Sunday, October 23, 2016

Running injuries: let's see the good in them!

I was going to use a more catchy title like "Running injuries: the good, the bad and the ugly" or "Why are running injuries such a pain" because it's so much easier to think about them in a negative way. Let me try the other side of the half glass, which isn't so natural for me...

Why talking about injuries in the first place? Well, because I've been grounded by one for a while now... I didn't share that in the post I wrote in September but, after my 200 kilometers at the North Coast 24-hour Nationals, I took 2 days off running and resumed training with a slow 10K the following Wednesday. I could feel some pain under the ball of my right foot but still went for 15 more kilometers on Thursday. That Friday, I stopped after 10K again: the pain was bearable but still sharp enough to think that it wasn't soreness anymore but a real foot issue. Walking was very uncomfortable on Saturday and Sunday and I was very happy to get x-rays taken on Monday and a referral to see a podiatrist on Tuesday, himself an active athlete (running and triathlon!). While his prognosis is a fracture of one of the two sesamoid bones in the right foot, the x-ray wasn't conclusive enough and an MRI was needed to say for sure. In the meantime the recommendation was to stop running...

I must say that, with 43,500 miles in my running log, I've been very lucky with injuries, or lack thereof, so far... In 18 years, I had 3 major episodes:
  • a. First, while it happened as I was running hard, I wouldn't call last March's TIA stroke a running injury. It was more an accident, and likely rather caused by stress and fatigue.
  • b. I had a major injury at the end of another training run when I tripped, fell and broke my shoulder 4 years ago after covering 40 miles of the Tahoe Rim Trail. I had never realized how the upper body was so engaged when running. Indeed, while I had always thought running injuries occurred in the lower body, that one prevented me from running for 6 weeks.
  • c. Then there has been the exercise induced asthma occurrences but that's more a condition than an injury. And I managed to keep it under control for the past 5 years by taking Singulair.
Back to the title, I surprised myself by coming up with more than 1 reason injuries are good and beneficial to us! So I pushed the exercise to list a few, but please leave a comment if you can think of others; let's admit it, injuries suck because they prevent us for doing one thing we love, running. Yet, injuries allows us to...

1. Discover and know our body, learn about our amazing and complex anatomy. Every time there is something wrong, I'm in awe by the sophistication of our body. With my shoulder fracture I realized how complex a joint it was, I learned that our skeleton was regenerating itself entirely several times during our lifetime, I discovered how much flexibility our muscles can lose when unused for a few weeks. This time, I learned that we have even more bones in our feet than I thought, with two little sesamoids under the ball of our feet to gain stability. That sesamoid bones were not attached to the skeleton, that the patella was the largest sesamoid and that we could have up to 42 sesamoids in our body (here is a very good article from MRI Web Clinic). As a matter of fact, I also discovered that not all of us even have these four sesamoids under our feet, and that some may form, or not, at puberty. So intriguing, isn't it? Well, great news that these little bones help our balance except that, given their location, these particular sesamoids in the foot are extremely solicited when running a 24-hour race in particular, each receiving something like 100,000 shocks in a day; of course, being bones, they may break, and being under the foot, they are very long to heal when/if broken because of the lack of blood flow in this area. Yikes...

2. Listen to our body. Better knowing our own body allows us to better listen to it, and follow that famous and wise adage. There is so much noise from all parts of our body when we push the envelope in ultra running, thousands of insights which clash in our mind and even conflict with our willpower or stamina. Unfortunately, in this occurrence, I don't recall a single sign during the race and I'm not sure we can really listen all the time to every bone, or ligament, or muscle all the time either.

3. Uncover and understand our own limits and respect them. I so wish we were indestructible, that the only limits would be breathing, heart rate, leg speed and mental strength but it is obviously not the case as we are reminded all the time on social media. Truth is, we each have our own limits and it's almost an art to push the envelope but remains just on the safe side. Not in the artistic and creativity sense, but the needed skill developed through practice and empirical discovery or exploration.

4. Work on our life balance. Not all of us have an issue with running too much but that's a frequent issue in our sport which has no limit in its definition ("anything longer than a marathon..."). Running injuries may be like road warning signs indicating that we may be overdoing it.

5. Be More appreciative of our gifts. I was driving by one of our local churches the other day and there was this inscription: "Count your blessings, not your problems!" A good reminder to enjoy our abilities to run when we are not injured, but also the myriads of other things working when we are set back by only one temporary injury.

6. Put things into perspective, re-evaluate priorities, relativize our situation. You just need to turn on the TV, or connect to the Internet, to see that there is so much life tragedy which billions of people are going through. Non-runners must not be feeling so sorry for our little running injuries...

7. Make time for others and other things. You can call it "injury... time", the time an injury frees up from running and training. Time to spend more... time with others, catch-up on movies, books, or other hobbies. Or work...

8. Teach us how top cope with (some) loss. Injuries vary a lot in their importance or consequences: some may disappear after a few days or weeks, others may have long lasting effects. As I admitted above, I'm lucky and haven't been affected by the latter ones, and I'm not even talking serious sickness or trauma here, yet, I feel it's fair to say that even the smaller injuries are difficult to accept. In that sense, they teach us or train us to follow the classic steps describes in the figure below (CycleOfAcceptance): some denial, anger, depression and bargaining, before acceptance. In this sense, minor injuries are a way to experience this cycle in a less traumatic setup.

9. Prepare for a potential end. That's probably the hardest thing which an injury can do to us, make us realize that there may come a time when we may not be able to run anymore, or at least not with the same intensity, not as far, not as fast. Pun intended with regard to my blog title, not indefinitely farther faster... In March, I had sincerely no idea if I was going to be able to run again, less so to race again. While I was feeling completely fine, physically, the doctors were not so optimistic or sure about it and that was frightening. I was very fortunate that all the tests came back negative but, for these first 4 weeks after the incident, I had to think a lot about what my life would be without running...

10. Come back stronger, healthier. Getting injured is an opportunity to switch to another activity, do some cross-training, or strength training. And get more rest that what we may allow ourselves when preparing for big goals. Work on your core for instance, which is so essential in avoiding injury in the first place!

11. Come back smarter and wiser. Smarter about the intensity in races or variety in training sessions. Wiser with more patience, more reason which, in turn, will make us more resilient. Last but not least, wiser by keeping our ego in check... After all, 99.9% of us aren't making a living of running, it's just a hobby so not worth killing ourselves in the process...

Did I smoke something to be so prolific when looking at good aspects of running injuries and being philosophic about them? I swear not, must just be that I'm aging, if not maturing. ;-) At least, not having run for 5 weeks now gave me some time to think about the matter...

Hope you are doing fine and, if that's the case, you cherish all the injury-free time you are gifted with. Otherwise, if injured from running, that you are able to find some life wisdom while dealing with the setback, then recover and bounce back as quickly as nature and your body allow.

PS: again, please leave a comment if you see other positive aspects of running injuries!

Saturday, September 24, 2016

NorthCoast 2016 US 24-hour Nationals: a runner's diary

4 weeks without posting on my blog, I don't think it ever happened since I started blogging in March 2007. I'm getting close to 500 posts, maybe it's a sign I and you have had enough, what do you think? ;-) Have I not been running these past weeks? You bet I have, 332 miles since Tamalpa Headlands 50K. But there has been so many updates on Facebook, you already heard what I did last weekend.

Yes, at the last minute, I decided to enter the 24-hour road Nationals as I had customers to visit in Ohio. I was actually supposed to be in Saudi Arabia instead but that trip got postponed to first week of October now. For once, there was quite some serious competition on the roster in my M50-54 age group: Serge Arbona and Ed Ettinghausen, both having run way more than my PR. Serge even made the Team USA and the World Championships a few years ago, and Ed has covered 144 miles on a track a couple of years ago. But I thought I had a shot at that distance which represents our age group American record on the road.

Training had gone well in September, but the weather was giving high chance of rain showers throughout the day and the night, damned! Sure enough, it rained during the night and the course had large puddles when we started. It started running cats and dogs again just 30 minutes before the start, that looked like awful conditions. One of my biggest fear after what happened here 2 years ago was chaffing, and being soaked right off the bat didn't look good. By some miracle, the rain stopped 10 minutes before the start and that was it for the next 24 hours! I teased the event management team about how much they must have paid to get us this dry weather agains all odds. Few people know, IBM (yes, I'm an IBMer!) has purchased a few months ago (we cut quite a big check for that) because weather data and forecast are so important for most industries. Well, I wish I had gotten the memo that the forecast was wrong, because I would have followed a different race strategy.

Indeed, fearing the rain all night, I decided to start relatively strong and take a shot at our 100-mile road age group record which is 15 hours and 2 minutes (Brian Teason). Of course, I knew that would kill me afterwards but if the weather was going to turn bad anyway...

To recount my race, I was really counting on the data and splits recorded by my Garmin. Like Bev Anderson-Abbs, I sometimes hate my Garmins, although I keep buying and using them. The features are good but it's the upload capability which sometimes if not often sucks. Once again, the device recorded everything, but I lost all the data when the data transfer hung up. And since I'm writing this post a week later, after an exhausting and stressful work week, I have lost track of some details and numbers. Besides, running on the same 0.9-mile loop for 24 hours is a recipe for a boring race report so I'll spare you the details and, since an image is worth a thousand words (at least!), I'm offering a visual diary of 2 days in my running life! (You can also click on the picture to enlarge it.)

As you can see, it wasn't an eventless weekend! To hit the 100-mile mark under 15 hours, I just had to average a 9 min/mile pace. And to hit the 144-mile mark (our M50-54 age group record) in 24 hours, just 10 min/mile. So what did I do? Start way too fast, under 8 min/mile of course, everything you shouldn't do in a 24-hour event... A few pictures from the first 6 hours I believe (credit to Andy Noise for the first one, and Pat Dooley for the next 3):

Although that looks crazy, if not stupid, in retrospective, the thing is that I wasn't even in the lead! Well, I actually had no idea because I didn't have a crew (yes, I got screwed again!), and the display with the current standings was quite far away from the course. Running between 8 and 8:30 min/mile actually felt slow and easy. I did hit the 50-mile mark ahead of schedule, around 7 hours and 15 minutes if I recall. But it was hot and super humid so I started to slow down and lose faith in my initial goal, so much that by mile 80 I think, I started to walk, yikes!

As I often say, what I like in ultra running is the running part, certainly not the walking. After many laps under 8 minutes, it killed me to complete laps between 16 and 19 minutes! At the end of the afternoon, it was uplifting to see the legendary Mark Godale visiting us. Here is a picture he took as I was trotting along side another local ultra running legend, Connie Gardner (wearing Brooks Launch shoes too!):

As the night had fallen and the last clouds of the day were dissipating, the rise of the full moon was amazing. Yet, despite the good weather, I had serious trouble maintaining a sub 10 min/mile pace at this point. I had drunk a lot, and taken quite a few GUs (one an hour) on top of a Vespa pouch every 3 hours, plus a few potato chips and cups of Coke once in a while, and an S!Caps every hour, so I didn't think I was dehydrated but the heat and humidity definitely had their toll. After 12 hours of racing, I decided that it was time to catch-up on calories and made more frequent stops at the aid station. The hot food kept changing so you weren't sure of what you'll find at your next passage: I was so much looking for mashed potatoes but I had to first eat some macaroni and cheese, then some chicken noodle soup, some cheese pizza (made on site, yummy!), then the mashed potatoes finally came around midnight if I recall. I wasn't sure about that, but I even did eat and enjoyed French fries, a first during a race!

Without my GPS recording, or the race timing splits, I'm not sure exactly when I did my first stop at the medical tent after even walking slowly got painful; I think around midnight. There, a Med School student, Brent, provided me with a massage and leg stretching which got me back on my feet. I must have stopped for at least 20 minutes and got cold, although the temperature was still high throughout the night. Brent ensured that I put some layers on and I went back on the course, walking 2 laps, then resuming running to finally pass the 100-mile mark in a time close to 18 hours I think. Quite far from my initial goal but at least I was still moving and we had 6 more hours to kill... A selfie with Brent:
I'm very grateful to Brent for having fixed me this way and allowed me to get back on the course for more running. And it was cool to meet his wife and their three young children at the end of his 24-hour shift on Sunday morning.

I jogged for a while, maybe a couple of hours, but then had to switch back to walking again. I stopped by the medical tent around 5:30 am and Brent did the same magic except that my mind wasn't into it anymore. 110 miles completed but Serge was now way ahead and looking good, I wasn't going to catch him. Actually, this is the time that I discovered that I had 8 laps on the next M50-54 competitor, John Bertram, whom I saw passing by the medical tent twice as I was resting there and contemplating to stop for good. At 6 am, I went to the car thinking it was over, but I set my alarm clock for 7:30 am in case I had something back in the tank for the finish. Exhausted, I slept like a baby for 90 minutes which represent 2 sleep cycle for me. Interestingly, I even woke up 2 minutes before the time I had set on my watch and decided to check on the leader board. My legs were quite fried after such a break but when I discovered that John had just tied up with me, that kicked my ass (or my ego, rather... ;-)) and I got back on the course, where I left it 1.5 hours earlier, for a sprint which took the breath away of everybody, on or along the course. The sun was back and I got a good sweat out clocking sub-7 minute laps but I was determined to catch John and pass him. 1 lap, 2 laps, 3 laps, 4 laps at this pace, and still no sign of a M50-54 bib except for Serge who was now down to walking. I could not find this John Bertram anymore and that became an obsession, the weird feeling of chasing a ghost. I started thinking that he had bounced back too and sprinting behind me. The heads of the Women Team USA selection even offered to help me with my bottles but what I wanted the most is an update on the leader board with regard to John's position. When she told me that he was 2 laps ahead I replied it was impossible but I kept pushing in case she was right. At least I was logging some distance now... At the next lap she admitted that there had been an issue with lap counting or reporting, so she didn't know better...

Around 8:20, I finally found John who had changed his outfit during the night and was now wearing a bright orange rain jacket around his waist such as it was hiding his bib. Apart from being a potential disqualification in a championship, that was explaining why I couldn't find him... I kept sprinting until the very last second of the 24 hours and ended up with a distance of 124.3 miles (137+ laps), by pure luck right on 200.0 kilometers! Far from my original goal, far behind the winner's 148.6 mile mark (Olivier Leblond), even shorter than my 133 miles of 2 years ago on this course.

While I had found out I was in 10th place overall when coming back on the course at 7:30, it's only at the award ceremony that I discovered that I had finished 6th overall, 5th in the Men division, and secured that 2nd place in my age group behind Serge (4th overall, 3rd Men, with 136.9 miles). During our first laps together, Serge had joked that he had the feeling there would be 3 French guys on the podium, but we took 1, 3 and 5 instead, not too shabby. Well, we all run for the US anyway now...

After being up for 30 hours, I was so much looking forward to getting to my hotel, shower and crash in a bed by noon but the ultra race continued much longer that afternoon. Indeed, as I exited the highway and was a mile away from the hotel, I got a flat tire which I had to change but more importantly get repaired before driving down 120 miles to Columbus on Monday morning. Instead of noon, I went to bed at 6 pm, after being awake for 36 hours (minus the 1.5 hours sleep break in the morning). Great endurance training...

There is many more details I could share from running for 24 hours or staying up for 36 hours, but I probably exhausted and lost your attention at this point. So, before leaving this post if you don't mind, let me conclude by commenting on a few pictures and of course by thanking all the volunteers which made this event possible, notably allowing the tradition started by Don Horvath and his own team 7 years ago! Can you imagine the number of shifts required to keep an aid station open for 24 hours and serve all sort of foods through the heat and humidity of the day, battling these nasty yellow jackets, and through the night? I don't have pictures of you, volunteers, but be sure you come first in the images I keep in my mind from this event.

2 years ago, I settled with my simple plastic bags on the gras next to Mary Skelton DaSilva's tent. This year, my neighbor hosts were Suzy and David, from Michigan. (Post-race picture.)
It had rained the night before the race but weather was looking better just after sun rise:

Oops, you can't see much on this picture but it was pouring rain 30 minutes before the start!
An event organized by Vertical Runner Race Management
Overall winner, Olivier Leblond, receiving his awards (first place overall medal and trophy, first place M40-45 medal, National Champion patch, a $1,200 check, and a ticket for Team USA and the World Championships in 2017!):

 Second place, Adrian Stanciu (144.94 miles)

 Third place Serge Arbona (136.91 miles):

 And my fifth place medal, and 2nd M50-54 medal

Serge with his buddy Paul, who helped me by refilling my GU2O bottles throughout the afternoon and most of the night:
2014 Champion Isaiah Jazen who had a much tougher day this time: he had broken his hand a week ago, in a bike fall during a triathlon. Isaiah is also a super accomplished mountain climber and did submit Mt. Everest a few months ago this year, he knows quite a lot about endurance!
 Race Director Brian Polen, offering a Garmin fenix watch at the raffle!
Here I am among many ultra legends! On my left is Roy Pirrung who covered 100 miles and won his M65-69 age group. He has earn more than 80 US National titles so far and still counting... And that was his 200 ultra race finish out of more than 1,000 races. Like he told me during the race "I only started running ultras in 1985..." and when I replied that I had already completed 130 ultras in 10 years, he replied "oh yes, but my ultras were not 50Ks". Pun intended, 60 of my ultras are 50Ks...
On my right is John Geesler who, according to Mark's post is a former 48-hour American record holder and has completed 30 Boston marathons!
 Last look at Lake Erie before leaving the site around 10:30 am on Sunday: