Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Social Media or Controlled Media?

When I first started this blog on MySpace about 15 years ago, it was very much of a journal in which I let my closest friends into my thoughts, feelings, struggles, and more. At that time, I had an audience of about 30 people. But that audience was super engaged and interested in what I had to say, and MySpace made sure that all 30 people saw my blog posts.

When I moved it to blogger in 2009 without any privacy restrictions, I stopped writing personal details and kept it strictly to running. My audience was still limited, though, because I didn’t actively try to grow my blog following. I sometimes shared my blog posts on Facebook, but there was only a small number of people who cared to read my long and drawn out race recaps. I was fine with that. My primary audience was me, as I wanted to keep a record of all my running experiences. I was actually surprised when people read my blog and took interest in the details of my running.

Then, in 2016, I started writing daily posts on Instagram where I got even more exposure, mainly for the purposes of promoting my book, Boston Bound. And before I knew it, my audience there skyrocketed and within a year, I had over 10,000 followers. Those were the glory days, before Instagram had an algorithm that controlled the posts its users’ feeds. Posts were simply displayed in the order in which they were published.

I don’t know anyone who favors the algorithm over chronological order, but Instagram doesn’t even give users a choice anymore. In fact, I created a poll in my Instagram story and 95% of users said they would prefer pictures to appear in the order they were posted, and this poll had over 400 responses! Today, Instagram has become so corrupted with bots and fake followers, as well as its own penalties to punish bots and fake followers. Instagram claims its sole objective is to make the community a “safe space” to engage, but actually its sole purpose is to make money, and to do that, it needs to tightly control what people see.

I’m in marketing, so I get it. Instagram (owned by Facebook) is a business and the purpose of a business is to make money. That’s fine, but please just be honest about it! Don’t pretend that you are making changes to improve the user experience when in reality you are trying to maximize your profits from advertisers. As much as Instagram claims that it rewards great content by promoting it to a larger audience, it’s all a computerized algorithm and I’ve cracked the code on what Instagram does and does not like.

Instagram algorithm doesn't like the track
For example, my track photos consistently get fewer views, likes, and comments than my other photos. Even though those are some of the toughest workouts I do! Why? The algorithm sees the track and/or field and something about that pattern indicates the post is of lower quality. Keep in mind, I have been posting on Instagram almost every day for 3+ years, and my lowest performing posts are always the track workouts.

Instagram also doesn’t like colored blocks of text. Sometimes to make my posts more attractive, I use colored text vs. simple black and white. But without fail, any time I put a colored text box in my photo, it reaches a much smaller audience. Also, if I edit the caption after posting the photo, engagement numbers go way down. Editing is a big no-no.

Thankfully, I can still come here to my blog and express myself without the Instagram algorithm controlling who sees it. Now that I’ve given some background on where I’m coming from, I’d like to express two major gripes I have with Instagram.

Removing the Like Count
Instagram is removing like counts from photos. If you can still see like counts, chances are that you won’t be able to see them for much longer. My ability to see like counts was removed several months ago. This means that when I scroll through Instagram, I can’t see how many people have liked someone else’s photo.

I can still see how many people liked my photo, but I have to take an extra step by tapping on “and others” for the total number to come up. This confuses the heck out of me. Instagram says they are doing it to make the platform a “safe space” where users aren’t pressured by the number of likes their photos get. But I can still see my own likes! Doesn’t that defeat the whole purpose? The only thing that’s changed is I can’t see other people’s likes, and I have to take one extra step to see my own likes.

My theory is that Instagram is doing this for . . . CONTROL. As I mentioned above, they need to maintain tight control over the platform for maximum profit, and that means control over data. If likes are no longer public data, then how will businesses know which influencers have the highest engagement rates? They won’t, which means they might lean more towards paid advertising with Instagram. Eventually, businesses will have to pay Instagram for access to engagement data. You want to run an influencer marketing campaign? Well, you’ll have to pay Instagram first to know which influencers to use. Today, businesses are bypassing paid advertising on Instagram by using influencers, and Instagram wants its cut.

I have no problem with this, but I DO have a problem with Instagram saying they are doing it to make it a “safe space”. If users can still see their own like counts, what is the point?

Finally, Instagram likes are basically the result of an algorithm. I see very little correlation between the posts I think are really great and how many likes they get. I know that certain elements will trigger a greater reach from the algorithm, and therefore more likes. I would never take it personally! I know that my track workout photos will get far fewer likes, but that doesn’t mean I am going to stop posting them or feel badly about it. It’s a computer.

Penalizing Valid Accounts
Instagram penalizes accounts that it thinks are violating its terms of use. That seems logical, right? Yes, but they are once again using a computer algorithm to determine which users should be penalized.

Last Saturday, when Greg was doing his long run and I was at home waiting for the pool to open, I decided to check out the Houston Marathon hashtag along with some other running hashtags. I ended up liking and commenting on more photos than I usually do. And I did it all within about 30-45 minutes.

No like count!
On Sunday morning, when I opened Instagram, they required me to provide my cell phone number for two-factor authentication before I was allowed to do anything. I didn’t want Instagram having my phone number. I Googled it and I found out that this means Instagram suspects me of being a bot, so the phone is required to confirm I am a human. UGH. Okay, so now Instagram has my phone number that it can sell to any number of advertisers.

Since giving my phone number to Instagram a few days ago, I have received several spam text messages, using my first name. I used to get spam texts, but never with my name being used.

Once I had access to my account, I started posting and interacting as I normally do. But my daily post had very little reach compared to my other posts. The same thing happened to me again on Monday, and I realized that my post wasn’t being shown for any of the hashtags I was using. I Googled this problem, and I learned that I was “shadow banned”. This is a 14-day ban for accounts that violate the terms of use. The only thing I can think of that caused this was that I liked and commented on more posts than I typically do on Saturday. Apparently users can only like 3 posts per minute over a 1-hour period.

Can’t we just go back to MySpace, when social media was about expressing yourself and not a numbers game?

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Posterior Tibialis Tendonitis

In 18+ years of running, I certainly have made the rounds of all the different types of tendonitis!

Patellar Tendonitis: Spring of 2008
Peroneal Tendonitis: Fall of 2009
High Hamstring Tendonitis: Summer 2013
Achilles Tendinitis: Fall of 2017

I can now add to the list Posterior Tibialis Tendonitis. Here's how it happened.

December 8: CIM
Before CIM. No tendonitis!
Upon completion of the marathon I noticed a pain in my arch. It hurt as I walked back to the hotel, and when I took the Vaporfly Next% off of my foot- OUCH. It was a burning pain of about 6 out of 10 on the pain scale. It seemed as if the shoe had been rubbing against my foot in a certain way to cause this arch pain. It bothered me for the rest of the day and and into the following day.

December 9 - 15: Marathon recovery
The pain went away completely two days post marathon. So much so that I forgot about it.

December 16 - 20: Easing back into running
I resumed running with short, easy runs of 30-50 minutes. I didn't have any pain in my foot.

December 21: First post-marathon symptoms
I did an 11-mile long run and the arch of my foot started to hurt about halfway through. It was maybe about a 2 on the pain scale, so I wasn't concerned. As I walked around on it for the rest of the day, I noticed that it felt off, kind of like a tight muscle.

December 22 - January 9: Blissful Ignorance (or denial)
I continued to train, doing hard workouts on the track and long runs of 10-13 miles. I even ran a 5K on New Year's Day without any problems. My foot would bother me a little, but it was more of an annoyance than anything else, never getting above a 2 on the pain scale.

After my long run on January 4th, my foot hurt more than normal, which caused concern. It was mostly okay during the run, but afterwards it was about a 3.5 to 4 on the pain scale for the rest of the day. Very tender to the touch and I could feel it with each step. That's when I realized I would probably have to address it. I continued with my training plan and track workouts until I could get in to see my physical therapist on January 9.

It didn't take long for my PT to diagnose me with posterior tibialis tendonitis; I had classic symptoms. The two areas of pain were on the bottom of my foot, where the tendon connected, and on the side of the foot, about one inch forward from the ankle bone, and one inch below. He told me I would need to take some time off running to let it heal. Not the news I wanted.

Area of pain - feels like a sore ache
This issue wasn't caused by "overuse"-- it was caused by my shoe rubbing the wrong way during the race. So how does that result in tendonitis?!  My PT had a theory that it could have been because the shoe had an 8mm drop (as opposed to the 10mm I normally wear) and it was extra bouncy, causing my foot to pronate, where it normally does not pronate. Or, it could have been rubbing against my arch the wrong way, which irritated the tendon, and now it's going to take a while to calm down.

So. . . couldn't I just train through it like I trained through Achilles tendonitis? He said that this was different and I needed to ease up to give it time to heal. Of course, in addition to doing exercises. He was concerned that I took a week off post marathon and it came back. And he said that this is a nagging injury and tends to come back unless you treat it with the exercises over several months.

January 10 - 13: No running; pool workouts only
I took four full days off of running, but I went to the pool every day. I mainly did deep water running with a floatation belt, but I also added in some swimming to save myself from boredom. And I simply enjoy swimming. I would do it all the time if it were more convenient.

January 14 - now
After my four days off, I started running again, but only 3-4 miles per day. And that's where I am at now-- I just finished a 3.5 mile run in the snow. And of course, I have been religious about my exercises. Rest alone won't heal this; I need to load the tendon with weight.

I'm now at a point where I don't feel any symptoms while walking around during the day, which is a big improvement. However, after about two miles of running, I do start to feel some soreness on the bottom of my foot. Since I'm only running 3-4 mile easy runs, this pain has been about a 1.5 to 2 on the pain scale, and I am back to being symptom free five minutes after stopping.

I also bought a pair of the Mizuno Wave Inspire-- a shoe I stopped wearing over a year ago when I was told I was a neutral runner. I am a neutral runner, but the added stability will reduce the load on the tendon as I recover and the firmness of the shoe will help too. My PT told me that cushiony, bouncy shoes were bad for this injury.

Looking ahead
I'm trying not to look ahead and take this one day at a time. I have no idea how bad this is going to be. Once I start increasing my mileage (next week) will the pain come back while walking around during the day? Will it become more painful so that I can't run? My PT said that I can let it get to a "3" on the pain scale. But anything above that and I need to stop running and go back to a reduced load. Thankfully, I haven't felt a 3 or above since the day of my long run two weekends ago, and I want to keep it that way.

If this had happened a month out from Boston, I probably would have continued to train through it at full intensity and waited until after the race to rehab it. But since Boston is still over 12 weeks away, I feel like I can get away with easing up on the mileage now and still run a strong race.

How I feel
Of course, this sucks. I'm generally optimistic because as I said above, it wasn't like I was overtraining or anything. It was caused by the Vaporfly during a marathon, so once it calms down it shouldn't come back. I'd be discouraged if my normal running routine caused this.

I basically have some loathing of CIM, though. I tried to be positive about my experience there, but now I just look back on that race with regret. I had a perfect training cycle and I was in the best shape of my life. I went into that race healthy and with no issues. I ended up having a difficult race, missing my goal time, not getting a PR, and ending up with an injury.

My primary positive takeaway from that race was that I had such a great training cycle and it would set me up well for my Boston cycle. But now just the opposite is true. The race set me up to start my training cycle off with an injury. If CIM had been the race I had hoped to run, I wouldn't be as peeved about this. I would have been "worth it." I'm glad CIM is behind me, and I'm never going back there and I'm on the fence about ever putting my foot in a Vaporfly Next% ever again.

Phew! Glad to get that off my chest. I am sour, but I have been distracting myself with my pool workouts and focusing on the healing process. So generally, I am in a good spot mentally. I still think I will be able to run well in Boston, and at least participate (if not run fast) in the races I have signed up for this spring.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

New Year's Day 5K: It wasn't great and that's OK!

I try to be optimistic about my races if I believe I gave them my all, but this one was a flop! That's okay, we all have flops, even if we try as hard as we can.

I love the tradition of a New Year's race. It started back in 2008/2009 when I ran the Fairfax Four Miler on New Year's eve. I ran that race again the following New Year's eve, but then moved away from it when the Ringing In Hope 5K/10K was introduced because it was earlier in the day.  I ran the Ringing In Hope 5K or 10K from 2010 to 2016 and was perfectly happy with it.

After 2016/2017 they stopped running that race which meant transitioning to New Year's Day from New Year's Eve. I could have returned to the Fairfax Four Miler to stay on the "eve," but that's a nighttime race and I don't see well in the dark. So on New Year's Day 2018, I ran a 5K in Ashburn. I didn't care for that race so in 2019, I ran the 5K in Reston. I also didn't care for that race, but there seemed to be no better options, so I showed up again this morning. Even though the course isn't great, it's a =PR= race, and they are always well organized with the awards being gift cards to their stores. And the same familiar faces show up so it's nice to see my friends!

When I ran this race last year it was warm and I was sick. My time was 21:35, and I figured I could beat that by a lot given that I wasn't sick today, and we had cool weather. I set a goal of 20:50. Yes, that's nearly a full minute shy of my 5K PR but I am not in 5K shape right now and this course is challenging.

Before the Race
The race started and finished in the Reston Town Center, where my office is conveniently located. After getting my bib, Greg and I went to my office where I attached my bib, put sunscreen on, used the bathroom, and laced up my shoes. Greg had decided not to run this race because he had recently set a huge 5K PR on Thanksgiving and he was satisfied with that. Plus, he had a new camera lens and he wanted to take photos of me.

The race started at 10:00am, so at 9:30, we left my office and I began my warm up. I decided to warm up on the W&OD trail where most of the race would take place. I do training runs on this paved trail all the time so I am very familiar with it. I mentally prepared myself for the 5 hairpin turns and narrow path that would lead down to the trail and then back up again afterwards. That path, which is about 0.2 miles each way, is the reason I don't like this course and probably won't do this race again.

As I was warming up, I saw Greg and my friend Cheryl getting ready to take photos. I also had a Maurten Gel about 20 minutes prior to the race start, which I washed down with a cup of water from the aid station. It was 41 degrees and sunny, which felt amazing. Aside from the 10 mph headwind during the 3rd mile, this weather was just about perfect.

After the 2-mile warm up, I lined up to start the race. I started chatting away with some people and completely forgot to get my Garmin ready to go. Before I knew it, the announcer was counting down "3. . . 2. . . 1" and I realized my GPS wasn't located. Oh well, I guess this meant I would use my Garmin as a stop watch rather than a GPS device. I would manually lap the splits at the mile markers.

Mile 1
Maybe it was for the best that I wouldn't know my pace until the first mile marker. I would simply run by feel. I think that's what I did last year since I was sick and I didn't want to push it. After about a quarter of mile, it was time for hairpin turn #1 to go down the narrow path with the tree roots sticking up. It was a nice long decline, which I could have gained a good bit of speed on if it weren't so crowded. It was nearly impossible to pass anyone and you had to be really careful with your footing to avoid tripping. I saw a few people trip, but they did not fall.

At the bottom of the path came hairpin turn #2 onto the W&OD trail. I was so relieved to be off that path. The trail itself is also quite narrow, but at least the pavement was smooth so I didn't have to watch my footing. My Garmin beeped for its autolap, and then I manually lapped it at the first mile marker. I added the numbers together for a first mile of 6:34. Not too shabby!

Mile 2
I knew to expect the photographers Cheryl and Greg shortly after mile marker one. Once I saw them up ahead, I realized I was in the middle of a pack and it would be hard for them to get photos of me. So I surged up ahead of the pack and I surprised myself with my ability to do so. That gave me confidence so I held that surge pace (or close to it) all the way down the incline. I glanced down at my Garmin and saw 6:27, and I was happy with how everything was going.

But then we turned around (hairpin turn #3) and ran back up the hill into a 10 mph headwind. The wind wasn't horrible, but it was enough to be an annoyance. At this point, I was running right next to my friend Hannah. I figured if I could keep up with her I would be in good shape. Mile 2 was 6:45. I definitely slowed down on the way back up the hill after the turnaround.

Mile 3
I was mentally prepared for this mile to be a killer. I told myself to stay with Hannah and do whatever she did. But she surged up the hill and I could not keep up. And then I felt dead. I questioned if I would be able to finish. All of sudden I felt extremely sluggish and like I had nothing left in the tank.
I felt like I was running soooo slowy.

Just when I thought I couldn't feel any worse, hairpin turn #4 came and it was time to run the 0.2 mile back up the narrow path with the tree roots. I feel like being so careful with my footing while trying to push up the hill and watch out for other people was sucking the life out of me. That path seemed to go on forever. It seemed so much shorter on the way down! People were passing me, including women, which I didn't like, but I couldn't go any faster. I was crashing hard core. Hannah was no longer in site and my only goal at that point was to keep running and not stop.

Mile 3 split: 7:21. That's around my marathon pace! According to Strava, I did an 18-mile training run in October on this same segment and I was faster during the 18 miler. Yikes!

The finish
Once we were back on the road, I was able to really pick up the pace and run 5:44 average for the last 0.12. And it was uphill! It felt so good to be on evenly paved road that I hammered it.

My finish time was 21:12, which was 23 seconds slower than my goal. But it was also a course PR by 23 seconds, so that's kind of cool.

After the Race
I felt like death after crossing the finish line. I had sprinted it in so hard. I hugged Hannah and then saw her husband Alex finish. Eventually I reunited with Greg and I told him how hard the race was. Brutal! I ran a 1-mile cool down and then met Greg back in my office building where he was transferring the photos onto his phone.

I learned that I won first place in my age group out of 82, which was nice. There are benefits of being 41! I was the 12th woman overall, and I think I was in 6th or 7th place at the turnaround point. As I said, I got passed a lot, which usually does not happen. I collected my award and then had brunch with Greg, Cheryl and Allison (who had shown up just for the brunch!) We also got to meet Hannah and Alex's baby Luna for the first time.

Final Thought and Takeaways
I would like to blame that narrow path with its hairpin turns and tree roots for my crash-and-burn, but my bonk started before the final path. I might have been able to recover some speed at that point if I had been on paved road, but I think that watching my footing so carefully robbed me of my mental energy that I needed to focus on pushing up the hill. I would say that next time I should be less focused on the ground and more focused on my running, but I'm a cautious person by nature so that would not happen.

During the race, multiple people cheering me on when I was going "back" on the out-and-back. I don't know who they all were, but I assume they were Instagram followers. It was nice to have the encouragement and it did perk me up when I was feeling so crappy.

One person fell down and injured herself somewhat seriously. I think the W&OD is too narrow to accommodate a race of this size, and on the way back, I could see the runners on the way out jam-packed into one lane of the trail.

All in all, I did give this race everything I had, but I expended too much mental energy on that stupid path and the hairpin turns. I'm also coming off of a little break post-marathon so I am not as sharp or as fit as I would like to be. This is why I had a goal of 20:50, which is almost a minute slower than my PR.

This race fuels my fire for the 10K I am running in early February. I plan to run that a sub 6:40 average pace, which would be faster than this 5K pace. With a full month of training and a hairpin turn-free course, I am still confident I can do it!

I'll chalk this race up to a hard effort on the first of the year, resulting in an age group win. And brunch with friends. I'm not sick, so I'm already off to a better start than I was last year.