Sunday, March 25, 2012

A First

For the first time ever, I had a complete disaster of a run today. Now, I've had bad runs in the past: tweaks and strains, forced walking, and the feeling of my heart ready to burst out of my chest on an easy 3-miler, but today was a lesson.

I set out for my 11-miler this morning along with my wife and her running buddies, starting from my in-laws' house in St. Louis Park, which is right along the Cedar Lake Trail. The goal was to head into Uptown and around Lake Calhoun and back, with a quick jaunt up towards Lake Harriet to get in a full 11 miles. Today was the first chilly morning in weeks, starting at a brisk 38 degrees, and I chose wind pants and a long sleeve with a t-shirt underneath. Of course, it warmed up a bit by the end and I was regretting the wind pants, but it wasn't altogether a complete over-calculation. Something was off this morning though, and my head just wasn't in it. I forgot a few things at home that I meant to bring with, and I was feeling somewhat numb mentally. It was, nonetheless, gorgeous and sunny, and it was nice to have a cool morning once again. I do better in cooler weather.

From the start, I didn't feel awesome, just ok. My legs didn't want to go, and my cadence was definitely slower than usual, yet my legs didn't feel tired or heavy. I realized quickly, however, that after a few sweet trail runs this week, I was generally not looking forward to this pancake flat piece of paved straightness, and I mean FLAT! I've always hated long flat courses; my body just doesn't do well with the exact repetition of stride for so long. I need even just a few small rollers to change it up, even if ever so slightly. Anyway, by the time I had reached Lake Calhoun, my right hip flexor and knee were already flaring up. Thankfully, the taping of my blisters worked like a charm, so that wasn't causing a gait change.

Once I reached the lake, things perked up a bit. The people out and about in combination with the lake as improved scenery helped me pick it up somewhat and move more smoothly. Perhaps my subconscious didn't want me to look like a stumbling moron in front of all the beautiful city folk, so I took it and ran with it (no pun intended, if that's even possible). Hey, whatever works, right? It was going well until I reached William Berry Parkway and headed up the only incline toward Lake Harriet. I had pinpointed the exact halfway point earlier on the map where I would turn around on Lake Harriet Blvd, but once I hit the western entrance to the bird sanctuary, I couldn't resist. I've run through there several times in the past while racing in the Uptown Chase, a fun run started by my friend Mel in her quest to create new and fun themes for a party. Anyway, it was great running through there again, and I had remembered that there was an exit on the south side, which I thought was just about exactly where I wanted to turn around. Once I hit that spot, however, I realized I had gone double the distance! This is where I started to get a bad feeling.

By the time I got back down to Calhoun, my knee was killing me, so I had to stop and stretch. From there, things went way downhill. I was shuffling at best, interspersed with walking, and a fair bit of cursing. I wasn't completely pissed, mainly because I had seen it coming, and with the way my morning had started out, it seemed to be the general order of the day. I ran into the girls who were stopped for some GU imbibing, and I wasn't surprised that they were ahead of me. I was doing one more mile than them, and I was moving much more slowly. I stole a quick sip of water from my generous wife, and asked if I could get back on the Cedar Lake Trail on the northwestern end of the lake, as to bypass the whole northern end. I was told that I had to go all the way back to the northeastern end to get on the trail, which is not at all what I wanted to hear, but set out quickly as not to prolong my suffering. Once I actually hit the trail, after two wrong turns, I saw the long, flat, lonely road of loneliness ahead of me, and my heart sank.

The last three miles were excruciating, both physically and mentally. I tried my darndest to keep positive and use this as a means to work on my mental toughness, but it's a fine line between pushing ahead at all costs and seriously injuring oneself, and it wasn't worth killing my training. Walking, shuffling, grimmacing...rinse and repeat. With about a mile left, I saw four people way up ahead, wearing the same colors as my wife and her friends. How the hell could they have gotten so far ahead of me? There was only one path and they didn't pass me! This was my last push of the run, to catch up with them without walking or stopping. Once I reached them, they were walking, so I joined them for the rest of the way. Apparently there was a shortcut to get back on the trail from the lake. Eff.

Since then, both of my knees and my right hip have been annoying, to say the least. We did hit up Pizza Luce for lunch, though, which was a truly redeeming post-run treat, complete with beer AND soda. What can I say, it's how I roll.

All of this has brought about a few observations, concerns, and questions. First, the observations:
  • I HATE flat pavement runs. It's not fun, interesting, or good for my body.
  • After talking with several distance runners, it seems that there is something magical about the 10-mile mark. It's decently easy to run up to that point, but as soon as you cross that distance, all bets are off. I wonder if it's mostly psychological, but there does seem to be a trend.
  • Although I worked diligently with my mechanics and form, my hip and knee still blew up. This either means that I need to address my body structurally through PT/chiropracting, and/or find a mechanics coach to work with here in the Cities, as my first choice is currently living in Oregon. 
  • I definitely need to bring water and GU if I'm running 10 miles or more. I figured that it wouldn't be a big deal because of the cool weather and my quality nutrition and hydration this morning, but I'm sure it was a factor.
  • Perhaps I should get back to doing more short runs on pavement, instead of doing all of them on trail, and then doing the long run on pavement. My trail race isn't until May, so I should probably stick to more road running - one race at a time. I just love the trails too much.
  • Although I consider my run a failure in regard to the goal of the workout, it gave me a ton of perspective and I learned a good deal for the future. That's one of the goals of training after all, isn't it? Now I take that learning and make use of it, keeping Rule #1 in mind - Never Give Up.
Now, the concerns:
  • As much as I love and am dedicated to minimalist running, it seems that I *might* need to use more than the Five Fingers for longer distances. I'm not opposed to getting minimalist road shoes with a little more EVA as cushion, but I really don't want to drop $100 or more at the moment. This is a dilemma for me. Anyone know how I can get a free pair of NB Minimus OO Roads? :P
  • If I had this much trouble with 11 miles today, how can I run 50 miles in the fall? What if I blow up like this at my half marathon at the end of April? I REALLY don't want to walk during a race. I'm not as concerned with this one, however, because everyone has bad days. Because this was my first truly bad day, I'll be patient and see how it plays out.
  • Due to finances, I may be able to choose only one or the other when it comes to structural rehab or mechanics coaching. Which one should I go for? If I go for the former, should I see a PT or chiropractor?
  • Could it be that my body in particular is simply not meant for distance running, no matter how hard I train, perfect my mechanics, and toughen myself mentally? (See Rule #1 above)
So there it is. I'll wait and see what my body does in the next few days. Perhaps I just need a few days off. I have plenty of time until the half in April, so I can rest a little, focus on the things I enjoy, namely trail running, and maybe (finally) do some more climbing.  I might switch it up a little and do some more strength training and short intervals, just to give my neural pathways something new to chew on.

Until next time. Wish me luck!

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