Don’t Call It A Comeback

Listening to podcasts has been an effective way to get through a pool running session. If you’ve never pool run, imagine the lack of scenery and fresh air of treadmill running combined with the absence of a runner’s high, and you get the idea of the unique mental challenge that agua jogging presents. One podcast I’ve enjoyed listening to is “High Performance Mindset” hosted by Dr. Cindra Kamphoff, especially one recent episode in which she interviewed Dr. Mustafa Sarkar about his concept of resilience. Dr. Sarkar has done extensive research in this field and worked with many elite athletes, and it’s his position that resilience is not the ability to bounce back from a setback; rather, it is a proactive — rather than reactive — skill. More specifically, Dr. Sarkar’s work posits that resilience is the ability to use personal qualities to withstand stress and to maintain functioning under pressure, thus, there is no setback to come back from. This definition of resilience resonated strongly with me as tomorrow I finally return to running after being sidelined almost five weeks due to a freak injury.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. After reaching my ultimate goal of qualifying for the Boston Marathon last November, Trainer and I had decided to concentrate on running track and shorter distances for the first half of 2017. This was partly for a change of pace, but most importantly, in Trainer’s view, to stay healthy since I wouldn’t be running Boston until 2018. I was mostly on board with this plan, but like a true distance runner addict, I struggled to not run more than the prescribed max of 3-miles per run. I soon found myself defying Trainer’s instructions, and at our Friday morning session on December 30, I finally stated that I would not be running less and that the idea of staying healthy was not a good enough goal since it felt like a participation medal…

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Pre-run. So confident. Little did I know what await me.

Approximately 8 hours later, I found myself face down on Sunset Boulevard with my left knee in agonizing pain. On what was supposed to be a fun 6-mile run, I had tripped on a wire left out on the sidewalk and landed squarely on my left knee cap. However, having fallen before a few times, I dusted myself off and ran four more miles to finish my mileage. Because runner.

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Not so confident anymore.

Although the pain was worse than my other falls, it wasn’t until the following Monday that I felt the need to have it checked out. I went to the ER, and one hour, one X-ray, and one set of crutches later, I hobbled out with the news that the X-ray indicated an avulsion fracture, meaning a fraction of the bone had been torn away from the patella. Yikes. It was at about this time that I would have given anything for that participation medal of good health.

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ye-7

This diagnosis meant no running or even any cardio involving my legs for six weeks. In my twenty years of running, this was unchartered territory. Through any injury, I was able to at least do spinning or elliptical or the above-mentioned pool running to maintain cardiovascular conditioning and some muscle tone. Now, instead of going full-press into track season and running dreaded 600s, I found myself on crutches with six long weeks stretching ahead. And this is where Dr. Sarkar’s definition of resilience came into play.

One of my strongest character traits is being proactive. This quality manifests itself in my having put in place a solid foundation and structure through which I have navigated not only this and other physical tests, but also general life situations. Naturally, as in this case, I was not pleased with this occurrence. Of course there were moments of fear, doubt, and anger; however, through years of experience, and trial and error, I defaulted to a system that works.

The first building block is a spiritual practice. For almost twenty-five years, I’ve spent almost every morning with some quiet time. I usually spend a half hour in prayer, contemplation, reading, and writing, and this practice gets my head (mostly) straight and sets the intention for the day. It is not a guarantee that I’m not going to have hard times, but like any muscle, working this spiritual muscle provides a solid baseline, so that when difficult times do come down, I am in a better position to handle them. I am certain that the mostly positive mindset I maintained was the result of my faith and the purposeful attention I paid it.

Second, I have good people in place. Listen, as smart as I like to think I am, I only have so much headspace and expertise, so I outsource when necessary. For example, I have an awesome CPA, who advises me on what to do with my investments; OK, full disclosure, he is also my husband. Ha. And, in this case, I was aggressive in seeking the right people for my knee. I went to the best orthopedic doctors in Los Angeles, which meant that I could accept their diagnosis and prescription with full confidence, and thereby not have to waste time getting a second opinion.

Further, I had the right person to get me through the next six weeks. Not only did Trainer have expertise in rehabbing knee injuries, he had already instilled a system of prehab that I knew would hold some of my conditioning and possibly even accelerate my recovery. In emphasizing prehab in our sessions, we had been proactive so that in situations like these, we would not lose too much ground. Trainer and I hardly missed a beat in our training. I didn’t take any days off. When I couldn’t use my legs, he improvised, and I did my upper body work while sitting on an exercise ball. We did more core. Like a lot more core. Too much core. No really, I was over it.

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Too many planks.
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No wheels; no problem.

Ultimately, the MRI results determined that there was no fracture (the floating piece may have been an old injury), and that instead my issue was a strained quad tendon. Although I no longer needed crutches, I still could not resume running until three more weeks, which would bring the total to five. However, just as Dr. Sarkar proposed, resiliency does not have to imply a marked setback. Below are some photos of the type of work I’ve been able to do while injured; except for not being able to run track or road running, I am functioning at a high level despite my knee not being at 100%.

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And tomorrow morning I will run for the first time in five weeks. Trainer says if this active running “hiatus” works, then we’ll do this every year*, further adding to the veracity of Dr. Sarkar’s argument. I mean, can it really be a comeback if a five-week running break is built into the training plan? Regardless, it is comforting to know that despite not having my running legs under me, the learning curve will be much shorter due to the solid foundation and training structure that I had put into place prior to this injury, and now instead of trying to catch up, I can look forward. In fact, my new training journal arrived today to commemorate this new chapter. Here’s to picking up where I left off.

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Hope everyone has a great running week!

*He is just kidding. I hope. There is no way I’m doing this. Just saying.

Training Week Jan. 18-24, 2016: My First DNF!

What an odd training week. Nothing could be categorized as “normal” or “standard.” From the get-go, my Monday workout was not the usual upper body/core day with Trainer. Not only was it track day, but it was also at a new location, Cal. State University Northridge. I survived, but I usually try to get some evening junk miles in during the early part of the week, and for the first time Trainer asked me not to run that night and just let the track workout sink in. Then, even stranger, for again the first time I got a text from him the next morning saying he thought we should take the day off. Odd. The track workout was difficult, but it’s always difficult. I couldn’t really tell that it was any harder than the others…but I found out later when I tried to run seven easy miles. Yikes. My legs – no, my entire body – were done. Even my sides hurt.

The rest of the week continued to proceed in abnormal fashion with an unexpected running rest day and running 7-milers instead of my usual shorter 3-5 filler base miles. And then of course Saturday arrived: The day of my first track meet in 40 – yes, 40 – years.

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Calm before the storm.

Every horrible thing that I imagined and wrote about in my last blog post happened…and I had a blast!

One thing this week did go as expected, and that was that I had no idea what was going on at a track meet. Turns out there are no bibs in these smaller events. Also, you have to listen carefully because it’s just someone with a megaphone announcing your event. Luckily, my friend showed up, and she was doing the same event I was, or I would have missed the whole thing. Can you imagine having stressed out for days, and then not even running the race?!

So I ended up being scheduled to do the 300m and 1500m. I had spent the night before Googling “How do you run a 300m [and 1500m]?” But that quickly went out the window when I got ready to line up and saw that I was going up against my friend, a world-class sprinter…and a group of 15-year old girls. I started laughing because this was just nuts. However, not gonna lie. I still wanted to do well and struck up a conversation with an awkward Asian girl, who did not want to be there and looked like she only took P.E. because it was a requirement but would much rather be in a science lab. My competitive streak kicked in, and I thought “I can take her.”

The gun went off, and it was then that I experienced the longest minute of my life. So many emotions happened in those 60 seconds. First that exhilarating “Wow, I’m going so fast. I’m flying!” Followed shortly, way too shortly, by “Uh-oh. I can’t hold this. I’m going to die.” And then the rest of the minute, just pumping my arms and trying to hold on. The awkward Asian girl caught me with about 50 meters to go (argh!) and with about 30 meters to go, I thought I was going to black out. Also, I could no longer feel my legs — it was like all the glycogen had escaped my body. And then it was over.

Wow. I have never experienced anything like that. It was great, then scary, then super scary, and then done. I felt awesome!

So getting beat by the adorable studious Asian was not the end of my ordeal. I still had the 1500m to run, and that was like in 15 min. Yeah, when I got to the start, I saw that I’d be running against a bunch of 16-year old boys. I did about 600m and my breathing and legs were not having it. I knew I had 13 miles to run the next day, so I just pulled over and called it a day. I’ve never DNF’d in a half marathon or marathon (or any race distance), but I somehow couldn’t manage a way to run less than a mile on Saturday. Ha! Luckily, Trainer was not around. Phew.

After that, I was free to relax and enjoy the track meet. It was fun to watch people compete, and I finally got to watch my trainer run. I’ve been working out with someone for four months, taking all this running advice from him, and I’ve only seen him jog 10 yards or so to lay down cones. Crazy, right? Turns out he’s fast. Really fast. Like freakishly fast. It was actually quite awesome to watch that kind of speed. So I guess I’ll keep listening to him.

I managed to get in a three-mile cooldown run after the meet, and 13 miles the next day. I was interested to see if my legs would bounce back from the craziness I put it through, and they did. It’s just two more weeks until the Surf City Half Marathon, and I’m starting to wind it down. What a fun and unexpected way to end my training. Actually, those words best describe this entire training cycle: Fun and unexpected.

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Slow junk miles in the mist.

Hope everyone has a great running week!

Total Miles: 30 plus track
Track: 3 x 200-150-100-50
Track Meet: 300m and then DNF. DNF!
Long Run: 13.1 miles – 2 miles at easy pace; 9 miles at MP pace; 2.1 miles at easy pace.
Other Runs: 7-7-3

I’m Not That Kind of Runner!

Ugh. So for almost three weeks now I’ve known that I was going to be running in a track meet this Saturday. Trainer sprung it on me on Jan. 1 (Happy 2016!). I was so shocked that when he sent the flyer to me I asked him if he had meant to send it to one of his track clients…Nope, it was for me.

I haven’t run in a track meet in 40 years! Literally. The last one I participated in I was in third grade, and I won a bronze medal in the 50-yard dash. It was a fond memory and comforting to know that I had ended my track career on a high note.

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I wish I could say it was difficult to find, but it was in a bag with a bunch of other race medals.
I’m a long distance runner, dammit! Let’s be real. To co-opt supermodel Linda Evangelista’s famous quote: “I don’t get out of bed for less than 13.1 miles.” I mean.

I have no idea what to expect. I’m not even sure how many events I’m supposed to do (please let it be just one), or who will be there. It’s an All-Comers meet, so I’m guessing whoever from wherever — most likely seasoned masters track people. Great. Like, where do I sign up? Can I use my iPod? Do I get a bib? Can I register under a fake name? I need answers!

Here’s my fear. I get it that I’m never going to place in my age group or anything like that. I’m a solid mid-packer, but that’s the great thing. I’m lost in a sea of people. No one but me and my Garmin, (and OK, Facebook and those who read my blog) know my actual race results. But now I have visions of me running as hard as I can on Saturday morning, all alone in the middle lane, being lapped by these veteran sprinters, and completely exposed. Argh. At least if I had like one leg or some other handicap, then people would call me “brave” and “an inspiration.” Is it too late to have someone break my leg?!?

Anyway, Trainer said it’s good practice and it’ll attack different muscles. I don’t know. My husband said maybe he’s trying to humble me. I do be needing some humbling, so… How is it that sprinting 150m has me way more freaked out than running 13.1 miles?!

So there. I honestly don’t feel any better having vomited this out into the blogosphere, but please do send good vibes over here. Or rain. It may rain on Saturday. Do they cancel these things for rain? Argh.

Ventura Marathon Training Week 11: Taper Goes Left

Weekly Summary: 8/31/15 to 9/6/15

I wish I could say this week was boring, and that my main problem was going stir crazy and having heavy legs (i.e., typical taper issues), but as my last post detailed, this week was spent dealing with a most bizarre injury for a runner – an upper body issue.

Here’s how this unusual first week of taper went:

Monday:        Gym – 20 minutes bike
Tuesday:        5 miles mostly easy; 3×300
Wednesday:  3 miles easy run
Thursday:      Rest, feel sorry for myself, eat cake and chips
Friday:            Rest, feel less sorry for myself, eat pizza
Saturday:       7 miles easy run
Sunday:          10 miles easy run

The chest and shoulder inflammation was not the only unexpected left turn that taper took. Earlier in the week, I had decided to throw caution to the wind and show up to Tuesday Night Track. After a two year absence. Two weeks before my marathon. Crazy much?

Beautiful night - what could go wrong?
Beautiful night – what could go wrong?
I haven’t done track in probably two years, and the only speedwork in my training cycle are a few tempo runs during sharpening phase and my marathon pace miles. As someone who has been prone to calf strains, my FMC and I are wary of the possible injury risk that track poses versus the gains, so I’ve steered clear of any interval work. Until Tuesday.

So chalk it up to the restless spirit I mentioned in the previous week combined with being tired of walking on eggshells around speedwork. Regardless, I’d started to view myself as someone “too injury prone to do track,” and I wanted to test it out. After all, I used to enjoy my Tuesday night track group, and maybe my body was stronger now. I mean, yeah, probably not the smartest idea to test this theory out two weeks before a marathon, but I also knew that even if the worst happened – a calf strain –the next two weeks of training were light, and that at worst I would miss 1-2 easy runs. So maybe it was the perfect time to check it out.

Friends, it was AWESOME.

I stumbled upon the Second Wind track group twenty years ago when I began training for my first marathon, and just like the trains, it was up and running at the same time and place: 6:00 p.m. Tuesday night at Birmingham High School. I was happy and comforted feeling that springy rubber surface under my Nikes, hearing the cacophony of sounds coming from the high school band practicing on the field, and seeing Coach Pat standing there with his megaphone and whistle. After all these years, nothing had changed.

Even though I was excited to be out there, I kept reminding myself that this had to be an easy workout. The runners break up into three speed groups, and I generally tend to be in the faster end of the middle group, which is led by three older (late 50s/early 60s) women. Now to look at them, you’d think “Aww, that’s so cute that they’re out here with their friends trying to stay in shape.” Yeah, no, these women are killers. I distinctly remember being passed by one of them during the final quarter-mile of one of my faster half marathons. They are not only my inspirations but also fantastic pacers. I wasn’t sure how fast I should/would be going, so I just hung with them as I knew we were all around the same fitness level. (Side note: One of them had already run seven miles earlier in the day!) After doing a long warm-up and some group stretching, I ended up doing a moderate set of 3x300s and a timed mile of 8:15 (I think my personal best is just below 8:00).

It was a fantastic experience, and I will for sure be back and hopefully incorporating this into my training cycle. Not only is it something that I think will make me faster, but I also realized how much I missed being in the running community. These are people who run together and race regularly and have the same, um, interest (read: obsession) with running. I enjoy being around competitive people who push me and motivate me. And even though I know I’ll never be this fast, it’s also super inspiring watching the ultra-fast people fly by me full stride like gazelles on the inside track. When I run by myself I just don’t get to experience or witness this stuff.

So, since my last post was devoted to my injury, I’ll just give an update. It has lessened a little bit in pain, and I can sleep better; however, I’m still popping Advil every four hours and icing it. After taking two days off, I tested it out and was able to finish the weekend with a seven and ten mile run, afterwhich I celebrated with this lame attempt at one of those fun and whimsical jumping photos that I see all the time on Instagram.

Probably would have looked better if I could've thrown my hands up in the air.
Probably would have looked better if I could’ve thrown my arms up in the air.
At this point, it feels like a mild-plus cramp along my arm — intermittent moderate pain with a dose of steady discomfort. While this is not an ideal condition to be running a marathon, I have firmly decided that I will be running this marathon. This is the moment for me to have my Michael Jorday Flu Game, and besides if my countryman Manny Pacquiao can fight Floyd Mayweather with an injured shoulder, then surely I can run a marathon, right?

So yeah, one more week, and I’ll be running marathon #8. Just don’t expect me to be high-fiving anyone afterwards.

Hope everyone has a great running week!

Ventura-3Total weekly mileage: 25
Long run: 10 miles (0 MP)
Cross-training: I tried! Here’s proof pre-upper body injury.