Sunday, November 30, 2008

Moving Forward

I've gotten over the disappointment of not running Philly. My main concern now is getting back to running. I miss it. My problem: I don't know what to do. For the past three-plus weeks, I've basically stopped running. This is starting to drive me batty. But I'm trying to listen to my body, something I clearly failed to do initially. My Achilles still hurts. It's not a pain that causes me to limp, but it's a dull ache that's greater in the morning or when I've been sitting for a period of time. Dr. Pribut has always been my main source for injury advice. His take is interesting: he doesn't counsel completely ceasing running and recommends against stretching. At this point, I don't know what to do. Part of me is scared to run. I went out for a run 10 days ago that was OK, nothing terrible. But I don't want to end up running 20 miles a week and never getting better. My impulse is to find some cross-training activity and take a break from running for December. This means getting over my gym-phobia and accepting I'll lose quite a bit of running fitness. The other alternative is to bite the bullet and visit a doctor, another course of action I'm not crazy about.

Thursday, November 20, 2008


There's a great quote in The Lore of Running about what running taught the author, Timothy Noakes, about life: "It has taught me who I am and, equally important, who I am not." Lots of people focus on the everyone's-a-winner mantra. This is the marketing fiction, where it's nothing but success, awesomeness and glossy photos. Running is both more complicated and more fickle, an endless repetition of a couple steps forward and one back. It's undeniably about achieving goals, but inevitably involves coming up short sometimes. That's what Noakes is getting at: we have our own limitations that running makes abundantly clear. Ultimately there's no hiding. This has happened to me too many times to count, probably most notably my comic collapse 200 yards from the finish of the Delaware Marathon. There's nothing glamorous about getting dragged across the finish line after falling three times, then getting IVs stuck in your arm. And of course, it was my fault. I didn't train enough or respect the heat. I laid in a terrible hospital corridor on a gurney after an ambulance ride that ended up costing me $500 just beside myself. I hate screwing up. The hardest part is not only admitting it but then trying to learn from it and do better. As athletes, we rely on our bodies so much yet sometimes take them for granted. This isn't fair. It's self-absorbed and even arrogant. And the end result is a carelessness that ends up in disappointment. I'm not running the marathon on Sunday. That's OK. There are other races. I will run under three hours soon, I know it. What I need to focus on now is making amends for some mistakes, realizing my limitations, why I ignored them and how I can make 100 percent sure they don't happen again. That's not an overnight thing, it takes work. I'm ready to start. Nothing worthwhile comes easy, right?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Self-Help Edition

This is ostensibly a running blog, not some kind of group therapy. But times are tough. I appreciate the messages of advice and encouragement. I want to do the right thing. Barring any disaster during a run tomorrow, I'm doing the marathon. My guess is I'll be fine, although probably unable to run the way I'd like. I don't feel I'll risk long-term damage. I'm hopeful it will work out. We all hate disappointment, especially when it happens suddenly after a period when training was going great. Life can be that way. Something can go from awesome to oh-shit very quickly. It's probably normal to find it unfair and waste a lot of energy trying to figure out how I screwed up. That's only useful to a degree. I'm a big believer in dealing with things as they are, not as I wish they'd be. The best I can do is accept this as, in many ways, out of my hands, while doing my best to make it turn out as I hope. I'd love to believe I'll wake up tomorrow or the next day with it all better. Part of me thinks that's possible; another part of me knows it doesn't work that way.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Way Ahead

I haven't updated the blog much lately, mostly because it's about running and I haven't been running. To be precise, my last run was on the morning of Election Day. That night, I came around to the realization my Achilles is injured. Ever since then, I've missed running. I hate it when I can't run. But I know I need to heal. Everything I read about Achilles injuries is scary. After 12 days of not running, I needed to know what was up. I can't say that I don't have pain after all that time off. I do. So today, along the Bay Trail in San Mateo, I set out on a 5.5 mile run. The first half mile was not good. I felt like my gait was different. Every step hurt. I felt like I was trying to find a way to land my foot that was comfortable. Eventually, I warmed up and completed the run without much drama. It wasn't the best run I've done by far, and I do feel some lost fitness from all the time off, but it wasn't excruciating. My verdict is mixed. I know my Achilles won't be right by Sunday. That's impossible. The question is whether I risk damaging it more by running a marathon or just skip the race. My head says the the latter choice is best, maybe split the difference and find a marathon somewhere in early January. But I don't want to do that. I have a good sense of what's wrong for my body. I think I can run the marathon without doing any long-term damage. Will I break three hours? I honestly don't think so. I'm simply not running confidently. My goal is to accept the race as it is on that day and try to do the best possible under the circumstances.

5.5 miles, 44:37

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Seeing The Big Picture

This is the post I've put off writing. After 10 days of denial, I finally admitted that I'm injured. That hard long run at the end of the 70-mile week? It was a mistake. My Achilles hurt for the next week, but I just cut back my mileage a bit and gobbled Advil. The thinking is similar to Kubler-Ross's stages of grieving: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. Finally on Tuesday, I reached acceptance: I'm hurt. I feel discomfort when I walk. I run compensating for it, and slowly at that. This is difficult. I've worked pretty hard the last several months to run a great marathon. Now, two weeks out, I'm faced with the prospect of losing that chance. Still, I'm hopeful. I'm using rest, anti-inflamatories, ice and stretching. I'm using The Stick. I haven't run for three straight days, the longest layoff since I ran the Flying Pig Marathon in the spring. I'll try my best to get the Achilles in as good of shape as possible and see what happens. Oddly enough, while this is trying, I don't feel overwhelmingly disappointed. As much as possible, I try to keep things in perspective. Life, just like running, is full of ups and downs. In the big picture, the marathon is just a day, a race that in effect celebrates and validates a whole lot of effort over many months, even years. Yes, I'd like to run 2:58 or 2:55 on Nov. 23, but if I don't, that's OK. It wouldn't take away what I learned through months of training. I'll try my best and see what happens. If this is meant to be, it will happen.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Finding Inspiration

Marathons are inspiring. Many people go to them, see the people of all ages and shapes out there doing it, and determine to run one. I can understand that. I remember watching my first marathon as a new runner in 1999, wondering whether I could do that. The process of discovery began soon thereafter. Today, nine years and 13 marathons later, I went up to Harlem to watch the New York City Marathon. It is great spot because the crowds are thinner and mile 22 is where I think the real stuff starts. George Sheehan once wrote about this point of the race as where "the miles beyond will challenge everything he holds dear, his value system, his lifestyle. They will ask nothing less than his view of the universe." This is where I go, after the elites have long since passed, to appreciate how awesome it is to see people doing something individually extraordinary. I clap and look at the faces, twisted in determination (and sometimes resignationan), knowing they have their own stories. And it is inspiring. It makes me ready to set out on my own in three weeks to see what I have, where I can go and what will come of it.

5.75 miles, 43:53