The Injuries of March

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.

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Slow and steady, if nothing else.

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.

Wish us both luck!

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Who runs for fun?

In case anyone missed this year’s Boston Marathon:

1: Why did you miss it?
2: It was EFFING AWESOME.

3: How on earth did you miss it?

At any rate, along with the Boston Marathon (and any big marathon event, really) comes the inevitable and immortal discussions about who is a true runner, why marathon events are becoming “less prestigious,” and whether or not you truly deserve that finisher’s medal because you raised $10,000 for cancer research instead of filling the coffers of airlines, hotels, and marathon events all over the US by running as many marathons as you can in the hopes of coming in a few seconds under the Boston Qualifying time.

I wrote a post like this before, but in this case I’m focusing specifically on the supposed dichotomy of “fundraisers” vs “qualifiers”, and whether or not the former reduce the “prestige” of the latter (as defined by the latter, of course). But in the interest of tl;dr, here’s the picture I used to preface that post, because it is oh so relevant:

s/sixth/trillionth/g

I want to illustrate this with an analogy from my hard[er]-core gaming days. Anyone ever heard of Jedi Knight: Jedi Outcast?

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When I was in college, I played this game religiously. One reason in particular that I loved this game was that Jedi Outcast wasn’t your run-of-the-mill first-person shooter; the inclusion of Force powers and lightsabers added an unpredictable element to what would have otherwise been a pretty standard shoot-em-up.

Over my years of playing the game, I noticed the emergence of several distinct player demographics. One in particular was a small, but extremely vocal, group of players we euphemistically referred to as “gunners”: they were phenomenally talented players who were frequently accused of “hacking” (some probably were), but consistently played at an extremely high level. I learned quite a bit from them. While a handful of these players were class acts, most of them (in my anecdotal experiences, anyway) were assholes. They would kick your ass handily, and then gloat about it. That was bad enough, but then (and here’s the punchline), they’d also complain endlessly about the server settings.

See, in Jedi Outcast (and most first-person shooters), the server had a lot of knobs to customize the gameplay. This included things like how often weapons and ammo reappeared, how quickly your “Force energy” regenerated, which weapons and Force powers were available for use…you could even dictate how much gravity the game had! (we had a lot of fun turning off gravity completely and then trying to play Capture the Flag. hilarity ensued.)

These gunners, however, would bitch and moan if you didn’t have a very specific set of parameters on the server; they would claim that you weren’t playing Jedi Outcast “the way it was meant to be played.” Especially if they were actually getting beat (as I started to be able to do in my later years), they would find any little thing they didn’t like and blame that, then in turn blame you for playing on a “n00b server.”

Back to running. Following the Boston Marathon, a discussion on the forums of one of the running groups I followed very much reminded me of a gunner bitching about the Force energy regeneration rate being “too fast.” This exchange in particular:

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Like the gunners of Jedi Outcast, this individual perceived any “dilution” of the competitive running scene as a veritable cancer that would eventually completely eclipse the event–“devolve”, as he put it–and convert everything purely into fundraisers. Which, in his mind, are second-class citizens of running when compared to competitive racing.

There are so many things wrong with this that I don’t even know where to begin. But I’ll try to encapsulate my thoughts for the sake of being explicit.

  1. You don’t own the event, brosef. This was my first and most immediate response to the gunners of Jedi Outcast: if you don’t like the settings of this server, go play on another one. Or, even better, go make your own. Similarly, stop bitching about the event whose waiver you signed and whose registration fee you paid. Provide feedback if you want, but it’s not like they sprung the concept of charity runners on you at the last second. You knew what you were getting into.
  2. Learn analogies. Competitive running is alive and well in the Olympics; by its very definition, you don’t get in unless you meet qualifying times. If that ever changed, hell yes there’d be an uproar. But Boston is not the Olympics, never has been, and never will be. Comparing Boston to the Olympics is a bad comparison and you should feel bad for making it.
  3. Equating “charity runner” with “less prestigious.” This is a pretty low blow, honestly. To take your sport so seriously that you cannot fathom anyone else participating in it unless they went through spades to get there–the unstated presumption here being that you went through spades, therefore everyone else should, too. While I certainly agree in principle, the qualifying time is still there. If Boston were pushing out qualifiers in favor of more charity runners that’d be one thing, but that isn’t what’s happening. Which brings me to my final point…
  4. No data? The statement that Boston “may not have turned away qualifiers this year while allowing non-qualifiers, they certainly  have in the past” has absolutely no basis in reality. Every link I’ve found states that, since 1989, a solid 20,000 slots are available for qualifying runners, and another ~1,500 for charity runners. Unless the very presence of charity runners is being construed as “pushing out qualifiers,” which also seems wrong: charity runners have been part of the Boston Marathon since 1989, and it’s only in the last few years that they’ve actually had problems accommodating all the qualifiers. Maybe it’s because we’re in a running boom?

That’s me trying to be rational. But as we know, these sorts of things usually don’t adhere to any kind of logic. This individual posted Exhibit A to that effect just after:

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This one comment represents everything I abhor about taking your work / sport / life way too effing seriously. You’re so divested from reality that you come up with bullshit analogies like this to justify your unwillingness to acknowledge or respect any alternative approach to said work / sport / life than the one you took.

(yes, in case you’re wondering: that is indeed my own “Like” on that post. what else can you do when someone posts half-baked junk like this?)

I guess my point is this: If you want to qualify for Boston, great! If you want to be a charity runner, great! One [of the many!] awesome thing about running is there are all sorts of different events for all sorts of different runners. Find some you like instead of dictating what running “should be.” You are not a special snowflake. That title is reserved exclusively for Shalane Flanagan and Meb Keflezighi.

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