Monday, February 29, 2016

I'm Finally Running Again

A few weeks ago, I wrote about cancelling my plans for the Los Angeles Marathon and how difficult it was to read posts about the race and the Olympic Trials, which were held the day before.  This past weekend, I was supposed to be running the Rock ‘n’ Roll New Orleans Marathon.  I saw a few posts from friends who did this race, but this time my mind was on a different race.  All I could think about was the Boston Marathon.

Last summer I had mixed feelings about registering for this year’s Boston Marathon.  On one hand, I knew I wouldn’t be in shape for it.  On the other hand, I’ve run it four years in a row, and I didn’t want my streak to end.  I eventually decided to register for the race.

A few days ago, I got an email from Marathon Tours & Travel (MT&T).  To get a (somewhat) affordable hotel rate, I booked my room through MT&T.  Sometimes people make a reservation, but then they need to cancel.  This email was a reminder that anyone cancelling their reservation after March 1st would have to pay for the first night.  Anyone cancelling before then would have to pay a $60 cancellation fee.  (That’s still a lot less than the room rate for one night!)

Going into today’s physical therapy appointment, I had doubts about whether I could run the race.  The last time I ran was January 12th.  That was one very slow mile on a treadmill, wearing a compression wrap on my right leg.  Since then, my only real training has been on a stationary bike.

This past week has been a physical and emotional roller coaster.  In addition to my PT exercises, I was working on getting hip rotation when I walk.  Before I could start running, I needed to be able to walk normally.  By mid-week, I was already making noticeable progress, and I was feeling cautiously optimistic.

My left hamstring has been bothering me for the last week and a half.  During my daily bike workouts, it felt OK, but after each workout, it felt inflamed.  I finally took a few days off from biking and went for long walks instead.

For about a month, I’ve been trying out a medication to see if it would help with the stiffness and cramps in my legs.  I was starting to notice a difference.  I didn’t get as stiff during the night, and I wasn’t experiencing any cramps.  Then I forgot to take my pill one night.  Skipping a day is bad!  For the next two days, I felt like I was back to square one.  My legs felt stiff almost all the time.  Also, I found it difficult to walk normally.  Despite my best efforts, I was falling back into the habit of waddling around with rigid hips.  While much of my recent progress was the result of PT, I underestimated the importance of my medication.

During those two days, my exercises seemed to inflame the muscles in my left leg.  I wondered if I had pulled both my hamstring and one of my glutes.  By this morning, the stiffness was gone, but the inflammation was still there.  I had serious doubts about whether I would be able to start running this week.

Today was the last day of February.  I had to decide if I was running Boston or cancelling my reservation.  I waited to see how PT went.

My therapist is very observant.  As I walked from the lobby to the physical therapy area, I’m sure he noticed the improvement in my walking.  I told him how things went this past week, and he told me the discomfort I’m feeling in my left leg was probably just normal soreness from overusing muscles that are still weak.  He didn’t think I caused further injury.  We made a joint decision to put me on a treadmill to see how running felt.  I ran for several minutes, while he took video from different angles.

Running felt better than I expected.  A few muscles are sore, but the soreness didn’t get any worse.  I was able to get good hip rotation.  I’m out of shape, but that’s no big surprise.  After about five minutes, I stopped and we reviewed the video.  From the side, I looked pretty good.  My foot strikes close to my center of gravity, which is good.  My upper body posture is perfectly vertical.  Normally, that would be good, but my therapist wants me to lean forward slightly.  That will force me to use my glutes, which will take some of the strain off other muscles that are currently overworked.

From the back, I didn’t look as good.  My right leg is OK.  When my weight is on my left leg, my left knee moves inward slightly, and my upper body shifts sideways.  It could be that the muscles around my left hip and the left side of my butt are still too weak.  It’s also possible that I’m subconsciously compensating for the soreness on my left side.  Viewing at full speed, I could see a slight side-to-side motion in my shoulders.  In slow motion, I could also see how my left knee moves inward.

Next, I got on the treadmill again to practice adjusting my posture.  I can do it, but it takes a conscious effort.  I also tried speeding up, to see if my form improved.  It did, but there was still some imbalance.  I couldn’t run fast for very long before getting tired.  Also, “fast” is a relative term.  What seemed fast today was a pace that I used to be able to run comfortably for hours.

After I got off the treadmill for the second time, my therapist said he was curious to know how I would feel after running.  I was also curious.  So far, I feel surprisingly good.  I feel much better than I did after my last few bike workouts.  I also felt better doing my other exercises today.  I don’t know how I’ll feel tomorrow, but for now, I’m pleasantly surprised.

I’ve been cleared to run 1-2 miles every other day.  On the days I don’t run, I’ll continue to work on walking.  I’m not sure where biking will fit in.  When I’m not running or walking, I may be better off resting.  Fitness will come later.  First, I need to improve my mechanics.

I won’t be cancelling any reservations.  Boston is on!  I won’t be in shape to run fast.  I might not be able to run the whole thing without walking.  I’m optimistic, however, that I can get to the starting line healthy.  It’s been a long time since I’ve done that.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Week Two of PT

I had another PT session today.  I’m making progress, but it’s uneven.  Within a day or two of my last appointment, I started to notice a difference.  It didn’t take quite as much effort to get normal hip rotation while walking.  There was even one day when I started walking smoothly without having to think about it.  Most of the time, however, I had to make a conscious effort, or I would fall back on my old habit of walking with rigid hips.  Deb caught me doing this at least once or twice a day.

In general, my daily exercises went well, but on Saturday I must have overdone my hamstring exercise.  My hamstrings are weak and tight, but my quads are still reasonably strong, so it’s easy to straighten my legs too much, putting too much stretch on my hamstrings.  I felt OK at the time, but later in the day I was noticing soreness and tightness in both hamstrings.  The right leg feels better now, but the left hamstring is still sore.  It’s enough to affect how I walk.

As I was walking into today’s appointment, my therapist could see that my hips are still somewhat rigid when I walk.  I really need to work on that.  Eventually, I’ll have a running evaluation on a treadmill, but I have to improve my walking first.  Running on the treadmill is still at least a week away.

During today’s appointment, we worked on static stretches to loosen up the muscles around my hips.  After the appointment, walking felt easier.  I have one new exercise to work on my glutes.  I’ll also continue to do all my other exercises, but I need ease up on the hamstring exercise.

My therapist had me try one other exercise.  To do it, I need to be standing on one foot.  That’s a problem.  Right now, I can barely maintain balance standing on one foot.  As soon as I introduce any motion, I lose my balance.  I’m not ready for this exercise yet.  He also showed me another exercise that he wants me to do eventually, but I’m also not ready for that one.  This is going to take some time.

Besides my exercises, I need to work constantly on improving my walking.  For too long, my hips and pelvis have been completely rigid.  I’m still like this.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

I've Started Physical Therapy Again

I’ve started physical therapy again.  I was in PT last summer, but once I resumed running marathons every weekend, there wasn’t much they could do for me.  Now I’m finally at a point where I can make progress again.

I’m doing my PT at TRIA Orthopaedic Center.  For years, I drove by this glass office building on my way to and from work.  I never knew what it was before.  Now I’m going there for PT.

When I had my consultation with an orthopedist two weeks ago, she was able to recommend four therapists who work with runners.  Today was the earliest I could get an appointment with one of them.  In the meantime, I made a conscious effort to improve my walking mechanics, so I’m getting some hip rotation.  Before that, my walking motion resembled the waddling of a penguin.

My appointment today began with a review of the history of my injury and an evaluation of strength and flexibility in various muscles of my lower body.  The therapist immediately noticed that I lean to one side when I tried to stand on one leg.

Before we can strengthen my weak adductors or improve my tendonopathy, we need to strengthen several other muscles.  For months, my mechanics were severely compromised by my injuries.  As I tried to compensate, I stopped using my glutes and the muscles surrounding my hips.  That, in turn, put undue strain on other muscle groups.  I still experience soreness in different places in my right leg.  I used to have soreness from muscle strain.  Now it’s from trying to overuse muscles that are weak.

My therapist gave me five exercises to improve both strength and flexibility in my glutes, hips and hamstrings.  I’ll do them every day until my next appointment.  As I improve, I’ll get more exercises.  In a week or two, I’ll have an evaluation of my running form, but I’m not ready for that yet.  For now, my only training will be on a stationary bike.

My short term goal is still to run the Boston Marathon.  I have no illusions about running fast.  I know I won’t be in shape.  I just want to be healthy enough to finish the race without having any setbacks in my recovery.  My therapist thought that was a realistic goal.

Friday, February 12, 2016

A Different Kind of Marathon

When I told people I’d be taking a break from racing after the Honolulu Marathon, some of my friends expressed skepticism that I could go nine weeks between races.  That was the plan.  My last race was Honolulu on December 13, and my next scheduled race was the Los Angeles Marathon on February 14.

It’s not surprising that people would question my commitment to taking a break.  In the last three calendar years, I ran 157 marathons or ultras.  That’s more than one a week.  The last time I went nine weeks between races was six years ago.

I’ve really missed being able to train, but I haven’t actually missed the racing.  Between mid-May and mid-December, I toed the starting line 34 times, each time knowing I was injured and shouldn’t be racing.  You can only do that for so long.  Then you really need to take a break.

Most of my races involve travel to other states or countries.  Racing almost every weekend means traveling almost every weekend.  I usually leave the day before a race and return home the day after a race.  That’s a minimum of three days away from home.  Some trips are longer, either because I’m doing multiple races or because it’s an international trip.  On average, I’ve probably been away from home almost as many days as I’ve been home.  That’s hard to sustain for one year, much less three.

For the most part, I’ve really enjoyed being home.  Deb has enjoyed it too.  We’ve been able to spend more time together.  I’ve also made quite a bit of progress on my to-do list.  In late December, I had to catch up on a whole year of financial bookkeeping.  I’m still behind on a few things, but I no longer feel like my life is getting out of control.

I’m also starting to rediscover other interests that I put on the back burner.  I’m reacquainting myself with my music collection and updating my catalogue.  I’m also going to board game meetups.  I used to do that once or twice a month.  Lately, it’s been once or twice a year.

I didn’t miss the races too much in January.  I knew for several months that I’d be taking the whole month off.  February has been tougher.  Several of my friends recently did a series of races where you travel by cruise ship to six different Caribbean countries.  Each day, you run a marathon in a different country.  Had I been healthy, I wound have found that series tempting.  As I starting seeing posts by friends who went on that trip, I has a bit envious.

This week has been particularly difficult.  The Olympic Trials are being held in Los Angeles on Saturday.  The Los Angeles Marathon is Sunday.  I’m registered for that race, and I was originally planning to get there a day early to watch the trials.  I realized about a month ago that I wouldn’t be healthy in time.  I cancelled my travel plans two weeks ago, but since then I’ve been getting emails with my bib number, corral assignment, and other last-minute race info.  I’ve also been reading about the trials.  The constant reminders of what I’m missing don’t help.  I’m having some serious FOMO.

There’s one good thing about the timing.  One of the board game events I sometimes attend is the Minneapolis Board Game Marathon.  This is a monthly event that happens to be going on this weekend.  Instead of running a marathon, I’ll play Eurogames.

I’m seeing some improvement in my legs.  For two weeks, I’ve been doing daily workouts on a stationary bike.  I’m only doing about 35 minutes a day, but it’s a start.  I still need to make a conscious effort to use my hips when I walk, but it’s getting a little bit easier.  I begin physical therapy on Tuesday.  Then I’ll have a better idea of when I can resume running.  I probably won’t do any other races before the Boston Marathon in April.  Until then, I’ll have to settle for board game “marathons.”