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