Monday, July 14, 2014

Sprained Ankle Blues

“And how many hours a day did you do lessons?' said Alice, in a hurry to change the subject.Ten hours the first day,' said the Mock Turtle: 'nine the next, and so on.'What a curious plan!' exclaimed Alice.
That's the reason they're called lessons,' the Gryphon remarked: 'because they lessen from day to day.” 
― Lewis CarrollAlice's Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass
Lessons. Sometimes we forget what we've learned and have to relearn them. Sometimes we learn them the hard way. So said my wife to me this past weekend as I sat around the house beating myself up over having suffered another ankle related setback to my plans for running world domination.

Just before noon last Friday, I received notification that I had been selected in the lottery for the trail marathon at Stone Cat later this November. Less than four hours later, I twisted and re-sprained my bad (left) ankle carrying a pop-up shade tent across an uneven dirt parking lot. Stepped in a ditch and felt the roll and plummeted to the ground in front of a bunch of co-workers at a company outing. Smooth move for sure.

Luckily, we had plenty of ice for all the beer, and more than one person had ibuprofen. So, I sat down and iced it, popped some pills and added alcohol to dull the pain. It was a fun outing despite the fall.

Saturday morning I awoke and assessed the damage. Definitely sprained. Purple-blue bruising on the outside just below the ankle and along the tendons running up toward the calf. Nowhere near as bad as last year's severe sprain, which left my foot looking like an eggplant for a time. I'm grateful it isn't as severe. I'm also grateful that I already have everything I need for recovery - crutches, a walking boot, air cast, lace up support, ace bandages, etc.

I'm also armed with something I hope will help more than any of the accessories: memories of last year's injury.

When I got hurt last year, I was angry. This sort of thing happened to other people, not me.. I am a bad-ass ultra-marathon runner. A running machine that had strung together a streak of 500 days in a row of running at least a mile. I'd run through blizzards, insufferable heat and nagging injuries. But I couldn't run through this. It killed me. I began plans for weight training and added more core to my workout routines just to feel like I was doing something.

Slowly I was able to walk again without the boot. And then I could tried a little jog with the lace-up bracing. It went well and I began to start running again shortly thereafter. I was still in pain, I was still dealing with the injury, but I was out there again. Running. I foolishly believed I was good-to-go and resumed my typical running routine. I trained for a half-marathon and came near close to PR. It was day 101 of a new streak.

Two weeks later, I twisted my ankle in the woods. A day after that, I ran again. And continued doing so for the next 140 or so more days. I'd twist it every now and then, but still go out the next day. It wasn't until I ended the streak in March of this year that I'd finally acknowledged the benefit of rest and recovery days again.

But truth be told, I was itching to get back to running more and more. I missed it. I kind of missed the streak. It had become part of my identity, and I couldn't wait to get back out more and more on the trails. I had been lifting over the winter, and decided to give that up and get back into running a bit more. So through April and May I made the transition. In late May I ran the 25K at Pineland, and my foot complained after 11-12 miles or so, but I gutted it out anyways.

A few weeks later, I landed awkwardly during a mountain run on Wachusett. I actually listened to my body and took a week off when it hurt to flex the foot. That was last month. After my week off, things were still tight but I was feeling OK about things and decided to run a bit more. Also, decided to toss my name in the lottery for Stone Cat. I figured, it's good to have goals for later this year. Great timing!

. . . . .

So here I sit, ankle still bruised and painful. For the better part of the weekend, I actually did manage to stay off it and rest for once in my life. I've been icing, and elevating, and compressing, and all that good stuff. It's working. Each morning it is a little less painful and I know what I need to do to recover.

More so than knowing what to do, this time around, I plan to actually do it.

Last year, I was arrogant, and went back to running as soon as physically possible, without a second thought. I was surfing this weekend looking for different stretches and strengthening exercises to do while I try to recover, and I came across an article in Runner's World talking about this very thing, and there was a section in there that nailed it for me. Talking about transitioning from simple weight-bearing exercises to walking, the article states -
Next come simple weight-bearing exercises, like leaning against a wall, while squatting. "Then you progress to the point that you can walk and then run," says Ivins. 
That's when most runners probably quit. And that is probably why some have recurrent trouble or continually weak ankles.
Yup. That's exactly it. Even though I knew that I should be doing the exercises prescribed by the physical therapist for balance and strengthening, I also knew that I could run again and that was all that mattered. Never mind things like improving balance and mobility, or strengthening the stabilizing tendons around the ankle.

I could run again!

And now, I cannot. In hindsight, I was pretty dismissive of the physical therapist. She told me I needed to work on strengthening the ankles, and I ignored it as soon as I could run again. I'm sure my attitude came across in our sessions too, as I remember her saying sarcastically at one point -
You sound like you've got it all figured it out then.
Maybe not.

In any event, the Stone Cat website says that it's 117 days away this morning. I e-mailed the race director to explain my situation and to ask about cut-off times. While there are no official cut-off times, she said I should plan to be out on my second loop by the time the 50 milers are on their third. Also, they've had some marathon finishers take up to 9 hrs, and I could probably hobble it faster than that. So, I don't feel so bad about the registration. Right now I'm planning to walk most of it and just enjoy the trails, the aid stations and the atmosphere on race day, which is pretty awesome.

Did I mention bacon at the aid stations?

. . . . .

And so the plan is to take the rest of July off and do nothing. Absolutely nothing for a few more days. Then I'll begin with the gentle rehab exercises and stretching. And strengthening. And balance. And all the other stuff I neglected last time. Eventually by next month - walking some distance. And then gradually reintroducing short run intervals. I know that I won't be in the shape I want to be in by race date, and I'm working toward being OK with that.

So the plan is to take it slow. To be patient with the foot. To patient with myself. To take the time to heal and not worry about arbitrary goal races or times or anything else that really doesn't matter. I need to be unlike my self from last year.

“The best revenge is to be unlike him who performed the injury.” ― Marcus AureliusMeditations
Until, I can, will you do me a favor?

Run, run, run.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Groton Town Forest Race 2013

Groton Town Forest 2013

Two weekends ago was the Groton Town Forest trail race. Since running this first in 2010, I've gone back every year. It's just an awesome race. This year I opted for the shorter (3.4 mile) race as I had gotten a ride out from ultra-running bud Ultra Doug. He was coming off his third Vermont 50, and I was recovering from the near-PR effort at Smuttynose the week before. So the plan was to "take it easy".

We arrived early, registered, and then went out for a short warm-up of about 2 miles. Before too long, we lined up and were off. In the first half mile, we settled in with the middle pack. I think Doug was fine to stay running with the group, but I don't like the crowded feeling, especially on single-track. So I started to push a bit. We pulled away from the group and kept going. I think I heard him mutter something like " bastard..." when I turned it on.

We took turns in the lead as the shorter course (much to my satisfaction) included lots of up and downs through the forest and its kettle features. About halfway through, I pulled ahead and had a considerable lead. As I neared three mile mark, I decided to slow it down and wait for Doug. After all, we'd come to run together and we've now got a history of racing down the final stretch together.

He did catch me, and this year, we just crossed the line together. No racing. I could tell he was tired, and I still had crazy kick yet. No point in pushing it. So we just came in together, at 31:37. It was good enough to land me 3rd place in my age group. Too bad there were only prizes for the first two. There's always next year.

All in all, another fantastic day for one of my favorite trail races. I'll definitely keep coming back. Maybe some year I'll see you out there.

Run, run, run.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Smuttynose Rockfest 2013

Smuttynose 2013

It's been a long time since I've written here. I know. Bad blogger.

Two weekends ago, I completed my fourth "official" half-marathon race - the 2013 Smuttynose Rockfest Half. It was the first road race I'd run since January 1st, and the first half marathon I'd run in over three years. Out of the four half-marathons, I "raced" three of them, pacing in the other. This Sunday's half-marathon was the slowest of my "racing" performances, but I'm feeling pretty good about it, given the injury earlier this year.

Wait. What? Injury?

So earlier this year, I fought a bear and lost. My 510 day streak of running at least one mile ended unexpectedly. Despite a very creative tribute, the end of the streak was nothing more than an accident. It may or may not have involved alcohol and some stairs. In any event, I was left with a severely sprained ankle and wrist that didn't fare too much better. I was out of running for just over 6 weeks.

Yes, I was a miserable beast to be around.

Eventually I got back out to running slowly and recuperating the ankle. I decided to stay off my technical "backyard" trails and instead to opt for some road running until I built up strength in the foot again. Smuttynose seemed like a perfect target race. So I looked up an eight week half-marathon training program, modified it slightly, and set my sights on getting back out there in October.


My training was loosely based on the program found here. I pretty much stuck to it, with the exception of 'rest' days. I had began the streak again, simply out of habit. So the 'rest' days were super easy one milers in the neighborhood. I didn't cross-train as hard. I couldn't support a lot of weight on my wrist, so I scaled back the body weight exercises. I had really intended to start lifting, but had to put this on hold too. Instead, I focused on getting comfortable running on roads again, and rehabbing the ankle and wrist.

I had one double digit run before the half.

Race Weekend

We ended up staying with some runner friends about 25 minutes away from the race start. Saturday night we had a big potluck dinner and spent some time hanging out around a huge fire with some of our other runner friends. A few of these people had come all the way down from Canada. It was great to finally meet them in person, as we've all joked around quite a bit online.

Sleep the night before was about as I expected. Lots of tossing and turning, waking up a bunch of times. Typical pre-race rest. Woke up sometime after 6 and was ready to go.

Got over to the race venue with plenty of time to spare. Took my place in the "8:19 or faster" corral and anxiously awaited the "GO!". I knew I couldn't really hold that pace for the whole thing, but I figured better to be out ahead of the crowds.

And out ahead I was. Started way too fast. First couple miles clocked in at: 7:45 and 8:04. But, I was feeling good, so I kind of just kept at it. The miles kept coming - 8:18, 8:14, 8:22, 8:09, 8:55, 8:49. It was in the ninth mile that I started to lose a little steam. I battled some stomach cramps, and then a little later, a tight hamstring. The next few miles clocked in a little slower - 9:04, 8:57, 9:36, 9:25.

By the time we were back on the coast with a tailwind, I knew I didn't have it in me to PR (1:51 and change) and I suspected that the course PR (1:55:something) was slowly slipping away. In the last mile I tried to pick it up, but my ankle was whining pretty loudly, so I resigned myself to be content with finishing. I knew I had enough to make it in under two hours, so that's what I did.

Finished in 1:56:18. Not a course PR, not a distance PR. But I'm pretty happy with the results.

I had some kick left in the legs, and finished strong as I saw the wife and kids cheering me home during the final stretch with signs that read "You Rock Dad!!!".


  • Sub-2 in my first road race in forever.
  • Pretty decent pace for still nursing the foot.
  • I really don't like roads.
  • Day 101 of the "new" streak ;)

So yeah, another half-marathon in the bag.

And yeah, I ran the next day. And the day after, and so on and so forth.

Run, run, run.