Joe predicted a couple of weeks back that soon I would be running along and wouldn't be able to remember which leg had been injured. I'm almost there. My runs are all pain free, but I do feel a little tightness once in a while on the inside of my achilles following a hilly or harder workout. This is easily remedied with a short stretching of the calf, and I don't feel a thing in my calf following the run. What I have felt is soreness in my quads after harder workouts. I know this pain as the type I get after a short race. My legs are just getting used to that pounding again, but they are happy to be doing it. It's a good kind of pain.
One of the perks of being an ecologist working for The Nature Conservancy is that you get to see big chunks of land that have amazing habitat, like the one pictured above, protected. And, sometimes, when you're lucky, you get invited to camp out on them and run. The picture above is the GPS track from a run I did on April 10th on a privately-owned ranch in Merced, CA. We camped out there with a bunch of geeky scientists and had a great time. The run was along a ranch road and was gorgeous. If you look closely at the aerial photo, you'll see a network of what look like tiny pockmarks on the land. Those little divots are actually seasonal wetlands called vernal pools that fill with water in the winter and dry out in the summer. I have spent the better part of 15 years studying the incredible little plants and critters that inhabit them.
Back to running. Here's what I've done the last couple of weeks:
My workout last Saturday was a true test of my progress in healing, and to a lesser extent, my running fitness. I ran a loop around beautiful Lake Natoma in Folsom and realized, just a mile or so after starting this run, that I was taking a big leap by doing this. I was committed to running the entire 11.5 mile loop, the longest I'd run since being injured, and there was no turning back. I was doing a lot of new things with this workout: running on hilly terrain, running longer, faster intervals and a faster overall pace. If my leg held up through this, I knew I was golden. And, it did. I had a great run, easily managing 5:35 pace for my 1-minute intervals, running up hills with reckless abandon and clocking an overall 7:07 pace for the run. I iced my calf after the run, and had no soreness in the days following the run.
I felt so good on that run, after 5 days straight of running, I proposed a slightly faster increase in my mileage over the next few weeks than my coach had planned. She was thrilled that I was feeling so great and said she had been conservative with my mileage because it's risky to increase both intensity and volume of training simultaneously. But, I think she trusts that I know my limits now and will back off if needed. She told me to go for it.
I have had a great week of training so far with the return of The Rock Circuit on Tuesday and a great 8 mile run yesterday. Last night, my run was to include 30 minutes at 6:45-7:00 pace and I was supposed to monitor my heart rate and report back to my coach. Two miles into the run I started the pace work and couldn't quite keep the horses under control. They dialed right in to 6:20-6:25 pace and wanted to stay there. So, I thought it wouldn't hurt me to run a mile at that pace and record my HR. My HR got up to the low 170s for that first mile, but averaged 162. This was nice to see since the last time I monitored my HR at around that pace (6:15 and right before Twin Cities) it was in the 160s as well.
I tried throughout the run to slow down to the prescribed pace, and I eventually locked into a 6:30-6:35 pace that felt so natural and easy that I just went with the flow. I averaged 6:30 for the 30 minutes and my HR averaged in the mid-160s, which is about 85% MAX. This was a reassuring run for me and confirmed that I haven't lost a lot of fitness over the last couple of months of cross training. My leg felt a little tight after the harder miles, but my magic calf stretch resolved that immediately.
This week, I plan to run 7 days and get my mileage up to 57 miles per week. This is a goal that I don't mind dumping if I start to feel any "bad" pain in my calf or achilles. I plan to keep my mileage around the 60-mile mark for another few weeks and continue to cross train a second workout on a couple of days to keep my volume of training around 10-11 hours total. By mid-June, I should be rocking and rolling into higher mileage territory and on my merry way training for the Chicago Marathon in October. After all is said and done, I do believe I will be a smarter, faster and stronger runner as a result of this injury.
MONEY MONEY MONEY MONEY…MONEY!
I finally received my prize money from the Belgrade Marathon last week. Thursday, I received an e-mail from the organizers asking for my bank account information. I sent it to them expecting that I would either find an empty bank account the next day or have a balance increased by 2000 Euros (minus 18% Serbian tax). I woke up the next morning to neither scenario. Overnight, the Marathon had wired two transactions of 1650 Euros each to my account! The transactions showed up as pending, so I assumed they would figure out the error and correct it themselves. They didn't. So, being the honest person that I am, I sent them a message this week explaining what had happened and asking how they wanted to resolve it. I haven't heard back from them. I was just happy to have actually gotten paid. It just goes to show you that persistence literally pays off!
I went in for some routine blood work this last week and was forced to face my vitamin-taking laziness head on. I have had problems with low ferritin levels (the first stage of iron deficiency) and have been taking liquid iron since I discovered this. I hate taking the blasted stuff and started slacking off more and more over the last few months. In December, I received a message from my coach introducing me to the subject of Vitamin D deficiency and how it affects performance. After receiving that message, I just decided to start taking vitamin D supplements (4000 IU/day), but my vitamin D supplementation waned along with my iron intake. It was no surprise when my test results documented my lowest ferritin level in 2 1/2 years (25 ng/ml) and low vitamin D levels (45 ng/ml; the goal is to be above 50 with an ideal of 70). While the ferritin is probably not low enough to impact my performance (<20) it's dangerously close. Low vitamin D levels affect your immune system and recovery, so I wonder what impact it had on both my becoming injured as well as the subsequent healing process. Needless to say, I'm back on my meds with hopes of getting a better report card in 6 months.
While I may not quite be at the point in my recovery where I forget that I was injured, I am well on my way to running long and fast again. That makes me very happy.