Sunday, October 11, 2015

I May Have Bit Off More Than I Can Chew

I don’t have a race this weekend.  It’s my first weekend without a race since early August, and it’s my last weekend without a race until late December.  Next weekend, I begin the home stretch of my 2015 race schedule.  Looking at the number of races on my calendar, I’m more than a little bit intimidated.

Since early May, I’ve been coping with a groin strain in my right leg.  Initially, I cut back on training, cancelled a race, quit halfway through another race and then hoped I could recover in time for the Comrades Marathon.  I repeated that pattern for another month.  I had a few breaks in my schedule, but it was never enough time to fully recover.

In July, I started racing with the top of my right thigh bandaged.  That helped me get through races without doing further damage to my right leg.  Unfortunately, I was developing a less severe injury to the same muscles in my left leg.  With each race, my left leg got noticeable worse, until I was more concerned about my left leg than my right leg.

By then, I was also having another problem, which began to overshadow the injuries.  I have a circulation disorder that sometimes causes me to lose blood flow to my hands and arms.  When I was young, I had a similar problem with my feet.  After years of running, I developed good blood flow in my legs and feet, and my circulation problems seemed limited to my hands and arms.  As my training dropped off, I started having problems in my legs.  Looking back, I suspect this has been developing slowly with age, but it didn’t get bad until I stopped training.  Evidently, all the running I was doing effectively counteracted this condition.

The last break in my race schedule was in early August, when I had three weeks between races.  By then, my training had dropped off to almost nothing.  This is when my circulation issues got worse.  I couldn’t sit in a chair for more than 10 minutes without my legs getting really stiff.  It was worse after sleeping.  When I woke up, moving my legs caused severe cramps.  Sometimes, the muscles in my legs contracted so violently that it aggravated my groin strain.  The benefit of resting during the day was undone when I had cramps during the night.

That was a low point for me.  I didn’t realize yet what was causing the problems in my legs.  Just moving around during the day was sometimes difficult.  Sleeping was an ordeal.  I started getting depressed.

Once I realized the problems in my legs were a symptom of my Raynaud’s Syndrome, I was able to figure out ways to cope.  We started setting our thermostat one degree warmer.  My condition is sensitive to temperature.  Keeping the house a little bit warmer made my stiffness and nighttime cramps less severe.  I also realized I could prevent my legs from cramping by getting some circulation back into my legs before trying to move.  I didn’t have to use the muscles that were most prone to cramping.  By moving one of my feet or partially bending and straightening one knee a few times, I got some blood flow into my legs.  As soon as I restored circulation to one leg, the other leg came to life as well.  That was a useful epiphany.

Day to day living became more manageable, but the last major break in my race schedule was behind me, and I was nowhere close to being healed.  My right leg was no better and my left leg was still getting worse.

At that point, I resigned myself to be coping with these injuries for the rest of the year.  I was determined to say on schedule to run my 300th lifetime marathon in November at the Harpeth Hills Flying Monkey Marathon.  I was also determined to finish at least 51 marathons this year.  If I could do it by mid-December, I would have two months to heal before my first scheduled race of 2016.

I started taking it one week at a time.  I started running with KT tape on both legs.  That worked wonders for my left leg.  With each passing week, I noticed significant improvement.  Unfortunately, my right leg started getting worse.  I went back to wrapping my right leg with an elastic bandage.  That helped my right leg, but my left leg got worse again.  Each week, I re-evaluate what I can do to get through that week’s race.  If I could get through one week at a time, I would eventually get through my race schedule.  Then I could take a long-overdue break.  If I could reach all my long-term goals, it would eventually be worth it.

Although I’ve continued racing, I haven’t done any quality training since the original injury.  There have been a number of weeks when I did no running other than my race.  My fitness has gradually eroded.  I’ve also discovered recently that if I slow down too much in a race, my legs stiffen up, and then I can barely run at all.  It seems I need to run at a certain pace to keep from having circulation issues in my legs, and I’m no longer in good enough shape to sustain that pace for more than 10-15 miles.  It wasn’t a big issue during hot summer races.  With cooler weather, I need to run somewhat faster to get enough circulation in my legs.

I’m OK with running slower times, as long as I can beat the time limits and finish each race.  If I only had one race per week, I think I could keep doing that for two more months.  Unfortunately, my schedule is about to get insanely difficult.

From October 18th through December 13th, I have 16 races.  That’s 16 races in just over two months.  To put that in perspective, I’ve finished 17 races since the original injury, and that was five months ago.  My remaining schedule includes a double and two quadzillas.  I can manage one race per week, but I haven’t tried to race on consecutive days since the Firecracker Triple.  That didn’t go well.

I’ve been asked more than once why I don’t take a break.  My best opportunity to do that was in June.  In retrospect, I should have skipped the Bighorn Mountain 100.  Had I done that, I might have been able to heal completely before July.  Adding insult to injury, I wasn’t even able to finish that race.  I can’t undo past mistakes.  I can only deal with my current situation.  I’ve come too far to quit now.  I don’t know how I’ll do this, but I have to try.

I may have bit off more than I can chew, but I’m not ready to give up.

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