Well, that was unexpected – when a brief break from running turns into something much longer

When I crossed the finish line of the Run for the Toad 50K ultra Oct. 4, I knew that was going to be the last run for me for the rest of the month. My body – and mind, to be honest – needed a break. Although I loved training for the ultra throughout the summer, by September I was feeling decidedly uninspired, unmotivated and just ready to run it. I also knew my body had been through a lot in 2014 – training for Boston, getting injured, running Boston, training for a half-marathon PB, and now my first 50K . It was time to rest, and I was completely OK with that and even a little excited to recharge and come back in November ready and eager to run again.

Only, that’s not what happened. I enjoyed October’s break (well, kind of – there was one particularly gorgeous sunny Saturday where my dad was going out for a 6K run and my mom almost literally had to sit me down and stop me from joining him, sans orthotics, just a week out from the ultra, but what can I say? It seems a crime not to take advantage of beautiful fall running weather!), had fun with friends, went out drinking a couple times, and just generally loosened up from my more rigid training schedule, which is always a good thing to do and I know something I should do more often.

Cheering my dad on at his first 8K - way to go!

Cheering my dad on at his first 8K – way to go!

But when November rolled around and I excitedly went to lace up my shoes, I realized…I was injured. Yep, that month off running, meant to allow my body to rest and recover, actually resulted in plantar fasciitis in my right heel from not wearing orthotics in my regular, non-running shoes. Ouch! So that was fun. And then on top of that, some random pain in my left quad kept me from running even after the plantar fasciitis was OK to run on.

I’m *just* getting back to running now, 2.5 months later. And I say that with a lot of trepidation! I don’t want to jinx anything. I went for my first pain-free, longer run today that’s also been the longest distance I’ve done since the 50K – 8.6 miles, on the soft trails by my apartment.

This is my happy place.

This is my happy place.

Up until today, my longest pain-free runs had been two miles. Anything more than that, and I’d feel sharp pain in my quad, so I’d back down and take a week off before trying again. Then last weekend, I had a 10K race I had signed up for a long time ago with my running friend Mary Anne. I was in that agonizing limbo every runner finds themselves in sooner or later – do I race and potentially make this injury worse, or do I miss out on the race experience, the race fee and the race shirt and medal? (let’s be honest, a big part of why we do races is the swag at the end, right?)

Anyway, I’ll recap the race later but I will say now that it wasn’t as painful as I was preparing for. My leg felt…maybe 65% normal? And my heel felt fine, although a couple days later I wore winter boots without orthotics (they don’t fit in!) to walk the short distance to work and my heel has been bothering me ever since. So I’m kinda resigning myself to having to wear my running shoes to church on Christmas Eve haha…because seriously, right now they and my Birkenstocks are the only shoes with the support I need for my heel.

I’m easing back into running very slowly, and even though I’m ecstatic at today’s pain-free longer run, I know I can’t push it too fast or too soon. The pool has been a fantastic alternative this past month, especially, and I’ve resumed physio for my quad. I’ve been itching to do some speed workouts or really long runs, but I’ve got to be happy with slow and steady for now. And honestly, I really am fine with that. I just missed running so much, and today’s time on the trails was good for my soul.

But if I’m asking Santa for anything this Christmas, it’s for an injury-free 2015! (and a half-marathon and marathon PB would be nice too, but I’m willing to put the work in for those!)

Happy Canada Day! and some kilometer repeats

Canadian runner problems: when you don’t have any red/white or Canada-themed running clothing to wear on July 1. I have many Canada t-shirts, but they’re all cotton and there’s no way I’m venturing outside in this humidity to run in any material that isn’t dri-fit and sweat-wicking!

Also, do they make Canadian-themed compression socks? Because I’m super jealous of these:

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So I’m all about the power of the rest day for making the next day’s run the best thing ever. Lately my runs after a day or two of not running have been great – my legs feel fresh and strong and I’m so excited to get out there. I’m also loving speedwork…yeah, we’ll see if I’m still saying that in a few months! But right now, it’s so much fun thinking of different workouts to do instead of just heading out and doing a random number of miles at whatever pace I feel like.

Today’s workout was kilometer repeats. I warmed up with 3 kilometers at 4’55 pace, then settled into 11 kilometers alternating 1k fast, 1k recovery (fast kilometers were run between 4’00 – 4’30; recovery kilometers at 5’00-5’15). Cooled down with 2km very slow for a total of 16.

Best thing about this workout? The variety. Switching it up every kilometer was fun and challenging.

Worst thing? Probably the way some of the kilometers worked out. Because I didn’t do this workout on a track, but rather on the roads and trail, I didn’t have control over where one kilometer would end and another begin. So if my fast kilometer suddenly ended halfway up a hill, I didn’t want to switch to recovery mode, or vice versa. Also, traffic lights and random people with two lizards on their shoulders weaving back and forth on the sidewalk (not even kidding) are annoying. It would have been easier to run this on the track, but the change of terrain and incline/decline did make it more challenging.

As soon as I got back to the apartment the first thing I did was drink a cup of cold water mixed with half a scoop of Vega Sport Performance Protein. This is what I drank right after the Boston Marathon and I swear it helped in muscle recovery. It’s supposed to reduce recovery time between training, build and repair muscle, and improve strength. One scoop has 25 grams of complete plant protein, but it IS expensive (I get it at my grocery store for $3.50/package, and one package is a single serving), so I’ve budgeted it into my grocery bill to buy one package every week and divide it into two and having it after whatever I deem to be my “toughest” runs, not necessarily the longest. I’m trying to get a lot better at my running nutrition…it’s a work in progress…

Also, the only flavour I’ve found this in is berry. It’s not the greatest, but it’s not intolerable…glowing review, huh? Basically, immediately after running you need carbs and protein in a 4:1 ratio, and this is one great (vegan) way to get a bunch of protein in.

OK, time to continue the Canada Day celebrations! 🙂 have a great one, fellow Canucks!

 

 

Post-marathon: what’s next?

Ah, the dreaded what’s next question. It’s natural though that right after achieving something we’ve worked for, our minds go to, “what’s next?” I know I do better when I’ve got a goal to work towards. Otherwise I feel kind of … floppy and rudderless and stagnant, if that makes sense. Especially with running goals. After my marathon and a 10-miler two weeks later last spring, I didn’t have any races on my horizon except for Boston a year later, and my running definitely suffered. I didn’t feel motivated, I didn’t even want to run. Taking a month and a half off in the fall helped mentally, but for awhile there I just dreaded lacing up my shoes. I don’t want that to happen again! (although with the limited running I’ve been able to do this past winter and spring, I’m already so excited to start up again once my groin heals fully!)

BUT…it’s important to not always be jumping into the next new thing. Take some time to rest, enjoy your accomplishment and just be. That’s my plan for May. I’ve been for two runs since Boston, both 10ks, and they both really, really aggravated my groin/quad. So I decided last week to take the month off from running. It’s just not worth turning this injury into something that never. goes. away. Boston showed me that cross-training DOES keep you in shape and actually can prepare you to run a marathon without, you know, actually doing any running beforehand. Weird how that works, huh?

So for the rest of the month I’m going to continue cycling, swimming and stretching. I’ll incorporate some running form drills a few times a week to work on running form and technique and get some strength back in my feet, but my goal is to get this groin all healed up so I can start running – and racing! – again.

There are a few races on my horizon. Short-term, I’ve registered for a great and super hilly 5 km charity run for heart arrhythmia that my whole family does (and this year, I’ve gotten my best running buddies Kelly and Emily to sign up too!) on June 8. It’s a really fun event and for a very important cause – it was started last year by my aunt’s colleague who lost her husband very young and tragically due to the disease.

Then in July Kelly, Emily and I are road tripping to…CHICAGO! We’re going to run the Rock n’ Roll half-marathon there. I LOVE the Rock n’ Roll series – in September 2012 I ran my first half-marathon, the Philly RNR. Superb organization, fun concept, great music and awesome swag bags. Kelly has ran the Edinburgh RNR and she loves this race series too. But neither us nor Emily have ever been to Chicago, so we’re really excited for a girls’ long weekend away!

These two races are both going to be fun ones and I won’t necessarily be racing hard at them (although I’d love to PR in Chicago, and my ultimate goal is to get my half-marathon time down to 1:30). I have two goal races in the fall that I’d really like to train hard for over the summer, but I’m not going to commit to them just yet until I feel better about my injury.

Anyway, those are my post-Boston running plans for now! Who knows, they may change but at least for May I’m still enjoying the swimming and cycling. Loving this warmer weather too! I need more shorts-appropriate temperatures so I can work on getting rid of that awkward compression socks/KT tape tan line I’m still rocking from Boston…

Back on the track

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I am verrrrrrry slowly getting back into running. On Monday I ran 1 minute, walked 1 minute for 20 minutes and cut it off there. My doctor recommended running on a treadmill but since I don’t have access to one here, I just stuck to the flat residential streets around my neighbourhood.

On Wednesday I had the brilliant idea of biking over to the high school track in the evening, which ended up being deserted save for a surprisingly well-behaved off-leash dog who didn’t chase after me (good, because at the pace I was going, he would have had no problem catching me!).

Soft, flat track…sunshine…bliss. I ran one lap, walked one lap for five intervals, then ran 2 laps consecutively at the end (PAIN FREE!!!). I was so tempted to keep running, but I don’t want to push my luck so I stopped, did some gentle lunges to stretch out the quad and groin, then biked home and loaded up on some protein (tuna mixed with Greek yogurt on pita bread = 42 grams of protein!). I have no idea if eating more protein = strengthening my poor injured muscle, but in my non-sciency brain it makes sense, so I’m going to keep doing it.

The best part about the run last night was that I actually fell back into my normal stride. At first, I was running very, very slowly and barely picking my feet off the ground. It was more of a shuffle than anything, and my feet felt awkward and clumsy and I was overly conscious of how I was running. But by the last two laps, I felt confident and strong enough to lengthen my stride and settle into a more normal, unconscious gait. I have to admit, it felt goooood. At one point I even spread out my arms and tilted my head up to look at the brilliant blue sky and feel the warm sun on my face – I felt like I was flying! I’ve missed running so much!!

Injury update

I spent the last four days doing this:

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Mum’s homemade tomato sauce FTW!

15 minutes on, 15 minutes off. Massage, foam roll, try not to cry, repeat. To keep from going insane I read all 600 pages of John Steinbeck’s East of Eden (loved it), numerous episodes of Friday Night Lights and The Americans, and the Oscars (meh). I also wrote up a bunch of articles for work and had some lovely visitors save me from loneliness and teach me how to work my television (thanks Mum, Dad, and G & G!)

Yesterday I went to see a physiotherapist at a sports medicine clinic here in town. If there is a silver lining to this injury, it’s that it occurred AFTER January 1, when I finished my probation period at work. Now I have full benefits and my health care package includes pretty generous physiotherapy coverage. So grateful!

The physio confirmed the bad news though: it’s a groin strain. She seemed optimistic though that I will run Boston (and I WILL! Positive thinking!!) IF I’m smart and listen to my body. In the past, that’d be a pretty big “if” because I likely would have tried to run through the pain and I never would have taken those four days to just completely rest. Thankfully I’ve gotten a little wiser in the last few years!

She did acupuncture on my leg and gave me a deep tissue massage, then sent me home with a list of stretches to do every day. I’m supposed to go swimming a couple times this week (focus on flutter kick and dolphin kick, NO whip kick) and two short walks on flat surfaces. I also have two more appointments with her this week, tomorrow and Friday.

My muscle is still sore and I’m really nervous about doing any kind of activity. I’m terrified I’ll just make it worse, but I’m also more than ready to actually step outside and get some fresh air, so the walking might be nice.

There are seven weeks left until Boston. Aghhhhh. Thinking about how close it is makes me so scared. Ironic I guess because before Thursday’s injury, I was scared about other things to do with the race (namely, the whole running 42 km thing). But at least in my mind I knew (or blissfully expected) that I’d physically be able to do it as long as I kept up my training. Now it feels almost like my body is betraying my mind, if that makes any sense. I got into this sense of security where I could make my body do what I wanted, and now it suddenly hurts to make the smallest movement.

I don’t really recognize myself, it’s frustrating and weird and now I’m realizing I just wrote paragraphs about my groin and that’s just as weird and definitely more than a little obnoxious.

 

How I (hope to) prevent injuries while training for Boston

Runner problem #1: when a song ends right when you’re in the middle of a hill climb and there are a few painful seconds (slash an eternity) of complete silence except the ragged gasps of air coming from your lungs before the next song kicks in (and of course it’s a slow ballad).

Runner problem #2: INJURIES!!

So let’s talk injuries today. If you run, whether it’s marathons or 5ks, you’re bound to get injured at some point, unfortunately. The only thing we can do is learn from our injuries and try not to repeat the same mistake twice.

The biggest running injury I’ve dealt with that comes to mind are stress fractures. A few years ago, I wasn’t competing in any races but I was running every day. No matter what, I’d be out there running. (Ironically, I’m a faster and better runner now running 4-5 times a week than I was running 7 days a week for a couple years!). I know there are people who run every day and swear by it (here’s a guy who hasn’t missed a day since 1968!) but for me, taking recovery days and doing cross-training has made me a better runner, made me love running more, and made me less likely to get injured due to overuse/overtraining.

So in the winter of 2008, I got a stress fracture in my metatarsals but just fought through the pain and kept running (also borrowed a friend’s old pair of running shoes for a few runs – not smart). Two weeks later, I was in so much pain just standing while lifeguarding at work that I realized I needed to go to the hospital. Turned out the tiny fractures in my metatarsals had expanded into a full out fracture because I had kept pounding away and for the last two weeks, I had been running on a broken foot. Awesome!

So I ended up rocking a boot cast for three months:

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I won’t even go into how awful lugging this thing known as my foot around for three months in the snow was, with the cold slush soaking my sock and having to wrap my leg in a garbage bag as I trudged around campus while Western girls in Uggs cast pitying looks at me and Western boys let library doors slam in my face.

The absolute WORST thing about it was not being able to run for those 12 weeks. Gone was my running streak. Gone was my number one way of dealing with stress. What was really frustrating was knowing it was my own stubbornness and pride that put me in that situation, but I like to think I learned from it. Since then, I haven’t dealt with any bad running injuries and I really, really hope that’s a streak that continues!

So how do I hope to prevent injuries while training for Boston? Here’s my plan of attack:

– COMPRESSION SOCKS. Swear by these. Didn’t have any injuries at all last year while training for the Gettysburg marathon, and I put a lot of credit into these babies. I wear them for runs that are 10 miles + (16 km), and wear them after the run for as long as possible to aid in recovery and circulation (at least 5 hours, although sometimes that means wearing them under jeans haha).

– Stretch, foam roll, repeat. Foam rolling is new to me this year but so far I’m loving it. It’s time consuming (I do it every day and even though I tell myself it’s just for 10 minutes it usually ends up being more like 30) but it’s like a deep tissue massage for your muscles. I focus on quads, hams, calves, IT band and piriformis.

– nutrition: I take a calcium/vitamin D supplement every day now in addition to eating Greek yogurt every day (protein + calcium). You’ve got to keep those bones strong! Especially if osteoporosis runs in your family or you’re experiencing the female athlete triad. I also include anti-inflammatory spices like turmeric and ginger in my meals and smoothies. By eating anti-inflammatory foods you keep inflammation from intense exercise localized, meaning that your body recovers quicker and heals injuries faster. And last – beets! Apparently beets and beet juice are one of the best things runners can eat because of the healthy nitrates. Awesome news for the girl who lived in Russia for a year and ate beets all the time…

– new shoes. As soon as I feel any kind of pain/tenderness in my shins while running, I check out my shoes and usually end up buying a new pair. I should probably buy new shoes more often, but small town journalists don’t exactly bring in the big bucks so I make do with 2-3 pairs a year.
– be aware of your environment while running. Practice constant vigilance while running in the winter! I’m constantly terrified I’ll wipe out on the ice and end up breaking my leg or something. Watch out for black ice, traffic, deep snow banks, all that fun stuff. I usually have one or two wipe-outs every winter, but so far I’ve been lucky and gotten away with just some bad bruising and no breaks. If you’re going to fall, I guess my advice would be to try and break your fall with your hands rather than your legs? Better a broken wrist than doing anything to your knee, ankle or foot, I think. Oh and watch out for cars! Wear reflective gear and don’t trust that drivers will look both ways when making a turn.

– pay attention to your body. Muscle pain is okay. Joint pain isn’t. One of the benefits to running and training for a race is that it makes you a lot more in tune with your body. Don’t let little warning signals develop into bigger problems! Sometimes that means taking an extra rest day even if mentally you’re struggling with that. No matter what, I take one full rest day every week.

– strength train. Not my favourite kind of workout to be honest, but stronger muscles = less prone to injury. Also, including a strength training day prevents overuse. Yesterday I knew I SHOULD strength train, but sometimes it just seems easier or more fun to run instead. But I had a pretty intense weekend of running coming up, so I skipped the run and did Jillian Michaels’ yoga inferno plus my runner’s core workout (ie 10 minutes of death).

– SLEEP! That one’s easy, and I’m more than willing to do it 🙂 Sleep is when your body’s muscles repair themselves, and marathoners apparently require more sleep than the average person. So try and get as much sleep as possible!

What are your tips for preventing running injuries? What’s the worst running or fitness-related injury you’ve dealt with? Please tell me there’s someone else out there stupid enough to keep running on a broken foot for two weeks…