Wednesday, December 14, 2011

December hates me

One year ago today, I was wallowing in self-pity, sporting a boot and wondering when I'd be able to run again. Today, I find myself in a similar situation. A little less self-pity and no boot. Oddly enough, this latest injury didn't manifest itself while I was running. I felt the first twinges of it when I was standing at a bar in the Flatiron district, drinking a Guinness with my buddies Brian and Camissa. Out of nowhere, there was a dull pain in my left heel. I walked home that night thinking maybe it was simply time for a new pair of loafers.

The next day, I woke up with the same pain. Since I am not training for any races and just running leisurely, I was not yet to the point of freaking out when I set out for an easy 8-9 miles in the park before work. The pain went away after about one mile. "Ok, this is nothing," I said to myself. The following day, the heel pain was again present in the morning. Again, it went away during my run, but this time was replaced by pain in my right hip and glute. I finished the run, then using the powers of deduction and Google, diagnosed myself with plantar fascitis. The hip and glute pain was obviously a result of compensation.

I traded the run for the stationary bike on Sunday, hoping to nip this in the bud. It was no big deal since as I said, this is supposed to be my down time, and I had some episodes of "This American Life" to catch up on anyways. When I met with my coach Jerry the following day, he told me to go see a sports chiropractor immediately. Within two hours, the folks at Duke Sports Clinic were doing Graston, active release, stim and ultrasound on my foot. They did an hour-and-a-half of work and assured me I could run through this with the proper treatment.

My excitement over that news turned into skepticism when Tuesday's run brought on the same pains. Tonight's run was a repeat. In fact, just more than five miles in, I feared my gait was changing and I stopped and walked the mile back from the park to the gym. I don't think I should run through this. On that walk, I decided I am not going to run for the next three to four days. Bike and water-running will have to do. Hopefully this injury is fresh enough to be fixed with a few days of rest and careful treatment.

I am being aggressive and diligent. I spent the entire day at work today with either a frozen water bottle or a golf ball (for massaging) under my foot. It should be noted that this is by far, the most use I have ever gotten out of a golf ball. However, while I think my foot is where the pain is reaching the surface, I am under the belief that the real problem is in my calf. There is a trigger point in the soleus muscle that has a direct connection to the plantar. For the past three nights, I have massaged it with the Tiger Tail, the foam roller and a lacrosse ball to the point of tears. I am sleeping with a Strassburg sock (actually, I go to bed with it and then in an annoyed state of semi-consciousness, I tear it off about halfway through the night).

I have to wonder if there is a bigger problem here. Three injuries in two years and all on my left side. I know it's my weaker side, but is it the imbalance that is leading to problems this drastic?

Fortunately, there are 18 weeks until Boston. This injury forces me to do what doesn't come naturally, and rest for the remainder of December. This year, the holidays are once again, about healing.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Finish Line of 2011

When 2011 began, I was in a boot. I was no where close to running. A stress fracture in my ankle followed by a badly strained muscle in my back lead me to believe that athletically, 2011 was already a bust. Now, hours after my final race of the year, I am so glad I tried anyways.

When things are going well, it's hard to pull the plug. In fact, up until I started typing the opening sentences of this blog entry, I was looking for one last 5K to do next weekend so I can capture the one PR I couldn't grab this year. But, despite living in the largest metropolitan area in the United States, the only 5K I found had a statement on its website that said "runners welcome, but this event is more for the walking crowd." I can take a hint. The past month has been one of the most fulfilling, personally successful and most importantly, fun periods of my life as a runner. But, as someone who wants to have experiences like that over and over again for years to come, I know now is the time to give my body a rest. In the past week or so, there's been just a slight nagging pain here and there, and just a slight decrease in motivation. Those are subtle messages to slow down before you go too far.

In 2011, I set new PRs in the 15K, the 10K and the 5 mile. I won my hometown Turkey Trot, placed 3rd overall in the NYRR Cross Country Championships and ran one of the most rewarding 5K races I'll probably ever run. Since my first run back, a two mile hobble, on March 1st, I've logged 2,612.7 miles on my feet. It's about 900 fewer miles than I ran in all of 201o, but I also ran two marathons in 2010, trained consistently at 80-100 miles a week and oh yeah, started running in January. By choice, I did not run a marathon in 2011. Four between 2009 and 2010 satisfied the craving for a year and allowed me to focus on some shorter stuff. After not logging one run over 19 miles this year, rest assured, the craving has returned.

Of course, it wasn't all successful. My one stab at the half-marathon this year was a disaster. There's no use revisiting that. And despite knowing I have the ability to dip below 16 minutes in the 5K, I never backed it up with an actual race, so that dream goes on being just that.

But, many of the key reasons I consider this year such an overwhelming success don't have anything to do with statistics. From the second I started running when I was in high school it has been about proving something to myself. I ran to the drug store and back just to see if I could do it. I got terrible shin splints, but kept of going. I wasn't on a sports team of any kind, but I had something to prove and I proved it.

Stress fractures and back problems ended up being the least of my challenges in 2011. The real challenge would be to my ability to manage running, a hobby and real, serious, consequence-filled life. Who knew when the year started as a bachelor at a mid-market TV station in Charlotte, North Carolina with a running community 400 strong that it would end as a married man at the number one television station in the United States in Manhattan with a running community of one? With my priorities firmly in order -- family, work, running -- I pledged that not only would I continue running competitively, I would do it better and I would do it alone while giving nothing less than perfection to the two priorities that stood in front of it. I had something to prove and I proved it.

But that doesn't mean I'm done. I'm going to take the holidays to spend some quality time with my wife, who never once complained that I was skipping church for a long run, or dragging her out of bed early to go to a race. Quite the opposite actually. In a sea of strangers at the start and finish lines, she has been the beaming familiar face screaming words of encouragement. I'll run, probably close to every day, but no workouts, no doubles and no forcing myself out of bed if I am tired. And in as soon as you know it, it will be time to start back up again. I plan to work hard to be a contributing member of the Urban Athletics race team. I want to break 16 in the 5K. I want to be involved in the New York City running scene. I want to shatter my marathon PR in Boston. I have something to prove...