Gimpy Leg and Broken Wing take on the 2017 Austin Half Marathon

We knew going into this race that it wasn’t gonna be pretty. K dislocated her elbow a little more than five weeks ago, and her doctor has only allowed her to run under strict conditions. Since early December I’ve been battling a hamstring/knee situation that has limited my training–I got to eleven miles last weekend, but I wasn’t sure how well I’d hold up during the race.

It didn’t help that it was 68* with a bazillion percent humidity at the start.

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We drove downtown with two other friends who have been training hard, so I knew they’d finish well ahead of us. And somehow we lost them between gear check and the race start. So we spent some time chatting with a woman serving as a Race Guard–volunteers trained to administer medical care between aid stations. With the too-warm weather conditions, I thought this was an excellent addition to the race.

The race starts at Congress Avenue and Second Street and runs south for about three miles, which is mostly a slow incline through up the gentrified South Congress area, then past St. Edwards University to the Ben White access road. It was a tough beginning. K had set an interval on her watch, and we more or less followed it to run-walk that section. We took it easy, not wanting to expend too much energy this early in the race.

Once we turned back down South First, we made up a little time because it was mostly downhill. Mmmm, so. many. Mexican. restaurants!

This year’s edition of Crazy Yelling Guy took the form of a man pacing up and down South First yelling about the conspiracy of contrails, which he informed us cause a laundry list of ailments such as Alzheimers and Parkinson’s, and taunted us to “go ahead, just keep breathing all that poisoned air.” I thought I was breathing the magical scents of Mexican food, but woookay, dude.

Down South First, across the river, then left on Cesar Chavez. We kind of slowed down here–K was struggling a little with her fueling, so we walked more than usual. Then there’s that annoying hill up Veterans Drive to Lake Austin Boulevard, and we walked it too. We were doing pretty well heading west along Lake Austin (way better than the girl being treated by EMTs) although K was fading some.

And then disaster struck.

I’d been running on her left side so I didn’t accidentally bump her elbow. But as we passed the people handing out Clif Shot packages somewhere around mile 9.5, a woman in a purple shirt shoved past K to grab a mocha-flavored gel. She clipped her arm in exactly the spot that had been damaged. And the bitch of it was that there was no reason whatsoever for her to have gotten that close–by now the runners (and run-walkers) were pretty spread out. It wasn’t crowded, and no one ran immediately behind us. She just was clueless. K almost decapitated her, but that would have required the use of both arms, which she no longer had.

The sharp pain caused everything to go wonky–it made her nauseated, and she became nervous that someone would come up behind her and run into her again. Plus the impact with each step jarred the injured elbow. I started running on her right side, ready to throw a block like a linebacker if anyone got close. But she struggled to run.

At two of the water stops, we poured cold water over it, hoping to convince it to chill. I knew she’d need an ice pack from the medical people when we finished.

Fortunately after the Mile 11 marker there’s a long flat stretch, then a downhill to the Mile 12 marker. A couple with a dog held a sign that said “Puppy hugs!” so of course we stopped. On the bridge over Lamar, my 13-year old was waiting, and he tried to distract her as we launched ourselves up the last big hill. I suggested perhaps she could finish ahead of the purple-shirt woman. But she was having none of it from either of us. I tried to stay on her right, but since I had been running on her other side for the first ten miles, I kept getting a little ahead of her and drifting to the other side only to drop back into Linebacker Mode again.

We made it to the top of the Enfield hill, then tried to run a bit downhill and around the last few turns. On 12th I told her we just had three more turns and we’re done. I know she was in a ridiculous amount of pain, but she kept putting one foot in front of the other. Across Lavaca, right turn on Colorado. Past the Capitol, past the Governor’s Mansion, and left on 11th.

I knew M was waiting at 11th and Congress, at the final turn for the finish. B veered off behind the barricades and met up with his dad.

I again found myself on K’s left, but as we were a little more than three hours into this race with a city block to go, the half-marathon finish wasn’t crowded. She was running pretty close to the right-hand barricade and there literally wasn’t anyone running near us.

Until there was.

We crossed the timing mats and I turned to congratulate her. She started yelling, all kinds of pissed off. I thought maybe she was just angry-emotional after finishing such a tough race? But no. Some woman came out of nowhere (she’s not in the frame of the picture M took ten seconds before–I never even saw her) and jammed between K and the right side of the finish line archway thing. Which did not actually have room for another human. So she hit K’s right arm.

Why she didn’t pass on my left where a full traffic lane was empty, I don’t know. But her bump caused excruciating pain that made K stop and lean on the barricade (and yell some colorful language). A medic guy was standing right there, and I explained what happened. Another medic was there with a wheelchair and they took her away.

I got medals and took hers to the tent but they wouldn’t let me in. They promised they’d give it to her, so all I could do was wait.

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I picked up food and water, skipped the official race photo, then met my family at the exit. We circled back around to find her, but privacy rules meant they couldn’t tell me anything other than whether or not she was inside. I already knew the answer to that, and I tried to explain that she’s from out of town and I didn’t want to leave her alone. But then she came out with ice on her arm and looking a bit better.

We met up with the others at–no surprise–the beer garden. After her two free beers and a change of shirts, K felt even better. So we headed out for Mexican Food Recovery. Enchiladas and a margarita FTW!

Considering the warm, humid conditions and our combined injury/undertraining situations, I’m not displeased with my time. I didn’t even notice my hamstring and my stride felt normal the whole race–yay!–and while I know I could have pushed harder, I wasn’t going to leave her behind. Not in an unfamiliar city, not in awful weather conditions, not in pain and miserable, no.

We’ll get another shot in May when we run the Cleveland Challenge Series: an 8k on Saturday and a half marathon on Sunday. Let the training begin.

 


P.S. Thanks to my BRFs who drove me around and my family who chased us all over Central Austin to cheer and support this crazy thing I seem to do for fun. 🙂

Undertrained but making the best of it

I think I’m finally getting back to a normal running routine.

My pace and endurance are for shit, and the hot weather we’re having exposed my decreased levels of conditioning. But I’m able to run more or less normally.

This week I put in three miles on Monday, six on Tuesday, six on Thursday, and a very slow eleven on Saturday morning. I think the six on Thursday was a bit ambitious, though, since my eleven-miler was more of a run-walk because it was warm and humid, and my legs felt pretty tired.

But K (and her dislocated elbow) is coming Friday for next Sunday’s Austin Half Marathon! Between the weather and injury-induced undertraining, though, the race will be … interesting.

Fun–because we’ll do it together–but interesting. And maybe painful.

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I’m gonna take it relatively easy this week–definitely no 10K on Thursday this time, and maybe just a walk on Saturday rather than a shakeout run. Then I’ll cross my fingers and hope for the best.

First and Ten

After last Saturday’s eight-mile run that left my quads so fatigued I could barely do more than shuffle for the last two miles, I was less than confident about setting out for ten miles this morning. The cold drizzle didn’t help either.

I knew I’d lag behind my two friends–my endurance is still for shit–so I brought my headphones. The first mile I didn’t turn them on because we more or less stayed together, up and down some rolling hills. Now that we run from the new location, we run fewer hills on Saturdays, so I am a bit out of practice. Still, I managed to get all the way to the top at a run.

Carolina Panthers v Washington Redskins

At the water stop I turned on a podcast and wound through the neighborhood, crossed a major road, and continued into a newly-developed area. Shopping centers, hotels, and condos. Yes, Austin’s condo epidemic has infected Suburbia too. Anyway, the next water/Gatorade stop was about 3.5 miles in, next to the parking lot of the rec center. I caught my friends here, briefly, but they headed back out before I was ready–my leg was feeling a little uncomfortable and I needed to stretch it for a minute.

I hit mile four as I waited for a traffic light to cross another busy road. This next stretch had no sidewalk, and drivers seemed to not see me until the last second. Even in my neon-green shirt. But I reached the next turn (and crosswalk) unscathed. I passed my friends headed back, so I knew the turnaround wasn’t too far ahead.

Halfway.

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Back up the street with no sidewalks, across at the traffic light, then the water and Gatorade. I decided to take a pit stop at the rec center, so that put me further behind my friends. By now my legs were tired, but not that soul-crushing fatigue I’d felt the last couple of times I’d run. I shuffled along slightly less-slow than last week.

The drizzle turned to rain somewhere around mile 7.5, but it let up again a half-mile later. Finally I reached the last water stop and another leg-stretch before tackling the last 1.5 miles of rolling hills.

The path ran parallel to the highway, and it created something of a wind tunnel. I thought maybe the temperature had dropped, but I think it was just the wind hitting my damp shirt. Up and down the final hill, around the last corner, through that last treacherous spot (I call it playing Frogger) and into the parking lot. Ten miles, done.

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I’ve got one more Saturday before the Austin Half Marathon, so I’ll probably attempt twelve miles next weekend. I’m reasonably confident I can complete the race, although I’m pretty sure it’s gonna be ugly. But if K can still run it with a recovering dislocated elbow, I can hobble through it with her. It will be “Gimpy Leg and Broken Wing run Austin.” I know you can’t wait.

Slowpoke

I’m supposed to run the Austin Half Marathon with K on February 19, so now that my leg/hamstring/knee/whatever is mostly back to normal, I’m working on re-building my endurance.

From scratch, apparently.

In total over the last eight weeks or so, I’ve only taken about a week off, but I’ve had to reduce my mileage and cut back the number of days I run.

In November I PR’d a 5K running a 10:34 pace. Today I can barely hold on to a 12-minute mile. My “speedwork” pace the other night was around 11:30. My quads have been getting fatigued two miles in and I end up taking walk breaks. It’s like I’m a newbie again. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s not where I want to be three weeks before a half marathon.

This morning I managed eight miles, although I walked some sections. My leg doesn’t like uphills, and one section was a little rocky so I played it safe there too. But my legs felt like lead the whole time, my shoes felt too tight, and everything just felt …off. I slogged through it, but it took forever.

My only entertainment was enlightening S on the virtues of Pinky and the Brain.

It’s amazing how quickly I lost endurance. And it’s frustrating trying to get it back. Narf.

 

The skinniest park in Virginia

My hamstring is slowly recovering–enough that I can run a couple of slow miles without much discomfort. So when I made my annual trek to Washington D.C. with my honor society kids last week, even though we were staying way out of the city this time (due to Inauguration crowds) I was so excited that J was willing to drive out to run with me one morning. It was the Asscrack of Dawn 5K: BFE Edition.

My hotel was a mile or so away from an access point to the Washington and Old Dominion Regional Park–basically an old railroad line turned into a 45-mile long asphalt bike and running trail. And it was flat and smooth, with a parking lot 100 feet away. It was dark though–no trail lighting–so at one point when we heard rustling in the grass to our right we got kind of nervous. And the Eau de Skunk was fun too. But it was quiet, mostly just the two of us. Perfect.

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We encountered a couple of cyclists who were using nuclear-bright headlights, so we had plenty of advance warning. It felt really safe, and I loved it. We ran an easy 1.55 miles out, then turned around to make it an even 5K.

I’m WAY out of condition–seven weeks of limited running has killed my endurance. So I ran a minute or so per mile slower than I would normally have run with her, but otherwise it felt good. Very little discomfort in my leg, and I ran with a mostly normal stride.

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It was the one time on the five-day trip, about an hour total, I had for myself. The kids (and adults!) were all still asleep, so it was just me and J. It was a different route from the last couple of years, but it allowed me to discover something new–the skinniest park in Virginia!

 

Rain in my hair, don’t care

As I walked into the kitchen at 6:15 this morning, I heard the cat yowling for his breakfast rain pounding on the roof and came thisclose to going back to bed. Especially since last Saturday’s six-mile run and Tuesday night’s four miles were … unpleasant. Aside from the pain, I’ve been favoring my left leg, so I’m running more on my forefoot than usual and everything is just a little off.

But Thursday, I got a new pair of shoes–the next version of the ones I’ve been wearing–and maybe kinda sorta felt a little improvement on a two-mile test run. So, perhaps I was overly optimistic to think anything would be different today, but I went anyway.

It was 46* (and still raining, but lighter now) as we headed out. In my head, I was hoping for six miles, but continuing on this overly-optimistic theme, I really wanted to make it seven. I mean, the Austin half is coming up fast–pretty soon I’ve got to decide if I can put in enough training to finish that race. But I promised myself I’d go further only if my knee was feeling good. I figured I’d know by the second mile–that’s when the last couple of runs have fallen apart.

Clearly my endurance has taken a huge hit since running a ten-miler, then two 5K PR races back-to-back-to-back in November. So I plodded along a minute per mile slower than usual for a Saturday run. But aside from that, I felt closer to normal than I have in a while. My strides were more even, my foot striking less gimpy. One mile, then two. Still good.

At the mile three water stop (which would also be my turnaround for six miles) I could see the roof of my house. Part of me was tempted to duck through the gap in the fence and go make a coffee or something. But even though I was still waiting for the other shoe to drop (so to speak) and the gimpiness to return, I actually enjoyed being out there–in the rain and cold and wind–because I could.

So I kept going another half-mile, for seven.

One of my friends turned back at three, and the other two got ahead, planning to turn around at four. I stopped and stretched my hamstring at 3.5, watched the steam rise off the pond (it had been nearly 80* most of the week), then headed back. Slowly, but still mostly normal, with just a little hamstring achiness every so often. In those middle miles, I walked a bit now and then (beacuse endurance) but generally maintained a steady, albeit glacial, pace.

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The wind picked up on the return trip. My headphones died the last half-mile. I couldn’t keep up with my friends. My new shoes felt too tight and I kept having to loosen the laces to get them just right. But you know what? I DID NOT CARE.

I had hoped for a half-assed six-miler and I got a solid seven miles. Rain nor cold nor gloom of night could keep me from my appointed rounds. And afterward, foam-rolling felt a little easier. Hell, walking felt a little easier. In fact, the rest of the day I felt no residual soreness at all–for the first time since Thanksgiving I ran pretty well, then moved around completely pain-free afterward.

That’s not to say after our post-run coffee celebration I didn’t sit on the couch watching Netflix, warming my toes by the fireplace. But I did it comfortably.

 

 

Seventeen going on eighteen

I don’t remember the last time it got this cold in Central Texas.

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Maybe it was 2011, when rolling blackouts hit Austin because the electricity demand was so high. They said they’d be 30-minute blackouts, but my school went without power for at least two hours. Parents waited in an hour-long line (the overflow from the office spilled into an outdoor courtyard) to take their kids home… where they also had no power. It was a crazy day. But even then, I’m not sure it got down into the teens. The only other time I remember such cold temperatures was 1989 when it dropped to FOUR DEGREES. At the time I worked in a mall with an ice skating rink, and (rumor had it–which sounds ridiculous in retrospect) the stores did not have heat because of the ice, and it was really damn cold in there.

So 17* is … unusual. But I promised the others if I really could run, I would not complain about the weather. If I could run relatively normally, I would be thrilled to run in 17*.

The first mile went pretty well. I mean, it was cold. I wore a fleece-lined base layer, then a quarter-zip pullover and a windbreaker on top of that. I had fleece-lined tights, plus gloves, ear warmers, and a scarf around my face to help me breathe warmer air. My torso was comfortable, but my face hurt and my quads went numb pretty early on. But still, I was running pain-free and did not complain. In fact I was super-happy, daring to think maybe my leg was getting better.

We knocked some ice off the cooler at the first water stop, and when I unzipped my jacket to get my chapstick, the condensation from breathing into my scarf (or possibly my sweat) … froze. It looked like I’d been running in the snow.

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As I restarted, though, so did the twinge in my knee. I ran-walked pretty much the next five miles. It felt a little better the last mile, so I was able to pick up my pace and salvage something from the attempt. But I feel like my stride is still … off.

For six miles I concentrated on my form, I tried to figure out why and where it didn’t feel right, I tried to stop thinking about it and let muscle memory take over. But nothing worked, and I really don’t know what to do about it.

I’ve done everything I’m supposed to–foam rolling, strength exercises, stretches, resting, not resting, cross-training, ART (and whatever other medieval torture my sports doc puts me through), massage therapy, ice, heat, anti-inflammatory meds. The only other option is patience, and, well, that’s not one of my virtues.

Especially with only six weeks until the Austin Half-Marathon.