Wednesday, April 30, 2014

No Gas Stations for You - Indiana Recap Part One

This weekend saw the auspicious start to my 2014 marathon season by traveling to Indiana. Aw yeah.
We unfortunately did not see the famed Indiana bison or lumberjacks.
I kicked things off by driving down to Michael's on Friday night and caught up with a close friend. It was strange being back on campus after having a big girl job for three months. I really felt like I was separate, though I can't say it was a bad thing. We even got super lucky and were not awoken by the other tenants that tend to favor partying between 4 and 6 AM. 

We had an early wake-up call on Saturday and readied ourselves for the drive. Michael was awesome enough to do the driving so that I could relax the whole way. It was nice to catch up after so long apart. The only issue on the drive was when we decided to start looking for a gas station, at which point we saw one for 60+ miles. I guess there are so few people that there aren't any off the highway. We ended up having to stop just outside West Lafayette...good thing my car has good gas mileage.

Instead of going right to the area of the race, Michael and I planned a stop in West Lafayette to visit a former teacher of our who had moved there for work. (No pictures because I'm not a creeper.) After meeting his dogs, who were the least scary big dogs I've ever met, we drove downtown for some lunch, which was spectacular, because I was about to gnaw my own arm off.

Their first choice of restaurant was closed, but the back-up across the street had a great shaded patio, which was perfect given how wonderful the weather was. I managed to eat most of a margherita pizza to fortify myself for the day. 

After relaxing, the group of us trekked across the river to get to campus. The downtown area was really cute and had pretty much every shop a college kid would need, definitely a big difference from the abandoned mess that is East Lansing's downtown. There was also the added bonus of this being a special weekend at Purdue, aka everyone dressed up in ridiculous costumes and were wasted by the early afternoon. My personal favorite was a guy who attempted to a roll up a hill. Mad skillz.

I had really wanted to see the Boilermaker train, but apparently it doesn't always park in the same spot, so we went to see the Boilermaker statue instead.

No Sparty, but it has its own charm.
We were obviously by the basketball arena and football stadium when we got this photo. I know Purdue is not a bastion of sports prowess, but it was almost comical how small their football stadium was. I felt like I could just reach out and give it a hug and pinch its cheeks and tell it how cute it is. I might look into seeing MSU play there next time that game is scheduled away, it seems like it would be a pretty stress-free game day experience. 


After the Boilermaker came a stop up on a patio to get a good view of campus. It makes me feel like a traitor, but I think I liked Purdue's campus better than MSU's. More of the buildings seemed older yet well-cared for, and there were nice lawns spread throughout.
Forever...I'm a...Spartan.
We also stopped to see the Neil Armstrong statue, which was hilariously chill. For some reason I can't find my picture of it, so here's someone else's. 

About to pop off to, you know, the freakin' moon.
After a quick stop for ice cream, we headed back. Michael and I stayed longer than planned, so we knew we knew we wouldn't be able to make packet pick-up (which closed at 5 PM, seriously?), but we were really happy we got to maximize our visit. From other blogs I read of people doing the 50 States, half the fun seems to be seeing out-of-state friends. Indiana isn't exactly across the world, but West Lafayette was still too far for just a quick day trip. 

The race was to be held in Lowell, IN, heard of by exactly no people, including any hotel owners, so we drove on to Merrillville, which had actual places to stay. We decided to overnight at the Extended Stay America, which was not the best choice in hindsight. The rate was good, and the room was fine, but the other guests all gave me creepy vibes, and it took the receptionist three tries to make our room keys. I also got to listen to the cleaning ladies have a screaming match in the back room. Professional.

But the most important thing about Merrillville was it had a Portillos. For anyone not in the know, this is only the most amazing restaurant on the planet. I generally only get this a few times a year when we see family in Illinois, though we occasionally indulge and get a box delivered to make ourselves. Italian beef and fries is not the best pre-race meal by any stretch of the imagination, but I knew this race was going to hurt, so there was no way I was skipping my favorite place.

This basically put us into a food coma, and we went to bed at a crazy 9 PM for our early wake-up the next day.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Meb Strong

Congratulations, Meb!


I was fortunate enough to be able to stream the last few minutes of the men's race because it fell during my lunch. I could hardly believe my eyes when the Boston Marathon Twitter feed kept telling me Meb was holding on to the lead. I had wanted to believe so badly when Shalane was leading earlier, that I tried to tell myself not to get reeled in. (But a giant congrats to her as well on the PR! I'm definitely not trying to downplay what she did do.)

No one around me at work had a real appreciation for the race, so I was left to flail silently in my cube while I watched the last two miles. It was like having to watch the Rose Bowl quietly - almost impossible. 

I wanted to jump up and shout at Meb to run when I kept seeing Chebet behind him. One of the camera angles made Chebet seem a lot closer than he actually was, but it still made me nervous. I do almost feel bad the top men get caught up with the "slower" elite women, I would freak out if I had people passing me that weren't actually in my race when it was that close!

I was thrilled when I watched Meb somehow power even harder once he hit the 1K to go mark. His joy at winning was infectious. I don't think I'll ever forget his face when it really sunk in that he had done it.


I can't even begin to imagine how hard he must have worked every single day for this moment, especially as an older athlete, often counted out despite his many (and recent) achievements. 

This is the first time in my life that an American has won Boston. International sports are pretty much the one time I trot out my patriotic horse, but I honestly didn't expect to feel this emotional about seeing a countryman break the tape. While my running career has been short, I think I've always sort of known that African runners will win and anything else is a complete fool's dream and there's a great bridge available for sale if you're interested.

Watching Meb's victory inspired me. In the back of my mind, I've always wanted to qualify for Boston, but unless the BAA wanted to give me a 90 minute grace period, that wasn't going to happen any time soon. I always joke when non-runners ask that the plan is to live until I'm 70 and not get slower. But today made me reconsider.

I have 15 weeks between Hatfield-McCoy and Monument...the Hanson's Marathon Method calls for an 18 week program, with the ability to tweak the first four or five weeks. I know I have lots of room for improvement. This training cycle has given me a better base and gotten me comfortable with pacing myself through much longer runs. It's unfortunate that I've been set back by two colds and an injury, but I'm going to persevere despite that.

I realize that running four marathons in 49 days isn't a typical training plan, but my goal (other than to finish and enjoy them) is to become more comfortable with the marathon distance and how I respond to it. I'm way underachieving based on my 10K PR, so I think with a different training method I could drop a lot of time (relatively) easily. I don't think a 3:34:59 is anywhere in my near future, but I will focus on getting close to a sub-4. I realize that's relatively arbitrary, but I feel like I would be mentally ready to approach qualifying for Boston if I can get in the neighborhood.

Maybe in a couple years I too will get the honor of wearing an unicorn jacket.
Because right now I'm a lot closer to this.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Injury Doldrums

It's been awhile since my last post, obviously because I have been doing some intense workouts...working out my self-pity muscles, that is. For those keeping score at home, there are 20 days until my next marathon. More importantly, my four marathons in 49 days block starts with that race. The goal was to get to the first starting line healthy and fit and take it easy from there. Unfortunately, my body had some other plans. 

Three weeks ago I started running again after taking a week off for illness. I capped that week off with a 16 mile long run. I was tired and sore afterwards, but that was to be expected. I assumed the extra soreness was just my muscles complaining about the shift in workload. I spent the next week hobbling around and convincing myself that everything was totally fine (stairs were always super painful, right?). I realized it probably was something more serious when multiple coworkers started to ask why I was walking so funny. (Maybe also when I couldn't get shotgun in the lunch carpool because I couldn't hobble fast enough.) Both my quads felt like I had destroyed them.

I finally broke down and did what a sensible person would do - I rested. Then I did my planned 20 miler. Whoops.

The problem was the rest didn't help at all. Not as in, it started feeling better and got worse again because I came back to soon, as in I did nothing for four days, and the stairs were just as painful. I tried yoga and swimming, which helped a bit, but it did nothing to come close to solving the problem. Any time I attempted a running motion, I felt like I was going to fall flat on my face and only made forward progress with sheer willpower. It was no fun.


I know I complain about running, but I do love it. I could have forced myself to keep running sure, and even did so on multiple occassions, but I could never get into the zone and just enjoy. I caved and asked a running friend for advice, and she suggested massaging it with a tennis ball. After picking up dog-themed tennis balls from the pet store (I was already there and was too lazy to make another stop), I tried it out. I could feel quite a bit of tension releasing from my quads. I started getting hopeful, but it still wasn't enough. I could finally walk mostly normally and use the stairs without pain, but I had the same problem when I tried to run.

Last week I knew I had to do something, anything, to try to solve the problem. I headed to urgent care on my lunch one day. It seemed like all the stars were aligned to find a solution - the urgent care is run by the University of Michigan (I know I trash on UM, but even I will admit they have excellent medical facilities), attached to a major hospital, and I got to see a sports medicine MD. Do you know what he suggested - rest. The whole point of going was to resolve an issue that didn't respond to rest, and he just prescribed more of it.

Honestly, the kicker was when he prescribed a blood test to check my calcium level, even though he outright admitted there's no evidence cramping and calcium levels are related. He also recommended PT to strengthen my quads, but considering I regularly lift to do that already, I wasn't about to do that either.

I was getting desperate at this point, so I went to my last resort - I called a chiropractor for a sports massage. There's a clinic in town that's an official Ironman partner and advertised various athletic services, included ART. I called and got the nicest receptionist ever. She even took the time to look up what my insurance would cover and explained how the visit would go. (I've never been to a chiro before.) She was apologetic that the soonest they could fit me in was the next morning.

This is probably going to sound like an ad for the chiro, but it was so amazing I want to share with everyone. Seriously, if you need sports-related help and live in mid-Michigan, check them out. The facility was clean and fresh, and everything was running on time, and they had no problem letting me change there, since I had come from work.

I first went with the doctor to a consult room to discuss the problem. As soon as I said it didn't respond to rest, he was concerned. Already miles ahead of the dude the day before. He also got infinite bonus points because, as soon as I said I had a marathon coming up, he said our goal would be to get me to the starting line ready to run. A++, sir.

Our second order of business was to do a range of motion test. I knew there was some sort of problem when he had me do overhead squats and repeatedly asked if I was going as low as I could. (I honestly had no idea I should have been able to go lower.) We wrapped up with leg lifts, where he seemed shocked with how not-high I could lift my leg. Apparently a normal person can easily lift their leg completely vertical, I could barely get it halfway.
This picture is super creepy, but the best illustration I could find.
The doctor then immediately diagnosed me with extreme hamstring inflexibility, which means my quads are constantly overloaded. He said our goal is to give me normal range of motion in the hamstrings. I never realized there was something I could do about my inflexibility, I assumed it was innate and could never really be improved.

We then did about 20 minutes of ART. I knew it was going to hurt, but DAMN, did it hurt. The worst was when he separated out each muscle of the quad and applied pressure as I moved my leg. I almost cried on the first one, but I knew it would be worth it. I even got to experience the sudden sweats when he worked a few particularly terrible spots.

As soon as I got up, though, I immediately noticed a huge improvement. That man was like a magician.

I'm scheduled to go twice a week for the next two weeks, and then we'll re-evaluate. I'm really excited that the problem was properly diagnosed and is being addressed. I was told to keep to my normal routine as much as possible. I've decided to replace my lifting days with swimming, since lifting just sounds too painful right now. I've even found a great new swimming program I'm excited to try.

Other than turning my speedwork into easy runs, mostly because I physically can only go one speed right now, my goal is to get back on schedule starting Monday. I've promised myself to cut back if it's excruciating, but my quick (actually very slow) two miler yesterday was so much better than any run has felt in a long time. I'm definitely going to be undertrained when I get to the starting line, but as long as I take less than 6:30 to finish, I'll be a happy camper.

See, there's even a game named after me!