27 November 2017

Now the winter of my discontent ... is over

It has finally arrived.

No, not Cyber Monday. 

The conclusion of my three-week off-season from running.

This will have been the longest stretch of 'no exercise' since I started running seriously in mid-2010.  I've tried to schedule in some breaks over the past few years (and usually at this point on the calendar) but I've always cut it short, usually because I've felt like I didn't want to lose the physiological gains that had come through training all year round.

Really I've just guilted myself into prematurely launching myself back into the training cycle.

Well this time around I've been good.  Sort of.

Here are a few quick observations after having taken this time away from running:
  1. It wasn't a full three week break - inasmuch as I was able to take an extended time of rest, I did sneak in an easy 4k run with my wife the week after the Hamilton Marathon ... so if you count that then I only got in 2-1/2 weeks of inactivity.
  2. I enjoyed (sort of) sleeping in - my normal wake-up time on training days is around 5:15am and through these past few weeks I stretched that out to 6:15am.  My body really doesn't like flip-flopping in bed after more than 8 hours of sleep, and our second daughter likes to do this 'deep breathing' exercise at around 6:30am in our bed with my wife (meaning that I had to clear out of the way).
  3. Oh yes, there were donuts - this is my promised reward/indulgence after big races and I always look forward to snacking out on a good Boston Creme.  Even though I visualize myself downing extravagant numbers of deep-fried goodness I wound up only eating the equivalent of three (averaged one each week), and had just a few extra snacks here and there.  Honestly my body didn't go into any kind of let-loose craving mode, so even though I eyed plenty of chocolate and candied treats I don't think that I ended up eating much more than I might normally would have during any given training week.
  4. My weight did climb - and how do I know that?  Because I couldn't stop looking at the scale.  A definite weakness on my part; I weighed in every morning and evening, and watched the numbers climb to a maximum of about 8lbs over my 'training/racing weight'.  I would look in utter dismay at my reflection in the mirror as I saw myself (or at least my impression of myself) ballooning up in size ... this could very well be a borderline disorder for me, and I'm sure that it hearkens back to when I was a rotund, unathletic little fellow in my grade school days.
  5. The knee pain subsided to a degree - I continue to wonder what kind of damage I might have done to the surrounding ligaments on the lateral side of my right knee.  Even with rest I found that my knee would provide ample feedback when it was fully extended and my quads were flexed.  It could be that my IT band simply remains tight and that I need to ask Santa for a foam roller this Christmas, or I did more of a number on it than I might have at first surmised.  So I'll be hitting the roads again tomorrow still not at 100%, but I think that if I don't get out there again my mental state will be more of a liability than my body.
  6. I missed seeing my friends - yes, this introverted runner did miss getting out twice a week with the ever-lovin' RunNinjas, as well as cruising around on Friday mornings with my buddy Steve. 
  7. My attention never really turned away from running - every day I took opportunities to watch running videos, to study the technique and form of some of my favourite distance runners (e.g. Ryan Hall, Yuki Kawauchi, Mo Farah), and read my daily digest of running blogs.
So there it is, in all of its stark reality and ugliness. 

Have you ever struggled to take time off from your favourite activity?  Do you have any tips to share to help me make the most of it the next around?  I'd love to receive your advice, wisdom and feedback - thanks for tracking with me!

13 November 2017

Gimpy racing and the seven-year itch

"Do as I say, not as I do ..."

Words offered by no great leader ever.

The past month or so I've managed to log about 410km on my feet, including two races.  Some might say that that's none too shabby - except that I know that I logged all of those miles on injured legs.

The stubborn part of me refused to accept what my body was trying to communicate - that after pacing The County Marathon this year I needed to scale back and take at least a few days off.  I'm well familiar with the studies and statistics that indicate how your body continues to undergo the process of necrosis (cellular damage/death) after an endurance event like a marathon, and how pushing through that post-race period without sufficient recovery exponentially increases the risk of injury, often as a result of unconscious (and imbalanced) compensation for muscular fatigue. 

But pride is a powerful and dangerous companion.

And so as soon as my pacing duties were over in Picton I took my normal Monday off and resumed training on Tuesday with about four weeks to go in preparation for helping my buddy Rick tackle the Hamilton Marathon Road2Hope.  Against all of my better instincts (and acquired knowledge) I told myself that I couldn't take my foot off of the gas pedal as I had to be in top form to be able to bump out another sub-3:30 marathon time.  Now ** please note ** that this is in no way Rick's responsibility to shoulder - this is all about me playing my cards foolishly.  I was the one who offered to pace Rick in his BQ attempt and I submitted the registration myself.  The last thing that I would want Rick to believe is that this was somehow all his doing when in fact none of it was - I was and will continue to be glad to be able to offer some small amount of help in the pursuit of his goal.

The first symptom that cropped up was a soreness just below my right kneecap - it was probably some IT band inflammation but it definitely hampered my ability to push hard on my speed workouts, and was only alleviated by running slower and shorter.

For better or for worse I managed to keep on plugging to the point that my knee wasn't locking up in pain while I slept, and I took that as a sign of progress.  But that only lasted until my hamstring started rebelling ...

I began to feel a real pain in my a** ... my armchair doctor diagnosis (ably assisted thanks to Google) was that it was either high hamstring tendinopathy or piriformis syndrome.  Whatever it was, it amounted to a stabbing pain deep in the center of my right buttock, and one that no amount of stretching or massage/hammering could alleviate.  My best guess is that it was connected to me running through my knee issues, and I just swapped one locus of aggravation for another.  What I did find out was that it was short-lived, perhaps in part due to the fact that just as it was raising its ugly head I had to relocate my at-home office and decided to opt for a sit/stand workstation.  The switch to standing 4-5 hours a day instead of lounging back in my office chair seemed to act in a therapeutic fashion, and my rearside pain only lasted about 36 hours.

Then it was back to my knee ... only different.

After only a few days of pain-negligible activity I began to feel a soreness radiating around the lateral side of my right kneecap.  It was probably the IT band acting up again but I'd have to say it felt different, although it affected my running gait all the same.   From time to time I'd do a pseudo-wrap of my knee with KT Tape (as my friend Christina observed about my application of the tape, "well, it looks like it's keeping your kneecap in place") which may or may not have helped me to power through the MEC Barrie Race Five (10k).  That particular race was originally to be a goal race for me where the aim was to finally clock the elusive sub-40 min. 10k ... however, I'd forgotten that it was the traditional pre-Hallowe'en event, and far be it from me not to dress up in costume when given the opportunity.  So on a rain late October Saturday I donned my best Angus Young outfit and put out a solid tempo run, weighed down by a soaking wet blue velour jacket.

This year's theme - favourite musicians/rock stars!

Feeling like I hadn't yet crossed the line of irreparable damage (yep, that's the flag on the field that I was waiting for ...) I stepped up to the start line for the Hamilton Marathon with Ricky in the hopes of getting him across in-between the 3:25 and the 3:30 mark.  His prep in advance of the race had gone well (with consistent Facebook posts declaring #ninjastrong and #bringonhamilton) and so it was up to me to try to keep him on track for the entire 42km.  Although the day of the race didn't pretend to offer ideal conditions (consistent rain and anticipated wind gusts up to 35 kph) it turned out to be a reasonably decent day to go long, and we were accompanied for good stretches of the course by other 3:25 hopefuls.
On the upside I managed to keep it together for most of the race, and we were able to get through 27km still on pace (according to my 3:25 pace band), but that's where things got a bit funky.  I wish that I could say that it had gotten funky for me, but it was Rick that was feeling some spasming in his calf that caused him to slow down.  However, in characteristic Rick fashion (because of his incredible mental focus and determination) he was able to claw his way back up to pace and so we spent the next 6km or so surging back and forth, still within reach of the sub-3:30.

However, as we hit my least favourite part of the course - the dreaded 'out and back' segment - Rick was hit with some kind of significant inner thigh/groin pull pain that reduced him to walking for 100m segments.  It was hard to see him struggle to this degree, knowing that his goal time was now slipping beyond our grasp - but I did my best to keep providing him with a moving target while not stretching the imaginary elastic band to the breaking point.  Still, Rick being the warrior he is managed to gut it out across the finish line in 3:43:34.

That's all mental fortitude folks ... #GoRickyGo!

I'm not sure that I've ever really come to the end of a racing season before where I felt like I wanted to take time off, but this year I knew that I needed to.  Call it overtraining, under-recovery or simply the effects of aging, my body wasn't going to have it any other way apart from a complete shutdown.  As such I've entered into a three-week hiatus from any running time on my feet - and this may well be the longest stretch that I will have gone without running since 2010 (perhaps the seven-year itch ...?).  But there's no getting around my need to rest, to heal, and eventually to re-tool for the upcoming year.  

I'm contemplating working with a coach once again as I think that I may need to break out of the self-coached stagnation/plateau that I seem to have hit.  My good buddy Stan reported that he found significant benefits in working with a coach (and if anybody knows the ins and outs of training and running science it's him) so I have a pretty good hunch that it might be to my benefit to have someone else tailor a program for me and to keep me accountable.

Thus was the late autumn of our discontent ... I'm currently enjoying sleeping in, putting on about 10 extra pounds and not feeling the pressure of keeping up with everyone on Strava.  We'll see what December holds, as all I've got on the radar is the Snowflake Series of road races in Orillia.  I sense a change - perhaps multiples changes - in the air.  

Stay tuned ...