Sunday, October 13, 2013

Wayland XC Festival Race Report

WHAT MAKES Cross Country meets so special? Aren't they basically just trail races? I pondered that thought on the way home from the Wayland XC Festival, where I had just run my first XC race since high school. Because, as irrational as it is, there's a huge difference between the two. There are the aesthetic differences (singlets vs t-shirts, trail shoes vs spikes), and the profound presence of team scoring. 

Most of all, there is the start; in a trail race, starts are usually pretty constrained, and the field inevitably has to seed itself. There is an inherent concession in doing so: "I'm not competition for you, please go ahead." The start then tends to be somewhat lackadaisical, as the people who want position the most already have it. In invitational-style cross country meets, everyone takes the line. The crack of the starter's pistol unleashes a furious pell-mell rush for place, as the whole field bolts for some distant marker where the course funnels down and passing becomes difficult. The atmosphere before the start is charged: 150 people all poised and ready, gazes focused in the same direction.

I've done my share of trail races as an adult, but my last cross country race was in the fall of 1998. Doing another was actually a rather sentimental experience. 

When the gun went off, I sprang into motion with everyone else, hurtling toward the course's first little hill. Soon I was immersed in a scrum of runners, a humbling reminder of what's it like to run against a field full of competitive club runners. I was hoping to keep pace with the HFC runner who beat me in the HO HO HO last year, but no sign of him yet. The effect of racing more-or-less mid-pack, breath whistling reedily in my throat, trying to avoid tripping over the flashing ankles of the guys in front of me, was powerfully evocative of many long-gone high school races. 

By the time I made it down the other side of the first hill, Conforto passed me and rapidly disappeared. (Trying to match his pace had seemed reasonable based on results from 9 months ago--I mean he beat me, but I could still see him; not so much today!) We ran around the perimeter of a grassy field, struck out onto dirt road, and then hit the 1st mile marker. 5:24. 

Then up the second hill, steep and then briefly very steep, and lighting along the flat of the aqueduct path. The fast first mile and the ascent told, and I slowed. A few guys slipped by me. A blitzed down-hill, then a sandy up-hill, then rollers--real cross country. Breath clawed at my throat as I focused on keeping cadence and as much speed as possible. 

I missed my 2nd mile split, but soon was back out on the field, reversing the original approach. The last hill (which was also the first hill) loomed large. I don't remember any place changes at this point. Over the top of the last hill, the lead woman caught me (we would change places again in the final stretch). Then down onto the track, and 300 meters to go. I did my best to gather my speed, trying to remember how last Thursday's sprint ladders had felt. In the last 50m, I saw the clock, 17:52, 17:53... I finally found my higher gear and bolted home in 17:59. 

Final results: 30th of 104 in 17:59. 

Commentary: Tough course! Not as much vertical as the old Wickham course, where we ran our state meet back in high school, but more hair-pins, loose sand and bumpy rollers. (Random aside: yesterday was the Wickham Invitational; check out results). I wasn't too disappointed with my time, but I think I could have given more over the back half of the race. Four HFC guys within 18 seconds of my finish--would have been nice to break up their top five. 

Wonderful to be back racing! I neglected to mention it, but I won my race last weekend. Fall is definitely the best time to be a runner round these parts. 

Monday, October 7, 2013

P.F. Injury Postmortem Part 2-3

P.F. Injury Postmortem Part 2: Low Point

Immediately after racing Ironhorse, I drew the following chart in my running log:

The idea was to figure out what was making my foot hurt, and how it responded to the various treatments I devised. In point of fact it was more of a psychological ploy--making a graph made me feel like I was controlling the situation. Unfortunately it didn't work, which is why I stopped--foot pain would increase unpredictably, and not in ways I could easily correlate to what I was doing.

Runners may know what I mean when I say there are two kinds of pain: the pain that "settles out", and the pain that "settles in". The former is usually nothing to worry about: you start a run, something creaks a bit, then it goes away. The latter is a different matter. It's the kind of pain that sneaks up on you, getting worse after every mile. That's the hurt that makes you stop.

The way my PF manifested, there was both: an intense hot-poker style stabbing pain, which was of no account, and a dull pain that would get worse and worse the more I was on my feet.

The dull pain was infuriating. It kept my running mileage close to zero, and it didn't seem to get the least bit better; not even going cold turkey on running, not even while avoiding walking. I couldn't even get any real hiking in over the summer, and I felt pretty damn low about it, to tell the truth. One thing injury reminds me of is how much of a mood-manager running is for me; when I couldn't do it anymore I felt like somebody had taken the happy pills away, leaving me in a deep blue funk.

I wasn't logging anything in my notebook at this time, so I don't have any daily records of my state. I was continuing to ice the base of my foot, and I was keeping an empty peanut-butter jar under my desk at work to help me keep my plantar fascia loose. The pain persisted, however. Until...

P.F. Injury Postmortem Part 3: Recovery

On July 24th I got this:

It's a "Bird & Cronin" Night Splint, aka "boot". You wear it overnight and it keeps your foot dorsiflexed (pulled up toward your shin), so that the plantar fascia is extended. This avoids a period in the morning where the injured tendon tightens up and complains terribly with every footstep. If you run in the morning like I do, this makes a HUGE difference. The night splint didn't miraculously fix my injury, but I do think it made it possible for me to start rehabbing my injury in earnest. Prior to this point, all attempts at resuming running invariably re-aggravated the PF pain (unsurprising, perhaps, since I run in the mornings).

After I started wearing the boot every night, things started to turn around. I was able to begin gradually adding mileage, and my mood improved. I kept icing and stretching, and it finally seemed to pay dividends.

Some log excerpts:

8-4: "Some twinges by E.o.W, but still slightly better over course of week. Trying for 30 miles next week" (after 26 miles the preceding week).

8-11: "I degraded this week. Too much mileage or because I slacked off on boot? So Frustrating!" (In retrospect, I think missing a couple nights wearing the boot was most of the problem)

8-13: "5 miles, cool day into Town Forest, no pain--felt happy"

8-18: "10 in Blue Hills, foot felt great for first 8, then small twinges. Never any major pain; pretty much the best I could hope for. Feeling optimism again."

8-26: "4 miles; some foot pain still"

8-29: "8 (cool, overcast, humid) feel very tired & out of shape. A little foot pain persists, but seems just a faint remnant."

9-2: "Walpole 10K in 45:20. Ugh--super muggy. Basically everything needs tons of work (strength, speed, endurance) Foot was basically OK though--OOS [out of shape] or not, excited to be back in it.

Improvement continued steadily. On September 8th I did 13 miles on trail. on 9/14 I did 14 on roads, which would have been inconceivable two months prior. On 9/17 I did a track workout, and it actually went OK. I was starting to feel like my old self.

And now, am I completely recovered? Well, sort of. Functionally, I'm all the way back. My foot "works"; it can hold up to high intensity workouts, hill sprints, and long runs on pavement. When I get up out of a chair after an hour or two, I might feel some mild soreness, but nothing like the hobbling pain I used to feel. On the other hand, I am still wearing the boot, and missing a night still seems to matter (though less than it did). My left foot feels "different", like it has some permanent mild soreness. With some more time, I am optimistic I can kick these remaining symptoms too.

Final Thoughts on Getting Over a Bout of Plantar Fasciitis

  1. Get a boot. 
  2. Ice the pain. At first I was using a bucket filled with ice water, but for simplicity I just started standing on an ice-pack while making and eating breakfast.
  3. Stretch. Wall stretches and toe touches helped me. In particular, there's a stretch where you put your foot over your knee and pull back the toes toward your shin that directly stretches the fascia--that was quite useful, and when I was in the middle my injury I did it a lot.
  4. RUN. This is tricky, because running injudiciously will make the injury worse. On the other hand, you have to get your foot strong again, and that will never happen if you don't use it. The trick is to stress it just right, so that you're building it up and not reinjuring it. I think any run where you don't hurt after you finish is probably helping. I did very slow jogs on a dead-flat trail, no more than 3 miles total, as my main medicinal exercise.
  5. Be optimistic and don't give up. 

Sunday, September 22, 2013

P.F Injury Postmortem: Part 1, Descent

My running year in 2013 has been heavily impacted by a foot injury that settled in in March and persisted as a major limiting factor until at least the end of August. I was more or less completely exiled from running from June 4th to July 20th, in which time I probably ran no more than 50 miles (and those probably unwisely). This is a summary of how I got myself into trouble, and then how I eventually climbed back out again.

Log Excerpts, March--June (Descent)
3-10: "12 into Hale, muddy mess, w/ 1.5 mile progression."  No pain mentioned, but I remember this run, in all its sloppy, early spring glory, with the trails muddy streams and the north face of Noanet Hill still covered in snow. The soles of both my feet hurt by the end of it. Nothing unusual about that following a long run coming out of a winter slump. I ignored it.

3-23/24: "14 w/2 mile progression, 7.5 feet hurt/tired". I ramped up my weekly mileage to 52, continuing to ignore pain following long runs.

3-29: "14 w/ stops @ 4 and 6 to rest feet (soles very sore)". An obvious pattern should have materialized to me at this point--needless to say the fact that my feet hurt intensely after long runs, particularly my left foot, did not seem to register.

4-13: "15 into Hale. Started Progression @ mile 13, but PF pain intense after 3/4 mile. Iced carefully on return, but worried foot isn't steady-state". I remember that moment feet had been hurting moderately, nothing unusual for a long run with a heavy pavement component. I went to accelerate into the progression, and...twang! ow, ow, ow! That was probably the moment I went from mild inflammation and weakness to full-on injury.

I had by this time self-identified the problem in my left foot as plantar fasciitis. All the classic symptoms were there, the pain right under the heel, the sharp, screwdriver-stab when stepping on the foot for the first time each morning. At this point I was about 7 weeks out from my goal Half Marathon in early June. I did not have time to be injured, damn it!

5-4/5: "16 in Blue Hills, all the way into Quincy. Does not get any prettier. Left foot hurt a lot by end, but totally worth it. 8.5 foot surprisingly improved!"  Denial is not just a river in Egypt.

5-11/12: "16, rest. PF is spoiling the pleasure of running, particularly long. I'm going to see if rest fixes it. 6 days mandatory off." This close to my half marathon, this was a miserable decision to make, but I had a desperate hope that I could 'reset' my foot by giving it some time to heal and then come back with minimal loss of conditioning.

5-18: After making it through five days of rest, I wrote: "PF feels better, but not cured. Only minor dull pain in morning w/ rare sharp stabs. Out of patience, back to running." sigh. Rest really did seem to help. It was easy to pretend that I had ameliorated things.

5-21/22/23/24: "7.5 (10x400 in ....) foot hurts again., rest, rest, rest."  No escaping reality now.

on June 2nd I ran the Iron Horse Half Marathon in Simsbury. I had lost a lot of training time due to the PF, and my confidence in having a good day was basically zero. I seriously considered a DNS, but I had DNS'd the same race last year. Come on! I was determined to run, hurt foot or not, and then worry about rehabbing it afterwards. This might not have been the smartest thing, but I'm not sorry I did it--I actually finally had a hot-weather race where I felt reasonably in-control of my own thermoregulation. If I had been totally healthy, I think I probably would have plunged out at suicide pace and blown up in spectacular fashion. Silver linings.

I had by now also made the difficult decision to DNS on what I hoped would be my second appearance at the Highland Sky Ultra. I was majorly bummed about that, but the thought of starting a 40 with a hurt foot (a hurt that gets worse the longer you run on it), was too scary. My only priority after Ironhorse was to rehab my foot.

Part 2: Getting Through the Injury, and Part 3: Recovery, coming soon!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

ladder workout, 400-1200

Ladder workout, 400-1200 and back down again:

400:     73
600:   2:02
800:   2:43
1000: 3:30
1200: 4:12
1200: 4:14
1000: 3:30
800:   2:46
600:   1:58 (!)
400:    75

Gorgeous day to be on the track; slight breeze increasing during second half of workout, but I can't really blame slowing intervals on that. Happy about that 2nd 600--that's the kind of interval that makes me think I could break 16:30 in the 5K under the right conditions.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

women's world championship 1500m final

Anyone else out there following the world championships in Moscow? Watching Mo Farah pull out another flawless double was epic. It astounds me, because no matter how good you are, there are so many little positional things that can go wrong in a track race that can cost you the win--yet somehow Mo always seems to know exactly where he should be, and exactly when he should move. It's like he's already won the race in his head and he's just playing forward the inexorable sequence of events that will bring him over the line first. If you haven't already done so, you should watch the men's 800m final--no Rudisha,but still a hell of a race.

One of the more interesting storylines from a US perspective, though, was the women's 1500m. Two Americans made it to the final, the 2011 World Champion Jenny Simpson, and 17 year old high school prodigy Mary Cain. Despite being the 2011 champion, Simpson wasn't exactly the favorite, as the championship she had won was considered by some to have been somewhat uncompetitive (and featuring a fall by the favorite, Morgan Uceny). Meanwhile there was a fair amount of hype about Cain following her surprise advancement to the Final.

How'd it play out? Well, here's the race. (Sorry, can't embed--it would spoil the results)

Saturday, July 13, 2013

dodging cyclones while naked

A little while back, while it was very hot in the waking world, I had a vivid dream. It seemed to me that I had just run through a the center of a little town, and had moved out onto a lonely highway surrounded by golden fields and the red-gold colors of autumn forest in the distance. I was only wearing my underwear; no clothes, no shoes, and the pavement was warm against the soles of my feet.

As I made my way down a long hill, however, I noticed the clouds beginning to move in a funny way. It was as if whole patches of sky had suddenly decided to start rotating clock-wise. As I drew closer, still running easily in the margin of the road, funnels stretched down from the centers of those rotating clouds and slammed into the ground, blowing up huge plumes of debris as they stalked across the fields toward the highway.

I felt a sudden prick of fear and turned around, running hard back up to the top of the hill, where I re-entered the little town. It was now deserted, which struck me as eerie. I felt that I had probably escaped the cyclones, but I still had a hunted feeling, and so I ran down another side-street.

I hadn't gone far when I realized the road had taken me into a notch between two mountains. Huge flanks of stone rose up to either side of me, decorated patchily by scrubby alpine firs. As the road dropped slightly, I saw that it led to an unlit tunnel, burrowed through the base of another mountain.

I was just about to enter the tunnel when I woke up.

The main thing that stayed with me after the dream ended was how good running felt. This is what my subconscious does while I'm in a recovery period from an injury, apparently.

As an update on that injury, by the way--I'm coming along fairly well. I've been doing this plantar fascia stretch regularly and it seems to be helping (along with a lot of wall stretching, and habitually dorsiflexing my foot whenever possible). I ran a whole six miles today! (I know, right?)  I think that I've rounded the corner on it, but I'm not quite ready to do the victory dance yet. The main danger now is picking up some compensatory injury while my left foot is still weak.

I hope to put myself back on a schedule next week, but it will probably still be a few weeks before I do any speed-work, sadly.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Iron Horse Half Marathon Race Report

ba-deep, ba-deep! My cellphone's alarm pulled me awake. 5:30 in the morning--I rolled out of bed, stood up, then gradually went up on my toes, until the pain under my left heel flared into a bright, hot-poker stab. I waited, still on my toes, until the pain grumblingly subsided, then took a step. Not too bad. Perhaps not too smart to contemplate running a half marathon today, but not too bad. I had already DNS'd this race once, and I didn't mean to again. The plantar fascitis that had been nagging me, off and on, since February, had already largely demolished any PR hopes--but there are always other challenges to seek. The main thing is just to show up--everything else starts from that.

The Iron Horse Half Marathon in Simsbury, CT is my hometown race. Simsbury keeps changing; every time I look away for a year or two, it's different--and usually posher-looking--than I remember, when I come back. But still, there are the old streets I rode my bike on when I was a kid, and Terry's Plain Rd, which parental concerns and the threat of speeding motorists had once made a moat around my youthful mobility, in the here-and-now closed to traffic, waiting for the feet of runners.

I walked down to the race start. The air was cool in the shadows, but already the sun beat down hotly on the exposed pavement, a summer sun that might have thought to stay away another few days, if only out of consideration. 

When we took the line, the RD adjured the field to step back to make room "for the elite runners, planning to run at sub-5 minute pace". As you can imagine, this created a cavernous gap at the front. Jason Hartmann or Shalane Flanagan did not show up, however, and eventually we filled in to the line.

The siren sounded, and we shot off. A peculiarity of this race is that the 10K starts at 7:30, whereas the 5K and Half start more-or-less together at 7:45, on opposite sides of Iron Horse Boulevard, but heading the same direction. I'm not sure how they come up with this. Summer racing (and June equals summer, or at least it did today), is often as much a race against the heat of the day as it is against one's competitors. I envied the 10K runners their extra 15 minutes of cool, and of long shadows. 

I took stock: the reduced mileage of the last two weeks had certainly reduced my aerobic capacity, but I had been keeping up with strength work and felt fairly solid at the outset. My foot twinged, but soon faded into the background roar of sensation that always accompanies a foot-race, one kinesthetic noise among many. My plan, none-the-less, was to start at an easy 7 minute pace, and simply avoid dying.

The first mile passed, on shady Riverside, 6:40--it felt all right, and even playing the race forward in my head, I didn't feel any incipient disasters. The field was all commingled with the 5K runners--difficult to tell what was going on in my own race. We turned the corner onto Weatogue. The ridge that demarcates the southeastern edge of the Farmington Valley rose up on our right-hand side, casting the road into shade. The heat had yet to make itself a factor.

The 5K turned off, and then almost immediately we started running into the back end of the 10K field. It was difficult to be sure, but I felt I had about a dozen people ahead of me. We raced along Terry's Plain and then down to 315, where a right turn takes you into Tariffville. Here there was no shade; the sun hammered down on us as we turned left, then took Quarry Rd back to Terry's Plain. At the mile 5.5 water stop I dumped a dixie cup over my head, something I would do at every water stop for the rest of the race.

Doubts began to set in around mile 7, which was fairly close to the mile 12 marker. Ugh--5 more miles to get back to this point, and the day getting hotter by the minute. We headed back toward the starting area, the half marathon race completely obscured by the column of finishing 10K runners. At mile 8.5, the half marathon course passes by the start/finish area. A nice crowd had gathered and was making some much-appreciated noise. All the same, this was probably my lowest psychological point--there was no shade on Iron Horse, and the crowd of finished runners made the next 5 miles seem daunting.

I also had serious doubts about whether I was really going to be able to run this in. I always have these at this point of this distance--sometimes they're more well-founded the others. Historically I don't feel very strong at hot-weather running. The dominant variable is not strength or even aerobic capacity, but the ability to regulate your core temperature. I'm fairly big for the speed I run, and my cm^2/cm^3 is not too favorable.

I was acutely aware of this as I branched off from Ironhorse onto the bike path. Heat dissipation, I thought. That's what it comes down to--run slow enough that your core temperature is stable, and you won't have to stop

I decided to make it to mile 10 before making any decisions about walk-breaks, and once I got there I felt strong enough to push off the decision until mile 11. By the time I got to within  2 miles of the finish, stopping would have been rather silly, and I rallied a bit to bring the race home in just barely under 90 minutes. Not bad for a half-gimpy runner on a warm day.

General thoughts about this race:
  • The course is very flat, and fairly well thought out. The time spent on Terry's Plain (which is permanently shaded during the morning, because of the adjacent ridge), was much appreciated.
  • The course support was great. Tons of water stations, tons of clocks, plenty of course monitors, and of course what summer race would be complete without kids with super-soakers??
  • If I had been slightly more competitive today, I might not have liked the way the fields of the different races kept intersecting, as it made it hard to keep track of the runners ahead of you. As it fell out, I didn't much mind. Plenty of pavement for everybody.
  • This race is really expensive for a Half ($70!). post-race noshing options were somewhat slim. No chocolate milk?

Oh, remember how the RD kept reminding us to reserve the space at the front of the pack for sub-5-minute elite runners? Perhaps he wasn't so crazy:

I am honored to have taken part in a race where so many world records were broken so decisively.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

spring training

It's that time of year! I did a leisurely 12 miler in shorts and T-shirt, with six miles in the woods. The trails are all still snow-bound, but packed enough to be runnable. The sun is warm, the brooks are babbling, and the sky is very, very blue. I love early-spring running! In a week or maybe two it will be fantastically muddy in the woods, and I can't wait.

I haven't written about my winter racing season because it essentially didn't happen. I ran the needham new year's day 5K and managed a disappointing 17:45 in windy conditions. The week of the Derry 16 miler I found out I was taking a sudden visit to Seoul for work--super exciting! But the down-side was that I desperately needed Derry sunday to stay home and work on a presentation. Then the OFTM was cancelled due to a winter storm, which spared me the embarrassment of wheezing through it (Korea+epic blizzard had left me pretty feeble, aerobically speaking).

I just wrote out my spring training plan for 2013, culminating in the Amica Ironhorse half marathon in my hometown, Simsbury CT. I attempted to run this in 2012 but wound up getting hurt a few weeks prior and having to DNS. I think I can run a way-faster Half than my current PR of 83:20, so maybe this will be the year.

Other races: hessco st patrick's 5k (3/16), JJR 10K (4/28), Gilio 5K (5/25)