The bumpy road to recovery

Good news! I made it through my first race since I got injured. It was not quite the marathon I set out to do; in fact, at 4.2km it was exactly 10% of my original goal. But, it was a start.

Spring into Shape is a series of three races held over, you guessed it, spring. I entered the 4.2km race for September, 8.4km for October and 12.7km for November. As explained in my last post, now that I’ve (mostly) let go of the marathon dream, I’m pretty excited about building back up to 12.7km.

Since injuring my foot, my runs have been limited to 3-4km plods. Even at these small distances, I can sometimes feel pain niggling under the ball of my right foot. So, despite knowing I could easily do the distance, I was a bit nervous when I lined up on Sunday 18 September  for the first race.

Happily, the race went really well. It was a gorgeous day, there were lots of similarly excited people and I was thrilled to be back at a start line. Aside from slight pain on a steep incline at 3km – and really, who doesn’t hurt going up hills?! – my foot came through for me. Hurrah!

One of the few nice things about being injured is I’ve stopped worrying about pace, time, calories burned, form and all those others things it’s easy for runners to get swept up in. I just want to run. This being said, I was happy to note I ran a pace of just under 6 mins per kilometre. It’s slower than I’d usually run in a short race, but it was nice to realise I’m not yet reduced to crawling!

I must admit my foot has been a bit sore since the race. It was fine until Tuesday when I made the unwise decision of running with a heavy backpack. Thankfully, I’ve now learned to recognise the warning signs which tell me to slow down and rest. I’ll be walking for the next few days before hopefully running 5-6km on the weekend.

And then? 8.4km on Sunday 23 October, here I come! I think I can, I think I can, I think I can….

 

 

 

 

New goals

I am sloooowly increasing the distance I run each week. The week before last was three 3km runs, this week was three 4km runs and next week is three 5km runs (are you seeing a pattern here?).

Although it’s very frustrating, I’ve realised that two of things I really enjoy about running are the feeling of freedom and the sense of achievement. Ironically, being forced back to the beginning has actually restored those feelings.

There was nothing fun or free about trying to train for a marathon with an injury. Cutting back on distances while recovering meant I incessantly worried I wasn’t training enough; setting out on long runs made me fret my foot would give out half-way and I’d have to limp home. Basically, I was training for an unrealistic goal which, unsurprisingly, was not at all rewarding.

There’s a certain sense of relief in returning to a running program that I already know I can easily do. As well safely building up my mileage, I’m also slowly regaining confidence in my ability as a runner. I’ve even entered my next three events! The Spring into Shape series is held once a month in September, October and November. I have entered the 4.2km, 8.4km and 12.7km events, respectively.

The thought of running nearly 13km fills me with joy. Suddenly, I have a goal again! It’s certainly not the one I set out to achieve, but making it to 13km injury-free seems both realistic and, more importantly, sustainable. I would rather take my time building up to that distance again than risk permanent injury. I’ve had quite enough “no running” time, thank you very much.

There’s 8 days to go until the first event and I’m already excited. Suddenly it’s not the distance that seems important, but that rush of adrenaline that comes from lining up at the start.  I want that sense of pride that comes from knowing I’ve trained to be part of the race. 13km is certainly not what I set out to run, but it’s something, and I’m slowly learning to be grateful for that.

Onwards and upwards I plod

Last week I went for two absolutely awesome runs; those ones where you jump mid-air because it’s fun, smile at strangers while waiting patiently at traffic lights, and generally feel like you could run forever.

Those are the runs every runner keeps going for. They are awesome.

It was only once I got on to long-distance (relatively speaking) running that I realised it could be like that. I assumed that feeling was only achievable if I was running to the point of exhaustion. It has therefore taken all my willpower to stick to my ‘three very short runs per week’ regime.

Here’s the funny thing: neither of last week’s awesome runs were more than 5km. What a massive relief to realise that feeling of exhilaration is still within reach!

I wish it hadn’t taken an injury and an aborted marathon training attempt to make me realise this, but,  I really do like running, no matter the distance. I’ve just got to keep my reminding myself of that.

And then there were two

I’ve put this moment off for a long time. Five weeks, to be precise. I’ve been through denial, anger and bargaining. Yet, somewhere in the back of my mind, from the moment I limped across that half-marathon finish line, I suspected this day might come.

I am withdrawing from the marathon.

There, I’ve said it. Now that you know the reason for my absence from this blog, I hope you can imagine the howls of anguish I’ve unleashed over the past few weeks.

My poor, bung right foot, which so bravely carried me through 24 weeks of half-marathon training, has finally given up on me. Orthotics, calf raises, ice, rest, more ice and more rest have proved no match for the sheer bastardity of genetics.

My mismatched footprints have long been a source of amusement for friends; my left foot is arched, my right is flat. Or, as my sports podiatrist puts it, the left “functions properly”, the right does not. While orthotics do even things up a bit, there’s no denying my right foot gets more of a pounding. And like a bullied child, it has finally said ‘no more’.

My arch hurts, my tendons hurt, my ankle hurts, it all hurts. The annoying bit is, it’s actually not that bad when I’m running; it’s more the lingering pain for the other 23 hours of the day that’s a problem.

I went back to my sports podiatrist today, desperately hoping he’d have a miracle cure. I did a few runs up the corridor and things seemed ok. He cautiously suggested I might be able to run/walk the 42.2km. Hope glimmered…and then came the prodding. A few pokes of the arch, a lot of yelping from me, and the great 2011 Melbourne Marathon Death Bell sounded.

Not only am I banned from running a marathon this year, I’m only allowed to run 3km three times a week. 9km a week! After building up to 30+! Doooooom. If my foot holds up, I might be able to do a 4km run next week. And, if I’m a really good kid, I can maybe even run the 10km on October 9. Whoop-dee-shit.

So, it’s with a fair amount of self-pity and petulance that I resign myself to watching the 2011 Melbourne Marathon from the sidelines. I will, of course, be cheering Meghan and Matt on wholeheartedly, and I will continue to post on this blog.

In a few days, the rational part of my brain will kick in and I will appreciate the need to stop running now before a more permanent injury takes hold. Today, however, I am releasing my inner child, stomping my one good foot, and crying ‘why oh why oh why oh why?!’

Injuries and victories

Well it’s been another three weeks since I last wrote here. In great news, I completed the Run Melbourne half-marathon, hurrah! In not-so-great news, Run Melbourne is the only decent run I’ve had during my absence from this blog.

I got myself a delightful foot injury 10 days before the race, lucky me! So, it’s been three weeks of extreme tapering (ie no exercise), icing, taping and podiatrist visits, all mixed up with more than a hint of frustration.

I thought these weeks of inactivity would hammer home how much time marathon training takes up and the toll it takes on my body; I certainly reflected on those things, but I was happy to note running is still something I actually enjoy and I miss it very much when I can’t do it.

On that note, here goes with my thoughts on getting through short-term running injuries without losing all interest in running:

1) Accept it. Running injuries don’t go away just because you don’t want them.

2) Seek advice. When my foot swelled up during a run and I couldn’t go any further, I knew I needed help. My podiatrist said I had inflamed the tendons in my right foot and would keep causing damage until I treated it. So much for my ‘it’s nothing’ theory.

3) Rest, even if it’s the last thing you want to do. At 10 days from the half, I should have been tapering (cutting back on training). Instead of doing the anticipated slightly shorter runs, I was ordered to stay off my feet completely. It certainly didn’t help pre-race nerves, but resting did allow my foot to heal enough for the race.

4) Adjust expectations. The interesting thing about my enforced rest period and all the anxieties that went with it – eg ‘will I lose all my fitness?’, ‘have I done enough?’ – was I realised that all I really wanted was to run the race. I didn’t care if I had to hobble across the finish, get a ‘terrible’ time or even come last (hello, memories of high school gym class), I just wanted to line up at the start and get over that finish line knowing I’d done my best.

As it turns out, that last point was essential. In a cruel twist of irony, come race day my foot was fine. Slightly sore, but nothing adrenaline couldn’t block out. I wish I could say the same for my left knee! Shortly after the half-way mark, both legs started cramping to the point where I couldn’t run. After walking for thirty seconds or so, the pain lessened. More accurately, it concentrated itself on a singular left knee joint.

The next 11km were, well, painful. I did indeed have to hobble towards the finish line, not last but certainly not breaking any speed records. And yes, I even got passed by an 80 year old. It was in that last very painful lap that I was almost thankful for my foot injury. The same ‘I just want to run the race’ mentality which got me through 10 days of enforced rest also allowed me to grit my teeth and drag my bung leg over that finish-line to collect my medal. Heck, I even broke a smile!

Being injured put things in to perspective and reminded me that races are motivating, empowering and fun simply because of the experience; sometimes training and then giving it a go on the day are enough of an adventure in themselves.

I’m now hoping this mentality will get me through marathon training and race day. My podiatrist has given me firm instructions: I am to follow a very basic program, do only the minimum amount of training mileage, and not attempt any speedwork. All of these things mean I’ll again be plodding, not sprinting, towards that finish-line, which to me is infinitely preferable than having to drop out halfway in excruciating pain.

Injury or no injury, I am determined to make it to the 9 October start-line. Marathon, here I (slowly) come!

Keep going

PIcture of energizer bunnyDistance: 80km (175.63km total)
Time:
8 hrs, 45 mins (19 hrs, 7 mins total)

It’s been 2.5 weeks since my last post. An unexpected trip to New Zealand, a funeral and my thesis have all, unfortunately, pushed this blog right down the priorities list. In good news, I’ve managed to stick to my running program. As it turns out, running is rather comforting when your world is a little crazy.

Once my thesis is done and dusted, I’ll be back to regularly posting on here. In the meantime, here’s a summary of my runs over the past weeks:

Saturday 18 June: 17km
Monday 20 June: 5.5km – went to athletics track for first time. Sooo boring!
Wednesday 22 June: 6km
Saturday 25 June: 18km – adrenaline-fuelled long run in windy Wellington
Monday 27 June: 3.5km – early morning beach run
Wednesday 29 June: 12km – final Wellington run. Windy, rainy and generally pretty miserable!
Saturday 2 July: 18km – last really long run before half-marathon. Unmotivated and bored, so took lots of walk breaks.   Was proud of myself for finishing.

Run Melbourne is 13 days away so I’m officially entering the tapering period. Yay! I’ve got two 15km mid-week runs and a few shorter (under an hour) runs left to go. With a bit of luck, I’ll find my mojo and line up on July 17 ready to smash 21.1km. Wish me luck!

Lessons learned (so far)

BullseyeRoute: St Kilda beach run (Saturday); Park St cycle path (Monday); Capital City Trail plus a massive detour (Wednesday)

Distance: 16.25km; 8km; 13km? (95.63km total)

Time: 1 hr, 55 mins; 45 mins; 1 hr, 45 mins (10 hrs, 22 mins total)

I have twin goals for the next four weeks: the submission of my honours thesis on 1 July and the Run Melbourne half-marathon on 17 July. I thought each would provide a welcome distraction from the other, but as the weeks have ticked on I’ve found they’re surprisingly similar.

Here are my reflections as I near crunch-time:

The finish line always seems impossibly far
Four months ago, 21km was an insane distance. I wasn’t sure I could make it. Likewise, writing a thesis seemed like something only suckers-for-punishment would do.

Neither can be completed in one hit
Training for a long distance run involves many shorter runs. In much the same way, writing a thesis requires a huge number of smaller writing sessions. Some are fantastic: you feel like you could run/write forever. Others suck and you feel like you achieved nothing.

Repetition, repetition, repetition
Related to the above point. There’s only so many ways you can spice up the same old running route, or be interested in the chapter you’ve rewritten five times.  There’s no way around it other than to put your head down and keep going.

Routine is essential
It’s easy to have a vague goal in mind. Making and sticking to a plan is a lot harder. Setting days each week, where you know you’ll dedicate a certain amount of hours to running/writing, makes you confident you’re working towards your goal. It also eases the guilt that comes when you finally take a break.

The numbers become an obsession
How many kms did I run today? What’s my total this week? How many words did I write today? How many did I delete? How many more to go?

It feels like you’re getting nowhere, until you suddenly have a break-through
There’s nothing quite like trudging through a bad long run, then realising you went further or faster than you ever had before. Except maybe the feeling of reading a thesis chapter you worked on the night before, and realising it’s 100 times better than you thought when you were tired and fed-up. Those are the awesome moments when you remember why you set the goal in the first place.

The final weeks require patience and trust
Suddenly the finish line seems close, but not close enough. Patience is essential, it’ll be here soon enough.

And, when last-minute nerves hit: ‘have I done enough?’ or  ‘Should I have done more?’, it helps to reflect on your months of preparation. I’m trusting (and desperately hoping!) my work will pay off.

They make you think: “If I can do this, what else can I do?”
I was pretty sure I’d run the half-marathon distance once and then return to much shorter races.  I also began my thesis sure it would be the longest thing I’d ever write.

And here I am signed up for a marathon and contemplating a PhD. Go figure.

What goals have you smashed? What did you learn along the way?

Training summary over the past ten days

Long run: Saturday 12 June. 16.5km, 1 hr 55 mins.  Longest run yet! Felt positive even though it draaaaaaagged.

First group run: Great session with Meghan and Matt. I’ve been doing so many long, slow runs, it was nice to remind myself I can go faster when need be! I reckon these speed demons will be a good influence on me.

12km middle-week run: First half = relentless hills. Second half = lost on a dirt trail. Two hours of pain. Notes to self: when trying a new route, take a map. And, if you look at the altitude graph before you leave and think ‘woah that’s insanely steep’, you should probably consider another path.  Lesson learned.

Next run: Saturday 18 June. 110 mins.

Upping the mileage

Route: Yarra Trail (Wednesday), Clifton Hill, Merri Creek (Friday),  Albert Park (Sunday)
Distance
: 15.25km; 6.5km; 5km +1km warm-up (57.88km total)
Time: 1 hr, 43 mins; 40 mins; 30 mins (5 hr 57 min total)

It’s been a week since my last post, and I’ve managed a few achievements in that time: my longest distance yet and a 5km race.

Last Wednesday, I ran 15.25km in just over 100 minutes. 100 minutes was, to me, a fairly significant achievement. I’ve only run for that long once before, and that time I ran less than 15km.

How did it feel? Pretty good actually!

In the spirit of preparing for the half, and eventually the full marathon, I experimented with a few fuel options. (NB: you know you’re becoming a keeno runner when you refer to food as “fuel”). I plan to write a separate post on running and food, but, in summary, after an hour of running you need to start replacing carbohydrates. So, I tried an energy gel beforehand, and jellybeans throughout.  Talk about a sugar hit; I was buzzing!

It was a sunny 16 degrees when I hit the Yarra Trail. I ran through Abbotsford, to Richmond, past Studley Park Boathouse and back through Yarra Bend Park. The hills were challenging, and the warm weather made me beeline for every water fountain, but I really enjoyed my run. I finished feeling like I could run a further 6km to make up the half-marathon distance. It was awesome.

I therefore felt confident the 5km MS Fun Run a few days later would be a cinch. Again, this will make for another post in itself, but suffice to say, nailing a long run does not mean you’ll be awesome on a much shorter distance. The badly organised start line meant runners and walkers took off together, and I made the rookie mistake of going out too fast in an effort to get around people. After 3km of weaving, I was knackered. I finished in 29:26; not a stellar performance, but a minute less than my last 5km race.

So, lessons learned last week?

1) Sugar hits before and during a long run will make you charge up hills and generally have a great time. The price? A thumping headache and a massive mood slump when the buzz wears off.

2) Fun runs are exactly what the name suggests. They are not the place to aim for a personal best.

How about you? What’s your favourite long run snack? Do you enjoy community fun runs? I look forward to your suggestions and comments.

Long runs and music

Route: Albert Park, Tan track, Fawkner Park
Distance: 13.73km (30.13km total)
Duration: 1 hr, 30 min (3 hrs 4 mins total)
Mood: On fire!

When I started training for the Run Melbourne half-marathon, I decided to go solo; that is, I ditched my mp3 player. I used to love running with music. One of my best running memories is me waiting at the startline of my first 5km race with the Black-Eyed Peas telling me “tonight’s gonna be a good, good night”. Inspiring stuff, I know.

After 18 months of trashy pop songs, however, music no longer motivated me. In fact, I was finishing training sessions in a foul mood: I was bored, convinced I was getting slower by the day, and utterly sick of my mp3 player. Music was an easy scapegoat for everything that annoyed me about running.

When The Non-Runner’s Marathon Trainer encouraged me to abandon the tunes, I didn’t need alot of convincing. On the book’s advice, I started focussing on the freedom of running, the smells and sensations, and the scenery. It took a few tries, but I soon learned to just relax and enjoy the experience of running. And lo and behold, something wonderful happened: I got my mojo back!

It turns out there’s a whole body of research looking at whether distraction techniques, such as music, have a beneficial effect on running performance. It’s summed up as association versus disassociation. Associative runners focus on things like their breathing, posture and pace, while disassociative runners distract themselves with music, mental imagery and daydreaming.

After reading Meghan’s post, for the first time in months I felt like putting my earphones in. On my Saturday morning long run, I brought out my old friend and off I went around Albert Park. After 4.5km, with 10 more to go, I felt great. Off to the Tan track I charged and happily daydreamed my way through the Botanical Gardens. After 67 minutes, I was at the bottom of Anderson St which is famed for its long, steep incline. I popped a couple of jellybeans, chose a particularly peppy S Club 7  track, and bolted up that hill singing “Reach for the stars“. (When I say trashy pop songs, I really do mean trashy).

I finished 13.73km in 90 minutes and felt amazing – like I could go on forever. I thought I must have gone really slowly to have so much energy left, so imagine my surprise when I realised my pace was 15-30 seconds per kilometre faster than usual. This might not sound like much, but it sure makes a difference!

Can I credit my mp3 player for this speedy performance? Maybe. It sure helped the time pass quickly. However, I feel I was also due a good run after the mental fatigue that set in earlier this week.  For the time being, I’m reserving judgement on whether associative or disassociative running is more beneficial, but both clearly offer benefits at different times. A period of associative training (running without music) was just what I needed to remind myself why I love the physical experience of running. Likewise, disassociating, aka zoning out, helped me power through my Saturday long run.

I’ve got months of long, slow runs ahead of me; boredom is inevitable. It’s nice to know mixing it up won’t hurt me. In fact, it might even make me a better runner.

Sticking to the plan

Training run (25 May 2011)
Route:
Clifton Hill, Yarra trail, Edinburgh Gardens
Distance:
10.4km (16.4 kms total)
Time:
1 hr 8 mins (1 hr 44 mins total)
Mood: Happy. Ran with Dany for first 6km. Finished tired but positive.

Over the past 18 weeks  I’ve been training for the Run Melbourne half-marathon (21km) on July 17. I set myself this same goal last year, but I didn’t do the race.  There were external stressors I could easily blame, such as an injury, a stressful job and a heavy studyload, however, the fact is: I didn’t do enough training.

Come race day, when I lined up to do the 10km race instead, I was annoyed at myself for letting surmountable obstacles get in the way. I vowed to return and complete the half-marathon in 2011.

This year I started early and increased my mileage very slowly. I’ve completed my three runs every week, I’ve so far (fingers crossed) stayed injury-free, and I’ve done a practice race at the 14.38km Run for the kids. And so, here I am with 7 weeks of my 25 week schedule to go.

My program has been invaluable. Ticking another box, particularly after a hard run,  is the equivalent of giving myself a gold star or a pat on the head. It makes me feel I’ve achieved something.  Looking back to the start of the program is even better: it reminds me just how far I’ve come and assures me I’ve done enough to make it through 21km.

I am, however, left with the small problem of needing to train for 42 km! Needless to say, this wasn’t in the original plan. If I stick to my half-marathon plan, following Run Melbourne I’ll have 12 weeks to train for the marathon. When I factor in one week recovering from the half-marathon, a trip to London with 2-3 days lost each side due to travel and jetlag, and 3 weeks of tapering, that’s not a lot of training time.

Clearly, I need a marathon training plan I can cling to and trust. I’m still considering the many options, though right now the Furman Institute of Running and Scientific Training (FIRST) plan is looking pretty darn tempting. I’d like to say I’ve got a solid basis for this preference, but really it sold me with a single point: you only have to train 3 days per week instead of the typical 4, 5 or even 6.

These guys have even published a guide called Run Less, Run Faster. I can train 3 days a week AND get faster? It took me all of 30 seconds to punch in my credit card details. Unless I come across a training plan with an even better sell-point (Eat burgers, float like a feather?), this book will be my bible.

When I line up for the Melbourne Marathon, I want to feel prepared. I want to feel like I deserve to be there. Before that, however, I’ve got a half-marathon to enjoy. When I look back over the past 18 weeks, I know that this year I’ll enjoy Run Melbourne. This year, in the words of my partner Dany’s wise father, “proper preparation will prevent piss-poor performance.”

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