Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Running into trouble

You may recall one of my posts from December, entitled 'Getting JANED,' in which I described my extraordinary ability to dart across busy streets and always emerge unscathed. I have been known to traverse roads, bridges and highways in ninja-like fashion, dodging cars so narrowly that getting 'JANED' - or 'almost hit' - has become my trademark. In the last four months, my feline-like reflexes have improved even further, having faced sleet and snow-covered roads throughout the winter and still managing to dodge cars, bikes and even wild animals (okay, they may only have been pigeons and dogs, but in Toronto that's considered wild). I would say I am becoming somewhat of a world talent in what I would call 'cautiously risky speed street crossing' and take pride in the fact that I never have to stop my watch during a 12-mile run through the streets of downtown Toronto.

Well, ladies and gentlemen, this weekend it happened: my risky street-crossing tendencies finally got me into trouble. Before you jump to any foolish conclusions, I will state that NO, I did not get hit. Obviously this would never happen. And although it may have appeared to be a close-call, in my opinion it wasn't close at all - in fact, it was one of my less risky moves that day. It just happened to be at the wrong place, at the wrong time.

On Saturday I meet 2Kats (Katie and Kat) for a 40k run beginning at 6:30AM. I was in no mood to dilly-dally, as my family was visiting from out of town and I had to meet them for breakfast at 10:30AM. We ran at an easy pace to Mount Pleasant Cemetery, down the Moore Park Ravine, around the cemetery some more, down the Beltline twice, through Cedarvale, past Churchill, until we had gone through every park possible in mid-town Toronto. When we finally headed back downtown we were already three hours into the run and our legs were tightening up with every pause at a stoplight. We wanted to get home, and FAST. Naturally, when I came to a red light and saw a GAPING HOLE before the next car was to come through, I dashed through it. I made it to the sidewalk without a glitch (with ample time to spare, of course) and slowed my pace so that the 2Kat's could catch up (they have some work to do in the world of traffic dodging). The next thing I know, I hear sirens wailing and a cop car pull up beside me. I kept running, thinking there was no way their stern glares were directed at me...until they roll down the window and start yelling at me to stop. Uh-oh. I stop my watch and walk over to the car and nonchalantly say hello. Perhaps they just want to chat? Unfortunately not. 'What are you thinking?' they asked incredulously. 'You were nearly hit by that car!' 'Umm…(I breathe an inaudible 'Not really' under my breath, then look up at them and respond) 'Sorry! I guess I wasn't paying attention.' Now THAT'S a great answer, I think to myself. Perhaps I should also tell them that I don't pay attention while driving, either? 'Well I know you are timing your run, but you've got to stop for the lights, or you are going to get hit. It's no joke.' 'Okay, I'm sorry,' I continue, realizing I had better start to say something that would initiate some kind of sympathy from these men. They said something about the possibility of writing me a ticket, so I continued to apologize and luckily they decided to let me run free. Perhaps I should have told them that I was delirious from running for three hours, but considering how seriously they seem to take 'reckless running', they might deem that on par with drinking and driving and actually have written me a ticket. Distance runners ARE a threat to society, I have to say...

I'm not sure what lesson I learned being stopped by the cops on a long run: that the Toronto police don't have much to do on the Saturday morning of a long weekend? Or that I should respect the rules of the road? I doubt that the latter option will stick, especially since I dodged another four cars after the incident, on the same run. Oops.

The rest of my week was pretty tame in comparison to this ultra bad-ass experience. I had a solid workout on Thursday night, consisting of 8x1k w/90s rest. Our newest Angel, Katie Snowden - who, at the young age of 25, has run 13 marathons and has a smokin' PB of 2:46 - is a great addition to the group and was a great workout partner that night. We started off at 3:43 and brought it down with each km: 3:37/3:34/3:31/3:29/3:27/3:24/3:22. I felt a little flat going into the workout, probably from the Montreal half and a semi-workout I did the night before (helping out another group...I don't normally do hard days back-to-back), but felt stronger as the workout went on. Hopefully this means I am getting into good marathon shape! After Saturday's monster run my mileage was up to 91 - I will not be doing any more than this in the final four weeks of my marathon build. Next up is the Sporting Life 10k. I have run this race three times and always have so much fun - how can you not when you're running downhill for 10k?! I just hope I don't get pulled over by the cops...

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Gone with the wind

I looked forward to my trip to Montreal very much. Being the staunchly proud ex-McGiller that I am, I jump at the chance to go back to my old stomping ground and relive the old days. This past weekend was no different – that is, if you call abstaining from martini consumption, 9:45pm bedtime and battling wind, cold and more wind for 21km equivalent to BYOWs, Peel Pub pitchers, table dancing at Buona Notte and 3am chow mein. Yes. My weekend in Montreal was not quite the bombastic experience I would usually have. (I think it was just the lack of Peel Pub? Where did that place go anyway?)

I made a series of mistakes this weekend that were horrible race prep and that I vow never to make again. #1: Uttering the words ‘The conditions [for the race] can’t POSSIBLY be worse than last year, that’s for SURE!’ to a co-worker as I was leaving work on Friday (to which he prophetically responded ‘Well it’s always possible!’). #2: Checking the weather obsessively all week (noting rainy and cold conditions projected for Sunday), memorizing the hourly forecast (that predicted 40km/h winds picking up at 10AM) and being so overcome with denial that I STILL didn’t believe the conditions would be bad. #3: Deciding that since the hammy felt good (and since I was overlord of the Weather Network), I would race it and try to dip under 1:20:00, such that 3:45/km was the only thing on my mind for the first half of the race (where I still had some ounce of hope that this might happen). These three things, my friends, made the harsh reality of le Banque Scotia 21k de Montreal that much worse. Oh my, sheperd’s pie.

I am wondering if I even need to describe the conditions. Before the appropriate adjectives even began to form in my head (during the race, all I could do was whimper pitifully or curse madly at Mother Nature) I received messages commenting on how awful they heard the conditions were. Apparently I didn’t need to explain my 1:22 to anyone. Fine by me – after the race all I wanted to do was wipe it from my mind and never think about it again (and curl up in a ball in the corner of Starbucks and double fist a grande pike place and a hot chocolate with whipped cream…which I may have done afterwards…MAY).

Pre-race dins at Weinstein

I felt good going into the race. My hammy was a little sore on Friday but I knew it was because I had had 10 straight days of running and was just feeling a little fatigued. After a day off Saturday, I felt fresh and ready to rock. This feeling was dampened when I walked straight into the door at Weinstein & Gavino’s, causing extreme pain to radiate down my hip throughout dinner. Luckily, even though it is still painful to the touch, it doesn’t affect my running (the only indicator of a real injury). The next morning we got a bus to the race start and although it was raining, the wind didn’t seem so bad. Once I started my warm-up, however, I realized that it would be no joke. In fact, it would be a rather large annoyance that would proceed to ruin my entire race, and better yet my entire day. Awesome. Naturally I stuck to my race plan of going out in 3:45-3:50 and trying to stay with a pack so as to have people to duck behind during the windy bits (says the girl who sticks out of a pack like a giraffe). This pretty much fell apart instantaneously. In the first 5k my splits were anywhere from 3:38 to 4:03, making me appreciate the power of the windy parts and simultaneously wonder if the km markers were at all accurate. Things got strung out pretty quickly and of course I found myself loping behind a guy who must have been 5 foot 2 and weighed 90 pounds, as he did absolutely nothing to shield the wind. I gradually started to reel people in from there on out but never found a group of guys to stick with. I went through 10k in just over 38mins, and seeing that this was bang on 1:20:00 pace I knew that there was no way I was going to run my goal pace: the winds were only getting worse.

At about 11k, I began to fear for my life. We were running into a formidable headwind that must have been 80km/h (really, I have no idea what it was, but it was STRONG). I literally could not run in a straight line – not because I had cleverly stashed my emergency flask in my ‘fuel belt’ and was calling it a day (kind of wish I did that) – but because I apparently have the resisting strength of a leaf. I blame Kap ‘N K for not being at circuit training for the past four months. I could not, for the very literal LIFE OF ME, fight the Easternly gusts that pushed me toward the looming water of the basin. I imagined myself falling in and getting swept away by the stormy current, going backwards in time and having to get out and run the whole stretch all over again. When I finally did reach the other end of the basin (I think 3km took me 13 minutes and change. Nice.), I was nearly carried straight into the steel pipes of the bleachers by a sudden change in wind direction. Just in case I wasn’t completely demoralized already, Mother Nature just had to remind me once more of the power she had over my little body. I had had enough. I thought things would improve from 15k to the finish, but it was on-again, off-again heavy winds up until my very last slow kilometre.

I ended up finishing in 1:22:11 and was 9th overall (7th Canadian). I was loosely aiming to be in the top 10, so I’m happy with how I finished. I was also happy that I was able to push myself quite hard without feeling glumy in either of my legs (just gloom in my heart). Jebs and Mama K battled it out like true Angels finishing 17th and 21st, respectively.

Happy to be done!

I ended up getting in 21 miles for the day and have recovered surprisingly well. I felt no soreness or fatigue later that day or Monday, and had a chipper 13-miler on Monday. On Thursday I am scheduled for 8x1k w/90s rest, followed by an ultra-long run on Saturday morning (23-24 miles). I’m hoping to get in 85-90 miles for the week as the following week I will be racing the Sporting Life 10k. I am hoping that for the first time in 6 months, I have a race void of snow, extraordinary wind and/or rain, though apparently that’s too much for G.I. Jane to ask these days!

Pleasant conditions for the cooldown (of course)

There is a post-race interview of me (below) courtesy of John LoFranco. He did a great job with all the interviews and I encourage you all to visit www.montrealendurance.com and check them out.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Wham-BAM thank you MA’M!

I have to say, I’ve been feeling pretty tapered the past few weeks. I’ve tried to explain to Nic the discrepancy I feel between my fitness and overall muscle and ligament strength, the former being far greater than the latter – I’m not sure she’s understood, until this week. I’ve been squatting, lunging, squeezing and resisting in order to minimize this difference and get my body strong enough to withstand the torture I’d like to pound into it on the roads. That, as well as develop some sexy, rockin’ buns-o-steel. I feel a lot stronger but still somewhat impeded in workouts, in fear that if I push too hard, something will give. My easy runs have creeped down to the 4:30 range because my legs feel so fresh. I constantly want to throw in some tempo on off-days but am reminded by the simple twinge of a hamstring that this is a bad idea. Oh, the frustration.

On Thursday I went to practice feeling my usual tapered, jumpy self. I ran up to the cemetery and clocked one of my km’s at 4:34. Easyyyy I told myself –save it for the workout! It was a big one: 3k/3x1k/2k. I figured since I was on the comeback that I’d only do 60-80% of the workout, however, so I wasn’t too concerned. I was in for a surprise. For the first interval, Nic prescribed a 3:50 pace for most (slightly faster than half-marathon pace) and told me to go along with everyone else. 200m into the interval, it was clear there was no way I was doing that. We started on 3:40 pace and went through 1k in 3:38-9. At this point Nic turned to me and said, ‘Oooh boy, you’re gonna feel that in a km or so!’ I shrugged it off and kept the pace going – I felt awesome and like I wasn’t working hard at all. We went through 2k in 7:17 and still I felt totally relaxed. So obviously then I decide to hammer the last k in 3:31, gap Nicole and cross the line (well really, it’s a garbage can) in 10:49. 5s PB on that loop. I apologized to Nic for disregarding her instructions and she giggled mischievously: “You DO know what the rest of the workout is, don’t you?! We’ll see how that goes!” ‘Bring it,’ I thought to myself. For the 3x1k, we decided to a med/tempo/med-hard effort. I felt strong on the first one and figured we’d go under 3:30 but surprised myself again when we went through in 3:23. The rest of the workout was 3:36/3:19 (tied for best time on that loop) and 7:04 – another loop PB for the 2k (but only by 1s). I have to say I was very pleased after the workout as it gave me confidence that my feeling of being fit wasn’t all in my head, and that I haven’t lost anything in the past few weeks. If anything, I think my setback may have made me a little stronger.

Nic is convinced that the pool is contaminated with some kind of performance-enhancing drug. This would make sense if chlorine is an undiscovered wonder-chemical, since it is undoubtedly coarsing through my veins each day and causing me to go into periodic sneezing fits. People at my work think I either have horrible allergies, a terrible cold that lasts for weeks on end, or am severely depressed because of my permanent watery eyes. How do I explain that it is actually self-induced torture cause by my excessive pool time each day, totalling to about 8 or 9 hours a week? And do I stop when I am plagued by allergic reactions or eye infiltrations caused by serious chlorine overdose? Of course not! At least, though, I can say that it may be paying off.

My hammies still aren't 100% and I look forward to the day where I can run and race on two good legs. Imagine that. For the time being, I am hoping that my fitness continues to progress with all my cross-training and relative decrease in mileage and that one day - ONE DAY, all pain goes AWAY! I still intend on tempo-ing Montreal next weekend, and I'm looking forward to it!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Glumy Sunday

I have to admit, I may have slightly exagerated the severity of my downtime in my last post. Although I was absent from workouts for two weeks, I was only off running for a total of four days and it was only 10 days or so before I was up to 50-60min a day. The glute issue is not completely resolved as some days it's sore and/or tight and other days it feels perfect - I am just trying to keep up with my strengthening exercises and lots of stretching. I got up to 90min last weekend, and this past week was back at workouts. Monday's workout went well as I felt extremely tapered from the cutback in running. I did two thirds of the workout, which consisted of 4x380m hill repeats and a 1.4k uphill tempo. I kept everything at tempo effort and was pleased that my glute and hamstrings felt fine the next day. On Thursday, I did the full workout of 6x1k where again I remained conservative throughout. I progressed downwards in 3:39/3:34/3:33/3:31/3:33/3:30 and felt really strong. The next day, however, I felt some twinges in my hamstring, reminding me that the underlying issue for my pain is not completely resolved.

It seems as though piriformis syndrome - sciatica - random twinging leg pain - glute/hamstring problems - whatever you want to call it (a pain in the ass? ;) - wins the prize for most common injury in our running group. Funnily enough, we have all adopted our own name for it, and have spent months, if not years, addressing our individual problems as though they were distinct from one another, when I think they are all quite related. For the sake of simplicity, I will henceforth be calling this 'glute-hamstring' nuisance GLUMY (pronounced gloo-mee) - appropriate in all respects.

So why does Glumy plague almost half of the angels? There must be some explanation. Well, I went Googling in search of some answers, and sure enough it turns out that it affects women six times more than men. Unfortunately, there isn't a consensus on why this is the case. Some experts say that women are 'under-muscled' in the gluteal area - others think that the anatomic variation of the female pelvis is to blame - and other studies have shown that women have a greater 'Q angle,' meaning that their legs angle in more, resulting in a stretched piriformis muscle. Interestingly, many pregnant women develop piriformis syndrome, likely because the pelvis becomes stretched and flexed during pregnancy. Furthermore, the hormone relaxin that is produced during pregnancy causes the pelvis to stretch and sacroiliac joint to open, which together wreak havoc on the piriformis.

Runners are at high risk of developing piriformis syndrome. According to Dr. Stephen Perle from the University of Bridgepoint, 'almost every long-distance runner has piriformis syndrome to some degree.' He attributes this to distance runners repeatedly doing the same motion in a single plane. We neglect strengthening the muscles required to move in other directions and this results in comparatively weak internal and external rotators. The piriformis is the muscle that controls these movements. Some of the exercises I've been instructed to do are squats and lunges in different planes (medial and lateral rotations) - not just forward and backward. I have also been working on abduction and adduction exercises for my glutes. I am hoping this ultimately alleviates the problem, though I should probably also be getting regular massages to relieve adhesions in the connective tissue that may be impinging on nerves and tissues in the area.

So of course on Friday night I go out to dinner with two fellow Glumy sufferers, Mama K and Dr. Z. We are dressed to impress so naturally fail to recognize each other at the door. It seems I can only spot them if they are red, hot and sweaty (get your mind out of the gutter). It's only until Mama K waves frantically and yells 'G.I. J!!!!' five times that I realize that the foxy, wavy-maned beauty sitting by herself is my friend (henceforth the hot Mama K). Once we sit down we share our Glumy status updates, and I admit mine was bugging me a little after the workout Thursday. Before I could even finish my sentence, hot Mama K whips out a green tennis ball from her chique Gucci purse and hands it over to me. 'Sit on it during dinner. It'll cure ya.' she says. I nod and take the ball in silence, somewhat stunned - first by the fact that she fit a green tennis ball in that purse (who would have known?), second by how prepared she was no matter what the scenario. Does she bring tennis balls to clubs and bars as well? I nonchalantly stuffed the old tennis ball under my dress and rolled around on it for the next hour, sporadically belting out 'oohs' and 'aaahs' when I hit a trigger point. I think the waiter was surprised by how much we were enjoying our meals.

The next morning I did my first 'real' long run and it felt great (must've been hot mama's balls). I felt Glumy for a portion of it, but it went away for the last 75min so I finished on quite a happy (not a glumy) note. I ran for 2hrs10min (about 27k) and it felt like a total breeze. It's frustrating in a way because I feel like my current fitness far exceeds how strong my body is. I don't want to push too hard for fear of hurting myself or over-exerting my weak glute. I am hoping that in the coming weeks the issue completely goes away. It's gotten much better and it can take a lot more running and beating up than it ever has, but it's still not perfect.

Next week I'll be continuing to build up and hopefully be strong enough for a 20-miler on the weekend. The plan is to revert to one interval workout and one long run per week until Glumy goes away for good. I may do one run with some tempo thrown in, but coach and I would rather play it safe until we are confident that I am 100%. Since I've missed a few long runs, I will have to get in at least 20 miles the weekend of the Montreal half. That means I'd do 10k before the race and tempo the race with a hard last 3k. Too bad I can't race it full out - but ya gotta keep your eye on the big sucker - especially when it's a marathon.

Shout-outs to Ali D (2nd in the 5k!), Ruth, Jebs and Amanda who ran in the Spring Run-Off on the weekend representing the Angels. Leslie Sexton also had a great race, coming in 3rd to Pidhoresky and Tallen. Congrats ladies!

p.s. Speaking of hot Mama K, she will be appearing in the next issue of iRUN so keep your eyes open for her! She can be easy to miss if you've only seen her sweating and grunting through a workout like I have ;).