Thursday, March 29, 2012

When the Worst Week Becomes the Best Week

After the St. Peter’s Fiesta 5K I began the task of recovering from my Jumper’s Knee and sore left Achilles.  It was the heat of summer but I tended to run inside more.  My reasoning was that if any sort of re-injury happened I was at the gym and could simply step off the treadmill and leave. 
I had found a way to ‘cheat’ my way back to training while also healing.  It was by using a very slow ‘burn.’  I began with a very slow 5mph jog, upping the speed .1 every minute or so.  Once I got to 6mph I upped it .1 every 2 minutes.  By the time I hit 7mph, right about where I liked to run I had been on the treadmill usually about 20 minutes and my legs were warmed up.  It worked and I noticed the pain lessening despite still running.
Gradually I worked my way back outside, which included a 5 mile run in 90 degree heat and humidity.  I got home and thought I might have gotten some color when in reality I was a deep shade of purple from being close to heat exhaustion.  I survived that run and with my confidence returning I was asked to run the Irish Pub Race in Harwich, a 5.2-mile race.  Of course I accepted.
There was not a lot of time to do any sort of specific training for the race.  There were a lot of people crammed in the area along the Herring River on race day but I was still able to find a spot to stretch and think by myself.  I knew that my friend James, known as Tuna then, J-Bone now, was running the race as well but I did not go out of my way to find him.  Once I get in my zone before a race I hate to be bothered.  Is anyone else like that?
The early-August morning was overcast, temps in the upper-70’s, and humid.  Not wanting to sweat in my eyes I wore a thin white skull cap to keep the sweat at bay.  I started the 5-mile race fast, a problem I am still having trouble overcoming.  It can be difficult to pace yourself when the rush of the starting gun takes over.
I took off and was enjoying a good run through some hilly roads.  About 2 miles in I began to get hot.  The skull cap keeping the sweat from my eyes also kept the heat from escaping.  I began to overheat and found myself slowed almost to a stop nearly 3 miles in.  Now, not having the proper equipment I had no idea as to what my time was at that moment.  My goal had been to finish the 5.2 miles in 40 minutes. 
Despite being overheated and gassed from starting so quickly I continued onto the finish.  I completed the race in 42 minutes, a good time no doubt, but disappointing for my harshest critic: myself.  I felt like I had sabotaged myself by wearing the skull cap and starting the race so fast.   I shared a beer with my friend James inside the Irish Pub once he finished the race but in the back of my mind all I could think about was the dreaded ‘what if’s.’  I hate ‘what if’s.’
Once I got home I put the Irish Pub Race to bed and looked for another race to wash the bad taste out of my mouth.  Everyone kept telling me that I ran a good race but it was of no consequence.  Luckily I found another race only 5 days later.  I signed up and prepared for what I hoped would be a sort of redemption.  The Old Home Week Race in Centerville was only a 3-mile run, I did not run in between the races so that my legs would be as fresh as possible.
This race was the first time that my mother got to see me run.  She came along with my Aunt Kelly and cousin Keith who had already become the prodigy as far as running in the family before finishing high school.  I had hoped that my good friend, and running mentor, Emily could have been there to run with me but she did wish me good luck in a text.  I politely said my goodbyes to my mom and aunt and went off to the end of the beach parking lot where the race started and finished.  I needed to get into my Beast Mode.  I began to stretch using the sand dunes to my advantage.  It was during this time that I noticed for the first time in nearly 2 months I had no pain at all in either leg.  My Jumper’s Knee was healed finally.  This coupled with my own desire to get ‘redemption’ for my self-proclaimed ‘poor race’ made me realize this was going to be a hell of a race.
I could barely contain myself at the starting line and when the gun sounded I let it all hang out.  My cousin Keith was gone out of sight pretty fast, but this was not about winning for me.  This was about beating myself, putting to bed the Irish Pub Race, and leaving every ounce of energy on those roads.
It was lucky for me that the race was in the late afternoon, I was pouring sweat but the wind off the ocean kept me from overheating.  It was all falling into place.  Has anyone had a race where every single thing goes right?  That was what the Old Home Week Race was for me.  I approached the home stretch, my legs were tired but not in pain.  I kept chugging along waving to my mother and aunt as I approached the finish line.
I laid it all out there as I made my final push.  Much to my surprise, and to put a capper on an almost perfect race, there was Emily at the finish line.  She had made the 15 minute drive from Yarmouth to Centerville and cheered as I crossed the finish line.  I had finished in 21:34, 7:11/mi. 
First I dropped in exhaustion then I let out a nice profanity-laced rant expressing my happiness at my redemption.  Needless to say my mother was not thrilled with my ‘colorful’ language, but it was a primal release for me.  I had never felt as good as I did at that moment after feeling so low only a few days before.  There was no pain after running, only the complete exhilarating exhaustion that comes from knowing you did your absolute best.  For the record my cousin Keith finished 2nd overall, finishing in a sparkling 17:14, 5:45/mi.
I had done what I had set out to do and with my 3rd and 4th races down I knew that there was only one thing for me to do.  I needed to step it up and try my hand at my first Half Marathon.  Have any of you ever run what you feel to be a ‘perfect race?’  Have any of you been motivated to sign up for another race quickly after running a poor one?
Off in the dunes at Covell Beach where I got into Beast Mode
Waiting at the starting line in Centerville.
In the midst of my profanity-laced celebration, mom was so proud of the race, not my language.

Getting ready to go.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

St. Peter's Fiesta 5K - June 2011

My second race fell on an off day from work for me; it was to begin at 6:30pm on a Thursday meaning I had all day to think about whether it would be my last or not.  For those of you not wanting to relive the entire story obviously it was not my last as I am still running to this day, but for dramatic effect let’s keep the suspense going.
I had all day to think about the pain in my right knee and left Achilles.  Why did I worry about it being my last race?  Sure, rest would probably have done the trick.  It might have been 6 weeks of rest.  It is easy to keep running, or keep exercising when you get into a pattern; however once you stop for any extended period of time it becomes so much easier to stick to that pattern as well.  I feared that 6 weeks off from running when it was still so new to me would take away my new found passion so I threw caution to the wind.
I began to get myself psyched up for the race before starting the nearly 2 hour drive from Cape Cod up to Gloucester.  The drive and the music I played got my mind off of running and allowed me to enjoy the summer afternoon.  Unfortunately as I got closer to Gloucester the clouds and fog began to roll in.  By the time I parked near the YMCA on Middle Street there was a light drizzle in the air.  I figured this could only hurt my chances of a pain-free run.
I got my bib and shirt from the kind folks at the YMCA.  They allowed me to change down in the locker room.  It was deserted and silent, alone with my thoughts, how fitting.  As I changed I stretched my legs and could feel the pain still there, somehow I thought that maybe race day would provide a miracle.  It did not.  I returned to drop my gym bag at my car and felt sober about my running career.  Before I left to head to the race area I posted a message on my Facebook page thanking my 3 running mentors, my Uncle Steve, Deanna, and Emily, and of course my mother.  I felt as if I was getting ready to retire from running before I even got started.  
The St. Peter’s Fiesta was going on, a celebration of Italian heritage which struck home with me thanks to my heavy Italian descent on my mother’s side of the family.  The crowds were sparse at best thanks to the cool and raw weather.  I tried my best to avoid the carts of sausages, fried dough, and the like, there were a few stationed right at the starting line which seemed more than a coincidence.    
There was a light rain at race time and such a crowd at the starting line; unfortunately it was not organized.  What I mean is that I have since learned at half marathons they have the pace times along the side of the starting line, meaning if you plan on running a 9 minute mile you line up behind that sign.  Here it was everyone for themselves, slow people in front and all.
When the race began it was hard to get going.  I was trotting, trying in vain to get around slower runners and even some with strollers.  The slick road only made things slower.  Finally I was able to break free and turn my engine on.  All I could do was give it my all and hope for the best.  Luckily there was only one hill during the race, which was a plus.  We ended up heading down to the State Fish Pier, around a barrel and back into town.
The cheering crowds along the streets helped me stay focused.  I kept my legs churning but paid attention, like I was waiting for the ‘other shoe’ to drop.  Then through the mist and fog I saw the finish line and more importantly I saw my time.  22:48, 7:22/mi.  I crossed and caught my breath.  I grabbed a pair of bananas and a bottle of water before sitting on the sidewalk and taking stock of my body and how I felt.  Sure my legs were tired from running all out but there didn’t seem to be any new damage which was what I had been dreading.
I smiled and people watched as I recovered.  With all of the pain and uncertainty going into the race I had shaved a minute and a half off of my previous 5K time.  To top it off I had no injured myself worse so I knew that my running career was not over after 2 races.  I did not stick around very long after finishing.  I had to work the next morning and still had a 2 hour drive home, plus I was hungry too.
I returned to the YMCA to shower and encountered a bit of a problem.  There was a line of guys waiting to use the showers.  I had been in the locker room and counted only 3 showers, using some rough math I was looking at probably an hour wait for a shower.  Yeah, I decided that I would drive home in my running clothes since I was alone I would not be offending anybody with my old gym socks scent!
I made sure to send a follow up post to Facebook letting everyone know that not only had I survived the St. Peter’s Fiesta 5K, I had run a great race.  I was still on my runner’s high all the way down the North Shore.  I remember having to stop and get gas before I hit Boston.  I was so hungry that I bought a big back of Jack’s Links Beef Jerky and ate it one-handed while I drove. 
I knew that I was going to have to rest up my injuries after the race but it was comforting knowing that rest would solve my problems.  I had been so close to having to give up my new found passion, but I was lucky.
Have any of you come close to having to quit running?  Have any of you gone into a race expecting it to be your last, or even expecting to aggravate injuries?  Or would you have been smarter and postponed your next race until you healed?  Maybe I just enjoy the dramatic moments.      

I used the arrow to point me out in the crowd.

That was how I prepared before the race.

Looking to The Man at the Wheel for inspiration.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

The First Setback

After the CapeAbilities 5K in May I felt unstoppable.  I had gone from not running at all to running a fairly good time in a 5K within 6 weeks.  I wasn’t fooling myself about stepping up in race distances, but I was much more comfortable in my running skin.  That being said, two events combined to give me my first taste of setbacks that come with running.
The first event was after having several drinks one night I decided to sign up for the St. Peter’s Fiesta 5K held in Gloucester, Mass. near the end of June.  That was not really a big deal since I was already itching to run another race after my first.  Plus I love Gloucester, it has been my favorite place to visit since I began doing travel writing in January 2010.
The second event was what really caused a problem.  As of the First of June my longest run had been 10 miles.  That had come after gradually working up to it like I had read was the wisest way to train.  That was all well and good but then I discovered that June 1st was National Running Day.  It is in my nature to be a little overzealous and I was on that day.
I mounted one of the treadmills at the gym in the back row with the intention of doing a 10 mile run.  Then I got a message from my friend Emily that she was not feeling well and was not going to be able to come and run on that day.  Well, seeing that she was my running mentor and the reason I even attempted my first real mile I decided to dedicate my National Running Day to her.  What did that mean?  It meant running a Half Marathon distance, 13.1 miles. Remember, I had only done 10 miles once, and was now planning on doing 13.1.  Yeah, nothing could go wrong, right?
I knew I was running a long distance when I actually had to reset the treadmill at one point since it only went up to 99 minutes.  My legs were growing tired but I felt I needed to run the full distance since I told Emily I would.  I pushed past my 10 mile high and kept going.  Finally after 2 hours and 12 minutes I completed 13.1 miles and proudly turned off the treadmill and sent Emily a message telling her what I had done.
One thing became apparent right away, struggling through the last few miles had taken its toll.  My muscles were so tight and sore, my only thought was to get home and get some ice and heat on them and see how they felt in the morning. 
Within a few days of my 13.1 I developed soreness in my left Achilles tendon and a sharp pain just below my right kneecap where patellar tendon connected to the tibia.  I found out later it’s called ‘jumpers knee.’  Remember I had signed up for a second race which was rapidly approaching.  When I admitted to Emily that I had become injured by running a half marathon distance to show off for her she was not too thrilled.
I was disappointed in my injuries but determined not to give up since I had already become so passionate about running after only 3 months.  What happened next were various trips to the store to buy ibuprofen, an ankle brace which would cover my Achilles as well, and a knee brace.  I would put on a sock, the ankle brace, and another sock on my left foot to keep the Achilles secure and minimize the pain.  I knew any damage to that particular spot was doom for a runner.
I tried my best to combine rest with shorter runs but it was not working.  Working in the restaurant business did not make resting feasible no matter how much I tried.  I was also afraid to do any sort of stretching especially in the Achilles.  The ‘jumper’s knee’ pain was on the outside of the bone and one day I figured out it was from landing wrong as I ran.  Walking with my feet pointed straight ahead was virtually painless.  However, once I took a step with my right foot facing outward slightly it became unbearable.  Even if 1 out of every 100 foot strikes happened with my landing in that fashion it still ended up being hundreds of times during an 8-10 mile run.  No wonder I got injured, I was not paying attention to my stride.  It reminded me just how far I still had to go.
I was in constant pain in both areas and was wondering if my race in Gloucester might be the last one.  I began to wonder if running was not meant to be.  I began to think of my own worries before I began running.  There was the worry about my left knee which I had hurt when living in Las Vegas in 2000.  While moving a 20 foot tall ladder in the back stockroom of a Target store the ladder closed up and slid toward me the bottom rung took out both of my knees.  I had periodically suffered through tendonitis in my left knee afterwards and always had believed that it was only a matter of time before one wrong step did me in while running.
I decided I would run the St. Peter’s Fiesta 5K as if it was my last and go from there.  My right knee and left Achilles would be hurting but I would not dream of quitting.  I hated the idea of wasting money.  So I would go and give it my best shot.
What were some of your first injuries?  How did they affect you mentally as well as physically?  Did any of you suffer similar injuries to me?  How long did they take to get better?  Did any of them become worse?

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The First Race

Not long after I had begun running and realized it was not going to destroy my legs like I had always worried my mindset began to change.  I began to think about doing a race.  I knew that it had to be short; half marathons were definitely not in my near future.  I chose a 5K, the CapeAbilities 5K which was set to take place in Hyannis a mere 6 weeks after my first mile run had been undertaken.
Was I ready?  I did my research and found that in order to run a 5K you really only needed to be able to comfortably run 5 miles, which was not too lofty of expectations.  Why did I want to do a race so soon after beginning to run?  I wanted to push myself.  Up until even the week before I did my first mile I thought that running was something ‘other people’ did.  Now that I was becoming one of the ‘others’ I wanted to be out there among them.
I signed up for the race along with my running teacher and good friend Emily; she was a master of the half marathons but made an exception to do a 5K since it was my first ever race.  My Uncle Steve did the same; he was a veteran of a few Boston Marathons so for him a 5K was an off day.  I knew that and was so excited to get to run with the both of them.  The training was nothing different from what I had been doing.  Getting up over 5 miles in a run was not much of a stretch and I knew once I reached that goal I didn’t need to go much further.  I would be in pretty good shape come race day.  I had lost 12 pounds in my first 6 weeks of running and invested in some new ‘race day’ clothes to show what I had lost.  The fact that I was that comfortable with my body was such a great feeling.
On May the 14th it was cool and misty near the water but I was ready.  I met up with Emily and Uncle Steve and then took the time to soak in the atmosphere of something so foreign to me but seemingly where I was meant to be.  After this race it would become something of a ritual to turn on my music, shut the world out, and engulf myself in the feelings of being there before a race.  
I had a nervous energy that morning.  I was so excited for my first race that I did not know what to do.  Uncle Steve had to remind me to stretch since I was wandering around the grounds like a tourist on vacation in the big city for the first time.  We took some photos but as starting time drew close I finally began to focus.
The route down by the water in Hyannis was very familiar to me; I had driven it hundreds of times.  However, driving and running are two different things.  When I began to run it all of the slightest elevation changes were apparent.  Thankfully my uncle had run the race before and alerted me to what was coming. 
Looking back on that race now nearly a year later I laugh at the fact that I was in such relatively poor aerobic condition that I felt the need to suck down a carb gel pack a mile into a 5K, I probably could have done without it.  It got stuck in my throat and I had to suck down some water from the first station just to get that down.
For the final mile my uncle gave me some advice: ‘Run Like Your Hair’s On Fire!’  Funny thing was that I was tired, never before had I gone all out like I was that day.  I have heard since then that during races sometimes you can get caught up in the emotion and the adrenaline forgoing any sort of plan you might have had.  I basically did that when I heard the starting gun and took off like a shot.
My uncle wanted me to cross the finish line like a champ so he asked me what I had left.  I told him ‘nothing.’  Still I pushed that aside and after dodging a fresh pile of dog poop I hurried toward the finish.  I literally left every ounce of energy out there.  I ended up gassed and lying on my back in the grass.  My sister Kate made it to the finish line with my nieces Kaleigh and Emma and my nephew Landon.  There are a few funny pictures of the kids surrounding me since I was too tired to stand.  I was so happy to be surrounded by friends and family on such a big day, but I was even happier to be finished.
My time of 24:28 – 7:53/mi. was better than I had thought I could do but the numbers were not the most important thing.  What was most important was the fact that I had actually done it.  I had actually completed my first race when only 6 weeks earlier I was dreading doing a 10 minute mile on a treadmill.  I had started to believe that there was nothing that I could not do in life.  I wanted to share this feeling and belief with everyone in my life.  I wasn’t going to become a motivational speaker, but I was definitely getting more into preaching that impossible was nothing.  That frame of mind began to spill over from running into the rest of my life and led to another huge moment in my life: Getting my first book deal.  That’s a story for another day though.