Sunday, October 17, 2021

Richmond Marathon Training

Things have kicked into high gear since the half marathon two weeks ago. The mileage has increased, the workouts have gotten longer, and the weather has gotten warmer! After a divine 4 days at the end of September with crisp, cool weather, the first half of October has been unseasonably warm and humid, by about 10-15 degrees daily. The marathon is four weeks away and I am just now starting to feel like I might be ready by then!

I typically choose a later fall marathon so I don't have to do long runs and long workouts in these conditions. It's not that I can't tough it out- but my body has revolted in the past by getting sick. I've managed to stick with the training, however, by staying super hydrated and running my easy runs very slowly. I have been drinking a packet Liquid IV nearly every day and I have been running my easy runs in the 9:00-9:20 range (as opposed to my usual 8:30-8:45). 

I don't train in Carbon Fiber plated shoes unless I am doing my test run in them pre-race, but I have used them twice in the past two weeks to offset the humidity. The boost that I got from them meant that I didn't get completely discouraged with my paces. For example, I was able to run a 5.25-mile tempo run at an average pace of 6:59 in the humidity, which I don't think I would have been able to attain in normal shoes.

Because I've been extending myself to my limit in the humidity, I have avoided hills. This is probably not a smart approach because my marathon is somewhat hilly with about 650 feet of total gain. This isn't to say I only run on flat surfaces (impossible near me), but I always opt for the least amount of hills possible because it's already so much of a struggle to get the run done, let alone with hills. I plan to start running hillier routes over the next four weeks, now that it's supposed to be cooler and less humid.

Running Form
I mentioned at the end of my last blog post that I didn't think my new running form was working out for me. It wasn't making me more efficient and it didn't feel natural. So, after 4 months of spending every single run focused on my stride length and cadence, I threw in the towel. My coach was on board with this. You can't force "ideal form" - it has to come to you naturally. And my form will improve over time with drills, plyometrics, improved balance, and strength training.

On the day I decided I was going to run naturally, I listened to music for the first time since last March! I had been avoiding my headphones because I wanted to be totally dialed into my running and my stride. It was so liberating to zone out a little, enjoy the music and just go with the flow. 

And for the first time since coming back from my injury, I felt like my "old self" at my "old pace" - which was faster and more relaxed feeling. 

I have experimented with multiple fueling strategies, and I honestly feel my best when I incorporate UCAN. I had been trying to switch to 100% Maurten products, but I think you need to take the gels every 30 minutes to avoid a crash. And using the Maurten drink mix doesn't seem to provide enough pep. This could have been part of why I didn't perform as well as I hoped at my marathon last March.

At the Harrisburg Marathon last fall, I had major digestive issues and I blamed the combination of UCAN + too much food pre-race. I think the solution could be a smaller breakfast (English muffin instead of bagel), and drinking a less concentrated UCAN mixture. And probably drinking the UCAN 45 minutes pre-race. UCAN does make a gel now, but I am allergic to one of the ingredients, which is not contained in the energy powder.

I should also keep in mind that I have successfully used UCAN at many marathons and half marathons over the past 5 years and the only time I had an issue was at Harrisburg. 

Overall Mindset
I don't know if it's because of the warm weather or because I've spent so much time focused on my stride, but I haven't felt great about my progress this training cycle. My runs have felt ok, for the most part, but have rarely felt really good. Every long run has been a struggle, and the two times I set out for 20 miles I ended up with 19.22 and 19.33. From a training standpoint, that's almost as good as a 20, but the fact that I just couldn't make it to the finish line doesn't bode well for my confidence.

I am not as fit as I was last spring, so I won't be going for a sub 3:10 in Richmond, but I think I could likely get a modest PR (sub 3:15:34). 

I also need to remind myself to STOP comparing myself to other runners. I often feel like I am the only one who struggles in the humidity. When I scroll through Instagram, it seems like everyone else is running their normal paces and I am the only one who has slowed down. I'll come back from a humid long run feeling totally exhausted and having run a mediocre pace, and then runners who are about my same level will have run father, faster, and felt amazing (in the same conditions). It's definitely NOT helpful to have these thoughts, but I can't help it - I have them and then I have to fight them off.

Maybe once the weather finally cools down I will feel like a whole new person. Four weeks is still a long time in the world of marathon training and I believe I can still gain a good amount of fitness between now and race day. In the past I have had amazing training cycles where I have PR'ed my workouts but then didn't reach my marathon goal. So maybe I'll outperform my expectations. I remain optimistic despite my feelings of "blah" over the past month.

Weekly mileage, last 8 weeks

Monday, October 4, 2021

Wineglass Half Marathon Race Report

I've been slacking on blog title creativity lately. I ran the Wineglass Half Marathon yesterday morning in Corning, NY. This was one of those bucket list races that many runners have told me to do over the years. I had heard that the course was fast, scenic and well organized. I had been registered for the half marathon in 2018, but that was the fall after a mono episode so I wasn't ready to race in early October. 

The Wineglass marathon and half marathon are known for being net downhill courses, although the half

marathon is just barely net downhill. It only loses 60 feet of elevation over the course of 13.1 miles and there are a few notable up hills as well. I think the full marathon is much more of a true net downhill, with most of the elevation loss occurring in the first half.

I would have happily traded the 60-foot elevation loss for a straight course without so many twists and turns in the last five miles. I found those to be momentum-stealing, and I think they offset any benefit I might have gotten from the net elevation loss. But we will get into that later.

Training and approach
Normally at this point in a full marathon training cycle (six weeks out) I'm in excellent shape and ready to run a PR half or close to a PR time. But my training ramp up has been gradual due to my injury, and I didn't have as much training under my belt as I would like. And based on my training paces I could tell I wasn't close to being in PR shape. Yes, it's been warm and humid for the majority of my training runs, but I still feel like I was much faster pre-injury. 

This has been frustrating for me because usually I come off of a break very quickly. The three mono incidents have all had very quick comebacks. Maybe I'm just getting older so it's harder to regain my speed. Here is what my training has looked like:

As you can see, I only had 3 weeks of training above 50 miles. This is nowhere near where I usually am when I run a half marathon. Usually I have at least 3 weeks of training above 60 miles, approaching 70. This was a conscious decision due to needing extra rest days because of the heat and dealing with Achilles tendinitis. It wasn't like I was slacking; I was being smart about my training and doing what I could.

Given all of this, I decided I would be happy to run within 3 minutes of my PR (1:30:58). I set my sights on 1:33:xx, which is a pace of around 7:05.  My true goal race is the Richmond marathon in six weeks. So I didn't care nearly as much about Wineglass as I did Richmond - I just wanted to practice running hard for a long time.

On the race website there was a little blurb about "Elite Runners" and how to apply. No qualifying standards were published, they simply asked you to email them with your recent race times and where you placed in the field. As a master's runner, I figured I had a shot at this so I applied. I was accepted, which meant my registration was free. Sweet!  Outside of free registration, there was no other information published about what it meant to be in the "elite" field. 

Expo and Museum of Glass
Greg and I drove to Corning on Friday. It was about a 5-hour drive, but it was scenic so we didn't mind it. We arrived at the expo at 3:00. The expo was at the Corning Museum of glass which was probably the coolest expo venue I've ever been to, and I have been to a lot of expos. We started out in the gift shop,

At the expo with my "elite" bib
where I bought a zebra made out of glass beads. We then retrieved our bibs and swag. Included was a medium-weight, long sleeved half zip running shirt, a wine glass, and a small bottle of champagne. Some of the best swag ever!

My bib said "Elite" on it. I asked the person who gave it to me what benefits that included (I hadn't received any email communication on this and nothing was on the website). She exclaimed quite loudly, "WOW- you're an Elite!?" and my immediate response was "No." I don't see myself as an elite athlete so it was weird to say yes. But after saying no, I realized she might think the bib was a mistake so then I said, "well, yes. Well, sort of of yes." She told me to ask the information desk about what benefits that included.

I went to the information desk and the person said "I have no idea." Okay, so I guess there were no other benefits aside from the free registration, and I was totally fine with that, but normally they have special aid stations, tents, etc. And if that was the case, I would have wanted to take advantage of them. In any event, I don't believe myself to be an "elite" even when I am at my fittest, and I certainly wasn't at my fittest for this race. But hey, they had accepted me!

After getting our race packets, we took a quick (25 minute) stroll through the museum of glass. It was incredible and I really wish we had more time to spend there. 25 minutes was nowhere near long enough to appreciate everything. We needed to be on our way because our hotel was still 20 minutes away and we had dinner reservations that were further away from the hotel.

We went to a restaurant called "Lib's Supper Club" in Elmira. It was the only place around where I could find a chicken parmesan, which is my favorite pre-race dinner. I actually get it without the cheese so it's just chicken in a red sauce with pasta. Bland, but effective.

Before the Race
I slept about six hours: straight through from 9:00 to 12:30, awake from 12:30-2:00, and then asleep again from 2:00-4:30. I awoke to the alarm, which was set extra early since we had a long journey to the race start. I wasn't hungry for breakfast at 5:00am, so I had just half an English muffin with a little bit of almond butter. I had half of a Maurten Drink Mix 160 with breakfast at 5:00, and gradually drank the rest of it during the next two hours. 

adidas Adios Pro 2 + Zensah socks
We left our hotel at 5:30 and drove to Corning. We arrived at 5:45 and waited in a line of cars to park near the bus pick-up. After parking the car, we used the porta potties and then stood in line for the buses. By the time we got on the bus, it was around 6:10. Masks were required on the bus, but they were not required at the race start line. Since this race is a point-to-point course, the only way to get to the start line is by taking a bus. The last bus was scheduled to leave at 6:30, with a race start of 7:45. 

The bus ride was about 25 minutes and we arrived at the start line just after 6:30. Which meant slightly over an hour until the race start. I continued to sip my Maurten Drink mix until about 7:00. I was double fisting it and had a bottle of water + electrolytes in my other hand. I didn't drink from this bottle until the race started. We went to the bathroom twice during this period of time and waited in the school gymnasium. Outside, it was about 54 degrees with light rain. Very humid.

We ran a 1-mile warm-up which included some strides. I also did leg swings and other drills to get my body into racing mode. It started raining more heavily during the warmup which I was grateful for. When it's humid, there is a certain amount of rain that is ideal to keep you cool. Any less than that and you are hot, any more than that and you get cold and your shoes get heavy. I was hoping we would have a very light rain throughout the race. 

Greg and I lined up at the start line and started chatting with other runners. One of them asked me what pace I was planning to run and I was embarrassed to tell her I would be starting at a 7:15 pace while wearing a bib that said "elite". I justified it by saying that I had been injured and unable to train at peak capacity, which was entirely true. The plan was to start at a pace of 7:15 for the first mile and gradually make my way down to 7:00 or even sub 7:00 by the end. 

Before I get into the race, I want to note how eerily similar this race was to the California International Marathon from 2019. Both races were point-to-point. Both races were "on the bucket list" because of their reputation for being fast and scenic. Both races required a bus ride to the start. Both races had the same weather: mid 50's at the start, 97% humidity, occasional rain, high 50's to low 60s at the end.

On my race weather scale, this race gets a 5 out of 10. Not "PR" weather unless I suddenly had a huge breakthrough in fitness, which is unlikely after 20 years of running. But also not horrible- not bad enough to sabotage a race. I have run a few races with mild temps, occasional rain and high humidity. None of them have been PRs but none of them have been total bonks either.

Miles 1-4
The race started and Greg and I leap frogged each other a little bit as we weaved through the crowd and the crowd weaved through us. The first mile was tricky with the slippery pavement (that was also uneven in places) and all the runners bolting out, filled with adrenaline. You had to watch your footing and be very aware of what was going on around you.

I carried a bottle of water and Scratch Labs electrolyte mix. I have been training with this mix because it has electrolytes and carbs and is easy on my stomach. 10 minutes into the race, shortly after mile marker 1, I took a Maurten caffeinated gel. Prior to the race, I had gone back and forth on when to take my gels since this was my first half marathon in a long time without using UCAN. I ultimately decided that 10 minutes and 50 minutes would be perfect in combination with having had the Drink Mix earlier in the morning. 

I still train with UCAN because I think it does a better job than Maurten at training your body to burn fat for fuel vs. Maurten which can cause sugar spikes and crashes. But on race day, UCAN does not agree with my stomach. Because I find benefits in both products, I fuel some of my long runs with UCAN and some with Maurten. That way I get the benefit of UCAN's slow release energy on some runs and the benefit of training my digestive system for race day on other runs. 

Anyway, after the first mile things calmed down a bit and I had more space to myself. I found myself ahead of Greg. I always knew about how far behind me he was because I know what he sounds like when he runs. At one point I nearly slipped on a muddy patch. My shoes (the Adidas Adios Pro 2) didn't have great traction and I am still learning how to properly stabilize myself when running at high speeds. 

These miles felt controlled and strong. I looked at my Garmin a few times, trying to run around 7:10 in these early miles. 

Mile 1: 7:13
Mile 2: 7:16
Mile 3: 7:03
Mile 4: 7:06

Miles 5-7
These miles were the glory miles. I felt strong. The pace felt totally manageable. I was working hard but I felt like I had a lot to give. I was energized. BUT, I was starting to get warm. There hadn't been any rain and it was now about 56 degrees with a dew point of 55. At a water station, I poured a glass of water over my head and it felt amazing. 

I passed quite a few people during these miles and hardly anyone passed me. The course was scenic and I was enjoying the fact that were not many turns - it was just a straight shot. It felt mostly flat with little inclines and declines here and there. Some were a bit bigger than others but nothing too daunting. 

Mile 5: 7:11
Mile 6: 7:06
Mile 7: 7:04

Miles 8-11
Shortly after the mile 7 marker I had my second Maurten gel (no caffeine in this one). It went down easily. This is about the same time when Greg caught me and passed me. I was hoping we'd be able to run the rest of the race together. 

I knew that mile 8 would be the slowest mile of the race based on the elevation profile. It was the only mile of the race that had a significant net uphill. Greg got ahead of me and I was shocked to look down at my Garmin and see that I was running in the high 7:20s. I knew to expect a slow down, but not this much of a slow down. Plus, it still felt like I was running just as fast as before. I still felt good, I still felt energized, but my Garmin was telling me I had slowed down. 

Once mile 8 was done (7:33 pace!) I told myself it was "go time" and that I should fly to the finish. But every time I started "flying" it seemed like the course would swerve or turn and with the wet pavement my momentum would be stolen. I felt like it was a game of run really, really hard, slow down to avoid slipping on a curve or turn, and then speed up again. We again encountered some uneven pavement that made me extra nervous with the roads being wet. 

We ran through a curvy park so we were no longer on roads anymore. Greg was getting further and further ahead of me. Even though I felt good, my Garmin was once again taunting me with a pace that was much slower than what I felt like it should be. During the 9th mile, the sky opened up and it started pouring heavily. I wasn't wearing a hat, so water got in my eyes. My shoes began to feel like bricks. And I went from being warm to very chilly in a matter of minutes!

And of course, other runners started to pass me. I wonder what they had that I didn't? I still felt good! I was still in this game and hadn't given up! Why was I getting so slow but they weren't? Greg was no longer in view.

Mile 8: 7:33 (uphill)
Mile 9: 7:22 (why tho!?)
Mile 10: 7:21 (faster than miles 8-9!)
Mile 11: 7:33 (there goes my goal)

Miles 12- Finish
I had no idea why I had slowed so much despite feeling good. The only thing I could think of was that I had to keep slowing down every time there was a turn or when I thought I had to be extra careful not to

slip. The adidas Adios Pro have almost NO traction! And then it was extra hard to get back up to speed after each slow down. In hindsight I think it could have been the quick drop in body temperature from being too warm to being very chilly in the downpour. As I said in the beginning, there is an optimal amount of rain in these temperatures and we started with no rain but then immediately switched to heavy rain. At the time, I didn't spend too much mental energy analyzing it. That wouldn't be helpful and I recognized that. I accepted that, for whatever reason, I had slowed down and decided I would give everything I had no matter what my watch said.

I got passed by more runners and every time I did I tried to hang with them but usually could not. This race was supposed to be a big negative split but it was going in the opposite direction. With just two miles left, I tried to salvage what I could and vowed to stay "in it". 

I got a little bit of a second wind and pushed hard all the way to the finish.

Mile 12: 7:19
Mile 13: 7:15
The last 0.19 on my Garmin: 6:29 pace

My official finish time was 1:35:38, making this my 8th fastest half marathon. I have run 7 half marathons faster than this, which is really hard to fathom! I did not even win an age group award. .  so much for being an "elite"!

After the Race
Greg finished nearly two minutes ahead of me in 1:33:45. Had I just stuck with him, I would have attained my goal. Oh well. It just wasn't in me yesterday. About 3 minutes after finishing I began to dry heave. Since there was literally nothing in my stomach except for the Maurten gels, nothing really came out. This

post-half marathon dry heave or vomit thing has plagued me for the past 3 years and I have no idea how to not do it. I guess it just comes from running really hard.

We were soaked and we proceeded directly to the car where he grabbed his camera for a few post race photos. We didn't stick around because we wanted to get out of our wet clothes. We drove back to the hotel, showered and then went to a nearby mall where we had Auntie Anne's Pretzels for lunch. There were really no better options near us!

After lunch we drove about an hour and a half north to the rural town where Greg grew up. This was one of the reasons we had been wanting to run Wineglass-- it was close to his hometown which I had never been to. I saw the house Greg grew up in, his high school, the places he worked and more. We went to his best friend's house who he rarely gets to see and hung out there for a few hours. It was fun! Afterwards we moved on to Rochester where we stayed the night. There wasn't anything particular in Rochester we wanted to do but it was the closest place to find a decent hotel. 

Final Thoughts and Key Takeaways
I'm feeling okay about this race. It was one of my slowest half marathons within the past 5 years, but at least I was able to run it pain-free, which is honestly more than I would have expected last April. One of my doctors had told me that I might not even be able to start running again until October. So given that, I can't complain at all. 

As for my "reformed form" I am frustrated with it. It seems that even though I have been able to reduce my cadence by about 10 steps per minute (from 205 to 195 for a half marathon), my stride hasn't lengthened, which was kind of the point: reduce the number of steps and make them longer. It seems like I am now less efficient and less economical than I was with my ultra high cadence. Greg is encouraging me to stick with it and over time I will become more efficient but maybe I just do what feels most natural and work on my stride through drills and strength training; not on actual runs. Who knows? 

I'll start with some of the negative takeaways and then shift to the positives:

  • I failed to meet my goal of 1:33:xx
  • I feel like I am losing running economy by trying to lengthen my stride, not gaining it.
  • My comeback has been slow, I'm not gaining fitness as quickly as I used to
  • I didn't get an age group award, which I almost always do, even in larger races
The positives:
  • My 7 faster half marathons all had cooler weather
  • This is my fastest "humid" half marathon
  • I didn't totally bonk, I was able to pick it up a little in the last two miles
  • This race will hopefully make me fitter and count as a big "workout" as I build towards a full
  • I ran CIM in a time of 3:22 in the same conditions, when I was in shape to run around 3:12. So maybe I am fitter than I think!
  • This was good fueling practice for the full, my stomach behaved except for the dry heaving.
  • I was pain free in my Achilles and my groin!
  • I had fun, I crossed a race off the bucket list
I really, REALLY hope Richmond has better weather and I hope that I can cram in enough training between now and then to be in PR shape. I think my marathon PR is actually my softest PR. I wasn't even wearing carbon fiber plated shoes! And most of the race was on a gravel surface! I think I have been in shape to beat that PR on several occasions but weather, digestive issues, and other factors have prevented it. And maybe this is exactly where I need to be at this point in the cycle so that I will peak just in time for the marathon. I think I missed my peak by about two weeks when I ran Two Rivers last spring. Which makes sense, given my original marathon had been scheduled for 3 weeks earlier.

So even just a slight improvement in fitness combined with better weather could mean I get under 3:15. That is what I'll be working towards for the next six weeks. At some point I hope to have a breakthrough workout that will give me the confidence to go for it. Yesterday was not that workout, but hopefully it will come.

Sunday, September 5, 2021

Fort Hunt 5K Race Recap

I just couldn't think of a creative title for this one. I'm tired! I ran the Fort Hunt 5K this morning in Alexandria, VA. Last year, Greg and I ran the 10K course at this same race.

The course is a 1.2 mile loop with gently rolling inclines and declines. Nothing too steep or long. The 10K is 5 laps exactly. The 5K is two laps, plus a little extra. The course is nicely shaded but that didn't matter because it was an overcast day.

Before The Race
Amazingly, I woke up just 1 minute before my alarm went off. I almost always wake up at least half an hour before my alarm on race morning, but that wasn't the case today. I was happy to maximize my sleep and not get woken up by an alarm!

My first order of business was to drink some Maurten Drink Mix 160. Instead of having actual food to fuel a 5K race, I drink this mix as it's easier on my stomach. I had about 2/3 of the packet. After that, I got dressed and spent 5-10 minutes with my massage ball on the glutes. My physical therapist has told me it's the best way to get my glutes to activate. I also used "the stick" to massage my calves. I felt ready.

The race started at 8:00 and we left our house at 6:30 which ended up being perfect. It was a 40-minute drive during which we both needed to use the bathroom. It's not race morning if you don't need to use the bathroom every 10 minutes! We arrived at 7:15, used the bathrooms, got our bibs, and pinned them on. 

We warmed up for about 15 minutes, during which time I took a caffeinated Maurten gel. I like to take that about 20 minutes prior to the start of a 5K so the caffeine has time to kick in, but the energy doesn't wear off while I'm still running. The downside is that it makes my stomach a little uneasy at the start line when combined with race jitters. 

It was 69 degrees with a dew point of around 63, overcast with a light breeze. Average weather for this time of year so I can't complain. It did, however, feel way muggier than a 63 dew point - I would have guessed at least 95% humidity. The air felt thick and I didn't feel like I could get good clean breaths. 

I wore a sports bra and spandex shorts along with my Adidas Adios Pro shoes. 

Goals and Strategy
Since I had had success not looking at my Garmin during my previous two 5Ks, I figured I would take the same approach. At the Nags Head 5K 3 weeks ago, my average pace was 6:54 and my time was 21:11, because the course measured short on my Garmin. I was hoping to run sub 21:00 today, even with a non-short course. Goals are really just "hopes" when you aren't pacing with a Garmin - you run your hardest and you hope you meet your goal! 

Mile 1:
For the first mile, we did an out-and-back that was about 1/3 of a mile each way, and then proceeded to begin our two laps around the circle. The race is organized by Bishop's Events, which puts on races nearly every weekend in VA/DC/MD area. They held all of their races throughout Covid and did a great job with their organization. 

When I hit the turnaround about 3 minutes into the race, it was nice to have the race director say "good morning, Elizabeth." I replied back with a quick "hi!".

Greg had shot out much faster than me, as usual. In terms of women, my main competition was a little girl who looked like she was no more than 10 years old. She was serious looking and was there with (who I assumed to be) her brother, who ended up winning the 5K. She had amazingly good form and you could tell she was as tough as nails. 

I was very tempted to look at my pace on my watch, but I practiced good restraint and instead focused on running with good form and keeping a positive mindset. I passed the little girl about a mile into the race. Since I wasn't looking at my watch, I don't know for sure, but I hadn't heard it beep for 1 mile yet as I passed her. 

My split was 6:53 for this mile, but I had no idea what it was at the time.

Mile 2:
The race started to feel hard and I had to chase negative thoughts out of my head. I continued to resist the urge to look at my pace. I had memories of the 10K from last year and I remembered how I kept getting faster and faster as the race progressed. I wanted the same thing to happen today. I felt strong, but it was definitely hard!

As I mentioned above, this course is a loop. Thus, to run the tangents, you must run as close to the inside of the loop as possible. I didn't do a great job of this because I was frequently passing other runners (most of them 10K runners, as the 10K started earlier than the 5K). Split: 6:50

Mile 3:
During this mile I finally allowed myself to look at my watch. My average pace was about what I expected it to be, but I didn't judge it and stayed emotion neutral. With one mile left to go, I realized I could kick it into high gear without the fear of bonking and that's exactly what I did. Split: 6:36.

The Finish:
I gunned it to the finish at an average pace of 6:14 for 0.17 miles according to my Garmin. As I said above, I did not do a great job of staying on the inside of the circle. Greg's Garmin had him at 3.14. My official time was 21:23.

I was the first female finisher, and that felt awesome. Granted, there were only 30 women in this 5K but a win is a win! The second place female was the little girl who ran 24:02.

Greg ran a time of 20:30, which would have been faster if he didn't stop to tie his shoe. Despite the stop, he was the 3rd place male. 

After the Race
Greg and I collected our awards and then ran a 10-minute cool down. We were hoping to visit the horse who lived in a stable along the course, but the horse was out in his pasture and not in the stable. We chatted with the male winner (the brother of the little girl) who, at age 14, ran a time of 17:42. WHOA! He was frustrated at having been recently injured and therefore not close to his PR, but man - when you are 14 years old and running that kind of time, you have an amazing future ahead of you!

After the cool down Greg and I went out for crepes to celebrate. I got one with smoked salmon and one with bananas and brown sugar. 

Final Thoughts and Key Takeaways
I have mixed feelings on this. There are plenty of positives here:

  • I won the race
  • My average pace per mile was 10 seconds faster than the 5K from 3 weeks ago
  • I had a massive negative split
  • Achilles held up great!
  • This was a great workout
However, the perfectionist in me cannot help but feeling a little "meh" at this. I used to be able to run a sub 21:00 5K no problem. Even with humidity. Even on a course where I didn't run perfect tangents. I
actually thought that sub 21 would be a soft goal, but apparently it was not. 

Part of me feels frustrated with my fitness, and that I'm not coming back as quickly as I did from my bouts of mono. I am running a half marathon in 4 weeks and I feel utterly unprepared! My coach and I agreed that I needed to come back slowly and conservatively and so there hasn't been much speed work in my training. And I can't expect to run a blazing fast 5K with just a few workouts under my belt. So logically, I am right where I should be. But that doesn't mean I'm not getting impatient! 

Another takeaway is that I should have started more aggressively. My fear of bonking and not knowing what pace I was running meant I was perhaps too conservative during the first two miles. 6:53, 6:50, 6:36 indicates that I probably had a faster time in me. The elevation profile for each mile was roughly the same. I'll bet if they moved the finish line to make this a 4-mile race, I could have run the same overall pace.

So. . . to look at the Garmin or not? I don't know. I definitely want to "feel" my way through a race and not be a slave to the watch. But at the same time, if I had seen a 6:53 pace during that first mile, I probably would have pushed a little harder with the confidence of knowing I wasn't going to bonk.

Anyway, I will continue to trust the process, try to be patient, and be grateful that cooler weather is on the horizon!

Sunday, August 29, 2021

Achilles. Heat. Boston.

I have multiple topics to cover in this blog. First, my Achilles Tendinopathy has flared up in both feet. Second, I have ramped up my training in the heat. Third, I'm going to comment on the Boston Marathon letting additional qualifiers in. 

My insertional achilles tendonitis (or tendinopathy, more correctly) flared up at the end of last week due to repeated treadmill runs. I have been battling Achilles tenderness and stiffness off and on since 2017. It goes away completely when I take a break from running (like with my recent 8-week lay off), but comes right back the moment I resume training. I try to stay on top of my rehab exercises--eccentric weighted heel drops--but I admittedly have not been doing them every single day.

For whatever reason (lack of variation, change of gait, amount of impact), my Achilles tendons do not like the treadmill. Last week it was abnormally warm and humid so I ran on the treadmill Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. And then on Saturday I did my long run outdoors, which is never really Achilles-friendly!

The good thing about insertional Achilles tendinopathy is that you aren't at risk for rupturing the tendon when you run. And it doesn't hurt that much while running. What sucks about it is that it's very difficult to cure 100%, and walking can be painful, particularly barefoot around the house. 

I went to my doctor on Tuesday for a follow up on my groin injury, and while I was there, we talked about my Achilles issues. He did an ultrasound and we could see where there was irritation and small little holes in the tendons. He recommended I have a procedure done called ultrasound-guided tendon scraping. I am having this done in a few weeks. He will go into both Achilles tendons with a needle, using an ultrasound, and create space in between blood vessels that are rubbing together and creating friction. (This might not be a 100% accurate description, but it's how I remember him describing it.) The recovery is only a few days and then I can start running again. He says he does this procedure frequently and if my symptoms are caused by what is seen on the ultrasound, it will provide immediate relief. 

Of course the only way to really recover is 8-12 weeks of the PT exercises every day, twice a day. I am committed to doing them, but they sure are time consuming and boring. My physical therapist theorizes that because my glutes still don't always fire, I'm pushing off with my calf, creating tension in the soleus, resulting in the irritation of the tendon at the insertion point. He dry needled my glutes on Friday and also gave me a painful calf massage. Later that day I was walking around without pain, so it definitely worked.

My plan is to continue training on it (since it's not at risk for rupture), do the PT exercises, go to PT weekly to get needling and massage, and have the procedure in mid-September. 

Training in the Humidity
Because the treadmill had caused such a flare up, I did not use the treadmill at all this week. I would have liked to because we had dew points at 72-73 each morning and the air was incredibly thick. My solution was to run extremely slowly (except for the one track workout) and drink loads of water + electrolytes throughout the day. 

Compression socks support the Achilles
I was able to knock out 49 miles this week with most of them being slower than a 9:00 pace. But in this weather, it's all about effort, time on my feet, and not over-exerting myself. We won't see the heat and humidity drop until Thursday, so unfortunately I'll have to do another speed workout in the heat on Monday. If my Achilles are feeling okay, I might resort to the treadmill Tuesday or Wednesday. 

Last weekend, I knocked out 14 miles at an average pace of 9:00. Yesterday, I ran 14 miles at an average pace of 8:59. Both were progression runs starting in the 10's and ending in the low 8's. It's always good to NOT bonk in the heat and still have a little more to give in that final mile. The Richmond Marathon is on November 13, so my long runs will start getting longer very soon. I'm also running a half marathon on October 3. At this point I really don't think I will be in half marathon shape, but a decent amount of fitness can be built over 5 weeks. (Well - 4 weeks excluding the taper week leading up to the race). 

It's actually hard to know what kind of shape I'm in with all of my runs being in such crazy humidity and I am just trying to survive them. But I have only done one lactate threshold workout since returning from injury + the two 5Ks. Why? Because my coach and I prioritized coming back safely rather than pushing me into tempo runs right away. It was the right approach but unfortunately doesn't bode well for my confidence at least as of today!

The Boston Marathon
Recently, the Boston Marathon allowed all qualifiers who were registered for the virtual race to run the live race. This decision definitely ruffled some feathers among those who had qualified, missed the cutoff, but did not register for the virtual race. For example, if someone qualified with a cushion of 2 minutes and registered for the virtual, they were invited to run the live race. But if someone qualified with a cushion of 5 minutes but did not register for the virtual, they were not invited. 

First of all, I am skeptical that the race will actually happen. We are already seeing marathons being cancelled and Massachusetts is one of the more risk-averse states. But regardless if the live race happens or not, my thoughts are as follows.

The Boston Athletic Association (B.A.A.) can do whatever they want. It's their race, and they aren't obligated to be fair. I do believe they try to be as fair as possible, but there are many other factors that come into play. We, as runners, don't have visibility into their decision making process so it's impossible to know exactly what they were dealing with. They are already having to deal with towns like Brookline threatening to deny them a permit if they don't meet certain demands. 

Is it entirely fair that someone with a 2:00 buffer gets to run the live race and someone with a 5:00 does

Boston Marathon 2016
not? Maybe, maybe not. Maybe it is fair because the person with the 2:00 buffer committed to Boston. They paid for the virtual race. They said "I will run Boston no matter what, even if it's virtual!". There is a lot to be said for that level of commitment to the spirit of the Boston Marathon. And they did, in fact, qualify for the race. This doesn't follow the traditional method of "fastest first" - but that doesn't mean it's not a viable method for selecting race entrants. 

What most likely happened is that the Boston Marathon had some spots open up, and that number of spots was similar to the number of virtual entrants, so boom- it was logistically easy. And they even offered up spots to those who missed the cutoff by 20 seconds or less. And imagine how happy those virtual runners must be! The B.A.A. didn't have to release any extra slots. But they did, and now more people get to run it, which holistically is a good thing.

I feel badly for the 2020 entrants who didn't get into 2021 and don't have a qualifying time for 2022. That sucks, especially if it will be difficult for them to ever qualify in the future. I do believe that the majority of the qualifiers WILL be able to qualify again, it just requires more hard work and more patience. 

Life isn't always fair. We can't expect the B.A.A. to always do the most fair thing. All we can do is train our hardest and try our best. 

Friday, August 13, 2021

BYOC: Bring Your Own Competition

Greg and I are spending the week in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. We are staying in the same condo that we did last year and are here during the same week. Our wedding anniversary is at the end of the week and we will be celebrating 11 years on Saturday.

Beach vacation!
We arrived on Saturday evening and I was eager to watch the men's Olympic Marathon. I had been unable to watch the women's marathon on Friday because we are not cable subscribers and there was no way to stream it.

The condo had a yellow sheet of paper with all the channels listed, and the USA Network was listed as22. That was the channel with the marathon. I flipped to it, but the channels went from 21 to 23 and skipped right over 22. I tried typing "22" into the keypad but without luck. I was so sad! I had really been looking forward to watching the men's marathon. So I called the cable company to ask if there was an outage on that channel and they were unable to help.

I have to admit I sulked a little bit because this condo literally had 200+ channels, but not USA. What are the chances that the ONE channel we wanted would not be available. Finally I decided to flip through each channel manually in the hopes that the yellow sheet of paper was wrong. When I finally got to channel 982 (I think this was the highest) it was the USA Network! YES! So we were able to watch the men's Olympic Marathon after all. It was just the inspiration I needed to be running all week in insanely warm and humid weather. 

As for the race, last year Greg and I ran the Outer Banks Lighthouse 5K in Corolla. It was a 40-45 minute drive, but well worth it. Typically the Outer Banks Running Company also holds a race in Nags Head, which is much closer to our condo. But last year it was cancelled due to Covid. We didn't understand why it was okay to have the Corolla race but not the other, but we didn't worry about it too much.

Shortly after arriving, I learned that my friend Meredith was staying practically next door to us. It was literally 0.2 miles away according to Google Maps. We decided to run together on Monday morning,

Meredith and me on Monday
during I which I tried my best to convince her to run the race, which was scheduled for Thursday. She was hesitant, as she has not raced since 2019, but I told her I was just looking at it as a fun run. Of course I would try my hardest, but you can't really run a fast time when it's 80 degrees and crazy humid. 

Interestingly, the last time I had seen Meredith was at her 2019 race- the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon in November. I had run the half marathon and cheered her into her full marathon finish. She thought about it over the next two days and ultimately decided to run it with Greg and me. Hooray!

My mindset for the race was to run it smart but hard, without looking at my Garmin. Since I had such success with the not-looking-at-pace approach during the Firecracker 5K in July, I figured it would be good to do again.

Before the Race
I woke up at around 5:30 and I drank about half a packet of the Maurten Drink Mix 160. I have decided to prefer to use the Drink Mix instead of having a food breakfast because it's easier on my stomach. Greg had his standard English Muffin with peanut butter.

As for hydration, both Greg and I had taken that very seriously all week long. I was aiming for 60+ ounces a day, with half of those containing electrolytes. I brought multiple packets of UCAN Hydrate with me and we also bought several bottles of Gatorade. I had felt sluggish towards the end of last week and I attributed it toward cumulative dehydration. We were sweating so much with our runs each morning and sitting on the beach all day, that we knew hydration would be so, so, SO critical.

We picked up Meredith at 7:00 and were on our way. It was a 12-minute drive, which was a nice contrast to last year's 45 minute excursion. Once we arrived we got our bibs and shirts, pinned them on and warmed up. I had a Maurten caffeinated gel 20 minutes before start time along with some water.

It was 80 degrees with around 90% humidity. Sunny with wind of 5-10 mph. Similar conditions to last year, when I had run a time of 21:31. Last year I had been training all summer, with speed work, and was not coming off an injury. This year, I had no speed work under my belt aside from some 1-minute strides in a workout last week. Based on that alone, I thought it would be unlikely more me to beat my 21:31 time, but I didn't set any limitations. 

We lined up at the start line and I observed that there were far fewer runners than there had been at the Corolla race last year. Maybe it was because there was only one race instead of two last year, but I think there was around 150-200 people last year and maybe about 50-60 this year. It was a small but competitive field. 

Mile 1
The race started and I went out at what felt like marathon pace. I knew I would need a conservative start with this heat. Even in a 5K, once it hits you - it hits you! I did not want to bonk. Greg shot out ahead and so did Meredith. As well as like 5 other women. Geeze! But I decided to run my own race and not be pulled out too fast by the others. I'd save my energy for the final mile if I wasn't bonking by then.

Mile 2
Greg was so far ahead he was out of my line of sight. Meredith was also quite far ahead-- about 30 seconds, I would later learn. I could still see her but barely. There were four other women up ahead, and one who I believed to be tailing me pretty closely. The cool thing is, 5 out of 6 of us were in our 40s (which I later learned by looking at the race results). The course was an out-and-back so we turned around at the halfway point. This mile had some hills. Nothing major, but when you're at the beach expecting everything to be flat, these were noticeable. During this mile, I accidentally looked at my Garmin to see how far I had run. Habit I guess! But thankfully I didn't see the pace.

Mile 3
The race felt very hard at this point and I was no longer holding back. I noticed that I was getting closer and closer to Meredith. I didn't think it would be possible for me to catch her because she had a large lead and she's also a faster runner than me. But I used her as motivation to keep pushing hard. With about a quarter mile to, I had caught up with her. When she saw me beside her, she sped up and we raced to the finish line. 

The Finish
It was neck-and-neck and we crossed the finish line at the same time! So exciting. My Garmin logged a pace of 5:30 for the final stretch after mile marker 3. 

It took me a few minutes to recover and become coherent. When I did, I met back up with Greg and Meredith and we shared our race experiences. 

My splits were 6:57, 7:03, 6:47, and a 5:30 pace for the end. A negative split! My Garmin clocked in at 3.07, so a little short for a 5K. My official time was 21:11. A full 20 seconds faster than last year, which is significant in a 5K! (My Garmin measured 3.08 last year so it's sort of apples-to-apples in that regard).

I was surprised that my second mile was slower than my first because it felt like I was giving far more effort. I definitely didn't think I was capable of a sub 6:50 final mile in this kind of heat, but I did it!

After the Race
They gave out awards, and the Master's Winner was announced as Meredith. I was super happy for her, but obviously curious as to the difference in our times. The timer said she had run 21:11.0 and I had run

21:11.2. So she was 0.2 of a second ahead! Wow!

I was thrilled for her and pleased that I was so close. Meredith is a really strong runner, so finishing anywhere near her is a massive accomplishment. Without Meredith I would not have run as fast as I did at the end. Competition really helps you give it everything you have. 

Greg was awarded second place overall in a time of 19:51. He's super speedy! I know he can break 19:00 when it gets cooler.

We did the world's shortest cool down (like 0.3 of a mile) and then went back to our condo.

Final Thoughts
I loved this race experience and I'm so happy we did it, and that Meredith joined in. What a small world that she ended up staying so close to us! And nothing beats relaxing at the beach post race to bask in the achievement. 

I'm clearly fitter than I thought, and I think that my hydration this week was a big factor in my success. I don't have another race scheduled until October, but maybe I will find another 5K in September just to stay fresh and just because I love racing.

Sunday, August 1, 2021

I've come back!

I think I am at a point where I can say I am "back" as opposed to "coming back" from an injury. June was all about re-introducing running with run/walk intervals. July was about gradually ramping up the mileage without any speed work. I ran 40 miles last week, and I think that's a solid base to begin training for a marathon. My goal is still the Richmond Marathon in mid-November, so I have plenty of time.

I've gotten my long run up to 11.5 miles (yesterday) and I've started including some 20-second strides inmy runs to get my legs used to faster stuff. I want to make sure I peak at the right time. With the Two Rivers Marathon, I think I peaked about two weeks before the race. By the time race day came, I wasn't feeling fully recovered and peppy. My originally scheduled marathon was three weeks prior, but then was canceled- so much of this was out of my control. I think my coach did a great job with my program despite the change of race date, the training cycle was simply too long.

I mentioned in my previous post that I switched coaches within the McMillan family so that I am using the same person for both strength training and running. So there are a bunch of new variables now:

  • New coach
  • New and improved running form
  • Increased emphasis on strength training and drills
  • Running 6 days a week instead of 7 (although I might run seven later in the program)
As for my form, I've really made great "strides" there. My cadence for most runs used to be around 195-200. Now it's around 180-185. This morning I ran a recovery run at an average pace of 9:09, and my average cadence was 182. I compared it to a recovery run in January that was a similar pace, but my cadence was 199.  My cadence on long runs has also decreased.

I'm picking up my feet and using my glutes to power my stride. Previously I was shuffling a long and taking loads of steps, but the steps were super short and close to the ground. I was relying too much on my adductors which is partially how I got injured. Most runners strive to increase their cadence to get closer to 180. A faster turnover logically leads to faster running. But in my case, slowing down the cadence has allowed me to run with more power. This video shows the difference before and after the injury.

Thankfully this summer has not been as hot/humid as most summers here in the Washington DC area. I've been using my treadmill about once a week, but most days running outdoors has been manageable. It took me longer to acclimate this year because I began my comeback with very short run/walks which don't really work towards acclimation. I started running again in early June but it wasn't until mid July that I felt like I was acclimated. Usually I loathe summer running and I count down the days until the fall. But this summer I have embraced it because I generally enjoy warm weather for everything else. Just not running.

I feel ready to tackle August and the marathon training that lies ahead. I'm committed to doing my strength and stability exercises multiple times a week and focusing on my form on every single run.

Longer stride, forward lean, more stable

Sunday, July 4, 2021

Large races are back, and so am I!

774 people came out for the Reston Firecracker 5K this morning. That's by far the largest race we've had locally since last March! It was a festive morning with beautiful weather, and I was extremely grateful that I was able to keep up with the tradition.

I've run this race every year since it started in 2010 with three exceptions: 2013 (injury), 2016 (mono), 2018 (mono). I even ran the virtual Firecracker last summer! It's hot and hilly, but a lot of runners come out for it so it's always fun! Thankfully I am far enough into my injury recovery to be able to run a 5K.

Before The Race
I had no idea what to expect out of this race. I knew that I was not going to run race effort. So far, the

longest I have run without stopping for a walk break is 15 minutes. I have not run faster than an 8:00 pace since the marathon in March. I thought it would be a good idea to run it at a medium effort, increasing to a hard effort at the end if I felt good. And definitely no looking at the Garmin! The whole thing would be run based on feel.

Two hours before the race I had half a serving of the Maurten Drink Mix 160 to top off my carbs and electrolytes. I didn't eat anything. I foam rolled and used a massage ball on my glutes, quads and hamstrings. I made sure everything was really loose. 

Greg and I arrived at the race shortly after 7:00. We already had gotten our bibs so there wasn't much to do other than use the bathrooms and walk around. At 7:40, I had a caffeinated Maurten gel and we started our warm up. I also did some drills and glute activation exercises. We ran into Hannah, Alex and their daughter Luna and it was nice to see friendly faces! The warm up was only 0.75 miles. After all, it would be a new milestone just to run 3.1 miles nonstop, so I didn't want to wear myself out during the warm up!

It was around 67 degrees with about 25% cloud cover and a light breeze. The low humidity made it feel heavenly and I was actually chilly before the race started. This was probably the nicest weather this race has ever had, and of course I was not in shape to really race it! 

I was thinking I would probably run somewhere in the 25:00's. If I was having a good day, then the 24:00's were possible. I've been averaging around 8:30 for my training runs so with a little extra effort, I thought I should be able to get under that.

Mile 1
Greg and I planned to run the whole thing together, and I would set the pace. We started farther back in the

Photo by Cheryl Young
corral than we should have, so there was a lot of weaving in the first mile. I knew I needed to take it easy during the first mile, so I started out at what felt like marathon pace effort-- something I could sustain for a very long time. As we progressed through the mile things got a little harder, but totally manageable. 

Mile 2
Mile 2 is mostly downhill. It's always the fastest mile of the race by far. I decided to coast along and let gravity do its thing. The effort level was a little harder than marathon pace as I gained confidence that I could push harder and still be ok. We passed many runners and nobody passed us. I made sure to stay focused on my form, to run with my glutes and to drive the knee forward.

Mile 3
This mile is always killer. From about 2.5 until the finish, it's one big long up hill! I had to really work to get up the hill without slowing down. And as we closed in on the final uphill stretch I gunned it and sprinted to the finish. It was so fun to be chasing down a finish line in a large race setting. Oh how I have missed that feeling!

I was shocked when I looked at the clock and I saw that the first two numbers were 22.  WHAT?! I had no idea we were going that fast. I totally expected to see something in the 24s!

When I finally looked at my Garmin I saw I ran a time of 22:37, which matched the official results. Good enough for 5th place in my age group, and I wasn't even racing at full effort! My splits were 7:15, 7:00, 7:06, and a pace of 6:51 for the last 0.18 according to my Garmin. I was really surprised, especially since I could have raced that much harder than I did. That felt like marathon pace for the first mile and then a tempo run for two miles.

We didn't do a cool down, but we did walk around the race for a little while and socialized with friends. We then had brunch with Cheryl who had been there taking runner photos. I have her to thank for the photos in this blog.

Final Thoughts and Key Takeaways
This was a really good run for me. And it's totally shocking that I could run that fast when I haven't run anything faster than 8:00 since March. Even more shocking that I did it without a ton of effort. It definitely wasn't easy, but it felt totally controlled and manageable.

I don't have any speed work on the schedule for the next two weeks and I am totally fine with that. July is all about building my base back up so I can begin marathon training by mid-August. The woman who has been my strength training coach for the past year is also now my running coach! It just made sense to have one person managing my running and strength. My previous coach was amazing and I advanced so much under him, so it was not an easy decision. But after 7 years, I figured it might be nice to change things up a bit and experiment with a different approach. She also coaches under Greg McMillan so I will remain a McMillan runner!

I'm very thankful that I had a pain-free run and that I continue to progress. This is all very encouraging.

Monday, June 28, 2021

Focusing on Form

I've now been running for 3 weeks after taking 8 weeks off for my Osteitis Pubis and torn adductor. As I said in my last post, I am using the run-walk approach to gradually get back into my normal routine. So far my longest run has been 5 x (9 minutes running, 90 seconds walking). That adds up to 45 minutes of running total.

I'm probably at a point where I can start to get rid of the walk breaks but I like them because 1) it's crazy hot and humid and I need my heart rate to come down and 2) I'm 100% focused on my form and stride and I need a mental break from that. It's also good to check in to make sure everything is feeling good and nothing is hurting. I would hate to finish a run and realize I made the injury worse but didn't get that feedback immediately.

I went to the doctor last week and she was pleasantly surprised at how quickly I was recovering. She gave me and exam and tested my strength as was impressed that I had made such progress. It wasn't a guarantee that this adductor tendon would heal on its own, but thankfully it's most of the way there and I won't need surgery or any other kind of procedures. Just the dry needling which I stopped about a month ago.

A note to subscribers
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Issues with my running form
Back to the topic of this blog. Fixing my stride will not only prevent this injury from coming back, but it will make me a stronger and more efficient runner. 

I have always been a "shuffle runner". I wouldn't pick my feet very high off the ground and drive forward with the knee. My stride was short, partially due to limited range of motion in my ankle. In order to offset
Drills before running
this and still run fast (like a 5:52 mile) I adapted by having a very high cadence. Most runs would average 200 steps per minute and speed work would sometimes average 210. My feet would stay super close to the ground and move very quickly. Like shuffling!

Another form issue was that when I landed on my left foot, my right hip would drop down, making the pelvis unstable and uneven. This is a common issue with runners and can lead to injuries. It indicates instability and lack of glute activation. I also had this issue on the other side, but it was not nearly as pronounced. It makes sense that I tore the left adductor because I wasn't activating the left glute when I landing -- the right hip was dropping.

I have known about this hip drop issue for over a year now and have been working on it with my strength training coach. I have strong glutes! The problem is that my body doesn't naturally tap into that strength when running. It prefers to use the adductors. If I were able to access that power, I would be a more efficient (faster) runner and be protected from re-injuring my pubic bone.

Changing movement patterns
Working with my Osteitis Pubis specialist in Australia, live video feedback or mirror feedback has been essential. The focus is on doing all the PT exercises 100% correctly. It's not about doing them to get strong (although some of them build strength). It's about teaching my body to have a stable pelvis when put under different types of stress. There are literally over 100 exercises. I am not exaggerating. When I say "literally" I don't mean it like a millennial. I mean literally over 100 exercises. It would be overwhelming to do them every day, so the point is to progress through them one step at a time adding more stress and complexity while keeping a stable center of gravity and a pelvis that is controlled.

There is a huge focus on deadlifts, bird dogs, downward dogs, and side planks. There are many variations of each that challenge pelvic stability in different ways. Being able to see myself on video or in the mirror has enabled me to ensure I am doing the movements correctly, which ultimately translate to running. 

Greg has been recording videos of my running so that I can analyze my stride afterwards. He records some of them in slow motion so I can really see where I need to pick the legs up higher or keep the pelvis more stable. Drills have also been important in reinforcing the correct movement patterns, provided that I am doing the drills correctly. 

Here is what my hip drop looked like last summer:

Here is what it looked like yesterday:

And here is a back view, which is much more noticeable, taken last summer:

This was taken on Saturday - notice the difference:

My knees still come together, but that's just my anatomy. When my feet are pointed straight ahead, my knees go in. When my knees are straight ahead, my feet turn outwards. My PT said that was fine and you can't fix your anatomy! The important thing here is that the line of the top of my shorts is straight across rather than slanted down, like in the green shorts from the previous photo.

What I think about
As I said earlier, I need the walk breaks because focusing so much on my form is mentally exhausting. There are only so many mental cues you can give yourself at a time. Here are a few of them:
  • Feel the glutes working
  • Engage the core to keep stable
  • Keep the spine elongated
  • Shoulder blades down
  • Lean forward from the ankles
  • Drive forward with the knee
  • Use gravity to fall forward
  • Most of the weight in the forefoot
  • Stable foot "tripod" when landing
  • Remember deadlift form
I hope this way of running becomes automatic. I honestly have trouble running slowly when I do this. It's easier to open up the stride when you are running fast. This normally wouldn't be a problem but I don't have the cardio fitness to support the faster paces, and it's crazy hot and humid! My heart rate has been averaging in the 170s for the run segments because I am out of shape and it's hot. My paces range from 8:10-8:30 once I get going. That used to be my easy pace but it's not my easy pace right now, and it's definitely not my easy pace in the heat. So hopefully I will get the hang of it and be able to run in the 9:00's so I won't be dying in the heat. 

I'm on track with my plan to build a base in July and start marathon training in August for Richmond!

Saturday, June 12, 2021

Back on the Roads!

After 8 full weeks of zero running, I have started back up again. Very gradually!

I was not exactly sure when it would be safe to return. My physical therapist cleared me to run after 7 weeks, but I felt like I needed an extra week. I still felt the injury with certain movements and I wanted more confidence that I wouldn't hurt myself. Meanwhile, the Osteitis Pubis specialist I am working with in Australia doesn't advise running until stage 8 of his program- which I won't reach for another few weeks.

The physical therapist tested my strength and was confident that I was far enough along in my recovery

that running would be ok. My adductors, glutes, abs, hamstrings -- all have a healthy amount of strength to support running. He gave me a return to running program that seemed too aggressive so I decided to use a more conservative program from my strength coach, Angela. I'll use her program at least initially, and if I feel like I can progress faster then I will switch back to the PT's plan. 

Monday, June 7
For my first "run" back, I did 6 sets of 0:30 running, 4:30 walking. Essentially this was a walk, with six 30-second jogs thrown in. This was discouraging. I felt the injury more than I expected to. I tried focusing on my form and just being really purposeful about my movements but I still felt irritation in the pubic bone area. I did have some hope, however, in that a few of the reps felt decent. I would say about half them felt pretty good and the other half did not.

Did I do too much too soon? As soon as I stopped the running portions, walking felt 100% pain free. And I didn't have any hints of the injury for the rest of the day or the next day. What a relief. This means that my 3 total minutes of jogging didn't make things worse and I could proceed with the plan,

Wednesday, June 9
Building on Monday's session, this time the 5-minute blocks were split as 1-minute run, 4-minute walk. Twice as much running! I was a little nervous heading into this but I was pleasantly surprised that I had very little pain. I felt WAY better than I did on Monday! I was very encouraged by this. So what made the difference between Monday and Wednesday? I think it's a combination of:

  • I focused more on my posture and pulling the shoulder blades down. This was feedback I got from the Australian specialist when doing a Bird-Dog exercise during our Tuesday session.
  • My body needed to get the message "Hey, we're running again, and it's okay" and shake off some of the cobwebs
  • My body needed to recover from a run and realize "that didn't cause an injury"
I've learned that the mind-body connection is REALLY important in recovering from an injury. The brain becomes used to feeling pain with certain activities so you need to train it to not feel pain once you can do those activities properly.

Friday, June 11
No injury flare ups or pain all day Wednesday or Thursday, so I advanced on Friday to 1:30 run/3:30 walk. This was also encouraging although not perfect. I would say that maybe 5-10% of my steps triggered a mild pain sensation around the pubic bone, but the rest were fine. Some of the reps felt much better than others. Once again, I really focused on my form. Several key items:
  • Fall forward as you run - let gravity help
  • Keep a straight spine with the shoulder blades down
  • When landing, ensure that the toes are spreading to form a stable platform
  • When pushing off, observe the firing of the glutes
  • Breathe through the core to help engage the core
I am encouraged by all of this and I continue to work with the PT, the Australian specialist, and my strength coach. I think my biggest issue is stability, which can be improved by glute activation. My lack of stability causes my pelvis to move too much, which is not good. My PT also discovered that I have extremely tight glutes and I fail his strength tests before massaging them out with a lacrosse ball. After the massage, my glutes start to work. So I should be using my massage ball on my glutes before each run.

I continue to swim 3-4 times a week, and I have gotten my swims up to one mile. Last week I swam 4 miles! I joined an outdoor pool so even once I am back to running full time, I plan to incorporate swimming. We also bought a rowing machine which is also great for cross training.

Long term plans
In an ideal world, the next six months will look like this:
  • June: Run/Walk, be able to run continuously for 40 minutes by the end of the month
  • July: Build a mileage base, introduce strides and some introductory faster workouts
  • August: Begin training for the Richmond Marathon, include long runs and tempos, run a 5K
  • September - October: Richmond Marathon Training, run a 5K and a longer distance
  • November: Richmond Marathon
My physical therapist is confident I can progress at this rate and so am I. As for the Boston Marathon, I plan to use my Two Rivers Marathon time to qualify for the April 2022 race. I have a cushion of over 20 minutes, so I'm confident that I will be accepted!

Monday, May 24, 2021

Recovery from Osteitis Pubis

My recovery from this Osteitis Pubis injury has been more involved than any other injury I've ever had. To recap, I have a partially torn adductor with "moderately severe" Osteitis Pubis according to my MRI from April 25. You can read my previous post for all the details. 

Physical Therapy
I started seeing a pelvic floor physical therapist in the middle of April, twice per week. Each time I go she gives me a new set of exercises to do. She started with simple, easy exercises such as the Kegel (pelvic floor contraction) and abdominal squeezes. I don't know the official term, but it's basically just sucking in on the lower abs. Over time she has given me more strengthening exercises like squats, adductor raises, clams, and more. 

In terms of treatment she's done dry needling which hurt so, so much, as well as blood flow restriction therapy. Blood flow restriction therapy wraps a tight band around your quad that feels like a blood pressure machine. It squeezes just like a blood pressure machine while you perform squats to help make greater strength gains with a lighter load. The dry needling, painful as it is, has really helped me feel more normal when walking around. 

I do the exercises nearly every day, in combination with the other items below. These exercises are designed to build strength in the areas around the injury so that when I start running again, everything will be strong enough. 

Strength Training
While the physical therapy exercises are designed to rehab anyone with this injury, I am working with the same strength coach I've had for over a year on making sure I maintain my overall body strength during this time. I would be doing this even if I didn't have an injury, and she has tailored the program to focus on the areas that need the most help: deep core, glutes, adductors. These exercises are more challenging than the PT exercises, involving weights and resistance.

The OP Clinic
I was referred to the OP Clinic in Australia by a friend who also had this injury. He does virtual sessions over Skype. He specializes in OP and the purpose of his program is to rewire your mechanics and movement patterns so that you don't overload your pubic bone. The sessions are a very small part of the program. He has given me a self-guided program with "homework" exercises that I learn through videos. I send the videos to him as soon as I am able to complete the exercises properly and he reviews them and lets me know if my form is correct or where I need to improve.

The program starts with basic core breathing, establishing a strong center of gravity, and having correct form for basic exercises like the deadlift. It's an extremely intense program and so far I've spent over an hour each day watching all the videos and going through each exercise. Stability is the key focus, and in order to be stable you have to engage your core and glutes. It's challenging to upload videos to this blogging platform but if you follow me on Instagram, I post videos to my story all the time. 

Right now I'm focused on learning how to do the perfect deadlift. This involves breathing properly, having the right center of gravity, engaging the glutes, moving slowly, keeping a straight back (not hunched or arched), and feeling the "fascial tension" as I slowly perform the movement. I am doing deadlifts with bands and on my forefeet to ensure I am not rocking back into my heels. 

The OP Clinic is a 10-stage program and by the end of it, I should be able to run as much as I did pre-injury. Because my mechanics will have changed, I will no longer be overloading my adductors. There is no timeline for how long this will take. I can get through the program at whatever pace I am able to. The program isn't necessarily designed to heal; the body does that on its own. It's designed to help patients stop overloading their adductors and pubic bone. Here's how I see all of these working together:

  • Physical Therapy: Helps the injury heal with different therapies and exercises
  • Strength Training: Ensures I have the strength needed to support an intense training load
  • OP Clinic: Overhaul of my running mechanics so I don't keep injuring the area
In addition to the above, of course I want to maintain some level cardiovascular fitness. I started swimming two weeks ago, once I felt like it would be safe to kick my legs. It turns out I don't have a great freestyle kick to begin with so swimming is 100% fine. Due to Covid, I have to reserve a lane a few weeks in advance so planning has been tricky. 

I've been swimming 3-4 times per week. I swim freestyle, and that's my only stroke! I know how to do the others but the breast stroke kick wouldn't be good for my injury and I'm only good for about two laps of butterfly before I fatigue. My typical swim is 20-25 laps, lasting about 30-40 minutes.Yesterday I introduced pool running with the belt. I did 5 minutes yesterday and 10 minutes today after my swim. My plan is to very gradually ramp up the pool running because I do not want to strain the adductors. 

I enjoy swimming, but it's a high maintenance activity. I have to reserve my lane in advance due to Covid capacity restrictions at the pool. Once I get there I have to lather up with pre-swim lotion so that my skin doesn't get irritated. And then get all situated with my swim cap, googles, and waterproof mp3 player. And when I am done, I have to shower there to immediately remove the chlorine from my hair and skin. I think I spend more time driving to and from the pool + getting ready and showering than I actually do with the swim. 

For the first few weeks I was hobbling around and not properly balanced. I could feel the injury with each step even though it wasn't painful. About a week ago I got to a point where I could walk and not feel the injury! Huge progress. I have been taking 2-3 mile walks and loving it. The weather has been gorgeous and Greg and I even went to Burke Lake park one afternoon to walk. We also took a few days off work to go to Annapolis and I did a lot of walking around there. All pain free!

I'm averaging about 60-90 minutes of strength/PT each day and then another 40-60 minutes of cardio (walking and/or swimming). It's more time consuming than running but it's what I need to do to get back out there again while preserving my sanity!