Injury! Or how not to train just after a marathon…

I’ve been pacing my home for the last two hours (can it be only two hours!).  I’ve done the laundry (three loads), swept up in the garden, weeded, rang to book a massage, contemplated a haircut, and googled (a lot) about kneecaps -swollen, hot-to-the-touch kneecaps.

Injury.  That’s what it means.  No running on this beautiful blue sky sunny Melbourne morning.  Denial and despair; exercise options; pain relieving options.  I have not found acceptance yet or done that really dreadful thing: rest.

Marysville Marathon was ten days ago.  And Two Bays 56k is about six weeks away.  So, with two big runs within eight weeks of one another, I didn’t allow long enough for recovery.  Duh.  After Sunday’s marathon, I took off Monday and Tuesday completely, feeling virtuous and wise.  But Wednesday came and I taught my BodyPump class, and taught again Thursday morning, following by an easy 5k run.  Friday is what broke me – 10k on my favorite trail, running light and easy and kind of fast.  Stretching afterwards, I was surprised when it hurt to kneel to stretch – that was odd.  I tried to remember if I bumped my knee, but I hadn’t.

When Saturday came around, the right knee was distinctly swollen.  But the kids were home from school, so there wasn’t much time to focus on such things.  Surely it would be fine with two days rest.  Sunday night, I took a couple of anti-inflammatories, just in case, and it felt better.

And here’s where stupid won out over wise. Monday morning, while my husband took the kids to school, I sat writing in my journal for ten minutes before going to the gym.  “I will not run today,” I wrote.  “That would be stupid.  My knee needs to rest and I’ll only make it worse.”  I was very firm and wise, like an intelligent woman who knew how to take care of herself.

Except when I got to the gym, somehow I found myself on the treadmill for my usual 5k prior to weight training.  I rationalised that by keeping the pace slower than usual, and by stopping at the first hint of pain, all would be well.  And that I had to get my mileage up to train for Two Bays.  And that perhaps the joint would, well, lubricate itself, and feel better afterwards.  And there was this guy at the gym who told me two years ago I’d have to give up running, like he did, and I saw him just as I was choosing between cross-trainer and treadmill.  Treadmill it was.

Idiot.  Of course, the painkillers were still working at that stage, so I happily glided along, lip-singing to Bon Jovi on my iPod.  I did my weights.  All was fine.

But would you believe it (of course, you knew this would happen)?  It hurt later, and swelled up again.  If I could bottle some of my own stupidity…

No good beating myself up, I know.  As a runner, I like to think I am immortal, that by going minimal, I have fixed every possible physical ailment and I can run forever as long as I like.

Somewhat true.

But not when I go beyond the limit.  I guess that’s the only way to know where the limit lies, to step beyond.   So I am not running today.  Or for the next three days.  If it’s not better by then, I’m just going to have to hop, because my house will be so clean and the mail all organised and the Christmas presents wrapped – what am I going to do with myself after that?

By the way, my self-diagnosis is suprapatellar bursitis.  Caused by too much stupidity.  Hopefully, I’ll learn my lesson this time.  Sigh.

Crisis of confidence: of marathon training and life

Six days until my first marathon.  I’m tapering, and feeling all the usual gunk that comes with this useful part of training.  Slow, lethargic, lazy.  I keep waiting for the burst of energy that says this is working, but my energetic bursts are being consistently used up by family and work stress.  So I’m just going to have to trust in the process, and trust in the training I’ve done.

Of course, having dozens of Garmin files to explore and obsess over doesn’t help.  I’ve been comparing elevation gains, height of hills from sea level, length of hills I’ve done in training versus those on the actual course.

My gear is ready.  My body is ready.  My mind?  Well, my mind is never really ready until I’m in the middle of a race and have nowhere to go but forward.  Such is the lot of those of us who obsess over every single detail of training and race preparation.  I’d love to be one of the relaxed few who just come along for the views and to take photos.

Six days and counting down.  Time for  5, 10, and 5k runs to finish off my training plan.  For some short running and nice recovery.


I didn’t post this on the day I first wrote, as I was experiencing a crisis of confidence, and wasn’t ready to tell you the truth.  A few runs later (rainy runs into a strong headwind, carrying my newly repaired Hydrapak), and I’d love to say I’m fine now.

In truth,  I’m not.  I’m poring over the newly released details of race map transition areas, trying to remember which way our course goes compared to the other three race distances starting the same day.  And I’m trying to summit some more personal hills.

My seven-year-old is experiencing difficulties at school, and I am her safe battering ram when she returns home.  It hurts, all the way down to my soul.  But I was coping okay.

Then last week a BodyPump participant offloaded some really heavy stuff on me – a comment I had made in jest was the straw that broke her camel’s back, and I got in the direction of her personal lava-flow.  I felt like a kid who had been caught doing something naughty, as she raged and raged at me at the end of my class, as the other participants sheepishly snuck out the door.  My apology went unheard, and her wrath untouched.  With a sinking heart, I knew what was coming, because this is what happens.

Both things – my daughter’s stress, and this grown-up’s explosion – threw me.  I recognised that these things were not about me, but were about the other people going through difficult times.  In my head, at least, I recognised that.  That wiser part of me was nodding quietly, saying, “This is their stuff, not yours.”

The less wise part of me – who I know well, and see creeping up on me with a feeling of despair – was less kind.  It blasted me with self-criticism and doubt, with that hide-under-the-bed-and-quit-all-my-jobs kind of advice that does no good to anyone.  My roots were (and are still) shaken.  I’ve had some sleepless nights wondering what I could do differently, tearing apart my faults, and judging myself way too harshly.  Thank God for the likes of Bon Jovi at such times, reminding me that I am not the first to feel this way, that I am not alone.  Thank God for the wise part of me that sits quietly nearby through all the turmoil, and reminds me I’ve survived much worse, that this too shall pass.

Long-distance trail running, alone with my thoughts and a concrete objective is the perfect antidote.  Except I’ve been tapering, so even that avenue has been closed for a couple of weeks.  Which is why I understood so well a recent trail runner’s message on why he runs so far.  He said something like, “Trail running is a drip-feed to my soul.”  Yup, I get that.  Because sometimes I long for what is soulful and simple and concrete, to escape from the complexities of human beings.

Shaken, but not broken – that is how I’m standing today.  Where all of us stand sometimes.  Making mistakes, and picking myself back up again, and trying my darndest to learn.  It makes running a marathon seem easy by comparison.

Here’s what I’m holding onto – that the people of Marysville have risen from the ashes of the 2009 bushfires.  And that I’m going to do just the same in the face my own personal challenges.  I need a good dose of trails to lift me back up, the smell of eucalypts and the feel of dirt under my feet.  Come Sunday in my first real marathon, I’m going to focus on simply feeling alive to every single footfall, to the simplicity that running can bring, to the soulfulness that will enable me to face life’s many challenges.

Because that wise self knows that I will find my stability and peace of mind again, through a long, steady run in the woods.

Life’s a roller coaster – running eases the drops.

Two weeks and one day ago, I sprained my ankle. I have spent the time since in full rehab mode, first resting, then stretching, then strengthening. It helped to have a race goal to focus on – the Salomon Trail Series Silvan 21k Trail Race on 25 August.

Great Joy at Silvan Reservoir Race

Great Joy at last year’s Silvan Reservoir Race

Today, I managed to run for twenty minutes on the treadmill, pain-free. I ran in my monster feet (Vibram Five Fingers), and was conscious of each step. So conscious in fact, that I changed treadmills three times before I settled (like Goldilocks – this one is too angly; this one has a toe-catching hole in the belt; this one is Just Right). I wondered what the other people in the gym thought of me (nothing – no one in a gym notices much except themselves).

So I began. I put the treadmill on 5 km/hour, then jumped it to 8, 9, 10. Ten was as far as I got on Friday before the ache began in my ankle, and I was forced to walk again. Today, it didn’t ache. I pushed up .2 every minute, until I hit 11. Eleven is my usual recovery pace when I do interval training – I was thrilled to be there again. I held it at 11 for a minute, then cautiously, testing, pushed it up to 11.2, stayed there for 2 minutes, then 11.4. Ah, delight; it did not hurt. Bon Jovi, my running partner of many a treadmill session, was with me, an old friend, singing all my favorites, lifting my feet for me. I was cautious though, acutely aware that a mis-step would be deadly. When I hit twenty minutes, I noticed I’d also covered 3.45 km, so of course, had to keep going until I hit 3.5. Because I am ready to start adding up the km’s again.

Did it feel good? It felt scary. Knowing what running means to me (freedom; power; the opposite of depression), I was afraid to hurt myself by doing too much too soon. It is a fine line between recovery and re-injury. Thankfully, I did not cross it today. The stability work I’ve been doing (eccentric Achilles work; standing on a dura-disk on one foot with my eyes closed; ballet-toe walking back-and-forth across my office) has been paying off.

You might rightfully ask, why all this focus on running? In the two weeks I have been unable to run, I have found I can be peaceful without it, but I think this peace is mainly because I still have a goal – recovery.  And peaceful is one thing; inspired, elated, joyful, well, that’s entirely different. I only get there through fast runs on solitary trails, and God, I have missed it.

In the meantime, I have used the extra time to get a new host for my website, to finally get my PayPal system working, and to figure out how to put photos of my books and a way for people to buy them on my blog (because my website designer told me he didn’t know I had written any books, and that the header on my blog looked just like a pretty picture – duh, that should have occurred to me). The thing is, I am against the hard-sell, the “buy now, last in stock” stuff. I don’t want to hit people over the head with the fact that I’ve written a couple of books, though it would be nice to sell some. My goal is to inspire, through my writing, through my coaching, through media work when it comes my way.

And anyway, last week, I was nearly frightened into silence by a mean-spirited post on Facebook about how narcissistic everyone is, how much of what we write is of little interest to anyone but ourselves. What an effective way to silence voices. It made me pause; made me quiet for a day or so.  I won’t reprint the post here; I don’t want to give it more airspace. Because I don’t want to contribute to silencing a single voice.  Here’s what I thought later.  The people who climb Mount Everest, who cross the ocean in a one-person boat, who trek across the desert for charity – they are inspiring, for sure.  But sometimes these things are so out of reach to the average person, it doesn’t inspire them, they just think of the others as superhuman, and turn the page, and don’t do anything themselves.  To read about a single dad’s first attempt at a 10k; a person overcoming the challenge that to most would seem rather un-extraordinary, but to that person is an Everest. That is what inspires me.  So please keep writing – we need to know that normal people can do things beyond their own comfort zones, so we will too.

I have yet to decide if I’ll make it to my race goal in thirteen days time.  In some ways, it seems dumb to attempt it.  But I won’t make that call yet.  Because many things I have done in the last ten years have seemed out of reach, until I went for them.  Here’s the race profile – it looks similar but easier than my usual weekly 21k, but I’ve not been out there for a month.

This year’s elevation profile for Silvan.

In the meantime, I am aiming for my first twenty km week this week, after two weeks of notching up 0 and 3 kms.  Little steps; baby steps.  Soon, I will be running.  And the lows on the roller coaster of life won’t seem so low then.

And the highs?  On the highs I can see forever.

seeing forever

seeing forever (Photo credit: DanielJames)

“One day you might not be able to run,” she said…

“What will you do then?”

She sat back and eyed me.  I shifted in my seat.  It was as if she were prophesying disaster.

Last Sunday, her prophecy came true.  I sprained my right ankle during a routine training run with my son.  I’ve already told you about the sprain in last week’s post (see the link below if you missed it), but here comes the surprise.

For the first time in my life, when unable to exercise, I was calm.  Though other runners suggested swimming as an alternative, I knew it would just delay healing; doing anything involving my ankle would delay healing.

And yet I was calm.  Sedentary and calm.  Unbelievable!  I have been trying to put my finger on why, and I believe that the answer lies in a mental shift that happened without me even really noticing.

Once upon a time, like many women, I exercised for body shape.  I pursued that elusive idea of feminine perfection for mind-numbing lengths of time, on Stairmasters, treadmills, rowing machines, even those strange rollerblading machines from the early ’90s.  I lifted weights three times a week, three sets of 12 repetitions on every single machine I could find.  It took hours.  When I couldn’t exercise back then, it was a BIG deal.  I would do all sorts of crazy stuff to fit in my workouts, from swimming with pull-buoys with a seriously sprained ankle, to doing sit-ups while in a back brace recovering from a compression fracture of a vertebra.  I was seriously obsessed.  I wouldn’t have admitted that then; it would have been way too threatening.  I look around the gym today, and see lots of women doing the same things I used to, and it saddens me.

Because now, dialing the clock forward something like twenty years, I see the world and myself completely differently.  I focus on function rather than form; it is how I coach others, and what I have come to believe really matters.  Sure it stinks not to be able to run, to be sedentary for a week while I heal.  But I have not felt that strange compulsion that I used to.  I know that a week off won’t change anything: I learned this when I became a personal trainer; I learned it by teaching myself.

So last week, I rested.  And, to tell the truth, it did change me.  It allowed my ankle to heal.  It gave me time and space to clean my home (whoever thought plantation shutters were a good idea should have considered the problem of dust more carefully); it gave me time to calm, to watch the rain fall, to simply be.  Without the adrenaline of my usual life coursing through my veins, the world seemed quieter.  My cats came up for pets and sat on my lap.  My temper was not so short.

After three days, I started doing the physiotherapy exercises that years of ankle sprains have helped me perfect.  I have all the gear: the elastic bands, the dura-disk, the step, the instructions memorised from many a physio.  I walk back and forth in my office on my tip-toes like a ballet dancer and will the weaker ankle to keep up with the stronger one.  I begin eccentric Achilles training, practice my single-leg squats, and work on recovering flexibility.

And I am okay.  Perhaps that is what this time has been meant to teach me.  That running is a part of me, but I am no longer fleeing.  I am no longer chasing perfection.  I sit within my own skin, calm and certain.

Today, I went to the gym for the first time in a week.  I couldn’t go all-out; that would have been foolish.  I set the treadmill on a gentle incline, and gradually increased it to 11% (if that is what 11 means on the incline button).  I did not let myself run; I held on to the notion that I am aiming at this half-marathon in three weeks time, and to get there, I must be smart.

And perhaps therein lies the answer to my lack of agitation over this injury.  It is just another part of training, recovering from injury, using my learning to strengthen what went wrong, to fix the bits that are temporarily broken.

I see myself, in several weeks time, running along my favorite trail in the Dandenongs, the light filtering through the trees.  I close my eyes and I am there, smelling the sweet smell of the woods, watching for the wallabies that may cross my path, hearing the kookaburras chortle after me.

It is without compulsion that I run.  And that makes my running, when I can do it again, all the more sweet.

And to answer the question – what would I do if I could no longer run?

I would find solace in a different activity, perhaps in playing the piano, or painting beautiful pictures, or in doing Tai Chi.  There are many, many paths to soul.  I think, really, that’s what my friend was trying to remind me.

(Not) feeling sorry for myself…of races, sprained ankles, and spring flowers.

This morning, I sat down to write an inspirational blog.  I was going to focus on the Run Melbourne 5K Race from last weekend, and yesterday’s wonderful Plenty Gorge 17.6K Trail Race.  I began writing, reporting the details, but I couldn’t feel my usual exhilaration.  My voice was missing.

After the race yesterday, I decided to take my son for a quick 5k run, to have some time to bond with him, to reinforce that we still run together even though his big race is over.  I knew it was a bad idea to run again after such a big race, but it was only a short run.

I was tired from Plenty Gorge.  We had run 17.6km on gorgeous single track, much of it technical, some of it muddy, a lot of it punctuated by short, sharp hills.  The course included four river crossings, where ropes were strung across for us to hang onto, and we waded across against the flow of the current.  Wonderful,  muddy, slippery, alive moments.  I planned to give you a blow-by-blow of the race.

But, in the course of that silly little 5k run with my son later that same afternoon –  on a smooth, wide track down by the bay, on the only slightly technical section on the whole run, while coughing, listening to my son describe Clash of the Clans, and running down the stairs – I managed to sprain my ankle.

You know how it happens, kind of in slow motion?  A false step, a twist, a sense of oh no, and then the falling as the ankle gives way. I swore out loud, not because of the pain, but because I knew what it would mean.  Weeks of recovery, without my life-sustaining running.  For a moment, I thought it wasn’t too bad, but I couldn’t run on it, could barely walk the 2k we had to get home.  Limp, limp, limp.  Here is where you’d expect to see a photo of my swollen ankle, but you’ve seen those photos before and they are gruesome.  It is sprained.  That is all.

So, when I sat down to write this morning, I was feeling sorry for myself.  Poor me.  Can’t run. Can’t carry the laundry basket up the stairs.  Can’t run.  Ow, it hurts.  Can’t even go to the gym.  I began to write, but got so fed up with that pitiful voice in my head that I gave it up.

Here’s what I did instead.  I cleaned my daughter’s bedroom.  Threw out the accumulated trash of the last three years.  Emptied her dresser and vacuumed it.  Moved the furniture, and cleaned it all, all the surfaces, vacuumed the carpet.  I got rid of the baby clothes that were far too small, that had been used within an inch of their lives.  I put her precious jewelry and hair ties in neat boxes on her newly cleaned dresser, and marvelled at how lovely her room had become.

I planned to sit down and blog then.  Only my neighbor called.  She was offering to buy me groceries, offering to help if I was completely incapacited.  She laughed when I told her what I’d been doing.  Fairly predictable, what sort of patient I’d be (an impatient patient!).  For a change, I wasn’t too busy to see her, wasn’t at the gym, or coaching, or out for a run.  She came over for a cup of tea, and we talked, something I haven’t made time for in a while.

After lunch, the sun was out.  It was spring-like, and the roses I hadn’t cared for all winter called to me.  I went to prune them, but under the profusion of weeds that had sprouted in my absence, I could barely find them.  I spent an hour uncovering them, balancing precariously on my good ankle, pulling weeds, discovering that my tulips were indeed coming up but had been hidden by all the other growth.  It was kind of like uncovering myself.  My hands were full of mud, and fertile dirt.  Once pruned, the roses looked poised, ready to spring into life for their summer blooming.  The tulips, when they finish growing, will now be visible, in their vibrant reds and yellows.  My cats circled me as if to question my presence in their garden after all this time, as if to welcome me home.

I came back inside, and noticed I was happy.

My ankle is still sprained.  I still can’t run for a while.  But the time-out has given me the space to be at home today, to re-awaken to some of the things I have been missing while running so far.  So, with a clearer heart, I will tell you of these two races.

Run Melbourne was my first race with my 9-year-old son.  It was magic.  We’d spent four months training together, me teaching him about hill repeats and pacing, running shoulder-to-shoulder and talking in a way that was impossible at other times.  We ran the race together, ducking and weaving around the hundreds  of other runners, following our race plan.  My son finished in 26:33, his faster 5k ever.  I was slightly slower, because I wanted to be behind him to see him cross that finish line.  The sight of him, sprinting off, passing grown-ups, giving his all for that final burst of speed, is a sight that will stay with me forever.

My son and me, side by side.

My son and me, side by side.

My son crossing the finish line.

My son crossing the finish line.

My smile is because I've just watched my son cross his first finish line!

My smile is because I’ve just watched my son cross his first finish line!

And Plenty Gorge?  That was one of the hardest races I’ve run in a long time.  I’ve forgotten how to run slowly on these medium-distance races.  For long periods at the start, I was going so hard, I couldn’t catch my breath.  But I wanted to go that hard.  I wanted to sprint and chase, to dash, to go as hard as I could.  I don’t know why.  I made sure to glance up to see the gorgeous gum trees, but not often, because much of the trail was treacherous, and required absolute attention.  The sharp cold of the river crossings lingers with me, the feel of mud slipping away under my fingers as I climbed ashore.

No matter how often I passed, or was passed, the same three or four people were clustered together.  I seemed to be faster uphill, and they were faster downhill.  All went to plan until one of the volunteers shouted to me, at about the 15k mark, that I was in the top twenty women.  Wow!  Me?  But I didn’t want to know this; I was running as fast as I could, and I felt this meant I needed to chase down some of these other women.  I suddenly wanted to be in the top 15.  It was hard going.  I could see two women in the distance, and they were fast.  I passed one, then she passed me, but the final uphill allowed me to get ahead.

Then the man I had played cat-and-mouse with for most of the race passed me one more time.  Most who pass in trail races do so with words of encouragement, and thanks, allowing plenty of room, and running far into the distance.  But this man passed, every time, with an air that I was in his way, damn it, and I should move.  I only passed him again anyway, on all the uphills.  Never once did he acknowledge me, and he never really pulled in front.  Perhaps he was shy, or out of breath, but in the heat of the last kilometre, I didn’t really care what he was feeling, just how I was feeling about him, so I blasted by one last time, and because I was chasing the women, I finally stayed ahead of him.  I always tell myself to run my own race, that if I am faster than someone, that is just how it is, and there is no sense in pushing it.  But I felt slighted by this man, judged on the downhills when he huffed by me, and it was with a great sense of delight that I noted I finished several minutes ahead of him.

Now that I am back to myself, I feel I should apologise.  Perhaps I was in his way; perhaps I read more into his scowl than was really there.  Perhaps he felt the same way about me as I did him.  Blah blah blah.  I’m still glad I beat him.  And I’m glad most trail runners are so polite.  In reality, I don’t think he even noticed me.  I said, “well done” to him when I saw him at the finishing area and he didn’t seem to even know who I was.  Go figure.

When the results came in, it turned out I had come third in my age category, and the 16th woman overall.

Which brings me back full-circle to this injured ankle.  Will it come right fast enough to allow me to run the 21k Sylvan Reservoir Race in August?  I really hope so.

In the meantime, I am going to enjoy what is, and try to lean into this temporary set-back and let it teach me what it will.  When I have sprained my ankle in the past, it has always been at a time of emotional upheaval, a time when things were changing very quickly, or I was dealing with some dark emotion.  This is true of this injury as well.  There is much healing going on in me at the moment, at many different levels.  But that is a blog for another day.

There are still some rooms I have yet to clean in my home, and it is time to put my ankle on ice for a little while.

Oh, and I’ve just read an article about AlterG treadmils, how they can allow you to run at reduced gravity when injured.  Hmmm.  Obsessive?  Me?

When You Want To Quit

I was at the 38 km mark of my planned 43 km run.  It was to be my longest run ever.  But I was exhausted.  I had already been running for nearly six hours, up and down the hills in the Dandenong Ranges, trying to complete a race course that I’d been unable to complete a month before, or at least to complete the planned race distance.  This run was also part of my training for the upcoming North Face 50 km Race, just four weeks away.

I had come to the road that led back to my car.  If I turned right, I would be done, I could rest.  I was starting to hallucinate I was so tired, seeing people where there were only trees, startling myself with sudden fear.  I had been running alone since before the sunrise, running and running and running.  Sometimes I had to slow to a walk to climb the steepest of the hills, and walking was becoming more frequent at this point in the long day out.

To my left was the last five kilometres – it began on the steepest hill of all, Dodd’s Track.  It seemed unfair to have to face this hill again, for the second time today.  I glanced down the road towards my car, toyed with the thought of going that way, of finding some excuse to let myself quit early.

Then I turned left, up the hill.  I wanted to go home.  Instead, I dug deep into my pack, found a ziplock bag with banana chips and pineapple pieces, choked some down, took a deep drink from my CamelBak as I walked, and started climbing that hill.  My legs were trembling.  I was starting to hate the look of the trees and the rocks.  But I was going to get to the top.

It went on and on and on.  I talked out loud to myself:  You will not quit.  You are a fighter.  One foot after the other I climbed.  I made it to the top, sweating, shaking, hungry.  I found the next trail and the next.  When I finally made it to Banksia Track I knew I was on the way home.  I stopped for a moment to marvel at my surroundings, then picked up the pace and ran some.  I walked the last steep hill, swearing at it like Sigourney Weaver swore at the biggest of the aliens in Alien.

But I did it, got to the top.  And I ran down the last downhill, cheering myself aloud, being careful of my footing, not wanting to celebrate too soon.  I got to the bottom, ready for joyous elation, ready to have completed my first ever marathon, my first ultramarathon!

And my watch said 41.5 km!  The car was only 250 metres down the road.

Instead of running back in triumph, my work done, I turned back.  I ran back down the trail I’d traversed twice already, coaching myself, saying just go .5 km and turn back, and you’ll have made it, so tired I couldn’t even do math.  Somewhere down that last turnaround my watched clicked over and beeped at 42 km.  I had just completed my first mountain marathon!  I kept running, backtracking towards the car, running out of the park gates, waiting for the 43km goal I’d set to tick by, but with sinking heart I realised I wouldn’t get there unless I turned around again!

So I did.  I turned around and ran back through that same gate, back up the same road for the fourth time, and six and a half hours ticked by, and with a final push, my watch finally read 43 km.

I had done it.  My first marathon, followed a few minutes later by my first ultramarathon.

I wanted to quit so many, many times.  But it is not the desire to quit that matters.

I am sure I will pull the memory of that run out again when I need to remind myself that I have the strength to continue on when life gets tough.  In fact, I pulled it out today.  Polished it.   Savoured it.  And reminded myself that though today was a very difficult day, I have the strength to go on.  To not quit.

Sometimes it takes more than one go to get to the goal you are aiming for.  Sometimes you have to backtrack and try again.  And again.  But that is how we become the heroes of our own stories.  By facing what needs to be faced.  By not quitting.

Decisions, Decisions: 21km or 43km

The Roller Coaster Run - one of the many trails in the Dandenongs

The Roller Coaster Run – one of the many trails in the Dandenongs

I’m facing a quandary today, and although my mind knows the right choice, my heart doesn’t want to follow it.  I’m a determined sort of character – once I sink my teeth into something, I’m a bit like a bulldog – I don’t let go.  But in this running game – the long running game, not the 10km game I’ve been playing for many years – this quality can get people into big, big trouble.

So here’s the issue:  I signed up for the 43km Roller Coaster Race back in November last year, right after completing my first half-marathon.  It seemed a good event to pin my training on, given I was planning on the North Face 50km race in Sydney in May.  With little knowledge, and a quick trigger finger, I ticked off the 43km two-loop box, instead of the 21km one-loop box.  I expected I’d build up slowly and get there in time, as I’ve always done.  I’d complete the 28km Two Bays in January, and build up to the 43km Roller Coaster Run in March, culminating with the 50km North Face in Sydney’s Blue Mountains in May.

What complicated this plan was my decision, made two years ago, to pursue barefoot/minimalist running.  Before my Vibram Five Fingers, before my lower-heeled Asics Racers, I could only run 8km before searing ITB pain.  Minimalist running – running without pain – was a new treat, like a lolly to a toddler.

It became a bit of a game to see how far I could run without pain as I slowly, slowly built up my distance in minimalist shoes.  I did my first half-marathon, and my second.  I ran the 28km Two Bays Race.  Trouble was, I kept swapping shoes, having to move back to high-heeled trail shoes to go the final race distances, as I wasn’t up to those milestones in my minimalist shoes.

I knew somewhere along the line I’d have to make a final switch, drop all the heeled running shoes, drop the cushioning, and be either barefoot or at least minimalist in my race shoes.  I succeeded in this just after Christmas, doing my first 10km race in my Vibrams, feeling light as a feather, and happy as a kite (if a kite is, in fact, happy).

And here’s where my plans began to unravel.  I needed to train for this 43km race in the Dandenongs, in the hills, on the race course.  I joined a group of trail runners and, wanting to go the distance they were running, ran in my minimalist shoes for 21 km, when my longest run to date was 16km.  Two weeks later, I ran 24km.  I ditched my cushioned shoes a month before I intended to, and, with the introduction of speed training, hurt my foot.  I thought at first it was a stress fracture, but thankfully, it has come right again with a few days rest and some help from more experienced long-distance runners.

But it is too late.  I simply cannot get up to the distance I need in time to meet this 43km quest.  The longest I have run since Two Bays in January is 24km, and I needed to hit 39 km this week to be prepared.

Here’s a snippet from an email from the Race Organisers that arrived in my inbox last week:

“Without doubt, this event is one of the toughest courses used for an organised event.
For most people this 43km event will take anything from 1h15 to 2hrs+ longer than your normal flat road marathon. There are very few sections of this course where you will feel like you are running on flat ground, it is almost totally up or down.  Given the start at the top of the course at Sky High, the final 3-4km is a very tough slog to get back to the top, most entrants will walk most of this section.
For our 43km entrants, the first loop must be completed within 3hr15min in order to be allowed to continue on your second loop.
No entrants last year finished within the cut-off if they did not make this time.
In terms of how long the run will take you….
The midpoint of finishers (for the 21.5km) last year was 2hrs42min, for the 43km it was 5h45m (60 finishers) so depending on where you normally finish in an event field will determine how far either side of this you will be. The winner of the 43km took 3h49m but most were over 5hrs…..
The transition from Two Bays Trail Run 28km to the 21.5km Roller Coaster is that in general Roller Coaster will be about 15 to 20min quicker (but is 6.5km shorter)
A runner who does a half marathon in 2hrs is likely to take 3hrs+ to finish 1 loop.”

I tell myself I could just go out and smash it, push through, do the extra mileage in my old cushioned high-heeled trail shoes and see what happens.  And then this voice sounds in my head.  Idiot, it says.  You’re smarter than that.

So while my heart and soul wants to get out there, wants to complete my first-ever marathon distance race, I simply can’t this time.  There is too much to lose to injury, and it is not just a marathon-distance race.  It is something far beyond that, once I factor in the hills.  And there are too many thrilling but shorter races to be tackled this year.  Not to mention my huge goal of the North Face 50km race in May.

As I tell my young son, sometimes life is difficult.  We can only look for the best of things sometimes, even in the worst of things.  This decision is a hard one, but I will learn from it.

The lesson this time is to go at my own pace, and to listen to my body.  This body that offers up tremendous wisdom when I stop running long enough to hear.

So it will be one loop of the Roller Coaster Run for me in three weeks time, rather than two.

Now I am off to build myself a sensible, concrete plan for how to achieve the North Face 50km in May.

Back to health after injury

So, testing limits.  This has been about testing limits.  That is what I am telling myself.  And as someone wiser than me said, you can’t be sure where the limits are until you’ve stepped over them.

Well, apparently, I have.  According to my feet, my lower back, and my neck, that is.  It has been three days since I last ran.  Nearly four.  That, for me, is a lifetime.  But here’s the sad thing – I am just not missing it yet.  I’ve been pushing it too hard for too long.  Every aspect of my body has been saying no, too far, too much, and I’ve been trying to turn down the volume on that voice, to not listen, to soldier on.

Part of the troubles have come from experimenting with minimalist running.  I have been able to run further than ever before pain-free since I began using Vibrams and Inov-8 shoes.  I’ve taken it super-slowly, taken two years to get up to running 10km in these zero-drop shoes.  They’ve enabled me to run two half-marathons, and my first 28 km race ever.

And then, because I dangled a mountain marathon in front of myself, and I didn’t know how to run a marathon, I downloaded an App, input some details about myself and started to follow it.  To make life simpler, I started running in the minimalist shoes for all my training runs.  It is hard to change shoes half-way through a run in the woods, so I didn’t.  And things seemed to be going along okay (well, ignoring the achilles, foot, back and neck pain).  Well enough, let’s say.

Then I did last Tuesday’s tempo run.  It was a 13km run (part of a 60km week), with 10km of it at a pace of 5:03 per kilometre, or less.  In my new Inov-8 TrailRoc’s, I flew down that trail, ate it up, skirted around the walkers and the dogs, and ran my heart out.  It wasn’t until 11.5km that my foot started hurting.  Thinking it was just the usual ache, I ignored it, finished the run, and limped up the stairs to shower.  As the next day I was teaching BodyPump, and I never run on that day, I assumed I’d be okay for my usual Thursday Vibram Five Fingers 10km run.  And I was – I taught my classes, changed shoes and trotted off down the trail

Except I wasn’t all right.  It didn’t hurt when I was running – it felt good.

Later, though, just touching the top of my foot made me wince in pain.  I’d booked a run with a new friend for the next morning at 7:30 am, and it killed me to have to cancel.  We’d planned 21km up and downhill in the Dandenongs, and I knew he was fast, and that the terrain would be unforgiving.  So for the second time in a month, I cancelled a training run that I was seriously looking forward to.

So, is it a stress fracture? Is it tendonitis?  I don’t know.  I’ve had lots of valuable suggestions from other trail runners, I’ve googled all the possible injuries it can be, I’ve explored preventative exercises to fix it.  But I’ve gone, in the end, with the best solution I could find to overuse – UNDERuse (thanks for the idea,!  For three days, I’ve rested, resisted all offers for runs from clients, friends, kids and running groups.  I’ve made myself be smart;  I’ve thought;  ice-bathed my feet; cried a bit; felt sorry for myself; snapped at people; rested.

And today, I do believe I have figured out what is the matter.  I have always been a cross-training runner, a runner who runs because I love it.  But I love lots of other things too.  I’ve done the races that have fit into my training life, rather than trained for a specific race.  There were always thing I just couldn’t give up to run more – I love my gym, and my BodyPump, I love cross training with my iPod and my favorite music, riding my bike, doing random high-energy aerobic classes.  These things were, in hindsight, supporting, rather than getting in the way of my running.  What I really love is being strong enough (and healthy enough) to carry my kids up the stairs to bed when bedtime comes.

Somewhere along this journey to greater distance, I started down the wrong trail, one that does not suit who I am or what my body requires or enjoys.  Sure, I will continue to train for races.  I will continue to love my trails, and my trail running buddies.  But I’m not going to become the crazy lady who just runs all the time, the one who looks tired and drawn in the mirror, the one too exhausted to run around the block with my kids.  I’m not going to learn to hate running to be able to run further.

I’m done with all of that.  I’m coming back to sanity.

Here’s where I’m happy:  40 to 50 km per week, with my longest run being 20-24 km.  That’s already double what I was doing a year ago.  That’s enough.  I want to be healthy, to run forever – not to run far and fast and burn out and have to hang up my eighty-two pairs of running shoes forever.  I want to love my run every time I do it, like I used to.

I am going back on my own trail, the trail that makes me happy, healthy, and strong.

Great Joy at Silvan Reservoir Race

Great Joy at Silvan Reservoir Race

My feet feel better already.

Home: thoughts about Hurricane Sandy and Long Beach, New York

English: Sunset at Long Beach - Sunday 12th Oc...

English: Sunset at Long Beach – Sunday 12th October 2008 Category:Images of Long Island (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“I’ve got Long Beach Sand in My Shoes.”

That’s the bumper-sticker I grew up with.  It was everywhere.  Like the sand.  The sand that got into everything – the carpets, the beds, the cracks between floorboards, and yes, the shoes.  That sand was home.

Almost seventeen years ago I left there, in search of adventure, of foreign shores.  I’d decided I was never going to live my parents’ life, an hour from the city, commuting back and forth on the Long Island Railroad,  returning home to a small beach town.  Though I loved that town, loved the growing up there, that was not who I intended to be.  Long Beach, sandwiched between two bodies of water, the bay on one side, the ocean on the other.  We were connected to the mainland only by bridges.  That island-ish life, that beachside self is who I was for thirty years.  It is who I am still.

Now I live on the other side of the world.  And here is the irony.  I live in a small beach town, about an hour from the city.  Of Melbourne, Australia.

On Monday night, Hurricane Sandy devastated my hometown of Long Beach.  Indeed, it devastated the whole East Coast.  New York City was underwater, subways like swimming pools, lights out, power stations exploding.  I spent the next three days scouring the internet for images, to see what had happened, to see what was left.  Friends and family were at risk; we texted and Facebooked and found one another.  I aided the search for my best friend’s mother, posting messages asking for locals to search for her.  Her daughter found her just as the National Guard were about to take her to a shelter.  And I cried for what had happened there.  And I kept thinking of home, of what it meant to me.  Here is what I recalled:

The boardwalk.  The boardwalk was the center of our life.  Under that boardwalk is where I finally got kissed by the boy I’d loved all year in High School.  It is where I learned to run.  It was our bike-riding place, the place where we climbed over the fence to swim in a private school’s swimming pool.  It was where I sat on the benches to stare out to sea, wishing some handsome stranger would sit down with me and ask me why I was crying.  Where I first saw magic in the sky.  The ramps to the boardwalk were the only hills anywhere in our completely flat town; riding up them was a test for our legs.

The sea.  That friendliest of places.  I’d swim out too far with my older brother, and my mother would stand on shore and shout at us to come back in.  We’d pretend we didn’t hear her; we knew the ocean and were unafraid.  I couldn’t swim, not proper swimming, but I knew how to jump over and under waves.  I knew how to stay afloat.  Every block, there were stone jetties jutting out into the water.  I thought this was true of every beach in the world.  Only a few beaches had waves enough for surfers — I didn’t know any surfers, and I didn’t see any point in it.

The beach.  Where we pretented we were junior lifeguards, just to hang around the handsome young men who were lifeguards.  Where we had Christmas in July, with real eggnog.  Where I got sunburned far too often, kissed boys after dark up in elevated wooden lifeguard chairs.  Had Italian Ices from the pizza place on New York Avenue.  Where we grew up.

Gino’s Pizza.  Truly the best pizza in the world.  My friends and I spent many happy hours sharing one slice and a diet coke, talking of boys, life, nothing.  We were teenagers.  We could talk of nothing for hours.

Long Beach.  Where three generations of my family had lived, had grown up in the same small house.  The public library, and City Hall, and the town clock.  The street names that still ring of home.  The smell of the sea when I’d get off the train from New York City.  The calm that would wash over me when I got to the ocean.

English: Looking northwest at Holocaust memori...

What is home?  Where is home?  This week, I am hard-pressed to answer this question.  My heart is back in Long Beach, my eyes staring in astonishment at photos of streets covered in sand, at cars swept by the sea from their parking places.  The boardwalk, crumpled and broken, pieces of it lying in the center of streets.  Photos of houses in the West End, where I grew up, which indicate the water must have got to three or four feet high.  Mandatory evacuations, no water, no power.  All unbelievable.

What gives me hope, though, is remembering my mother’s photos.  She showed them to me after a particularly bad hurricane hit in the early 1980s.  They showed the sea meeting the bay, streets underwater.  It has happened before.  Not to the catastrophic level it did this time, but it has happened before.

Long Beach has withstood so much.  The people there are strong, sun-wizened, used to the wily ways of the ocean and bay.  The older people who refuse to leave at the call of the younger people now in charge; they know.  They have seen the like of this before.

As I run the beachside trails here., my thoughts and prayers are with the people of Long Beach, and others along the East Coast, whose lives have been forever changed by Hurricane Sandy.

The hope and love of the world will support the people there, even if we can’t be there in person.  Long Beach, New York, the world is right there with you, I am right there with you, forever with Long Beach sand in my shoes, even over here on the other side of the world.

Lesson learned: increase training by 10% per week only or risk injury

So, I finally found a limit.  I’ve been pushing and pushing things, surprised that nothing hurt, that is, nothing hurt until Friday last week.  With the use of my Teva Five Fingers and my Fit-Flop shoes, with lots of TR-X training, and lots of squats, lunges, and core work, I had managed to complete my first 22km run a few weeks back.

Then a fellow team-mate and I decided we were going to do the North Face 100 in Sydney’s Blue Mountains as Marathon Pairs.  Which meant that, come May 2013, I’d be running up to 56km in one go.  Without much recovery from the Surfcoast Ultramarathon, and with the Marysville Half-Marathon coming soon, I hit the trails hard.

Yes, I’d heard of the 10% rule.  And I had printed out and read several detailed 50km training programs, but simply hadn’t put one together for myself yet.  Last week, I decided I’d just up the distance of the runs I was doing, each one, a little bit.  Twenty km became twenty-one; four became five; six became seven; four became, well, four became ten.  That was the one that broke me — because all I was doing was substituting my usual cross-training session for the same amount of time running, I thought I’d be fine.

Did I do the math?  Of course not.  If I had (and I did after my hips were aching on Friday night), I would have seen that all my tiny increments added up to a whopping 40% increase in one week, instead of the 10% I should have been aiming for.  I cringe thinking about it.  I am grateful that my friend Maria saw my “aching hips” post on Facebook, and texted me to remind me what I knew, but hadn’t adhered to.

I like to preach “no limits” to myself and to my classes.  I like to live “no limits”.  But the fact is, there are limits and if I don’t respect them, and train more consciously, I won’t be teeing up at the start line of many 50km races.

So, with new-found respect, I am committing to designing a six month plan to get me to that start line.  The good news is that after two solid rest days, my hips are back to normal.  I ran 5km in my Teva Five Fingers on the treadmill this morning, and it felt just like running should feel.  Pure, pain-free joy.

My mathematician husband also solved a great mystery that may have plagued other math-illiterate runners – the 10% increase can apply across the whole week (like if you run 35km in total for the week, you increase that total by 3.5km), but if you increase each individual run by 10% this will add up to 10% across the whole week too (so you can spread that extra 3.5 km across various runs).  That was one sticking block I couldn’t get my head around.  I think I’ve got it now.  Let me know, other runners, if I’ve still got it wrong.  I can be a bit of a blockhead about some things.

I suppose the only way to gain wisdom is to make mistakes along the way.  I have never tried to run so far.  For most of my thirty years of running, I’d simply do one long run per week of about 10km, and cross-train the rest of the time with swimming, weight training, cycling, spinning, or whatever was the most fun at the moment.  So this conscious increase is a whole new ball game.  I love to do things right the first time, but I suppose that is not so realistic.  This is going to take some learning…