Thursday, May 9, 2013

Hanging In There (& A Brief Defense of Coaches)

Today I got that email that marathons send out a couple weeks before the race with all the logistical information & last-minute updates.

Which made me all giddy & excited for a couple of seconds. Then my giddiness faded, replaced by....I don't know what. Pre-emptive resignation? Hopeful sadness? I don't really know how to explain it.

Back in March I saw my sports medicine doctor because of a very clinical and official symptom in my right leg & lower back called "something-isn't-quite-right-itis," and his suggestion was to give it a few weeks & see if it resolved. A month later it hadn't, but it also wasn't really interfering with my running. I completely failed every time I tried to explain it to him in words. Basically it's an annoying tightness in my lower back & right hip, & some just-slightly-noticeable weakness in my right leg. There still weren't clinical symptoms when I saw him in April, but his thought at that point was that a PT should probably take a look at me anyway.

The following Sunday I ran 17 miles mostly at a sub-8:10 pace. I had no intention of running that fast and actively spent most of the run trying to slow down, but it felt uncomfortable any time I tried. That evening, I started having sharp pain in my right adductor & TFL to the point that even walking was kind of uncomfortable.

I took Monday off, then on Tuesday traded my track workout for a few easy miles around GG Park because the TFL was still bothering me. I'd planned to do maybe 6-7 miles, but the first five were so uncomfortable and aggravated the pain in my right adductor / TFL so badly that I didn't try to go any further.

At this point I emailed Coach Tom because I was feeling kind of emotionally unstable & really needed a professional to tell me it was going to be okay. (And...because it seems kind of not-cool in the blogosphere just now to have a coach, let me point out that he's not actually my coach, just responsible for the schedule (except when I choose not to follow it) & lets me email him crazy questions now & then. This works infinitely better for me than googling generic training plans or trying to sort out 17 different opinions from 17 different non-professionals every time I have a question.)

Basically, I got four responses from Tom:

  • Srsly, you have GOT to get this late-in-the-cycle-too-fast-long run ish UNDER CONTROL;
  • It was only 17 miles, so you probably have not blown your race;
  • You have a lot of solid training under your belt right now;
  • The pain is a major concern so do not ignore it.

It felt a little better on Wednesday morning, so I gave it one more easy four-miler. When that run was even more jarring & painful than the last, I called it quits & didn't try to run anymore for the rest of the week.

Two days later, I was off to the Human Performance Center at UCSF to see the man who my doctor assured me was the Lord of the PTs as far as running was concerned.

He spent about an hour & a half doing all kinds of strength, flexibility, balance, alignment, etc. tests on my legs & feet & back & pelvis, & made a few observations.

  • My pelvis is twisted to the left, and rotated slightly forward (which I already knew).
  • As a result, one of my legs is slightly shorter than the other (which I also already knew).
  • Although my core strength is good in general, there are some imbalances. The hip muscles on my right side are weaker than the ones on the left, and while my outer hamstring muscles are balanced strength-wise, my inner hamstring muscles are significantly weaker on the right side. (Did you know you have four hamstring muscles on each side?? This was news to me.)
  • Severe, severe, SEVERE tightness in my right hip flexor area. Apparently he couldn't even assess the flexibility of my TFL because my quad & IT band on that side were so tight.

He seemed confident these things could be fixed with a bit of time & work, which was reassuring. He assigned me some stretches & exercises, & then used a suction cup machine to do what he described as "reverse ART" on my right IT band & quad. Ie, the goal is still to tear apart the adhesions / scar tissue, but it's done by pulling, rather than pushing / torquing.

"If you're squeamish, you might not want to look," he added.

The suction cups proved to involve all the pain & discomfort of ART, with the added freakiness of feeling like you're being eaten by an octopus.

I spent the day walking around with three giant hickies on my thigh. Hawt.

This past Monday, I tried running again, just an easy four miles. I survived it, but it was not comfortable, and I would not have tried to go any farther (and would have quit sooner if I'd been closer to home). After karate the TFL actually felt almost normal. After some strength work Tuesday afternoon, it felt worse than before. I emailed all this to Coach Tom, because I was starting to have another little freak out that for the first time included thoughts about whether or not I was going to be able to run Ojai at all.

By Tuesday afternoon it was feeling better. I decided I would go to the track, and one of four things would happen:

    1) It would have magically healed since lunch & I would be able to do my scheduled track workout with no problem.

    2) It would be mostly fine but achey, and I'd do my warm up, cool down, & some part of the track workout.

    3) It would feel achey still but not acutely painful, and I'd do a few easy miles on the track & call it good.

    4) It would feel epically bad pretty much immediately, and I would quit & go home.

You can probably guess how this played out. After one mile, I was limping and desperately wishing I had an ice pack in the car. On a whim I checked email on my phone, & as if on cue, had a response from Coach Tom, spelling out the criteria for whether or not it's worth attempting to run in Ojai.

    1) The pain has to be gone. Gone. g-o-n-e, GONE. 26 miles is just too far for gambling & hoping. Which means probably another week with no running.

    2) In the last 2 weeks, I need to get in one double digit run & at least three runs in the 4-6 mile range. If I can do that much, I should still be able to capitalize on my last few months of training & have a PR race.

I can't tell you how reassuring it was to have those things spelled out for me, in writing, by someone who has made a living for decades training hundreds of runners at all levels. No guessing, no wandering around the internet sifting through a dozen anecdotal stories.

(While we're on this topic, I want to briefly defend the idea of a regular, average person getting a coach. Although "coaching" is too strong a word for this particular arrangement, I think that it's this kind of certainty & guidance & reassurance that people who are not elite or sub-elite or training for an ultra or Ironman or whatever are looking for sometimes. You aren't paying them to write the schedule or motivate you; your best friend & the internet can do that. I mean yes, technically those things are part of the deal, but I think what you're really paying for, by & large, is the removal of uncertainty, of trial-and-error, and the optimization of your extremely limited training time.)

So....There you go. Running is usually how I hold myself together mentally & emotionally, so you can probably guess how well no running works with the whole I-might-be-too-hurt-to-run-my-cool-awesome-destination-ridiculously-expensive-at-this-point-redemption-marathon situation. Let's just say there's been a lot of baking, since apparently that's what I do at times like these.

Frankly, I'm just not feeling up to logging the runs (or anything, actually) that I've done since the 17-miler. (If you've ever been injured, I'm sure you know that feeling like dailymile or RunningAhead or whatever it is you use to track your miles is just mocking you.) Hopefully soon, though.

Hit me up if you need any baked goods. :P


  1. Ugh, sounds incredibly frustrating. As someone who tweaked her ankle 2 weeks ago and ran a total of 7 miles last week, I feel your pain! I hope it gets better... sooner, rather than later!

    BTW, you don't need to defend coaching for non-elites, not to me anyway. I can definitely see the point of it, and I've also seen it work super well for several of my friends. I'm glad you had Coach Tom to lean on for some solid advice!

  2. Isn't it super frustrating when you know what is going on, but you can't exactly describe to the physician? I went through a couple of those situations last year. Ugh. I really hope that everything clears up by the 26th. 26 miles hurts and to go in hurting just would not be fun at all.

    I think that coaching is good for anyone really. I have a coach, even though I don't really agree with his training philosophy right now. The main reason why I decided to work with him was because I needed someone to reign me in so I wouldn't continue to over train myself.

  3. First of all, this line cracked me up: "...feeling like you're being eaten by an octopus."

    Second, four weeks before the Pittsburgh Marathon, I almost backed out. Then my problem got better and then Boston happened, and I knew I had to run it because I could. And I got my PR. I'm not saying you should do the same thing, since you're two weeks out from the race and have a whole different situation. But I do know that you're a strong runner and person, and that you might very well be able to have a great race.

    1. I had something similar happen two years ago before I went to Alaska: I almost dropped to the half-marathon due to lack of training, but then I ran the full and had a shocking PR. I'm still hoping your body pulls through!!

  4. lol indeed on the getting eaten by an octopus line!

    Hopefully your pain goes away by race day, that is really frustrating. Though sounds like you may have isolated the cause - with tightness in your right hip flexor area. No idea on how to make this looser. And yea, your arrangement with a coach sounds like a good one. That is basically the relationship that I hope to have eventually when I get healthy - so I can stay healthy and start actually running races and not keep getting injured.

  5. Is this another example of you getting a fake injury before a race and then killing it?? :)

    I hope so!!!!