Black Eyed Pea Run

Yeah, I know. Black-Eyed peas are for New Year’s Day, not New Year’s Eve. And in the past, Rogue’s new year run was held on the first day of the new year. But for whatever reason, this year they tied it in to their usual Saturday long run. So a couple of us headed downtown to join in.

My knee is no better, no worse, and I had a reasonably successful three-mile run on Thursday, so I hoped to build on that today. My friends planned ten miles, but my goals were much more modest.

The route began at Rogue’s downtown location, following 5th Street west. After a half-mile or so, 5th Street turns in to Lake Austin Boulevard, and it’s a pretty boring straightaway for another mile and a half. I’d slowed way down to focus on taking even steps and not favoring my left leg, so I ran pretty much by myself.

At the point where Lake Austin turns in to Enfield, I encountered the first water stop. It was still really dark out and I almost missed it, but someone ahead of me had been wearing a blinky light and I spotted them almost at the last minute. I forget that DT Rogue often has manned water stops–she not only had water and Gatorade, but goodies like gummy bears and Skittles too. Her friendly Golden Retriever greeted each runner, which pretty much made my day. That and the holiday lights on the building across the street!

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Wow it’s early

I didn’t go as far as Scenic Drive, where the views are more, well, scenic–I turned around at 2.5 miles, just before things were gonna get really hilly. And of course I stopped and visited with the dog on the way back, too. Because dog.

I was pretty much the only person heading back this early–lots of Rogues are training for the Houston Marathon in mid-January, so they were running double-digits today. On the other end of the spectrum, I had to stop a few times and walk or stretch, but I successfully finished five miles.

Some other sights:

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I’m really disappointed I missed this.

 

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Doesn’t this look like a Star Wars tie fighter? And what exactly does that say about Austin traffic if this is painted along 5th Street?

 

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Running Man

As far as my knee, when I focused on my running form, I felt reasonably good. Not pain-free, but certainly something manageable. At times, though, I was (I think) subconsciously anxious about “it’s going to hurt when I land” that I tensed up on that side, which actually made things worse. I had to concentrate on loosening up and taking even steps the whole way. At any rate, paying attention to each movement kept my mind busy!

The upside of running only five miles on a day most people were running ten or fifteen or twenty was that the place was nearly empty when I returned. I foam-rolled, scoured the clearance bins, and even found some coffee.

After the others returned and did their own foam-rolling and bin-scouring, we went out for lunch, then sat at the coffee shop contemplating plans for the new year. Right now, I’m still hoping to run the Austin Half in February, assuming my knee keeps improving. And we’ve got a few other adventures in the works too–stay tuned!

2016: In like a lion, out like a lamb

This year started on a high note: two January PRs.

The first one, by almost four minutes, came in early January at the Rogue Distance Festival 10K. I’d had a severe asthma attack the night before and temps were below freezing at race time, but I ran well and finished strong with the help of several Rogues. Two weeks later at the 3M Half Marathon (also in freezing temps) I smashed my PR by almost ten minutes, and I finished nearly an hour ahead of the previous year’s disastrous race. J surprised me by flying in from D.C. to pace me the last two miles, and it worked!

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By April, though, race weather gets unpredictable. I signed up for the Austin 10/20, figuring it’d be a good 10-mile training race if nothing else. But race morning was cool, and I had a chance to PR. Although I had PR’d by about seven minutes the previous October, I’d missed my 10-miler goal by thirty seconds, and this race gave me a chance to get there. Thanks to my friend S who paced me the whole way, I not only got back that :30 but PR’d by almost four minutes.

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A week later, I had some sort of knee situation at the Capitol 10K and had to walk most of it. Blah. But it’s a fun race for people-watching, so there was that.

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But hey, redemption was right around the corner! We’d signed up for a local 5K just for the hell of it, and when we woke up to cool temps, I decided to race it. I PR’d by about 30 seconds–six minutes per mile faster than my (mostly walking) Cap 10K pace, and my first race in which my overall pace dropped into the 10s.

Because 2016 was full of ups and downs, of course I struggled at my next race, this time a half-marathon on Memorial Day weekend in Medina, Ohio. The weather was warm and humid, and despite the amazing company and the well-organized race, I did not run well. It was a fun weekend though, and I have no regrets.

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Despite my semi-setback in Medina, I wanted to celebrate my string of PRs and strong races the first half of the year, especially after coming back from injury the year before. So for my birthday, I got a tattoo in the shape of a triskelion, a symbol meaning forward progress, perseverance, and achievement. Six months later, I still love it.

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The summer was milder than usual, but still hot. I plodded along, knowing I had a fall goal. We traveled a bit-in July I ran in Tulsa, St. Louis, Chicago, Bloomington IL, and Little Rock.

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We were home for a week, then headed to South Padre Island for a few days at the beach. Running in South Texas was a lot more difficult than running in the Midwest! But I knew October and the Army Ten-Miler would arrive before I knew it, and I needed to keep working if I wanted that thirty seconds back.

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Our final summer adventure was the Galveston Sand Crab 5K, our (somewhat) annual tradition on the beach. This year, we dodged rain pretty much all weekend, which actually cooled things off and made the race a little easier.

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As the summer wound down, so did Rogue’s retail store in Cedar Park. We had to come to terms with a huge change, and it wasn’t easy. We had several running “field trips” in August, while waiting for the new location to be ready. And once the change happened, in early September, we had to adjust to new routes, new everything. For someone who doesn’t like change, I was facing a lot of it at once and struggled with it a bit. Eventually things settled down, though, at least a little.

Another new thing for me? Starting to write for Texas Running Post. I’ve got my own little corner where I contribute race reports and other thoughts on running in Austin and Texas. I’ve tried to write articles separate from my blog posts, although a couple of times they’ve overlapped. It’s been fun, and I hope to continue writing in the coming year.

Throughout September, I ran hills every Thursday to prepare for the final hill of the Army Ten-Miler. It was a tough task in the heat, but again I thought if I could push through it now, the October equivalent in Washington D.C. would feel easier.

The first test came with the ’80s 8K the first week in October. It was only a week before ATM so I knew I wouldn’t race it hard. But last year it was the first cool-weather race of the year, and therefore a good test of my real fitness. This year it was harder than it should have been, and it shook my confidence a little even though I finished within a minute of last year’s time.

And then it was Redemption Time in D.C.. Since missing my 2015 goal by thirty seconds, I’d obsessed over it all year. I’d worked hard since then–but was it enough? Yes, yes it was. I beat it by a minute and a half. Even though it wasn’t a PR, it was close-and because I ran 10.1 miles compared to the 10/20’s even 10.0, my ATM pace was actually faster for ten miles. And I found out later in the fall that the 2017 race conflicts with a home Texas football game, so I’m doubly-glad I slayed this dragon in 2016.

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Speaking of slaying , November became a double-edged sword. I ran decently at the Run for the Water (faster than the previous year, anyway, even though it felt harder) and ran a would-be PR at the Run with the Heroes 5K the following week. The course was short, though, so I didn’t want to count it as an official 5K PR even though it was more than a minute faster than the 5K I ran back in May. But six days later, I turned in a legit 5K PR at the Shiner Beer Run in Shiner, Texas. This means that for my last three 5Ks now, my overall pace has been in the 10s. I can’t sustain that for longer distances, but when I think back to my first 5K five years ago, which I finished in about 45 minutes, I’m pleased with my progress.

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But as 2016 has shown, for every upside there’s an equal an opposite downside. And that pendulum swung back for the Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving morning. I struggled with my breathing and it was a tough race, but we finished in just over an hour. Not terrible, considering the crowds and my breathing issues, but not my best.

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Unfortunately, this was only the beginning. The following Saturday, I felt a weird twinge in my left upper calf/behind my knee/maybe IT band, so we cut our run a little short. I spent a lot of time foam rolling and taking it easy-after the Great IT Band Incident of 2014, I wanted no part of an injury repeat and took a conservative approach.

Which didn’t work.

I had on-again, off-again pain the following week. It was okay for the Trail of Lights Fun Run, but got progressively worse after that.

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Since December 3, I might have run ten miles total. I’ve gone to two sports massage therapists, my sports doctor, and even had an MRI. The good news is there’s no ligament or muscle damage, so it’s not a life-altering injury. But tell that to my knee, which stubbornly insists on hurting when I run. I can walk, I can do Fitness Blender workouts, I can do everything with no pain. Except run.

So while 2016 started off with PRs and triumph, it’s winding down with uncertainty. I’m supposed to run the Austin Half Marathon on February 19 (the 3M half conflicts with my NJHS trip to Washington, D.C. so I transferred my registration to Austin) but the longer this goes on, the more concerned I get. I ran the 2015 3M half undertrained and barely recovered from injury, and it was miserable–I probably should not have done it, and it has me questioning whether 13.1 miles seven weeks from now is a realistic goal.

I’m trying to maintain my fitness with core and cardio workouts plus long-distance cycling, and I’m trying to hold onto some optimism. If nothing else, this year has shown me I can bounce back from adversity–it’s not quick and it’s not easy, but it’s possible.

Like many others, I am looking forward to seeing 2016 in my rear-view mirror. It certainly had its share of positives, but the year’s gloomy ending has me longing for a fresh start in January.

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Happy New Year, y’all!

An update in pictures

One of my favorite ESPN 30-for-30 episodes is called June 17, 1994. It’s not my favorite because that was my birthday, but because of the way the filmmaker tells the story solely through news reports of the major sporting events occurring that day. Most notably, the O.J. Simpson slow-speed Bronco chase.

Well, my life is much less dramatic and certainly doesn’t warrant news coverage. But as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words, so I will let images explain my current running situation.

Sunday:

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Long bike ride because cookies

Monday:

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Nope.

 

Tuesday:

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AKA “nap”

Which leaves me with:

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1, 2, 3

That’d be my mileage this week.

I’m allowed to run if my knee pain stays below three on the pain scale. Well, I say knee pain but I’m still not sure where it’s originating. Sometimes it’s behind my kneecap, but others it’s more on the side like IT band. This week it focused more on the lower hamstring.

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Monday I ran a mile before core class–definitely not pain-free, but within range. Tuesday I met my training group for a track workout, except the track was closed so we ran around the school’s parking lot. Slightly less squishy than the track, and after two miles I realized I was favoring my left leg which threw off my gait. Rather than let the imbalance cause more problems, I stopped after two miles.

After my sports doc worked on it Wednesday, I got ambitious and set out for three miles Thursday morning. The first two were pain-free, but unfortunately I was still a mile from home when it flared up again. It hovered right around that three so I kept running, making sure I was striding evenly, but I felt disappointed that I don’t seem to have made much progress over the last couple of weeks.

Insult to (literal) injury? The weather is perfect for running–it was sunny and 40-something this morning. Not only that, we had a faculty lunch this week–enchiladas and a gazillion desserts. Students gave me chocolates and other goodies. And Tuesday night my running group went out for tacos.

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My paltry six cumulative miles burned nowhere near enough calories to offset the holiday eating. Yeah, I’ve done a half-dozen 30-minute Fitness Blender workouts, but I feel like I’m losing ground fast.

Resting/not running didn’t help, and short runs haven’t made it any worse, so I’m going to keep trying. Foam rolling, stretching, and … crossing my fingers.

What do you do when you can’t run?

It’s been eleven days since my last run.

Last week at school I was short-tempered, easily annoyed, and rolled my eyes a lot.

Coincidence? Or just middle-school-before-winter-break?

Could go either way. All I know is that thanks to my continued knee-related running hiatus, my Vivofit has lowered its step-count expectations to the point that it probably thinks I’m 105 years old and possibly sedated. I haven’t been able to run, and biking requires a two-hour commitment to create a comparable calorie burn–that’s not feasible when it gets dark about an hour after I get home from work. So this week, all I managed was some strength and core stuff, which were pretty much offset by two evening holiday functions and some asthma issues.

I saw no point in repeating last week’s futility of getting up early and driving to Rogue only to fail after 100 yards. So I turned off my #JFR Saturday morning alarm and caught up on much-needed sleep. Long after sunrise, I finally felt like tackling something more than an indoor workout. So I wrestled my bike from its ceiling hooks (more difficult than you think for someone 5’2″), aired up its tires, and hit the road.

I live only about three or four miles from the Brushy Creek Regional Trail, but the road route isn’t a friendly one. However, I discovered that a new connecting street, while still closed to traffic, is finished and paved and accessible by non-motorized humans. So I dodged the Road Closed signs and went for it.

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Two runners, a walker, and a dad pulling a kid in a wagon had the same idea.

This route went straight to the YMCA and the trailhead. The only obstacle was crossing a major intersection, but a traffic light made that easy enough.

The trail is 6.75 miles from end to end–far easier on a bike than on foot. Which I know from experience. It was crowded, but most people were good about staying to the right and sharing the space.

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It was about 65*, so I’m not sure the tree needed a Santa hat, but it was a nice touch.

I could have taken a path from the far end of the trail up through the adjacent neighborhood, but considering I was already nine or ten miles from home, I didn’t want to get too crazy with the route. So I turned around and headed back on the trail, then through the neighborhoods and home.

Twenty miles sounds like a major feat, but the reality is that the bang-for-your-buck ratio of cycling is far lower than running. Twenty miles on the bike burned about the same calories as a five-mile run but took more than twice as long. I can only devote that kind of time on a weekend, and even then I feel like I’m barely maintaining my cardiovascular fitness–a stopgap measure at best. So while I have some options as I encourage my knee to get its act together, few weekday workouts are more efficient than running, especially for someone without a gym membership.

Yeah, it’s only been eleven days, but I’m already falling behind on my Austin Half-Marathon training. I miss running with my friends, I miss burning off the crazy.

What do you do when you can’t run?

A streak will end

 

Fall races are tricky for me. I have season tickets to Texas home football games, and so six Saturdays between Labor Day and Thanksgiving are tied up. I have, without exaggeration, attended every home game since 1995. All of them. Hell, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve left early (three for weather, one for a wedding, and one because we were losing 66-0 in the third quarter and I couldn’t take it anymore). Fortunately, most races are held on Sunday mornings, so I can usually do both. Unless travel is involved.

I first ran the Army Ten-Miler in 2013, which was possible because Texas played an away game that weekend. I left Austin on Friday afternoon, then flew back Sunday evening. The next three years, the race was held the second weekend in October–the standing date of Texas-OU in Dallas. I haven’t been to that game since Ricky Williams won the Heisman Trophy, so the timing has been perfect to fly to D.C. for the race.

See where I am going with this?

Not long after this year’s race, ATM announced next year’s date: October 8, 2017. When I looked at a calendar, I realized that’s the weekend of the first Saturday. Not Texas-OU weekend. So I had to wait for Texas Athletics to release its conference schedule and hope for a bye week or an away game.

Well, the schedule came out Tuesday:

 

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So either a 22-year attendance streak comes to an end, or a four-year race streak does.

I’ve sat through mediocre seasons, winning seasons, a Heisman-winning season (two other players came close) and a national championship season. I’ve sat through 100* temps, rain, and ice. I’ve seen the game-winning field goal as time ran out. And I’ve been on the other end of it too, losing more than one heartbreaker. Once,we were down 35-14 at halftime–the stadium was emptying fast. But we won that game 56-35. The place filled again, random people in random seats because the comeback was so fast and furious. I’ve outlasted four head coaches and two athletic directors. This season, I was there for a thrilling double-overtime win–the first overtime game ever held in our stadium. The last six years have been more mediocre than winning, but we have a(nother) new hotshot coach and expectations are high.

And this past year, I achieved my Army Ten-Miler race goal. I beat the time I wanted, and I vanquished the bridge. Nothing hangs over my head.

I know I will experience major race jealousy the morning of October 8 because I love this race and my friends so much. But here’s hoping I’m also celebrating a Texas win.

(And don’t worry–we’ve got plans for some other race meetups!)

Sports Massage

When someone says “sports massage” do you think dim lighting, Japanese meditation music, and aromatherapy candles?

Yeah, don’t.

A couple of years ago, when I first crash-landed into the world of running injuries, I went to a sports massage therapist to work on repairing my hip flexor. I knew it would be more like physical therapy than a spa massage (especially because it was housed in an athletic training facility), but I was still a little surprised by how much it hurt. Thirty minutes of … mauling (I mean that in the nicest possible way–more often than not, I came away bruised, but I felt better too).

I’ve managed to stay pretty healthy over the last year, but when this knee/hamstring/calf/IT band thing flared up last week, I tried to find the guy I’d seen before. No luck, so instead I made an appointment with someone my coach recommended.

This time, the therapist works for one of those large chain massage places, so it actually did smell like aromatherapy candles. But that’s where the Zen ended. Methodically, she attacked all the problem spots on my leg. Most of the time, it just felt like really deep pressure, but on a couple of tender spots her manipulations nearly brought me to tears.

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The session seemed like both the fastest thirty minutes ever, and the slowest.

On the way to my appointment, I’d felt discomfort pushing the clutch in my car, but driving home, I had no trouble at all. I haven’t tried to run on it yet, but I think it’s maybe starting to improve. Unlike yesterday, descending stairs and squatting to the floor no longer cause a sharp-ish pain on that side. So.. while I want to test it out today, I think I need to be patient and stick to core and strength workouts for another day, with the (perhaps ambitious) goal of running with my training group on Tuesday.

As much as I would have enjoyed the Zen-pan flute-aromatherapy kind of massage this weekend, I’m more interested in getting back to running again. Fingers crossed.