Thursday, October 28, 2010

You spoke, I listened. Here is what I have to say.

l wrote a blog post this week about my thoughts on pain and pain management.  As runners we have to know when to keep pushing and when to back off.  The difference between "injury" and "hurt" can be big, and learning to tell the difference is important.  Stopping in time may mean avoiding debilitating damage and a long layoff.  Stopping to soon may mean losing out on how strong mentally and physically you have become.  To paraphrase "Know when to say whoa."

The comment below is a response I received via the Daily Mile.  

I have mixed feelings about this note and another one you posted not so long ago, which was also about hurting and injuries. I no longer agree with the idea that one should run through pain just be tough. I am going to say that if you suspect that you may have a real injury, you should certainly not be running. My goal is to run for life, and I will be very careful not to hurt myself again, just because I thought I was tough enough to run through pain.

The commenter has had his own issues with injury this fall and is doing his best to deal with the situation.  His words knocked me back a bit.  I wondered if I were pushing bad advice.  I wondered if I was enabling injured runners to create worse situations.  After rereading his response I decided to craft my own reply.  Directly to the commenter.  As a friend.  Here is what I wrote:

I think I did qualify some of my statements in the post. If "it" is broken or torn seek the treatment you need. But with two years of running I am learning much about myself and how I need to move to be as free of injury as possible. I don't claim to be bullet proof and cannot claim to eliminate all chance of injury, though I believe I can reverse the course of some injury before the damage sets in.
This is the power and beauty of form development and correction through Chi Running. It is why I recommend Chi Running to anyone that will listen, and to many that should listen.
I too wasted time to injury. I trained for four months to see if I could run the distance. I did and it hurt. Then I began to study form and running efficiency and committed to running smarter. Then one week prior to my first official marathon I felt 'it'. A tweak in my ankle. Nothing at first; just something that was not "right".
As the week progressed I ran less and with more pain. Stubbornly I dragged my family (wife, 2 kids, and my parents) from Myrtle Beach to northwest Georgia to the race. I could barely walk. Then like a moron I decided to shoot baskets with my high school aged cousins. Needless to say, I was done ten miles in the race. One year wasted.
I quit to prevent further damage. The bike medic that called for my ride out said I was smart. His wife ran through an Achilles strain that resulted in a full tear and a year off. I freaked out.
Then weather cancelled the Myrtle Beach Marathon in February. Not an injury issue, but more time wasted.
But what I learned in the wake of the ankle injury and the marathon DNF was invaluable. I returned to Chi Running. I searched for answers. I wanted to know if there was some nugget I missed in the previous six months.
I also began to doubt switching to Vibrams Five Fingers. I loved them and loved the concept but wondered if I were right for them.
I then saw a general practitioner to get a ortho referral. Another waste of time. The ortho was a joke too. Rubbed my ankle. Looked at me standing. But did not want to see me run. Or walk. Or hear my story and how I came to be sitting in his office. He said "you run too much, you don't cross-train (but he didn't ask if...) and you are too old (at 36?)
Prior to the ortho appointment I scoured the Internet. I found sketches of the foot and ankle to see what my problem specifically might be. I located the focus of the pain. I could see the swollen tissue. It was most likely the tarsal tendon, similar to the carpal tunnel in the wrist. But it was swollen and huge. However the ortho said Achilles and that ended the discussion.
Prior to the appointment I also poured through the Chi Running book and website looking for missed technique. I discovered a diagram of leg/foot turnover on the website that told me what I needed to know. I was running off my heel. While I needed to reduce heel strike, I had gone too far in the other direction by running too high on my toes. By running too hard and far with improper form I caused the pain. Now I needed to know if the damage was permanent.
My strength test was a one-legged heel raise. I could do it unsupported with my left foot. The heel could clear the floor and I could stand on my ball with no problem. But my right heel would not lift at all. No strength. All pain.
I hit the neighborhood gym for 5 mile bike rides and light weight training. I would walk (limp) around the neighborhood to keep moving. But I tried to use the form tweak I discovered to slowly get back to running.
And within the few weeks that I learned the missed form point and seeing the ortho
Then in early January I spent a few hours with a certified Chi Running instructor. She reviewed my form and gave me a few other techniques not found in the book. What I did not tell her was how much pain I was in that morning. I was a month from the Myrtle Beach Marathon and feared missing it.
Two weeks later I ran a local 10k to shake things out. I finished under 50 minutes and was pleased with my steady pace. The ortho had said the marathon would be iffy, only if I committed to his plan and advice. But when he would not listen to me I chose not to listen to him.
Anyway, snow caused the marathon to be cancelled. But I witness hundreds of people running the streets that afternoon with bibs pinned on. So Sunday morning I did the same and ran the course. It was cold and windy and difficult but I did it. And the ankle was not a problem. I did develop pretty bad pain in my left knee, from constantly turning to look over my right shoulder for traffic. I stayed on the right sidewalk and had to stay vigilant as I approached parking lots and intersections. The constant torquing really screwed my knee, making the final two miles the most painful thing I have ever done.
Afterward I reviewed the run. I recognized where the pain came from and promised to correct it on the road. I took a few days off then hit the road. Straight ahead. Legs, arms, head and torso aligned properly. Over the next two weeks the pain in my knee lessened and came later in the run. The first day it showed up in Mile Two. After a few weeks it waited till Mile Ten. Then it never came back.
If a runner is earnest in learning proper form and commits to developing that form many injuries can be corrected on the run. That is my experience. Is this good advice for all runners. Probably not. I will concede that point and thanks for pointing it out. But I will also point out that some runners look for any excuse to get off the road. They blame shoes and weather and running surface and anything else imaginable.
I learned that my injuries came from within. Poor form led to poor performance. My current calf injury came from a cool morning with inadequate warm-up. But maintaining my form carried me to two consecutive great performances. And I believe it is why I can run with less pain that I have when walking.
Could your shin splints been avoided. I say yes. Could the subsequent stress fractures been avoided. Again I say yes. Please don't interpret these statements as an attack. I don't know how you run and will not diagnose your condition other than to say you need to "see" how you run when you return.
Have someone photograph your stride. My camera has a burst function where the camera shoots constant shots with the shutter button held down. Family pictures from Sunday revealed some heel striking that I have to work on.
I will close be saying the fixing the form will fix the condition more often that not. I hope you heal soon and fast. I hope you can make up for lost time. I also concede that most people will think it through as carefully as I have.
If you think I am full of shit or a menace to runner tell me. I will have a good laugh, problem agree with you to a point then cheer you on even harder in your recovery.
And I want to thank you for speaking up. I write as a form of self-expression. I want to share. If what I have experienced helps another runner avoid my mistakes then I have not wasted my time. Thanks for reminding me to think of the person that may not be like me, committed like me, or as beautiful as me (did I type that?).
Good luck and no worries. And keep your chin up.
I posted this entry at Stephen's request.  I welcome his candor and ability to deal as a grown-up.  There's a lot of childish behavior on the Internet.

Can't grow if we can't listen. Everyone has something to learn and something to teach. I can't wait to read your responses.

The UnaRunner

Friday, October 22, 2010

Do I Have Something To Prove?

An exchange on Facebook overnight got me to thinking about why people choose to do what they do.  Or choose to avoid things they dislike.  Exercise seems to be a big "avoider" by most people.  And there are plenty of excuses; some more valid than others.

It seems to me that the "do-nots" get riled up by the "do-ers".  Like we are showing off.  Please.

Running at 5am is not about showing off.

Running in freezing temperatures is not about showing off.

Running in boiling humidity is not about showing off.

Running a distance I have no patience for driving is not about showing off.

Running in those conditions and at those times is not about the "do-nots".  It is about me and what I need to do.  The following is a posting to daily mile dot com I wrote this morning.  To understand a runner I believe you have to be a runner (or at least have lived with a runner for a long time).
An open letter to Daily Mile - thank you for congratulating my successes, sympathizing with my setbacks and encouraging my efforts. Someone recently told me they have nothing left to prove (to whom?). I think it is the challenges in life that define us throughout life. Whether you are a teenager or eligible for the "senior discount", there may something out there nagging at you, making you think "What if..."
Nothing I do now is with the intent of proving my self to you. It is all for proving something to myself. I am capable. I shall realize my goals. Failure pushes me to work harder. Success pushes me to set harder goals.
Again, Daily Mile, thank you for all your kind, warm, sympathetic and at times humorously abusive words. Not just for the comments directed toward my posts but toward all members of the Daily Mile. This community lifts me up at times that I most doubt myself. For that I am forever grateful.
Miles run and times posted are great for assessing fitness and personal commitment.  The goals of a runner are not established to show how awesome the runner is, but to see how awesome the runner could be.  And sharing this information is great for realizing goals met.

So... do I have something to prove?  To you?  No, probably not.  To myself?  Everyday for the rest of my life.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Time - Komen Race of the Cure 5k at Daniel Island, SC


We can always use more.  We have too much time on our hands.  We waste time.  We save time.  We burn time.  And in a romantic sense we may even "make time".  But what is time really?

Time is a number.  Scientists much smarter that I say time is relative.  Five minutes for you may seem like seven minutes to me.  Our reality is clouded by perception and included by emotion.  Time drags.  Time flies.  Am I really having fun???  You get the picture.

I drove to Charleston this morning with a goal in mind.   Run this 5k in under 19 minutes.  Doable but iffy should anything not go well.  Weather, the crowd, the stomach, the nerves, etc.  But I told myself to imagine a lonely road.  An empty field where I am the only competitor.  I know I will not win (that guy set a course record at 15.06) but winning was not the goal.  Beating the time established in my head was the goal.  I wanted to know what I am capable of by running this race.  I have successful shut out the mind during long runs.  When the mind screams stop my legs respond GO!  But this time the mind would have to win the battle.  It would cry out GO GO GO!  The legs would be uncertain.  Is the pace too much?  Is the distance too far for the lungs to handle?  Questions of the body to be ignored by the mind.  My singular focus was the clock at the finish line.

Things started out curiously enough.  I hate to sound snobbish or elitist or anything of the sort but some people need to be a little further back of the starting line.  A ten year old planted himself right in front of me.  From the start he tried to go but I needed to get around him and was boxed in.  He burned up after 100 yards and fell away.  I guess my biggest fear in any race is getting tangled up and having a spill.  I hope the kid finished well though.

After a half-mile I pulled up with what I guess was a high school kid.  Great effort and easy stride.  I tried matching my breath to his and really zero in on my form.  Was I leaning properly.  Heel striking or full foot striking.  Were my arms swinging in the slot or waving about wildly?  I could leave a occasional surge and slight fall-back.  The first mile was 5.39, a personal best EVAR!!!

I stayed with the high schooler (???) for a while.  By the half way point I figured we were friends (sharing an epic surge through this lovely community) and I asked "are you going flat out or saving a kick for the end?"  I wanted to know if I would be able to use him to pace me through the finish line if I needed the "rabbit".  He responded that he was going all out AND hoped to sprint to the finish.  Opposing statements but he had courage.  At this point I know I am really scooting along and appreciate the effort all around me.  I being encourage my running mate and others on the course.  "WAY TO GO!"  "KEEP IT UP!"  "COME ON RED BIKILAS!  TURN IT OVER!"  Encouraging others, even as some runners past me, kept me in the game.  Positive karma would have to pay dividends.  Second mile was a bit slower at 6.07 and 11.48 after two miles.  Still on pace for a personal best.

Suddenly the high schooler was gone.  But I was not the once left behind.  And "Red Bikilas" fell back too.  That guy from The Citadel did hit 6th gear and disappeared.  I thought he fell off the course till I realized how far ahead he was and that he was shielded by another runner ahead of me.

I made the final turn with only a half mile left to go.  At this point the course is a two way street.  Thousands of walkers are making there way out.  I am heading in "hot".  I did what I thought was the most appropriate thing to do at that moment.  I began raising my arms.  Like a linebacker or defensive back trying to get the home crowd into the game.  Get that emotional lift.  The best thing about being close to the front is also the best thing about being last.  You are usually alone or with just a few others.  People see your struggle.  They recognize the effort.  And my gesture was met with a roar and cheers and screams of encouragement that propelled down that final straight-away.  The third mile ticked off at 5.58.  17.43 with one tenth of a mile to go.

I have run long straight-aways before.  My first 5k of the year in March featured to long segments.  And that final one was looong.  On that day I knew I was in good position and hoped to medal (of course they only handed out firsts in overall and age group categories and I was fourth, behind another guy in my age group).  I did not look back for fear that I would see something I did not like and would falter.  Today was different.  I was not racing a person.  I was racing time.  Did I have enough?  Did I use too much?

I honestly do not think I could run any faster today.  Form and endurance can improve.  The lungs and throat are a little burnt from the pace, but I'll live.

That pre-race goal was sub-19.  I wanted to believe.  I hoped against hope.  But I was ready to concede defeat to the clock if you caught me in an honest moment prior to the race.  However it is days like today that you truly see what you're made of.


18.31 beats my previous personal best by more than a minute and a half.  That translates to 5.53 minutes per mile according to the official time keeper.  I averaged less than six minutes per mile over the five kilometers (3.1 miles).  I don't know how long it will take for that to sink in.  And to realize that I could absolutely do no better than that.  I won my age group, by 64 seconds.  I was also three minutes behind third overall.  No complaints and no criticisms.  Just sweet satisfaction.

Now I'm off to celebrate with friends in running.  I hang with a good group.  They understand the desire and commitment to push beyond.  I may never hit 18.31 again.  But I did it today.

In the weeks ahead I have half-marathon and a full marathon.  I am leading a pace group for the half.  I am on someone else's clock.  Personal goals take a back seat to the needs of others.  Maybe I can help someone to a PR, or an age group award.

The marathon is another story.  I have Boston on my mind.  I might not make the time.  And I might never be able to make the trip.  But I will certainly make the effort.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

What kind of runner do you want to be?

I used to be a pained runner.  Jogging was not a comfortable activity.  I thought it was required to become more "healthy"' self-inflicted torture to be endured.  Boy was I wrong.

Most runners experience pain from running.  We think it is because running is "bad" for our bodies.  While physical activity may help with weight loss, doctors love to tell the general public that running is a high impact activity and that injuries are inevitable.  And if you want to prevent injury you must run less and buy expensive shoes and special inserts.  But the ultimate goal should be to run "free".

We should be able to run free of injury, free from self-doubt and free from the need to buy expensive crap.  And believe me I am familiar with all of that.

At one time I used to run with orthotics in my shoes.  They were the result of a repetitive use injury with my knees and working on concrete everyday.  The pain in my knees would keep me awake at night.  Even sitting on the floor with my legs crossed was unbearable.  The orthopedist felt that the inserts would aid my knees.  OK.  The orthopedist said my knee pain was due to degenerative cartilage and that I should not run.  OK.

Nine years later I am running farther and faster than ever.  I have no knee pain.  I wear no shoe inserts.  My "shoes" have no built-in arch support.  But how is this possible?

Last year I stumbled upon Chi Running by Danny Dreyer while at the bookstore looking for running books.  Danny believed that if we recapture the ease and joy of running similar to children then injury and discomfort associated with running can be reduced, if not eliminated.

Danny does offer trainer certification to teach Chi Running.  I even took a class with an instructor.  While I hope to one day become certified I am not and currently have no financial incentive to spread the "gospel" of this program.

What Chi Running has done is teach me to run in a more efficient manner.  I know how to move when I run and am able to self-diagnose causes of discomfort when they arise.  I am more mindful of tweaks and missteps and misalignment of my body.  Minor adjustments on the run can make a big difference.  Many of the pains I have experienced over the past year have been corrected without the help of motion control shoes, orthotics or the quackery of most orthopedic specialists.

I corrected a tough Achilles/tarsal tendon strain with a minor adjustment to the way I lifted my heel at the tail end of my stride.  The orthopedist I saw after this injury recommended rest, therapy & pain killers.  He said I was getting old and pushing too hard.  But he never asked to see how I run.  He did not care to know what I may have done to acquire such pain.  Treat the symptom not the cause.

Recently I thought I may have had a stress fracture in my foot.  With paid entries to several races on the horizon, skipping upcoming events will not happen.  I reviewed the previous weeks of running and remembered stepping into a hole during a long run.  I also remember running hills during one session particularly hard and fast.  I felt a lot of pain when flexing my foot but did have any issues when pressing directly onto the top of my foot.

My concern was that I was running too hard, pounding the pavement with too much impact force.  The answer was to stride "lighter".  Pick it up as I'm putting it down.  After yesterday's 20 miler on rolling hills of pavement and single track dirt trails I can see that running "lighter" has eased the pressure and pain on top of my foot.  The foot is nearly normal again.  All while increasing mileage and pace as part of my overall training schedule.

Fractures and other major injuries should be treated by medical professional and treated quickly.  The type of injury I write are the nagging issues with joints and muscle strain, like hip, knee, ankle, foot and back.  You have to study your body and your form.  Shoes don't dictate your running story.  Your body shape or size does not predispose you to any sort of future injury.  Doctors do not have every answer or any answers for that matter.  Only when you know how the body should move do you how to correct improper movement.  You owe it to yourself to take the time to learn about your body.  See what you are physically and learn how to become what you what to be.

My dream is to help anyone who asks to become a more confident runner.  I'm no trainer.  I am still learning about marathoning and conditioning and general health issues.  But if you want to run pain-free ask my how.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Randomness of thought while running.

What do you think about when running?  This question paraphrases the memoir by Japanese writer Haruki Murakami, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running.  When we long distance runners take to the road or trail when have a lot of time on our feet.  Some people run to remember.  Other runners set out to forget, however briefly.  I know someone whom used to drink to the point of blacking out; the goal was to detach from reality and forget temporarily whatever was too much to handle.  Sometimes running provided that detachment for me.

I recently was confronted with negative thoughts that created a real malaise over my whole person.  I felt like crap.  Even my wife noticed something was not right.  I finally got to run and put in a solid effort.  My mind focused upon form - arm swing, heel lift, foot placement, steady deep breath.  That focus helped me push a hot pace and run out of the funk in my brain.  No amount of alcohol or psychotropic drug could do that for me and leave me with such a sense of accomplishment, such a feeling of peace, such a connection with the world.

However I never considered what other people thought about running while running.  I know some people hate the idea.  For some any physical activity is cause for alarm.  My efforts at "marathoning" were sometimes the subject of ridicule.  The idea of what turns over the mind of other runners never occurred to me till I finally ran with other people.  And not just in a race but as a community of runners.

I was a college senior in need of PE credit the first time I really ran.  The class was pass/fail.  Run 6 miles in 60 minutes and call me for graduation.  All I really remember of the class was the struggle to get up for an 8am class and then run for an hour.  Sometimes I would run with a classmate.  He was a more capable runner (i.e. not a drinker) and usually left me far behind.  Needless to say I do not recall much of what we talked about on those runs.

Over the next twelve years I ran alone.  I was not a consistent runner during that time.  I did run during lunch breaks and after work.  But the I couldn't maintain the focus.  Running for exercise, even for sake of running, could not hold my attention for long.  Until I stumble upon the marathon.  Training for a marathon and shorter races allowed me to focus on getting out the door and logging the miles on a consistent basis.  Consistent training as developed my confidence as a runner, to know I belonged with other capable runners.

Earlier this summer I met up with a local women for an early Saturday run.  It was great.  I got to meet someone new, share running stories and test myself against someone whom has earned her stripes.  She ran Boston for goodness sakes.  Then I met another local runner and shared a few early morning runs.  More opportunity to discuss grown-up topics.  I also put miles in with a couple relocating from Florida.  The common theme was that these guys all truly enjoyed the act of running.  It is not just an "exercise" in exercise.  Running is an extension of life.

My breakthrough into the mind of the other runner came later this summer when I finally joined up with a pack of runners in Myrtle Beach.  There is a grizzled veteran.  There is a wide range of ages and experience levels to make any runner welcome.  Here I realized other runners enjoy "the run".  One guy loves the group dynamic, but unfortunately does not enjoy "the run".  For him is boarders on torture.  But dammit his final kick is something to see.

And it was with this group that I discovered my ambition to help other runners.  Whether it is simply through conversation to distract the mind from the pain and discomfort of the moment, or actually sharing training advice that has worked for me.

So what do I think about when running?  Usually I think about how to run easier, lighter, smoother, farther or faster.  If it sounds like a lot it is.  But mostly I think about how nice it would be to share the trail, to run as part of a community of runners.

What do you think about when running?