Sunday, May 31, 2009

Test of will power, but I finished RNR Marathon under 4 hours!

The past month has been tough as the calf muscle injury evolved into much bigger issue affecting all of my right lower leg and the outer portion of my right quadracep. I never was able to get back onto my training schedule and the longest run I had within the two weeks prior to RNR race day was 2 miles! As you can imagine, I was really uncertain how things would play out today when I headed to the start line.

I'm happy to report that I was able to overcome the odds and complete the race. Wasn't pretty, but I walked all the uphills, ran the downhills as fast as I could, and did my best to keep pace up on the flats. My half marathon split was 1:46 so was on pace for a 3:30 marathon, but by the time I got to mile 17 my legs were wearing out due to my altered running stride since I couldn't push off my toe using calf muscle.

Walking the hills had a few benefits I've not experienced before. For one, I took some photos and even uploaded one to Facebook at mile 20. Also stopped to eat some extremely good watermellon. Another benefit was less wear and tear overall. I'm writing this 10 hours after I finished and I actually feel pretty good.

Official race time was 3 hours 56 minutes so broke the 4 hour mark. Not bad for all the walking I did. More important, my calf muscle feels pretty good. I had a scare at mile 1 where it acted up and I started limping pretty bad. As I made my way to the side of road to walk I thought to myself, too early in race...let's run very lightly as if running on egg shells and see if we can work it out. Low and behold it worked out. Half mile later I was cruising along pain free with normal running stride that lasted me until mile 8 when I hit the big hill going up Hwy 163.

Since I hadn't run any long distances for a full month, my fitness level definitely took a hit too. And...my mind wasn't prepared. Once I got into the higher miles I actually found myself thinking my god this is a long way to run. Yesterday when I was at the race expo I got to meet Ryan Hall. That was very cool. He signed an autograph for me that said "Mike, discover what's inside". There definitely were several times today where I was feeling the pain and tired...and I thought about Ryan and what he wrote...and dug deep to keep going. Good stuff.

The race today also had a four person relay that my wife Lynn participated in with 3 of her girlfriends. Good news is the relay didn't bother the marathon runners and was well run. I think it's a great addition and hope they do it again next year so more people can experience the fun of running the streets of San Diego with live bands and screaming fans.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Taper Time...only 11 More Days to RNR Marathon

The countdown has begun! For some, this is a time of cutting back on miles in what marathoners refer to as "tapering down" the mileage and allowing the body to repair and store up fuel for the 26.2 mile race.

For me this time around, I think I've been tapering the last month due to calf muscle injury. Now I'm finding myself wanting to increase the miles to regain some lost cardio fitness, but having to resist out of fear I will re-injure my calf muscle. Nonetheless, it is testing my patience and providing extra time to study up on other things like nutrition.

A friend who's new to long distance running recently asked me about "carbo loading", which is something I've never been a fan of...at least not in the way the general public thinks of it as loading up on pasta the night before the race as if it would somehow provide a boost in performance the next day.

What I recommended to my friend was to not change anything. My thinking was that she already had calorie intake sufficient to maintain a substantial training program. If she "tapers" off that mileage the last week before her half marathon and maintains the same diet...her body will have an excess of calories and therefore she'd have plenty of fuel for the body to rebuild and top of her glycogen stores. Because she this was her first half marathon, it was important for her not to introduce anything new. Good news is that on race day her energy level was great and she did awesome.

Recently I read a post by Kim Mueller, a local sports nutrition expert who also happens to be a triathlete and marathon runner. It caught my attention because the subject was carbo loading. In the post, she pushed back on another marathoner who was promoting the "old school" carbo loading technique where you eat a low carb diet for 4 days to completely deplete your glycogen stores, then do 3 days of super high carb diet to supercompensate and boost glycogen storage to considerably higher storage levels than normal.

I liked Kim's post because she pointed out that numerous research studies have since proven there is no need to deplete glycogen stores and there is evidence to show you only need to increase your normal % of carbs in diet by 25% the three days leading up to race day in order to get full benefit of "carbo loading".

With that in mind, I think my advice to my half marathon running friend was just right and for the more experienced runners, following the same advice with the 25% increase in carbs the 3 days leading up to race day should be just what the doctor ordered. Just be sure to eat a small meal the night before the race so you don't have any issues during the race. Cheers!

Monday, May 4, 2009

Remember...It's About the Journey when Injuries Happen

For the past week I have been dealing with an injury to my calf muscle that has kept me from running. In fact, I had to pass on running an 8K race yesterday and that was really hard...and frustrating. The injury is what they call a Chronic Muscle Tear, which is something that may happen to runners of all levels including elites and the experts say it has nothing to do with running form, pronation, etc.

The "tears" are micro tears that happen when the muscle is under great stress. For me, I can pinpoint the cause of stress as the long 20 mile run I did a little over a week ago that had two relatively long, steep hills. These tears are normal and all runners get them when pushing their body hard. It's just that some people like me are blessed with a botched repair process that leaves scar tissue between the muscle fibers. It's "chronic" because it happens over and over...and for some strange reason, it typically only happens in the same area. For me, it's my calf muscles.

If you think of spaghetti pasta, our muscle fibers are like all the individual pieces of pasta. When we run, our muscle fibers fire independently. As such, one fiber may be contracting while the one next to it is relaxed. When you cook the pasta, you have to stir it because there is starch in there that binds the pasta together if you don't. Scar tissue that forms with Chronic Muscle Tears is like the starch that makes the pasta stick together. With scar tissue in your muscle, the relaxed fiber screams out in pain when the fiber next to it fires and scar tissue drags it along.

In my experience, I'll take few days off after a hard workout so the body can repair. Then I'll go out for a run. Everything feels fine for the first 1/2 mile, but then it starts to hurt. Not stabbing, but sort of like a stiff muscle or cramp. I learned the hard way that you try to run through it, you'll eventually get a stabbing pain, which is some of the muscle fibers tearing as the scar tissue pulls on them...not good.

If you experience this a couple days after a hard workout, the best thing to do is stop and stretch...and use fingers to locate the knot or point of pain, then use firm pressure to massage back and forth against the grain. You need to roll the muscle fibers to break up the scar tissue. This technique is called cross friction massage. It can be quite painful, but it is the only thing I have found that works. If you take it easy for a week with only bike riding and walking plus a lot of stretching and cross friction massage, you should be back to running in a week. Trick is to force yourself to not run until you can walk without pain and keep doing cross friction in the affected area regardless of if you feel pain or not...you need to make sure that as the muscle heals it does not form more scar tissue.

All that said, today is the first day I have been able to walk without pain so I'm excited to get back out running. Dealing with injuries is humbling. When they happen it is easy to get depressed and worried you are losing out. Somewhere along the way I learned that what I love about running is the way it makes me feel. Race day is exciting, but it's just one day and it goes by way too fast. What really matters is the journey. The ups and downs. The little triumphs when you reach a new level of fitness as well as the trials and tribulations you must endure such as the injury I described above.

We have a sign on our wall that my wife put up that sums it up perfectly. I read it every day. It says "Happiness is in the Journey....Not at the Destination". Whether you are training for a marathon or just working towards your career goals, that quote helps you stay present and enjoy the process. All for now. Enjoy the ride!