwork has to be filled out (at least sometimes, apparently) when a runner quits? The medical people were like, "Did you eat breakfast? What did you eat? When? Have you been taking fluids? Gels? Did you train? What program did you use? What prescriptions do you take? What medical conditions do you have? How much potassium do you get?" I'm sure it has to do with liability stuff in case someone tries to sue them, but given my particular issue & that I was basically fine once I stopped running, the whole ordeal was a little strange.

A guy in a pickup came to get me & drove me back to the start/finish with a woman who had pulled her Achilles tendon. I still had my free beer tickets for the beer festival, but honestly, at that point I just wanted to go home. Even though I'd known this would probably happen and had been somewhat mentally prepared for it, hanging around the finish line was still the last thing I felt like doing. What I really wanted at that point were dry clothes, solid food, a hot shower, & coffee. (Never underestimate the power of a hot shower & a latte!)

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*LOGISTICAL STUFF~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Location: Santa Rosa, CA

Date: Late August (August 24, 2014 this year)

Prices:

  • FULL: $110 Sep 3rd - Sep 30th, $115 Oct 1 - Dec 31st, $125 Jan 1 - April 30th, $135 through expo (online registration ended Aug. 15)
  • HALF: $95 Sep 3rd- Sep 30th, $100 Oct 1st- Dec 31st, $105 Jan 1st- April 30th (No prices listed after that--maybe they sold out super early?)
  • 5K: Adults $40.00, Under 16 $15.00, $10 extra for same day registration

The half strikes me as rather pricey, but I thought the full was quite reasonable, especially if you can get in early.

Deadlines/sellout factor: The half sold out, but as of the day before the race, the website listed < 50 spots left in the full & < 100 left in the 5K. So it could potentially sell out in the future, but no need to rush to sign up unless you just want the cheap prices.

Field Size: 1657 in the full, 1450 in the half, 872 in the 5K--kind of my ideal race size!

Expo:

I have to say, SRM has really stepped things up since I ran the half two years ago in 2012. That year, the expo was held in a tiny, cramped side room of a divey hotel in town. The room was so tiny that people were smashed up against each other & pushing through knots of other people to get to bibs/shirts/vendors, etc. This year it was held outdoors at gorgeous DeLoach winery out on Olivet Road, which, while this did create a few different issues, it was infinitely more pleasant.

Once on the grounds, bib & shirt pickup was easy & efficient, they had some neat-looking merch if that's your thing, & runners also got a ticket for a free wine tasting in the barrel room. (I've wine tasted at DeLoach before and do enjoy their wines, but I was in a bit of a time crunch, so since I've had most of what they make before and it is not particularly difficult to get, I did not partake at the expo.) The weather was lovely, so wandering around the winery grounds was quite nice.

The only issues were a) parking, b) traffic getting into / out of the winery, and c) proximity to town where most people (including myself) were probably staying. Clearly they were aware that there wasn't enough parking to accommodate the numbers, so I give SRM a lot of credit for offering a shuttle service from a number of nearby hotels to DeLoach & back. (I only wish they'd advertised it sooner--I didn't know this until getting an email a couple of days before. My hotel sadly was not near the ones where the shuttle stopped.) But there were still HORRIFIC lines of cars down tiny two-lane Olivet road to get in; it took me about fifteen minutes from the time I located the end of the line to park & another 10 minutes to get back out. For me, the proximity issue is mainly about convenience; having the expo so far out in the boonies meant a good extra half hour of driving round-trip, & there is definitely something to be said for a quick, efficient stop-by-get-in-get-out expo location.

(But again--I cannot emphasize what an improvement this was over the tiny hotel conference room in 2012.)

Staging:

The start/finish was staged in Julliard Park downtown. My only complaint about the staging is the lack of water at the start. The starting area was easily accessible & literally steps from a giant L of port-a-potties where I never saw lines more than a few runners deep. I did not need any information (except about where I could get water), but there were plenty of tables of volunteers ready to answer questions. I also liked that there were plenty of open sidewalks/empty streets surrounding Julliard Park for warming up. If I run this race again, I'll just now to bring some water with me to the start.

The Course:

Now the obvious caveat here is that I only ran the first 15 miles of the course (although the last ~6 miles or so go back more or less the same way as the first 6), but let me still say that the change in the full marathon course was the "deal-maker" for me with this race. I believe the half marathon course stayed the same (~6.5 miles out & back along the SR Greenway) except for the elimination of all the hairpin turns / loops around the bridges (another sweet improvement), but whereas in 2012 the full was just two loops of the half course, it's now a much more interesting single-loop that winds through more of town and some of the nearby wine country. (There was also some gravel on the Greenway in 2012, which there was not this year, unless it was on the return trip.)

As marathons go, this course is pretty flat, but as I learned from Amy & Aaron Saturday evening after they'd driven the course, there were definitely some non-insignificant rollers in places, so if you run this race, I would not skip the hill training altogether just based on the elevation chart. (My issue with the few hills was mainly just that I wasn't mentally prepared for them.) As the website says, "There are several minor 20 foot up and down rollers in the 12 mile loop. The biggest gain is a set of two hills at mile12 (700 feet and 350 feet long) each with plus 40 feet of elevation change, but what goes up, also, goes down 20 to 40 feet."

The roads were slightly canted in spots, but for the most part it was easy to run in the middle so that it didn't matter. I also appreciated that any potholes or chewed up spots were spray painted bright-orange. There were plenty of aid stations with water and honest-to-gods real, calorie rich Gatorade; the larger cups meant that I didn't have to worry about trying to grab two, and also that I was getting significantly more liquid carbs than I'd planned (awesome; just required adjusting my gel-taking a bit so as not to make myself sick). In general, I really enjoyed the part of this course that I ran and I'd actually be really excited to go back at some point & run the whole thing.

Parking:

SO EASY!! There are giant, multi-story parking garages just a few blocks from the start/finish, some of which were free (including 1st street, where I parked both this year & in 2012) & one of which (the mall garage) cost $3 if you entered between 4am & 8am. It was so close & convenient that I didn't even use the sweat check.

Schwag:

GIANT ASS MEDAL, tasteful longsleeve tech shirt, and a custom bottle of wine from DeLoach.


"Runner's Red" Heritage Reserve

I have never been much of a medal horse anyway (and seriously, at a certain point, how many does one person really need?), but if I was going to miss out on a race medal because of a DNF, I am really not too bummed that it was this one. The medals were pretty similar to the one I got in 2012 (the medal for the full just looked like a bigger version of the one for the half) and it was so big that honestly it was kind of tacky & put me in mind of a WWF belt buckle. I'm pretty sure it was bigger than the one I got for the half in 2012, which is still the biggest medal I have ever gotten for anything ever in my life.

I know nothing about the wine except that it's a 2013 red, so I'll be super curious to try it out in a few years!

Overall Assessment:

Like I said, this race has stepped it up quite a bit since 2012 (which is not to say it was that bad then). Besides the whole hip-not-cooperating-DNF thing, I enjoyed the parts of SRM I experienced, and I would absolutely recommend it to anyone looking for a reasonably priced, well-organized Bay Area marathon with a very reasonable PR-friendly course. Yes, August in wine country sounds kind of terrifying in terms of running 26 miles, but in both 2012 & this year, it stayed in the 50's & completely overcast. I haven't spent enough time in Santa Rosa that early to know if that's common or not in August, but given that early-morning fog is part of what makes wine country wine country, it wouldn't surprise me if it were. The early start times are an added bonus in that department.

So watch your back, Santa Rosa. I may be coming back for you at some point!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

SRM WEEK 14: Poked In the Psoas + What's Up With SRM

The Bad News:

I can sum up Week 14 for you pretty succinctly. After my awesome 20 miler on Sunday, I rested on Monday. I was a tiny bit sore, but not much, and not particularly in my right hip/leg.

I'd begun to suspect that the hip problems (which if you'll recall have plagued me on & off since early 2013) were related to cumulative fatigue & tended to appear when some muscles somewhere on that side had been working hard for an extended period of time (ie, days or weeks of high mileage and/or tougher speed/tempo workouts), so on Tuesday I thought I would maybe not tempt fate with a track workout two days after a twenty miler. Instead, I tried to run 8 easy miles, got about 3 miles out, and became convinced I was feeling weird stiffness-maybe-kinda-sorta-pain. Again, not wanting to tempt fate, I turned around to make it 6 very strange, "off"-feeling miles for the day.

On Wednesday everything felt fine with my leg, but I went home from work mid-day with stomach cramps & went straight to bed.

On Thursday I was feeling better & my leg still felt good, so I decided to attempt Tuesday's skipped track workout (2 wu, 1200m @ 10K pace, 800m @ 5K pace, 1200m @ 10K pace, w/ 1:00-2:00 recoveries, 2 cd), see how it felt, & stop if I had any pain/weirdness. It did start to feel a little stiff at a couple of points, but there was never any pain, and I was able to run all the intervals at the right effort level & faster than prescribed pace. In fact, that evening my right leg felt better than it had in a long time--no pain, discomfort, or stiffness of any kind.

AND THEN, I woke up Friday, & the pain was back. It wasn't awful--certainly not as bad as it was after SF2HM--and I could walk fine, but it was enough to make it completely clear to me that I would not be running that day. Which continued into Saturday, and then Sunday. Each day it's been slightly better, but when I jog down the hallway at home there is still a little niggle of pain on impact that tells me I wouldn't get farther than a quarter mile or so if I tried to do a run.

The Good News:

I saw the massage therapist Monday, and he has a working hypothesis about the underlying problem.

If you've been a distance runner for any length of time, you've probably heard about a muscle called the psoas.

On each side, the psoas originates at the lumbar spine, stretches down your torso through your hip, joins with the iliacus, and inserts at the lesser trochanter of the femur. You can see that it's a great big beast of a muscle, and the only muscle in your body that connects your spine to your legs.

The psoas does a whole ton of important stuff, which you can read about by googling the internet. Most relevant to this discussion, though, is its function as a hip flexor. It is the main muscle involved in lifting your leg forward toward your trunk, and in lifting your trunk towards your legs if your legs are stationary.

We have lots of other muscles that participate in hip flexion (quads, TFL, adductors), but they're a lot smaller and less powerful than the psoas and serve more of a stability function than a prime mover function.

"When you're running and the psoas stops firing," my MT told me, "your body will use anything and everything it can to keep moving your leg forward. Quads, adductors, TFL, whatever it can get. And suddenly you've got an overuse injury or three."

Of course he was careful to remind me that he isn't a doctor and isn't the person to give me an official diagnosis about all this, but if you assume that's what's happening, suddenly a lot of things fall into place: pain that's diffuse and kind of everywhere, with the worst of it moving around from incident to incident, that fits the profile of an overuse injury while the muscles themselves seem to be looser & more supple every time I see him, & still retaining excellent range of motion with no signs or symptoms of structural damage (labral tears, stress fracture, etc.).

What really won me over was when he dug his fingers deep into both sides of my hips under my ab muscles. While it wasn't exactly super comfortable on the left side, when he moved to the right side I was immediately howling in pain.

"Yep," he nodded. "That feels awful in there."

He also showed me how to lay on my back and externally rotate my leg so that the only way to raise it is by engaging the psoas. Again, it wasn't super easy on the left side, but I could get my leg a few inches off the table, which is apparently respectable enough. On the right side, though, it was like I didn't even have that muscle. For a few seconds I just laid there, trying to figure out exactly how I was even going to do this. I finally managed to engage something a little, but barely enough to get my skin out of contact with the table, my leg shaking all the while as I tried not to cheat by pushing down on the table with my opposite leg.

This is called "not being able to use your psoas." Sooooo....

  • Good news: Strengthening the psoas & getting it to fire correctly is an easier fix than, say, surgery for a labral tear or taking 8-10 weeks off for a pelvic stress fracture.
  • Bad news: It's not something you fix in six days.
  • Good news: The whole thing seems to be fatigue-related, ie, multiple weeks of 40-50 miles culminating in an 18 miler was enough to render it useless, but seven days of rest got me another 47 miles, including a 20 miler, with no pain & no soreness.
  • Bad news: This has been the most anemic taper in the history of ever, & I still have no idea what's going to happen Sunday.
  • Good news: Better under-trained than over-trained, eh?? Eh??

By some magical voodoo I don't understand, I managed to get an appointment with my sports doc for Friday morning, so I'll be interested to run the psoas theory by him & see what he thinks.

Santa Rosa:

I am not so under-trained that I think I couldn't run a fair-to-middling marathon Sunday if my leg is pain-free & cooperates, particularly if I can do some of the exercises the MT showed me to get the psoas firing a little more reliably. I was in worse shape after SF2HM, and after a week of rest I did run a pretty darn decent 20 miles at a completely respectable pace, so there's some hope.

If my leg is feeling good by Saturday, then I'll likely go to Santa Rosa, pick up my stuff, check into the hotel, & see how the two easy shakeout miles feel. If all goes well and it's still feeling good Sunday, I'll likely start the race and see how things feel and what kind of pace I'm able to hold. If I'm in any way struggling to hold a BQ / PR pace (~8:10 or better) and I can tell that early-on, I have no problem quitting. I don't care about finishing this race just to finish, especially when my leg has been in such dicey shape. Likewise, if I ever have anything more than the least little bit of discomfort in my hip/adductor, I will totally walk off the course & not think twice about it. It's just not worth the rehab. (Been there, done that.)

If I'm able to hold the pace fine and still not having any pain (the metric I have for this in my head right now is hitting the half in the ~1:47 range), then I don't see any issue with bopping right along & seeing if maybe < 3:35 is in the cards. If I get to 20ish & can tell I'm going to lose the BQ/PR but still not having any pain, I *might* be willing to just finish comfortably for the heck of it, but only if I'm in a good place mentally & don't feel like there's any risk with my leg.

Honestly, even if I do run, because of the number of workouts I've missed lately due to the hip thing & being sick, a lot of things will probably depend on circumstances beyond my control--the weather, the course, & the luck of the draw in terms of how I'm feeling. I had a chat with Coach Tom about my goals (again, assuming I can even run) & admitted to him that since my long runs had been perfectly comfortable in the 8:15-8:25 range, I was hoping to be able to race around 8:00-8:10. Given everything, though, he thought 8:10-8:20 was maybe more realistic.

And hey, if that's how the cards fall, okay. I certainly won't be going out at an 8:00 pace. But since all my long runs have been on rolling hills & often into massive headwinds at least half the time, there's a little part of me that is curious to see if maybe I'll get some help from the flat course and (fingers crossed) nice weather. (Right now, the forecast calls for partly cloudy & 55F at 6am & 57F by 9am with basically no wind, which, hey, could be a lot worse.)

Also, I'm pretty thrilled about the lack of black top.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

SRM WEEKS 12 & 13: Onwards & Upwards (for now)

Uggggghhhhhh, could I *be* any more behind the times? At least I'm catching up!

We left off on July 27, when I ran 5 miles from my house to the start of SF2HM & then ran the race as an easy long run for a total of 18.2 for the day. By the time I got on the plane for LA that evening, I could barely put weight on my right leg & was having some serious pain in my inner quad, hip flexors, & especially my adductors. It was a fitting start to what was to be one of the most craptacular weeks I've had in a while. I have enough distance at this point that I can laugh about it, but trust me. At the time, I was Not. Laughing.

I'd hoped that resting it all day Monday would fix things & I'd be able to do some amount of running on Tuesday, but Tuesday rolled around & it was still just as bad. I tried biking in the hotel but even that amount of motion in my hip was painful enough that I felt like I was probably just making it worse.

The situation was not helped by the fact that the area of LA we were working in that week had an absolutely dire restaurant situation (Lots of bad pan-Asian? Everything Styrofoam take-out? A veritable hellscape of fast food & Applebee's clones? Done, done, and done!) & the catered breakfasts & lunches were a wonderland of sugar, refined grains, sugar, fatty/fried meat, sugar, refined grains, and iceberg lettuce. Oh yeah & that one fruit plate.

Throw in 10-12 hour work days with the absolute shittiest wifi in the history of the internet at our hotel and it is probably no surprise that after two days this foodie athlete less than a month from a marathon was a bit of an emotional wreck.

Friends, I did not even have a car to go buy myself a nice bottle of wine with. I WENT AN ENTIRE WEEK WITH NO WINE. I ask you, what fresh hell is this?


Is a half decent '02 Rhone blend *really* too much to ask?

On Wednesday I put on running clothes in hopes that I'd be able to run at least a mile or two, which would at least mean things were healing up & headed in the right direction, but a few easy strides down the hotel hallway was enough to disabuse me of that notion. I spent that evening doing some kick drills in the pool & just trying to activate the right muscles (hamstrings, glute med) without also firing the wrong ones (adductors, piriformis); I don't know if it was at all useful, but it certainly made my back sore. I went back up to my room where there was still no wine (!), called Don, & sobbed for like an hour. (This is kind of a big deal because I am generally not a sobber or a boyfriend-comfort-caller.)

At this point I decided it was time to wave the white flag & resign myself to zero running until the pain was totally gone. When this exact same thing (but worse) happened to me last summer a month before Mountains 2 Beach, that was the advice Coach Tom had given me. By Saturday most of the leg felt considerably better, but I decided to give it the weekend for good measure.

The following Monday, I spent some quality time on the table while my MT worked the everloving bejesus out of my right adductor and hip. His assessment:

  • Adductor muscles definitely feel tight & unhappy. (Also, everywhere he poked still REALLY hurt.)
  • Inner quads feel tight & unhappy as well, but it doesn't feel like the sartorius (ie, the one I tore last summer).
  • Hip feels surprisingly good and more or less just like the left one. (That was kind of a big deal, actually.)
  • I should try running 1-2 miles later in the day just to see how the leg was feeling, and if it was okay, I could gradually increase over the week & see if getting back on track with my schedule was at all in the cards.

(This was all about two hours before I had to drive to Sacramento for another work trip, btw. Does the timing here get any better? That was sarcasm.)

So that was week 12.

Let's talk about something happier now, like week 13.

* * * WEEK 13 * * *
(2 (!!!!!) to go)

Grand Total: 47 miles

    * 20 long
    * 27 easy

This graph looked kind of pathetic to me & had me feeling kind of sad for a while, so I decided to take advantage of RunningAhead's custom report feature & look at the big picture:

That's the entirety of my Santa Rosa training up to last Sunday. Aside from the week where my hip was too messed up to run, it actually doesn't look all that bad. Right? (Somebody please tell me I'm right.)

Monday: a.m. massage / p.m. 1 easy

    I took the MT's advice & tried running an easy mile around Cesar Chavez Park when I was done with work for the night in Sac. Ugh, it did not feel good. But...it also did not feel awful, and it didn't hurt during or after the run or the next morning, which I took as a good sign.

Tuesday: 4 easy

    Since my one easy mile on Monday went well, I decided to try taking things a little farther on Tuesday & see how it went. I decided I'd go no farther than four miles, but if I had any pain before then, I would stop, so I stayed close to my hotel & just ran a short circuit of city blocks that would never leave me too far away should I need to stop running & walk home. I had a tiny tiny bit of adductor pain at first, and my stride definitely felt a little weird/off (I'm guessing this is because I'm working so hard to make sure I'm using that right glute med & protect the adductor), but in less than a mile the pain went away & everything felt great after that. I made it to four miles & resisted the temptation to push it father. (Actually not much of a temptation, given the 80F temps & 80% humidity.)

Wednesday: a.m. 4 easy / p.m. 4 easy

    Since my easy four on Tuesday went well but I didn't really have big chunks of time to work with, I decided to do a short run in the morning & another in the afternoon & see how it dealt with that. Also, an easy double day seemed like a nice intermediary step between a short easy run and a longer one. The heat and humidity were brutal (even at 7am, and moreso by 5pm), but I figured this was as good a time as any to suck it up & do some heat training/grow some extra blood plasma. The hip/adductor held up, didn't hurt during, and felt good after.

    (Pro tip: If you're ever in Sacramento without a GPS watch, the sidewalk that surrounds the Capitol building is almost exactly one mile & there are almost no traffic lights!)

Thursday: 8 easy Be sick / rest.

    This was my last day in Sacramento, and I'd planned to drive back to SF around 1, unpack & relax a bit, then get my run in later that afternoon. Unfortunately my body had other plans & I spent most of Wednesday night tossing & turning & going through an entire box of tissues. By the time I got up Thursday morning I felt awful and just could not believe this was happening after a week of zero mileage thanks to my hip. I dragged myself through the last half day of my training, drove home, & promptly passed out. Physically I might have been able to force myself through a few miles but as I hadn't been able to eat much & was already feeling light-headed & dizzy just laying in bed, I'm not entirely sure I wouldn't have collapsed at a stop light a mile or two in.

Friday: 6 easy

    Thursday night/Friday morning was the low point of my cold. I called in sick to work & spent most of the day sleeping (and not eating), but by afternoon I was feeling better & decided to see if I could get a little running in. I stayed close to home, just doing various laps around the neighborhood, and generally just felt lightheaded & awful. I made several stops by my house to guzzle cold soda (see: much-needed calories & fluids) & kept dragging myself back out the door for another mile or two, but when I hit six & realized I was swerving & stumbling a little, I decided I'd probably hit the point of diminishing returns & called it good.

Saturday: 8 easy

    I still didn't feel great on Saturday, but I'd been up & around & eating regularly, so I decided to at least try getting in my regularly scheduled easy eight. It was definitely one of the hardest eight mile runs I've done this summer, but I never felt so bad that I thought I needed to quit.

Sunday: 20 long

So yeah. From the jaws of defeat I actually managed to salvage a halfway decent week, albeit without any speed or tempo work (though I might not have done those in Sacramento anyway). It's been a bit of a roller coaster ride since then hip-wise & I'm still not sure what's going to happen on August 24, but I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Desperate Miles, Desperate Measures

It's been a rough couple of weeks.

I've run many (er...several?) 20+ mile training runs in my life, but never when I've been traveling so much for work, dealing with a sketchy leg constantly on the cusp of injury, and sick for much of the week prior. On top of that we've been dealing with a tragic family situation, which has made everything that much harder. Between all that I have barely been holding it together most days. So maybe it is not shocking that for a lot of last week, I didn't really think the 20 miler was going to happen.

I mean I'm a serious optimist here, people, but I just couldn't see it. I double-dog couldn't see it when I woke up at noon Sunday morning with all kinds of aches in my feet and hips and glutes. But still, I kept telling myself it was going to happen, counting it in my mental weekly mileage tally, & even justified making the blueberry crisp I hadn't made the night before because "It'll be good for refueling when I get back from my 20." (Carbs! Antioxidants!)

Under any other circumstances, I don't think I would have done it. I felt like crap. Everything was sore. I was sad and distracted and afraid it would wreck what was left of my leg and honestly just could not muster the least little bit of enthusiasm about running at all. But with all the problems with my hip post-SF2HM/18 mile long run two weeks before, I was on the brink of waving the white flag in terms of Santa Rosa, and I knew I needed to at least try to run those twenty miles in order to see if there was any hope of running twenty-six of them two weeks from now.


Oh hey! Haven't had one of these pics in a while. Aren't you
reassured that I still have feet & don't wear the weird toe shoes?

I have never been big on running with music, mainly for safety reasons but also because I've seen the research about running with music being correlated with dissociative running, which is correlated with higher rates of injury & decreased performance. Even so, I do have a running playlist on my phone which serves as a kind of "in-case-of-emergency-break-glass" type of thing. If I absolutely, positively can't get myself out the door any other way, the playlist is my carrot of last resort. This was the second time in eight years I've had to use it.

The plan was simple. I'd start running, see how my hip felt, & go until I felt too ill/too in pain to continue ("Run Vaguer Run Faster (?)"). No worrying about pace. No feeling bad about stopping at traffic lights and water fountains. Just run with good form, for as long as possible, & find out what the leg can take.


Not exactly what it said in my training plan but close enough.

The only way I got through this run was by not thinking about which mile I was on or how many more were left until 20. In fact, I'm pretty sure that if I'd told myself, "We are running twenty miles today come hell or high water and that is FINAL," I would have given up after three because it just seemed so completely impossible. Instead it was more like, "Good job, you ran some miles & aren't broken yet! Maybe run a few more & see what happens?"

I'd even made a deal with myself that instead of running entire loops of the east side of Golden Gate Park which includes two or three big sucky hills, I could just run back and forth along the part without the sucky hills, but that proved too complicated for my brain to deal with. "NO GOING BACK, ONLY FORWARD," it insisted, so forward we went, big hills and all (and I don't know why but I swear they got easier on every lap, probably because eventually my soul just became too numb to notice or care.)

When I'd run 16 miles and was four miles from home, I knew I'd make it. Because I kind of had to, or face the shame of having to call Don & have him put a towel down in the passenger seat. Let's be clear that if I'd had to run by my house at mile 16 and keep going for another four miles, I am not altogether sure I would not have quit. I was keeping up more or less the same easy pace with no problem, but I can only carry six gels at a time & realistically probably needed nine, & that on top of still being kind of sick led I think to a kind of mild bonking that was more mental than physical.

I really can't describe the relief of getting to this moment without any pain in my right leg, and only very occasional & manageable pain in my feet.

(Not that it makes any difference whatsoever, but I'm pretty sure there were some Garmin hijinks in those last two miles. The first & last two are almost always my slowest because they're back in my neighborhood & inevitably involve more weaving in & out of pedestrians/cautiously approaching intersections/slowing to stop at lights/etc., but I don't remember them feeling particularly worse or harder than the few right before and honestly don't think they were THAT slow.)

On the other hand, apparently this is just a thing that happens now:

I don't even feel it anymore. Hooray for nerve damage!!

In case you're interested in what got me through that run (besides a shitte-tonne of emotional apathy), here's my playlist; analyze away.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

SRM WEEK 11: Back in Ye Oldene Week of Julye Firste and Twenty.......

Ugh, see the disclaimer / apology at the top of my SFM 2nd Half race report.

My life is not totally back to normal yet, but it's making progress.


At least I have a nice hotel room.


And the view is not too bad.


#seenonmyrun. The last time I was up this way, I was hobbling my way toward the end of 26 extremely wet, windy, exhausting miles.


I can also see it from the shower.

(That counts as blogging, right?)



* * * WEEK 11 * * *
(4 to go)

This week happened so long ago you probably don't even remember what your life was like.

Grand Total: 52.2 miles

    * 6 speed
    * 3 tempo
    * 18.2 long (including 13.1 race)
    * 25 easy

Plus:

    * 17 miles bike
    * 1.5 hours strength/stretch/roll

Hey, I ran > 50 miles, so that's good, right? Let's go with that!!

Monday: a.m. strength work / afternoon 17 miles bike / p.m. karate

    Another of those nights where my brain kept me up until ~4:00 am for no good reason. Getting up at 6:00 am for strength work was not happening. Instead I slept an extra 3 hours & went to work late.

Tuesday: a.m. strength work / p.m. 10 speed (2 wu, 3 x 800m / 200m jog, 20:00 @ goal marathon pace, 3 x 800m hard / 200m jog, 2 cd)

Wednesday: 8 easy

    It was Wednesday so I was reasonably well prepared for this run to suck since that's what Wednesday runs inevitably do, but it still felt like the longest 8 miles I have run in a very, very long time. (I'm sure the unseasonal heat in SF didn't help. But hey, heat training!) I didn't have the massively tight & painful Achilles/lower calves that I usually have mid-week, though, and my recently-injured left Achilles didn't give me any trouble either, so I suppose overall it could have been worse.

Thursday: a.m. strength work / 8 easy

    Another sleepless night. When I was still awake at 5am, it was pretty obvious that getting up at 6am for strength work was out of the question. As was going to work at the regular time, or really working from anywhere other than my living room couch. Seriously, WTF?

    At least my run was good. Not fast, and not particularly easy, but not bad.

Friday: a.m. strength work / p.m. 8 tempo (3.1 wu, 3 @ half marathon pace / 1:00 jog, 1.9 cd)

    Got it done, including some surprisingly good-feeling tempo miles! On the downside, some concerning pain in right hip/adductor/foot, and quads more sore than they've been since finishing my first marathon. ?!?!?!?!

Saturday: 8 easy Rest. I had a feeling that I could do this run or I could do the 18/SF2HM on Sunday, but not both without pushing my right leg too far.

Sunday: 18.2 long (5.1 easy + 13.1 race)

    Not easy, but after (virtually) watching 4 friends become Iron(wo)men at Whistler that day, I do feel a little awkward describing it as any kind of hard. You can read my "race" report here.

Sunday night was when my life started falling apart, not limited to but including my right leg slowly but surely seizing up in the hip/quad/adductor area. Almost right after SF2HM I had to get on a plane to LA, & by the time I got to my hotel that night, I could barely put any weight on it thanks to some really intense pain in my adductor, some stiffness/cramping in my right hip flexor (the one I tore last summer), and some not-quite-as-intense-but-still-achey-and-annoying pain in my right foot.

Never have I been so bummed that a work trip came between me & my previously scheduled Monday appointment with the massage therapist.

BUT WHAT HAPPENED NEXT?!?!?!?!

Sorry, I am stealing these precious minutes from a grant proposal I'm supposed to be writing. Everyone loves a cliffhanger, right?