Monday, April 25, 2011

The best laid plans....

I'm trying to focus on the positives and remind myself that things could be a lot worse. I'm reminded by my unlucky PDX friend who crashed his bike last week and had re-constructive hip surgery, that a calf strain is really not that bad. And while it's not the end of the world, it has me frustrated as hell. If, for instance, I'd had re-constructive hip surgery (which I'm obviously glad that I didn't have) it would be blatantly obvious to me that I shouldn't (and can't) run. But I'm having a hard time figuring out how easy I need to take it. After an early re-tweaking, I'm intensely afraid of another tweak and have been following my massage therapist's advice (who knows a thing or two about running and calf injuries from personal experience) and things seem to be feeling better in there.

The bad news is that I've done virtually no real training in 3 weeks since I initially strained my calf.  I ran 5-8 miles 5 days this past week, and have been doing a ton of bikram yoga, with some upper body weights and spinning classes thrown in, so have not been a completely lazy slack.  But, I have not been getting in the 70-90 mile high intensity weeks I would have chosen over the past few weeks. Instead of long runs, I do long workouts.  Example, on Saturday I ran 4 miles to bikram, did 90 minutes of bikram yoga, ran 4 miles to the gym, and lifted upper body. So, not the same as a 3 hour run, but I was active for 3+ hours (and sweated out my body weight in bikram). But, I can feel that my fitness is not in the same place on the runs I've attempted.  And the worst part of the runs is the fear with every step, and those slight tingling sensations that cause panic attacks that the next tweak is near.  How does one run without fear again?  Thinking about and fearing every step really sucks.

For the first two weeks following the initial injury I was going to my sports med/graston guy(s) twice a week.  I really didn't feel like they were getting to the root of the issue in the muscle.  They seemed, generally, not too concerned, and I didn't seem to be making any progress.  So, I switched to my massage therapist, who was a competitive runner back in the day and who happened also to have dealt with the same injury. The sports med guys would work on me for 10 minutes and call it a day, whereas Michael will dig in there and work on it for 45 minutes.  When I first saw him 10 days ago, he told me I was kind of screwed because the tear seems to be where the tendon and muscle meet (whereas the sports med guy told me not to worry because it was in the muscle belly), and that if I wasn't careful it would be a long and frustrating recovery.  I've been a good patient.  I've followed instructions.  Only road running, and no hills this past week.  I had my 5th appointment with him this morning, and it feels (to me) and he confirms that it feels much better, which is a good thing. The washboard feeling is getting worked out, and my running experiments don't seem to be irritating it.

So, things are looking up, but I'm still insanely frustrated.  I'd never been so excited for a series of races, and I had been doing a fair amount of speed work and was getting faster. But that feeling of speed and fitness has diminished to nearly nothing.  Miwok is less than 2 weeks away, and I haven't run over 10 miles in 3 weeks.  I'm still on the fence about Miwok, but I'll wait and see how the next 2 weeks feel.  I won't be prepared to race it if I do run it, and I'll only run it if I feel like it won't further irritate my calf, as I don't want to give up on Comrades and WS.  However, I also don't want to give up on the Montrail Cup, and need to finish Miwok to give me 4 finishes. If I do run Miwok, it'll be more of a "walk the ups and run the flats" type of day and just a quality day of training with a lot of walking thrown in to protect the calf.

Yassine getting loud.
And for someone that lacks confidence, this fear of running is not so much fun.  I'm the queen of excuses, and this fear of re-injury makes it way too easy to make excuses.

And in my newly acquired spare time, I'm feeling a bit lost. My life really does revolve around ultra running--from my friends to how I structure my day.

On a somewhat unrelated note, we had awesome seats for the Blazers game this past weekend, which I got to experience with 3 of my good PDX running buddies, Yassine, Aaron and Todd.  Talk about a lesson in never giving up!  The Blazers were down by 23 in the second half, and 18 starting the 4th quarter and came back to win by 2.  Probably the most amazing comeback I've ever witnessed, and a reminder that anything is possible.  And the comeback was led by Roy, who had double knee surgery and has exceeded any expectations in returning from injury.  The body can do amazing things!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

ZG: Listening to myself

A crew car perspective. Dusty roads and glimpses of beauty.  Thanks to Larry Hutton for all of the photos.
Going into Zane Grey I made the decision to run, and then not to run, and then to run, over and over again. And despite straining my calf 2 weeks prior, I had a promising few runs post-injury leading up until Tuesday, when I re-tweaked it and was forced, again, to abort an easy 6-miler and hobble back to the car.  I re-tweaked it while running up a gradual hill on a bit of a muddy patch.  I could jog lamely back to the car, which was an improvement from the first tweaking when I couldn't walk, but awoke Wednesday with it bruised and sore to the touch, which hadn't happened the first time.

At this point, I knew I shouldn't try to run 50 miles on it, but was getting conflicting advice. Coach said to take the rest of the week off and give it a shot.  Doctor said it was a bad idea, but said as long as I went into it willing to drop as soon as I first felt pain, he was OK with it. Other friends told me not to run, as calf injuries aren't something to screw around with. Many told me to be smart and not do anything stupid.  But, I really really wanted to run. It didn't help when we received our race numbers and I was seeded first (lucky #13).  I hate seedings, they imply expectations, but I feared if I actually tried to meet them I would end up with this little ball of calf muscle rolled up behind my knee.  The feeling of a muscle strain is a bit unnerving, especially because it comes unexpectedly, and brings the resultant knowledge that it can happen on any step without any warning.  Running along one minute and doubled over the next.  Not necessarily a stabbing pain, more like if a calf were made up of a hundreds of tightly stretched rubber bands, suddenly several of them are let go at once, and without all of them attached, running becomes painful and brings the fear of the rest of them letting go.

It's really hard to go into a 50 mile race, known as one of the toughest in the country on rocky and uneven terrain with 10,000 feet of climb, knowing that you can't run uphill and shouldn't run on uneven terrain. And in my mind, it wasn't so much a question of whether I would re-injure my calf, but how quickly that would happen--the first climb or the second?  Where would I be when it happened in terms of proximity to an aid station. ZG is remote, and aid stations because of the terrain are as far as 3 hours apart (moving at a racing pace). What if I made it beyond the first 2 aid stations, it felt good, and I decided to go for it, but then had issues on some of the more remote sections?  It took me an hour to hobble 2 miles to Pan Toll 2 weeks ago over smooth trail. If I re-strained it, how long would it take me to hobble out? Was it completely irresponsible to even start? But in the back of my head I hoped that 3 days of complete rest with lots of icing, compression and massage had done wonders, and that I would start the race and not feel anything.

Our cabin in the woods in Pine, AZ.  
Driving up from Phoenix I realized that I haven't spent much time in Arizona.  It's gorgeous and as I drove into Pine, AZ where we had rented a house, I so badly wanted to run. I lounged around the house waiting for the Flagstaffians to arrive, icing, massaging and talking at my leg about our relationship. I went to bed, planning to start the race.  I woke up at 1 a.m. on Saturday and flexed my foot. Decision made--there's no way I'm running, and went back to sleep at peace with my decision.  I wandered out into the kitchen at 3:15 a.m. and told the group that I wasn't running.  They all stared at me blankly, and I sensed disapproval.  I hardly know these people--what do I care?  Watching them get dressed, I longed to be nervous about racing, as much as I normally hate the pre-race hours.  I wasn't nervous, because I knew I couldn't race.  But, for the umpteenth time, I changed my mind and I decided to go through the motions of getting to the starting line, and hoping that maybe the race energy would get my calf so excited that it would be up to the task.

In the end, I started, but it was a half-hearted attempt and resulted in the quickest DNF in history.  I made it about 0.8 miles and as we were gradually heading uphill, felt some calf pain and knew that if I continued on I would be in about the same position I had been on Tuesday within a matter of minutes.  I headed back against the sea of headlamps back to the start, and told the RD I was dropping. Yes, I'm a flake.

Dropping at mile 0.8 meant plenty of time for crewing duties.  Unfortunately for Ian, this was taken at mile 8, and he wasn't smiling.  He didn't smile until his naked pacer appeared at mile 52.
Good eats with Shea and Larry in Pine. I really didn't run enough to enjoy a second breakfast, but I didn't want Shea and Larry to eat alone....
Crewing a race you want to be running kind of sucks. But it was warm and sunny, with a fun crew and a fun group to crew.  Our group had some great performances, while others were disappointed with their days.  It's always interesting to step back and watch things unfold from the other side. I basked in the sun more than I should have, but knowing that I might not see sun again until mid-July, had a hard time moving into the shade. Overall, a fun weekend despite not competing, and a needed reprieve from the rainy gloom that has been the norm in Portland.
Sean ran at least 45 miles with a shattered and dislocated thumb.  Can you say, "Immune to pain?"  Or, "Amy is a pansy?"
1. Listen to myself.  No one can make the decision to race except me, and no one else has to deal with the consequences.
2. Patience sucks. Injuries suck. The two are related.
3. I'm fairly flaky.
4. Appreciate every second on the trails, because injury comes when least expected.
5. Ultra runners are tough. Sean Andrish ran with a dislocated thumb* and Diana Finkel ran on an ankle the size of a tree trunk (which both make me question if I'm just not tough enough....). Ian Torrence pushed through despite wanting to drop all day.
6. I will run Zane Grey again.
7. Arizona is gorgeous. I may need to move there, despite the fact that you have to pump your own gas.
Are those sunglasses?  Is that sun? Are we smiling?  Despite being frustrated as hell? 

*Update: Sean's thumb wasn't just dislocated, but fractured into many pieces extending into the joint and required surgery and lots of pins and screws and things to piece it back together.

The cabin crew.  All from Flagstaff menos yo.  The reflection off of my white legs is practically blinding. Can you say "Pacific NW tan?"  

Monday, April 4, 2011

Updates: Schedules, Dreams and Injuries

Last week was an exciting week.  Lake Sonoma was cancelled (major bummer), but that spurred a fun CA training weekend in the Headlands, a search for a new race to run in April (Zane Grey), and I managed to schedule a work trip to Africa that will end 3 days before Comrades, and got permission to enter.  Sweet!

Mt. Tam group minus Devon (taking photo): Nathan, Topher, me, Jason, Mark, Krissy and Kim.
Life was grand....a hard, fast and fun 32 mile run on Saturday up and around Mt. Tam with an awesome group, and we were midway through what was turning into another gorgeous 20 miler on Sunday, when I took a step and was stopped in my tracks. It was actually the second time I had been stopped in my tracks on Sunday. The first came about 6 miles in, when I failed to observe a low tree trunk over the trail.  I hit the tree head on, and was flat on my back. Stars, confusion, pain. But, the stars cleared, and we were on our way again. The tree was probably a sign, but sadly it didn't quite knock me out. We were about 2 miles out of Pan Toll, climbing gently, and I took a step and felt a stab of pain in my right calf. I had noticed some minor tightness maybe a mile before this, but nothing major. And then, all of a sudden, I couldn't move. I tried to walk a step, but couldn't. Argh! Out on a run on some of the prettiest trails in the country, with an amazing group of runners, on a sunny day, with plans for races falling into place too easily, and wham. A really frustrating way to end what was, otherwise, a nearly perfect weekend.

Day 2 Group minus Krissy (taking photo): Nathan, Devon, Topher, Mark, me, Jason and Kim.  Another lovely day in sunny California. 
The group made some phone calls for help, and sent me on my way to Pan Toll where Devon rescued me and took me for a sympathy kombucha.  It took me almost an hour to hobble the 2 miles to Pan Toll, and walkers passed by sympathetically as the tears streamed down my cheeks.

Mark, me and Topher just minutes before disaster....(photo by Krissy).
A day later, I'm optimistic.  I don't want to do anything stupid, but it already feels about 100% better from yesterday, when I couldn't walk without doing a straight leg hobble, and today, I'm walking almost normally.  I'm icing, massaging, medicating, and compressing and hoping that this goes away as quickly as it came on.  Unfortunately, I did feel something "pop", so I'm fairly certain there is some level of a tear in there.  I'm optimistically hoping that a few days of complete rest will work wonders and that Zane Grey will still be a possibility 12 days from now. Please feel free to suggest any miracle cures.