Friday, April 23, 2010

Where I left off

I am happy to report that I am back to regular running again.  Blog buddy 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:

The week of April 12th, I ran a total of  41.6 miles and exercised (not including strength training and core) a total of 10 hours.  I received my new training plan last week, which excited me to no end.  My coach prescribed mileage in the low 40s for the next few weeks run over 6 days with one day of rest or cross training.  She also gradually added in some speed work for those first few weeks. After 4 weeks, if my leg was completely healed, I would start into hill work again.

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.


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.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The 7-week itch

It is somewhat hard for me to believe that it has been 7 weeks since I was taken out of action by this calf/achilles injury.  I am happy to report that I have been making steady progress with my rehabilitation and have returned to regular, pain-free running.  Up until last week, I had been testing my leg by running consecutive days.  While I was keeping these runs short, by the third day of running, I was generally pretty sore and had to rest from running for a couple of days.  I finally started running slightly longer, every other day and found this to be sustainable.  Last week for instance, I got in two, 8-mile runs including strides and two, 6-mile runs.  With each day of running, my leg felt better and better.  This week, I'm working on running nearly every day in a long, short pattern for a total of 40 miles.  That is a big week.

My fitness world has been transformed from a fixation on running mileage to focus on how many total hours I work out (not including strength training and yoga) during the week.  However, I do like to convert that back to the equivalent amount of mileage I'd be running for that amount of time, since, I am after all a running geek at heart.  For instance, a 10-hour week would roughly equate to an 80-mile running week assuming an 8 mph average pace (a little on the slow side).

As I'm returning to running, I realize that all of the cross training has paid off.  I generally feel pretty fit, though I haven't started doing hard workouts yet.  Still, striding along at 5:30 pace feels good and doesn't require a ton of effort.  I've even thrown in a couple of 800m intervals at marathon pace (6:10) and those didn't feel too bad either.  Believe it or not, I think I'll miss some of the cross training activities, except the ellipti-devil, when I get back to higher running mileage. These past few weeks of biking and pool running have been fun.

Last week, I rediscovered a great yoga workout video featuring Rodney Yee called Yoga Conditioning for Athletes.  My coach had recommended it to me a couple of years ago, and I used it a lot for a while.  As with most other non-running activities, my yoga practice fell by the wayside after a few months.  I relied mostly on the TP massageball kit to work the kinks out of my legs thereafter.

I didn't realize how tight I had allowed myself to become until I did the video the other day and had trouble doing poses that I had easily mastered the last time I tried it.  While I've read conflicting reports on the importance of flexibility for runners, I know that I am tighter than I have ever been in my life and I have to assume that's not a good thing.  I don't suspect I will be a good yogi for long, but I want to believe I'll find the time to do this yoga routine now and then to keep a little Gumby in my body.

I'm still not out of the woods, but I am making good progress at this point.  This week will be a good test of my readiness to return to running workouts.  I hope to run 6 days this week for a total of 40 miles.  I will try an 11-mile 'long' run including some short intervals around a moderately hilly lake this weekend.  If all goes well, I will be trying on some harder running workouts next week and will hopefully start up my speed-demon training in preparation for a couple of short, focus races.  I can't wait to get out there and start tearing it up again!

P.S. Sprinkles I promised I wouldn't mention DiaB.  Proud of me?