Tuesday, December 21, 2010

My Ironic Stress Fracture

One might think, with the pressure of a fall packed with 8 credits of part-time class, a full-time job, four ultramarathon attempts, and, just for kicks, the Army Ten-Miler, I would have cracked by now. And to some extent, I already have (note the word "attempts" after "ultramarathon" in the previous sentence). But ironically enough, it wasn't all of this that did me in. It wasn't even an epically packed last week of classes, in which, between December 1st and December 7th, I had due 1 individual homework assignment, 1 term paper, 1 group project, 2 team papers, 2 take-home finals, and 2 group presentations, on top of 3 briefings for work (which I'm pretty sure is a PR in terms of significant deliverables produced in a 7-day period, although I don't usually keep track of such things).

No, I went ahead and tweaked my running form. This tweaking fixed the minor issues I've had with my knees off and on ever since I started running, and resulted in leaps-and-bounds improvements in speed and efficiency (in short, things that, over the past few weeks, have made running more joyful and less stressful than ever before) . . . and a stress fracture in my left foot, second metatarsal.

To be fair, this is self-diagnosed, but I've had two other stress fractures in my running career, which is enough to know what one feels like. If you're wondering if it's a stress fracture, here are some tell-tale signs that could save you weeks or months of frustration and hundreds of dollars in medical bills, which result in a prescription of "rest":

1. Sharp, severe pain that floats around the injured point during motion, especially when the fracture is fresh, but eventually settles at the point of injury.

2. Vague swelling and bruising in the injured area (vague enough that the only way to conclude that there might be swelling or bruising is to compare the injured area to the same area on the other side of your body)

3. Feels like an internal "itch" near the point of injury when you're just sitting around.

4. Pressing a finger on the point of injury is slightly (but not dramatically) more painful than pressing a finger near the point of injury.

5. Pain increases dramatically under pressure during the motion of the physical activity that caused it.

6. Pain increasingly occurs during ordinary motion (e.g. walking around, climbing stairs), not just exercise.

In any event, this is a disappointing development, as it puts my entire spring in limbo. I'm already signed up for the Boston Marathon, so I've decided that that's happening, no matter what. Given that, depending on how quickly I heal, I could be running again in a month (mid-to-late January), in which case I may be able to be a little bit more ambitious post-Boston. If things don't go so well, I might not be running until late February, which throws a huge monkey wrench into late spring/early summer. And of course, a lot of major races want commitments right now, so it's unlikely that I'll be racing anything (other than Boston, and hopefully the National Marathon, for the sake of keeping that streak alive) that's "major" until mid-to-late summer.

This also comes at an awkward time, as I suddenly have more free time, due to my MBA classes being done forever, and work being generally slow around the holidays. So, my plan to use additional free time for more running is shot.

On the upside, this forces me onto the bike, and into the pool, so perhaps if I can improve my swimming past the point of "just barely not drowning," I could throw my first triathlon into the mix at some point (probably something short, since the longer ones are more expensive and probably full at this point anyway). There's also the possibility that there could be other things in life besides work and running (or so I hear), so there's that to explore . . .

And looking long-term, perhaps being injured now will put me a few months behind the late-season burn-out curve that everybody else who is at least moderately competitive seems to ride, so that in the fall, when everybody else is tired from racing in the spring and summer, I'll be relatively fresh, and ready to perform well at a major event.

In summary (because for some reason, I feel like this needs a summary), a wise man, whose name may or may not actually be Andrew W.K., once belted out in a song, "Just because this life ain't easy doesn't make it bad." Not bad at all, Mr. W.K. Just interesting and ironic.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A Long Short November (for Training)

Among the goals that I didn't accomplish in November 2010 was posting more frequently about my training. I failed to meet this goal in part due to time constraints, and in part because I didn't have as much training to report on as I would have liked. So, in the interest of a better start to December, here's my November recap:

I "came back" from my self-imposed hiatus on 16 November 2010, with my only concrete goal for 2011 being to run a 5K PR. Since then, here's what's happened:

16 November: 10 minute warmup, 4x(400m speed, 60 sec rest), 10 minute warmdown; 400s @ 75, 77, 78, 79
17 November: ~6 miles easy (~40 minutes), 5x100m barefoot strides
18 November: nothing
19 November: nothing
20 November: 10 minute warmup, 3 minutes tempo, 1 minute rest, 7 minutes tempo, 1 minute rest, 10 minute warmdown
21 November: nothing

Miles for the week: ~15
Time for the week: ~1 hour, 40 minutes

22 November: nothing
23 November: ~6 miles easy (~40 minutes)
24 November: nothing
25 November: 10 minute warmup, 2x(3 minutes tempo, 1 minute rest, 7 minutes tempo), 10 minute warmdown
26 November: 2 miles in 13:07, 20 minutes total run time
27 November: nothing
28 November: ~20 miles @ sub-7:00/mile pace (2 hours, 19 minutes total time)

Miles for the week: ~35
Time for the week: ~4 hours

And, in the interest of completeness, the past couple of days:

29 November: nothing
30 November: 11 minutes warmup, 5x(400 fast, 60 sec rest), 13 minutes warmdown; 400s @ 75, 78, 81, 83, 85

So all in all, some success, some failure . . .

Success: Getting back into (a semblance of) a routine; as in, posting more than 0 miles per week. For the most part, workouts have been solid and, given the circumstances, relatively speedy. First long run in a while was not a crash-and-burn disaster. Not feeling sick, injured, or burned out anymore.

Failure: Not enough volume, not enough consistency with workouts. Not enough strides. Last speed workout of the month was beyond crummy, and fell short of desired number of reps. Some annoying blisters on my feet from taking an unfamiliar pair of shoes on a long run.

Given the above, I think the next steps are fairly obvious: continue to increase volume, run more strides, and run less crappy workouts. The last one merits dissection, as I'm still not entirely sure what caused my last workout to go south so quickly. Tentatively, I am primarily attributing it to my attempt to reach an optimal racing weight, which has me on a diet high in protein and fiber, and low in simple carbs and total calories. My guess is that this is not such a bad diet for longer, low-intensity running (where fat is a more significant energy source), but may impact shorter, higher-intensity efforts, as a result of the likely persistent glycogen shortage caused by this diet. I am basing this guess on the fact that while I felt fine running a slower pace during the warmup/warmdown, my legs went totally dead during the intervals, which didn't happen the last time I tried this workout. Or, I could be just making things up. In any case, I'm gambling that I can't reach my 5K goal at 135 pounds (the weight my body seems to naturally want to be), and that my natural build will not preclude the loss of at least 10-15 pounds. Time, and additional training volume, will tell if this is a mistake. But in any case, it's worth a shot, since I haven't tried it before, and the best that similar plans have yielded in the past is an 18:20 5K, which general theory suggests that I am better than.

Parting words: A week from today, barring catastrophe, I will finally be finished with my MBA, so I can go back to being a normal person who has most weekends free, and who can reasonably expect to spend 12 hours, maximum, at work on weekdays. I am hoping that this more regular schedule and additional free time will improve my ability to train at a high level. Then again, maybe it won't. In any case, I am excited to be moving on . . . if only I knew exactly where . . .