Things have been chugging along at a good clip across the board, but mostly my absence has largely been due to burnout: I’ve been taking this summer to actually recoup and recover, rather than fill up my first non-teaching semester in 3 years with more-and-different-but-really-just-status-quo stuff.
I’ve still been active running–continuing my 100+ miles/month streak that started about this time in 2018:
Normally July is a beast month, but two weeks ago I noticed a pulling in my right knee. Since I’m really set on doing my first marathon in four years this November, and I’d had a pretty stellar June, I didn’t want to push things too hard too soon, so I took a full week off and then slowly built up again last week (without issue, thankfully!). Consequently the mileage was well under where it would have been, but I’m simply grateful for being able to keep running.
Speaking of the marathon! I’ve hired a coach–Caitlin Kowalke, who owns Fearless Feet Running. We’ve been working together since early May when we started base-building, and as of last week we are now officially in the 16-week marathon training cycle.
I can’t say enough–she’s been fantastic. She’s exactly the right combination of pushing-the-envelope with listen-to-your-body that I need. The Tuesday morning workouts have become almost infamous between The Lady and myself–“what fresh hell is on the docket for this week?”–and it always pushed me right to the edge, but always in a way that 1) I can finish, even if only barely, and 2) I learn something about myself in the process. The Lady pointed me to her late last spring, as she made a recruiting post around that time on Instagram that got circulated through the Oiselle community. I’d been pondering getting a coach (to get me under that brutal 4-hour mark on marathons) but hadn’t had any luck finding one, up until then.
Training through the summer has not been easy, either. While it’s been a far better summer than, say, 2018 (Lily) or 2016 (new record for consecutive highs over 90–somewhere in the realm of 50+ straight days), I’ve been dealing with the consequences of going 9000mph in my job for the last four years straight. Having finally received my first federal grant last December, and in my first semester (including summers) since Spring 2016 where I haven’t had a course to teach, I’ve taken this summer to try and recover a bit from some very serious burnout, starting with our anniversary trip to Ireland in mid-May.
At the same time, this summer has been the hottest we’ve had since that brutal summer in 2016 with 50+ consecutive days with highs over 90 and lows above 70. It hasn’t quite reached that level, but evidently this past July was on par with July 2016, the standing record. That, plus the two weeks of travel in May to Ireland, a week of travel in June to Tucson AZ, and a week of travel in July to Austin TX–all of which was AWESOME, by the way–has been tough to maintain a regular base-building regimen through.
But Caitlin has been patient with my schedule, encouraging in my foibles, and supportive in my successes AND everything in between. I particularly want to point out how she’s gently (but firmly) turned me away from what I perceive as failures, and encouraged me to celebrate wins, even when I felt like a workout was a total bust. This is absolutely the part I have the most trouble with, and not just in running–I forsake the broader success to instead focus exclusively on the one thing that didn’t go as well as I’d hoped. She’s been great in keeping me focused on the bigger picture, and the progress I’ve been making over the weeks and months.
It’s been working. I didn’t break any landspeed records at Peachtree this year, but I did finally break a 4-year slide of consecutively-slower races, coming in right around 51:30 and beating last year’s time by over two full minutes (and under brutal conditions, too). I even felt like I had some gas left in the tank at the end!
The workouts have been equally encouraging, even just in the past few days: Saturday was my first long run (8 miles) since I started feeling that pull in my knee, so not only was I apprehensive about how my knee would hold up, but also about how I’d handle longer distance in the heat after nearly two weeks on the bench. I finished the run but the last 3 miles was a slog (just because of the weather–my knee held up great!).
Fast-forward all of three days later to a 5.25-mile tempo run, and I did it 1) at 11am, so the sun was already beating down pretty hard, and 2) with 8:20-pace segments in it, and I felt great!
I’m excited for what the next four months will bring. This summer has felt restorative, even though I accomplished almost none of what I’d had on a “list” of things that I could potentially do. At the end of the day, you can’t put a price tag on recovering from burnout; while three months of recuperating will never fully compensate for four years of mindless and endless hard work, and while I wasn’t able to pick up any of the personal projects that have languished for years now, this summer still fulfilled its role of restoration and self-care. And I got a solid marathon base to boot 🙂
I still haven’t set a PR in one of the four major categories (5K, 10K, Half, Full) since 2014. But man, am I racking up the mileage like it’s 2014!
This past week I hit a whopping 43.78 miles, which is 6th on my all-time list. Note that the 40-mile week from January is a little further down the list… and nowhere will you find anything from 2016 or 2017.
As for me? Honestly, no idea. I haven’t gone into a half marathon with a mind to set a PR (or even feeling like there was a chance of doing so) in literally years. Now, I doubt I could expect to go into this with any realistic shot of breaking my 1:41 from 2014, but I may very well have a realistic shot of running my best half since the Georgia Publix Half the first April we were in Athens; the last few half marathons (1:48, 1:53, 1:46, 1:48) have been consistently under 1:50 (and by a decent margin) after a year of being consistently over 1:50 (by an equally decent margin).
Yeah yeah, it’s March already and this is pretty much my first blog post of the year, despite saying I would blog more often. It’s a work in progress.
At any rate, January started off well, but February was marred by my first injury of the year: some kind of inner knee muscle/tendon pull. I can’t be more specific because I’m honestly not sure what it was, but during runs I was starting to feel a “pull” in my left knee (inside the right part of the socket). I thought perhaps it had something to do with a really tight inner left groin tendon I’d been trying to stretch over the previous couple weeks, but even now I have no solid proof.
You can see the progression of it pretty starkly:
After recording my highest single-week mileage since April 2015 (!), I was starting to feel that pull during the workouts the following week. It’d go away–like it was a muscle that needed to be warmed up–but by the time Saturday’s long run came around, it wasn’t going away. Hence, a 2.6-mile run was all before I bagged it.
The next week was rest, followed by cross-training of ellipticals and rowing machines. I did try to run on it that first Thursday on the treadmill, but quit after only 0.4mi as I could feel the pulls getting tighter with each step. Wasn’t worth it.
In addition to heavy cross-training, I also brought back some single-leg workouts I picked up from PT back in Pittsburgh. All that together seemed to do the trick: I ran 8 pain-free miles the following Saturday, and then slowly upped my mileage over the next week with no problems.
I’ve since been congratulated many times on showing restraint in how I approached the injury, and the abundance of caution I exercised. I missed 100 miles in February (had 82.98), and my race fitness for the Albany Half this past weekend certainly took a hit, but a week off running that results in missing a small mileage goal and slightly degraded tune-up performance versus potentially multi-week (multi-month?) downtime? I’ll take the former, thanks.
This is actually our third year participating in the event–Strava was kind enough to remind me of this fact and show me the trend over those years in my performance.
This year (as with every year, I think) I went in with pretty low expectations. The Lady and I had just had a brutal work week, including at least one night for both of us where we didn’t get more than a few hours’ sleep. And I’d missed a week of training a only a few weeks before, courtesy of the aforementioned injury. Still, I was hoping to put in a performance at least on par with last year’s. Furthermore, The Lady was treating the race as a tune-up for Eugene, and with her job promotion formalized on Friday, she wanted to see just how much wind she had at her back! And I, of course, wanted to see if I could keep up 🙂
Things certainly started off with a bang: I got a little caught up with the fast-packers, especially since The Lady was out to see what she could do at the halfway point for our Eugene race in late April. The first few miles were a bit faster than I’d originally planned:
8:04, 8:10, 8:06, 7:51
Still, I’ve internalized over the past few years that one should not look a faster-than-anticipated mile gift horse in the mouth. Instead, consider it a gift of buffer space if needed later in the race when things aren’t clicking quite as well.
Somewhere within the first mile, one of our own Athens Road Runners snapped my picture.
I kept considering slowing down, but around mile 2.5 was a water stop, and I was slowly passed by a group of steady-paced racers, and I just decided I’d hang with them for as long as I could. I was also intent on focusing only on the mile I was on: do what felt good, and worry about the later miles when I got there.
8:00, 8:08, 8:08, 7:56
Still rock-solid pacing, though after the very first mile I didn’t look at my paces, opting to go entirely by feel. I was also definitely starting to feel the pain at this point, my week off from running thrown into sharp relief. I yearn for the days when flat-8s for 13.1 miles feels like a manageable workout instead of a race, but that was not this day.
At this point, I definitely had to start letting that pacing group go, as I just wasn’t feeling it anymore. There was a long, uncovered stretch on a main city drag around mile 8.5; it’s right when things start getting hard, it’s completely unshaded, and it’s long and straight and pretty much flat as a pancake (with a slight uphill, if anything). That one hits pretty hard, and I knew it would be a slog from there.
Yeah, definitely in pain at this point. I was still focused on just the current mile, but I had resumed checking my mile splits, which didn’t help my mental game. I did, however, blast Wonder Woman’s Wrath (and again as I neared the finish). That helped.
This was really freaking painful. I felt completely gassed and just wanted to cross the finish line. I will say, though–I didn’t feel any of what, until now, had become almost a refrain of being angry with myself at this point in the race for not performing as well as I thought I should’ve been. Certainly a mental game improvement!
The Lady got some pretty awesome pictures of me coming into the finish at a surprisingly-brisk 7:17 pace for the last 0.3 (ok, 0.1, but my watch measured 13.3 so):
Floating Achievement Unlocked.
Killer toe-off form.
I crossed the finish line at 1:48:16 (unofficial), which set a new course record for me by about 15 seconds!
It wasn’t a hammer-drop shatter-the-ceiling outing; it was a 15-second improvement over last year, though about 90 seconds slower than last November’s Chickamauga. And it’s still a good 7 minutes beyond my still-standing 2014 half PR. But it did tell me a few valuable things:
My mental game is slowly improving. My focus on each individual mile is a small, albeit crucial, step forward. I can’t run with reckless abandon if I’m counting down the miles the whole time.
Taking some time off if something is making running physically uncomfortable is always, always, always a good decision. Even if you rage against it at the time.
It’s slow, sometimes agonizingly so, but physically I seem to be getting back into things as well. The last three years have been marked by an almost token ~1:53 half marathon time, but in the last year I’ve seen more 1:48s than 1:53s. That’s still a ways off from my PR, but again it’s a definite sign of progress.
Snickers are delicious.
In a couple weeks I’ll be doing a fun 15K trail race, and then in late April it’s off to Eugene, OR for the half marathon, while The Lady aims for her second BQ!
And the past few months have been the most insane months, professionally, of my life. So my running has nonetheless been at a kind of treading-water standstill until I can get things under some modicum of control.
My year-over-year running stats aren’t terribly impressive, though I am glad I crossed the almighty 1000-mile mark. Still, didn’t come close to the monstrous 2014 (I have no idea how I did that; I had a freaking wedding, a dissertation defense, and a relocation that year).
This year has been frustrating. I was really hoping it’d be a comeback year for me after last year’s extremely lackluster and injury-prone antics, but that was derailed early on by an injury that just wouldn’t go away, and then further put on hold by a professional life that rode burnout for a couple months. The month-by-month breakdown throws this into sharp relief:
Take a look at the last few months of 2015, and the first few months of 2016, in comparison to the rest of 2016 (from May onwards): they’re night and freakin’ day.
(This month has been a little weird with travel, sickness, and general burnout recovery, but I’m hoping I can ramp things up in the next 10 days and still hit 100 miles)
October’s Ath Half was a wake-up call that my body has been responding to the training without my consciously realizing it–that I’m slowly getting stronger even if I don’t really feel that way. So now, I want to see if I can start to capitalize on that.
Obviously that would take the form of more frequent structured workouts (I currently do…ZERO!) in the form of speed work at the track and tempo runs. Additionally, I’d like to maintain the current level of weight-training (sessions with Matt are pretty awesome) and hopefully throw in some more cross-training (yoga, erg, cycling).
Of course, this is all going to depend on what my spring shapes up to be. Right now, I’m slated to teach yet another brand-new course, so at least initially that’s going to take up all my time and energy. But since it’s only one course, as opposed to the two from this past fall, I’m crossing my fingers that it won’t be such a time sink.
The Lady will be going for her next BQ attempt–Glass City in April–and I’m toying with the idea of hiring her coach to be mine as well. I really want to get back on the horse, and I think adding some structure and accountability to someone other than myself will be the best way to do it. I’m just not sure what form that should take:
Should I go for the sub-1:40 half marathon? I’ve been in that hunt for almost 5 years, and achieving that would feel really freaking good.
Should I go for the sub-4 hour marathon? I’m still convinced my current 4:17 is a soft PR, and with the right training it could tumble.
The half obviously is more conducive to someone with a tight work schedule, but in some ways I feel like the full would be less stressful and a good way to get my mental game back on track as well as my physical game.
To those of you who stop running because it became tiresome and grindy: I absolutely get it.
The last year of running has been the most unproductive and least enjoyable that I’ve ever had. It’s come from a really bad combination of 1) stressful job that hasn’t let up in this time frame, and 2) bad, lingering injuries that have been extremely slow to heal. I’ve had to mentally put myself in the position of essentially starting from scratch, albeit with the knowledge of having once run 5×1600 with 6:20 splits and a half marathon PR of 1:41.
“Frustrating” is putting it kindly. So when someone expresses their own frustration with running, or dreads going out for a run, or drops it entirely for these reasons, I totally get it.
But if you manage to catch a glimpse of light at the other end, a whiff of progress out of the seemingly-endless grind, it is beautiful.
With very few exceptions, my running the last several months has been consistent down to the week: mid-20s’ worth of mileage.
It’s just that so little of it was actually fun. That the majority was during the absolutely horrific summer we suffered through this year probably didn’t help much, but an enjoyable run in this stretch was the exception, not the rule.
Sheer determination to hit 20+ miles each week, seeing how many weeks in a row I could do it, and stubborn refusal to give up on it were just about the only reasons I kept going out every day. That, and trying to keep my endorphin levels as high as possible with the stress of work. If I wasn’t running, I wasn’t working out, period. And I needed to work out.
So I kept running. But it wasn’t confidence-inspiring; if anything, it did the opposite. When almost every run hurt, my already-dim view of my own abilities only drooped further. It probably doesn’t come as much surprise, then, that when Ath Half rolled around, I was just hoping not to thoroughly embarrass myself.
You can argue that one’s finishing time ultimately doesn’t matter. And you’d be 100% correct! The problem is, once you actually hit the road, that just doesn’t matter anymore. The fact that I haven’t run a half marathon in over 2 hours since 2010 weighed heavily on me as I considered possibly exceeding 2 hours in this race, given how miserable my runs had been.
I was telling everyone ahead of Ath Half that I just wanted to come in under 2 hours.
Truthfully–as runners do–I had in the back of my mind that I wanted to come in under 1:55, since my 2015 Ath Half time was somewhere around low-1:54. C’mon, I thought: at least make a run at last year’s time, right?
But I had absolutely no gauge for what I could do. The last half marathon I’d run in recent memory was the brutal downhill Scream Half, where I posted a respectable 1:53, but the insaneelevation change obviated any possibility of comparison. Plus, that was all the way back in June. I had no barometer against which to infer my limits.
And, because the aforementioned summer sucked so freaking much, I wasn’t putting much stock in my abilities. Hence, sub-2 sounded like a treat to me.
Enter race day.
One of our running buddies, Jonathan, was the 1:40 pacer. A bunch of ladies on the Fleet Feet running team were going to hang with him. Going in, I figured I’d stick with the group for the first mile for the lulz, then just coast the rest of the way to the finish. An eclectic plan for sure; it also betrayed just how not-seriously I was taking this race.
(and belied how much I was dreading it)
Still, the weather was quite a bit nicer from Ath Half 2015. That year, it was muggy as hell, and I suffered quite a bit as a result. But while the more pleasant weather was certainly welcome, it did nothing to assuage the dark recesses of my mind worrying about the hills on the back half of the course. They’d be there no matter how nice the weather was.
Thus began the race.
It was clear within the first couple of blocks that I wasn’t going to stick with the 1:40 group; I let them go pretty quickly after the start. Still, I knew I was being pulled along at a decent clip by all the folks around me, so I focused on slowing down.
Cool! But too fast, let’s try to draw it back a little.
Wow, that’s neat. But still too fast. Pull back on the throttle.
Hmm. Is the throttle busted?
Yeah: first 5 miles of the race in 40 minutes flat. I was not expecting that. But at the same time, I knew it was the flattest 5 miles I’d get, so I really, really needed to slow down, no seriously guys, for real, time to slow down.
Somewhere around this time, I caught up to The Lady, who’d fallen off the 1:40 group. I walked alongside her for a bit, checking in and making sure she was ok. I was also confident at this point that I no longer had to worry about living through my WORST NIGHTMARE of coming in over 2 hours (by my math, would’ve had to run 10-minute miles for the remaining distance for this to be a problem).
Turns out, we weren’t far from the next water stop, at which point The Lady stopped there for a bit to collect herself, and I started back up running again. I could feel that my legs were definitely getting heavy, and we’d only just started with the hills. Welp, I figured, I wasn’t going to set any landspeed records anyway. Let’s just see what happens.
I was mentally kicking myself at every mile, as I kept watch-hawking. I couldn’t seem to help myself; I was going by feel, but at the same time felt an overwhelming need to check the distance, check my splits, blah blah blah. I knew it was mental, that my mind wasn’t the honed, sharpened, hardened diamond it had once been, and as a result I was doing things and engaging in habits that were counter-productive in a race environment. But the discipline just wasn’t there. I tried to shake it off and just keep on going.
Yep, definitely slowing down (though I did walk this mile…).
Huh, apparently not.
This is where it started getting hard: the hills kept coming and my mental game wasn’t improving. Turning down some extremely rolling terrain, I tried to focus entirely on the relief I still felt that it was nigh-impossible at this point to finish in over 2 hours.
Still, that damn hill coming out of River Rd is effing brutal. I used the water stop there as an excuse to stop and re-tie my right shoe, which had become loose enough that it was becoming a distraction. I recalled at the starting line it had crossed my mind to double-knot my shoes, then something shiny must’ve come along. Go me.
At this point I was coming into the home stretch where we loop around the stadium a few times. It’s both electrifying (lots of cheering sections) and deflating (so close to the finish for so long). I was still allowing myself to slow considerably on uphills; I’d like to say it was because I was refusing to walk at any point, but really it was because I was just mentally lazy and knew that I’d come in under 2 hours, so who cares about shaving off a few seconds on this hill.
Then I finally did the math–wait, I’m less than a mile out and barely into the 1:40s? I CAN BREAK 1:50?!
I tried to kick, I honestly did. My legs were burning pretty good at this point, and my chest felt like it was being compressed by an anvil, but for once in the entire race I managed to push my mental laziness aside and give it everything I had left–an average 6:43 pace.
I couldn’t believe it.
I just finished Ath Half–ATH HALF–not only faster than last year, but under 1:49!
For comparison, here’s the mile-by-mile breakdowns of Ath Half 2016 versus last year:
2015 mile splits.
This year’s mile splits.
This year’s cadence.
One hell of an improvement!
This is not to say I’M BACK B#^*%ES. I still have a ton of work to do. My cadence fell off considerably, especially in the last few miles. Given my foot issues from the last year, cadence is the one thing that I absolutely cannot slack on; it needs to stay above 160, preferably around 170.
Speaking of slacking, my mental game is a joke. I had absolutely zero capacity to settle in, let the world around me disappear, and just let go and go. I kept glancing at my watch at least a couple of times each mile, I kept oscillating between worry about the next hill and worry about embarrassing myself. And I had no ability to push myself in the last few miles, instead getting lazy and just slowing down, even though I clearly still had gas left in the tank. Speedwork and tempo runs will help with this, though.
And hills–in a not-so-distant previous life, a source of strength and motivation–have become borderline intimidating. That’s a little worrisome; downhills have always been hard for me, but it’s helped that I always got a boost out of uphills, even if it was only psychological.
But! Yes, there is, in fact, a “but.”
There’s a core here worth building on. Something has clearly been clicking for the past several months, to the point where I could run a sub-1:50 under less-than-ideal conditions; my previous sub-1:50 performance was at last year’s Chickamauga Battlefield half marathon. Absolutely perfect conditions–extremely gentle hills, near-freezing temperatures, and perfectly sunny–and it was still a squeaker: I came in somewhere around 1:49:57, and only after redlining the last two miles to do it.
I had time to spare this year, on a much harder course. Time that, of all things, I spent being mentally lazy on the final climbs. Had I really pushed myself that last 5K, who knows how much room under 1:50 I would’ve had.
I’ve been telling people how this past year has basically felt like starting over from zero, except with all the knowledge and experience of “I used to be able to do this…”, which has made it so easy to be so hard on myself. It’s been true in a big sense: I’ve had to accept limitations I haven’t experienced since I started running, and at that time I was blissfully unaware of said limitations.
That’s made it hard. Really hard. Which is why I understand if you’ve been in this position and have chosen to walk away and try something else. And who knows: maybe this race was an anomaly and running will go right back to sucking in the near future.
All I know is something clicked at Ath Half, and for something to click in a half marathon, something has to be clicking for weeks before that. Plus, I told The Lady years ago that I would retire when I broke a 1:35 half marathon; can’t stop now that I’m making headway toward that goal again!
In this case, though: in spite of the brutal heat and humidity that’s been the near-constant in Athens since June, I’ve managed to maintain a decent level of consistency in my running.
Took a 1-week break after the Scream half marathon in early July, but otherwise have been dead-on consistent in my weekly mileage for months now. Foot’s been cooperating, and evidently stress levels have been manageable: my blood pressure at today’s physical (first one in two years) was a positively delightful 118/77. I don’t recall it being under 130/90 since sometime in college!
Although my heart rate was 58. In grad school it got as low as 42. Oh well; we’ll get back there, as evidenced by my consistency of late.
This isn’t to say there haven’t been sucky runs; there have been a lot of sucky runs. The heat has been absolutely stifling–with few enough exceptions to count on just one or two hands, it’s been highs in the mid-90s, lows in the low-70s every single day since June began. Oh, and humidity approaching 100% with 70+ degree dew points.
Basically, a sauna for three months straight. Going outside has been awful.
But just in the past few weeks–and it took me a few weeks to even notice–I was more consistently ending runs feeling strong than I was feeling beat up and run down. Again, still plenty of runs where I wanted to die (just this past Saturday, for instance), but they’re beginning to become the exception, instead of the rule.
This is all to say that, following the entire second half of 2015 that was so inconsistent due to ongoing metatarsalgia, and the beginning of 2016 that was so stressful, all signs would currently seem to indicate that I’m actually finding a groove for the first time in a year.
I just hope I haven’t scared it away with this post.
I don’t have any races coming up, or even any planned races in the moderate future. It’s something of an odd situation; usually I’ve got at least one race per month, but this year I think I’ve run barely 5 races total, and one of them was a team relay. On the one hand, I miss racing, but on the other it’s been nice to just focus on the fundamentals of “me + road” and getting back in the swing of things.
Who knows, maybe the switch will suddenly flip when (if?) the temps start falling, and I’ll go right back to cranking out 20-minute 5ks!…yeah, probably not. But as long as I’m logging mileage, it’s a good thing.
I’m currently sitting in the enormous Oregon Conference Center in Portland, OR for the weeklong PyCon 2016 (where I’ll be speaking later this afternoon, w00t!). However, I wanted to take the brief reprieve–there’s a career fair going on in the main exhibit hall right now, which I arguably don’t need to worry about for at least the next 6 years–to discuss something completely unrelated to Python or science in general (ok, maybe it’s grounded entirely in science, just not in the sort of research I do).
The thought that’s been slowly crystallizing in my mind for the past several months (yes, months) is this idea of “starting over” with running. It’s a tough idea to fully wrap one’s mind around; we certainly remember when we first started running, and we often look fondly at what we once thought of as “long” runs or “fast” runs compared to what we do now. But it never occurs to us–at least, it never occurred to me–that at some point before realities of aging set in, we may essentially have to start from scratch.
Start over. As in, among other things:
3-mile easy-pace runs aren’t hard, but they’re not easy either.
Tempo pace feels hard after the first mile.
Hitting double-digit mileage in one run is really long.
Every single run feels at least a little bit grind-y.
(corollary to the previous point:) I have no idea what this “runner’s high” thing is you keep mentioning.
There are plenty of other little points, and I’m sure everyone could name a few from their own experiences (e.g. coming back from an injury), but the real kicker I want to emphasize in all this: these are things new runners don’t think about. They don’t have the experience or the context to remember previous easy runs that were trulyeasy, or tempo runs that got hard once you were a few miles into the tempo pace, or that it was the 20-milers that were lengthy (10 miles was a cutback run).
Maybe it’s just me and my superhumanly-overactive frontal cortex that runs every little thought into the ground before beating it ad nauseum, but it’s tough to shake the feeling of “this is where I should be in my running” when I don’t perform to my internal expectations.
It was about this time a year ago when I first started seeing a physical therapist in Athens about my nagging metatarsalgia in my left foot. The problem never really improved until months later when I invested in some custom orthotics. Even now, though, it can still be problematic depending on how tired I am and, ultimately, how hard my foot slams into the ground while I’m running.
This injury has resulted not only in a slew of secondary injuries from “compensating” while running (Achilles’ tendonitis, IT band warnings, foot pain)–DON’T DO IT, KIDS; DON’T ALTER YOUR RUNNING FORM–but it’s necessitated a huge pullback in the total mileage I’ve logged. I barely crossed 1000 miles last year after logging nearly 1600 the previous year, and right now I’m on track to do about the same as last year. Only in the last several weeks have I managed a sustained training regimen in the 20+ weekly mileage range.
The thought bouncing around my head for months but which I’ve only just started fully elucidating is this: I’m essentially starting over.
My paces and average mileage hearken back to an era nearly half a decade ago, when I was just getting into running and had no frame of reference for any of these concepts. In some sense, particularly given the context of this post so far, that certainly made the process easier: nothing against which to compare myself. Just pure reckless abandon.
But as The Lady has pointed out numerous times, it doesn’t necessarily have to function as a weight, a reminder of what you once were, and how far you’ve fallen. Instead, it can serve as foundational experience, a guide for how to do things the right way. How many times have we said that if we could do it all again, we’d do it differently?
Of course, this comes with the caveat that we first have to accept that we’re starting from scratch. That’s the part that’s been months in the making for me. All this time, I’ve been implicitly assuming it would take only a short time (weeks? days? who knows) to work out the kinks and get back into fighting form.
If only any part of life were that simple!
No, this is a much more sustained effort; I took months off from running. Yes, I increased my cross-training, throwing down hours upon miles upon hours upon miles on the stationary bike and, weather permitting, my beastly Raleigh Talus, Sybil. But you can’t leave something for months at a time and just jump back in without skipping a beat.
So here I am. I’m not fully healed yet–metatarsalgia requires constant vigilance, and I have to keep up with my PT exercises to hold tendonitis at bay–but the last several weeks have demonstrated more promise than the months before that. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that those same past several weeks have overlapped with the time where the idea that I really was starting over began to consciously take hold.
Hi. I’m Shannon, and I’m a newbie runner looking to build my mileage and crush my PRs.
A few months ago, I finally picked up some custom orthotics for my ongoing metatarsalgia. A couple more weeks’ rest seemed to do the trick: I started running again (under Mark’s direction) and the mileage started ramping up nicely.
Too nicely, of course. My right Achilles tendon started bugging me, and from what I know of Achilles injuries, that’s not something to mess around with. I stopped by the local PT shop again, and sure enough he urged me to stop running immediately and let it cool down.
Fast forward a couple weeks, and I started running again without any pain. For awhile. Then, my left foot–the metatarsalgic foot–started hurting in the exact same spot again, in spite of my still wearing the custom orthotics. In response, my right Achilles heel has flared up. Again.
So now I’m just trying to get to the Albany starting line in one semi-functional piece. I successfully logged a 10-mile this past weekend, and while it didn’t feel great (and was pretty slow) it felt solid. At the very least, I have the physical fitness to survive the Albany half marathon.
But I’m getting really, really frustrated by this. Previous injuries–even bad ones, like the infamous IT band of 2013–didn’t take any longer than a few months. This metatarsalgia started up ten months ago. The Achilles pain is newer and seems a bit more under control (eccentric calf raises seem to be doing the trick…when I remember to do them), but I cannot seem to kick the metatarsalgia. Months of PT hardly put a dent in it, and while custom orthotics (expensive ones, I might add) kept it at bay for several weeks, it seems now like the orthotics have shot their bolt.
The Lady has been kicking serious ass in her workouts–she’s chasing the Unicorn this weekend!–and I was hoping I’d be able to start building back to the point of being able to run at least a few miles here and there with her. No such luck, it would seem.
I can’t describe how insanely frustrating and rage-inducing this is becoming. I barely eked out 1000 miles last year and am on pace for a dismal 2016: barely 100 miles total over the first two months. Running has been my release, my preferred method of relaxing for the past six years, but I can’t seem to log more than a mile or two every few days, if that.
I see friends running halves and fulls, going through the training, doing the work, and notching spectacular accomplishments; The Lady’s meteoric improvements have been nothing short of astounding. But I’ve been relegated fully to the sidelines, unable to even run them into the finish lines or see them off from the starting line. I’ve skipped more Saturday morning long runs and Monday evening group runs than I care to count, and given the rigors of my professional life those are pretty much the only times I have to see and socialize with friends in a relaxed setting, to say nothing of letting much-needed endorphins saturate my tissues.
I know I’m supposed to throw out an “aw shucks, I’m keeping my chin up” line somewhere but honestly I’m just not feeling it. I’ve had enough work lately to keep me distracted for a hundred lifetimes (conferences in New York and Las Vegas in consecutive weeks; posts forthcoming), but I’m a runner, dammit. When I don’t run, I get angry. That’s just kind of how it works for me. Ellipticals and stationary bikes, while wonderful inventions whose praises I sing every single day, can never be anything more than temporary stopgap measures, not permanent training strategies.
So here I am, four days out from Albany. My left foot is niggling, my right heel is questionable, and my fitness is “merely sufficient” for the task. Not exactly the lights-out dominating aura I’d hoped to exude upon arrival, but given the circumstances I suppose just making it to the starting line is a plus.
Here’s hoping something breaks my way. In the meantime, everyone send The Lady some good vibes! She’s done the work and has endured a lot of crazy ups and downs, but she’s ready. More than ready.
I have a few, though they all ultimately converge on one single, broad resolution: get back into the thick of things.
I spent the better part of 2015 with an extremely finicky metatarsal, resulting in my lowest annual running mileage to date (since I started keeping track, at least): 1,018 miles. I’m glad I got over 1,000, but it’s quite a bit less than 2014’s monster 1600+. And that mileage came with a wedding, a thesis defense, and a cross-regional move! 2015, what’s your excuse?
…oh right. Injury. Ahem.
So like I was saying: getting back on that running train is my #1 goal. More specifically, though, there are a couple other milestones I want to hit.
1500+ miles. I miss the uber mileage, I really do. Notching my first 200-mile month was awesome, to say the least. I’d like to hit that again this year if I can, but more importantly I want to get back into consistent high mileage.
Sub-1:40 half marathon. It’s been on my mind ever since break 1:45 back in early 2012; numerous setbacks since then have kept this goal on the back burner, but it’s simmered there. Boiled. Came close to exploding when I hit 1:41 practically on the nose in 2014. Due to injury this past year, my best half performance was a 1:49–made more impressive by the fact that all I did to train was bike obscene distances–but with Mark as my coach for the Albany half in March, I’m confident this is a very real possibility.
Race weight. The holiday season is great for visiting family, not so great if you’re trying to maintain a race weight. I’m not picky, but I do recognize that I can run faster when I’m not carrying extra pounds around. 210lbs is my goal; definitely achievable.
Bench press. An injury I haven’t discussed here: sometime in the latter part of 2015, I injured my left shoulder. Still not sure how, but suffice to say it was pretty bad: a good month of complete and total rest had to go by before I could start PT-type exercises, and only recently have I been able to really hit the strength training again. My bench press is about as low as I can ever remember–I just did 4×10 of 135lbs this very morning, which is along the lines of what I did as a freshman in high school–so I’d like to get back into fighting form there as well. I’m well on my way, but I want to get back to the 225lbs reps of a year ago.
Blogging! Oh man did blogging take a backseat as last fall went on. All told, I managed a paltry 31 blog posts across 3 blogs; 19 of those on this one. Over a whole year. That’s pretty sad! So I’m changing things up a bit this year: this blog will still be here, and I’ll keep using to discuss my running / athletic escapades, but I’m closing up shop at my other two blogs and consolidating them in a new github-based static blog: http://magsol.github.io/ . I’m still getting it up and running but I made great strides over the holiday break; it’s just about done. I figure between two blogs I can manage a more respectable update frequency.
And remember: don’t hate on the resolutioners in the gym. We were all there once as workout newbies. Encourage them to stick it out beyond January!
Any interesting running goals / resolutions for 2016?
This hasn’t exactly been a banner year for me with running.
Most of it is due to one big factor I don’t really have much control over: injury (metatarsalgia). That’s come under a bit more control lately, as I received the first of two sets of custom orthotics a few weeks back and can already tell they’re helping redistribute weight where it’s supposed to be and allowing the irritated joints to actually start healing.
That being said, I’m still injured, and my running mileage is still in the tank. I’ve logged barely 950 miles this year; I may yet break 1000, but I’m on track to set the lowest annual mileage since I started tracking it on Garmin Connect.
Of course, the flip side of the injury is the innumerable personal records I’ve set in cycling. This year alone, I’ve logged more cycling workouts, more cycling mileage, and simply more time on the bike than 2011-2014 combined. I have nearly 650 miles on the bike this year, and really that’s all been in the last 6 months. Not too shabby!
All this is to say: I’m hungry to get back into the mix.
The Lady ran an incredible marathon (go read about it!) under the direction of her coach. Given her goal of catching the unicorn this spring, there is absolutely no way I can expect her to help me get back on my feet with running. But I’ve been out of the game so long, I can tell my mental acumen is not nearly where it once was; while I’m still not 100% physically, my biggest weakness is far more mental than physical right now.
As such, I’ll also be hiring The Lady’s coach; not to catch a unicorn, but to get me back into fighting form. I’m going to need someone to help me set goals and to keep running when I want to quit. My mental game was my greatest Achilles’ heel even before I was injured; it’s likely a veritable sea monster now, and I’ll need help taming it once more.
Yes, I netted a sub-1:50 half marathon at Chickamauga last month, despite being injured and running a grand total of 90 miles over all of September, October, and November combined (including the race itself). I even managed to feel phenomenal while doing it. But while it’s pretty thrilling to be able to hit sub-1:50 while subsisting purely on long bike rides (50-mile rides are not trivial, bee tee dubs), it’s fleeting. It doesn’t stick with me. It doesn’t stoke the fire in my belly. The thought of a sub-1:50 half marathon is fun, but doesn’t make me bolt out of bed.
The thought of a sub-1:35 half, on the other hand, most certainly does.
I want to run with reckless abandon again. I want to race a half marathon, putting my heart and soul into it; feeling like I’m tearing to shreds in the final miles and the only thing holding it all together is sheer force of will. I want to race a full marathon, gritting my teeth through the final 10K while stubbornly putting one foot in front of the other in a staunch refusal to accept anything less than my first sub-4hour finish. I want to haul ass while feeling like death warmed up, confident that nothing and no one could coax a single rate constant’s worth more ATP reactions out of my muscles at this moment than I am right now.