Tuesday, December 4, 2012

It's Gotta Be the Shoes, Part 2

            Back in April I wrote a piece about how the shoes you wear are the single most important part of any runner’s world.  I had switched from Brooks to Mizuno and been repeatedly dealing with nagging injuries.  Only when I switched back to Brooks at the beginning of April did I begin to see improvement in how I ran and how I felt.  From April to now I have run six races including my first marathon.  That was all well and good but I was still dealing with nagging pains in my feet that seemed to hold me back.  But I had switched to the correct shoes, right?  Wrong.
            My friend Emily had mentioned a running store in Plymouth, Bayside Runner, which had a unique way of fitting you for shoes.  They actually recorded you running on a treadmill and assessed what type of shoe you needed from what they saw.  I knew I had to at least give this place a shot.
            I wore my current pair of Brooks Adrenaline to the store as a reference for the employees.  Since it was my first time there they needed to measure my feet.  I mentioned I was a 9 1/2.  I was shocked when they measured me and suggested a 10.  The man told me it’s wiser for running shoes to be a little larger than too tight.  It seemed like a really simple concept.  Suddenly I was remembering how many times my feet, toes, and heels hurt during and after running.  Could my shoes being too tight have been the reason?
            I remembered nearly everytime I ran I would have some pain on top of my feet followed by red skin near where the shoes would be tied.  I also remembered during one of my marathon training runs my entire right foot lost feeling because of pressure on one of the blood vessels.  I guess in the moment I believed that it must have just been from overtraining.  Like I said in April, it’s all about the shoes.
            So I had been running in tight shoes for nearly 2 years which blew my mind.  Next I had to get on the treadmill and run.  They set the camera up behind me and started recording once I had been in my stride for a minute or so.  Once I was done they put my running film on a television screen.  Frame by frame the man helping me showed me what my feet did and explained just what each movement meant.  I was in for another surprise when it came to my shoes.
            I had been running in, and enjoying, my Brooks Adrenaline.  The man explained that they are stability shoes and that judging by my stride and gait I did not need stability shoes.  He said I needed a neutral shoe to 'let your feet do what they do.'  So I had been running in shoes that were too tight and gave the wrong support for my stride?  How was I even able to run at all?  I started thinking that this was probably the major cause of all my aches and pains I had been dealing with.
            I tried on several pairs of shoes but stuck with my preferred brand, Brooks.  I switched from the Adrenaline to the Defyance, a neutral shoe in the proper size.  I had felt really good and proud of all I had done running in the past 20 months.  Now I am full of excitement wondering what I might be able to do with the right shoes in my arsenal.  It all starts tomorrow with my first run in my new shoes.  
           Have any of you been fitted for shoes in this manner?  Having your stride filmed?  Maybe this is common and I’m new to the game.  Have any of you run in tight shoes?  What effect did they have on you?   

Friday, November 23, 2012

A Triumphant Return?

In the heat of the moment things seem worth it.  I have no regrets about making a return to racing only 3 weeks after doing some damage to my legs in my first marathon.  That is the addiction, all runners know it well.  Once my legs began to feel good again my mind naturally went back to competitive mode. 
I had said that after the Cape Cod Marathon in late-October that I would not race again until the Hyannis Half Marathon in late-February.  In the days after the marathon that promise seemed like it would be easy to keep.  My legs, specifically my left foot, were worn out.  I had bruised my left heel and ball of my left foot all in the efforts to finish the final 11 miles of the marathon.  I had battled the pulled hamstring, battled the cramped calves, battled the achy hip flexors and groin, and had succeeded in crossing that finish line.
I had begun my convalescence by changing up my workout to strengthen my legs and core so that when I returned to racing I would be ‘new and improved.’  It only took about 10 days before I felt good and was back to running, although only for as long and as fast as I chose to.  I was NOT going to train for any races until 2013.  Well, that did not happen.
Last year I had run a 5K on Thanksgiving and really enjoyed starting a fun family holiday with a sort of ‘running adventure’ that I could share with the family later on.  I wanted that again.  I chose another 5K since I knew that I could finish it without having to do any sort of training.  I chose to run in Provincetown since it would be a scenic run and a scenic drive to and from the race.  Plus the fact that I signed up 2 days earlier meant there was not a lot of time for me to start over thinking if I was ready to race again.
I got to the race site an hour early as is my superstitious custom since I did it for my very first race.  There were only a few other people there so I got my number and wandered off.  It was at a motel so I got to off on my own and stretch and meditate on a basketball court.  I sat on the walls of a barbecue pit and surveyed as other runners showed up.  It was a small event, probably 70-80 runners, a far cry from the 12,000 that ran the Falmouth Road Race in August.
The people running the event were nice but the setup was a bit amateurish.  There was no timer at the finish line, and the Start/Finish line was hand drawn in chalk 2 minutes before the race commenced.  The time was kept by stopwatch.  Needless to say I was ready no matter what, it was 50 and sunny which was much improved over the 30 with 20 degree windchills during my Thanksgiving race in 2011.  Since 5K’s are all out sprints I positioned myself on the starting line ready to take off. 
Like a shot I was off.  I felt good and as I got about a mile out I realized I was 3rd overall with nobody behind me.  I kept my cool and kept my pace up.  Now here’s where it gets interesting, like ‘it can only happen to me’ interesting.  There was a fork in the road ahead, the race route was to go to the left, that was easy enough.  However, we were told at the start that there would be a woman dressed all in Pilgrim garb with water.  She would be the halfway/turnaround point.  Easy enough, right?  It turns out that she did not expect any runners to get there as fast as the top 3, myself included, did.  She had been posting a sign with an arrow making sure no runners went the wrong way at the fork.  So she was nowhere to be found and therefore we had no clue where the turnaround was.  I saw the two runners ahead of me turn back as the pilgrim lady yelled to them. With my headphones on I did not hear her but turned around too.  We ended up going about ¼ mile too far and I was stuck in 8th overall on the way back.
I was running out of gas but crawled my way to 5th as I crossed the chalk finish line.  It ended up being my best finish in a race, not counting a 'Virtual 5K' where I had nobody chasing me, you did it wherever you felt like doing it . I finished the 'virtual' in 2nd overall.  I kept the extra ¼ mile in mind when figuring my time, I ended up with a 7:17/mi. pace which made me feel good considering I didn’t train and had planned on not racing until late-February.  The pilgrim lady showed up at the finish line and she was so sweet and nice that I forgot all about her vacating her post as the halfway marker. 
Now as I said at the beginning in the heat of the moment it was a great start to a great Thanksgiving.  The next day?  Not so much.  I aggravated my bruised left heel so my plan of not running a race until February might be back in effect.  Walking has been a chore today but what can you do?  I might have been overzealous and returned too quickly but hindsight is always 20/20.  I’ll give it a few days and see if I can go on or go back to square one.  I don’t regret it though, I have never regretted anything I’ve done during my racing life.
Have any of you made a vow not to race for a set period of time only to give in to the ‘addiction?’  How did it go for you?

Surveying the scene from my perch on the barbecue pit wall.

My 'cyborg leg' part injury-prevention, part preparing to run in the cold.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Running For Fun? What's That?

Running For Fun?  What’s That?

            I guess I am going to have to find out.  After running, and now recovering from, my first marathon I have been of course looking toward the future.  I immediately began looking for the ‘next race.’  I had tentatively scheduled a Thanksgiving Day race and a New Year’s Day race, a 5K and 5-miler respectively.  Before I actually plopped down the money though I began to wonder if I wanted to get right back into training.  I didn’t.
            From nearly the beginning of my running life I’ve been training for races, 14 in 17 months to be exact.  Granted, not all are marathons or half marathons, but you run differently when you have a time or a pace in mind.  It’s different when you just point your feet and go for the hell of it.  Or so I have heard.
            Turns out that I have really never run just for fun.  I was looking back over time trying to figure out when I had an extended period of just running because I want to, not because I have to.  I could not find one.  Sure, I have had periods where I wasn’t training per se, but it was because I was doing runs to recover from some sort of injury.
            It was a little different I must admit to step on a treadmill (give me a break we turned the clocks back and it’s dark right after I get out of work) and just go.  There was no ‘I need to run sprints,’ no ‘I have to hit 10+ miles.’ No, it was just running at a comfortable speed for a comfortable time.  When I was done I felt great.
            I think every runner at some point reaches the tipping point.  It’s like going back to basics to rediscover why exactly you started running at all.  After getting severely burned out during my 5 months of marathon training a return to the basics of running was just what I needed.  As of right now I plan on running for fun until the end of 2012.  January 1st will see me start training for my 2nd Hyannis Half Marathon in late-February.  Until then I will be running because I want to.  Granted I will do long runs, sprints, hills, but only when I want and for how long I want to.  Running for fun?  Wow, what a concept.
            How about you?  Have any of you gotten so into training and races that you’ve forgotten about the basic joys of running?  Have you ever taken such a break where you run only when you want to?  If so, how long did it last before the call of competition became too much to ignore?  Maybe I’ll last until New Year’s, maybe I won’t, who knows…

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Will Power and Pain Tolerance: Cape Cod Marathon

            I did it!

            That was the first thing that popped into my head as I crossed the finish line of my first marathon.  I had just run 26.2 miles and lived to tell about it.  My time?  Well, that’s sort of secondary at this point to the overall accomplishment.  I look back to March of 2011, at who I was, at how I felt about myself, and cannot believe what I just did today.  Back then?  Sure, I went to the gym, a lot, usually 5 days a week.  Still, the results never came, I was around 185 lbs and that held steady.  My cardio?  45 minutes on an elliptical machine, maybe some stair climbing.  I had resigned myself to the fact that I was going to look that way forever, and probably get worse as I inched closer toward 40.
            Flash forward to October 28, 2012 and I have just finished my first marathon.  As I write this my legs are elevated, calves firmly planted on a heating pad gratefully supplied by my good friend Deanna.  I have ice packs on both knees and have more pains than I have ice and heat to be honest.  Saying all of that, I would do it all again if I knew this would be the result.  This day was a life changer.  It was validation.  It was proof to myself that hard work pays off.  If you set your mind to it nothing is impossible.  There is nothing I feel I cannot do.
            I trained literally by the book for my first marathon.  I had all of my gear setup the night before. I carbo loaded, I electrolyte loaded.  I was pretty much as prepared as I could be.  Still, sometimes it is only a momentary lapse of judgment that can make all the difference, and it did. 
            I started slowly, knowing it was a ‘marathon, not a sprint.’  I felt as though I was running exactly the way I wanted to.  Sometimes during races you can get caught up in the adrenaline, or get caught up in others running faster and naturally wanting to keep pace.  I did not succumb to any of that, I kept telling myself that it was just me and the road. 
Coming up on Mile 12, the beginning of 12 miles of hills that are a part of the Cape Cod Marathon, I felt my right shoe come untied.  Only thinking of retying it I stopped and bent down.  That is when I felt a pain like someone had ‘unzipped’ my left hamstring.  Oh yeah, I screamed and cursed, partially at the pain, partially at my own carelessness, and also at the fact that I still had 14 miles to go.  I knew that I only had moments to decide my next course of action so I stood up and started to gingerly walk.  I walked a few hundred feet and it felt like the hamstring had loosened back up.  I resumed running but paid close attention to that injury.
            I probably zoned out and didn’t realize that I was compensating for that hamstring which is only natural.  Then a familiar foe made its return: calf cramps.  These usually hit when I am dehydrated but I had made a point to stop at every water station.  Doesn’t matter how they happened, the fact is it was a bad set of cramps feeling like I had snakes crawling under my skin.  To make matters worse these first began to occur at Mile 15, I had 11 more to go.  
           Calf cramps had ended my day at the Smuttynose Brewery Half Marathon in New Hampshire in January.  They had also occurred during the Hyannis Half but only in the last few hundred yards so I was able to sort of hop to the finish.  This was 11 miles I was going to have to navigate with a pulled hamstring and two cramped calves.
            Finishing time took a back seat to finishing at all.  I walked for a while and then tried to run.  The cramps came back and I found myself using my water bottle to roll out the muscles, or at times jam the plastic carrying ring into the cramps.  This would allow me to run a few hundred more feet before the process had to be repeated.  I managed to make it to Mile 18 using this arduous method of pain relief. 
            At this point I realized that it was going to come down to will power and pain tolerance.  I was desperate to finish and achieve my goal.  Thus began experimenting with ways of running to avoid the pain in my hamstring and calves.  I tried running on my heels first.  One trip down a good-sized hill and I felt the pain in the IT Bands on both knees and decided that was not going to work.  I began walking up the hills and then running down them using the widest stride possible to get there quicker.  This succeeded somewhat but also caused pain in my feet and knees.
            When it seemed like I had no hope of finishing I got a shot of motivation.  My friend Emily was running her first marathon also and she sent me a text telling me she had just finished.  I was almost to Mile 20 and she was done.  We had agreed almost a year earlier to run our first marathons together.  She had worked so hard and done so well that the least I could do was gut it out and cross that finish line.  I told her I was hurting but would not quit.  That meant dealing with some pretty intense pain.  As she had done all through my running life Emily encouraged me.  The weather was cool and the clouds rolled in with wind and mist ahead of Hurricane Sandy.      
            I was coming up on Mile 23 close to Nobska Lighthouse when my phone went off; it was my mother.  I had thought she would not be able to make it for the race but she texted me that she was just ahead at Mile 24.  Despite the incredible pain rushing through my legs I gathered myself and managed to run faster than I had all race to make sure she did not have to wait for me much longer.
            I turned a corner and there she was.  I waved and smiled like I was in a parade, doing my best to mask my pain.  She told me she was so proud, and also told me not to stop since I only had 2 miles to go.  After that I was so close that there was no chance I would not make it to the finish line.
            In the home stretch I forced a smile for the cameras and passed Emily and her mother who had stepped out into the cool mist to cheer me on.  I crossed the finish line and immediately looked for a spot to collapse.  I lay face down in the grass knowing that I had just given absolutely everything I had.  Normally I’d be less than thrilled with my time but knowing the pain my legs had been in for about half of the 26.2 miles I was satisfied. 
            After only 18 months I had gone from never running to completing a marathon, injured at that.  I had done it.  I could barely walk on the way back to the car, and I will probably not be able to run for a few weeks, but I’d do it all again knowing this.  Once I had crossed that finish line I knew that nothing would be the same for me.  It was not just running a marathon, it was what it meant for me personally.  Never again will I think I cannot do something, all I have to do is look at my medal, bib number, and shirt.  I will remember that through the pain I did something that few people have the will or desire to do.  I will remember that and I will know I can accomplish anything I set my mind to.  I will remember that I did it.  I am a marathon runner.  

The starting line of the Cape Cod Marathon.

About 15 miles in, looking like I am killing it, but calf cramps had just set in.

Approaching the finish line, celebrating my survival.

Anytime I feel I can't do something all I'll have to do is look at this photo.