Acceptance

This fall, neither my training nor my performance lived up to my expectations.

Three separate injuries caused three separate training setbacks, all of which certainly contributed to my slowest, most miserable half-marathon to date. And when I thought I was finally healed and back on track, my last-ditch effort to salvage my January races lasted all of five steps because my left calf staged a mutiny.

I mentioned this in one of my Festivus grievances last week, but since then, things have gotten much worse.

After my failed attempt at the track workout on Tuesday, I kind of hoped to fit it in on Thursday (Christmas) afternoon or evening. But (not surprisingly) that didn’t pan out, so when Friday morning rolled around and me leg seemed to feel okay, I thought I’d give it another shot. Not the track workout, because I wanted to run 12-14 the next day, but running the neighborhood loop would let me see how it felt.

I got five steps before that sharp pain jammed into my calf again. I turned around and limped back inside. I tried a bike ride, but even pushing on the pedal was uncomfortable and kept me from working hard at it.

Saturday’s long run was out. I turned off my alarm and slept in. Fourteen miles had sounded daunting a few days before, but now that I couldn’t do it, I wanted to. Even when it looked like this outside:

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I lit a fire in the fireplace and snuggled under my race t-shirt quilt on the couch with one of my my cats and a book. It was pleasant and cozy, but I’d eaten a lot of Christmas cookies and felt like a slug. Considering I couldn’t even walk normally without pain, though, I saw my January race goals slipping further away.

Sunday turned into another couch day. I’d left the door to the garage cracked when I went out to put stuff in the washing machine, and one of my cats darted out. As I leaped to chase her, guess what? It hurt. A lot. It was exactly zero percent improved after six days of not running. And since it was the weekend, I had exactly zero options to find out what was wrong–all I could do was sit and stew about it until Monday.

With those steps chasing the cat, denial was gone. I was now angry. Frustrated. Mad. Pissed off. But I couldn’t even stomp around the house, or run to let off steam, or much of anything. Now in worst-case-scenario mode, I started looking into deferrals (no practical options). I texted with a couple of running friends (they commiserated). I sulked on the couch (my book distracted me temporarily). And then I opened the fortune cookie that came with the Chinese food I’d had delivered (because it hurt to push my car’s clutch):

IMG_2550Slowly I began to come to terms with the fact that my two January races might be off the table completely. I mean, even if the pain was gone by then, I have hardly run at all since Thanksgiving and am clearly undertrained for a half-marathon. I’ve never not run a race I’d registered for, and the thought of doing so now frustrated me further. Still, I started thinking about having a Plan B in case it turned out I couldn’t run. I could volunteer at the Distance Festival, and that might be satisfying. And a friend is coming from out of town to run 3M–I could still chauffeur her to the race and find good spectator spots along the course. That would be fun too. I began to accept those scenarios as possibilities.

Monday afternoon, I realized I was walking on it almost normally–something I hadn’t done consistently in about a week. I saw my sports doctor, who suspects that the recent problem with my right hip caused me to shift my gait, which overcompensated to the left side and caused that leg to become overworked. The calf–the same one that gave me problems a couple of years ago–was not appeased by foam rolling, and it rebelled. But my worst-case scenario fears seem to be unfounded–it’s likely not structurally damaged. Treatment and time should do the trick. Since he’s fixed me twice before with this strategy, I’m willing to go down this path and see what happens.

I plan to take it easy the next couple of days, foam rolling and doing some core work instead of running. I’m holding out a little hope that it’s healed in a couple of days and I could try a long run Saturday–I’m allowed to run if it’s pain-free, so I pretty much just have to assess it one day at a time.

I may be able to run my races, or I may have to be a spectator for one or both. But I’ve accepted either possibility.

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Have you ever bailed on a race you’d registered for? How did you deal with that?

Would you skip a race you weren’t properly trained for, or muddle through it anyway?

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Festivus begins with the airing of grievances

And I got a lotta problems with you people!

Okay, not you people so much as with my injuries that have disappointed me in the following ways:

  1. My left IT band plagued me most of the summer, on and off. And in September, I started back slowly to prevent a recurrence. Which put me behind on my training for my fall races.
  2. Then came the unexplained right hip pain that caused me to miss two weeks of running leading up to my December half marathon.
  3. Followed immediately by someone stabbing an ice pick into my left calf. It started bothering me about a week ago, on my Tuesday training run at the track. It loosened up though, and I thought it was just some kind of post-race fatigue. Until it happened again on Thursday. We were crossing a busy road, and when the traffic cleared we started to sprint across–which brought the ice picks again. I slowed, but since we were in the middle of our run, I had no choice but to carry on. It eventually eased a bit, and by Saturday it was a little sore but did not get in the way of my eight-miler. But this morning, as I headed out to the track (it was windy, cold, and had just stopped raining and I still managed to get myself out the door) I barely made it across the path to the adjacent neighborhood when the ice picks returned. This time I caved bailed. Came home and foam rolled it (for the 900th time this week) and will try the track workout again in a couple of days.

And now, as Festivus rolls on, we come to the Feats of Strength.

These feats may involve physical strength such as pushing myself the next couple of weeks in possibly a fruitless attempt to prepare for what I thought was going to be my goal race, or emotional strength to deal with not meeting those goals. Perhaps, like the unadorned Festivus pole, I will end up with a high strength-to-weight ratio after overcoming all these injuries. But for now, let’s rumble!

2014: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times

And it was definitely the spring of hope and the winter of despair.

I started the year with an 18-minute half-marathon PR at the 3M Half Marathon. I’d had a terrific fall and winter of training, and everything clicked on race day.

Finisher

Finisher

Next up was the Austin Half Marathon. I knew I couldn’t touch my new PR–Austin is hilly, especially compared to 3M’s net downhill elevation. But I came in under my goal time and was happy with that.

2014 Austin Half Marathon Finisher

2014 Austin Half Marathon Finisher

From there, I set PRs at the 5K, 10K, and 10-mile distances back-to-back-to-back. I rounded out the spring with another 10K and 5K–no PRs either time but I had solid finishes in both.

Overall, I felt like my races had gone extremely well (the aforementioned spring of hope), but I still wanted to improve my race times going forward. I joined a training group that focused on strength and speed, and just when I felt like I was getting into the groove, my IT Band freaked out. I don’t know if it was the Hill of Doom or the fact that I jumped in without taking much of a break–after all, I’d run eight races from January through May, six of them 10K or further, but by mid-July, my IT Band was toast. I iced it, I foam-rolled it, I walked and cycled and tried to give it a break. It held up okay for the Achilles Heel 10K, our attempt to help J through her triathlon, but by the time I was supposed to run an informal half-marathon with B in early August, it had barely improved. So we walked that race too. I felt like it would never heal, but with a lot of foam rolling and rest, it eventually did. Just in time for me to run a leg of the Zilker Relays, followed by the Frozen Hot Chocolate 10K the next day.

Things were looking up. To avoid a relapse, I was only running three days a week, so I knew my training was a bit behind schedule. Still, I ran a respectable 5K at the end of September, then finished the Army Ten-Miler slightly faster than the year before, despite struggling over the last two or three miles. Two weeks later, I ran the much-hillier Run for the Water ten-miler only a minute or so slower than the ATM. I felt like I was getting back on track.

Challenge coin

Challenge coin

So naturally, something else had to go wrong.

I’d been slowly increasing my mileage–instead of running just three days a week (training on Tuesdays and Thursdays, plus a long run on Saturdays) I slowly added in another day, then two days, of short runs. And it seemed to be paying off. My endurance was better, anyway.

Then, in mid-November, I noticed that my right hip felt weird, like I’d bruised it.. This is not unusual–my hip is right about student-desk-level and my classroom’s aisles are narrow–I frequently bump into desks as I pass by. I didn’t think much of it. Until the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, when we ran up and down some (smallish) hills for several miles. By the end, I felt a sharp pain in my right hip. Clearly it was something more than a bruise.

Knowing we were running the Turkey Trot five-miler on Thanksgiving, I tried to rest and hope it would feel better by Thursday. And initially I thought I’d succeeded. The first couple miles, despite some hilly sections, it didn’t bother me. But the last two miles, especially on the downhill segments, the pain was back with a vengeance. After the race I was walking like someone who’d finished a half-marathon–or longer.

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Between Thanksgiving and December 13, I ran a grand total of 11.5 miles–and that included the Turkey Trot. My one attempt at running started off well but fell apart after about four miles. This did not give me confidence going into my last race of 2014, especially considering the last time I ran close to half-marathon distance was 12 miles about a month previously.

Remember that part about the winter of despair? Yeah, that’s how my last race of 2014 ended up. In the BCS Half Marathon I ran a personal worst time, I felt the worst I’ve ever felt after a race, and I even spent some time in the medical area. If there’s any good news, it’s that my hip was okay. But wow my endurance had suffered!

I finished and didn't die.

I finished and didn’t die.

I’m not sure how I went from a spring of hope to a winter of despair, but that’s what happened. I’m back at training with a renewed motivation to run strong at 3M 2015–clearly I have a lot of work to do in five weeks. But maybe the winter of despair can once again turn into the spring of hope.

2014 in race bibs

2014 in race bibs

Here’s to a productive 2014, despite its ups and downs, its best of times and its worst of times. May 2015 be the age of wisdom and not the age of foolishness, and with fewer injuries. Happy holidays!

Back on the horse that threw me

Okay, I think it’s safe to laugh about my horrible race on Sunday. The word “vomit” is funny, right??

Sitting out for the better part of two weeks helped heal my hip, but clearly I traded that for endurance. So now it’s time to double down. My goal race is just over five weeks away, and clearly I have a lot of work to do. Can I go from personal-worst to personal best in five weeks? Can I train hard enough to get there without re-injuring myself in the process?

Well, it won’t happen if I sit around wondering, so on Monday I went to core class. I was surprised that my quads still felt really sore, but I knew the instructor had just run a full marathon the day before so she’d take it easy on the leg stuff. She focused more on upper body and stretching, which was perfect for both of us.

Then last night–still feeling some residual achiness–I joined my training group for a speed workout at the middle school track. We ran two laps at 10K pace, one lap easy, and one lap at 5K pace. Rest, repeat. The second set was definitely harder than the first and my paces were on the slow side, but I really didn’t feel too bad after I’d finished. No worse than when I started, anyway.

Tomorrow is the last day of the semester, so I’m looking forward to having some down time over Winter Break. If you consider the insanity of the holidays, plus applying a renewed focus on training “downtime,” that is. 😉

Someday this will be a funny story

Saturday afternoon, we drove from Austin to College Station. It’s about a two-hour drive, and we went straight to the expo, which was held at one of the high schools. The place was crowded, but it was well-organized and we retrieved our bibs, participant shirts, and Swiftwick socks quickly and easily.

Participant shirt

Participant shirt

From there, we checked in to our hotel, then got ourselves organized for the race. We had dinner plans with friends later, but in the meantime we just kinda kicked back until it was time to go. Fortunately the restaurant–Grub Burger Bar–was only a block or two away, so we walked. I needed to move around a bit after the drive, especially since I hadn’t run in a week. I had a plain cheeseburger and some onion rings–nothing unusual or different the night before a race!

After dinner, we set our alarms for 5am. The race started at 7am, but their emails recommended we arrive by six. I slept better then I thought I would, and by 5:30 we were heading out. The weather was about 60*, but unfortunately the humidity was something like 95%. Yikes.

The race started at Wolf Pen Park, adjacent to the Post Oak Mall, which provided the parking. As promised, it was easy to get in and park, and it was only a short walk to the starting area. We met up with our friends, took a couple of pictures, made last-minute bathroom stops, and it was time to go.

I was not in Corral 1.

I was not in Corral 1.

The first three or four miles went by pretty quickly. My ipod was picking good songs and I tried just to get lost in the mile I was in rather than worry about how far I still had to go. I spent a long time contemplating the slogan on the back of someone’s shirt, and I wondered what possessed one homeowner to paint the house Highway Department Yellow.  The streets were not in the best shape, and I had to pay attention to cracks and holes and other dangers.

At about Mile Four, the full split off from the half, and I still felt good. I was holding a decent pace and did not have any pain. This part of the course ran through residential areas, and neighbors had come out to cheer the runners. I could have done without the woman who was smoking in her driveway, but I loved seeing the one guy wearing a Longhorn sweatshirt. It seemed like every person in this town was decked out in Aggie maroon, so I waved “Hook ‘Em Horns” at him and he cheered.

By now my watch was ahead of the mile markers, and it hit six miles long before the 10K split. At this point I was starting to feel some soreness in my hip flexors and it slowed me down a bit. At Mile Seven we turned into the Texas A&M campus itself, where many of the streets were brick. Lots of spirit organizations had come out, and around Mile Nine volunteers had not only oranges and bananas, but gummy bears and Twizzlers. YUM.

As I ran around the football stadium, my ipod selected Django Walker’s song “Texas Longhorn,” which cracked me up. A&M and Texas are (were?) huge rivals, but we haven’t met on the football field since 2011 (a game Texas won). And I was tired of all the maroon everywhere, so I think my ipod was trying to cheer me up. Because by now my legs were really sore and I’d slowed down a lot. By Mile 10 I knew my loose goal was gone, but I had another problem: I was alternating between dizzy and queasy. I ran until I thought I would pass out or barf, then walked until I could run again. I usually don’t think three miles is terribly long, but today it was interminable.

The finish was downhill and I ran it in. I received my medal, then collected my finisher shirt. Unfortunately they had run out of my size (grr) so I ended up with one that’s probably a little too big. I grabbed some water, then continued on to the food area. Volunteers handed out styrofoam containers to runners, allowing us to wander around and collect breakfast tacos, burgers, pizza rolls, and some stuff I didn’t see. I got a few things, but I didn’t feel like eating just yet. There was a trailer distributing beer, and next to that were three margarita machines. They didn’t look terribly icy though, so I passed. I found several of my friends, then went to go find the others. I grabbed another bottle of water, then decided to sit on the curb. We were waiting for our last runner to finish, and as I sat there, I started to spiral downhill. Again. This happened after the Army Ten-Miler and the Cleveland half, but both times it hit later. Today, as I sat there on the curb, I knew I was in trouble.

Let’s just say the grape electrolyte drink was better the first time I tasted it.

My friends steered me to the medical tent, and I didn’t protest. Someone gave me a cold towel and sat me on a cot. They asked me a zillion questions, and they figured that even though I’d had water at every water stop, I was probably dehydrated. I sipped water, hoping the worst was over. I tried to stand up, but that was a no-go. I sat back down, and one of the doctors came over to talk to me. She had me lie down with my feet elevated and sip some more water. Someone brought me one of those space blankets–I was starting to shiver–and I sipped my water while I tried to get myself together.

See, we’d taken my car, but it is a stick shift. It was up to me to get us back to the hotel, then back to Austin. I needed some time, but the hotel had grudgingly given us just 30 extra minutes for “late” checkout, and time was running out. I didn’t feel okay to drive yet, so I called my husband–I had made the reservations under his rewards account–and asked him to call the hotel and explain the situation. He informed them we’d need some more time, and while they were less than compassionate, they said they would let the cleaning crew know. Thanks, Towne Place Suites, your efforts at customer service were underwhelming.

A few minutes later I decided to try to stand again. I didn’t immediately feel like falling back down, so I took a few tentative steps, then slowly walked through the park to the car. The space blanket flapped in the wind, but I was glad I had it. People looked at me weirdly though–this was a warm, humid race, and here’s this girl wrapped in a space blanket. But whatever, I didn’t care.

The drive back to the hotel took significantly longer than this morning because we had to loop under the highway, sit through a really long light, and make a bunch of left turns, but we got back and showered and packed up only 30 minutes late. I desperately craved an iced tea, so we set out to find sustenance. We settled on a Mexican place–I felt well enough to eat a couple of tacos by then, and although I didn’t finish them both, the iced tea helped a lot. By the time we set the GPS for home, I felt pretty normal. I’m pretty sure even now, half a day later, I’m operating at a calorie deficit though.

This was definitely not the race I envisioned. And clearly I need to rethink some of my fueling strategies. But even though I had to walk a lot, it was my personal-worst time, and I spent nearly an hour in the medical tent, I know I (literally!) gave everything I had to finish this race.

I finished and didn't die.

I finished and didn’t die.

I  heard later that the race director ran in with the final marathon finishers. Throughout the event, I was impressed by the organizers’ attention to detail–my performance was my own, not a reflection on their hard work. I’m also incredibly grateful for my friends who hung around the medical area, carried my stuff, made sure my finisher shirt didn’t get lost, and just generally looked after me. Thank you!

And with that, my 2014 races are finished. But don’t worry, it all starts up again in January!

Race weekend: a Longhorn goes to Aggieland

I’ve just finished packing for a race about two hours from my house. Fortunately, this time we’re driving, so I don’t have to worry about cramming a bunch of stuff into a carry-on suitcase like I did for the Army Ten-Miler. But still, we’re only staying one night–I shouldn’t need a lot of stuff. Right??

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In my defense, my foam roller is in there.

I’m a little nervous about this one, though. And not just because I’m a Longhorn traveling to Aggieland.

When I registered back in June, I was coming off a pretty decent spring of improving times and better endurance. But then The Summer of the IT Band Injury happened, and everything changed. By September it was healed, but to get there, I’d only run three days a week, and I was behind in my training. I felt sluggish and slow–I finished both of October’s ten-milers seven or eight minutes slower than my April one, despite better weather conditions. I mostly chalked it up to injury recovery, but I knew I needed to step it up in November and December since I have two half-marathons on the schedule.

So naturally, just when I was getting into a groove and feeling some results, my right hip protested.

Including the Turkey Trot, I’ve run a grand total of 11.5 miles since Thanksgiving. I’ve seen my sports doctor several times, I’ve foam rolled my hip within an inch of its life, and I’ve skipped six training runs with my group to give it time to heal. The last time I ran anything close to a half-marathon distance was 12 miles a month ago. So today I’m heading out with more than a little trepidation.

On the plus side, I’ve heard this is a fantastic race. A few friends ran it last year after Dallas got canceled two days out, and they spoke very highly of the experience, especially they way BCS accommodated and welcomed their last-minute entries. And I’ve been really impressed with their race director. I emailed him a while back about something, and he responded within the hour. The last two weeks he’s been posting updates and information on their Facebook page–he’s so enthusiastic, it’s infectious. The race swag is spiffy too–a long-sleeved shirt, a dri-fit finishers’ shirt, Swiftwick socks–and I love their attention to detail regarding food (and having enough for slow people like me–especially after that article calling out runners who hoarded post-race food) and portapotties and every other aspect of race day. They call themselves “the best race in Texas,” and I am looking forward to being a part of it.

Last week, race day weather looked pretty heinous. Temps in the low 50s at the start, with a 90% chance of rain. Yippee. I went out and bought a bunch of .99 rain ponchos just in case.

Better than a trash bag

Better than a trash bag

So naturally, as the week went on, the forecast improved. You can thank me later.

A little warmer than I'd like, but at least the icon has clouds and not lightning and rain

A little warmer than I’d like, but at least the icon has clouds and not lightning and rain

I have a loose time goal, but honestly, I’ll be happy if I finish without significant hip pain. I have no idea if that’s a reasonable goal or not–guess I’ll find out at 7am tomorrow. I hear there are margaritas at the post-race party, so I’ll either be drowning my sorrows or celebrating. Wish me luck!

I had a great 3.5-mile run. Unfortunately I was out there for 6.5 miles.

Other than my failed half-mile attempt a week ago, I haven’t run since Thanksgiving because of this annoying hip pain. I’ve stretched and foam-rolled, I saw my sports doctor, and I tried to take it easy. My next half-marathon is a week away, so I hoped to get out and run six-ish miles this morning so I wouldn’t feel completely unprepared. But I didn’t want to get up before dawn and drive all the way out to Rogue only to bail the first half-mile again. So I slept in, and around 9am I headed out on the Route That Wasn’t from last week.

The weather was overcast, windy, and 50-something–more or less what I can expect next weekend. I wore a loose long-sleeved shirt to give me an idea of what I might want to wear for the race. With the breeze, I was pretty comfortable.

The first 1.5 miles wound around my neighborhood. Everything felt good–no pain, decent pace, yay! After 1.5 miles, I reached the Mexican restaurant where M and B were having breakfast, so I stopped in and got a drink of water. They had just ordered tacos-to-go for me!

From there, I crossed the main road and headed toward the high school. It’s a pretty straight shot down this street, but I had to pay attention to oncoming drivers because the lane striping is weird and no one can navigate it properly. I still felt good, and I started to envision a triumphant Facebook post finish at my driveway, stoked about conquering yet another injury and giving me a confidence boost going into next weekend’s race.

I reached the park and was semi-surprised to see a WWII-era Jeep just sitting there. I mean, M has half a dozen old military Jeeps out at his family’s ranch and I’m used to seeing them in that context, but I didn’t expect to encounter one in the park.

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Doesn’t everyone encounter WWII Jeeps on their morning runs?

From there I looped around the high school. I passed a coach instructing five or six athletes on the pole vault, and I discovered that the fire station seems to have been turned into a boot camp gym.

Around the back side of the school, I had to stay on the sidewalk because the street is narrow, many cars pack along the curb, and there’s not a lot of room. But the sidewalks aren’t much better. Tree roots and neglect have pushed up chunks of concrete in some places; in others, the concrete has all but disappeared, leaving only dirt and small, loose rocks.

And then there was the mud. It rained on and off all week, and apparently someone had driven into an empty lot and spun around doing donuts.

Not Dunkin Donuts, just donuts (sadly)

Not Dunkin Donuts, just donuts (sadly)

The grass was torn up and mud was all over the sidewalk and the street. I stopped to stretch my hip flexors, then continued on, dodging the mud as best I could. But by now I knew my hopes for a pleasant, comfortable 10K run had been dashed. My sports doc had given me strict orders to stop if it hurt, and while it wasn’t a sharp pain, I felt a lot of soreness and knew I needed to dial things back a bit.

Unfortunately, I still had about three miles to go.

I ran-walked the rest of the way back to my house. No triumphant finish, no injury-conquering. And certainly no confidence boost. Honestly, I’m pretty concerned about completing a half-marathon next weekend, let alone clocking some kind of respectable time.

After got home, I ate my tacos, foam-rolled, and took some ibuprofen. Here’s hoping the coming week will bring some magic and things will fall into place for the race.

Reparo!