Sunday, September 26, 2010

Running Injuries

Almost every person I have ever known that was a dedicated runner has been injured at some point in their running career. If you have ever watched someone running in slow motion, it's not hard to see how this activity causes problems. There is some serious impact.

Some say don't run. I have heard of doctors giving this advice. My own mother has told me the same thing. But for someone like me who runs to maintain sanity, that's a very tough sell.

Running injuries come in a variety of aches, ailments, and structural defects. Injuries can be caused by improper shoes, lack of stretching, improper diet, and stupid training. I have had at one time probably been injured due to all of the above.

Nailing down the cause of an injury can be very tricky. The more experience a runner has, the more that runner should know his or her body. But one thing a lot of runners do that gets them in trouble is ignoring their bodies. And usually at their own detriment.

In 2008 I started running seriously again after an almost 10 year break. I rediscovered my love of it. I was reminded of how great I feel when I am in very good shape. And I trained like an idiot. I have a tendency to think if something is good, more of that thing has to be better. When it comes to miles and running them, this assumption often fails. It did for me.

I really started running in December of 2007 while in Japan, but I kept no log of distances, dates, and time. When I was in Japan I had no idea how far or fast I ran. I just ran and tried to find my way back to from where I started. I know I scared some citizens of Hiroshima by running through its streets at 4:30 am on one chilly morning. Not too many Gaijins around there.

But around February 2008, I thought about returning to racing. Why not? It would give my new running a goal. Could I be faster though 10 years older? That question lead me down the path of ignorant training.

By April I was in glorious shape, perhaps the best running shape of my life. And I quickly fell injured a few weeks before a marathon that I predicted at finishing time well under 3 hours.

Steroid injections into both knees brought no relief. Physical therapy failed too. One month of little running went by. Then another. I wasn't getting better. I couldn't run pain free for any meaningful distance. I had an MRI that didn't reveal anything structurally wrong. But I knew something was not right.

I finally convinced an orthopedic surgeon to go in my knee and have a look. As it turns out, I was right. The MRI missed some frayed cartilage at the bottom of my femur. My surgeon shaved it down. 3 days after the surgery and once the swelling was mostly gone, simply putting all my weight on the injured knee and feeling no pain, told me the procedure was successful.

I was told not to run for 6 weeks. I made it 2. It was mid August. The Chicago Marathon was in early October. I had missed 3.5 months of proper training. There was no way I was still doing this race.

But I did anyway. And ran a 3:04:40 with no speed work for 5 months before the race. How is that possible? It's possible because of the level of fitness I had obtained prior to injury back in April. And I was in the gym on ellipticals when I couldn't run.

It would seem that for me, supreme running fitness is found in the gray area between healthy and injured. I kept running after the marathon in October 2008 but dealt with bilateral lower leg pain (shin splints) until I took most of December off to heal.

2009 started slower than 2008 running wise. It wasn't until April that I started running with any real purpose. I signed up for races including the Chicago Marathon again that October. I ran well in April and even better in May and June. I was back in almost April 2008 shape. And then it happened all over again.

In 2009 my knees were fine. But both legs from the knee down were in extreme pain from running. I hate using the phrase shin splints, because it's not really a condition but rather a symptom that can be caused by a dozen problems.

I tried at least 6 different shoes. I incorporated more stretching and strengthening. Nothing worked. What I needed is the remedy that's almost impossible to sell to a runner: complete and total rest.

This is a perfect example of me failing to listen to my body and paying for it. In 2008, I trained ignorantly. But my injury did sort of just creep up on me, which is rare. I simply woke up one morning and could barely walk.

2009, on the other hand, was preventable. I ran through pain for a month. And for that one month I had to give my body back 3 months of no running. And so I sat July, August, and September 2009. And I was miserable. I wanted to be at the lake running in the sun.

I still ran the marathon in October 2009, but it was a jog. And I decided I was going to actually take part in that race on the Thursday of race week. I don't regret it.

I didn't run much late in the year of 2009. Instead I looked at reasons how or why I was injured 2 years in a row and was forced to miss months of running from each year. I had simply done too much too soon. I was forced to realize I am approaching 40. I had to be smarter.

2010 began. I had no plans of doing one race this year. I already wrote about this in a prior post so I won't repeat myself here. But let's just say this year was much more methodical.  Increases in running volume and intensity were done gradually. This was in stark contrast to 2008 and 2009.

This year I didn't regularly go over 30 miles per week until May. It's no coincidence that in May the weather was warm enough for me to run at the lake in the sun. I ran 40 miles per week in June. In July it was 50. August was 55.

My average per mile pace quickened as I ran more with no thought. It just happens. I imagine this happens to every runner. We all have a pace our legs find if we don't think about it. It takes concentration to run faster or slower. I know I am getting fitter when auto-pilot pace gets faster.

When I felt this pace was flattening out, I added some speed work. I didn't do my first tempo runs until August. And then it was only once per week. I ran some pretty tough workouts in extreme heat and all but one of them went really well.

On September 12, 2010 I raced the Chicago Half Marathon. The purpose of this race was to see where my fitness was. And with the results of this race, I could predict a time for October's marathon.

To say I went into this race 100% healthy is inaccurate. Back in July (I think) from out of no where, I developed plantar fasciitis in my left foot. It came on suddenly during the end of a 10 mile run. This is a condition I have had little experience with. But I learned how to train with it, though I took a full day off and reduced mileage for a couple of days. It is still bothering me, but I can live with it.

Prior to September, my last really good half marathon was a 1:21 in April 2008. That race would be my measuring stick. This year's half marathon wasn't great. I ran a 1:28:06 and fought myself every step of that race. I never got comfortable and found a groove. It just sucked. My per mile pace for the first 4-5 miles was 6:30 but I blew up and slowed down significantly.

1:28:06. Something was wrong with that. That's an average per mile pace of just 6:44. Back in April, when I wasn't in proper running form, I raced the Lakefront 10 miler and averaged 6:50 per mile.

Clearly something was amiss. Did I just have a bad race? Three days later when my legs were still too trashed to run more than 4 miles, I knew it was more than just a bad morning.

Since I couldn't run, I went back to the gym for some elliptical work. This was last Friday, September 17, 2010. And I did something I hadn't done in months. I weighed myself. I quickly knew why my race pace was so slow and my legs were trashed. I weighed too much. Simple.

The scale read 187 lbs. Wow. That was 10 lbs over what I would have guessed. But where was the extra weight? Those that know me will tell you I am incredibly lean right now. You can see my abs and lower ribs when I have no shirt on and there's no flab through the midsection. My clothes are very loose. I bought a pair of size 32" waist jeans a few weeks ago and they are way too big. What gives?

Does this look like 187 lbs? I stand 5'10" with shoes on.

When I saw race photos, it was clear where the extra weight is: the upper body. I am not skinny like a typical distance runner. Right now, I am carrying too much extra muscle up top.

I went back and looked at data from 2008. My race weight for the 1:21 half marathon in Springfield in April was 173. A month prior I was 170. A month before that 170. In January 2008, I was 167.

Apparently my body likes to add weight when I run more. This is sort of backwards from what one would normally expect. Looking at 2008 and 2010, I gained weight as I ramped up mileage and intensity. I am sure the same was true in 2009 but I haven't looked.

I think my body wants to be around 170-175 lbs when I am in shape. That's just where it wants to be. Or at least that's where it appears I can run well and still not weigh too much. Had I weighed myself back in July or August and seen a few extra pounds, I could have reduced calorie intake. That would have done it.

Since last Friday, I have lost 6 lbs and have ran very little. I adjusted food and supplement intake. I did a 20 mile run last Sunday but only ran once this week. I should be able to loose another 6-10 in the next 2 weeks prior to race day.

That's great, but sitting here on Saturday morning, September 25, I can't run. Well, I could. But it would make things worse. At this point, I doubt there's anything more I can do to make October 10, 2010 a reasonable shot at the 3 hour mark, except lose more weight.

Something is not right with my left, lower leg. I am being cautious. I am icing. I am stretching. I am resting. I am taking ibuprofen. I am doing elliptical work. And I am remaining positive. I don't want to think about not being ready on October 10.

My optimistic and positive side wants to think that even if Chicago is a no go, I won't talk about a wasted spring and summer of running. But my realistic side knows it will be a failure on some level. But right now, I am positive. I am saying to myself a little rest along with some weight loss might produce a great race.

I hope to get in a few workouts next week where I run at or slightly faster than goal marathon pace. I think mentally I need to know I can hit that speed and hope like hell it feels maintainable for 3 hours. I am not concerned about the total distance. I have put in the long runs. I am ok.

If October 10, 2010 doesn't go my way, it will be a learning experience. My body did not like racing at close to 190lbs. That's simply too much. And I am paying for it. I didn't think I had put any weight on. It never looked like it. And since my dress slacks were always just right or a little loose, why would I check?

But the Chicago Marathon won't be my last race of the year. I am headed to Dallas on the weekend of December 5 for the White Rock Marathon. The plan was just to have that race there to keep me from getting out of shape. But this assumed I would bust 3 hours in October and be headed to Boston in April 2011, thus an interim race would be a good idea.

But if I don't break 3 hours next month, what do I do? I can qualify for Boston no problem. Since I will be 40 by the 2011 race, I think I get an extra 5 minutes, or 3:20. Meh. It's sub 3 hours or no Boston. That's the deal I made with myself a long time ago. I am not backing out now.

Last year, the Boston Marathon sold out in November. If Chicago is a failure, but I come really close, do I go ahead and register for Boston in the hope that Dallas is a sub 3? I could always register for the Boston 2011 race and just not do it if Dallas is a bust too. This is the likely plan.

The act of running is pretty simple. We do it naturally as children. We're not taught. One day, we just do it. Some of us run, trip over untied shoe laces, and thrust our arms through glass doors, causing deep lacerations which scares the be-Jesus out of our mothers.

But I digress.

How did this get so complicated?

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