Thursday, December 31, 2020

2020 Year in Review

Happy New Year's Eve!! We're hours from exiting this dumpster fire and you know what that means--a recap of the year of running. 

As always, big picture stats are first up. 

Total 2020 Miles: 1,516
I ran more than I drove my car, and I ran more than any previous year. 🤯🤯

Cross-Training: About 60 workouts. I count 55 classes in my MindBody app, plus I did training with Robin pre-pandemic and a few times (distanced!) during. Probably about half of this was yoga and half weights or HIIT classes. By far this is the most I've ever cross-trained in a year! 

Shiny New PRs: The full marathon distance. 3:39:17, for the Detroit Virtual Marathon on October 18 (recap here). 

The Year in Pictures

2020 was a year of few races due to COVID. But before the world went insane, I did get in the 2020 Polar Prediction Run with these lovely ladies. For this event, you win if you come closest to predicting your finishing time for a 3.65 mile course. I placed this year--second or third I think. It was a lot of fun! Plus it's hosted out of a brewery. With bagels. 

January was also the month I registered for the Detroit Marathon, which I described here. I registered with glee and with dreams.

On March 13, my older son and I bought everything Giant Eagle would sell us, grabbed a pizza from a local place, and went home to hunker down for what I thought would be a few weeks. At that point in the pandemic, I stopped running with groups, but tried to keep running the paths I knew and loved. This is a picture I took from under a bridge while waiting out the rain one Sunday. It was too muddy to step off-path at many spots, but this did not stop groups, usually 2 or 3, usually white women, from walking or running side by side. You couldn't get away from them or around them, and they did not want to hear about it. Finally I gave up and turned exclusively to roads. 

After a few weeks, the gyms and yoga studios got up to speed with Livestream classes, and I joined in. No human could purchase free weights for a long time, so I was left with resistance bands, bricks and gallons of water (or fabric softener, apparently) for a while. 

I also quickly learned that my basement is too cold for yoga, and my first floor is too noisy after about 7am, so early morning was where it was at for yoga. In a year where I was running record mileage, I needed yoga more than ever. 

This was also the month where, for the first time in my entire life, I got hot during a run and just took off my shirt. I've been managing a healthy diet for a few years now and it felt good to feel good. I took this picture after the run, still feeling fierce. 

Without commuting in the mix, and with the academic year over, I had more time to relax on the patio after morning runs. I was meeting up with runners for socially distanced coffee, but that was it. My family went to a very remote part of WV for 5 days, which was truly a highlight of the year. Training started as soon as we got home. 

As advertised--hot! But a lot of gorgeous mornings and happy miles.  

Training had started July 1 for my marathon. This was probably a pace run or a tempo run with a warm-up and a cool-down. It started the long process of training my body to run 26.2 miles at a pace that sounded insane. 

My training plan called for hill workouts which, while it's hilly here, there aren't a lot of hills long enough for this. Friendship is texting someone and asking if they'll meet you the next morning (distanced!) at a hill you don't know the name or location of but know you ran together like 3 year ago and they say yes. The workout was exactly what I needed, both seeing Candice and finding the hill. 

We have arrived at the peak of my mileage graph by month, building up to the Detroit Marathon. I ran 186 miles this month. 

Kids were engaged in remote school. Parents had become teachers' aids. Work was remote. Everything was remote. Everyone was home. All the time. Still. But running was not canceled. 

We had some beautiful, warm days in October. My friend Robin and I took advantage of one of them to meet for a short yoga practice at the park over lunch one day. I loved this. I loved that she thought of it, and invited me, and had the Down Dog app all ready to roll for it. And seeing a friend in person had by then become an infrequent, delightful thing. 

And then, it was race day! I've documented the day here. My virtual race was a clear highlight of the year, and, honestly, a silver lining. It was perfect. I will probably never have another marathon like this one and it's an experience I'm glad I had and got to share with friends and family. 

We continued to have warm days into November. I took advantage and got the kids outside when I could. I brought the Thanksgiving festivities to running. I really do love a festive headband. 

Ok so I mean it's Cleveland, the warm weather wasn't going to last forever. We had two big storms, but not a whole lot in between. My husband shoveled this path out for me during the first storm. That's love!

I hit two pretty big milestones in December. The first was the day (12/15) I hit 10,000 miles. I'm sure I've run more than this in my lifetime, but not that I kept track of. I started tracking mileage January 1, 2010. When I realized 10k was within sights, I made it a goal to hit by the end of the year. My new friend Sharon came along with me (distanced!) on this morning to capture the moment. The X was her idea, for ten. So clever! I loved it. Her enthusiasm for my achievement was so uplifting! I was grateful for her company and support. It was a fun run. 

Then this past Sunday somewhere in my long run I hit 1500 miles for the year. I thought I'd stop when I hit that number, but I kept running through the week. Yoga today, and I'll get 2021 started right with some miles tomorrow. 

There you have it, friends! My 2020 Run in Review. 2020 was so messed up. It made the gifts running gives us even sweeter. As always, running has taught me about myself, and probably more this year than before, for a variety of reasons. Running offered a reprieve from the chaos, and goals I could still work to achieve. Running gave me a race day I will never forget, and has been the basis for some wonderful friendships. I always love the run, but extra this year. 

Monday, December 28, 2020

On Running Friendships

I've long appreciated that running introduces me to a lot of people I would not otherwise meet because our lives are too different. Running groups introduce you to people outside your neighborhood, outside your profession, outside your faith community, outside your family, outside the network of people you grew up with. Sometimes you meet people a lot like you. Take my friend Meg. We were both children of academics, in grad school ourselves, both looking for something non-academic to keep us lucid during difficult degree programs. 

But this is not as common as you might think. In fact, it's unusual. More often, I've gotten to know people I had relatively little in common with. Running has that power, to forge unlikely friendships. 

This witchy magic happens largely through the amount of time runners spend together, and through the sometimes raw physical effort of it. There is something about hearing another runner's goals and watching them work their ass off to reach those goals that brings closeness to relationships. It teaches us to cheer for each other, and to share the agony of each other's injuries and setbacks. We don't even have to speak the same language for me to cheer for you in this way. I could make a silent movie about marathon training and you'd cry with me at the finish.

I got to talking about this recently with a new-to-Cleveland runner. We've both had experiences where the magic of runner friendships didn't work out. The run does have this magic to forge friendships, and the run does change people in the long term, but the run doesn't change the person who shows up on a Tuesday morning. You're going to meet people who just aren't a match for your style. You're going to meet people who throw any number of red flags, and you're going to learn one way or another whether those flags are serious for a friendship or not. Some of them will be. Sometimes, you're going to be too much for some people, and as the saying goes, those are not your people. 

Sometimes, things just don't work out.

I wasn't sure for a long time why this felt like a big discovery to me--that running friendships don't always work. In all of life, relationships have highs and lows and don't always work. Why did it feel like I was pulling back the curtain on a running secret? 

I began endurance running in 2007, three states ago. It took all four states before I saw running friendships that didn't work. True story: I once went for a run with a total stranger through a largely abandoned warehouse district in St. Louis. And it was lovely. Magic! My Utah BRF is not very much like me! We used our differences to learn. We asked questions and respected each other's choices. Magic! I'd had about a decade of incredibly diverse running groups and friendships that had never required question. 

I'd just never seen the witchy magic run out. Until I did.  

The first time I saw it, it had nothing to do with me. A local run squad internally combusted while traveling for a race. I knew most of them but wasn't there and never got involved. Then, maybe a year later, one of the women involved in that explosion said some profoundly unkind things to me--too unkind, too unnecessary, and too relentless. She was the third person I'd ever unfriended on social media. Here in 2020, a handful of red flags I'd been seeing for a while became impossible to ignore or address, and I extracted myself from a group. 

Maybe I just got lucky for the first decade. Maybe I was in places where I had much less interaction with a large group (SRTT/MRTT here is huge!) and thus with as many people. I don't know. What I do know is this: running creates an opportunity for friendship. Strong, deep friendships. Friendships that share celebration, determination, experiences, hardship. Friendships that survive time, distance, and the pandemic. It is a witchy magic. I'd forgotten that magic had an edge, but of course it does. But isn't it incredible that it exists? 

Sunday, December 20, 2020

The Race that Lived

My last post covered through Week 9 of training for the virtual Detroit Marathon. In the weeks that followed, I learned how to create a workout in Garmin Connect and use it on my Forerunner. I did some workouts that intimidated me. I took the training plan one week at a time. The moment the long-range forecast included October 18, I was checking it constantly. My friend Dan and I discussed everything from music preferences to packing lists to logistics. 

Welcome to the (belated) race summary of what turned out to be a silver lining of 2020.

I'll start about a week before the race, when a mysterious box showed up with our mail. I stalked it on the kitchen counter for a while before remembering that my friend Robin had randomly asked for my address about a week before. Robin was one of the first people I met when I moved to Cleveland. My epic injury (long form here), finally taught my stubborn runner brain that cross-training is my friend. When I wanted to start strength training, I turned to Robin. She was amazingly gracious about meeting me where I was, which was step 1. Ground level. Not only clueless about what I was doing, but also...just weak. She cheered me at every step, worked within my limitations and goals, and has been a huge part of my recovery and a damn good friend. With this gift, she cheered me on remotely in the best possible way. <3

Two and a half days pre-race, carb loading started. A very few of you might remember the saga of the day I learned about fueling the hard way. Ever since, I've used a fueling plan I found in Runner's World. You eat more calories than usual, and about 85% of it is carbs. While that sounds like fun, it's hard on digestion. This is what breakfast looks like. You better believe that is the sugary yogurt, too. 

My friend Dan, who had agreed to bike Sherpa my race, was hard at work taking account of his storage capacity for water, food, gear, etc. He asked if I wanted music and I told him I hadn't run with music in years--too many cars, too many dogs. Same for him. But, I told him, if he wanted to play music, I was good with any era of rock other than the song "Blinded by the Light," which I hate powerfully. We talked Gu (so hard to choose!) and figured out how we'd handle water stops. He knows the trail toward Akron well, where I do not. He made sure we picked a starting point that avoided construction and traffic, and that local knowledge is worth its weight in gold.

I checked the weather 583 more times. 

Had it been in person, the race would have started at 7am, so we planned to start at 7am. I had all these jokes ready for the start line, about how like downtown Detroit the Towpath Trail outside Akron is. All that relevant early 20th century commercial architecture! That radial street network! But when I arrived about 6:45am, we were focused on stowing gear and using the bathroom (A REAL BATHROOM!). 

I'm pretty sure Dan had purchased a bigger bag to store gear/supplies/etc for the race, and when I handed him my *actual* handful of stuff to carry, probably either wanted to laugh or cry a little. It consisted of: 
  • 2 Gu packets (I had the other 2 in my water bottle)
  • 3 baggies of folded up TP (to which he said, "no dude would ever have done this")
  • A very small bottle of liquid band aid
  • My driver's license, credit card, and med insurance all rubber banded together
  • My phone (maybe? not even sure I took it?) and car key
He had packed water for both of us. In the 60-ish seconds he went into the restroom and I was standing alone in the pitch black parking lot, a Jeep came flying into the parking lot, and two guys jumped out of it. I was definitely gauging my distance to my car door for a second, but they took off toward the trail. Dan came back, we took our start line selfie, and headed down toward the trail too. 

It turned out the two guys were cheering for a friend doing a virtual marathon! Chicago, I think. Somewhere else along the way we met someone running the New York marathon. I'd hesitated about wearing the bib the race organizers had sent me because it felt like of cheesy, but in the end, I'm glad I did. It helped create this spirit of community, because the people who are on that path every weekend could ID and support people who were racing. 

I hesitated to start for a moment because...well, it's sort of strange to just start a marathon. No fanfare, no anthem, no gun, no corrals. Just hitting the start button on your Garmin like any Tuesday morning. And we were off! 

Our pre-race discussions about pace had made us realize that cycling and running use different vocabularies. Dan had asked if I anticipated our pace would be over 10mph. I explained that this was not the Olympics, so no, but also that I'd need to do some math to figure out what mph I run. So a lot of our conversation focused on math of where we were, what time we'd be someplace else, and how overall pacing was going. I recognized the spot where a friend had taken a picture the previous day by accident. 

But Dan and I have known each other since 1998 (when I joined the Experience Learning family), so we talked about all sorts of things, too. And that path! Oh man! I don't have any pictures from the path itself, but what a knockout! I really think we got the best possible morning for race day. The foliage was spectacular and, while 5 degrees cooler than ideal for Dan, it was pretty great for running, at about 48 degrees. The path parallels a river and train tracks for long stretches, and forest. Gorgeous. 

When you're training, it sounds INSANE that you are going to run 26.2 miles at an 8:24/mile pace. INSANE. But then, you put in the work, and while you taper, it's like winding up a Jack in the Box, and you carb load, and it fills those glycogen stores, and then, your body really can do precisely the thing you trained it to do. I ran super, super even splits. My first mile was the slowest, at 8:28, as it should be. After that, every mile was between an 8:15 and 8:23 except one a few seconds faster (after which I 100% said what Shalane Flanagan said in New York that day). And for 24 miles it was all just smooth. 

At one point we passed a herd of middle aged guys, a few of whom wore Boston jackets. I told Dan how it was called "chicking." The herd was jovial. We saw a handful of other smaller groups and single runners out. Everyone in good spirits. We passed a spot where a woman had been attacked last year while running. I was incredibly thankful for Dan's company.

At about mile 23.5, we passed the Canal Exploration Center, which was also the planned finish line. I'd invited a small group of folks, mostly runners, to a socially distanced finish line party. Many of them were there when we passed at 23.5. My husband and kids had made signs--a first--and I might have gotten a little choked up about it. 

When my Garmin hit mile 24, I was ready for it to be over. I'd warned Dan that things get dark late in a marathon. Deals are made with devils. Self talk gets desperate. I tried reeeeeeally hard not to verbalize those thoughts, but I had a decidedly grumpy, but on-pace mile. At mile 25 I asked if he would stay behind me, because the bike in my peripheral vision was going to make me motion sick. Then I told him I needed to stop talking, and just "go inside" my head. I needed to put my head down and focus on grinding out the last 1.2. It had always been inevitable--I could feel it coming around mile 17--and it was much better than it usually is, but I was tired.

Know what else isn't easy? Math when you're that tired. So I misjudged our turn-around by a few hundredths of a mile. Coming back toward the finish line, first I saw my friend Laurie standing at the bridge with her cow bell. A welcome sight for sure. I could just see my kids up ahead holding up the finisher ribbon the race organizers had sent. Garmin hit 26.2. I just stopped. My brain couldn't process what to do. Laurie said, "You can't stop. They're waiting for you." I said, "Right!" and clicked it back on and kept going. Four one-hundredths on up and through the finisher tape. 

Then my knees buckled, and I stopped and put my hands on my knees for a minute and tried to calm my breathing and not sob wildly. It was over! My goal was 3:40 and I ran a 3:39:17. My boys were ready with the race medal and the wrap the organizers had sent. Sidebar here: I was crazy impressed with the Detroit Marathon throughout this whole process. They canceled my hotel, contacted me about shipping my race packet, and the social media game was strong. 

My husband was a rock star who ordered this amazing cake, brought every conceivable thing I might want post-race, and made sure we were all fed and happy. Dan's wife and son came, and they brought me flowers. Flowers! I was beyond blown away by all the love and support of my family and friends. That picture above--I am glowing! That's how it all felt. I had a dream, and my friends and family came out, on a bike, at the finish line, and remote, to cheer me on. Masks and all. 

The most bananas part of this is that, because there was no prize money, I won my Detroit Marathon age group. That's crazy. 

In a year where so many races did not happen, this was the day the Towpath turned into Detroit, Chicago, and New York. This was--to borrow from Harry Potter--the race that lived. Was I bummed not to visit Detroit? Not to experience the magic of a big race? Sure. But the race I had was incredible, and probably once in a lifetime. A real highlight, and silver living, of 2020. 

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

I Had a Plan, 2020 Laughed

 Alright y'all. We're up to 2020. Then, 2020 happened. 

I'll start by backing up (again). I ran marathon #5 in the spring of 2017. You can read about it here, but the short version goes like this: I was trained for a PR. I felt confident. Then, it was something like 87* on race day. It was not a day for PRs. I don't even remember what my time was, but it was not fast. I got a sunburn on my back I could see the lines of for a year. 

By early 2018, when maybe I would have considered picking a fall full, I was trying really hard not to be injured, then of course I was. In early 2019, I was focused on getting back to race shape, which I did. I PRed the half twice in 2019 very happily. After the Indy Monumental, I was feeling it. It was time. I wanted my moment with the 26.2. And I knew where. 


Detroit was my first. It has stood out as a significant day in my life. I believed something new about myself after I finished that race. It was time to go back. So I registered. I registered January 1, the day registration opened. I wanted it for me. 

* sidebar: there's more of a story here, but for another day 

Then, 2020 laughed at all of us. 

Hermes 10 Miler in April: nope
Towpath Spring: nope
Towpath June: nope
Coronabusters 19k Survivor Virtual Race: yes

Lots and lots of running alone, then cross-training from home. At first, I tried running alone on well-known paths, but there were too many people too unwilling to move over, or not take up the entire path walking in pairs, and it was too much. The cyclists refused to yield when, with nowhere else to go, I'd end up in a bike lane occasionally. Eventually, I opted for smaller neighborhood streets, and settled in. 

In late June, right after we got back from the most socially-distanced vacation ever--to my native West Virginia--the training cycle started. 

  • I made one interval workout harder than it needed to be and that was not a good choice. 
  • In Week 4, I was scheduled for a sub-46 minute 10k. I need emojis. It was crazy. I ended up about 46:40. In my defense, I was running on pea gravel that did not help. Also, it was stupid hot. I left what I had on the path and called it a win. 
  • In Week 6 I had a hill workout. Friendship is texting your friend saying, "hey, remember that hill we ran on like 3 years ago and our other friend drove past us? I don't know what it was called and I need to go run up it ten times at 6am tomorrow. Wanna come?" And they say yes, and they respect your effort to stay socially distanced while doing so. 
  • In Week 8 I ran 200s for the first time in years. That is a fun workout. The interval is so short. You fly and by the time you want to die, it's over. 
  • Also in Week 8, I was supposed to run a sub-1:50 half marathon, with a slower mile on each end. I don't know what happened. I did it, but it destroyed me. This was this past Sunday actually and I think I'm just now over it. 
To no one's surprise, Detroit went virtual. Sooooooo.......Plan B. 

You guys, Plan B is NOT what I wanted, but it's a pretty great back-up plan. I opted for the Detroit Virtual race. It won't be in Michigan. It won't be officially measured. But it will BE. A lifer friend of mine who lives about 45 minutes away is going to bike with me on race day (at least part of it) to make sure I don't die. My family and a few friends are planning to come cheer, distanced of course.

I'm in Week 9 of training and it's a big one: 45 miles. There are days I wake up and my body hurts. There are days I realize my calves are more muscular than they were 3 months ago. There are days I'm starving. There are many, many days I greet the sunrise from the quiet streets with nothing but joy. This is what training looks like. 

The pandemic has been, well, y'all know how it's been. I've been so thankful for running. Running isn't canceled. Running is a hobby you can do alone. Running has been a safe way to get out of the house. Running-based time to myself has been crucial. Like Fleet Feet says, running changes everything. Running has enriched my life in so many ways, for so long. Especially now. 

Saturday, August 22, 2020

OMG, 2020.

It's a title that requires no explanation. The home haircuts. That Ohio allowed us to buy cocktails with our carry out orders. The three day hold-before-opening period many households use for mail. The homeschool learning pods. But none of that is even why I titled this post "OMG, 2020." It's that I haven't posted since the end of 2018. A gap like that is, like everything 2020, new for me. Let's back up a little. 

A Brief Tour of Running in 2019

In August of 2018, I had long been pretending I wasn't injured. Then, in one step at a trail race, I was sidelined. The long version of this is chronicled here. By the end of 2018 I was up to 6 miles. 

I kept pushing, kept building. In early 2019 I started working with a trainer (miss you! mean it!) every other week and started going to yoga or HIIT classes each off week. By April, I was able to run a half-marathon time that told me I was ready to return to training, and later that month I ran the Hermes 10 miler in 1:19:36. I was on fire and had the best time. 

Explosive Sitting at the Gym

With Katie at Towpath Half, Spring 2019

In June I ran the inaugural Sweet and Savory 60 Mile Relay, a benefit for the Cleveland Food Bank. In theory, it was a great race. We started on the west side of Cleveland and ran the Emerald Necklace of the (honest to goodness truly amazing) Metroparks system. The reality was more chaotic, goofy, and raining. It involved pastry. We got lost at least once. I got lost in a parking lot. I learned a lot about managing the logistics of an ultra-distance relay. We laughed a lot. 

Then THE NEXT DAY, I ran the Towpath 10-10, opting for the 10k option because are you insane. It wasn't one of my faster races, but I placed third in my age group and had a great time with friends. 

By early August, I'd buckled down with an actual training plan--my first in, what, two years?! Speed work intimidated me all over again, but I did it anyway. It was on. It was time for my comeback at the half-marathon distance. In October I set a shiny new PR: 1:43:18. This picture is how I felt about it. 

My friend Katie also posted a new PR that day. The ending of that race is one I'll never forget. In the last mile or so she'd told me to go ahead. But I KNEW she's a strong sprinter than I am, and this made no sense. But I went. Then just before the finish line I heard her behind me and she'd caught me and it was all the feelings. 

All along, I'd hedged my bets. If the weather was bad for Towpath, or if I just wasn't feeling it that day, I'd run easy and try again a few weeks later at Indy Monumental. My dear friend and St. Louis BRF Rachel loves this race and we'd planned to meet up for it. She was running the full marathon. I was running the half. We were both bringing friends. It was going to be the kind of runner weekend we live for. 

Erika, me, Leslie, and Rachel post-race brunching

The first few miles were a lot of weaving. I settled in without expectations. Then, the course opened up, my legs started turning over more quickly, and I knew. I went for it. There were a few miles of real effort, but the beast never came. I finished in 1:41:54, 40/716 in my division. Euphoric. Zero doubt in my mind strength training had made this possible. In 2017 I'd fallen out of yoga's half moon pose every single time because my hips were weak and my obliques were weak. By November 2019, I could hold not only half moon, but crow pose. I'd gotten stronger. 

Meanwhile, Erika was getting introduced to the magic of race day--the energy and the rush of it. When the time came, she and I went out to cheer Rachel in. After brunch, Erika and I spent our day enjoying shopping, boozy milkshakes, and a craft distillery before meeting back up with Rachel and her crew for dinner. Five stars. Recommend

By the end of 2019, I'd logged 1,256 miles. I had to foam roll religiously. I was still strength training religiously. But I was clearly through the injury and in fighting form. 

I think I'll stop here and write a second post about 2020 and my current training cycle. I'm halfway through it with a lot to say, so stay tuned. 

Thursday, December 27, 2018

The Long Road

First, the bad news. I haven't written in some time. I've mentioned on Facebook and Instagram that I've been dealing with an injury. That's putting it mildly. I've been dealing with the worst running injury I've ever had, except maybe the stress fracture I got in 11th grade. It's been awful, insightful, and lengthy.

Then, the good news. Happily, things are looking up after many months. I can easily run 4.5 fast miles, and long runs are back up to 6 miles and climbing.

My PT encouraged me to write about what's happened, if for no other reason than to provide a chronology for future reference. Since this is a running blog, I thought that made sense!

Back in about June of 2017, after the Football Hall of Fame Marathon, I was running on the Towpath with my squad. I remember the day. It was a beautiful day. We were chasing each other back to the parking lot, pushing hard through the last mile. My knee buckled. It felt like if I hadn't twitched just right, it could have given out on me, but also that of course I would twitch right. There wasn't anything else to do. Alternately, I might have described it as feeling like my left knee was going to fly out of the left side of my leg, just for a brief moment.

Over time the buckling happened more frequently. Then, running down bridges got dicey. I figured out that if I took shorter steps and tucked my pelvis in as much as I could, I could reduce the frequency of the buckling. Sometimes it hurt more than other times. I had swelling around my left knee after any run. One day in August 2017, Cathy caught up to me on the Towpath. I was walking the last few miles back to the parking lot at the end of a long run. "What's this?" she said. It was pain. Lots and lots of pain. I foam rolled and stretched and backed off some. By New Years Eve (such a memorable run!) I was running 10 miles with precarious form, a buckling knee, and swelling, but not much pain. I thought I was on the rebound.

NYE 2017

I ran the Hermes 10 Miler with Candice in April. The last few miles were questionable. Then in May I paced Cathy to a sub-2 Cleveland Rite Aid half. By mile 9 my knee was having those moments, but now they hurt. I tucked and tried to ignore the pain. I could push through. It would be fine.

Hermes 10 Miler 2018

I continued more or less in this way until August. But, strangely, over time I noticed that foam rolling was doing less and less for me. There was no pain in my left quad or IT band. I didn't understand it. If my left knee kept swelling, how was foam rolling not helping? Stretching seemed to help, but only for very short periods of time.

In mid-May my massage therapist observed that my left leg appeared to be longer than my right, caused by having a hip out of joint. She was positive this was my problem. She referred me to a holistic well-being PT-ish person. He agreed with the massage therapist's diagnosis and "adjusted" me. My gait seemed to change after that, with my left foot insisting less often on turning out. This seemed to make sense to me, but at the same time, I saw a lot of red flags about this provider. This was late May.

In August I attended the third of a three-part trail race series. The August event was 5.2 miles or so. At almost exactly the half-way point, I stepping up and over a root, and something gave out. Suddenly and completely, I could not run. Even a little. My friend Candice passed me and asked if I was OK. I was not OK. She finished and came back to get me. She encouraged me to run even the last tenth of a mile. I couldn't do it. Very simply, this was the day I broke.

Part of our Full Moon crew, at the June race

I hobbled around for days, and I mean, hobbled. I awoke at night from the pain. My (new) massage therapist nearly bust into tears when she got into my quad a few days later. She wasn't sure if I had been out of joint, but she was sure I was a mess and was at a minimum over-rotating in my left hip. She referred me to a PT in my neighborhood.

*As a brief aside about how broken our medical system is, the PT said her company took my insurance. And they do. Just not my employer's version of that insurance. So I called the insurance's preferred provider to find out how I could be seen. They said it would be 5 weeks before I could be seen by the person who could then refer me to a PT, and no word on how much longer than that it would take to actually be seen by a PT. Not solely for this reason, but in part, I elected to continue to pay privately to see the PT in my neighborhood and not even bother with the insurance. I would see her 5 times before I'd even get a referral through my insurance. That's a broken system.*

My PT saw me for the first time in late August. She later admitted she did not know then what my problem was. There was a lot going on. And, I was really, really weak. She had me sit on the edge of a table and raise my left knee. She pushed down on it and told me to resist. I couldn't. She had me do a series of fairly simple exercises. I couldn't. There was pain and swelling. She gave me exercises to do twice a day everyday. I thought I was making great progress! Only later did she tell me how pathetic those first few visits were.

Complicating all this, I had knee surgery when I was 14, which left me without feeling on the left side of my left knee. There was some concern that because I lacked the nerve endings on the side of my knee, my body and brain had no way of communicating about repair. Just...awesome. And if I'm being super honest, I was terrified that whatever happened when I was 14 happened again, and what if it was something that can't happen twice without ending your running life? I worried about this. A lot.

Weeks of PT focused on my quads, calves, hamstrings, hip abductor and adductor, glutes, lower back, and IT.

In mid-September I tried to run 1.5 miles. It was....weird. Probably it had happened before and I hadn't noticed, but I could feel the tendons rolling all over my left leg. That's right. Tendons rolling. In my leg. While I ran. My IT band was too loose. I didn't know that was possible. Literally never heard of it. This is why foaming rolling did nothing.

My PT told me I could build up, half a mile at a time, after each distance had gone well at least twice. Over time and attempts, I felt the tendons rolling less often. Be early December they had stopped rolling all together. Rebuilding went mostly smoothly. Mostly. One day while attempting 3.5 miles, something in my knee felt like it shifted right, and I was done. It hurt, badly, for several days. Other times I have inconsistent aches and pains, but those worry me less.

By mid-October I was joining friends for short runs again. Candice was really great about it the first time I tried to go and just couldn't. I was so disappointed. But I kept trying, and we got there. 

With Dena and Candice in October

Most disgustingly, through some back and forth between my PT and massage therapist, I learned that at some point, my left quad realized things were going badly. The response? It threw down an extra attachment point. You know, the attachment points at my hip and knee just weren't doing it, so now I got an extra one--three, actually, close together--mid-thigh. Not only is getting these bumps to release difficult, but my muscle between them had atrophied. Just f**g great.

By the time I learned that tasty tidbit, I had a lot of questions. Was my hip ever out of joint? How much work will it take to get my mid-thigh anchor point to release? Have I torn my meniscus in the process? Time will tell. Will I run a full marathon again? I don't know, but I sure hope so.

While recovering, I have joined a gym. It's taken a while, but I am finally getting into something of a routine for strength training. I'm not good at it and I don't enjoy it (there I go sugarcoating), but I need to do it. I've also spectated some races, because if I can't run them, why not cheer?

Cheering on Candice at Autumn Leaves.
As of today, I have built back up to 6 mile long runs and I ran a fast 4.5 earlier this week without pain during or after. I am clearly on my way. I have zero swelling post-run. My knee has not buckled in months. Tendons have stopped rolling around. The extra anchor point is, at least, much smaller, although I'm not sure it's totally gone. I'll take it. This is HUGE progress.

Love these girls. They have been nothing but patient and encouraging as I've slowly rebuilt.
Lessons Learned
Lesson #1. Guys, for the love of all things, cross-train. You know those Runners World videos you see and think "oh that seems great!" and then don't do? Do them. Think, "hey, I've been running for years without cross-training much and it's been fine. Why bother?" Wrong. Do it. Think once a week yoga is enough? It isn't. Really really. Work on strength.

Lesson #2. I used to think Physical Therapists weren't very helpful. Why? After having my first kid I had some lower back pain. I went to a PT who handed me a single Xeroxed page of exercises I could easily have guessed from the Internet. Not. Helpful. This time around, I was lucky to find a great PT who really worked with me to ID the problem and build a plan to fix it. I am eternally grateful to her.

Lesson #3. If you can find a massage therapist and PT who work well together, keep them. This turned out to be helpful. If not, ask your massage therapist for language to give the PT about what they believe is going on, and vice versa.

Lesson #4. Last, but definitely not least, if your squad is willing to encourage you and work with you to rebuild, keep them. They are freaking gold. I really don't know what I would do without my running crew here, from the ones I see every week to those I see once every few months. Nothing but supportive.

I'm not sure what my running goals are for 2019 yet, except to continue to rebuild from this awful setback. I'm signed up for a few races, but am still holding back to see if I think I can really train for something big. I can honestly say right now I'm thankful to be running at all. It makes my heart so happy, and I appreciate it all the more after not knowing what would happen. 

Sunday, July 1, 2018

June Recap: I What?!?

I have zero clues how it's July already, but alas. Summer, slow down! (said every academic ever). Welcome to the June recap.

Yeah, guys, June was not like any month in recent history. Even the summary stats show that:
Total miles: 50. Fifty. I don't want to talk about it, but we're going to.

Yoga classes: 3. Still with the hour-long format and loving it.

In early June I continued to experience pain around my left hip. I had visited my sports massage lady in late May, and she'd referred me to a "holistic PT" near here, swearing he was some kind of miracle worker. I scheduled an appointment for June 13.

The appointment took about half an hour. Since he doesn't take insurance this turned out to be a very expensive half hour in which I learned that my pelvis has been out of joint for almost a year. My what? Did what?! The PT took a little too much interest in listing the ways this might have happened and the ways I might avoid it. Some were exactly what you're thinking. One was "did you have big babies?" To which I replied "Yes, but the youngest is six. I've run 5000 miles or so since then. He didn't do this." And I called him an evil son of a bitch when he told me not to run for 2 weeks.

Sidebar--I cannot take seriously anyone who sells a book they wrote about the power of your primal instinct against pain. If writing such a book doesn't already appear in the ways to ruin a date with an academic, it should. So it's possible I didn't entirely believe the running embargo was necessary.

He also told me to avoid anything like lunging or walking on uneven surfaces. I responded by promptly going hiking with my friend Tina.

And then rock climbing in West Virginia for 3 days, which was mind-bendingly amazing, followed by hiking up Spruce Knob. The WV trip was among the best weeks of my life. Absolute magic.

From the summit of the south peak of Seneca Rocks--the highest technical peak in the eastern US

My son at the summit of Spruce Knob, the highest mountain in the state
So, I didn't exactly follow the PT's orders, but I also wasn't about to change up my trip, and I'm not sure how much I believed him. Since this happened I've learned that it's fairly common for runners AND yogis to pop out of joint. I've now heard one story of a runner getting adjusted in the middle of an ultra trail race, and another of being casually put back in joint on a massage table at a race finish line.

I tell you this to say two things:
  1. If you hurt and foam rolling doesn't help and massage provides only temporary relief, go see a PT sooner rather than later. I wish I'd seen one six months ago.  Truthfully, a foam roller and/or massage therapist had never failed me. Ever. Until now.
  2. It's way more common than you might think. Or at least, way more common than I thought.
In happier running news though, a bunch.

The Big Run in early June
Then, Rachel and I kept our June streak alive. Before the running embargo, my Dad and I planned a very last minute trip to St. Louis for the opera festival. Happily, this was just before Rachel's marathon (WHERE SHE BQ'ED LIKE A BOSS) and I got a few miles in with her. While opera isn't really my jam, the trip was delightful. I got to see dear friends, eat good food, make some memories with my Dad, and soak in a city I so love.
In St. Louis
Soon after, my friend Katie had her baby. We found her walking at the end of our long run today (July 1), and I got to meet the baby. More on that next month, but can I just say how impressed I am that Katie is up and walking two miles already?! Total badass. 

Then just a few days ago, I ran my third ever trail race, which was a mud bath of epic proportions, and a lot of fun. I signed up for a 3-race series with these beauties and a few other mommas who missed the picture. There are after pictures somewhere, but I prefer to just tell you I had to throw my shoes in the washer.
Me, Becky, Candice, and Laurie at the Full Moon Trail Race 3-Miler
Here at the start of July, I still can't run long miles, but when the pain comes, it comes on distinctly differently than before. I'm hoping this means I'm still in joint and my muscles are just adjusting. I'll be going to a less quacky PT in the coming weeks, keeping my fingers crossed, and really working on beefing up my primal instincts. Stay tuned.