5

Current state of running and mid marathon training check-in

Honestly, I could make this my shortest post of all time and just say “ugh.” That would be accurate and all-encompassing. Okay, maybe frustrating too, but mostly ugh. Sigh.

Things have kinda been garbage since Chicago Marathon. Not entirely garbage, but sorta like an overly full trash can that you keep stuffing down instead of emptying. Everything seems fine for a hot minute, but only for a minute.

As you may recall, I had some IT band related pain during taper for Chicago. For the most part, this was just some residual soreness from the Newport Half Marathon that I PRed three weeks before Chicago. Though, that’s what got me started going to physical therapy.

Chicago went great and the month after were great. I signed up for the Philly Half Marathon and Marathon, but going into those races my posterior tibial tendinitis flared up. This is something I’ve dealt with a few times in the past. In retrospect, I could have run the races, but I DNSed them to be safe. This was really frustrating as I had just signed up for them last minute, but with Dopey Challenge six weeks later, I made the smart decision.

My milage between Philly and Disney was, of course, lower than planned because of my foot, but Dopey itself went fantastically! That whole week was a great week of running. It started with PRing a 5k on New Year’s Day and then ended with a 3:43 marathon for finish out the Dopey Challenge. This was a big up!

Two weeks easy recovery after the marathon, but then things really didn’t get going again.

With that, I decided to get more serious with my spring racing plans. I decided for sure on Grandma’s Marathon being my goal race and then picked out five (which later became six) half marathons as well. I wanted one of them to be a goal race and the others to simply exist as a way to change up my marathon training.

Things were looking good there. My foot was still not 100%, but it was feeling like I was starting to get it back under control.

Then there was the stress fracture scare in my other foot. With the help of my physical therapist and a great podiatrist, we determined it was bursitis due to my big toe being out of alignment. I was on track for needing surgery if things didn’t change. So I changed my shoes. Upon the recommendation decree of my surgeon and backed up by my physical therapist, I hung up the New Balance 1600s that had been my go-to shoe for nearly five years and laced up some Saucony Kinvaras with some off-the-shelf insoles.

Almost immediately, my posterior tibial tendinitis was 100% gone. My bursitis started getting better, quickly. It took me some time to get used to the extra cushioning of the Kinvaras, but I found I was running well in them.

I was starting to feel optimistic again. And then the murders began…

Wait, no, sorry, there were no murders.

My quads started getting tight again, like they had back around Chicago. And glute/hip tendinitis on my right side that I always have to work on started flaring up again. Yes, I am a mess of tendinitis.

Yuck.

So back down my optimism went as I approached the first of my six spring half marathons. First up was Philly Love Run. I ended up having a solid race. I was supposed to go easy, but I didn’t. I ran 7 seconds slower than my PR and at less than race effort. Back up I went!

But only for a hot minute as the tightness in my quads moved towards my my hips. Ugh.

I should mention, this entire time, I’d been working with my physical therapist on core, hip, and glute strength and mobility. With the switch to the Kinvaras, we also started adding some focus to my form. I’ve always been a very quad dominant runner. To the point where I don’t think my glutes or hamstrings do anything. Even after PR marathons they aren’t sore at all. We wanted to change that. With the switch to the Kinvara and insoles, we looked at how my foot was striking the ground now vs in the 1600s. My PT suggested consciously trying to pronate slightly and make sure the inside of my foot is coming down all the way like it should—something it stopped doing after the shoe change. As soon as I started doing this, it was like a whole new ballgame! All of a sudden my hamstrings and glutes were in play! I could feel the difference while running.

The week after Philly was the Ladies First Half Marathon where I PRed, took first in my age group, and was the ninth woman overall. Not too shabby. This was, again, supposed to be an easier effort, but I ended up falling right into a race effort. Best of all, my hamstrings and glutes were engaging! Honestly, this is probably want propelled me to a new PR without a taper and without really being anywhere near peak fitness level.

That was great, but my hips were still tight and I took an extra rest day in the week following.

Enter half marathon number three. This was originally supposed to be my goal half, but I knew I couldn’t put a hard effort into half marathons three weeks in a row. I tucked back with a pace group that kept me at a moderate effort and stopped me from going out too fast.

Since that race, two weeks ago, my right hip has been less than stellar. I’ve been missing runs and getting depressed. The tightness has become pain on the inside of my hip—what feels like my psoas. My PT wants me to be very careful and take some rest.

Of course, this weekend, I have the runDisney Star Wars Dark Side Challenge with a 10k and a half marathon. My only run this week was four very slow miles on Monday. I’m a bit worried about things for this weekend. The plan agreed upon with my physical therapist was to run, but go slow and absolutely take a DNF if the pain gets about a 4-5 out of 10. I’ve never gone into a race quite with that mindset before. Luckily, Disney is never a place I race. I’m always just there for fun and photo ops.

This weekend also puts me eight weeks out from Grandma’s Marathon, halfway through my training. I feel like a mess. I feel like training has been a mess. I’ve been missing runs. I’ve been bouncing from one injury or near-injury to the next. I’m completely failing at staying healthy. Even when I do things right, I’m not avoiding injury. I foam roll almost every day. I do it so much now that I’ve developed complete Stockholm syndrome with my foam roller.

Not AWFUL, but too many rest days.

It’s utterly frustrating. Grandma’s was supposed to be a goal race. I wanted to go for a nice big PR. I haven’t shared my goal time with anyone, but I had a specific one in my head. At this point, that seems pretty unattainable. I know I could get up tomorrow and probably have enough fitness to run a sub-4:00 marathon. I’m not weak or entirely out of shape, but I’m flailing and struggling. Increasingly, it’s looking like that will become the plan for Grandma’s. Do the marathon, but not try for anywhere near a PR. Just get through without breaking myself more.

This fall, I have Chicago Marathon (for the third time) and then Dopey again in January, followed by Boston (!!!!!!!!!) in April. Boston is a year out, but it’s very possible to put myself on an injury track that lasts that long. My primary focus has to be not jeopardizing Boston and that’s something that I have to think about now.

So, yeah, this sucks. I really wanted a training cycle where I was pushing it hard. I wanted to werk. When I trained for Chicago last year, it was planned to be a bit of a lighter training cycle as I was coming back from surgery. I didn’t plan any speedwork. I just did what felt right each week. In the end, I had a massive PR and got my BQ with tons of time to spare. It was a dream come true. I wanted different this time, though, but it’s not going to happen this cycle. At no point during the first half of this cycle have I even felt healthy enough to try running hard. Even those half marathons were more of a getting-caught-up-in-the-moment thing than a planned hard effort.

That’s where my running is right now. In the last seven months, I’ve PRed the 5k, half marathon twice, and marathon. I’ve won my age group in a half marathon. I’ve BQed by over 11 minutes. I’ve run two marathons and five half marathons. I’ve run a 3:43 marathon the day after a half marathon the day after a 10k the day after a 5k. The point of re-hashing all of these things is to really drive home to myself how much I have accomplished through all of this. I can’t ignore any of this. But I’ve done so with so many ups and downs. So much stress. I want to know what I can do when I do stay healthy. I want to be healthy enough to 👏 put 👏 the 👏 work 👏 in. And, mostly, I want to stop writing blog posts every six months about how my training and running aren’t what I want them to be and that I’m battling to stay healthy enough to run.

😕

6

It’s time for me to admit this: I am not a smart runner

AmeliaKnees-001

Like, just look at my knees!

I come from a family of calamities. There’s always some injury or illness or something going on with my mother, father, and brother. Shattered pelvis, MRSA, severed fingertip, heart attack, broken toe…the list goes on and on. It’s actually a big joke in our family, but it does make my heart start to pound every time I see one of my parents’ phone numbers pop up on my phone. Somehow, I’ve always managed to be the exception to all of this and stay rather healthy and uninjured. This is especially interesting as I’m the one who spends the most time taking part in risky activities like snowboarding and, for years before I started running, mountain biking. This all led me to having this sort of feeling of being indestructible.

However, it’s time for me to admit something to myself and accept this…I am not indestructible. In fact, I’m actually extremely injury prone as a runner. And this is both entirely my fault for being an unwise runner and completely avoidable.

I’ve been a runner for six and a half years now and a serious one for the last four and a half of them. Of that time, I’ve spent three and a half years battling one injury after the next. Each time, I continued to run in pain instead of focusing on recovery immediately.

At first, it was ankle tendinitis in my left ankle. Then, the tendinitis showed up in my right ankle too. For months, I just ran with the pain because I had a half marathon goal I was trying to hit. A cortisone injection, physical therapy, and some time off from running all did nothing. Eventually, I got frustrated and just started running again. I’d run through a bit of pain and then dunk my foot in a bucket of ice water. This was my routine for almost a year (not including the four months of doing nothing about it and two months of not running at all) until I figured out how to control the tendinitis. Changing my shoes and rotating a few different pairs while also doing some regular calf strengthening exercises helped the pain go away. But it’s still something I need to stay on top of.

Only a few months after the ankle tendinitis came the hip tendinitis. This developed while I was training for the 2012 Chicago Marathon and neglecting my strength and flexibility work. I’m still working on this injury. It’s come and gone a bit depending on my training schedule, but long breaks from running (while upping the strength work) have proven to be not only unhelpful, but oddly made the pain worse. I’m sure being on testosterone-blockers don’t help either, as that makes it harder to strengthen them. Recently, I’ve found I can just barely keep this all in check by continuing to run and never slacking on the strength work. Very minimal pain shows up from time to time, but I’ve been able to control it, for the most part, recently. It’s just something I need to make sure I’m 100% on top of. Still, this injury was a problem for a year and a half and caused me to miss two months of training at the beginning of last year, right before I started hormone replacement therapy for my transition–exactly when I needed to be consistently running.

Now, I’ve got a new problem. My knees have started bothering me. My knees have always been weird (going back to age 14 or so), but they’ve never bothered me because of running. Standing for more than a half hour straight or walking all day makes them hurt like hell and always has, but running always felt good. The pain I have now isn’t the same as those other pains though. This pain feels the same as the tendinitis does. It’s on front and inside side of my kneecap, right along the edge of it. Almost definitely, this has the same cause as my hip tendinitis, it’s just another symptom of the same problem. Weak hips, quads, and glutes. I’ve been on top of doing lots of hip work for the last few months, but it seems it wasn’t enough.

I’m fairly certain I’ve put together all the pieces of the puzzle for how I got to where I am though:

  • I jumped into an intense and high-mileage training plan without the base to support it. The training plan I selected for this cycle was the obvious next step after the plan I did for my last two marathons. I should be able to handle the mileage. However, between Richmond and the start of training, I did not rebuild my base enough after recovering. I was fully aware that I was pushing it. I knew this training plan was going to push me close to my limit and I wasn’t where I should have been to start it. I knew my base needed a few more weeks, but the calendar didn’t allow it. I made the decision to go for it under the assumption that as long as I kept up with the strength work and didn’t push myself hard in the first few weeks, I could make it work.
  • I neglected strength work for too long. I’ve always been bad with keeping up my strength and flexibility work and cross training. This time around, I’ve worked hard to be better about keeping up with it all, but the damage was already done. I’ve been playing catch-up at the same time as pushing my body with heavy mileage. Bad combination here.
  • I was too stubborn in how I dealt with the weather this winter. This winter has been absolutely brutal weather-wise. It’s been relentless with snow, ice, and slush. The cold isn’t a problem, but the ground conditions are. It’s been soul-crushing, but the fact that I’ve yet to let the weather stop me from running and keeping the streak alive was the one thing that kept my training alive through it all. I was beyond stubborn in not allowing this streak to end. Instead, I should have dealt with using the gym while trans like I should have…or bought a treadmill. Either of these options could have helped me avoid the weather.

    This weather has forced me to run on top of ice, snow, and slush. It’s been difficult and it’s caused me to have to work a lot harder with each step. Without having any real trail running experience, uneven, slippery, and not-completely-solid ground isn’t something my body is used to. I should have respected this.

    The ground conditions have also forced me to spend a lot of time running in the street which I rarely do. I’m used to flat and even sidewalks with no camber, unlike the roads I’ve been forced to run on. The camber in the road has a very noticeable effect on stride and form. It places added stress all the way down the leg. This wasn’t even something I thought about until a few days ago.

  • I didn’t handle the knee pain immediately. I ran through a bit of pain, nothing too bad, for a week and a half before I really admitted I had a problem. And even then, I only marginally adjusted. It wasn’t until last week that I heavily reduced my mileage, but it was too late by then. My “okay, this pain is telling me I should stop now” threshold is too high. I need to lower it by about half. I am stubborn and don’t stop running when I should and I try to convince myself it’s nothing to worry about for too long.

Each of these things on their own are added stressors that can add to your chances of injury. However, each is something that can either be avoided or handled. Unfortunately, I made mistakes with all of them. If I only had to deal with any two or three of them, I probably would have been okay, but all of them, together, not handled or avoided did me in.

I am not a smart runner. I constantly think I can get away with things like these. Every time I develop an injury, I make a small change for the next time, but I don’t do enough. I don’t learn the whole lesson. I continue to be stubborn.

Part of my problem is I’m embarrassed by how often I’m dealing with injury. I try to pretend like the injury isn’t a reality. I hate being one of those runners who’s always hurt. A big goal for this year and this training cycle was to stay healthy and break the cycle of training through injury, needing to take a break from running after my race, and then re-injuring myself again early in my next cycle. I’m already failing at this.

I need to stop talking about being smarter and actually start being smarter. 

For this current injury, I reduced my mileage heavily last week and I’m reducing a bit this week. I’ve tried KT Tape, but it did nothing (as I expected) and now I’m using a knee compression sleeve. I’m keeping with the extra strength work and I got a deep tissue massage yesterday. I don’t know that this will be salvageable, but I’m not quite ready to give up on my New Jersey Marathon goal just yet. If I’m not seeing any progress by the end of the week, I will likely take a week completely off and adjust my goals accordingly. I may need to drop to the half marathon and then look for a May or June marathon to give myself more time.