Saturday, December 31, 2016

Looking Back at 2016

At the beginning of the year, I posted my goals for 2016.  It’s time to take a look back at how I did. 

I often characterized 2016 as a “rebuilding” year.  At the beginning of the year, I couldn’t run without discomfort, and I couldn’t even walk normally.  I also had circulation issues in my legs.  Accordingly, my first five goals were in the category of getting healthy.

My first goal was to heal from the groin strain that started my downward spiral in 2015.  For most of January and February, I didn’t run at all.  In early February, I started physical therapy.  By then, I had healed from the original injury, but I had other problems.  Tendinopathy was preventing me from using my glutes, causing them to become weak.  Months of running and walking with my hips locked caused other muscles around my hips to become weak as well.  Finally, after months of neglecting my core muscles, I couldn’t maintain my balance if I tried to stand on one leg.  I had to rebuild everything.

By the last day of February, I had made enough progress in physical therapy that I could begin running.  It took concentration to run with proper mechanics.  I felt like a toddler learning to walk.  I also had no power in my stride.  I couldn’t run anywhere close to my old marathon pace – even for a few minutes.

After months of physical therapy, I finally got back to the point where I could run and walk normally.  By late summer, I could finally run and have it feel normal.  It took time, but I made a full recovery.

My second goal was to improve the circulation in my legs.  My legs got usually stiff whenever I was inactive.  At night, I also experienced cramps after waking up and trying to move my legs.  At first, it seemed mysterious.  I eventually came to realize it was a circulation issue.  My symptoms began after I was no longer able to train.  I was fine when I was running regularly, but without that daily exercise, I became much more sensitive to temperature and inactivity.

After running about a dozen blood tests to rule out other possible causes, my doctor came to the same conclusion.  It was most likely a worsening of the Raynaud’s Syndrome that I’ve had since childhood.  He gave me a prescription.  It helped.  I no longer had cramps at night, but I still got stiff after a period of inactivity.  I had to have faith that my legs would get better when I could get enough exercise.  First, I had to get healthy.  It wasn’t until summer that I was finally running enough for my circulation to improve.  Since then, I’ve felt OK.  That’s a huge relief.

My next goal was to wean myself off of Benadryl.  For years I took one every night to help me get to sleep.  When traveling, I took two.  Having already weaned myself off of prescription medications to cope with my insomnia, I wanted to see if I could stop taking Benadryl too.  Early in the year, I wasn’t traveling to any races, so it seemed like a good time.

It was rough at first.  I had more than a few restless nights, but I gradually got to the point where I could sleep OK without it.  I still sometimes take Benadryl when I’m traveling, but I rarely take it at home.

My last two health-related goals for 2016 were interrelated.  I wanted to lose weight, and I wanted to get back in the habit of eating healthier foods.  When I couldn’t run, I sometimes got depressed.  It’s tough to get serious about a diet when you’re not getting any exercise.  I felt like it was hopeless.  I kept telling myself I’d get serious about the diet once I was running enough to have a fighting chance.  By late spring I was making progress on my weight.  Then I hit a plateau.

During all the months that I was racing with injuries, I gave up on most forms of training.  Almost anything I did seemed to aggravate the groin injury.  That included weight training.  For the first time since college, I wasn’t doing any weight training.  By the time I was finally healthy enough to resume my weight training, I had lost a great deal of upper body strength.  That meant I also lost some of my lean mass.

I haven’t had a body composition analysis since my 20s, so I have no way of knowing how much lean mass I lost.  As I started regaining lean mass, it offset the fat I was losing, so I was no longer seeing much change in my total mass, despite my best efforts to lose the fat.  I was actually making progress, but I got discouraged again.  The realization that I actually put on much more fat than I initially realized was hard to take.  After that, I still made a half-hearted effort to watch what I ate, but I was basically treading water.  I didn’t gain much weight, but I also didn’t lose any.  I’m still about seven pounds above my goal weight, and I probably haven’t regained all of the lean mass I lost.

I do best at dieting when I keep a log of everything I eat.  I also keep track of total calories, and how much is from fat, carbohydrates, and protein.  It’s a fair amount of work to come up with the numbers, and it forces me to forgo eating most restaurant foods.  I can do it, but I have to be highly motivated.  Keeping track of everything keeps me honest.  I’m less apt to have that extra snack.  I’m more apt to make better food choices.  Unfortunately, I lacked sufficient motivation to continue keeping track.

Eating healthy means different things to different people.  To me, it means limiting saturated fats, avoiding trans fats, eating more fruits and vegetables, and favoring whole grains over refined flour and sugar.  When I’m logging everything I eat, I not only limit my total calories, but also eat healthier foods.  When I don’t, I tend to fall back into old habits.

I think I improved my eating habits in one or two areas.  For example, I eat more salads.  Overall, however, I think I fell short in this goal as well.

Once I was healthy enough, I wanted to get back in shape.  I had four goals in this category.  The first was to get back into a regular training habit.  Before the groin injury, I used to run five days a week, and most of my runs were at least 10 miles.  It took me until early summer before I could run10 miles without it feeling like a really big deal.  It took until late summer before I could run 10 miles and have it feel easy.  After another month or two, I finally got back to 10 miles being routine.

It took almost all year to get back to running five days a week.  At first, I alternated between running days and PT days.  When my legs were strong enough, I switched to running two days and doing PT and/or weight training every third day.  Now, finally, I run most days.  In December, I finally logged a 50 mile week that didn’t include a marathon.  I hope to keep that going into the new year.

Next, I wanted to pick up the pace of my runs.  I used to all my training at an eight minutes/mile pace or faster.  Speed workouts were much faster.  When I resumed training last March, I couldn’t run an eight minute mile to save my life.  After making enough progress with PT, I was eventually able to run a single eight minute mile on the treadmill, but it felt like an all-out sprint. 

I’m still not to the point where I can run eight minute miles for long distances, unless it’s downhill.  Before breaking my rib, I was doing 10 mile runs at an 8:45 pace.  After that injury, I had to slow down, but I’m back to running 10 miles at a 9:30 pace.  I’ll get there eventually.

During the summer, I was doing occasional speed workouts.  After doing a couple downhill races, I had to back off from speed workouts.  Since then, I’ve put more emphasis on building my mileage base.  I’ll refocus on speed work when I have a better base.

My last two goals for getting in shape were more specific.  First, I wanted to bring my marathon time back under four hours.  Then, if possible, I wanted to qualify for the 2017 Boston Marathon.  I broke four hours at the Frank Maier Marathon in late July.  That turned out to be the first of five consecutive sub-4 hour marathons.  I’ve had a few slower races since then, but consistency will come when I have a better training base.

Qualifying for Boston was much tougher.  Last April, I dragged myself through the Boston Marathon in 5:09 with barely more than 100 miles of training.  I only had four months until registration would begin for next year’s race.  I needed a time of 3:40 to qualify.  To actually get into the race, I needed to be a few minutes faster.  In April, it seemed like a real long shot.  By June, it seemed possible.  I scheduled two downhill races to give myself a better chance.  In September, I qualified at the Super Tunnel Marathon with a time of 3:36:39.  That alone makes me feel like 2016 was a successful year.

My next goal was to finish the World Marathon Majors by running the Berlin Marathon in September and the Chicago Marathon in October.  Ideally, I wanted to qualify for Boston in both races, since I was able to do that in the other four majors.  I’m not yet to the point where I can qualify on a flat course, much less do it consistently, but I did manage to break four hours in both races.

Finally, I had two goals in the “New Races, New Places” category.  First I wanted to do at least two Minnesota races that I had never done before.  I ended up with three.  I ran the Med City Marathon in Rochester, day seven of the Heartland Series in Albert Lea, and the Minnesota Indoor Marathon in St. Michael.

My other “New Races, New Places” goal was to run marathons in at least two new countries.  I’ve raced in Germany before, so the Berlin Marathon didn’t give me a new country, but I also ran the Prague Marathon in the Czech Republic and the Auckland Marathon in New Zealand.

I fell short in a few of my goals, but I’m still pleased with the progress I made.  Simply being able to go out for a run and have running feel natural is something you take for granted until you find yourself unable to do it.  I can run again.  I’m not as fast as I used to be, but I’m improving.  That makes 2016 a success.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Race Report: 2016 Across the Years 24-Hour Run

On December 29, I ran the Across the Years 24-Hour Run.  Across the Year has fixed time races ranging from 24 hours to 6 days.  Twice, I’ve done the 48-hour race, but both times I was hampered by injuries and retired from the field early.  This year, I did the 24-hour as a long training run to help prepare me for the Rocky Raccoon 100 in February.

I never had ambitious goals for this race.  When I entered, I assumed if I felt great and all went well, I might do 100 miles.  If not, I’d do whatever I could.  That’s the nice thing about a fixed time race.  You’re not locked into any set distance, so you can wait and see how you feel.

Three weeks before the race, I fell and broke a rib.  Healing time for a broken rib is generally about six weeks, so I knew I wouldn’t be fully recovered.  My doctor gave me the green light to go ahead and do this race, as long as I didn’t fall again.  That’s not much a danger in this race.  The course is a nice flat loop with no trip hazards.  He also told me I’d have to adjust my goals.  He knew that discomfort from the rib would probably force me to hold back.

The race is held at Camelback Ranch in Glendale, AZ, which is just west of Phoenix.  It’s a baseball facility used by the Chicago White Sox and LA Dodgers for spring training.  The course was a 1.05 mile loop that goes around several of the baseball diamonds.  The surface is mostly dirt, but a small portion of it is paved.

I flew to Phoenix on Wednesday and stayed at a hotel in Avondale.  I kept a room there for three nights, even though I wasn’t planning to be there Thursday night.  If things didn’t go well, I wanted to have the option of coming back during the night, knowing I would have a room.

My race started at 9:00 Thursday morning, but some runners started on Wednesday.  That’s when the 6 day race started, and runners doing 24, 48 or 72 hours also had the option of starting as early as Wednesday.   After checking in at my hotel, I drove over to Camelback Ranch to say hello to friends who were already on the course.

Pre-race check-in started at 7:00 AM.  When I entered, I paid extra to rent a tent.  Some runners use tents to take short naps during the race.  I used mine as a place to store my gear and, if necessary, change clothes during the race.  Daytime and nighttime temperatures often differ sharply, so you generally need to make adjustments in your clothing.  The race volunteers set up the tents in a large field next to the course.  I arrived early, so I would have plenty of time to find a tent that wasn’t in use yet, and transfer my gear from the car.  During the race, I had everything nearby.

Weather for the race was the warmest I’ve seen.  It’s usually nice during the day, but can get down below freezing during the night.  This year the overnight low on Wednesday was in the mid-50s, the high on Thursday was in the mid-70s, and the overnight low on Thursday was in the upper 50s.

The running surface is usually dry and dusty.  The first time I did this race, I had serious issues with dust getting into my shoes.  When I returned a year later, I wore gaiters.  That helped a lot.  This year, they watered down the course daily, so it wouldn’t be as dusty.  I wore gaiters again this year, but that makes it more difficult to add or remove a layer on my legs.  Once the race started, I wanted to avoid taking off my shoes for the whole race, if possible.

It was warm enough at the start that I could get by with shorts.  I was planning to spend as much time walking as running, so I needed to dress warmer than I would for continuous running.  I started the race with a light jacket that I could easily shed once it warmed up.

I started the race with a minimum goal of 50 miles.  Beyond that, I didn’t have any other specific mileage goals, so I didn’t really have a pacing strategy.  I ran the first two laps at a relaxed pace.  By then, I was warmed up enough that I could start taking walking breaks without my legs getting cold.  From the third lap on, I walked the beginning of each lap, and then ran the rest.

After three laps, I was warm enough to take my gloves off.  After another lap, I took off my jacket and put it in my tent.  For the rest of the day, I was fine with shorts and a T-shirt.

During the morning hours, I varied the length of my walking breaks so I was doing 12 minute laps.

There’s an aid station that I passed every lap.  They had a variety of food and beverages.  My nutrition strategy was fairly laid back.  I drank when I was thirsty and ate when I was hungry.  I started out taking a drink every other lap.  About once per hour I ate something like a PBJ.  I brought a small supply of gel packets, but I never needed them.  I did fine eating the food at the aid station.  I also brought a small supply of electrolyte pills.  I started out taking one every two hours.  I wasn’t sweating excessively, but the air was dry, so I didn’t want to underestimate how much salt I was losing in my sweat.

I knew my early pace was too fast to be sustainable, but doing a consistent five laps per hour made it easy to keep track of my laps.  After three hours, I started taking longer walking breaks.  It was noon, and the sun was high in the sky.  I knew the next few hours would be the warmest of the day, so it made sense to do more walking.  I no longer needed to worry about getting cold.

I no longer worried about my lap times.  I just picked a spot about a third of the way around the loop, and I walked to the same spot every lap.  Then I ran the rest of the way.

The course began with roads around the outer edge of the east side of Camelback Ranch.  Then we followed a dirt path that cut through the middle of the facility and came out right by the aid station.  Most of the course was dirt.  A short segment of the road was paved, and there was one spot where the path crossed a concrete terrace.

Every four hours, we switched directions.  Now, instead of beginning with the road, we began with the path.  At this point, I needed to pick a different place to end my walking breaks.  I walked the entire path and ran the road.  That gave me a longer walking break than I had before.  By now, I needed it.

Since breaking my rib, I’ve done several training runs on a treadmill.  If I keep the pace slow enough, I have only minimum discomfort in my right side.  One day, I ran a bit too fast.  I didn’t hurt while I was running, but it hurt after I finished.  None of those runs were more than 12 miles.  In the early hours of the race, I had only minimal discomfort from the rib.  I was aware of it, but it wasn’t a big deal.  I didn’t know how it would feel after several hours.

By the time we switched directions, I was already noticing an increase in my discomfort.  Lengthening my walking breaks made a big difference.  I went back to having only minimal discomfort.

By now, drinking every other lap was no longer enough.  I felt thirsty, so I started drinking every lap.  By the time I finished a lap, I would be thirsty again.  The temperature was now in the 70s with sunny skies.  I underestimated how hot the direct sunlight would feel.  The dry desert air also made it easy to get dehydrated.

Once you begin to feel uncomfortable, you need to break up the race by setting intermediate goals.  My first intermediate goal was 25 laps.  That was roughly equal to a marathon.  It took me five hours and fifteen minutes to get there.  The next intermediate goal was 50K.

After about five and a half hours, I started to notice some puffiness in my fingers.  That can be a sign of hyponatremia.  So far, I had only taken two of my electrolyte pills. I started taking them once per hour.

The aid station always had cookies, pretzels, PJBs, and bean roll-ups, but sometimes they had other foods.  At designated times, they would have hot entrees, so the multi-day runners could get regular meals.  One time I came by and a volunteer was holding a tray of Nutter Butter cookies with Nutella.  Later, when it was hot, they had strawberry banana smoothies.

By the time I reached 50K, I was already thinking about the next goal.  My longest run so far this year was 39.05 miles in an eight hour race.  I needed eight more laps to get there.  By now, every lap was a struggle.  I chipped away at it, one lap at a time, but it seemed to take forever to do those eight laps.

After eight hours, we switched directions again.  I had to choose a new place to end my walking breaks again.  The road had two sharp turns, and then we turned onto the path.  I started walking to the second sharp turn.  At this point, I was walking roughly half of each lap.

By now, I had developed some painful blisters.  The afternoon sun baked the course, making it dry and dusty.  My gaiters kept dust from getting into my shoes around the ankles, but I suspect dust was getting through the uppers in the front of my shoes.  Once dust gets into your shoes, it can work its way around the shoe and cause extra friction.  At one point, I commented to my friend Karen that the blisters hurt enough to distract me from the discomfort in my ribs.

Earlier, my walking breaks were rest breaks.  Now they were painful.  The blisters made walking more painful than running.

After another half hour, I finally finished 38 laps, making this my longest run of the year for both time and distance.  I was determined to get to 50 miles, but I needed 10 more laps.  At this point, 10 laps was a lot.  In the morning, I had thoughts of running 50 miles and then walking the rest of the night.  From 50K on, I realized I would probably be done at 50 miles.

I saw a lot of familiar faces at this race.  I knew several of the runners who were doing the six day race.  Many of them come here every year.  I also saw a few runners who I’ve seen at the FANS 24-hour race in Minneapolis.  I was wearing a Comrades Marathon shirt, and I met two other Comrades runners.  One did the “down” course the same year I did.  The other will be doing his first Comrades next year.  I also saw a few “Mainlyners” who I’ve at various Mainly Marathon series.

With 10 laps to go, I was tempted to walk the rest of the way, but I really wanted to keep running if I could.  At first it was a struggle, but it got easier.  Having decided to stop after 48 laps (50 miles), I could count down the remaining laps.  When the countdown gets into single digits, it seemed well within reach.

When I saw the sun going down, I stopped by my tent to drop off my sunglasses.  It wasn’t dark yet, but it would be soon.  At night, the course is illuminated by a series of lamps.  Some parts of the course are brightly lit.  Others are shadowy.  There’s enough light overall that you can get by without a flashlight.

With about eight laps to go, I had to clear my throat a couple of times.  I suspect I needed to cough up some phlegm, but I was suppressing the urge to cough.  Clearing my throat while running was somewhat painful.  That inflamed my ribs.  Now the blisters were no longer the thing I noticed most.  While I was running, I only noticed the discomfort on my right side.  While I was walking, I still noticed my side, but I also noticed the blisters.

I had to clear my throat every lap or two, which kept making the discomfort worse.  I realized this wasn’t going to go away.  I probably needed to cough deeply before it would get better.  I couldn’t do that while running.  Realistically, I needed to sit down in a chair, press a pillow against my side, brace for the pain and force myself to cough deeply.  That wouldn’t happen until I was back at the hotel.  Even if I could do it now, it would be too painful to continue running.  My race would be over.

Despite the discomfort, it was getting easier to finish each lap.  At first I thought that was psychological, since I had fewer and fewer laps remaining to get to 50 miles.  I eventually realized it was because it felt cooler now.  The hot sun earlier was really wearing me down.  Now it was a few degrees cooler and the sun had set.  If not for the discomfort in my side, I would have tried to persuade myself to keep running beyond 50 miles.

With about seven laps to go, I realized I could probably walk the remaining laps and still get to 50 miles within 12 hours.  Running the second half of each lap allowed me to finish each lap four or five minutes faster.  I was no longer tempted to walk the rest of the way, even though I had time.  Walking the whole way would have been too painful.  Walking bothered my blisters more, but running would have been too tiring.  Walking half and running half was easier than doing just one or the other.

When I finished my 48th lap, I stopped my watch.  That lap gave me 50.39 miles.  For what it’s worth, I finished that distance in 11:28:05.  Officially, my time will be 24 hours.

In theory, I was on pace to run 100 miles in 24 hours.  In reality, that was virtually impossible.  For the last few hours I was already going slower than the pace I would have needed in the second half.

I initially found that discouraging.  This was a long training run for Rocky Raccoon.  I ran 50 miles, which a nice stepping stone toward 100 miles, but I really struggled just to get to 50.  My slow pace in those last few hours really distorted my perception of how I did.  Finishing 50 miles in 11:28 is nothing impressive, but it’s respectable.  I’m not in shape to do 100 miles in 24 hours, but the time limit at Rocky Raccoon is 30 hours.  I should be able to do that.

As I was packing up to leave Camelback Ranch, it didn’t take much for me to get slightly short of breath.  That’s when I realized how much the heat and sun had affected me in the afternoon.  I felt like I had a very mild case of heat stress.  Bearing that in mind, I’m not as discouraged by my slow pace in the afternoon hours.

When I got back to the hotel, I finally took off my shoes and socks.  They didn’t look as bad as I thought they would.  My socks had some dirty patches, only in the toes and heel.  My feet looked worse.  Both heels had thick blisters.  On my left foot, I had layers of blisters, making it difficult to drain them.

Today, my side feels better.  There’s a little discomfort, but no more than any other day.  The race didn’t appear to have any long-term affect.  My blisters are another matter.  They may take longer to heal than the rib.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

I Had a Follow-up with My Doctor

After my two falls during the first race of the Four Corners Quad, I went to a hospital in Cortez, where they diagnosed a fractured rib.  Here’s one of the X-ray images.

Yesterday, I had a follow-up appointment with my doctor in Minnesota.  After a brief exam, he was able to confirm that I don’t have any complications.

The doctor in Cortez said I should take three weeks off from running.   The doctor I see at home has a background in sports medicine, so I wanted to get his opinion.  He said I can run as soon as it doesn’t hurt too much.  In other words, my pain threshold should be my guide.  I also asked about weight training.  He said I should wait at least two more weeks before doing any exercises that involve lifting weight above me.  Before attempting a bench press, I should see how I feel doing push-ups.

Since early in the year, when I started physical therapy, I’ve been doing about a dozen exercises to strengthen my hips, glutes, adductors and core muscles.  I was able to do a couple of those exercises today, but I’ll have to phase the rest in gradually.  In the case of planks, my doctor said I could start with a few seconds this weekend and then gradually increase the time.  I used to do four minutes.

As far as nutrition goes, I’ve been emphasizing dairy products and leafy green vegetables.  This kale and walnut salad is a typical meal.

Other than getting protein, the only other nutritional advice my doctor had was to cut back on carbs, since I’m not burning as many calories at my current activity level.  While I was out of town, I was eating restaurant meals, and I could tell I was gaining weight.  I started to feel a bit bloated.  Now that I’m home, I’ll try to be more restrained until I’m able to train again.

My last question was whether I could still do the Across the Years 24-hour run at the end of the month.  That was never going to be an “A” race, but was something I viewed as a long training run to help me build up to 100 mile trail runs in 2017.  He said it’s OK to do that race, but I’ll probably need to adjust my goals.  He also suggested I avoid falling.  That shouldn’t be a problem.  ATY has a flat course with no trip hazards.

It’s been six days since the injury.  Since then, I’ve been resting, but I may try an easy run on the treadmill as soon as tomorrow.  Breathing normally is comfortable now.  There’s just a little discomfort when I take deep breaths.  Coughing doesn’t hurt too much, but sneezing is still extremely painful.  I’m using my right arm for more of my daily activities.  The one that hurts the most is reaching for the remote control when I need to open or close our garage door.  I clip the remote to the visor on the passenger side, so it’s a long enough reach to be somewhat painful.  I could move it closer, but my doctor wants me to challenge myself to use my right arm for daily activities, to the extent that I can.