Friday, March 15, 2013

Boston training is really hard. Here's how you make it harder.

I started my last blog my comparing injuries to alligators in a pit, saying they were getting dangerously close to me on the tight rope above.  So, what happened next should come as no surprise.  The way I see it, I made it ¾ of the way across the tightrope before one of those alligators nipped my hamstring right near my butt.  It’s a potential show-stopper as far as injuries go.  I’ve already called off this weekend’s New York City Half, but I am determined to not let this ruin my Boston plans.

Like most runners, when something hurts, I Google it.  Then, I diagnose it.  I usually choose the worst possible affliction (fracture, tear, Ebola virus…) and am pleasantly surprised when someone with a medical background tells me I am wrong.  My hamstring started to hurt the evening after a particularly slippery 11 mile run in the snow. I knew on the run that continuing in the conditions was a bad idea, but my Upstate New York snow snobbery kept me going.   I survived an intense workout the next day, a 23 mile long run the day after that and two easy runs all with minimal pain.  But a fartlek run on Wednesday afternoon threw up some red flags.  The pain intensified during the intervals and as I cooled down, I could tell my gait was severely flawed, not fluid and potentially setting me up for other injuries.  Commence Googling and based on the evidence, I had with one run, developed hamstring tendonitis.
Stretching my hamstring during a "weekend" get away with Lauren in Beacon, NY

Two days later, an orthopedist said something to me that no doctor has ever said to me before: “Your diagnosis is correct.”  Under his advice, and the advice of a physical therapist, I am taking three days off to cross train and that means no New York City Half Marathon.  Taking the race off my schedule was a particularly painful, albeit necessary (not to mention costly) decision. I’ve sort of held that race on a pedestal since running it last year, using my 1:11:19 finishing time as proof that I can hang in the almost-front of the pack.  I was looking forward to doing it again, but it is not the goal race, and running it all-out this close to the hamstring injury could be catastrophic and season-ending.  Three people, all with more medical training than my search-engine savvy self told me in no uncertain terms should I attempt to race this weekend.  I was dumb enough to run in the snow.  I am not so dumb that I’ll ignore their advice.

Right now, I’m logging long sessions on the elliptical;  90 minutes in the morning, 30 in the afternoon.  Thank God for all the episodes of “Dowton Abbey” I have to catch up on.  I’m doing corrective exercises 2-3 times a day, sitting on a lacrosse or golf ball at work and icing when I can.  I’m also, against my usual practice, taking NSAIDs to control the inflammation. I usually let nature heal, but the bad news is, that this injury is probably not going correct itself in the four weeks between now and Boston; not without me totally shutting it down which would, of course, mean no Boston.  So I have to manage it.  Speed work will be a challenge as will hills.  The good news is, with aggressive treatment, I can likely run through it after this brief lay-off.  The key is focusing on form and not letting this injury alter my stride.  If I can lay down a solid week of running next week, I’ll attempt a marathon-pace run at the NYC 13.1 in Queens next weekend, perhaps try to hammer out a few more interval sessions, and then taper for the race.  My fingers are crossed.  The already tough road to Hopkinton just got a little bumpier, but not impossible to overcome.  

Sunday, March 10, 2013

The toughest week of the Boston over.

I'm always telling people that marathon training is like walking a tightrope over a pit of salivating injuries. If, of course, injuries could salivate.  The injuries that have taken up residence  in my pit are not only salivating, they look straight-up rabid and they are jumping up and nipping at my heels, or more accurately, my hamstring and my foot.

I just survived what will be the toughest stretch of my Boston cycle.  From Sunday to Sunday, I ran 113 miles (95 for the Monday-Sunday week), one race, two stress workouts and one long run of 23 miles.  I didn't keep track of the number of ice sessions, Epsom salt baths and foam roller rolls I crammed into that time.  Nor did I keep track of the calories I consumed, but I can say that we might have to start selling our stuff to pay our grocery bills.

It all started last Sunday at the Coogans Salsa, Blues and Shamrocks 5K in Washington Heights.  This is one of my favorite races of the year, but it couldn't come at a more inopportune time.  There really is no room for such a short, fast effort this late in the marathon cycle, but since it's a points race, I feel obligated to put it all on the line.  That means, I back off the throttle for the week leading up to the race and hope I remember how to go fast after weeks of aerobic threshold and marathon paced runs. Not knowing what to expect, I stepped to the line on what was a bitter cold and windy morning.  Still a bit groggy from working late the night before, I found all my teammates when the gun went off and formed a pack of yellow Urban Athletic singlets.  It was immediately apparent that the cold air would make breathing more labored than usual when running just a tick above five minute pace.  In a repeat of last year's race, it was Josh Lerch and me side-by-side as we moved into Fort Tryon.  It would stay that way until the end of the race, me leading the uphills (of which there are many), Josh leading the downhills (an equal amount).  We ended up finishing a second apart just  under 16 minutes.  Josh in 15:58, me in 15:59, second and third scorers on the team respectively.  Urban Athletics took third behind the Ethiopian team of West Side Runners and the New York Athletic Club.
Josh and I coming down the stretch on the Coogans course. Yep, I heel strike when I get tired.

Despite running seven seconds slower than last year, I was pleased with the effort given the conditions and my complete lack of speed training.  Last year at this same point in my marathon cycle, I had several short interval workouts under my belt.

Following a massive brunch at a teammate's nearby apartment, Chris Carrier who had run 15:51, joined me for a backpack clad run back to Columbus Circle. Even with the extra load on our backs and in our stomachs, we were clicking off seven minute miles by the end.
I did my 1000s in the new Adidas Takumi Sen which are surprisingly responsive and lightning fast

A much needed recovery day consisting of 12 easy miles Monday set up another hard effort Tuesday.  The plan called for 6x1000 at roughly 5K pace.  Since Tuesday is a day off from work for me, I delayed this workout until 4:30pm when I met my friend Gerson in the park.  He showed me a 1K loop around some baseball fields that would be a much better place to churn these out than the track.  My legs were a little heavy, but the solo workout was a success, hitting each interval between 3:03 and 3:05.

I did a longer (15 miles) recovery run on the Alter G Wednesday, eight easy miles with Heidi at 4:30am on Thursday and planned to do my next workout Friday.  I still thought there was a possibility I could complete the workout when I walked outside into the driving, stinging sleet and snow, but less than a quarter of a mile down the West Side Highway and it was pretty obvious that the conditions were not conducive to 3x2 miles.  And here is where I made a rookie mistake.  Instead of taking the run inside to the treadmill, I pressed on running a total of 11 miles in flats on uneven snow.  Not surprisingly, I've been dealing with a nagging hamstring pain ever since.
Urban Athletics awarded 3rd place at the NYRR Club Night Awards , which meant  I had to get up really early to get a run in that day.

Saturday morning, I did 3X2 miles on the West Side Highway which in a period of 24 hours had gone from snow-covered to bone dry.  A nasty wind coming from the south made the first two-mile interval brutal.  After clocking a 5:30 first mile, I lost my focus and struggled to a 5:45 second mile which felt more like five flat.  I thought about bagging it, but my luck changed on the second set of miles.  5:15 and 5:17 gave me a 10:32.  Then 5:19 and 5:21 gave me a 10:40.  My hamstring was pretty tender on the cool down  but I was happy with a workout that was 2/3 successful.  But, by the end of the day I had forgotten about the workout and was only concerned about the pain which got increasingly worse while I was at work.  I spent the entire shift sitting on a frozen water bottle or a lacrosse ball in hopes of massaging out whatever mess I made.  I couldn't afford to miss the next day's 23 miler.

When I got home, I rolled the hell out of my leg, then slathered icy hot on the sore muscle before crawling into bed.  Five hours later (damn you, Daylight Saving), I woke up still sore, but ready to give the long run a whirl.  The first couple of miles to the park were not pleasant, nor was the first 6.2 mile lap.  At one point, I told the guys who had joined me that this run was over once I got back to Columbus Circle. However, by the time that came, the pain had subsided substantially.  "Ok, I'll do one more lap," I thought.  The next time around, I had committed to the full 23, thus completing my 95 mile week.

I'm forcing myself to take a previously unscheduled day off tomorrow and maybe seek some physical therapy relief for the hamstring. The New York City Half Marathon is next weekend, but with Boston just five weeks away, it's time to get conservative.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Stalling on a Workout, so here's a shoe review

When I woke up this morning, my Saturday, I told myself I would eat breakfast, read the paper and then make my way to the track to bang out 1,000 meter repeats.  It's 2:30pm now.  Breakfast is digested and so is lunch. The coffee pot is empty and I've read every paper in Billy Joel's song and then some.  I've now mentally committed to a 4pm departure.  It's the most beautiful day in a string of cold winter downers, but my motivation tank is empty.

As I kill time, I'll write about shoes.  Late last week, I picked up a pair of the Adidas Boost which is the company's new shoe.  It promises to revolutionize distance running footwear and perhaps distance running itself.  Some have claimed that the first runner to break the 2 hour marathon will do it wearing a shoe with the Boost technology.

My curiosity, and yes my excitement started growing when I saw the first ad for the shoe some months ago.  I'm already an Adidas junky, thanks mostly to its sponsorship of the Urban Athletics racing team, but also because about two years ago after a string of injuries and missteps, I discovered that I find my stride in their shoes.  My current shoe rotation boasts 10 pair of Adidas which now includes a pair of all black Boost.

So, what makes the Boost so special?  It's cushioning material is different from that found in any other running shoe currently on the market.  Adidas teamed up with chemical giant BASF to create a granular material which was transformed into thousands of small energy capsules to make up the Boost's midsole.  According to Adidas, the capsules store and unleash energy more efficiently with each stride and provide the highest energy return of any leading shoe.  In short, it is super soft ride.  On top of that, it is said to be incredibly durable.  I've heard some say you can put up to 1,000 miles on the shoe.  By comparison, I usually retire a shoe after 350 miles.

The local Adidas representative was nice enough to give me a pair of the $150 shoes so I could share my thoughts.  I've made sure I got three solid runs in before forming an opinion and now I am ready to declare the Boost a solid recovery shoe.  You can't beat the cushioning.  I have been battling tendinitis in my left foot for the better part of a month now.  The pain is generally present enough to be annoying but not debilitating.  In the Boost, it's virtually non-existent.  However, there is a trade-off.  After the first run in the shoes, my knees were a little achy, likely due to the transfer of impact.  I'm not a biomechanics specialist, so I could be way off on this, but other runners described the same feeling.  Fortunately, once I got used to the shoes that post-run soreness disappeared.  I ran 9 miles at a fairly brisk pace yesterday and have no sore knees or otherwise to report.

I call them a solid recovery shoe because I don't think this particular model would be responsive enough for speed work.  If you are looking for a quick turnover, stick with the Adios or even the Bostons (my two personal favorite shoes).  It's less shoe.  This could, however, change when the Boost Adios become available to the general public in July.  The long distance flats are already making waves on the professional international marathon circuit.   They were on the feet of the first and second place finisher at the Tokyo Marathon. 

If you are someone who likes to have a shoe for every type of run, I would recommend having the Boost in your rotation.  Sunday, I ran a 5k (recap to come tonight or tomorrow) in the Adios and followed it up with a 12 mile run in the Bostons.  Monday morning, it was good to have something as forgiving as the Boost to put on for my recovery miles. I'm interested to see how long they last.  It's not the midsole I am worried about, but the rubber on the heel and the tech fit upper which is really comfortable and stretchy, but I question it's durability.  I have a habit of poking holes in the top and sides of shoes. But, I think the new technology has a lot of potential and will end up playing a big role in the advancement of the industry as Adidas adds it to more of its models.  Get on board early and see what it is all about.