healing an injury and prepping for the race

Oh, my knee… the cause of so much frustration this week…

My knee is feeling a LOT better overall. It’s not totally healed – it still hurts (A LOT) when I bend it too far. In fact, I’m a little concerned about re-injuring it due to absent mindedness. I frequently forget about my inured knee and try to kneel or bend in some habitual way – I am quickly reminded of my injury! But I have sufficient range of motion for running, and I can mostly walk without a limp.

I ran twice last week… 

  
3.7 miles on Wednesday…
  
…and 5.1 miles on Saturday. 

I was cautious about running any more than that, though. Another injury would be catastrophic right now. Running was doable… but my knee/leg felt TIRED afterward. Thanks to my very generous friend Theresa, who took me to her gym, I was able to incorporate two or three sessions on a stationary bike – low impact, that felt good.

  
I ran 3.75 miles today, which went surprisingly well. The first mile or mile and a half was tough. My knee felt just a little bit achy, and I was frustrated. It was hard to get into the run. But the last couple miles were fantastic! At some point, my knee stopped aching, and I was able to just run. I slipped into that “zen zone”. Near the end of the run, it finally dawned on me that my knee had stopped aching.

Of course, after the run and shower, my knee felt a bit achy again. That’s okay, though, as long as my knee is okay with running. I finally feel like I’m getting better.

I’m pretty insanely nervous about my upcoming race, and not being able to run as much isn’t helping. When I’m not running as frequently, it feels like it’s more of a mental struggle to push myself to run. It’s one more challenge in the mental game. It’s strange, because I know that running twice a week is still a pretty good amount of running, and I should be feeling good about that.

Of course, with my injured knee, I’m running slower than I would like. That’s indirectly due to self preservation (I don’t want to push myself and gain another injury) and directly due to the injury (my knee feels good enough to run, but I can still feel a tiny bit of discomfort and just can’t push myself as much as I would like).

I know that, come race day, I will have to adjust my mental expectations. Pre-injury, I ran 8 or 10 miles at up to a 12:42 pace – that would be fast enough to do a half marathon in 2:46:29! Phenomenally mind blowing fast! But with my knee, I just do not expect that I will be able to do that. I’m focusing on 13:43, the benchmark I’ve held since I signed up for this race. 13:43 is the pace to finish in 3 hours. Under 3 hours is still an amazing pace, still a great PR, and, I’m afraid, still going to challenge me.

For now, I’m just focusing on this race. Ice my knee, rehab, and be ready for a great race… regardless of my pace or time.

injured but improving

The good news is, it’s better than it was.

The bad news is, it’s still not where I want it to be.

Saturday night was pretty rough. I was only comfortable with my right knee slightly bent. It hurt to fully extend my leg, and it REALLY hurt to bend my knee more than about 90 degrees. I could only rest when I was on my side, but even that wasn’t totally comfortable because I couldn’t easily move. I didn’t get much sleep that night.

I was exhausted on Sunday morning due to my lack of sleep. I could put weight on my leg, but I could only walk with a limp. It was difficult and frustrating to move.

On Sunday afternoon, I took an ibuprofen and went back to bed. Surprisingly, I slept hard and had a great 3-hour nap.

As I lay in bed that night, I was surprised to realize that I was laying on my back, comfortably, with my leg extended. That was my first clue that I was improving ever-so-slightly.

Today, I skipped my run. My knee feels better, but still not 100%. I can straighten my knee, and I can bend my knee farther, although there’s a point (around 45 degrees) where it still hurts quite a bit. I’ll take another day to rest, but on Wednesday I might consider a short run.

Truthfully, I am reasonably confident that I’ll be in good shape by the time my race rolls around. I’m just overwhelmed with race anxieties! 🙂 Even though I know my body will be in good shape, and even though I’m confident that I can finish 13.1 miles, I want to improve on my previous times. I want to finish 13.1 miles in less than 3 hours. I want to feel strong the entire time. I’m not confident about that!

I keep trying to squeeze in a really good long (12 miles or so) run before my race, and I keep getting sidelined by one thing or another – weather, injuries, you name it. I’m (still) extremely tempted to run that long distance next weekend, but I’m also very much aware that I have a highly increased risk of (re-)injury, and a more severe injury could prevent me from running the race entirely. It’s a huge risk. I don’t like it, but I don’t know if I have a choice!

injuries

I suppose it was bound to happen sooner or later.

Today, I planned to go for a 12-mile run, my last long run before my big race. Didn’t quite work out that way! After about 3.5 miles, I fell pretty hard, and managed to tweak my right knee.

I’m still not exactly sure what I did. I wasn’t surprised when my knee hurt a little bit after my run. I WAS surprised when it didn’t stop hurting. I was honestly expecting to bounce back up, dust myself off, and resume my run. Instead, I lay on the ground holding my knee and figuring out what I was going to do.

 

my sunglasses didn’t survive the fall. i would be upset, but i never pay more than $1 or $2 for sunglasses and i’ve had these for two years. time for a new pair!

About this time, I found myself surrounded by three individuals, one woman and two men. They were extremely concerned.  I figured out that they had been driving by, saw me laying on the ground, and stopped to see if I was okay. I never did get their names, but I definitely want to thank them for stopping. It’s nice to see a bit of kindness in the world.

The pain had let up significantly, and my knee wasn’t swelling. My knee was stiff, but it was bearable. I seriously, seriously considered resuming my run, or at least trying. 3.5 miles is such a short distance! And I’m feeling so unprepared for my upcoming race!

 

sitting in the grass, pondering the severity of my knee injury

Reluctantly, I decided to quit. If my knee was really injured, I needed to focus on getting it ready to run again before the race. I knew I needed an ice pack. So I called my mother and asked her to come get me.

 

icing my knee

Did I mention I was reluctant? The weather was great today. And I really, really want to prove to myself that I can run long before the race.

As far as injuries go, I do think I lucked out. My knee is now very stiff and tender, and it hurts to bend it, but overall I think it isn’t too bad. There’s almost no swelling or bruising. It probably won’t take long to heal, and truth be told, I feel bad complaining about it. I don’t think it’s wise to run on it right now, but at the same time I feel like it barely qualifies as an injury.

With the race only four weeks away, my anxiety is really starting to build. Why am I doing this again?!?!

A Perfect Weekend for Running

Oh hai there! I should update this site, shouldn’t I?

Running has been GREAT. I haven’t been able to run as much as I would like this month, but I’ve still managed to get I at least two or three runs each week. I’m feeling strong.

It’s been a busy month – work and play have kept my schedule full. This is certainly not a complaint. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

In the past few days, I’ve had two of my best runs in a long time:  

 Last Friday, I set out to run about 3.5 miles. Near the beginning of the run, I happened into Ofc. Abraham, a police officer with whom I’ve interacted before. She was not on an emergency call, and we hadn’t seen each other in a few years, so we had a pleasant time catching up. She recommended a particular community program that would allow me to work with and learn from the police department, which was quite flattering. She believed I would enjoy and be an asset to this program.  

that’s a patch of snow behind me!

That left me in such a good mood that I went on to run my fastest 5k time yet – 35:56. I know it’s only a training run, but it feels so wonderful when I’m able to do that. It’s a huge encouragement.

The weather this weekend has been BEAUTIFUL. Up to 60 on Saturday. With such beautiful weather, I felt that I couldn’t miss this chance to run. I felt so good that I decided to try for 8.5 miles.

I “geared up”, which in my case meant two fanny packs with my fuel of choice, Simply Nature squeezable pureed fruit, and a cheap plastic bottle of water. I wore a tank top and shorts, which felt fantastic.

   

The first couple of miles were quiet. I was purposely trying to run slowly – since I had pushed so hard the day before, I didn’t want to overdo it. I was just finding my rhythm.  

 Around the beginning of the fourth mile, I felt a twinge in my right knee. it didn’t feel like an injury, but I was certainly concerned.

The twinge disappeared around the fifth mile. It reappeared later around the eighth mile. I’m not too concerned, though I will be icing my knee for awhile.  

 At the sixth mile, my pace was strong – much to my surprise. I allowed myself to push through the last half mile.

I did have one small technical issue at this point. I accidentally turned off my phone at one point, so it didn’t register about a half-mile of my run. Bummer!

I’d been consuming one or two swallows of fruit puree every mile, interspersed with plenty of water. I felt remarkably strong. My energy levels were high. That, alone, is a HUGE win. I was able to push strong for the last couple of miles, and that felt pretty incredible.
I’m dog-sitting this week, and when I got home I was attacked and given a tongue bath. 🙂  

My final distance was about 8.5 miles, at about 13:19 pace (like I said my phone didn’t register about a half mile of the run). I was exhausted and happy. That was a long run, at a solid pace, with solid energy. That’s a great weekend.

the psychology of athletes

Yes, I’m still running… some. But this month has not been one of my best running months. I’m only squeezing in two or three runs a week. That’s still a lot, I know – but I hate that I can’t do more.

Christmas seems like it really snuck up on me this year! I know, I probably say this every year, but it’s true. I’ve been working like crazy this month to accomplish all my Christmas-related duties on top of work.

The weather has been relatively warm this month. Quite peculiar. I don’t think I have worn long pants at all this winter, and I’ve worn short sleeves surprisingly often. Sheesh, today I wore a tank top!

Yes, on December 22, I wore a tank top with shorts.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it means to be a runner, or an athlete, or even just a human. I suppose it’s because I haven’t been running as much. What is a runner? Is it a person who runs a certain number of miles, or trains a certain number of hours, each day/week month? Is it a person who runs at a certain pace? Is it a person who wins races?

Over five years ago, I subtitled this blog, “My Journey to Becoming an Athlete.” Here’s my strange truth: After running with remarkable regularity for five years, I still don’t feel like an athlete.

Running has been good for me, no doubt. There’s the obvious benefits: I’m healthier, I’ve lost (some) weight, I feel stronger. Then there’s the mental benefits: Running has given me a way to unplug from the world, a time to reset my mind, a way to ward off the insanity of life. Distance running has given me successes during the seasons when the rest of my life hasn’t gone so well.

It’s been bizarre, in its own way. As a kid, I avoided running (and exercise in general!) like the plague. That attitude wasn’t exactly discouraged by the teachers and adults in my life. I was an academic. For the most part, I don’t think those adults were actively discouraging me from participating in athletics. It seems like it was just assumed that I would excel in academics but that I would be too busy to excel at sports – an implied understanding that I didn’t need to waste time with sports. I certainly NEVER imagined that I would be a runner as an adult.

I suppose that childhood attitude had its own negative effects, though. I never considered myself an athlete, and even though I started running, that didn’t really change. I run, and I love running, but I’m not fast. Not by any objective measure. When I read blog posts written by runners who complain about “not really running” because they “only” ran a 12:00 pace, I want to slug them. I’m not fast… I just get out there a lot. Even on a crazy busy month like this, at least I’ve gotten out there a couple times each week.

I know I’m hard on myself because of my pace. There’s so many running blogs and magazines out there, and it seems like they’re always writing about 8:00 or 10:00 paces. Too often, I feel like the slowest runner out there. I’ve put in a LOT of miles in the past five and a half years, yet my pace has only improved slightly.

I’m not even sure where this train of thought is going right now. It’s 10:30 at night and I’m waiting for family to arrive from the airport. It’s time for Christmas to begin. I think I’ll shelve this thought for now. Come January, I can begin focusing on training for my race in May. In the meantime I’ll let my subconscious dwell on the psychology of athletes…

unexpected weeks, decreasing mileage

This has not been the week I expected!

It’s been a good week, overall. I ran a fair bit…

…on Monday…

 …Tuesday…

 …Wednesday.

All of these runs were good, solid runs.

On Thursday, I wasn’t able to run. Not a big deal. I figured I could run on Friday and Saturday, and still put in a solid mileage for the week.

Then Life Happened. I woke up around 2am Thursday night/Friday morning, feeling like crap, and I discovered that I’d started my period. This was normal, but also not something I’d anticipated in my running plans.

I slept horribly last night. Horribly. Accordingly, I felt horrible this morning. I dragged myself out of bed, and the LAST thing I wanted to today was run.

And I was reminded of the struggle I’ve had with this blog, and with my running life in general. You see, running is a huge part of my life. I love running, and I intend to continue running for the rest of my life.

But running isn’t the only thing I love. I have other hobbies. I work. Much as I enjoy running, I can only devote a limited number of hours per week to it. I am not a fast runner, I never will be a fast runner… and the truth is, my distance runs are, objectively, not very far.

Most running blogs star people who, like me, love running… but who allow running to take over their life. They seem to do nothing but run and blog. They run hundreds of miles per week and eat marathons for dessert. They spend a fair amount of money on running clothes and accessories (unless they receive free swag from sporting goods companies for reviews!). They’re always training for another race.

I’m somewhere in between these running superstars and the rest of the world. I run a lot, but not hundreds of miles per month. I love running, but it’s far from the only thing in my life. I was making myself crazy with frequent races, so I cut back significantly. Because of that, I have a great deal of flexibility in my training, and I’m not afraid to let life circumstances change a day’s run.

Today, after a poor night’s sleep and a fair amount of cramping, I decided not to run at all… and I gotta tell you, I’m feeling awfully relieved. Removing the pressure to run in spite of feeling poorly makes me feel better. It’s just not worth it to give running that much power over me.

Tomorrow is Saturday, and I’m honestly not sure if I’ll run or how far. I’m a tiny bit disappointed that I won’t be accomplishing another 23-mile week, but I’m far more relieved that I’m allowing myself to take a break.

midweek runs and long run fuel thoughts

  
I went for a run yesterday, and it was AWESOME. It was seriously one of those runs I wish I could bottle up. My legs felt strong, and I just felt glorious. I went to a movie last night so I didn’t have a chance to blog about it right away, but trust me, it was an incredible 3.6 miles.
 
I went for another run today, also 3.6 miles. Not as good as yesterday’s run, but I had a good time. Today’s run was a clearing-my-head run. I was frustrated with work, fighting writer’s block, and I went for a run since I knew I wouldn’t get anything done otherwise. (Did I mention I had writer’s block?!?!)

I’m still pondering my options for mid-run fuel. Since the fruit snacks didn’t go as well as I’d hoped, I want to choose something different for my next long run. I’m aiming for 15-30 grams of carbs per hour. I’ve narrowed it down to three:


Gummy Bears
14 bears=30g carbs
Pros: Cheap. Sweeter than fruit snacks, so it might be easier to swallow. Easy to carry.
Cons: Still chewy. Still requires swallowing. Might still cause me to gag.
This wins on price and bulk, but I really am worried about the gagging thing. It’s not going to do me any good if I start throwing up mid-run on a regular basis.


Gatorade Prime “gel”
One 4oz packet=25g carbs
Pros: Relatively cheap – I can buy it at the grocery store on sale for $1 per 4-oz tube.
Cons: Messy – no way to close the packet once it’s been opened. Kinda bulky.
For an eight-mile run, I’d need two 4oz packets (approx. one packet per hour). It would be cheap, and I think I could deal with the bulk, but the mess would be a problem. I wonder if I could find a gel flask that was pretty easy to carry. On the other hand, I would still have to carry at least 8oz of gel, which might be awfully heavy.


Energy gel (Gu)
One 1.1oz packet=22g carbs
Pros: Small, easy to carry. Potentially easier to swallow.
Cons: Expensive- $1.50 per packet or more, often sold in boxes of 24 or more. Difficult to find – not sold at grocery stores.
A far-out winner for density of carbs. An eight-mile run would probably require 3-4 packets (1-1.5 per hour). I’m a little concerned by the density of calories – would my body be able to handle that many calories at once? And it’s pricey. Then again, it may not be too bad if only need a couple of packets.


Pureed fruit (BuddyFruits)
One 3.2oz packet=15g carbs
Pros: Resealable lids. Reasonable price- less than $1 per packet.
Cons: Bulky. Very bulky.
I’m guessing I’d need 4 packets for an eight-mile run (two per hour). This stuff is is BULKY – four packets of this would be a lot to carry. And the cost would add up. However, it wouldn’t be messy thanks to those lids. And it might be pretty easy to get down.

All that, and I still haven’t drawn any conclusions. I’m leaning toward the pureed fruits, if only because that’s probably the easiest for me to acquire. Though gummies would be pretty easy too. We’ll see.

Rhinitis-induced rest days

I have a cold. 🙁

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me in bed with tissues

To be fair, it’s improved quite a bit in the past few hours. Last night, as I lay in bed, I was completely unable to breathe through my nose, and I didn’t sleep a wink overnight. I was pretty sweaty, also, and suspect I had a low-grade fever. I felt pretty awful. After I got out of bed, took a shower, and took both ibuprofen and sudafed, my symptoms began to improve. Add in this afternoon’s nap, and I’m almost feeling good.

Even with the cold, I’ve been insanely tempted to run. My sleep schedule is off, and running seems like an easy way to tire myself out before bed. I also want to hang on to the momentum from last week. My mother keeps reminding me, though, that it’s not worth it. Since I’m not training for a race, it’s better that I focus on getting healthy. I know she’s right – even if I don’t like it. So there’s been no running this week, just lots of napping and rest and water. Here’s hoping my body responds to the rest by getting stronger.

Washington, DC and a bunch of hotel gyms!

Happy Monday!

Last week I returned from a two-week road trip and vacation to Washington, DC. My parents and I met my sister, who lives in Boston, while we were there. I intentionally chose not to blog during that time, so people wouldn’t know I am out of town. But suffice it to say, I had a blast! I first visited D.C. when I was a kid, probably over twenty years ago. The city has changed a LOT in the years since, and improved a LOT!

We took oodles of photos and I honestly have not had a chance yet to upload and edit them. Since this blog is about running, though, I’ll include these for now:

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If you’ve ever been to DC, you know that it is a walking town, particularly around the National Mall. I’m pleased to say that this has been a very physically active vacation. In addition to walking around DC, I ran an average of 2 miles on a treadmill at every hotel that offered a fitness center (all but 2 of them).

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I also tend to run faster on treadmills with mileage displays- usually a 12:00 pace. I ran barefoot every time, since that’s basically my favorite way to run on a treadmill. (Also it meant I didn’t have to get my running shoes out of the car!)

I used the Nike+ app with the accelerometer to gage my treadmill pace, and it wasn’t too bad. The app never matched the treadmill display – it always measured my pace as 00:05 to 00:30 slower than the treadmill, so certainly not ideal. It’s better than nothing, though, and I’m glad to figure out a sort of baseline for treadmill running with the app.

One other observation: We walked a lot, and spent many hours on our feet as we toured museums and memorials. Normal vacation behavior. On vacations (and non-vacations!) past, my feet have become painfully sore and swollen from all the time spent on my feet. At the end of the day, I would gratefully fall into a chair, desperate to sit. In my pre-running days, most of my blisters came from vacation-time spent on my feet.

Yet not once during this trip did my feet become painful or sore! NOT EVEN ONCE! While my family collapsed into seats, I was still comfortable standing. My feet did get tired at the end of the day, but not painfully so – in fact, it was more like the full-body tiredness that makes bedtime so enjoyable. (And no blisters!) For me, this is a big deal. I’m sure many factors contributed to this, but I believe the number-one source of my relief is running. Running strengthened my legs and body, which in turn gave me more stamina and the ability to remain on my feet for many hours.

I have a busy schedule this week, but I’m looking forward to it. I have a good feeling about this!

Stars & Stripes 5k 2015

On the 4th of July, I did something I never imagined I would do.

I ran a race under someone else’s bib.

It began on the night of the 3rd. I texted my friend Theresa because I knew she had signed up for the Stars & Stripes 5k on the 4th of July. I also knew that her schedule had changed at the last minute, and that attending the race would not be easy. At this point, to be honest, I was scheming. I was encouraging her attend the race, partly because I was planning to surprise her by standing along the race route with a poster and cow bell to cheer her on.

Theresa wasn’t feeling it. She was stressed with all the other things in her life at that moment, and she just didn’t know how she would be able to run that weekend, much less run a race. I encouraged her to at least pick up her packet (get your free t-shirt!), and to try finishing the race with a different goal – for example, see how fast you can finish 5k if you are walking the entire distance. And then she blew my mind…

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I really can’t express this moment. The idea of running in her spot had never even crossed my mind. The gift of running in her spot was just HUGE to me. I didn’t even know how to respond. What do you do when someone offers you a gift like this?

The next morning, I rose early for the race. Since I hadn’t planned for this race ahead of time, I wasn’t fighting any pre-race nerves or jitters. I’d slept like a baby. I was relaxed and ready to run.

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I went to the packet pickup line and requested the packet for Theresa. This was the moment of truth – this was when they could’ve refused to give me the packet. They were rushing to hand out packets, though, and no one blinked at my request. I took the packet, bib, chip timer, and t-shirt.

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My mom was my support crew. She helped me pin the bib onto my shirt. We had never before explored the shopping center hosting this race, and we were pleasantly surprised to discover a lovely pedestrian area.

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The race was pretty big… a couple thousand runners, I guess? I’m not very good at estimating race size. It wasn’t long before we sang the national anthem and lined up to run.

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The race was advertised as “flat and fast”, and it was. I started the race strong, running about a 12:30 pace. The first mile was uneventful. I spent a lot of that mile getting my legs loose and getting my mind into the right place to run.

The weather was BEAUTIFUL. It was maybe 70 degrees, slightly overcast, with a light breeze – very cool for July, and perfect for running!

During the second mile, I purposely slowed my pace down to around 13:00. We were running behind a business park, and it was during this mile that I saw an adorable wild rabbit. It was really quite comical. The rabbit was running back and forth on one side of the road, clearly wanting to cross the road, but unable to cross the road due to the mass of runners.

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The third mile was, by far, the most fun. At the beginning of that mile, I overheard a nearby cluster of women discussing their ability (or lack thereof) to do a cartwheel. One woman dared another to do a cartwheel right there in the middle of the race, and she declined. I chimed in, “But wouldn’t that be the BEST road rash story?”

My new running friends laughed and agreed. They began to tell the fictitious story: “I thought I was ahead during the race so I decided to showboat by doing a cartwheel. That’s why I have this great scar on my leg, and no front teeth.” I don’t remember the rest of the story, but I know it got pretty silly!

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We pushed each other during that mile. We were close to the end, and we knew it. One of the women compared us to turtles – slow and steady but always finishing. Finally, with perhaps a half mile left, I let it all out and threw everything I had into the race. I’d already picked up my pace (to about 12:30) during the third mile, but I just threw it down and ran as fast as my legs would carry me to the finish line.

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My mom found me in the finishing corral. I’d gone straight for a water bottle (no surprise). I didn’t know my chip time, but when I crossed the finish line the clock read something like 39:30, so I knew my time would be good. I felt amazing.

The line for the official times was LONG, and I knew the times would be posted on the website later, so I focused on the rest of the post-race celebration. One booth was offering free face-painting for kids. A local band was playing. Since it was the 4th of July, there were several patriotic events. Panera Bread was giving away free bagels to the runners. But my favorite booth, by far, was sponsored by Belfonte and giving away free ice cream!

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And that was the race. That was my amazing 4th of July race.

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I got a message from Theresa later in the day with my official time: 38:43.6. For all intents and purposes, that is a PR – the only race that might have been faster was in 2013, when I had a broken chip timer and thus got no official time. But even that, I suspect, was not this fast.

I’m really pretty overwhelmed by it all. This race was a smashing success, and it was all an unexpected gift from my running friend. I can’t express how thankful I am. Theresa, you are the best friend I’ve ever known. Running this race was an experience I’ll never forget. May God bless you the way you’ve blessed me.