Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The True Meaning of Motivation and Inspiration

The Harwich Half Marathon this past October became my third ‘defining’ moment of my running life.  The first was my first real mile in March 2011, the second was my first actual race, the CapeAbilities 5K in May 2011.  The half marathon was the natural next step for me.  I had strictly followed a ‘beginner’ training plan from CoolRunning.com.  This made it a pretty simple process, all I had to do was run the proper distances on the proper days and I’d be prepared for success.
Now in life there are always sidetracks.  Mine was the local running club which both my Uncle Steve and best friend Emily belonged to.  They had been imploring me to give it a try for a while and I finally relented a few weeks prior to the half marathon.  Before attempting the running club, which consisted of a lot of speed work on a high school track, I needed a new pair of shoes.
Rather than sticking with the Brooks Adrenaline that I was accustomed to I decided to switch it up to Mizuno’s Wave Rider.  Those of you who have read my other postings know how my change in shoes went.  For those who have not the gist of the story is that I switched to Mizuno’s for 6 months and endured 6 months of running in pain.  The pain began that night at the running club.
I admit I was jazzed to try something new and I think that my excitement cost me that night.  We did sets of Yasso 800 sprints.  I had never heard of them before but it was twice around the track which was easy enough for me.  Despite trying the distance running sprinting is what is in my blood as my grandfather was a World Class sprinter but WWII kept him from the Olympics.
I ran the Yasso’s as hard as I could, trying to push myself at something new.  I didn’t notice the aches in my right hip until the next day when it was obvious I overdid it.  With the race so close I dialed back my running to save my hip from further injury.  Even if I had been hurt I was still going to run the race as I had more motivation than just it being my first half.
The Harwich Half fell in the first week of October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  I had decided I would wear the pink ribbon on my black shirt and run the race in honor of my Aunt Christine who had passed away from breast cancer in 2004.  It was that higher purpose that kept my mind focused on the race.
Race day was a warm autumn day, I got a great parking spot directly across the street from Harwich High School where the race began and ended.  I was able to begin my stretching there as my hip was still tight but I was undeterred.  I pinned the pink Breast Cancer Awareness ribbon to my shirt and walked slowly and deliberately across a field into the school to get my bib number and pack of goodies.
As you runners know at the starting line they have minute markers posted so that you can run with the group according to your speed.  With my hip hurting I was going to jump back to the 9 min. crowd, but I spotted my Uncle Steve and he was at the 8’s.  I wanted to at least experience some of my first Half with him so I stepped in and said I’d try to keep up as long as I could.
The gun sounded and we were off.  Things began alright, I was side by side with my uncle, of course I believe he was holding back.  About 2 miles in I felt it, a sharp pain and burn in my right groin.  I knew from the burning that it was either a tear or a severe sprain.  Early in the race still I was not trying to diagnose myself, I was just trying to keep going.
Not long after I told my uncle of my pain and said there was no way I could keep up his pace.  I told him that I would not quit though.  I patted my pink ribbon to remind myself why I was not going to quit.  He told me to shout down the pain and tell it that it was not in control.  I said I would try and he slowly pulled away and out of sight.  I was left with nearly 11 miles left to run and a hip/groin that was badly injured.
As the miles dragged on I began to find ways to use ‘mind over matter’ to manage my pain.  It started with my breathing, concentrating on it, as a sort of meditation while my feet kept moving.  My steps were very deliberate as I noticed that if my legs moved perfectly straight ahead the pain was less than if my right leg shifted a little to the left.  Does that make sense? 
Each mile marker became a beacon of hope.  Once I passed 10 I knew there was no way I could stop.  Every step hurt but that little pink ribbon was like an angel on my shoulder.  I had not told anyone but my mother that I was planning on running for Auntie Chris.  I did not want it to be a ‘look at me’ type of thing.  I still don't want it to be like that, but it would be so much more disrespectful to leave this important fact out of my story.  
That ribbon was like a pacifier during those last few miles.  I had placed it over my heart and routinely patted it when the pain in my hip and groin became unbearable.  Sure, many people would have simply stopped, walked back or quit all together, and live to run another day.  That is not me.  If I had quit the race I would have felt like I was quitting on Auntie Chris.  She fought so hard for so long against her cancer that this was my way of honoring her memory, the fact that I was doing it with injuries seemed sort of appropriate. 
12 miles in I stopped and walked while trying to somehow massage the pain away for one more mile.  Several other runners shouted encouragement as they passed.  The remainder of the race was a slow, hobbling trot, but I kept going.  I got close to the finish line and Emily was there, having finished well before me, as did my Uncle Steve.  She pointed to her hip to ask how I was feeling.  I just shook my head no and kept going. 
I crossed the finish line at 1:55, I did not get much further before I found a spot along a fence and collapsed in pain.  For a few minutes I sat perfectly still afraid to move afraid to feel the pain.  It was a while before I was able to stand, I found my uncle and he congratulated me on my finish.  Everyone who ran got a medal, so I had a memento to look at and remember. 
The pain in my hip and groin was a bigger problem.  I had to stop running for weeks to try to let it heal.  As I said before, true relief only began to come when I switched shoes back to Brooks.  As I look back now though I would not change a thing.  I ran my first Half Marathon, dedicated it to a loved one, and conquered some adversity as well.  It may not have been a perfect story book ending, being injured and hobbling to the finish line, but for me it was pretty close.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Minimalist Running Shoes, Yes Or No?

     What is everyone's opinion about the new minimalist running shoe craze?  I have been reading about the benefits of barefoot running for a few months.  These shoes mimic that by being like they say a minimal shoe.  I am debating checking out the new Brooks Pure Connect once I am due for a new pair.  I have seen the FiveFingers shoes which include toes but am looking more toward the common shoe design just much lighter and thinner material-wise.
     Has anyone tried/enjoyed the FiveFingers shoe?
     I have seen that Nike, New Balance, and Saucony, in addition to Brooks have jumped into the minimalist world.  So if the heavy-hitters are producing these shoes there must be something to it, right?  It is said that barefoot running helps you feel each impact and therefore allows you to adjust your form and lessen injury.  That is something that absolutely appeals to me.  Anytime that I can lessen leg injuries I will at least try what is recommended.
     I am thinking of trying out some barefoot running on the nearby beaches soon.  I read that this helps in a few ways.  First you tend to land on your whole foot, not just the heel which is common with soft cushioned shoes.  I had a tendency to do that but have been recently trying to use shorter more frequent strides to avoid nagging knee pain.  Second, running barefoot helps strengthen the feet which will aide in better running overall.  Still I am shying away from barefooting anywhere but the soft beach sand because of the hazards of stones and various other debris.  So I want to try the shoes.
     The problem is that you cannot really try out these shoes.  You need to do proper research and make informed decisions as with any major purchase.  This is where you runners come in.  I currently run in Brooks Adrenaline GTS 12, I am a big fan of these shoes and Brooks in general.  I would love to hear from barefoot runners, or at least those of you who have tried any brand of minimalist shoe.  Let the conversation begin!

Thanks to Runner's World for some of the info I gathered for this post, you can view the lengthy article on minimalist running shoes here: Is Less More?