Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Happy New Year!

Here we are again, the end of the year. The past 12 months have both flown by and crept along. As I have written in the past, I am not a huge fan of New Year’s resolutions. I do, however, think this time of year is perfect for reflecting on the positives, learning from mistakes and using the lessons as an opportunity for growth. While I do not plan on making specific resolutions, I have come up with a very seemingly simplistic goal that I am sure will be maddeningly difficult to achieve.

My goal stems from a daily observation of Diesel the Dog. He wakes up every morning in a glowingly happy mood; he is unequivocally excited to start the day. He jumps on our bed with a brilliant smile, tail wagging, and licks our faces until we get up. He bounds down the stairs, goes out to do his business, and eats his breakfast with a gusto usually associated with a special meal not the same old kibble (seriously, he does the happy dance for every single meal). He approaches the day with such cheerfulness and wonder and possibility: Will I play Frisbee or chase a ball or run? Will I get some table scraps or a snack? Will I get to bark at the passersby? Will I nap for 18 hours? Will I get scratched behind the ears?

In stark contrast, I wake up without much thought.  Some days I am happy, some days sad, some days sore, and some days wondering what the heck that crazy dream meant.  I get out of bed and mindlessly go through the morning routine, looking forward to my first cup of coffee to jump start my brain. 

What if I make an effort to wake up eager and ready to seize the day? Will my days reflect that enthusiasm?
Now, I am not naïve enough to think that morning jubilee will make each day a special day. I do think, though, if I am positive and happy in the morning, even if the rest of the day goes to shit, at least I had a few moments of glory before it all went wrong and perhaps the more positive outlook will become a self-fulfilling prophesy; feel good things and good things will happen.

Happy New Year.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

5 Tenets of Racing

 Managing a race is like putting together a puzzle; the pieces have to fit together just so for a perfect day. Rarely, if ever, do the pieces coincide in such a manner during a race which always leaves me with a feeling that things can be better next time, that if I can change “x” than I can have that elusive perfect day. The problem is that once I think I have learned it all, a new “x” pops up and throws me for a loop and I am therefore enticed to the start line to fix that problem. You can see how this cycle repeats itself time and again, continuously beckoning me back to the races. Hence, the puzzle is never completed.

I have learned, though, that there are certain givens in racing, the so-called “tenets of racing”. If you learn these, you can at least eliminate some potential problems, which of course, leaves room for any number of new problems that will leave your puzzle forever incomplete.

1.    What feels easy at the start feels hard at the end

Having just run a marathon, this tenet is fresh in my mind. The first few miles of the race I was amiably chatting and joking with the competitors around me. By mile 20, I was solemn, not noticing or caring about those in my vicinity. The pace in the first 20 miles felt like jogging, but by the end it was arduous and instead of holding steady my pace was bouncing around like a ping pong ball. Proper pacing is essential; do not be deceived by the relative ease at the beginning, which brings me to point 2.

2.    Don’t go out too hard
The feeling of comfort at the start of a race lures people into a false sense of what they can achieve. An athlete I coach recently competed in an Ironman. He went through the first half of the bike 10 minutes faster than any half Ironman he had done. The result? A DNF. I asked him why he went so fast in the beginning and he replied that it felt really good. Going out too hard is not necessarily a subjective measure – you cannot rely on how you feel, because you should feel good.  You need to preset a pace, wattage, or heart rate, all of which are objective measures, to dictate how you will execute the early stages of your races. I always tell my athletes before an Ironman, nobody ever finishes an Ironman and says, “I wish I had gone harder on the first loop of the bike.”

3.    Training never lies
When deciding race goals and strategies, look to your training. What wattage did you hold on your long rides? What pace did you run your intervals? Were you consistent in your workouts over a long period of time, or were you hampered by injury or illness? All of these parameters will guide you toward making the right decisions in race execution. Leading into the Twin Cities marathon I had many workouts that indicated I was ready to run a PR. But, I also had many workouts hampered by my rib injury signifying I was ready for a DNF. I ran the race hoping for the best. My training told me I should expect the worst, and so when I was unable to finish the race due to rib pain it was not a shock. Conversely, my training leading up to CIM was much smoother and I did not miss any workouts due to the injury. My race pace and finish time mirrored my training paces.

4.    It is hard to imagine things going wrong when things are going so right
Races often start off spectacularly. The execution is perfect, the weather stunning, the day unfolding according to plan. Then, suddenly, you get a flat tire. Or, your stomach starts to rebel. Or, your bottle with your nutrition falls off your bike. Or, your legs start to cramp. Or, you get dizzy. Or, you go off course. Or, a recurring injury flares up. Or, your body just falls apart. Or, … Any number of things can happen during a race ending a seemingly ideal day . The most you can do is manage the problem if possible or call it a day if your health is at risk (or if your bike is unrideable).

5.    Have fun
This is the single, most important tenet of racing. If it isn’t fun you should find another hobby. Success in sport is difficult and requires time, patience, perseverance, and heart ache. Ultimately, there must be an element of enjoyment to make it all worth it, to balance out the negatives. I distinctly recall, at mile 16 of the marathon two weeks ago, thinking to myself, “Wow, I am really enjoying this race.” The crowd support was motivating, my body was cooperating, the course was suited to me, and I had people to run with. I truly took some time to enjoy the moment.

I realize that these 5 tenets represent a mere fraction of the overall “tenets of racing.” I have many more and I am sure you do as well. But, I cannot spill all my secrets at once, can I?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Fast Tracking Marathon Recovery

I admit it. I am a compression sock junkie.
 I read something this morning that jolted me. The marathon Olympic Trials are in 31 days. That is really soon. When I signed up for California International Marathon, I knew the turnaround time until the trials would be short, but seeing it on paper like that was disconcerting. I have no illusions that I might make the Olympics; unless of course, all the top contenders don't show up. But, I would like to have a race within the bigger race. A race amongst the middle of the packers looking to improve their times, have a respectable day out and be a part of history.

I have no idea, really, how long it takes to recover from a marathon. Every person needs a different amount of recovery from a race, and even within individuals recovery will vary depending on how the race unfolded. Finishing a race in which you cramped badly will garner a longer recovery than a race that went smoothly. My calves seized up at the end of CIM and not surprisingly these are the muscles that have been slowest to bounce back.

So here is how I have handled the last 10 days.

I didn’t run for a week, but I swam, walked, ellipticalled and started back at the gym. This was a more aggressive plan than after the LA marathon in March, but I felt good last week and I kept the intensity low and the duration short. When I finally did run, it felt stale and slow (so slow that Diesel the dog kept imploring me to run faster by going in front and pulling me) but yesterday I actually felt quite peppy despite the cold temperature. The gym workouts are incredibly necessary, as there is still some re-building to do from the rib injury. I am hoping that what I lack in running between these races I can make up for with added strength and further healing from the injury.

Non-training aspects of recovery are also imperative. I have been sleeping and eating a lot. The extra rest has been helpful, although it has been odd sleeping later and not having the accountability of morning workouts. I have embraced this extra sleepy time, especially since it is so cold and dark. In terms of diet, I included two meals of red meat for iron, lots of veggies every day, plenty of V8 juice for electrolytes,  as well some of my favorite sweets – because if you can’t enjoy junk food after a good race, when can you? I also started taking fish oil which is supposed to help with inflammation.

Massage has been an integral part of my recovery for my entire triathlon career, so I am used to massage discomfort. Nothing prepared me for my first post-CIM massage. I felt like I was being attacked, my muscles were so tight and swollen they did not welcome sharp elbows and strong hands trying to calm them down. The massage, coupled with dry needling, ultrasound and stretching, eventually allowed my aching muscles to relax and within the week the hobbling slowly morphed into regular walking. Compression socks have become a regular wardrobe accessory. They go great with jeans and fit nicely under boots. I know that ice baths come highly recommended, but it is winter and I am already cold without stepping into a mound of ice.

I still have no idea how the next few weeks will unfold. All I can do is listen to my body (and my coach) and hope for the best.

Monday, December 5, 2011

CIM - Olympic Trials Qualifying

The day before the California International Marathon I was confronted with two very tough decisions, both involved water bottles.

Many marathons offer the elite runners tables at the aid stations to place special fluids. This is an incredible perk, one I did not have available at the LA marathon in March (I actually used a fluid belt and carried a bottle with me). The athletes go to all kinds of trouble to decorate their bottles in an effort to make them stand out. When I got to the hospitality suite with my strikingly unadorned bottles, I realized I would need to remedy the situation.

This was my first dilemma. What could I use that was available in the room to beautify my water bottles so I could easily detect them on the fly? I got creative and used some pink and silver packing tape and ripped up some note paper to make my name and number visible.

I was quite proud of my artistry, but it seriously paled in comparison to the bling that some of the other athletes placed on their bottles.

This particular bottle, though, wins the contest for best dressed.

The second quandary was choosing which 5 aid stations to place my special needs bottles out of the 17 total aid stations on the course. This may seem like a trivial issue, but I assure you this is a very strategic problem. Should I evenly space the bottles? Should I front load the bottles? What happens if I miss a bottle? In the end I chose to place them at miles 5, 10.3 15.5, 19.3 and 22. I successfully retrieved the first 4 bottles and somehow missed my last one. Luckily I had an extra and Power Gel and SaltStick tablets to keep me going.


Tell someone you are running the California International Marathon and they will reply “Wow, that is a really fast course.” What a ridiculous comment. The course is only as fast as the runner who runs it; it is like saying a high tech bike is fast, which it isn’t if the rider can only manage 10 mph. Anyway. Here is the course profile.

The eye immediately notices the marked downhill nature of the course. What the eye does not immediately notice is all of the bumps that comprise this net downhill. Take a closer look. The starting elevation is 366 feet and the finish line is at 26 feet. Yes, that is a quite a large drop. But. It really isn’t. You see, if the course dropped from, say, 10,000 feet to 2,000 feet, then it would be almost entirely downhill. This course is made up of lots and lots and lots and lots of rollers. It is up and down the entire way until the end where it flattens out. It is a grind and a killer on the legs.

My race strategy was to run behind the designated pacer, a fellow brought in to help the hopefuls acquire the Olympic trials standard of 2:46.00. A gaggle of women followed behind what one racer declared was “the luckiest man in the race”.  After a mile or so of tripping over the people around me and altering my gait to stay in the pack I made a decision to move ahead and run my own race.

Luckily, I found another pack of 4 men and women to run with and through 24 miles I sailed across the course easily running up the hills and floating down the hills. For the first time ever, I felt like a runner. I was smooth, in control, charging forward with purpose. It was amazing; until it wasn’t.

The last 2 miles I started losing control of my limbs. I stumbled over my own feet. My form deteriorated making me feel like a marionette. I stopped checking my pace. I started calculating in my head how many more minutes I had left to run. They ticked by ever so slowly. I was relieved, elated, emotional, when I crossed the finish line in 2:43.48 a PR by 3.5 minutes. I was 6th overall and 4th masters. Those old ladies are fast.

Qualifying for the Olympic trials in the marathon was a goal set almost on a whim earlier this year. It took three tries with a series of ups and downs that tested me physically and emotionally. Was it worth it, you ask. Unquestionably!

I cannot say enough thank you's to my friends, family, supporters, therapists and well wishers. All of you make all of this possible.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Gray Day

The title of my blog, Fast at Forty, still holds veracity. I firmly believe, at age 41, there are best times in a variety of distances in my future; and, I know that many of the over forty crowd can make improvements in their racing. I am far more knowledgeable about training and recovery than when I was in my 30’s. I know that I can delay the onset of muscle degradation inevitable with age by working out diligently in the gym. Incorporating intervals into my training will slow down the demise of my VO2max and lactate threshold. The years of training have given me an incredible aerobic engine and the ability to race smart.

But, here’s the rub. Nothing will make you feel old faster than gray hair. Yep. I found a colony nesting atop my head. These uninvited guests have made me realize that, holy crap, I am 41! Where did these intruders come from? They seem to have popped up overnight, mocking me as I stare incredulously at my reflection in the mirror. Some will say that gray hair is very distinguished. Whatever.

Fortunately, these ugly strays blend better in my shade of dirty blonde than a dark brown or black. For now, they are fairly well hidden, as they are well outnumbered by the non-gray. Although, since I am airing my dirty laundry, I will know who my readers are, as I will see them squinting at my head, looking oh-so casual, as they try to pick out the unwanted strands.

I realize that there are “techniques” to hide the infestation. Since I already use these “techniques” to brighten my curly mane, the aforementioned gray hairs have managed to infiltrate the system. Damn. I have to up my game. And, WTF, why are these hairs straight when the rest of my hair is an afro?

I have been able to delay the onset of aging in terms of athletic performance. Mother Nature, or genetics, bested me in the hair department. I am dreading the day I wake up and find the grays have moved south.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Time for Change

The triathlon season is winding down. This is a perfect time to reflect on goals attained, missed opportunities, the fun, the grind. Most importantly, the break from the normal regime is a chance to ask yourself this question:  What next?

I find that athletes often get stuck in a rut. Why?
  • They do not vary their training.
  • They do the same races every year.
  • They train with the same people.
  • They make the same mistakes.
  • They train too hard or train too easy.
  • They do not stick to a plan.
Now is the time to break out of the “sameness” and try something new, something that will progress you to the next level. Athletes are afraid of change. Routine is like a security blanket that athletes are unwilling to part with, no matter how tattered and stinky. Let 2012 be the year you leave the sameness behind and rekindle your love for the sport and perhaps even set a few PR’s in the process.

Here are some suggestions for building the foundation to a better season next year:
  • Find new training partners to complement the ones you already have. New training partners can   help give new perspective, new stories, and new jokes.
  • Incorporate intervals into your training that you do not normally do. If you like short, fast intervals challenge yourself with longer repeats. If you are an aficionado of mile repeats, try some 400's instead. And, vary you workouts so you aren't doing the same exact thing every week.
  • Seek the help of a trainer at the gym and get strong. A trainer will show you the right way to do the exercises and can give you a plan targeted to your weaknesses.
  • Take enough time away from swim, bike, run that you really miss it. Believe me, I know first hand. After 16 months without riding, I really miss it!
  • Sign up for new races or race distances that you would not normally do. This year I ran cross-country, 10k races and races in new venues. It was a blast.
  • Run a 5k. Look, we can all use a good dose of speed.
  • Take care of nagging injuries. Self explanatory!
  • Perfect your form in all three disciplines. This will make you more efficient and may prevent injuries.
  • Working with a coach may help you achieve many of these things
I hope that you can find some things to take your training and racing to the next level in 2012.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The never ending season

Is it time for the off-season yet?
When I first started racing triathlons the US season kicked off with the St. Anthony’s triathlon in late April and concluded with the Hawaii Ironman in October. Then I started racing ITU, and the season started a little earlier and end a little later. Now, WTC, Rev3 and other series added races very early in the year. These new races beckon with Kona slots or mid-winter respites from the cold. Fall races offer a chance to milk a season of training and perhaps qualify for Kona almost a year in advance. Suddenly, one can race virtually all 12 months without leaving the Northern Hemisphere, something unheard of only a few years ago.

In the past, the shorter racing season lent itself to a natural off-season; a time to rest and restore, embark on other activities, rectify weaknesses, spend time with family, catch up at work. The winter was meant for base training, sitting on the couch, or snow sports. Without the lure of races in February, there was no need to get in shape quickly.

Once races started populating the schedule, though, the temptation for training and racing obsessed athletes was too great. People started signing up for races in what was once considered the off-season requiring a healthy dose of training early or late in the year (much of it, perhaps, indoors).

I am not saying I am opposed to the longer season. I am not. The multitude of racing options available are astounding and showcase the incredible growth of our beloved sport. I fear, however, that without careful planning, the risk of burnout, illness or injury is increased significantly. I am not just talking about seasonal afflictions. I am also referring to career ending setbacks. 

The continued cycle of racing almost year round will eventually take a mental and physical toll. With the next race on the horizon, there will be less time to take care of muscle imbalances and nagging pre-injuries. A year-round dose of extremely early mornings of training will eventually render an athlete weary and ready to toss out the alarm clock. 

This is where careful planning becomes important. If you are racing early in the season and have a key race late in the season, take some downtime in the middle of the season. This will keep you fresh and rejuvenated. And here is a key piece of wisdom. Get a pencil and paper and write this down: You cannot be in top fitness all year. Should I repeat that? You cannot be in top fitness all year. It’s true. The fitter you are, the harder it is to maintain that fitness. You must allow yourself, not only between seasons but within a season, a period of time to rest.

Likewise, it is unwise to race a long schedule year after year. Alternate a long racing season with a shorter racing season. This will allow you to race happy and healthy for a longer period of time.

Go ahead. Allow yourself some time to be lazy. You deserve it.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Diesel the Dog: Aspen weekend

Ever since I was little, car drives on windy roads make my stomach feel weird. Sometimes I start to feel so bad all of my food comes back up. You would think that Crazy Blonde and Deep Voice would stop taking me on their mountain adventures, but, no. They pack up the car, throw my bed in the back seat and make me go with them. 

This time they gave me a pill in a glop of peanut butter, but it did not help. We went over this really big mountain on this really curvy road. I was feeling terrible. Finally, we got out of the car and I thought we were done. They marveled at the view, took a picture, and made me get back in the car. 
Whoever took this picture is a crappy photographer.
We still had a long way to go. Deep Voice would open the window for me every few minutes and I would stick my nose out and take big breaths of air. I thought I was ok, but suddenly this mushy stuff came out of my mouth. It was yucky and stinky; I didn't even try to eat it. Crazy Blonde and Deep Voice stopped the car and cleaned it all up. I felt much better. That’ll teach them to take me on those types of roads.

Finally, we got to this place called Aspen where Crazy Blonde and Deep Voice had dinner and I napped in the car. It was dark so I could not really see too much. Then, we went to the place where we were staying, Aspen Boy’s house in a town called Snowmass Village. 

I was so happy when Muffin Top showed up with my good friend Riley. Riley and I like to wrestle. I like to bite Riley’s ears and Riley likes to bite my neck. It is so much fun. Usually we only get to play for a few hours, but this time we had two whole days. 
Riley and I like to play. We make a mess.
The next morning, Muffin Top and Crazy Blonde went for a run. I got to run just a little bit.
I'm kicking Crazy Blonde's ass
Deep Voice and Aspen Boy took me and Riley for a hike. There were lots of really big animals with people on their back. The big animals left hot biscuits on the trail which Riley really enjoyed. I tried one, but it was not my favorite flavor.
This is the trail that had the hot biscuits.
In the afternoon we went to a farmer’s market in Aspen. There were so many dogs there, I had lots of sniffing and hello’s to do. The dogs were big and little and fat and thin. I saw one dog with a very silly haircut; Crazy Blonde said it was a poodle. I don’t think that prissy dog can chase a ball!

We got back in the car and drove for a while until we got to this place with tall mountains and a big lake. I heard Crazy Blonde call it Maroon Bells. Crazy Blonde and Deep Voice were very impressed with the scenery. I really didn’t care as long as I could run around. I tried to get into the lake, but it was way too cold. 
I never knew water could be so cold!
We hiked on a trail. I was very excited by all the new smells. I got to bark at a few people, but I think I scared them because they kind of cowered. 
Check me out! I am the King of the Mountain.
 Everyone went for a run the next day, so Riley and I had lots of time to play. We also got to chase a ball up a very steep mountain that had these funny looking chairs hanging from the sky. 

I love being outside.
We went on one more hike and then I got another glop of peanut butter with the funny white thing in it: uh oh, back in the car. This time we didn’t go on the windy mountain road though. We went another way so I could see Uncle Don. What a pleasant surprise!

Wow. I had such a fun weekend. I guess driving in the car really isn’t that bad.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Cortisone Cowboy

Sometimes it takes reaching a low point to try a different tactic. The Twin Cities marathon was such a catalyst; not finishing the race due to ongoing rib pain and the continued pain in the days afterward spurred me into action. Last year I underwent a series of cortisone injections with minimal success. I decided, though, to visit my good friend the Cortisone Cowboy (the physical medicine doctor who administered the injections last year) and try another series of injections. I had nothing to lose and potentially a lot to gain.

The first order of business was to try and diagnose a particular area of swelling on top of and below my 12th rib that has been hanging around for 18 months. Due to the protruding nature of this malady and its unknown make-up, I affectionately call it “the alien”. The Cortisone Cowboy did a diagnostic ultrasound of the alien and while the ultrasound did not reveal anything conclusive, he deemed it a pocket of swelling and scar tissue.

The next order of business was to determine where the injections would be most beneficial. Last year the Cortisone Cowboy injected the intercostals at ribs 9 and 10, so this time he decided to inject the intercostals at ribs 11 and 12 as well as the most sensitive spot in the alien.

The injections are comprised of lidocaine, a numbing agent, and cortisone, an anti-inflammatory. The lidocaine is short acting, 8 hours max, while the cortisone is long acting and can work for weeks. If you inject the proper location, the relief from the lidocaine can be revolutionary, and for me, this was the case. I had a lidocaine buzz for the rest of the day -- the reduction in pain was a magnificent feeling that made me giddy. This also confirmed that the issue was stemming from these two ribs. It was huge bummer when the lidocaine wore off.

The cortisone has reduced some swelling allowing for more aggressive and much deeper soft tissue work. An entrapped nerve has been identified behind the 12th rib, presumably the root of all evil. It is hard work trying to free this nerve, but so far the results have been encouraging in terms of pain reduction, easier breathing, and feeling stronger on my right side.

In the meantime I have spoken with two surgeons who are not only familiar with this injury but have performed surgery to help correct some of the problems caused by the injury. Mainly, the ribs are shaved several inches so when they move they do not rub the nerve. The intrinsic problem, the hypermobility, is not actually repaired. Thus, there could still be potential soft tissue problems in the long run. I also had a conversation with a woman who recently underwent surgery for this injury. Her post-operative recovery has been incredibly slow and not without its pitfalls. She couldn’t get out of bed for two weeks and after six weeks she was just beginning to walk. Yes, she scared me a little.

I have decided to hold off on surgery for the time being. I want to allow time for the cortisone to kick in even further. As well, I want to address the soft tissue and nerve issues since they need to be resolved regardless of whether I have surgery. I have also stepped up my gym work from 3 days a week to 5 days a week in an effort to rebuild muscle that has atrophied from the nerve impingement.

That leaves me in a bit of a limbo. Will I be able to run another marathon? I am realistically optimistic. Only time will tell.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Twin Cities Marathon

Here is my 10 second race recap: On Sunday I “ran” the Twin Cities marathon. The gun went off at 8. I dropped out at 9:23, just beyond halfway. The pace felt easy. My ribs felt terrible. I cut my losses early to prevent further damage.

This was my 7th trip to Minneapolis with the previous six occurring in July for the Lifetime Fitness triathlon. What a difference a few months make. July: hot and steamy. October: crisp and beautiful. Fall in the mid-West is a colorful spectacle replete with cool mornings and warm, sunny afternoons -- perfect weather for running a marathon.

I was granted elite status for this race which was a huge coup. Twin Cities in Motion, the organizers of the marathon, really know how to treat their elite athletes; they provided airport transportation, hotel rooms, a fully stocked hospitality suite, massage, a race morning staging area, a beautiful course jammed with spectators and a general conviviality rarely seen in triathlon. I felt welcome, that my presence at the race was meaningful. I felt guilty about dropping out after their wonderful kindness and it unquestionably made me want to return next year to finish my unfinished business.

Most of the marathon athletes stayed at the host hotel. As a newbie to the running scene, this offered me the opportunity to take a peek into a world that is utterly unfamiliar. I felt like an interloper, although I found most people gracious. I even made a new friend.

The morning before the race, I set out for a run with Jim, an athlete I coach who was also running the race. Two African runners headed out with us. I figured they would pass us quickly and leave us in the dust. Nope. They stayed behind us, which was incredibly disconcerting. Was I running too fast? Surely they should have been in front of us. One of the guys turned back quickly, but the other stuck with us. I had a few pick-ups to do. I sped up, he sped up; I slowed down, he slowed down.  My new friend told me that he is from Ethiopia.

Upon arriving back at the hotel, New Friend asked if we were going to stretch. All three of us traipsed upstairs to the fitness room and went through our individual routines. When New Friend decided to weigh himself, Jim became very interested and asked me to take a peek. I felt uncomfortable, like a Peeping Tom. When New Friend had trouble working the ancient doctor’s office style scale, Jim readily helped him out. New Friend’s weight? A mere 126 pounds. In his sweats and shoes. Jim stepped on the scale for comparison and it topped out at 186 pounds. I pointed out that Jim was a half a person heavier than New Friend (and almost a foot taller)!  We have been laughing about it ever since. (New Friend, Berhanu Girma, ran 2:19.45).

So now what? I let myself mope about yesterday, but today I feel rejuvenated and ready to tackle this injury anew. I am starting a strength program from scratch to help rebuild the muscles that have atrophied due to the injury. I am going to continue to run, but back off the intensity for a short while. I have been in contact with a surgeon in Canada who is familiar with this injury and may be able to provide insight on how to progress.

My marathon future is somewhat uncertain, but I am going to everything I can to get to the start line of a race before the December 16th deadline for Olympic trials qualifying.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Goal setting 101

“You can achieve whatever you want if you try hard enough.” This overused adage, in my opinion, is false and misleading. It is true, that often, when goals are set they are met. But, it is also true, that one can devote months or years of time and energy into accomplishing a certain goal and that goal may never be met. Realizing a goal requires more than blood, sweat and tears. There is also luck, timing, and savvy.

I believe there are four potential outcomes on the road to working toward a certain goal (the “goal” in question can be anything: business, sports, family, hobby):

1.    The road is smooth and the goal is successfully realized.
2.    The road is rocky, but the goal is achieved.
3.    The road is smooth, but the goal is not attained.
4.    The road is rocky and the goal is missed.

This is not a dose of pessimism. It is realism. Goals do not care if you are deserving, nice, or hard working. Achieving a goal is a complex equation that usually cannot be figured out prospectively. It is often, only in retrospect, when all the factors are reviewed, can one say why things went right or wrong.

That brings me to my own goal: qualifying for the Olympic trials in the marathon. I decided in February, when it became apparent I would not be able to compete in triathlon, that I would dedicate my time and effort to running. I am a very goal oriented person and I needed something tangible to focus on. A goal that was lofty, but not totally out of reach. A goal that would keep me going when things got tough in life or in training. A goal that would leave me with a feeling of accomplishment, whether or not the goal was met.

My first attempt at qualifying was the LA marathon in March. I missed the standard by 2 minutes. Undeterred, I ran several races over the ensuing months building up to my next try at qualifying. That race is on Sunday in Minneapolis. I chose the Twin Cities Marathon because it serves as the Masters national championships and is believed to be a fast, scenic and enjoyable race.

My road to Minneapolis has certainly been a rocky one. I started this endeavor with a serious injury, and despite all of my best efforts, the injury still lingers. The injury has dictated whether my races have been a PR or a DNF. The injury has allowed me to run a fast workout or walk home frustrated. Throughout this entire process I have believed that I can run fast enough to attain the Olympic trials time standard and that belief has buoyed me when the injury has flared up and could have left me prostrate on the couch.

In pursuit of this goal, I tested myself physically and mentally. I had the typical ups and downs. I was forced to be patient. I had to make some tough decisions. I have made new friends and tried new things.

Goal setting is more than just achieving a goal. It is about growing as a person. It is about reveling in the accomplishments met along the way. Sometimes the road to the goal is more important than the goal itself. I have no idea what Sunday will bring; it will either be outcome 2 or 4 above. Even though my road has been rocky, I have not been defeated by an injury that has desperately tried to defeat me, and that is a victory in itself.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Kinesio Tape and Fairy Dust

I have been dealing with my rib injury for nearly two years. I have come to view this injury as a chronic condition, not unlike my asthma. It is with me all the time. It must be managed on a daily basis. Most of the time, the injury lingers in the background, but then when I least expect it, the injury flares up with vigor and I have trouble breathing and the pain level soars.

My latest flare up occurred on Labor Day. As part of my long run, I planned to do the Boulder half marathon. I woke up not feeling particularly great, but I warmed up and I seemed fine. A few miles into the race, I struggled to breathe and my ribs started to hurt. I pulled the plug at mile 8 and hitched a ride back home.

This was the beginning of a very up and down two weeks. Workouts were sporadic – a brilliant run was followed by a run cut short – leaving me apprehensive about the Twin Cities marathon on October 2. In an effort to calm down my ribs, I stopped swimming, backed off run workouts, and changed my gym routine. I had been doing dry needling, and but now we stepped up the effort with as many as 20 needles in and around the rib cage and diaphragm. Nothing seemed to calm the ribs down.

I sought out some new help and found out that I have 4 ribs (9-12) that are hypermobile, meaning that they are moving around too much. This causes the intercostals to stretch too far causing spasms and it also makes the diaphragm incredibly unhappy. Well, that certainly explains the difficulty with breathing! The most hypermobile rib is number 12 which is dubbed a floating rib because it does not attach to the sternum. When this rib moves, it presses on a nerve, which is quite unnerving. Just to keep it interesting, there is also a lot of scar tissue around the ribs.

Much of this information is not new. I already knew that there was hypermobility in my ribs, but I did not realize how many ribs are affected, and the explanation of the cascading events that occur when the ribs move too much was enlightening.
These are the Graston utensils. There is even one called "The Pointer".
In order to address the scar tissue, the Graston technique was employed. Have you ever had this done? A series of metal tools that look like ancient torture devices are used as “an innovative, patented form of instrument-assisted soft tissue mobilization that enables clinicians to effectively break down scar tissue and fascial restriction. The technique utilizes specially designed stainless steel instruments to specifically detect and effectively treat areas exhibiting soft tissue fibrosis or chronic inflammation.”

That quote is directly from the Graston website. I really don’t think people are going to rush out and get Graston after reading that. And, guess what? It hurts like hell. Basically, these objects of torment are scraped across the injured area, i.e. my ribs, making a sound akin to nails on the chalkboard. To make sure that you remember the experience for the next few days, it causes bruising.

In an effort to stabilize the ribs, a very intricate taping technique has been employed. I had tried taping last year. The tape was magnificent – it stayed on in the pool, workouts, in the shower.  It also burned my skin so badly I had red lines on my torso for a month. This time around, my incredibly resourceful father acquired something called barrier wipes that are meant to protect the skin of patients with colostomy bags. I figure if it works for them, it should work for me!

So far the taping is working wonders. It really seems to prevent the ribs from moving when they shouldn’t and it is giving much needed support to my rib cage. Of course, in the gym locker room the ladies gasp and give me strange stares and I get the occasional, “What is wrong with you?” I am still trying to think of a better story than, “Uh, I was in a bike crash 2 years ago.” I welcome any suggestions.

I realize that tape and fairy dust are not a long term solution. I am still hopeful that a very hot, skilled surgeon with a keen interest in hypermobile ribs will swoop down on a white horse and fix me for good.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Can't we all just get along? Some thoughts on sharing the road.

On a lovely Friday morning, my run group was doing intervals at Coot Lake. A very cranky woman shouted at us that we did not belong there and she was not responsible if her dog took one of us out. A hot debate ensued with neither side satisfied with the outcome. The angry woman still believes that runners should not encroach on her trail and we still believe that as long as we are courteous, we can continue to run at Coot Lake.

Just yesterday, I was on the last few miles of a long run. I was delighting in the spectacular weather and admiring the mountain view as I ran along a popular dirt road toward the Boulder reservoir. I ran toward traffic as is customary. A cyclist was coming toward me. I expected her to move left as cars and cyclists usually do. She did not budge and screamed at me several times, “I am not moving over.” I was confused and continued running. We came to a standstill when it was clear that neither of us was going to budge. She got off her bike and proceeded to screech, “You do not belong on the road. You should be running over there (she pointed to the heavily weeded ditch off the road).” I did not lose my cool, but I did explain that runners are allowed on the road and the ditch is filled with snakes anyway. Resolution was never achieved and I finally went around her. Given that there were a ton of runners out that morning, I wonder if she stopped and lectured at all of them.

Last week three cyclists in Boulder were hit head on by a car that swerved into their bike lane. The article that appeared in the Daily Camera outlining the details of the accident made it very clear that the cyclists were NOT at fault and the driver of the car was reckless. Nonetheless, the comment section was replete with people that clearly hate cyclists and used this incident to express their views even going so far as to blame the cyclists. There was an overwhelming theme that cyclists do not belong on the road.

There is so much anger and animosity between cars and cyclists, cyclists and runners, runners and walkers. Why? I am completely baffled that someone can become so enraged at a person they do not know who has done absolutely nothing other than occupy the same space.What mechanism compels a person to yell at a stranger?

There are no simple answers to living more harmoniously. Angry people will probably continue to be angry no matter what. But, I do think there are some steps that we can take as athletes to make things easier for all parties.At the very least, we can then say we did absolutely everything to avoid trouble.

1. Obey the rules of the road. Cyclists have a tendency to use red lights as stop signs and stop signs as yield signs. If we wanted to be treated as a vehicle, we must act like one.

2. Single up when cars are coming. While it is legal in Colorado to ride two abreast, make it easier on the cars by singling up when they are trying to pass.

3. When using trails, be aware of the people around you. If on a bike, don’t speed around blind corners. Whether on a bike or running, let people know if you are passing. A simple “heads up” or “right behind you” alerts people that you are there and they usually appreciate the notice.

4. In Boulder, trail rules state: everyone yields to equestrians, bicyclists yield to pedestrians, and bicyclists headed downhill yield to bicyclists headed uphill. However, I often move to the side when the bikers come through as it easier for me to stop or move than it is for them.

5. Always give a wave or verbal thanks if someone does something you like. Positive feedback goes a long way.

6. Try not to use obscene gestures to express your anger. We are all guilty of losing our temper when someone does something that makes us feel threatened. Providing negative feedback will only make that person more apt to do something offensive again.

7. Pay attention to your surroundings. I am not a believer in wearing headphones while out on the road. It dulls the senses and makes quick reaction more difficult.

Look, I know that no matter how hard we try to co-exist with cars, bikes, runners or walkers there will always be hostility. I also know that there is plenty that cars can do to help us out, but that is a whole other post. The best thing we can do is to do our best to be considerate of each other.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Guest Blog: Jonathan Toker on muscle cramps and electrolytes

Jonathan Toker is the Slowtwitch.com science editor and an elite-level trail runner-triathlete who hails from Canada and lives in Southern California. He received a Ph.D. in organic chemistry from The Scripps Research Institute in 2001. Jonathan invented the SaltStick products in 2002, and has been found to have high levels of electrolytes in his blood. Visit www.SaltStick.com for more information.

With several high profile World Championship events and long distance races still on the calendar, this is a great chance for a reminder on dealing with muscle cramping. Cramps are particularly prevalent in hot conditions but it is good to understand the causes and solutions for year-'round activities of all levels and pursuits.

Muscle cramping can be caused by several factors. However, at a base level, the understood cause of cramping is the brain signaling muscles with increasing urgency to fire at a time when the muscles are becoming fatigued or the signals are not being transmitted efficiently.  When the muscle becomes too fatigued to contract, or the signal is not being successfully converted to a command, the body compensates by sending more signals to get the muscle to behave as desired. At some point, the signals overwhelm the muscle and initiate a cramp.

Many cramps are caused by muscle fatigue due to inadequate training (think of running a marathon on 10K training) or an unusual amount of muscle use (think of using fins for a hard kick set in the pool with no prior experience). Another major cause of cramping is electrolyte imbalance due to loss of electrolytes in sweat. These charged ions of sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and chloride are responsible for muscle behaviour after the signal is sent for muscle contraction and relaxation. Variation of the concentration of these electrolytes in plasma (blood) and within cells can be caused by loss of electrolytes and fluid in sweat, and by replacement of electrolytes and fluid by consumption.

Sweat contains principally water and electrolytes. As electrolyte content of plasma decreases due to sweat loss, replacement of the water component alone will cause electrolyte levels in plasma to drop. Neglect rehydrating with fluid, and you risk serious dehydration. It's a delicate balance within a fairly narrow range to rehydrate correctly, and the necessary replacement of electrolytes lost.

If plasma electrolyte levels fall outside the optimal range, the body will begin to compensate as much as possible to maintain normal levels. As a simple level, this is accomplished primarily by controlling plasma volume though the displacement of water. For example, if plasma levels of electrolytes are low due to overhydration, the body will avoid further plasma dilution resulting in "water baby" or a gut full of unabsorbed water. The most effective solution for this common problem is to take on additional electrolytes in the concentrated form of a capsule with minimal fluid. On the other hand, if neither fluid nor electrolytes are replaced and sweat loses continue to grow, the plasma electrolyte levels will begin soar. In this case, the body will begin to retain as much fluid as possible resulting in swollen fingers and no urine production. Drinking fresh water, and depending on the circumstances, consuming electrolytes, may resolve this issue.

Proper electrolyte supplementation prior to, and throughout your event, along with appropriate fluid intake, is key to avoiding cramps and performing your best. A balanced supply of absorbable sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium is your best weapon against cramping. With those electrolytes lost in a 220-63-16-8 ratio for the average athlete, it is in the athlete's best interest to ensure that replacement of the full spectrum of electrolytes is replaced, and in a form and quantity the body can absorb.

Ensuring an ongoing and optimal balance of electrolytes and hydration will enable you to focus on the task at hand and race your best without pesky cramps from ruining your day.

For more information:
A case study with numerical examples are provided through this link.
A useful comparison chart is available Here.