Sunday, December 26, 2010

First Outdoor Run Following my Stress Fracture

Running again is so sweet!

The last time I saw my doc my foot was still sore and I had felt another pop. His suggestion was to continue with walking and going to the gym, but no running for another 6-8 weeks. I tried, I really did, but once I had gone a couple of weeks with no pain I had to try running. I was smart at least, I started on the treadmill so I could stop instantly and it wasn’t such a hard surface. First I ran ¼ mile, then ½, then one whole mile. Each attempt was followed by a day of rest and if my foot started to hurt I would back off. So far so good, next run 1.5, then 2 and finally 3. Once I could run 3 miles on the treadmill with increasing speed in small increments up to 7 mph, I decided to give the road a try.

It was a beautiful day. Following a long stretch of cold weather, the clear sunny day of 41F felt deliciously warm. I had been running in Vibram Five Fingers on the treadmill, or in socks, but I decided it was warm enough for a short barefoot run. We have a nice .75 mile rubber track on our base that is black so it soaks up the sun nicely. Being the wimp that I am, it would have been too cold to run far on asphalt or cement, but the rubber track was only cold in a few places where it was shaded or damp. To stay close to the gym and on the rubber track, I ran 2 out and backs for a total of 3 miles. It was utterly fantastic! Feeling the ground under my feet and the sun on my face was like coming out of a dark depression. I didn’t wear sunglasses, just let the beautiful rays stream into my eyes to lift my spirits and buoy my steps. I made sure I didn’t push my speed and stayed at a conversational pace so I was really surprised to find I had averaged 10 minute miles! I was thrilled to know all my gym time has paid off and have not lost too much ground. I felt strong and rested and flew over the ground like I hadn’t missed a day! It was really hard to stop at 3 miles, but I think I would lose my mind if I had to wait months to run again so the fear of reinjury kept me in check. Even worse what that the following day the temps were even warmer, but I knew my foot was not ready for running 2 days in a row and so I forced myself to wait.

After a day off, I only ran a very slow mile on the treadmill to warm up before doing a grand tour of the Nautilus machines. When I first explored the weight room here at Osan, I hadn’t lifted weights in longer than I care to admit so I was really struggling that first day. However, the weights have been my big stress relief. Lifting replaced running as a way to take out anger and frustration. That first day, I wrote down how much I could lift for three sets of 8-10 reps. Today, I brought that list with me to see how far I have come in the last few months. I was amazed to see that I have nearly doubled the weight on almost all of the machines! Granted, there was one that I couldn’t even use at first because my elbow would lock up painfully, but now I can push 40 lbs! I’m not going to win any contests, and the weights I’m lifting are still pretty pathetic, but improvement is improvement!

I still do not feel totally back in the game. It will take me at least a couple of months to get back to full speed and mileage, but I know I will get there and that I have picked up some new healthy habits to add to my routine. Weights will stay on my workout list, as will spin and my friend, the step mill. It really isn’t healthy to put on blinders and focus solely on one sport or form of exercise. Our bodies need variety as much as our brains. Now, to plan my next race!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Long and Boring Road: Injury Recovery is the Pits!

"The function of the press in society is to inform, but its role in society is to make money."

A. J. Liebling

       Let me start by saying, everything is calm and normal here in South Korea. It appears the US news media is having a field day with doom and gloom over the exchange of live fire, but nothing has changed for us here since the initial alert last week.

       Running wise, I have had very little to blog about. The orthopedic surgeon said my foot is not yet healed so he wants me to give it 6-8 more weeks and see him again before I try running. He also told me to knock off hiking as there is too great a chance of re-injury if I step on a rock wrong or stumble on a rut. That was hard to hear as the last tolerable days of weather slip past me on our way into a dark and cold winter.

       My one bright note is that I have a group of beginners that I am working with. This past week 2 moms and a gaggle of kids joined me on the outdoor track to learn how to run and love it. I’m teaching them about form and how to run slowly and smoothly to develop good habits that can keep them running for a lifetime. It was a great experience and everyone left with a smile on their face. I can’t wait for their first spring 5K! With a little luck, I will get to run it with them.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Buraksan Mountain: My New Home Trail Run

I am so excited! I have found a wonderful new trail that will come very close to my love for The Noland Trail in Virginia. It is Buraksan Mountain in Songtan, South Korea.

       Today was my second foray onto the mountain so I was able to go further than last time. I also took my Garmin with me so I could follow the map back home when I got lost and turned around (it doesn’t take much for me to get lost!) Once again the trail was bustling with hikers and power walkers, although I don’t think I saw any actual runners. My dog and I wandered over single and double track and finally found the main trail. The big surprise was that in the middle of the trail was a huge fitness park full of gym equipment!

       Although I have just over a week before I am allowed to run again, I have to admit to letting myself run down a couple of little slopes, mostly to keep my dog from puling me onto my face, but I didn’t need much encouragement. It felt SOOO good to run even a little. I know my foot isn’t quite ready though. The bone may be pretty much healed, but the lazy muscles are not quite ready to go full force.

       I know there are many spectacular trails in Korea and I can’t wait to tackle them all, but having a lovely trail within walking distance is a huge treat. I think I only made it about 1/3 of the way up the mountain because my round trip was 4 miles and the guide map indicated it is over 5K to the top from the trail head, (I live about a mile from where the trail starts.) It will be a great goal for me to be able to run a full round trip to the top of the mountain. That should be a total of about 8 miles round trip with 3 miles up steep track. If the weather holds, next week’s goal will be to make it to the top!

       I should add that I wore my new Vibram Treks and they were awesome! No one even seemed to notice them, although the very large Poodle commands most of the attention when out and about in Korea so I could have been wearing clown hair and no one would have noticed.

       Here are a few pictures from today.

Part of the fitness park and look out tower

The Trail

There were mirrors in several places, but I can't figure out what they are for

I love the Spirit Poles.  They are meant to scare away evil spirits, some are scarier than others

I think the squirrels are way scarier than the poles!

We cal them Bunny Squirrels, Lucy calls them a reason to pull Mom down the trail

Lucy meeting some school boys

The girls usually just whip out cell phones for pictures

   For my take on the Korean fitness culture and a few more pictures, please see my guest blogger post on:

Monday, September 20, 2010

Working Hard At Taking It Easy.

“Everything comes to him who hustles while he waits.” Thomas Alva Edison

       Following my MRI and visit with the orthopedic surgeon, the final diagnosis is better than I had feared. It is not a ligament rupture; it is a plain stress fracture of the Navicular and possibly also the cuboid, two of the chunky bones on the top of your foot at the ankle. It appears the main culprit was running down hills, something I will have to be very careful with in the future. I was surprised that I had cracked the chunky bone rather than the long thin metatarsals, but there are big ligaments that attach to the chunky ones and pull hard enough to fracture them when pulled over and over and over and over.

       So for the next 6 weeks (hopefully not extended to 8) I am sporting this lovely fashion statement.

       Now that I have the Boot, I am realizing what good company I am in. Hardly a day goes by that I don’t see someone else hobbling around the base in a matching appliance, and I am on a really small base. The hills here are steep and brutal luring many runners to injury.

       In Virginia, the only hills I had were those on the Noland Trail. One trip around the loop had a gain of over 2,000 ft. over the 5+ miles. I ran that trail 3 times in a row right before I left, (a total of a mile each of ascent and decent), so I thought I was ready for hills, but it consisted of dozens of small hills instead of long continuous ones, and it was a dirt trail which is way less stressful on your body than asphalt or concrete. In addition, I was exhausted with jetlag and stressed from the move, I added hills to every run while maintaining my mileage and pace, I was running on sidewalks instead of the road most of the time, and running both up and DOWN hills. And, of course, I’m an over 40 woman. By adding hills to every workout and not backing off on mileage or intensity, I totally exceeded the 10% rule!

       I was asked on my regular running forum, how I thought barefoot running plays into injuries like this my answer was: In the early stages of barefoot running, being actually barefoot (not in a minimal or "barefoot" shoe) protects you from TMTS (too much, too soon), but once your feet are conditioned for the miles, it is just as easy to overdo it in bare feet as in shoes. I think if I had tried to add speed work to every work out, the bottoms of me feet would have let me know before I got hurt, but hills did not add a challenge for the soles of my feet so I didn't have that warning. Plus I have learned to run on very old rough roads and the roads here on Osan Air Base are pristine. I could probably run a full marathon on them without my feet being tender or blistered. Being barefoot neither protected me from, nor caused my stress fractures. I simply exceeded my limits.

       I was also not listening to my body. I've always been opposed to running streaks because people will run no matter how horrible they feel, not wanting to break their streak. I see now that mileage goals are no better. My goal of 1,000 miles for the year is what blinded me to what I was doing to myself. I didn't want to fall behind on my mileage when I had already lost some ground in the previous week due to the move. Physically, I could easily have cut back on miles and still been gaining conditioning because of the hills, but I was so determined to keep my numbers pumped up that I ignored my better sense and kept going.

       I have never thought much about stress fractures, they were something that happened to other people who weren’t paying attention and pushing too hard. I’ve never broken a bone and always been strong so it simply was not something I was looking for and I had no warning. I did not feel tired on that run, I did not feel like my form was off. I had no soreness anywhere. Nothing physically told me I as over doing it. When I felt the pop in my foot, it felt like a spring "sprung," it really wasn't painful at all, just very strange. At that moment I stopped running and my foot began to feel a bit tender, but on a scale of 1-10 it was only a 2. After a minute or so of walking, I tried running again and it didn't feel any worse so I just slowly finished the last couple of minutes back to my hotel. The next day my foot was sore, but after another couple of days it was no longer tender to walk on and I could jog in circles around my house without pain so I went for a short run. Everything was fine for about 15 minutes and then it suddenly became VERY sore. It actually hurt worse to walk than to run so I turned around and ran back to my car. After that the level of soreness did not waiver. I could not walk, let alone run, so I knew I had really done something this time and went to see a doctor.

       I have been questioned about whether or not my rheumatoid arthritis was a factor in the fracture, but I am confident that if RA was to blame for my stress fracture it would have happened while I was marathon training, in the marathon, or for sure at the 24-Hour Relay. I cannot blame it on anything but my own lack of judgment. I have used some cortical steroids to treat RA, but rarely and not in high doses or for long periods of time. My bones do not show thinning and I have put them to the test before. This is not an RA related injury and in my life the benefits of running still vastly outweigh the risk of injury.

       What I'm hoping to really push is the fact that hills are much more stressful than running on flats so if someone moves from a flat to a hilly area, or goes on vacation from their flat city to the mountains, this is something they really need to watch out for. I knew hills were more stressful, but I hadn't really connected the dots on HOW much more strain they were putting on my body. If I had treated them with the 10% rule and considered 10% as no more than 10% of the running time up or down a hill and no more than 10% of my weekly time totals, instead of just thinking of them as not that much of the total distance, I would probably not be in a boot. I had never heard of anyone getting a stress fracture from running hills and thought I was taking it easy enough by doing some of my running in flat areas. Sometimes these things sneak up on us, but now everyone that has read this blog will hopefully tuck away this grain of information so that if they are ever faced with more hills than usual, it will pop up and remind them that somewhere they read about someone getting a stress fracture from running hills.

       The other lesson I want to stress here is: When something in your foot pops, STOP and do not proceed until you have seen a doctor that has experience diagnosing stress fractures. The general practitioner I saw at first was great, but he didn't know how to manipulate the foot to determine a stress fracture so I was walking around on a broken foot for 2 more weeks (yep, a total of a month walking around on a stress fracture, OUCH!)

       The good news is, I'm cleared for cardio in the gym as long as I can do it with the boot and AND it doesn’t hurt. Since it did hurt my foot to do spin class before, I have been holding back and not going to class, just sticking to the stationary bikes in the cardio room at the gym, but I did sneak in between classes and give it a whirl. I could stand to pedal with the boot on, but I think I need to at least give my foot a couple of weeks of peace before I push it that hard so I will wait a bit to resume spin class. Additionally, I have added to my supplements. I am not usually one to pop pills for nutrition, but some things we just can’t get enough of. I was already taking loads of Vit D, but I have now added calcium and magnesium to make sure I'm getting plenty to build new bone. I see the orthopedic surgeon again later next month and I will sign up for physical therapy to get started on a good and healthy track. The boot isn't so bad, it makes it much easier to walk (it has a rocker on the bottom like all the new power walking shoes, LOL) and keeps my foot from hurting. I am maintaining my goal of at least 5 hour of cardio a week plus some weights and I have actually lost weight, (although my pants are a bit more snug so I know I am losing muscle, not the fat I would like to lose). It is rather disconcerting to see that my right calf is already significantly smaller than my left, but I am definitely not the first person to have to rebuild a muscle after casting so I know it will be back to normal eventually.

       It is killing me to look out from my window and see hills that I know are full of hiking trails (Koreans are very into fitness) and not be able to run them while the weather is beautiful. Of course, I have already found a “Return to Running after Injury” training plan and cannot wait to get to it! Patience, patience, patience! Just 4 ½ more weeks…

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Injury blues

“I'll have a full recovery - that's the utmost physically my body has the ability to heal. Then I will push about 20 percent further, through sheer mental tenacity. If you're not prepared for that, go elsewhere.” Posted on a Bethesda Naval Hospital door by a Navy Seal.

         I am injured. This time it isn’t shin splints, a pulled muscle, over tired legs, black toenails, or blisters. It is a real injury, brought on by running real hills and up and down real stairs, by increasing my mileage and significantly increasing my intensity all at the same time. I know…I should know better. Part of my problem is I didn’t want to lose ground on my 1,000 miles for 2010 challenge, which reminds me why these kinds of goals of miles or streaks are dangerous. They push us to ignore our bodies and keep going. My body sent me a mild reminder with sore calves the first week. I ignored it and kept pushing. Thursday I broke down and went to see a doctor, who said, “Hmmm” and ordered x-rays. The doc called back at 8:30 Saturday morning to tell me he thinks I have a Lisfranc injury. Seriously? Who is Lis Franc and what did I ever do to her? A Google search later I am crossing my fingers, lighting candles, and praying in any way I can think of that this doesn’t require surgery to fix! First thing Monday morning I have to get more x-rays, this time weight bearing, to determine if putting weight on my foot makes the bones move apart (that would be a bad thing.) I will also see the orthopedic doc and am still on for an MRI.
       I have never been so frustrated by not being able to run. There is a whole new world right out my front door and I can’t get to it! I would walk and go on a photo safari, but I can’t even walk right now. Only people that are used to a lot of exercise understand what this does to you mentally. I know I can regain any physical losses, but at this moment the mental stress of not having my number one form of relief taken away is making me crazy! I need to run.
       After moping around and being terribly depressed because I can’t run my race next week, I decided to hit the gym. Last week I tried the recumbent bike, one of my favorites for easy cross training days, but even with an episode of Battlestar Galactica to watch, it was just too boring and not hard enough. Then I tried the elliptical trainer. I can put enough weight on the foot for that, but I just couldn’t get my heart rate up enough and again, SO BORING! Yesterday, however, I tried spin class for the first time.
       I consider myself to be in pretty good shape. My race times are respectable. I can run 10 miles at the drop of a hat and I can run a 3:45x400 a few times in a row, so I’m no slacker. I also knew going in that cycling uses different muscles, but figured I wouldn’t be totally humiliated. Yeh, right. Let’s just say my new goal is to be able to get through this one hour class without having to take an unscheduled break! Not being able to stay up on the pedals because I cannot yet support that much weight on my foot was a lovely excuse, but I doubt I could have done it anyway.
       This is my magic ticket. My heart rate was high, I was sweating and puffing, and I realized this must be a regular part of my routine even when I am back up to full mileage. As runners we know we should cross train, that our quads need building and our core needs to be pumped, but how many of us really take the time to do it right. I think about it, once in a while I poke at it, but I have never really taken the time to build myself up so that I feel as competent working my quads or core as I do running a race. So now is the time. I plan to come out the other end of this injury stronger than when I got hurt. I plan to run a better race, set new PRs, and improve my form; all while taking a forced break from running.
       Injuries can take us down for a while. They can mess with our heads, chip away at our VO2 Max, and undermine our training plans, we can either roll over and take the loses or we can use this time to build strength in other areas. I still have a race on the docket for October. That gives me lots of time to heal, if not a lot of time left to train. However, if I can keep my cardio up and build strength in areas that need shoring up, AND I don’t need surgery, I should still be able to finish with a respectable time. Or, wait for the next race, there is always another around the corner…

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Land of the Morning Calm

       I still feel like we got off the plane yesterday, but we have now been in Korea for two weeks. So far it is mostly involved jumping through all the hoops required of the military, but we have ventured out the gate a little to check out the shopping, and buy cell phones, and are moving into our new home tomorrow (provided the typhoon that hits tonight doesn’t prevent us.)

       All my running has been on base. Not because I don’t feel safe, it is just easier to stay on base for now. I am excited about checking out the local trails and getting familiar with the neighborhood around our house once we move into it, but we just bought a car yesterday and haven’t had much chance to go sightseeing.

       Running on base has been a great challenge though. It is very hilly here, not to mention hot and more humid than Florida! One morning I headed out into fog, despite it being over 80 degrees. I didn’t even think that was possible. It was like running in a steam room. The hills have been great though. At first my left Achilles was really sore from walking all day on steep inclines, but that has settled down and I’m getting more comfortable with the hills.

       Running the flight line is great too. It is a 6 mile loop around the air strip that is clean, smooth pavement. Apparently the in thing in Korea is to put down a rubber surface made of ground tires to pad jogging paths. About a mile of the trail near the fitness center is surfaced with it. It is kind of cool stuff, but I would rather run on dirt. There are lots of sidewalks though, something that was seriously lacking in our last home town, so it is easy to avoid traffic and feel safe from traffic.

       Out around the flight line things get interesting. I’ve passed groups marching in full combat gear, big camouflaged rocket launchers surrounded by flowers and big white birds, and a corridor where all I can see is the fence on either side of the road topped with endless coils of razor wire

and the occasional cement closet to shoot from.

I’m pretty used to this sort of stuff so it interests me more than it bothers me. I feel safe running the flight line, knowing every part of it is watched for intruders. Best of all there is almost no traffic on the road and it is free of trash or debris. I’m sure I will come back often to run here.

A couple of days ago I traveled up to Seoul to meet my new running club. It was a great visit and quite an adventure, (that included getting back to the bus home with 3 minutes to spare!) I am really excited to run with this group and experience racing in Korea. I am registered for 2 half marathons already, one at the end of this month and another in October. The race this month will be hilly, but beautiful. It is in the DMZ where they have set up a park with hiking trails. I’m not sure about the October race, but the military is sponsoring 150 runners so the race fees and bus are paid for. Woo-hoo, free race! Cut off time for the half is 2 ½ hours so I won’t be mid pack on this one.
       For my RA followers, this move has been the best so far.  Other than a slight shoulder flare from carrying heavy stuff too far, keeping up with my running has kept things under control.  I've been tired and wiped out a lot of the time, but so has the rest of the family so I think it is more a let lag issue than an RA issue. 
       Things are moving along, we are slowly getting settled and finding a routine. The next chapter in our life has begun!

Monday, August 2, 2010

One last race in Virginia

     Saturday, July 24th, I finally got to meet Rich Walkden and his wife, Anne! They flew down from Vermont to run the Operation Homefront 5K on Fort Story, VA with me. On Friday, when they arrived in Norfolk, Rusty and I just happened to be at the airport picking up our rental car so we got to meet one day early, which was cool because it reassured everyone that none of us were axe murderers :-).

     Saturday morning I met them up at the Waffle House across the street from their hotel at 5:45, where Rich and Anne tanked up on coffee, and then we headed to the race start. Despite getting slightly lost because we were talking and not paying attention to where we were going, we managed to get to Fort Story in plenty of time to check in and warm up. There we met Sam, another barefoot runner, and headed off on a warm up. Again, chatter took over and we ran a brisk 2 mi. warm up before we knew it, oops, LOL.

     The race started at 7:30, which was a good thing because it was already stinking hot and sticky! I suggested an 8 mpm pace, thinking they guys might not want to run that slow, but they took me up on the offer and we joined the group at the race start. Anne is new to running so she placed herself further back. We probably should have taken off a little slower, but with a good warm up behind us, I thought keeping an even pace would be good. We were passing people fairly steadily when I heard, “Hey, I just got passed by a girl, in a pink skirt and bare feet!” I hollered back, “You also just got passed by a guy in a red skirt and bare feet!” which brought winded chuckles from the surrounding crowd. (Rich runs in a very cool sport kilt.)

     We sailed past the first water stop without partaking of the H20. I had a hand bottle and I think the guys thought they could just tough it out. About half a mile later, they were regretting it since we popped out of the shade and onto a very sunny loop. Somewhere on that loop we lost Sam. The heat had gotten him and he wasn’t doing well with the rough pavement. Apparently Sam is more accustomed to pristine asphalt :-). I thought it was a pretty choice course, but I’m used to a neighborhood with chip seal so apparently I’m a little tougher than I thought. While Sam tossed his cookies, Rich and I plodded on. Somewhere before the 2 mile water stop I lost Rich. I had been checking for him over my shoulder frequently, but as it got hot and I got more tired, I started focusing on my form and pace and the next time I looked back he was gone. Virginia Beach in the summer is a tad warmer than Vermont and the thermometer was on a steady march to “hot day in Hell” so Rich flagged and took a break.

      At about 2.5 miles I was a cooked goose. My heart rate was out of control so I decided to walk, catch my breath and let my pulse simmer down a bit. By the time I picked up the pace again, I had lost close to a minute and knew my goal time was history. I wasn’t too worried about it though. It was blazing hot and I had been sick all week on top of moving out of the house and into a hotel with only about 5 hours of sleep a night for the past week. Basically, anything below 30 minutes was going to be a victory. At the same time, I still wanted to do my best, and frankly the place medals looked pretty cool, LOL.

     I walked until I hit the shade again, and then picked up my feet for the final half mile. Fortunately, it was early enough that the pavement wasn’t hot or I would have turned that around and run the sunny part, walking in the shade. As hot as it was at not yet 8 am, the shade offered little difference in temperature, but it was enough to pop back to my pace and finish. They were calling out times as we crossed the line and I heard, “25:24!” WHOOT! I really didn’t care that the elusive “sub-25” slipped through my fingers once again. This race was about meeting friends and finding out just what I can do with a wicked head cold :-). Turns out, head colds don’t slow me down much! I even won the cool medal for 3rd place in the 40-49 age group! Rich finished not far behind me in 27:42, which I believe was a PR. Anne did great too, she was disappointed that she wasn’t able to run the whole way, but the heat really got to her too. She managed a good running finish though and was still ahead of several people in our age group, GO ANNE!

     We hung out for door prizes and Anne won a cool blown glass sculpture (which she then had to fit into her back pack for the trip home) and then waved good-bye to Sam before heading back to the Waffle House. We indulged in a hearty breakfast while talking each other’s ears off and then it was back to the airport for Rich and Anne.

     The whole day was a spectacularly good time. Rich and Anne are great people and we never ran out of things to talk about. It was the perfect break between the chaos of leaving one home and moving to another. I couldn’t have found a better way to spend the day!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Good-Bye Noland Trail

      "There comes a pause, for human strength will not endure to dance without cessation; and everyone must reach the point at length of absolute prostration." **Lewis Carroll**

        Saturday morning was gray, dripping, and a steamy 80 degrees. I needed to get in a long run, but the thought of 10 miles on wet pavement with bare feet or in soggy VFFs was not inspiring. Running in mud, however sounded like a great idea so I headed out to my favorite trail. If you ever find yourself in Newport News, VA and want to see a little nature, this is the place for it.

      I arrived at the trail around 7:30 am, thinking it would be deserted compliments of the rain, but everyone had the same idea. The parking lot was a beehive of activity, people were stretching, organizing their dogs, and topping off water bottles at the fountain. Unfortunately, it hadn’t rained as hard on the trail as it had at my house so the ground was fairly dry, not the playful mud I had hoped for, but still good for running.

          The Noland Trail winds around an inlet off the James River with 14 wood bridges crossing the water at various places and giving spectacular views.

          Of course, this means hils. Steep grades down to, and back up from, the bridges or galloping up and down from the water’s edge to the next wooded crest. No picture ever really captures the intensity of an incline so nothing here does the difficulty of this trail justice, but I think it is the best hill training on the peninsula! Which isn’t actually saying much, but it is still a great place to run.

        About 5 minutes into my first lap I realized I was over dressed. Thank goodness for running bras that are designed to be worn alone. I stripped off my tech shirt and instantly felt better. Of course, my paste white tummy exposed meant I would run into large numbers of people I knew.

         I knew this was my last run on The Noland Trail and that I would miss my time here greatly. The trail is a touch over a 5 mile loop and running it has been a great indicator of my progress. The first time I ran it non stop in under an hour I was elated! Anyone that has run it can tell you that you plan to add a good 1.5 to 2 minutes per mile to your pace compared to running on a flat street. On this day, I was taking it slow. I stopped to take pictures, chatted with friends, and really took the time to just enjoy my run without watching my Garmin for pace, time, or heart rate. I just ran.

        This is such a tranquil place, there are always birds chirping, squirrels playing chase, and the occasional lazy snake crossing the path. I thoroughly enjoyed the rain pattered through the trees, chasing each other down the leaves to drop with a splash on the trail ahead of me. The air almost immediately absorbed it, turning the whole place into a steaming forest that felt primeval. You can’t let your mind wander too far though because the twists, turns, hills and chunks of wood to protect the trail from erosion makes for some tricky footing. Thankfully, small tree stumps and roots are painted orange so they are hard to miss, but it is easy to get caught up in the wildlife and forget to look down. I’ve never taken a bad spill here, but I’ve stumbled more than once and seen people with bloody knees and elbows emerge from the trail, muttering choice words under their breath.

           The majority of the trail is packed dirt, but the steeper sections have fin gravel that can be a bit abrasive on the feet, especially if you aren’t careful and scuff or slide going up or down the hills. The first time I ran this trail barefoot, I made it 4 miles before I stopped to put on shoes. I was too late though, my feet already had several blisters each. Now I can run it more than once the same day without pain or blisters.

          On part of the trail, there is an area where the path is covered in broken oyster shells. It is very pretty, but also VERY challenging for a barefoot runner. The first time I came through this area I had to run on the grass at the side of the path or walk carefully over the unavoidable sections (which are short).

       I can now run this part with relative ease. I do have to keep a sharp eye out and maintain my focus, but it only slows me down a little and adds an interesting element to the run.

       At the end of my planned 2 laps I was feeling great. Every mile had been a blast so I wasn’t mentally worn out either. As I stood talking to a friend, it started raining again, a good gully washer this time. I decided not to miss the fun! Quickly, I refilled my depleted water bottles and head out for one more lap. The rain didn’t last long, but I found a few muddy spots and savored the cooler air.

        It was a fantastic 15 miles that left me utterly spent, a wonderful way to say good-bye to my favorite running haunt. I hope I am able to come back someday and enjoy it again, until then it is time to rest and move on to new adventures.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Yorktown Battlefield Independence Day 8K

"Luck is being ready for the chance"    **J. Frank Doble**
     July 4th arrived with spectacular weather and the promise of a fantastic race day that did not disappoint! My goal for this race was to stay ahead of a 9 mpm pace and place in the top ten so I would have at least one point to get on my running club’s Grand Prix board. I have plenty of volunteer points, but your volunteer points cannot exceed your running points and with marathon training, and other assorted life events, I have not had the chance to run in a Grand Prix race. Since we fly out for Korea the last week in July, this was my last chance to score a running point.

     This 8K is generally a big race for a local venue. Last year there were nearly 450 runners and that doesn’t count the 5K fun run/walk that bleeds off all the slow pokes. The course is on the tourist road through the battle fields so the road is a horribly chewed surface that even people in thick running shoes complain about. I foolishly ran it barefoot last year, when I was new to barefoot running and not at all up to such a rough surface. When the course turned off the road and onto a gravel path I was sunk! When I finally hobbled across the finish line, an hour and 14 minutes after the start, I was the last person in my age group to finish.

     I knew I would have a better time this year. Even barefoot I would have improved, but since I wanted to score Grand Prix points, I decided to run in Vffs. They allow me to be more relaxed and I wanted to really enjoy my last race with the Peninsula Track Club. Since last year’s age group place winners all averaged close to an 8 minute mile pace I had no real hope of placing in the top three, but I knew I could easily score a point or two. My goal was to finish the 5 miles in less than 45 minutes

     I got off to a slow start. Placing myself too far back in the pack didn’t help, but I usually take off too fast so it’s all good. I also goofed up my Garmin so I can only guess at my first mile, but it wasn’t pretty. I didn’t warm up long enough because the porta potty lines were crazy long and this added to the sluggishness for the first couple of miles. Fortunately, once I got rolling I spent the rest of the race passing people. I never stopped to walk, not even on the long uphill slopes where about half the people I passed had dropped into “death march” mode. I just increased my cadence and trundled on.

     My Garmin was set to chirp out half mile laps so I knew I was keeping a decent pace, but the trees were really messing with the GPS so I never knew from moment to moment how I was doing. It was okay though, and probably helped. I just focused on running a pace I felt I could sustain and reminded myself I could only expect to do my best and have fun.

     As I approached the finish line I was thrilled to see the clock still said 44:xx and kicked it up one last notch for a sprint finish. I was thrilled with my 44:38 finish time! I met my person goal and felt well the whole run with no pain and no sudden stiffening after the race.

     The results were posted at one point, but I didn’t even bother to look. I would find out soon enough how many points I scored (you get a point for 10th place, 2 for 9th, etc.) and I was too busy talking to the many people that I will sorely miss when we move. When it was time for the awards ceremony, I cheered and clapped for my friends that placed but wasn’t at all expecting to hear my own name. “Women, 40-44, 3rd place, Wendy Nail!” What????? Whoot! I was so shocked I didn’t even hear my official time called out. It was such a great way to finish my time with PTC. I will see them all once more at the summer picnic the week before we fly, but running is what our group is all about and race days are how I will remember everyone best.

     48 hours after the race: Looking through the final results is making me laugh out loud. It is a total fluke that I won third place. The same pace (8:59) last year would have only pulled 5th place in my age group and had I been running in the next age group up it would have been 8th, next age group down would have been 9th. It was pretty much dumb luck that none of the fast runners in my age group showed up, but I still beat 13 others and am very glad they decided to take it easy on Sunday so I could have a beer glass.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Glass? What glass?

This is an article I wrote for the Barefoot Runner's Society

“There's nothing neither good nor bad, but thinking makes it so.”

~William Shakespeare

       One of the first things a barefoot runner is asked by any shod runner they encounter is, “What about glass!?!” I admit, I was a bit worried about this myself when I decided to try barefoot running. In my first weeks of walking, I managed to pick up a tiny crumb of glass up near my toes. No big deal, my dad picked it out for me (yep, 40 years old with my foot in dad’s hands to have my boo-boo fixed, LOL). He gave me a raised eyebrow, “Are you sure this is a good idea?” look, but didn’t say much else. The next month, when I had kicked it up a notch and was running, I picked up another crumb of glass. Keep in mind, on both occasions it wasn’t a big enough piece to stop the run, and I definitely wasn’t bleeding. I was beginning to think this would be a monthly occurrence and began contemplating a shift to minimal shoes instead of barefoot. As the month rolled over, I was expecting my next piece of glass to follow me home. When I felt the expected prick, I hunted around with a needle and tweezers for days, but never found anything. Hmmm, phantom glass.

       I was holding onto the hope that the barefoot runners groups were right, and once I learned to step lightly, I wouldn’t exert enough pressure when contacting the ground to push glass through the skin. It seemed reasonable enough, since one can gingerly pick up bits of a broken glass from the kitchen floor without shedding blood, but the thought of my running lighter than the bone shattering heel stomp I grew up with left me a bit uncertain.

       The good news is, since then I have not picked up another piece of glass in my feet! I’ve never lacerated my foot on a shard, embedded a crumb, or slit a plantar artery. Glass has not been an issue. I have been poked pretty harshly by a stick buried in the grass (which is why I have an aversion to grass – I cannot see through it) and I have had a uncomfortable run-in with a sweet gum ball, but in over 350 barefoot miles, I’ve never had to limp home from an injury that would have been prevented by shoes. I occasionally feel a bit of a prick and pause to brush off my feet, but nothing goes through the rubbery, smooth skin that has developed on my soles.

       Fast forward to this past week. I was out running and thoroughly enjoying the warm pavement as my mind drifted through the bizarre month I had come through, when I suddenly noticed I was running through the remnants of a brown beer bottle. It didn't catch my attention right away as the glass was dark brown and in the shade, but glancing down I saw the tattered label with bits of glass stuck to it and realized I was surrounded by glass for 3 feet in every direction. Thankfully, I didn't stiffen or change my form when I realized it, or I probably would have hit the brakes and slammed my foot into the pavement. I simply stayed my course and waited apprehensively for the inevitable prick of pain heralding a crumb of glass breaking the skin barrier. Nothing happened.

       I have looked into the abyss and no longer fear the sharp teeth of glass. I can stand proud with my fellow barefoot runners and honestly say, the histrionic warnings of the shod are poppycock. Okay, I already knew that, but it is fun to say “poppycock.”

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Bull Island 4 Miler

“There is only one corner of the universe you can be certain of improving, and that's your own self.” **Aldous Huxley**

          I have been waiting a year for the 2nd annual Bull Island 4 miler in my current home town of Poquoson, VA. In 2009, at the race’s inaugural event, I was just starting to feel good about racing. I had run my first sub 30 5K and had been working all winter on extending my endurance for my first half marathon. I was a brand new member of the Peninsula Track Club, who was timing the race, so I was also enjoying meeting the members and beginning to feel like part of the local running community.

         This year a few things were different. I’m a much more seasoned racer, I know tons of people at the local races, and I have given up traditional running shoes. On the other hand, unlike last year, it was blazing hot and the mosquitoes were out in force. Before the race even started people had given up, not even wanting to try in this heat. I was feeling like I had a slight edge in this case since I have been running mid-day for the last few weeks and am fairly acclimated to the heat.

          The road we were running on is one that has flooded recently and many houses are being repaired so I ran the route a few days ahead of the race to check out the viability of running in barefoot. The asphalt was good, but there were a lot of loose rocks and other debris. I was also worried about how hot the road would get since there was no shade and no grass on the edge of the road to retreat to if I felt like it was getting too hot. With all this in mind, I decided to wear my huaraches. The sole material I chose is very thin, flexible, light weight, and not impervious to rocks, but they did fine on the training run. Needless to say they got a lot of attention at the race start. “Are you running in THOSE?!” One guy yelled, “Cool huaraches!” He told me later he had planned on running in racing flats, but after seeing my huaraches, decided to go bare. It must have worked for him because he won 3rd place overall for the men. The best part of that was knowing I’m not longer the only barefoot runner in town! I hope to run with Elijah again soon!

          The race itself was miserable. I have to laugh at my complaints about the heat and humidity for last year’s race because we would all have killed to have those relatively cool, bug free temperatures again. Unfortunately, I feel like I have lost a lot of speed over the last few months while focusing on distance. I set a much too ambitious goal for my last 5K and burned out so I wanted to set a goal I could stick with and decided that 9 minute miles would be a good place to start under the conditions thinking, if I felt good after the first couple of miles, I could kick it up. I ran a one mile warm up, which served me well because I felt really sluggish at first and needed to get the blood moving in my muscles.

          I didn’t take off too fast, but it took a lot of will power to hold my pace in that heat. I had decided to carry my own drink so at the water stop I just dumped it over my head and kept running. My knee didn’t hurt at all, but I knew from the last couple of weeks that if I stopped and walked, it was going to stiffen up so I kept on running. I had started out pretty far back in the pack, but steadily passed overheated runners one by one. My final finishing time was 35:41, almost a full minute per mile faster than last year! This moved me up from 6th place last year to 2nd (once again missing first by a frustratingly small margin.)

          Just like last year, the best part of the race was beer and pancakes afterwards. Any other time that combination sounds revolting, but after a hard race it is the perfect recovery meal!

          Walking back to my car after the awards ceremony, I was stopped by a couple that said they had seen me running around town. Of course, they thought I was nuts at first, but after a few minutes of answering their questions, they were intrigued and ready to look into it more.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Slacking off

“Our nature consist in motion; complete rest is death.”

**Blaise Pascal**

       What a crazy month I have been through! So many changes. We have been adjusting to Hubby being home from Afghanistan, jumping through the many hoops it takes to transfer overseas, packed up all of our oldest child’s belongings and hauled them to her new apartment in Florida. Finished the arrangements and attended her wedding, and then beat feet back to Virginia to get our youngest to final rehearsals and performance for the end of the year in Orchestra. Needless to say, running has not been on the top of my list.

      Between recovering from the marathon in March, the ultra in April, and the wedding trip in May, my training miles have been way too limited and my miles per week average has slipped frustratingly low. The stumble, and plain old miles, at Sandy Bottom got to my knee which has also worked to limit my mileage. It has been wildly frustrating to actually have some time to run here and there, and desperately needing it mentally, only to get cut short by a sore knee. In 3 years of running, this is my first knee issue so I was starting from scratch with my research, having never paid attention to complaints about ITBS or runner’s knee.

       I bought a foam roller, which turned out to be one of the most painful exercises I have ever tried. Learned the appropriate yoga poses, added more stretches to my routine (and actually did them), iced, rested, and got back to doing squats. Nothing seemed to help at all. My knee stayed the same level of sore no matter what. Running or not running didn’t seem to matter much, although I did discover running fast was better than running slow, so I did intervals and fartleks. Once in a while my knee would feel a little unstable, like the tendons and ligaments were sloppy, so I played very close attention to form and made sure I didn’t get lax or lose focus.

      I don’t know what finally broke the dam, but I woke up Friday morning with no knee pain at all after running two days in a row through soreness, (not sharp pain, just tenderness.) I took a rest day and ran 7 miles on Saturday and 4 more on Sunday. Finally! A 20 mile week! My knee is so much better. I’m not sure if it is the foam roller, squats, stretches, or what, but I will keep doing them all! I have to admit, I had become very flaky about stretching and wanted very much to believe it didn’t make a difference to injury, but I know now that stretching is going to be a key part of my fitness routine. I suppose there are people out there that are naturally flexible and can get away with never stretching, but I’m definitely not one of them.

       Today is another rest day, but I am looking forward to tomorrow’s run. My goal is 5 miles, aerobic pace, and enjoyable. I think the break from running has been beneficial to me mentally. Although I craved running, I was a little burned out after the ultra and needed to find the joy in it again. If all goes as planned, I will start marathon training again in July for a November marathon in Korea. But then, nothing every goes off as planned in my life…..

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Never give up!

          I had a fun run today. It was a fund raiser for the High School track team so lots and lots of teenagers. Warming up on the track, I had the usual funny looks and questions, “Are you racing barefoot??” YUP! Early in the race I got stuck behind about 6 teenage girls running shoulder to shoulder and asked to get through. They happily made room for me, apologizing and being very friendly. As I passed them I hear. "Hey! Look at that!" "Whoa, she isn't wearing shoes!" "She's barefoot!" "AND SHE'S PASSING US!!" Heard lots more whispers punctuated with the word barefoot, always funny. I was hoping for 8 minute mile max, but I’m not fully recovered from the 50 miler 2 weeks ago so I flamed out half way through the race. Once I had walked, my heart wasn’t in it and I slowed down more than I needed too, I would regret that.

        The course was through a housing area so the asphalt was great, but the path consisted of about 4 out and backs going up side streets, around a chair and back down. Coming up on the finishing chute I could hear someone on my heels and picked up the pace not to be passed. He picked it up too and we duked it out, but I stayed ahead of him and hit the chute first. I was moving so fast I couldn't slow down before crashing into the person in front of me, LOL. We laughed and thanked each other for the final kick. I didn't think I would win anything since the age groups were 10 year spans and I lost so much time in the second half, but I managed a 3rd place medal and got to walk to the front in my bare feet :-)

        I did have some questions and talked to a lady in a boot because she bought Newtons and gave herself a stress fracture over doing it and not transitioning properly (the folks that make those need to include an instruction book!). Someone asked to look at the bottoms of my feet, but unfortunately I have some mild calluses from running in shoes over the winter that are sloughing off so my feet don't look as pristine as they usually do.

        It felt great to run my first 5K in months, even though I wasn't really ready for it. I just looked at the results. The down side is the difference between my time and first place for my age group was 18 seconds, and second place for Women’s Masters was 26 seconds. I could have come in easily 30 seconds sooner if I hadn’t let my pace get to me and given up. Should have, would have, could have, isn’t what does it though and I simply didn’t bring it to the race mentally, my bad.

On the up side:

A) If the age groups had been 5 year groupings like they usually are, I would have had first place.

B) My third place was out of 25 runners in my age group!

C) The guy I sprinted frantically to stay ahead of and beat to the finishing chute was 24 years old, LOL. Hmmm, I wonder how he felt when he saw it was a 41 year old that whooped him, LOL

       So I don’t feel so bad about the time after all. I'll run a 4 miler next month and put my money where my mouth is!

Monday, April 19, 2010

American Cancer Society 24-Hour Relay for Life

In April of 2009, I joined my husband’s office team in the American Cancer Society 24-Hour Relay for Life. Hubby and I walked a lap (3.75 miles) on Saturday then went back in the wee hours of Sunday and I ran 3 more. I decided then that I would be back next year for 35 miles and someday I would get a 50 mile plaque.

       Fast forward to April 2010 and there I was, at the back of a small pack of Ultra Marathon runners, knowing I would be far away for next year’s race, and that this was probably my one shot for a plaque. I promised myself I would start slow and keep it that way so I walked the first mile and then set my Garmin to beep at me if my heart rate went over 151 BPM (my max is 206 if you want to do the math). Everything was going along swimmingly, we had lots of people, some running as single runners, some in teams like mine where the group wanted to rack up as many miles as possible, and some running a true “one man on the track at a time” relay. The track was shaped like a backwards P so the first ¾ mile or so was the same piece of road as the last. Everyone was chatty and friendly, filled with smiles and waves, friends greeting friends, and people cheering each other on. It really was the most fantastic group I have ever run with!

       The first few laps were great. I was feeling great, the weather was great, my time was moving along great and my hope of meeting my goal was great, I was a very happy camper! Between each lap, I took at least a 10 minute break and put my feet up while noshing on sports gels, or crackers. Each time I passed the lap counting table there were different members of my track club waving hello and cheering. It was fun to see who would turn up next and gave me one more thing to look forward to at the end of each lap.

       After the first 3 laps, I decided to change from my VFFs to trail shoes, mostly just to change things up before I had a problem, but also because my feet were feeling a bit battered, and because it was beginning to rain seriously. The path we were following was and old gravel road with rocks ranging from the size of a pea to the size of my fist, and often they were set it the dirt with one unforgiving corner sticking up to catch a toe or dig into an arch. Ultra runners do not complain about rough terrain, but if we talked about feet, it was the rocks that were cursed. Half way around the lap in my trail shoes my ankles started to hurt, a lot. It was all I could do to keep running. I would have taken them off and run bare, but the rocks were way too wicked for my feet. All I wanted to do was get the lap over with and get back into my VFFs! Strangely, the rain never really bothered me. It wasn’t terribly cold and the trees kept most of it off of us. We had the rain fly from our tent stretched over the table to keep stuff dry and my body was pretty much soaked with sweat anyway. At least the rain relieved the oppressive humidity that had been pressing down on us for the first few hours.

       I started slowing down a little after lap 5. I had been maintaining close to a lap an hour with breaks and had covered almost 19 miles so I relaxed for a while, ate a peanut butter sandwich, and stared lap 6 at about 1pm. The weather was really starting to heat up. Our predicted high was around 70, but it ended up around 80 once the rain clouds cleared and the sun started beating down in earnest. Fortunately, most of the trail was in the woods with just one stretch that was really exposed and sunny. During this lap my husband called to tell me he and my daughter were at the camp. Last year it was a true camp with tents and elaborate set ups to support the runners. This year they wouldn’t allow tents, but people still had awnings and tables full of food and drinks, and were ready to roll out sleeping bags for the night time hours.

       With Hubby to keep me company, we walked a lap to give my legs a break. My hip flexors were screaming and my quads were already getting sore, but the lap of easy walking really helped give me fresh energy and calmed the complaints of my legs. After another all too brief break, Rusty and I decided to run the next lap. Off we went at our slow slogging pace, waving to people we knew or had gotten to know, asking about what lap they were on, saying “Good job!” and continuing on. The end of lap 7 meant I had covered the distance of a full marathon and was just over the half way point! I had used up only 1/3 of my hours and felt good about my time. While we were out, my daughter blew up the air mattress for me so I was able to lie down and elevate my legs for a while before setting out again.

       Lap 8 behind me meant 30 miles done and time to get some dinner! We called a pick up order in to Pizza Hut and I ate two pieces immediately. There are certain times in your life when pizza tastes like Ambrosia of the gods, this was definitely one of them! I dropped Hubby and kid at home and took my pizza back to camp. At this point, the most ambitious member of our team was finishing her 12th lap. She is training for her first full Ironman and could easily have done 75 miles, but she wanted to be done by night fall so she wouldn’t risk getting hurt in the dark and mess up the half ironman she is doing in 3 weeks. By sunset, Brandi had packed up her 50 mile plaque and was gone.

       With too much pizza in my stomach, I started out on lap 9. I was really beginning to drag at this point and not paying attention to what I was doing when I stumbled on a tree root. I have no idea how I managed to catch myself because all I remember was the ground coming at my face and somehow getting my foot underneath me to stop it. It would have probably been the end of the day for me if I had hit the ground because I had both hands out in front of me and surely would have broken something if I had kept going down. Back on my feet I felt okay, other than a little shaken up. I knew I had pulled and jammed a few things and hoped it wouldn’t come back to haunt me later in the race.

       I only vaguely remember lap 10. The sun was setting and I was cursing the fact that I didn’t think to take my flash light as it got darker and darker. I managed to catch a group of walkers near the end and enjoyed the light of their beams for the last mile to camp. 37.5 miles done!

      Now it was seriously dark, but there were still a lot of people out so it wasn’t too creepy. The crowd had thinned down considerably with many people having enjoyed the day and a few laps and headed home. Considering the number of people out there, it was lonelier than you would think. Everyone had strict paces set and joining another runner or walker for any length of time meant sacrificing your own pace to match theirs. A few times I slowed down to enjoy the company of walkers for a while, but there were few runners that go as slow an me and I didn’t want to risk putting too much energy into any one lap to keep up with them, even if I could have. By now there were walkers, shufflers, and the true relay runners that would blow past us like wraiths in the dark, the light from their head lamps sliding by like a train on a prairie. Their approach was heralded only by the crunch of the rocks behind me and then they would disappear into the blackness ahead of me. But for the most part my laps in the dark were alone. I had even abandoned my MP3 player, preferring to be alert to the sounds around me.

       Growing up, I was terrified of the dark and this paralyzing fear stayed with me until I had my first child so I was shocked when I realized I was on the darkest stretch through the woods and not completely freaked out. Looking forwards and back, there was no sign of another runner, not a single glow of a flashlight or head lamp, not a speck of light from the occasional glow sticks to mark the trail, not a single sign of human life beyond the pale glow of my little LED penlight. I felt peaceful and safe. I didn’t even panic when I suddenly heard loud splashing in the canal alone the path. Swinging my light in the direction of the noise, it illuminated a small heard of deer who were much more terrified by the light in the dark than I was by their noisy splashing. I’d like to think my brain registered that loud noises meant something was running away and not sneaking up, but I suspect my brain was simply too dead tired to react.

       I stumbled into camp after lap 12 hungry, sore and exhausted. The jarring stumble on the root in lap 9 was starting to rear its ugly head as a swelling knee. It was after 11pm, long past my bedtime, and I still had 5 miles left to go. The temperatures had been falling all evening and somewhere around sunset the wind had started blowing. By this time it was howling and the stretch of path that had been in full hot sun in the afternoon was now the place where the wind whipped across the shallow lake and nearly blew us off our feet. We were down to two intrepid lap counters, Jerry and Kristin, who were bundled in hats, scarves and mittens against the cold. They never lost their cheer though and encouraged every runner that passed their table with jokes and smiles. All the runners seemed to be at the same level of tired. Anyone left was giving it their all, whether they were on lap 10 or lap 25.

      I was really at my low point. With over 7 hours left to go, I knew I had time to rest and regroup, but wasn’t sure it would be enough. I ate a piece of cold pizza, downed a couple of Tylenol, and crawled into my sleeping bag shoes and all. An hour later the aching in my hips woke me up. Looking around I realized about 30 people had packed up and gone home without my noticing. Many had dropped out, falling short of their goals due to injuries, blisters or just plain utter exhaustion. The camp looked like the night of the living dead, with stiff, sore, cold runners digging in packs and hobbling around like every joint below the waist was frozen. I was no exception. I’m not sure what was harder, talking myself into getting out of my sleeping bag or actually making my legs work enough to get me up. Thank goodness I was close to a picnic table and could use my arms to pull up to a stand! At that point, getting up was about the last thing I want to do, but after having traversed 45 miles, 5 more was too few to give up. Once again I changed clothes to get into something warmer and hobbled to the lap table to start my last full lap. It was a blur, but the feeling of relief when I passed the water can at mile 2 was wonderful.

        Finishing lap 13 meant I had 1.25 miles left to go and the race director and graciously set up a marker so that people going for a 50 mile plaque need only run to the 50 mile sign and back to finish their distance. This was what I planned, just get finished and call it a night. Then I spotted big Ed. Ed had been resting and could barely walk so he was moving at about my speed and had also completed 13 laps. We set off together into the dark and by the time we passed the 50 mile marker, he had talked me into completing the full lap to finish a double marathon distance. Now, big Ed had once been a RIO (navigator) in fighter planes, had worked for NASA, taught public school for 10 years, and is now retired. Ed made that last foray into the woods very entertaining by singing Korean War songs and telling me stories, but foolishly, I stopped thinking and relied on Ed to navigate our way around the last lap, you know, since he was a navigator and all. This was a mistake because by the time I realized we had taken a wrong turn, we were on the wrong side of the lake. I have no idea how far we went, but by the time we got back on track, we decided to just go back to camp. Poor Ed felt horrible for getting us lost, but I assured him that it was okay as he made my last miles very pleasant and I had met my 50 mile goal.

     I decided to stay the rest of the night. I wanted to see the finishers get in their last miles, keep the intrepid lap counters company, and watch the sun rise over the lake so I pulled up a chair and bundled into my sleeping bag.
    What I ended up doing was drinking a beer and falling asleep in my chair, dozing on and off while I listened to people talk and count off laps. Just after sun up, the track club president arrived with 4 dozen hot Krispy Kreme doughnuts! It was a perfect end to the day!

Course records were set for the men and the women, 125 and 101 miles respectively.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

One week later, looking back

"The tasks are done and the tears are shed.Yesterday's errors let yesterday cover;Yesterday's wounds, which smarted and bled,Are healed with the healing that night has shed."  Sarah Chauncey Woolsey

      It has been one week today since I finished my first marathon and it has been the top of my mind all week. I’m still shocked when I see the medal hanging on my dresser mirror.
       The first couple of days were admittedly tough, my quads and hamstrings were very sore and going down stairs was a challenge (backwards didn’t help either.) This was put to the test on Tuesday night when I escorted 50 teenagers I was chaperoning down 3 flight of stairs, ACK! I made it though, with much laughter and hanging on to the banister rails. I did get on a stationary bike for 20 minutes on Monday, and I think that helped to loosen things up.

       By Wednesday I was down to a minimal level of soreness, not enough to affect movement, but I could still feel the miles a bit. My biggest fear about running a marathon was what the repercussions would be for my Rheumatoid Arthritis. I was prepared for a flare up, knowing it was a good possibility after pushing so hard for so long, but it never came.

       Thursday was my first recovery run following Hal Higdon’s reverse taper. It was a tough two miles. My legs felt like lead and I was as tired as I normally would be after 10 miles at a good pace. It definitely helped though, my legs felt good afterwards and I didn’t feel wiped out. I have to admit, breathing deep really made me feel the marathon. Although I was never to the point of huffing and puffing during the race, and I could always talk in sentences, I was obviously breathing harder than a walk in the park and my lungs and chest muscles were reminding me all 5 hours.

       Friday was a rest day and all soreness was long gone. I was starting to feel caught up on sleep (late nights Monday and Tuesday seriously put this off) but still a long way from truly recovered. I can certainly see why they say you need a day of rest for every mile you race, a marathon is not something you get over in a couple of days. (This does not mean no running for 26 days, just that you shouldn’t expect to be up to full mileage for that long.)

       Saturday I ran 3 more miles, feeling even stronger and no longer feeling it when I took a deep breath. The run went well and my dog was very happy to be out trotting through the neighborhood again.

       The schedule for today said “6-8 mile run”. I probably shouldn’t have actually gone as far as 6 miles since the schedule was set up for people that run a lot faster than me and can finish 6 miles in significantly less time, but I did it anyway. I included a lot of walking and chatted on the phone for a good part of it, but it was a comfortable run with a very low average heart rate.

        As for my feet, shins and calves; they recovered much faster than my upper legs. I really expected to have problems there considering the distance and the issues I have had over the last 6 months. My VFFs served me well, but I do look forward to my first truly barefoot marathon. I won’t try to predict when that will be, but it is part of my working plan to continue increasing my barefoot distance and the variety of surfaces I can handle running on. My 2 mile run on Thursday and the 6 miles today were both barefoot, compliments of the lovely weather. (Yesterday was a bit nippy so those 3 miles were in VFFs.)

          All and all I would say my first week post marathon went very well and to me that is the real telling of how I did with the marathon. Not only did I finish, but I finished without any injuries, did not cause a flare up of my RA, and am recovering like a typical marathon runner. What more could I ask for! If I never run any faster and never feel any better after a marathon, I will still be happy to run them. I already can barely remember the misery of those last 6 miles and this is coming from a woman who still remembers every contraction of delivering 2 babies! I will continue to follow the reverse taper schedule up to my Ultra on the 17th of April and then start it all over again. I don’t see this marathon as a onetime flash in the pan, I see it as the beginning of a new stage in my life that I hope will go on for many, many years.

           I certainly plan to train more for my next marathon and I hope eventually to cope better with The Wall. I read in Runner’s World that it takes the average person 4 full training cycles with races to really know what they are doing. I’m sure one never truly stops learning from each and every race, but it is the first few that really open your eyes and make you say, “Okay, NOW I get it!” I also had a great talk yesterday with the lady from my club who ran 50 marathons in 50 states. Picking her brain about her experiences during and after marathons was very encouraging. I’ve learned a ton about running a marathon this week, but I know the distance still has a great deal to teach me and I’m ready to learn!   .....But first I need a few more restful weeks of running to finish recovering :-)

Monday, March 22, 2010

5 wondrous hours

The challenge today will be summing up a 5 hour race in a blog entry that won’t take too long to read!

       After some scares with the extended forecast, the weather was absolutely perfect. Over 50 when we started and in the mid to upper 60’s by the end. Sun shining, not too much wind, just enough to cool you off when the sun started beating down and several lovely people had sprinklers on for us to run through!

      A total of 2,635 runners finished the marathon before the 7 hour cut off, so the start wasn’t even corralled. Everyone was great though, not too much weaving needed to keep moving. I started near the back knowing my first 2 or 3 miles would be a minute or so slower than my planned race pace to allow me to warm up and not take off to fast.

      Everything started out as planned. Fist we headed south, looped around a bit, went over a bridge to the first turn around point, back over the little bridge, no big deal. Next they took us through part of Camp Pendleton, including a stretch of gravel road that made me glad I had not opted to go totally barefoot. At about the 6 mile mark, I was chatting with a few people and found a running buddy for the day. James used to run marathons, but this was the first one in 5 years so he was taking it easy knowing he hadn’t trained well enough. We had the same planned pace so we just fell into step, talking and running, keeping one foot in front of the other. At around mile 13 we passed his wife and kids who were cheering him on. I waved and said, “He is keeping me going!” He responded, “I’m just trying to keep up with you!” Funny how having someone with you keeps you both motivated!

      At mile 14 we stopped at a porta potty that didn’t have much of a line. We lost a couple of minutes, but it was well worth it! It was really warming up and I was tempted to take on way too much water, but definitely didn’t want to have to stop at a potty again. Mile 15 to 16 is where the mental games started. Conversation had trailed off and I was really having a hard time staying in the game. I know I could keep going that it was all in my head, so I just kept up with James and tried not to think about the miles and my stomach that was threatening to rebel. At mile 19 my mental state perked up, but my body was spent. My brain was saying, YAY, but my body was screaming for mercy. By this time my Garmin was also about 2 tenths of a mile ahead of the markers, which meant I had zigzagged and not cut my tangents well so I’d be running 26.4 instead of 26.2, UGH!

     19.75 was my breaking point. I said good-bye to James and wished him luck and fell back into a walk. After about 5 minutes of walking, I tried a run again. I learned very quickly that the first few steps after walking are murder and it is like trying to run through a vat of tar! Fortunately, this is a good motivator to keep running, even if the run is only slightly faster than the walk. When I passed the clock at the 20 mile marker, it said 3:34. This would have been great if I could have maintained my pace, but at that point it became all about getting back to my car.

      The next 6 miles were the hardest thing I’ve even done. I hurt all over, everyone was shuffling along just trying to fight the pain. By the end of a marathon, you are very much in like company. Everyone around you has been out there for the same amount of time and everyone is hurting. Some people take it with a grain of salt and can still laugh and joke, others are grim and determined and snap at anyone that bumps them at a water stop or gets in their way. Looking up the street it looked like a death march, everyone moving forward, everyone walking, except for the occasional person that would break into a run for a few feeble minutes and then re join the ranks of the marchers. One girl that had been running next to me, veered off into the grass and threw up.

      As we turned left off the main street just before mile 26, and right again onto the board walk, everyone sprung back to life. Within my view were the people that were going to squeak in under the 5 hour mark and they weren’t going to miss it by walking the last .2!

      About 100 feet from the finish line, I spotted a camera man and raised my arms to cheer, and it hit me! I WAS ABOUT TO FINISH A MARATHON!!!! I punched the air with my right hand, then went into a frenzy punching with both fists and screaming YES! while I jumped in the air. I was shocked I had enough energy to do it! The whole crowd around me laughed out loud at my antics. I crossed the finish line beaming and began the collection of swag. First a medal, then a bottle of water, banana, hat, pretzels, granola bar, cookie, and finisher’s t-shirt, all with nothing to put it in so I was juggling so many things I couldn’t make use of any of them!

      I finally managed to stuff down the banana and cookie and bundle everything else up into a manageable mass while stumbled to the festival tent for soup and beer. In the tent I ran into a group of friends from my track club that had run the half. They were all excited for me and gave me lots of hugs and congratulations. After gratefully sucking down the salty soup broth it was time to head back to pick up my daughter on the way home. I wish I could have stayed and joined the party, but I was grateful that my daughter is old enough to spend a few hours alone and that my friend was willing to go out of her way to pick her up and take her to rehearsals so that I could be in Virginia Beach. For a woman with children, training for and running a marathon isn’t just about putting in the time and miles, it is about friends who are willing to help you get past the schedule conflicts so you can run!

      I did get a couple of comments on my VFFs and saw one other marathoner with them on. Mostly people asked how my feet felt. At first my answer was, “Great!” After 20 miles my answer was, “No worse than the rest of me!” At the end I finished with no blisters or hot spots. I admit, my feet were tender on the walk to the car, but frankly the rest of me hurt so much I didn’t really notice. As of this morning, I’m actually less sore than I was yesterday evening, which is a big surprise to me. My feet fell great, my quads and hamstrings are the sorest, and hip flexors are tight and sore, but no joint pain at all and nothing with the sharp pain of injury, just the slow burn of lactic acid. I’m tired and definitely will need a nap today, but I don’t regret running and can’t wait for the next one.
  Finish time:     4:54:49

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Two Weeks to Shamrock '10!

“Start by doing what's necessary; then do what's possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” Francis of Assisi

         I’m so close to the marathon it is scary! The hardest part of the taper is slowing my eating down as much as I have slowed my running and not running harder and faster as the miles decrease.

        Last weekend I had the privilege of running a 5K with a good friend Danielle. She was a cross country runner in high school, but family and life had gotten in the way and she hadn’t run in years. When she was diagnosed with RA she didn’t think she would ever run again. When we met, the fact that I run and have RA blew her away, she was so excited about the prospect of getting back into running and getting back into shape!

         On the day of Danielle’s 5K, I was scheduled for a 16 mile long run so I headed out to the base, ran 4 miles to warm up, and then met her at the 5K start. It had been many years since Danielle had run more than 2 straight miles, but she was determined to finish the 5K without walking. We took it very slow, between 13 and 14 minutes per mile, but she kept running. It was hard for me to imagine that last year at this time, I was training for my first half marathon on this same stretch of blacktop, running at that same pace. Now running that slow just about kills me and I see only a tiny difference in my heart rate by slowing down so dramatically. With only a few beats per minute more, I can run 11 minute miles now.

           We didn’t talk much during the 5K. I would let her know as each half mile mark chirped from my Garmin, but we just ran side by side. As we approached the end and could see the finish line, Danielle was brought to tears. She couldn’t believe she was going to do it, finish a 5K without walking! She choked up so badly she nearly had to walk! Fortunately, she was able to calm down and keep plugging away. We crossed the finish line somewhere around 40 minutes and she was ecstatic! Unfortunately her RA flared up a bit the next day because of the extreme effort, but it didn’t last and she is looking forward to the next 5K in a few weeks.

            It was such a wonderful thing to participate in that special event in her life. I may have been part of the spark that got her going, but the hard work and determination was all Danielle’s. I pointed out that it was almost 2 ½ years ago to the day that I ran my first ever 5K and now, in 2 weeks, I will run my first full marathon. I’m still constantly shocked at my own progress. Some days I feel like I only dreamed that 2 hour finish at the Outer Banks. When I run a 9 minute mile in training I think to myself, “Did I really run this fast for 2 straight hours!” I don’t think this is all that unusual. I think many of us constantly underestimate what our bodies can do. It is our minds that hold us back, not our muscles or bones.

         I realize now that when I run, I may be out there slogging away by myself, but I’m not running alone. When I cross that finish line in two weeks, I will cross it for every person diagnosed with RA, every middle ages house wife, every couch potato that is over 35 and wonders if it is not too late to get in shape. Getting out there as a real person, not some elite Olympian or lifelong runner with long lean muscles and years of training, shows people that marathons are for mortals. Normal people with a little grit and determination can do this. You don’t have to be fast, a 16 mpm average will get you over the line before the course closes. You do have to train, a LOT, marathons are not handed to you. Even walking for 26.2 miles is not something a person in good shape can just decide to do in an instant. It takes planning, hard work, and days of getting out there in all weather. Whether you feel like it or not you have to consistently put in the miles.

           So far this year I have kept up with my written log, recovered from nasty shin splints, and run just over 200 miles (20 of them barefoot). I believe I am a runner. I believe I can run a marathon. I believe I can inspire others to seek more from themselves. I started running because I needed to. I continued running because it helped me so much and I discovered it was something I COULD do for myself. And now, here I am, doing the impossible.