Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Race Report: Mountains 2 Beach Marathon (my race)

Garmin: 26.14 miles / 3:36:28 / 8:16 pace
Official: 26.2 miles / 3:36:27 / 8:15 pace

Overall: 400/1250
Women: 111/606
A/G: 34/98

Sigh. I suppose I've put this off long enough. I've tried a couple of times to start writing, but every time I tried I felt so hopelessly overwhelmed & exhausted by the very thought that I just gave up. But I know if I don't get some thoughts down soon I'll forget a lot of the things I want to remember, we go, I guess.

When we left off, I'd been cleared by my physical therapist to run. To summarize what he told me:

  • I think you'll be able to finish.
  • There's no risk of permanent / severe damage.
  • You may not be able to run as hard as you want to.
  • You'll probably have some pain near the end.
  • You'll likely re-aggravate the strained muscles & spend a lot of time recuperating.

*This is called foreshadowing.

I'd planned to run 3 miles in Culver City on Thursday night, but my hotel didn't have a treadmill & was in kind of a sketchy part of town (at least it seemed like it to me, being alone & not knowing the area), so I waited until I was in Ventura the next day & used the opportunity to get out on some of the last parts of the course.

Ventura = gorgeous

Mainly I wanted to get a few miles in because I hadn't run since Sunday, when my hip had really been bothering me, and I needed to know a) if there was any point in even starting, and b) how it was going to feel. After one mile it was a dull, annoying ache; after 1.5 it was quite painful, but more of a general, dull, ache than a sharp, firey feeling. By two miles it had settled down a bit to an uncomfortable but tolerable level of pain. If it stayed like that, I thought, I could probably handle it. Yes, 3 miles is very very different than 26, but I felt like it was at least worth starting, & if the pain got really bad, I could always stop.

I spent Saturday knocking back Ibuprofen like it was candy, icing & rolling like it was my job, had a vegetable burrito & an awesome margarita for lunch, amazing house-made pasta for dinner (seriously -- if you're ever in Ventura, go to Spasso for Italian), made a bib man (which I stole from this lady), & knocked myself out with Ibuprofen PM at 9:00 sharp.

It is far too early for pre-race selfies, and yet here we are.
This is the first race where I've ever had to get up at some truly ungodly hour, so although I slept reasonably well (THANK THE GODS), that only made me very marginally less bitter when my alarm went off at 3:15 am.

My hip, on the other hand, felt GREAT, and for the first time in a month I actually felt something about this race other than complete & utter dread.

Adventures were had on the shuttle to the start in Ojai which I will not recount here (see the "nuts & bolts" report for that), but suffice it to say that our shuttle arrived dead last, at approximately 5:45 am for the 6:00 am gun. This meant that my comrades & I got to stand at the tail end of the 200 yard port-a-potty line, frantically checking our watches, eyeing the bag check truck & the start, & praying there was still toilet paper left when we got to the front. My warm up was sprinting from the bag check truck to the start & hurdling the barrier in the vicinity of the 3:45 pacer (no point in being pessimistic, I figured), & more or less at 6:10 we were on our way to Ventura.

The first part of the course was a 10K loop around Ojai, & during those miles I just tried to settle into a rhythm & see how fast easy / casual / comfortable was going to be today. As long as my hip held up I really did feel confident that I could run low eights at a nice, easy level of effort, but if it wasn't happening, I was going to go with the easy effort, not the numbers, & just try to finish. But the numbers were right where I'd expected they would be, and miracle of miracles, I had not a twinge of pain in my hip.

Starting line in Ojai

The only really remarkable thing that happened during that first six-mile loop was that around mile 3 my right foot started going numb. I kept trying to wiggle my toes around & get it to loosen up, but it didn't help & actually kept getting worse. I knew there was no way I could run 26 miles like that, so finally I stopped and took my shoe off, massaged my foot a little, & loosened my shoelaces. The feeling came back so I started running again, only to have the numbness return in just a few minutes. I stopped again, went through the same deal again, got back to running, & thankfully that was the end of that.

    Mile 1 - 8:08
    Mile 2 - 8:07
    Mile 3 - 8:04
    Mile 4 - 8:19 <--- slight incline
    Mile 5 - 9:03 <--- slight incline + stops for foot drama
    Mile 6 - 7:54

Plugging along...
I don't have much to say about the middle miles. Unbelievably, my hip didn't hurt at all, so I just tried to run at a comfortable, casual pace & was happy to see that that was resulting in exactly the numbers I'd been hoping to see. Because of the slight downhill several of those miles were actually several seconds faster than I thought I'd average even best case scenario, so I started taking opportunities whenever it made sense to ease back even more (drinking, gel-ing, the occasional tiny hill). This part really did feel amazing. I didn't feel like I was running all that fast & wasn't pushing at all, & was still seeing best-case splits & better, mile after mile.
    Mile 7 - 7:59
    Mile 8 - 8:00
    Mile 9 - 8:05
    Mile 10 - 8:02
    Mile 11 - 7:52
    Mile 12 - 7:55
    Mile 13 - 8:03
    Mile 14 - 7:56
    Mile 15 - 8:02




Around mile 15 was where I started to feel my quads some. They weren't on fire, but I could tell I'd been running very slightly down hill for a long time. To be honest I didn't think 700 ft over 15 miles was really enough to bother with in terms of doing a lot of specialized downhill training, but if I were to do this course again, I definitely would. It wasn't quad-destroying, but by the time I got to Ventura at mile 21, I could feel them & they hurt.

Mile 19 was where I got my first whiff of concern. I'd been carrying my own bottle because the aid stations were more or less 2 miles apart, and not long after the mile 19 aid station was where I finished it & tossed it. The same thing happened both years at CIM & I'd just used the aid stations from there to the end with no problem, so I hadn't worried too much about it this time. As it turns out, though, even though it was still only maybe 8:45 or so at that point, there was direct sun, little shade, & no wind, & it was starting to feel really warm. As soon as I chucked my bottle I was thirsty again, & didn't remember where the next aid station was.

Something else happened around this point, too though. 18 or 19 was where I started going, Wow, my hip feels great...And this pace feels really easy...And maybe, just maybe, I've been selling myself short with this 'Just try to finish business.' Maybe this could be my BQ race after all.

I knew I'd need to average 8:12ish to finish under 3:35, and that I was already well ahead of that with a pretty moderate level effort, so that was more or less where I went "Fuck it. I can do this." Knowing that I would soon no longer be cruising down a .5% grade & out on the shoreline where there might be a headwind, I started playing it a little more conservatively & forcing myself to slow down any time I saw my pace drop below 8:10. Even if it gets tough at the end, I thought, that should be more than fast enough.

Unfortunately, my body had other plans.

    Mile 16 - 8:03
    Mile 17 - 8:08
    Mile 18 - 8:04
    Mile 19 - 8:08
    Mile 20 - 8:08

Mile 21 is where the wheels started to come off. (Out of curiosity, how many marathon race reports do you think include those exact words?) I was still so, so thirsty. Desperately thirsty, and there was no aid station in sight. Then several things began to happen all at once.

First & foremost, I could feel a stinging pain in my TFL, right where the worst of the strain has always been. It started to get harder and harder to move my right leg forward, but it wasn't horrible yet, so I thought I could just power through. Five miles, I kept telling myself, that's it. You don't even have to do it fast. You just have to not stop.

To be honest, the details get fuzzy after this. My mouth felt dryer & dryer, & the leg kept getting harder & harder to move. I remember at one point thinking I *must* be almost to 22 & feeling like I wanted to cry when I looked at my watch & realized I was barely at 21.5. My leg hurt but it was holding on, and although my pace had slowed some, my average was still well below the 8:12 pace I needed for a BQ.

Around 22 (where blessedly there was an aid station) I remember starting to feel dizzy. I remember having to make a right turn somewhere in that mile, tripping on a curb, and stumbling for maybe eight or ten yards while I tried to keep my balance. My hip was getting worse & I was still desperately thirsty even after downing two cups of water. I remember looking at my watch & having trouble focusing on the numbers.

At this point I think my animal-slash-runner-slash-very-very-not-rational brain took over because the logical, human one was quickly becoming non-functional. A shrewd strategy at this point probably would have been to slow to an 8:30ish pace, be patient, deal with the pain, & just hold on. Instead, whatever part of my brain was in charge at that point went "QUICK!!1! FINISH AS FAST AS HUMANLY POSSIBLE BEFORE ANYTHING ELSE HAPPENS!!11!" & actually started running faster. Shock of shocks, this lasted for maybe a quarter of a mile before I was dizzy & tripping & blinded by the white-hot pain in my hip & had no choice but to walk (by which I mean limp). know what happens once you start walking.

I don't remember a lot of details after that. I remember forcing myself to run again, not at a reasonable pace but at some stupid ridiculous pace (seriously - I remember glancing at my watch at some point & seeing 7:20-7:30s). Then, shock of shocks, I'd have to stop & walk/limp for a while, still dizzy, still parched as the ninth circle of hell. Then I'd sprint until my hip felt like it was going to explode, then stop & limp for a while, wash/rinse/repeat.

At each of the last aid stations I stopped to drink multiple cups & pour several more over my head. I remember seeing "23.1" on my watch & trying to convince myself that "it's only a 5K left and 5Ks are easy," but it turns out there is an enormous, enormous difference between running a 5K & running a 5K on a non-functional joint after you've already run over 23 miles (& also you can't feel your quads anymore). Negotiating the u-turn at the end of the out-and-back was significantly more demanding than it should have been. I remember at some point having enough clarity to realize this might be what they call "bonking" & my last gel might help.

    Mile 21 - 8:14
    Mile 22 - 8:16
    Mile 23 - 8:23

Soooooo unbelievably happy to be done.
I remember trying to convince myself to run for a mile before I stopped to walk & finding I couldn't do it. Okay, half a mile. Okay, a quarter of a mile. Okay, a tenth of a mile. 40 seconds. 20 seconds. (I'm pretty sure I ran most of mile 24 in 20 second bursts of speed interspersed with 20 seconds of limping / stumbling.) I remember feeling terrible for all the people cheering for me in those last miles, begging me to run, I was so close, feeling so awful for disappointing them & desperately wanting to explain to them about my hip and how I just couldn't anymore, that I'd tried and it was just done.

I'm not sure how but I did manage to run the entire last third of a mile without stopping, probably because the idea of hobbling across the finish line was too humiliating to consider. That, my friends, was pain. Blinding, epic, white-hot, maybe-I'll-get-lucky-&-just-pass-out-from-it pain. At that point I was pretty sure I'd lost too much time to get in under 3:35, but when I saw 3:36 on the clock, how close I'd actually still been, I felt sick.

    Mile 24 - 10:03
    Mile 25 - 8:59
    Mile 26 - 9:32
    .2 - 0:57 <---- I think this is one of those funny little Garmin artifacts, because although I did sprint to the finish, I'm pretty sure it wasn't at a 4:45 pace. My Garmin clocked .14 here, which is a 6:42 pace & I think probably accurate pace-wise. More likely Garmin clocked Mile 26 a bit late & that one was actually a bit faster than 9:32.

Fortunately, there was no time for brooding. I think that after drinking All The Water, I let myself lay in the grass for 5 minutes or so before I forced myself to stand up.

This was when I realized I couldn't really walk. And the upside of having to think so hard about how you're going to get yourself from the ground in Ventura to a plane at LAX in a few hours when you can't bear weight on one leg is that you don't really have time to get all broody & emo about not epically crushing a race that by rights you shouldn't even have been able to run.

My car was parked maybe half a mile from the finish, which was an incredibly depressing thought. On the plus side, the twenty minute hobble did give me time to get my rational brain working again and remember that two weeks ago I couldn't really run at all, and my PT had warned me to be prepared not to be able to finish, and this was still an 11 minute PR, and my god, in spite of everything, I'd been within 90 seconds of a BQ!

I won't lie to you and say that I was over my disappointment by the time I got to the car. But I'd had enough time to think through all the amazing parts of what had happened and remember how incredible the first 20-21 miles of the race had felt that I was smiling a little instead of wallowing.

Oh, and btw, if you're going to completely disable yourself at the end of a race, a destination race is the place to do it. I spent the rest of the afternoon being wheeled around airports in a wheel chair Marathon Throne, jumping security lines like nobody's business, & getting upgraded to the fancy seats because, aw shucks, they just happened to be near the front of the plane. #winning

Post-Game Analysis....

Because I will never, ever be the type of person who can just say, "eh, whatever happened happened." After mulling things over, here are my very very unscientific conclusions about why I had the race I did.

1) Obviously the TFL / adductor strain was the biggest reason behind the melt down in mile 22. The pain was just amazing, and I doubt I would've been able to run the rest of the way under the best of circumstances.

2) One of the reasons I was nervous about being able to finish in the first place and being able to run the pace I wanted in the second place was because nothing you can really call "marathon training" happened after April 28. This was the indirect effect of the hip strain. In the last four weeks, I ran 8 times for a grand total of 18 miles, none of which included a single speed workout, tempo run, or long run. I have this vague memory of reading somewhere that a solid base gets you through the first 20 miles & speed/tempo work get you through the last 10K. I have no idea whether or not it's true, but that maybe one of the reasons why everything felt so easy & then suddenly didn't anymore.

I've tried to be honest with myself about whether I might have gone out just a little too fast, but I really don't think so. Those first 20-21 miles really did feel nice & easy, & I spent so much of it actively slowing down just in case. Plus there was the gentle downhill grade in places, which probably made a few of those splits 5-7 seconds faster than they would have been otherwise.

Honestly? Up until the hip strain, I trained like a beast for this race. I freaking earned the first 20 at an 8:06 average pace. Bought & paid for it.

3) I didn't think through the fluid situation fully. According to the website those last aid stations were at 20.5, 22, 23, 24 and 25, which seems reasonable, but on a warm day in direct sun with not a lot of shade, I clearly needed to drink more often than that. If I were to do this course again (or another with similar weather predicted), I think I would drink more from the aid stations early in the course & try to save my bottle for the last warmer miles. I've never been so miserably thirsty in a race as I was towards the end of this one.

4) I've been trying to think of why I might have suddenly bonked in mile 22 (which has never happened to me before) & I can't see any obvious reasons for it. I had a nice big pasta dinner around 7 & my usual marathon breakfast 2 hours before the start (bagel & a gel). I did find myself getting hungry on the shuttle & ate half the granola bar in my bag, but didn't want to risk putting too much else in my stomach so close to the race. So who knows, that maybe a clue. Other than that, I fueled the same way as I did in both of my previous marathons (gels at 7, 11, 15, 19, & 23 & a water bottle of 50/50 Gatorade/water).

On the plus side, (I think?) I now know what people are talking about when they talk about "bonking."

5) God, I was not mentally ready for that last 5.2 out-and-back stretch. I might have been fine if it hadn't been for everything else that was going on, but with my brain so scattered (and not really functioning), it was just utterly demoralizing. I get that an arbitrary out-and-back is sometimes necessary in order to get the distance to work out just right, especially when your finish line needs to be in a particular spot, but is it some immutable law of the universe that races have to always put that part at the end?? Believe me, I'm a lot more mentally equipped to handle it early in the race.

6) With the combination of thirst & hip pain & possible low blood sugar that happened in 21-22, my rational brain clearly just shut off, which I think resulted in the animal part that was left kind of flailing & making panicky emotional decisions rather than smart ones. I definitely would have been better off slowing to maybe an 8:30 pace in those last miles rather than the weird combination of sprint / walking, but you can only beat yourself up so much for what your body decides is a good plan when your brain isn't working anymore.

Well, there you go. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Right now I still can't put much weight on my leg so running is out of the picture for a while, and even once I'm running again I think I probably need some time away from marathon training. One a year seems to be about what I can mentally handle.

But don't think I haven't started scoping out candidates for next year. ;)

(For logistical / "nuts & bolts" information on this event, see this post.)

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Mountains 2 Beach Lowdown

5 days to go!! Up until Sunday morning my hip / TFL was feeling pretty good. Then Sunday evening it started getting whiney again, and as of Tuesday morning it's back to kind of so/so. I am supposed to do a short little track workout tonight but I think I'm going to skip it & hope the extra rest lets it keep healing. (I can't imagine a few fast intervals 5 days before the race is going to make that much of a difference anyway.)

The rest of this post is primarily the result of trying to get my head around things before this weekend, so if you're interested in potentially running this race sometime & curious about all the nitty gritty details of the course, staging, etc., you've come to the right place. (Also, there's the off chance it might cut down on the length of my race report, and I feel like that's something we can all get behind.)


Packet Pickup: Several different options starting on the 18th, with the main two on Friday 5/24 & Saturday 5/25. (5Kers & VIPs can also pickup race morning.) I'm planning to go grab mine Friday afternoon as soon as I'm done with work stuff so I don't have to worry about anything on Saturday & can just enjoy hanging out in beautiful Ventura.

Parking & Shuttles: The course is a point-to-point, with the start at Nadoff High School in Ojai & the finish on the Ventura Pier. (The half is point-to-point as well.) Parking is in downtown Ventura (no longer at the County Fairgrounds as in past years) with free shuttles to the start. Your shuttle time is determined by when you signed up -- 5 am for pre-Jan 1, 4 am for post-Jan 1. (Huzzah, early registration!)

I do love that they mapped out our parking options for us relative to the shuttle pickup.

Generally I am all about free parking & walking a little farther, but I am thinking pretty hard about ponying up the $10 to park in the "preferred" lot...

Bag Check: BOYB to the tent at the start. This will be my first marathon without Don waiting for me at the finish with my bag, but hopefully I've got enough experience under my belt at this point that I can handle it on my own.

For me, the biggest challenge logistics-wise will probably be SLEEP. Yes, I know that the most important night of pre-race sleep is two nights before, but I also know that no matter how well I sleep then, I'm doomed if I don't get at least a little shut-eye the night before the race. (I barely slept at all the night before CIM '12, and I think that contributed to how sluggish & out-of-it I felt from the very beginning.) This probably means I should try to get to bed early on Friday night so I can get lots of sleep without sleeping in too much on Saturday, since too much sleeping in = wicked insomnia Saturday night.

The Course

The full marathon starts at Nadoff High School in Ojai, makes a 10K loop around that area, then heads 20 miles southwest towards the Ventura Oceanfront. The CIM course is all roads, so I'm intrigued by the fact that a good portion of this one is on bike paths.

What will you see on your 26.2 mile trip from Ojai to Ventura???

"Beautiful mountain peaks...

"...the Ventura River Basin...

"...beach-front Pierpont neighborhood...

"...the gorgeous Ventura Promenade...

"...and more!!"

I didn't look at the elevation profile until after I'd already signed up, but I suppose when a race is called "Mountains 2 Beach" you should be able to make certain inferences:

After two years at CIM & now this, I suppose I'll have to make sure my next full is a little more challenging elevation-wise so I don't become known as "that blogger that only runs downhill marathons."

(Also, don't let the thing in the first few miles that looks like a climb fool you -- it "climbs" from 626 ft at mile 2.82 to 792 ft at mile 5.11, which, by my math, works out to less than a 1.4% grade.)

I do like to see the elevation profile ahead of time so I can do a little strategizing around pace. Thinking about those things too far out can be a trap sometimes I think, but the way I see it, one week out I'm in pretty much whatever kind of shape I'm going to be in, so that's a reasonable point at which to do some planning.

Theoretically, a 1:38ish half means it's not unreasonable for me to expect to run a 3:30ish (~8:00ish/mile) marathon if I'm healthy, well-rested, have good weather, etc. To be honest, every time I think about that, it sounds crazy fast to me & not at all like something I am mentally prepared to shoot for, so I'm certainly not planning to push myself to try to run that pace.

On the other hand, a weird thing has been happening to me lately. Even with all the hip drama, my nice, comfortable, easy pace has dropped dramatically in the last few weeks from 8:30-8:50ish to 8:00-8:10ish. Seriously. My first two miles on most runs still usually hover in the 9:00-9:30ish range, but once I'm warmed up, I regularly find myself jogging along at what feels like a pretty casual level of effort & seeing splits in the 7:5x-8:0x-8:1x range. This is not something I'm used to.

Now, I'm still not planning on trying to average an 8:00 pace, but it does give me hope that I could just run at a nice, easy, comfortable pace for most of the race and hit low eights without risking too much, and if I can do that, I'll be beyond thrilled. (And if I get to mile 20 & feel like I can push a little, bonus.)

I've heard that water stops can seem a bit sparse, so I'm planning to run with a disposable bottle of 50/50 water/Gatorade until it runs out. Also the last 5.2 miles are an out-and-back a la Kaiser Permanente Half, so I'm trying to mentally prepare myself to deal with that (and hope the headwind on the Ventura Promenade is sliiiiiightly less insane than on the Great Highway in SF).


We're still a week out so there's plenty time for the forecast to do all kinds of exciting things, but so far, so good:

The other nice thing about this race is the 6 am start, so even if I end up having a terrible race & taking much longer than I expect, a high in the sixties means it should still be pretty comfortable toward the finish.


Any SoCal runners have any additional thoughts to offer? Anyone out there run this race before? (You might not remember even if you have, since it has changed its name about nine times in three years.)

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Mo' Therapy, Mo' Bruises; "Ionto" with "Dex"

Last Thursday I had my last round of therapy before I head to LA this next coming Thursday. (Completely coincidentally, I have to be there for work on Thursday & Friday, which is AWESOME because it means work is now paying for my flight. Thank you, Virgin refundable!)

One of my favorite things about my current PT is his positive outlook. At my first visit I didn't mention the fact that I was hoping to run a marathon in less than four weeks, because I didn't need to hear any doomsaying about it when I was already well aware that it might not happen. On the second visit he asked me when my next event was, so I told him & braced myself for the doubtful looks & pessimistic prognosis.

But his only response was "Well, we better get you fixed up, then."

Given that this last visit was only 10 days before the marathon and my TFL had been getting better, he said he wanted to assume that I would be able to run and treat aggressively today to give me the best shot possible at a solid, pain-free race. I could have hugged him just for saying it.

Apparently 'aggressive' meant a gauntlet of stretching, adjusting, aligning, ART, and yes, more suction cups. This time several of the bruises swelled up like sponges when they took the cups off, which was I guess impressive enough that he kept calling over other therapists & being like, "Here, come touch this. This is how you know you got the right spot." (Not the first time I've been used as a teaching tool in a medical setting, and probably not the last.)

From what he told me, I *think* the puffing up means that the muscle was so tight & locked up that metabolic byproducts & other fluids had gotten trapped inside it & couldn't get out. When the adhesions were released by the suction, the fluid causes the muscle & other tissue to swell up as they began flushing out. (Any PT/bio/medical nerds, feel free to correct me if any of that sounds completely wrong.) I skipped the pictures this time because how many giant hickey photos do you really need to see in life, but if you've forgotten, it pretty much looks exactly the same as last week, just with an extra layer of lighter, half-healed bruises underneath the fresh ones.

Finally, he used a technique called iontophoresis (or "ionto" as the cool kids call it) to inject a corticosteroid called dexamethasone ("dex") into my TFL, which I thought was just the coolest shit ever. Basically iontophoresis uses electric current to push an ionized medicine through the skin and into deep tissue via a disposable adhesive patch.

Battery-powered ionto patch

After swabbing my skin & pressing the patch into place, he charged the tiny batteries on top of the patch. The charging process is very slightly uncomfortable, sort of like being bitten by an ant or mosquito for 2-3 minutes, but I got used to it pretty quickly. After that I had to wear the patch for 2 hours while the medicine sank in. Wearing the patch was completely comfortable; if anything, all I felt was a little warmth from the battery.

I did a little reading on the technique when I got home, and it sounds like iontophoresis with dex is becoming a popular treatment for inflamed tissue because it has all the benefits of a cortisone injection (immediate, potent, targeted) without the drawbacks (discomfort, irritation, risk of infection or tissue damage). My therapist's view seemed to be that the worst was over and the muscle was healing, and the steroid would keep the inflammation that's part of the natural healing process from getting out of hand & causing tightness & stiffness over the next week.

I told him that my plan was to gradually increase the lengths of my runs this week, & if I could do 10-12 over the weekend with little or no pain (and most importantly, pain that didn't get progressively worse), I would feel comfortable at least attempting the marathon.

"Keep it to 10," he advised me. "The extra two won't help you at this point, and there's no reason to risk aggravating it again. 10 will tell you what you need to know."

"My prediction is, you'll be able to do it," he told me before I left. "You may have some discomfort towards the end & not be able to run as hard as you want to, but if you can get through 10, you can get through 26."

Again, I could have hugged him.

Today (Saturday) I'd planned to run 8, and if that went well, try for 10 on Sunday. But when I got to four miles and still felt good, I decided not to turn around & instead just try to get the ten done. It was a warm one out in GG Park today & I definitely stopped at every water fountain & took advantage of all the shade I could find, but I finished my ten with just the tiniest noticeable twinge, and even that went away within half an hour or so.

Bay to Breakers prep under way in the Panhandle. One of these years I won't have other race plans on that day or the weekends before or after & will finally get to run it. For living in San Francisco, I don't see nearly enough naked / bizarrely costumed people.

It's been a close thing, but I feel like I can say with 99% certainty that one week from tomorrow, I'm running a marathon. (Assuming I haven't just jinxed myself....)

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

A Bit of Cautious Optimism

Last Friday I went to my 2nd PT session at UCSF. In the first session, they used a suction machine to try to tear up some of the scar tissue in my right quad / IT band (sort of like reverse ART) & loosen it up. This last time, the verdict was that the tightness & scar tissue extended all the way up into my lower back and the hip flexors on the sides of my abs. (Did you know you had hip flexors there? I didn't.) So the suction machine it was.

Yeah. Good times.

I'm happy to report that in the last few days, things have been looking up. As of the weekend, I still had some niggling pain & didn't try to run. I realized Monday afternoon, though, that I was completely pain-free just walking around, so I decided to try a few slow, easy miles, just to see how it felt.

Mentally, I told myself very firmly that this was not a workout, not a training run -- just a little test to see how the leg held up after a few miles. By 1.5 I still felt good but decided to play it safe & turn around anyway since the last thing I wanted to do was push my leg too hard on my first pain-free day & make things worse again. Around 2ish I could feel just a tiny twinge, not even really enough to call pain, but enough for me to know I'd made the right choice not to try to go farther. When I first got home I thought it might feel good to ice it a bit; an hour later I realized even the little twinge was gone and I'd forgotten all about the ice.

On Tuesday I was in Fairfield for work, where I normally run on the hotel treadmill because I don't know the area super-well. Initially I figured this would probably work out for the best, since a treadmill meant I could stop whenever I wanted rather than hoping that I'd turned around soon enough. However, this is the first time I've been here where it was light and warm and beautiful into the evening, and with so many empty, quiet, bucolic sidewalks beckoning, I couldn't resist heading outside for a little jog.

If it hadn't been for the fact that I was being cautious about my leg, I could've run forever. Honestly, sometimes I get so. damn. SICK of running my same traffic-light ridden, pedestrian-congested routes around the city. What would I give to have lovely paths like these right outside my door? There are times--not very often, but occasionally--when I really miss the suburbs.

I pushed it to five miles this time & and happily my leg held up, again leaving me with just a little twinge in the hour or so after the run that soon completely disappeared. I even kept up a good pace without much effort, which was reassuring after two single-digit weeks in a row. I'm still wary of doing too much too soon, but currently my loose plan is to take Wednesday off & do some longer single-digit runs on Thursday & Friday, take Saturday off, & if all goes well & my leg is feeling good, try for the 12 miler on my schedule on Sunday. If that goes well, then Houston, I think we may have a marathon attempt on our hands after all.

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

Monday, May 6, 2013

A Small Reprieve...

First, I have to share how awesome it is to climb out of bed at 11 am on Sunday morning & see that the first handful of posts in my facebook & twitter feeds are pictures & announcements & congratulations on all manner of race-related accomplishments. So first, some hearty congratulations to friends from the blogosphere & beyond:

  • Layla & Sam for their fantastic PRs at the Pittsburgh Marathon;
  • Robin, for a sweet 24 minute PR + BQ at the NJ Marathon;
  • Dave, for leaving it all out there & getting it done at a crazy tough NJ Marathon;
  • Brooke, Cate, Jana, & Kimra for rocking various parts of Wildflower on a super-hot day;
  • Sesa & any number of my former colleagues for finishing The [12 person, multi-day, 200 mile] Relay from Calistoga to Santa Cruz;
  • Anyone else I missed (I have pretty much been a social media failure for the last week or so....but what else is new.)

Please humor me as I *do not* feel much like writing about my own running right now, though.

Instead, how about one of those posts where people talk about other stuff they do in their lives besides run? Those are nice. Let's have one of those.

1) Karate. I still need to do something about collecting all the pictures & video taken at my testing by various cameras, but there was one in particular that I was waiting on.

This is me with my panel (ie, the people who tested me) after the testing. In general I am a pretty un-emotional person but for some reason this one makes me emotional.

You can tell I was the one testing because of the translucent gi. Also, the hair. As always at Berkeley Isshin-ryu, QUALITY post-testing hair.

2) Books. One of my goals this year was to read 12 books. I am constantly depressed by my "To Read" list on (BTW, you can follow me or be my friend there or however it works if you like to see what people are reading. I've found a lot of awesome books following folks on GR). I have started actually reading more, but at some point I had to just bite the bullet & accept that I'm never going to have all that much time to sit on a couch / lie in bed / whatever & read pages & pages at a time of anything. Not without quitting something.

On the other hand, I have a pretty reasonable car commute most days, so I finally took the advice of some friends & hopped on the bandwagon. Yes, it means I am spending money on books and then not physically owning them, but on the other hand, I think I've gotten through an order of magnitude more books in the past four months than I've read old-school in any of the past few years. And that makes me happy. And the truth is that sometimes money can buy happiness.

Some of my favorites so far this year:

The Disappearing Spoon, by Sam Kean. What a great read! I was looking for something interesting, well-written, and not overly serious, and this fit the bill. I would recommend this book for the following people:

  • People who enjoy amusing stories about science told through a historical / human interest kind of angle. (If you like RadioLab, you'll enjoy this book.)
  • People who knew their chemistry at some point & would kind of like a refresher of the basics explained through entertaining stories.
  • People who are curious about chemistry / particle physics but find terms like "covalence electrons" and "ionic bonds" kind of intimidating.
  • Young people who have not yet studied chemistry formally (whether they're interested in science or not -- I could totally see this book turning a "fuzzy" on to science).
  • Anyone who enjoys unconventional histories various & sundry.

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, by Robin Sloan. A smart & cute read, especially if you live in or know the Bay Area, especially if you are in any way tech-inclined or even tech-curious. (You certainly don't have to be knowledgeable to follow what's going on.) Lots of books try to be "young" and "modern" and totally blow it (especially with pop culture & dialogue), but this one pulls it off. If The Da Vinci code were hipper, cooler, better written, took itself less seriously, and set in SF / Silicon Valley, it might have turned out something like Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore.

The Glass Bead Game, by Herman Hesse. The best way I can think of to describe the feel of this classic is as a literary mash-up of Siddhartha, Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, & Anathem -- a deeply abstract & cerebral bildungsroman full of interesting ideas about life, philosophy, academics, & the meaning / purpose of art, knowledge, & culture, in a kind of monastic setting. Not what I would call a beach read, but I've been meaning to read it for years & was happy that I finally got around to it.

Bossypants, by Tina Fey. This book was so much fun. It clearly shares DNA with Caitlin Moran's "How To Be A Woman," except more jokey & humorous (though she does make some serious points). Tina Fey is hilarious & it was fun to learn more about her & her career. (Basically, all I knew was that she was on Saturday Night Live & did Sarah Palin. I didn't even know she was connected to 30 Rock. Or what 30 Rock even was.) This, I WOULD call a beach read, in the best possible way.

3) Sorbet. I'm kind of obsessed with it right now. Maybe it's the weather. Maybe it's the new ice cream maker. Maybe it's all the amazing fruit that's available right now. I don't know. What I DO know is that I could freaking live off this stuff (er....if it had, like, nutrition & stuff).

The Alliterative Gourmets & I had an 'M' themed dinner party Saturday night, so I brought mango, Meyer lemon, & mojito. NOM.

Not pictured: mint julep, because I ate it all.

It's actually pretty easy to make even without an ice cream maker; just freeze a pan of the syrup (there are tons of recipes online), then stick it in a blender for a few seconds to fluff it up.

4) Wine. Because if I was going to have a blog, it was either going to be about running or wine, and there are times when I am still not convinced I made the right choice.

What we've been drinking lately:

1999 Woodward Canyon Cab (Walla Walla, WA). Because Don's birthday, and also 30-day aged sirloin. Highly recommend, but let it age. It's that kind of cab.

2009 Kenneth Volk Pomar Junction Touriga (Paso Robles, CA). "But what is Touriga?" you ask. "I have never heard of that one." Never you mind; it's a grape, and you need to have some. It doesn't taste like pinot, but it's comparable in terms of body & mouthfeel (ie, lighter in flavor / medium bodied). The main flavors in this one were plumb & other "magenta" fruit, baking spices, & very faint vanilla & anise. This one does not need to age more than a few years & went quite well with Mediterranean chicken pizza from Little Star.

2008 Williams Selyem Westside Road Neighbors Pinot. Uh. Mazing. One of the most fantastic pinots I've ever had. Tasty red fruit balanced with lovely baking spice all the mushroom-ey things I love about a pinot nose, and a nice, light body that makes it perfect for drinking on a hot day. If you are in Sonoma, call & make an appointment.

Finally, this was purchased on Saturday.....


....yeah. The difference between 'hoarding' and 'collecting' is sometimes a matter of appropriate storage, and I'll give you one guess as to which message the cardboard box system sends.

Okay, two sentences about running: I have a very bizarre, very geographically small yet extremely painful strain to something in the general vicinity of my right adductor that's making even walking quite painful, so I haven't run a single step since last Wednesday in an attempt to let it heal (since I know trying to run even a little would just make it worse), and I am hoping against hope that a rest week four weeks out from the marathon is a better idea than trying to run through the injury. I am going to try running a few miles tomorrow and see how it goes; hopefully it will be solid enough that I can jump back into my schedule for the last three weeks.

Sigh. Anyway, I hope your training week has been better than mine. Catch you later this week!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The Pre-Marathon Crazies

With four weeks still to go, it does seem a wee bit early for that, doesn't it? (Well, I guess technically less than four at this point. I have been writing this post in 10 minute spurts for several days now, but it was still four when I started on Sunday.)

One of the things I've been talking with people in karate about lately is how our perceptions of how much we know & understand about something change as we learn more. As a blue belt (so say ~2-3 years into karate), I considered myself fairly knowledgeable and experienced in the martial arts. Sure, I was aware that there was a lot that I didn't know, but still felt like I'd learned TONS. A couple of years later as a green belt, I still recognized that I'd learned a lot, but had become significantly more aware of how much there was that I didn't yet know or understand. By the time I was a brown belt, and more knowledgable than my blue belt self by an order of magnitude, I was pretty much floored by the vastness of everything I had left to learn. Now, as a black belt, I feel like I've just barely got the basics out of the way. My current knowledge & skill is a grain of sand on the beach.

It's kind of the same way with running. After my first year or two of training for longer distances & running road races, I felt like I pretty much knew what I was doing training-wise. Several years later, I feel like I only really have a good understanding of the most basic principles, and there are a million more complex, involved pieces that completely mystify me.

That's what I've been thinking about since my long run this past Sunday. When I checked my schedule last week, my Sunday assignment was 16 miles, which made sense to me since the previous long run was my first 20-miler of the cycle. Later in the week, though, I saw that the distance for that run had been increased to 17-18. I don't know why that made me more nervous than 16, but it did. Just a little.

Circumstances going into this run could've been better. I didn't sleep well Saturday night, woke up early Sunday morning & couldn't get back to sleep, then came home after brunch with friends and crashed. I kinda-sorta woke up at 3:45 pm, didn't really want to get up, but started doing the math in my head & knew that if a long run was going to happen, it needed to happen NOW. (Thankfully it's late April & not November -- I *hate* finishing a long run in the dark.)

When I read blogs, I often get the sense that the "normal" thing is to hate speed work & adore long runs. Not me; not even close. In fact if I could magically eliminate one piece from distance training, it would be long runs. (The irony of this is not lost on me.) On Sunday it was worse than usual. Getting dressed, sun screening myself, & digging out gels kind of felt like walking to the gallows. There may or may not have been some quiet weeping. I felt tired & slightly ill as I started out, and even a few miles in, I wasn't convinced things were going to get much better. I could not have been less concerned with pace--my only goal was to maintain my usual easy effort & get the damn thing over with.

So I was kind of surprised to see that my 3rd mile, uphill & into the wind through the Panhandle, was sub-8:30, because I didn't feel like I was running all that fast & at an easy effort I usually do that section in the 8:40s or so. "Eh, I should probably try to rein it in a little," I thought to myself, considering how much farther I had to go; I have never in my life failed to negative split a long run & I was not about to start now.

A mile later, cruising through Golden Gate Park at a slightly easier, more relaxed pace, an 8:02 split popped up on my watch. For a second I was sure I must be reading it wrong. "Casual / easy" for me usually falls into the 8:30-8:50 range, maybe a little faster going downhill or with a tailwind. I still felt kind of sleepy & ill, but certainly not like I was pushing very hard. Nevertheless I knew that this was not an appropriate long run pace in any way, so I tried again to breathe deep and relax and sloooooow it down.

Mile 5: 8:10 ("Whut")

Mile 6: 8:22 ("Ok that's slightly more like it.")

Mile 7: 8:08 ({blink blink})

Mile 8: 8:10 ({face palm})

Mile 9, uphill: 7:59 ("OK SERIOUSLY???)

Don't get me wrong; I'd love to think that low eights are a responsible, sustainable long run pace for me. I would. That would be just awesome. But they aren't. 7:50-8:10 is basically my marathon goal range. My long runs should really *never* be averaging faster than 8:30ish. If I'd been consistently hitting 8:2x's at an easy pace, I would've been thinking, "Wow, this is a ridiculously fast long run!" These felt absurd, though, & had me slightly panicked.

I know there is a school of thought that says significant chunks of long runs should be done at race pace, but with one exception every person I have ever asked about it who works with competitive runners for a living has kind of given me that "Really, this again?" look & been pretty clear that they consider it a rookie mistake. A few miles here & there at race pace during your long run, fine. The last 20-25% on occasion, even--probably okay. But otherwise the consensus seems to be that the purpose of long runs is to get time on your feet & teach your body to fuel itself aerobically for longer and longer periods of time, not work on race pace. That doing all or most of long runs at race pace, although it boosts our confidence to prove to ourselves we can do it, is essentially putting your body through near-race effort every week or so & making it impossible to get the most out of the rest of your training because you just can't recover fast enough.

I wonder about this from time to time when I think back to when I was training for CIM '12. Yes, there are many reasons why I didn't have a stellar race, but I have a hunch that a too-fast 21 miler three weeks beforehand played a role in both my feeling exhausted from the very beginning and also pushing my injured foot from mildly-annoying-but-bearable into potential DNF territory. I mean, seriously -- you would never race a fast marathon, then three weeks later expect to be able to do it again even remotely as well, and that's really not all that far off from what I did.

All that in mind, I kept trying to slow it down to a pace that felt both easy effort-wise and comfortable on my body. I tried and tried and tried, but the 8:30-40ish pace that normally feels both comfortable and nicely efficient felt impossibly slow, like I was taking plodding, mincing little strides. When I didn't think about it & just tried to run at a nice, easy, comfortable pace, the numbers magically gravitated back to that way-too-fast marathon pace zone.

I'll probably slow down on the uphills, I thought. Nope.

I'll probably start to get tired towards the end & slow down a little, I thought later. I did get tired, but it didn't seem to have any noticeable effect on my pace. Usually on an easy run, even if I get going a little faster than normal, I slow down again once I get back into my neighborhood & have to deal with lights, pedestrians, dogs, etc. But even that last mile was faster than I think I've ever run it (with the exception of a couple of ill-advised tempo runs. Don't ever try to do tempo miles in the Mission / Castro / Noe Valley).

Yes, I was tired after. But I'm tired after even a slow long run; that's just how long runs work. In addition to feeling tired, though, I also finished feeling strong, which is rare for me post-long run. I could feel my legs. My feet weren't throbbing. My form felt good. Usually I have jello-legs & just want to go sit in an ice bath with a beer.

Before I discovered regular-people running blogs, I used to read Coach Jenny's blog at Runners World fairly frequently, where I learned a lot of the basic principles of distance training. In response to the recent spike in interest in the Boston Marathon, she wrote a post last week entitled "How to Qualify for the Boston Marathon." There's probably not much on it that would surprise most folks who have been doing this a while, but one quote in particular stuck out for me:

"American 50K record holder Josh Cox said it best when I asked him how he trained to break the 50K world record: 'It takes years of training to race at your peak. The marathon itself takes years and years of training to perform your best. You’re not racing off the last six months of preparation. You’re racing on the foundation that was built over many years of training. It’s the cumulative effect that allows me to continue to perform stronger for longer.' "

I'd never thought about it before, but it makes total sense. My three marathon cycles have started more or less from the same spot fitness-wise and included about the same amount and type of training, but with each successive one I've found myself magically able to run longer, stronger, and faster when it comes to long runs, and feeling less and less like death after. Clearly something cumulative is going on, even without dramatically changing my training, or starting the cycle off in particularly better shape.

Or I was just hopelessly out of touch with my effort level & running way too fast.

Or I've peaked 4 weeks early, ran too fast on Sunday, & it's all down here from here.

Or I've made some kind of insane quantum leap of fitness and/or genetic make-up in the space of a couple of weeks & should obviously shoot for a 7:40 pace on race day.

Orrrrr the night before the marathon I should clearly stay up late, barely sleep, & have a giant brunch right before the race.

Yep. Probably that.

See what I mean about feeling completely clueless?

Obviously I'm hoping it's the first. I know I'm approaching the most critical part of marathon training -- that period where there isn't a ton you can do to get faster, but there is still AMPLE time and opportunity to screw things up by overtraining or getting hurt.

Or go crazy worrying about it.

Always professional.