Life Off The Bike

My ailments

My ailments

Hello, there.  Long time, no post.

Some of you may be mildly interested in what I’ve been up to.  I have been bombarded by literally several inquiries as to my whereabouts.  Basically, I’ve been busy running and since this is a blog concerned with cycling activities, I did not find anything particularly relevant to share with you, Dear Reader.  Still, I shouldn’t have just departed without explaining myself.  That was rude and for that I apologize unreservedly.

After my succussful foray into triathlon, I became a full-time runner.  I had a little over two months to prepare myself for the Army 10 Miler and the Marine Corps Marathon, which are run on consecutive Sundays in late October.  I was nursing a chronically sore calf muscle, so I rested a week and started with the basics:  a three mile run.

A simple three miler is a humble starting point for a fellow who wants to run 26.2 miles in ten weeks, but I felt that was the best course of action.  If I added one mile a week (with a couple of exceptions where I’d add two miles) I could get up to a run of 15 miles.  That was going to have to be enough training because that’s all the time I had.  It actually was slightly better than what I did last year when I unexpectedly ran the marathon on five days notice. I busily studied running and training strategies and became an adherent of the Galloway Method of running, which encourages regular breaks for walking to prevent the running muscle group from tiring too quickly.  I bought new shoes.  I put away my bike and focused on my goal.

What followed were ten weeks of modest success punctuated by regular setbacks.

Despite being almost obsessively concerned about injury prevention, the injuries still came.  Most of the nasty joint-related pains in my ankles and knees failed to materialize, the result (I believe) of superior shoes designed to prevent the pronation that causes those injuries.  Instead, muscle-related injuries occurred.  Slowly, the pain moved up my leg, either do to overuse or compensation or both.

Things started this Spring in my foot (#1 in the above figure).  Severe nerve pain under my toes hampered most runs and made cycling rides over 40 miles an exercise in extreme pain.  Discarding my new cycling shoes and making changes in other footwear largely solved this problem, but not before a chronic pain emerged in my Achilles Tendon (2).  Rest seemed to cure this problem, only to have my old friend the calf strain (3) return during my triathlon training.  I know how to handle this condition and it didn’t disable me the way it has in year’s past.  This is where I was when I finished the triathlon.

The pain moved up my leg as marathon training became serious – runs of eight or more miles caused significant soreness in my quad muscles (4).  I wasn’t going to let that sort of thing stop me and simply increased the massages, hot baths, and stretching in that area.  But then a particularly nasty pain developed in my hip (6).  I’m still not entirely sure if the pain is in the joint or the hip flexor but it hurt quite a bit.  I began taking glucosamine to help with my joints and I must admit I didn’t notice a large improvement.

I battled on, with runs now at 13 miles.  Then, on an innocent four mile run on a weeknight, it happened:  a torn hamstring.  This occured a mere two weeks before the Army Ten Miler.  It was only a slight tear and I stopped running immediately, but this was a major setback.  My only recourse was to rest it for the last two weeks, show up at the Ten Miler, and see what happened.

The Army Ten Miler

The Army Ten Miler

Things felt pretty good on the morning of the Ten Miler.  I was stretching with no pain and my first two miles were at the encouraging pace of 8:20/mile.  As I passed the Lincoln Memorial and the marker for Mile 2, I felt a twinge in my hamstring.  Not good.  I dialed my pace back to about 9:00/minute a mile and found I could continue without too much pain.  My hamstring was letting me know it was there, but seemed agreeable to the new pace.

After five miles, the slight strand of tissue that was holding my hamstring together gave notice that it was no longer going to participate in this charade and stopped working.  At this point, you can see the air slowly leave my balloon in each mile’s pace:

Mile 6: 10:08

Mile 7: 10:24

Mile 8: 10:37

Mile 9: 11:09

Mile 10: 11:55

I got across the line with the disappointing time of 1:38:26, about thirteen minutes slower than I hoped for.  In addition to my hamstring, my hip was screaming at me for the last two miles.  It was obvious that I wouldn’t be able to run the marathon.  My great training schedule had netted me almost nothing.  I had accomplished more last year with far less focus on my running training.

So that’s what I’ve been up to. I’ve continued to rest in the past two weeks and most of the pain has subsided.  Although I still plan to run some local races (and triathlons), I suspect it will be a very long time – if ever – before I make another attempt at a marathon.

I haven’t been on my bike since September 14th.  Much of the nice Fall weather is gone and the onset of cold weather is only weeks/days away.    I think it’s time to go for a ride.

Army Ten Miler

click for details

The 2012 Army Ten Miler was a much more satisfying experience than the previous year, due almost entirely to the fact that my calf muscle was not behaving as if it had been ripped from my fibula.  Regular readers will know that I recently suffered the same injury to the same calf and the possibility of a repeat of last year’s travails was looming large.  Lots of massages, ice, heat helped rehabilitate it to an acceptable level.  Icy-Hot bandages, compression sleeves, motrin, and new shoes helped prevent reinjury.

First, my apologies for a lack of photos.  It’s difficult to photograph a running race as a participant.  It means lugging a camera with you.

The day was sunny and cool, but not frigid, and we managed to stay warm enough while waiting in the Pentagon’s South Parking Lot for about an hour.  Runners face difficult wardrobe decisions that cyclists do not.  They are forced to wait in the cold for extended periods and quickly warm up once the event starts.  Stowing excess cold weather gear is not an option.  They have come up with two general solutions to this problem:

1.  Suffer in the cold and do just fine after the race starts.

2.  Bring some throw away clothes (or a plastic bag converted to a shirt) and stay warm before the race.  Discard when they are no longer necessary.

I largely fall into Category 1, but I did use some disposable gloves which I tossed to the side after crossing the Potomac (around Mile 2).  They are purpose-built for this very thing and I was glad to have them.

Pre-race events were filled with parachutists from the Army Parachute Team, the National Anthem, and mercifully no speeches from the dignitaries.  The starting gun sounded in the distance for the Wounded Warriors, who would start five minutes before the official race start.  Nice touch, I thought.  I would eventually catch up with these folks, and watching them overcome their disabilities is always inspirational for me.  Everyone was giving them great support and I was happy to do likewise as I passed each one.  I suspect there were several I never caught up with.  Simply remarkable.

Bolivar’s Statue

It’s also remarkable how much more enjoyable an event is when you are not wondering how you will finish the next 50 feet.  I noticed statues I had never seen before, such as the one of Simon Bolivar at Foggy Bottom.  I couldn’t imagine why that guy earned a coveted spot a few blocks from the White House (the answer – which I discovered after I got home – is that it was a gift from the Republic of Venezuela to the U.S. in 1958).  I was able to enjoy the sights of DC, something I never grow tired of despite having done several events there over the years.

I took it easy for the first five miles just to make sure everything was ok, going at about 90% effort.  After that, I pushed things a little more.  Thanks goes to Tootlepedal for his “negative split” strategy.  It worked quite well.  I finished with a time of 1:29:58, about 13 minutes faster than last year.  I was pleased to break (by two seconds) the 9:00/mile pace.  Out of over 21,000 finishers, my overall placing was 7,931 – up from 14,513 last year.  I managed to improve my place in the 45-49 Men’s Division to 832, up from 1,354 last year.  Plenty to build on for next year.

You may be curious about Diesel.  She smoked the course with a time of 1:25:44.  She improved her time by six minutes from last year and finished 102nd in her division of 1,017 women.  More impressively, she was not the least bit sore and reported this morning that she could run another ten miles today if she wanted to (something your humble scribe cannot say).  She won’t do that because she has her first marathon to run this Sunday.  It is worth repeating that for most of her adult life, Diesel focused on raising our kids and maintaining a household and she did no specific exercise of any kind.  It was only three years ago that she began walking and only 18 months ago when she ran her first race – a 5k.  I am in awe.  At the marathon, I’ll be leading her official cheering section.  Perhaps next year I will run with her.

Now, where’s my bike?

The Army Ten Miler

I have concluded my recent foray into the running world with today’s edition of the Army Ten Miler.  Since I am too sore at the moment to do anything besides type, this is a great opportunity to tell you how it went.

The DC Armory, and a portion of the crowd waiting to get in

Things started on Saturday at the DC Armory, where my wife and I went to pick up our race packets.  The fact that this event was on a completely different scale than any cycling ride I have been on was immediately brought home in the form of a mammoth line of people waiting to get inside.  Outside the armory, there were military displays, rap music singers, furry mascots entertaining the children, police security, members of The Old Guard playing the piccolo, drums, and flute, and a US Special Forces dirigible flying over the scene.  This was a marked contrast from most cycling packet pickups, which are either sent to me in the mail or given to me at a nondescript table after a wait of one or two minutes.

The vendor area - sorry for the fuzziness, but hopefully you get the feel for how big it was

Once inside, we were confronted with a row of about 20 registration stalls.  Each stall was responsible for a series of bib numbers.  I was proud of the fact that I knew my and my wife’s bib number and quickly located the right stall.  Otherwise, I would have been forced to look our names up on a bulletin board containing the bib numbers of all 22,000 registered runners.  We got our packet, then shuffled over to a magnetic strip to make sure the magnet which carried our personal data was properly working.  Then we got our race shirts.  Then we were free to browse amongst the 100+ vendors inside the armory.  It was amazing to see and once again on a scale unlike anything I have seen with cycling.

On Race Day, we were on the road at 6:15 AM.  Parking would be limited, so we pulled into the Franconia-Springfield Metro and took the train into Pentagon Station.  The train was full and EVERYBODY was wearing running clothes.  At 7:45, we eventually made it to our designated “coral” (assigned based on estimated finish time) and began to wait.  I blatantly plagiarized Mr. Tootlepedal and said to my wife, “Many people are asleep right now.  They think they are having a good time.  Boy are they wrong.”  Tootlepedal, your phrase made my wife smile and for that I am in your debt.

Runners weren't allowed to bring cameras, so this stock footage from last year's race will have to do

After watching some Army sky divers jump onto the starting line, we heard a cannon fire, signifying the start of the race.  The first group to leave were wounded warriors.  Then the fastest wave left.  Then the second fastest wave.  Then us, in the final wave.  We slowly walked up Boundary Channel road with the Pentagon on our left until we reached the Starting Line.  Music was blaring and people were excited.  We crossed the Starting Line 25 minutes after the lead group was off.  This didn’t affect our race time, but it does give you a sense for how long it takes to move 22,000 people up a road.

So far, so good.  My wife was thoroughly amused to see several men break off to relieve themselves in some large bushes.  The mob was very congested and the pace was slow.  My calf was holding up fine and I promised myself not to push things until after Mile 7.  After half a mile, my wife spied an opening in the crowd, wished me well and was off.  I would see her again in about 60 minutes.

We wandered toward Arlington National Cemetery and got on the Arlington Memorial Bridge across the Potomac.  This was about 1.5 miles into the run and it was here I felt the first twinge in my right calf – the one that has plagued my training for the past six weeks.

Damn!

This was not good at all.  It was only a twinge, but I knew from experience the thing could blow at any moment and with no warning.  I was extremely cautious as I approached the Lincoln Memorial.  I adopted a running style used in the Army when running in formation.  It is a shuffling maneuver commonly known as “The Airborne Shuffle.”  Rather than fully extend my legs and thereby flex my calves, The Airborne Shuffle allowed me to putter along at a pace around 10 minutes/mile.  At this pace, I reckoned I could hold out the entire distance.

As I approached Mile 4 and the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, my calf took a dramatic turn for the worse.  It was not quite the complete rupture I felt 10 days ago (which caused me to abandon any training since), but it hurt.  A lot.

Damn!Damn!Damn!Damn!

I could still run.  Barely.  All around me, people were beginning to walk.  To be sure, many were passing me, but I was still passing some and this buoyed my morale.  I bit down hard, slowed my pace further, and resolved to gut this thing out.  Maybe the pain would subside if I just kept pushing it a bit.  I hoped so, because I honestly couldn’t see myself doing another six miles in the state I was in.

Onward I puttered, past the Lincoln Memorial again and up Independence Avenue.  The Tidal Basin was on my right and the Washington Monument was on my left.  The sun was shining, it is was a beautiful day, and I couldn’t care less because my leg was screaming at me.  Along the way, there were water stations, marching bands playing inspirational music (which always seemed to be a selection from one of the Rocky movies, for some odd reason) and hundreds of spectators cheering us on.  It’s always cool to be running on roads that are normally clogged with traffic and today was no exception.  The fans and music added extra ambiance that added to the effect.

As the Great Tide Of Humanity moved east on Independence Avenue, we eventually came upon runners coming back in our direction having reached the turnaround point.  I looked in vain for my wife amongst the hundreds of runners I passed and didn’t see her.  As I was dodging a person who was slowing down in front of me (a not uncommon occurrence) I heard someone shout, “Steve!”  I look up and briefly saw my wife, who was by me in a flash.  I was heartened to see her doing well and for her to know I at least reached Mile 6 in a conscious state.

My leg was feeling a bit better at this point and I was ready to pick things up a bit at the turn around point (Mile 6.5).  I was very frustrated, knowing I could be doing so much better.  There once was a day when I could run a mile in less than six minutes and I routinely strung together eight minute miles without difficulty.  Here I was, hovering between 10 and 11 minutes per mile.  My cardio was fine and I was barely out of breath.  I could have been doing better but I was not in the right shape and I pushed my training before I was ready, thus giving me the chronic injury I was now dealing with.  I was feeling sorry for myself.

I then saw a man running with no legs.

He was a wounded warrior who had lost both legs ABOVE the knee.  He was running on two prostheses with a female friend.  Usually, one normally needs legs to run.  It’s kind of a basic requirement.  Not this guy.  He was awesome to behold and it made me remember my sore calf muscle was not something I should be feeling sorry about.  It was very inspirational.

It was now Mile 7 and my leg was behaving, if not cooperating.  I had plenty of energy left and decided to see what I could do.  I lengthened my stride and picked up my pace.  Briefly, I was 30 years old again and moving at about an 8:30 pace.  It felt great, despite the annoying problem in my calf.  I was passing all sorts of people and would have done even better except the roads were still too clogged to allow a straight run.  I was dodging and slowing to get around all sorts of slower people.  I was reminded of Gerry’s recent cycling event when he took pride in passing riders with lower bib numbers than his.  This event identifies runners by the color of their bib.  Mine was orange and the only group slower than me wore Purple.  I was pleased to see I was passing some white bibs and some blue bibs.

After passing the Holocaust Museum on 14th Street and the Jefferson Memorial, we were approaching the 14th Street Bridge back over the Potomac.  My calf sent me two renewed spasms that told me it had just about enough of my zipping along and would soon put a stop to it if I did not do so myself.  I dialed my pace back to about 10 minutes/mile, crossed the bridge, and turned into the Pentagon’s South Parking lot.  The last mile was a tough one – and not just because of my calf.  I was physically spent at this point.  I eventually made it to the finish line.

I was really, really glad to be done.

As I shuffled up the road in a sea of fellow runners, my mind turned to the practical matter of linking up with my wife.  We had agreed to meet at the finish line, but it was immediately apparent that would not be possible.  The runners were herded along for another half mile, where we were given water and finishing coins.  My wife was waiting for me near the coin station (a huge area where hundreds of runners were queuing up in several lines for their coin) and somehow managed to spot me.  Thank God for that because I don’t know what I would have done next.  I suppose I would have wandered the area aimlessly until we eventually met.  That would not have been fun in the least.

We got our coins and toured the vast sea of hospitality tents set up in the parking lot.  There was some more water and plenty of snack food in the form of bananas, bagels, cookies and other treats.  Many military units had set up display tents and were handing out free items like posters, tote bags and whatnot.  After a few minutes, we headed back to the Pentagon Metro stop and joined the throng of people attempting to get on a train.  An hour later, we pulled into our driveway and I was happy to be home.

In the end, my 1:43:51 time gave me a place of 14,404 out of 21,914 runners.  In my age group, I finished 1s 1,342 out of 1,747.  It was not my finest hour, but I was tremendously proud of my wife, who finished twelve minutes ahead of me and 201st out of 981 in her age group.  Apart from a 5K run, this was her first-ever organized race and she began jogging only 18 months ago.  When I talked her into registering for this event back in May, she wasn’t sure if she would be able to finish the race.  Not only did she finish, but she excelled.

Now it’s time to get back on my bike.  It was nice to see the “Running Life” and I will probably still engage in the occasional jog around the block, but I’m ready to feel the wind on my face and watch the miles fly by without feeling the effects of massive concussion injuries in my feet, ankles, shins, calves, and knees.

Allez!