Between several busy experiment weeks at work, increased running mileage, and family visits July was an exhausting, but satisfying month.
I spent the second-last weeks cramming in pre-6am specimen MRIs and a couple post-5pm CT scans and MRI re-scans for a time-sensitive (i.e. Refrigerated human body parts only last so long…) experiment, alongside some project plan writing, IRB paperwork, technique teaching, paper revisions, and an interdepartmental presentation that sent my heart briefly into the fat-burn zone on my FitBit but actually went quite well. The busyness of the last few weeks really hit when I ended up vacillating between nausea and extreme sleepiness at the End of Year Clinical-Fellow Hi/Goodbye party and had to head home before the dancing even started 😦
In spite of spending 5-15 extra hours at work the last few weeks I still managed some higher mileage running weeks (35, 40, and 43 miles) and a painful but beautiful trail half marathon. The running piled on a little additional weariness but greatly helped with the work stress, so was worthwhile even in the time-crunched recent few weeks.
The feeling of being stretched thin at work was also soothed by an amazing visit with my friend who just started a family medicine residency a few hours away and the promise of a few days off for a sister + MIL/FIL/BIL family visit. I am so lucky to have such wonderful people in my life 🙂
June turned out to be quite the wild running month. I started the month off in injury-recovery mode, praying things would hold together and get me through a frigid, snow-flurry-filled Sawtooth Relay without letting down my team or suffering a major hamstring set-back, and ended the month with a much happier hamstring and the confidence and strength to enjoy some long runs back on the trails in the summer heat.
- Sawtooth Relay – in spite of a brief scare the day before (hamstring cramped briefly after a shakeout run with my teammate/friend) I was actually able to push the pace with zero pain or tightness, even with the couple hours of cramped van riding between my two relay legs! Our team had a blast as we pushed through swirling snow, sideways rain, and (luckily small!) hail stones to reach the much-appreciated sunshine at the finish line.
- New Oiselle singlet arrived. A small but fun highlight since I am a sucker for new running clothes. I can’t wait to fly in this sunset-glow design at my next race!
- Return to trails! After a week of lowkey recovery after the relay I re-committed to my hamstring rehab and gradually tested my hamstring out on hillier, more demanding terrain. My final week in June included some long, hilly trail runs with no mid-run or post-run soreness, and enough confidence to enjoy the amazing trail views rather than constantly worrying about my hamstring.
- Managed a brief handstand balance with no body parts touching the wall! This one isn’t strictly running related, but did renew my motivation to continue consistent core and upper body strength work. The effect of strength and stability during easy running is less obvious, so it’s nice to have a more demanding test to see the results of all that flopping around on the yoga mat and getting dog hair all over my hands by doing pushups around the house.
Now it’s July and the trails are calling! I plan to spend as much time enjoying the singletrack as possible while using the lessons of March, April, and May to remind me to stay on top of pre/re-hab before little twinges take me back off the trails.
With MountainMan putting in some time at work today and my BolderBoulder race plans cancelled the Memorial Day holiday brought me a long day alone to get some work done around the house, do some reading, explore some new trails, and catch up a bit more on my drawing/art practice.
I was blessed this morning with my first pain-free long, hilly run since injuring my hamstring. I set out to explore some new trails with the intention of walking if anything got tight or if the downhills were too long/steep, and the expectation of walking about a mile out of the 6-mile route. However, I actually only had to walk a couple times, and only chose to do so out of caution, rather than any difficulty with the hamstring. It was a sunny, beautiful day and I was so glad to get to fully savor the trails in all their hilly glory! This run was a great reward for sticking to my cautious training plan and hamstring rehab, and a good motivator to stay disciplined going forward.
After my run I spent some time reading and cleaning, and then escaped outside again to do some sketching…while intermittently hollering at the dog who kept trying to wander off of our little patio. In spite of the fur-baby supervising it was a lovely sketching session with the dead-head deer skull MM picked up a couple weeks ago. The skull’s geometry is intricate and challenging, and I had fun messing around with different views while trying to capture the layered combination of curves and ridges.
I think this sketch session brings me back on track, at least until the next busy weekend!
I hope all of you were also able to spend the holiday in whatever way was needed, especially if honoring and remembering friends or loved ones.
So, round 2 of ‘come back from the hamstring injury’ did not go as planned, in spite of my sincere promises to my hamstring to take things slow and *not* be an idiot. Behind these promises lurked the reality of a race a few weeks away and a desire to salvage my training by squeezing in a few short, but up-tempo workouts. I still really wanted to do BolderBoulder, so, foolishly, I attempted a tempo workout the week before last to ‘test things out’. As you can probably guess, this pushed me back over the hamstring-aggravation threshold, and I had to take another four days completely off.
After that second break I finally realized that the only way I was going to be able to manage my training expectations in a way that is compatible with healing the hamstring was to pretend that my couple months of strong late-winter/Spring training were their own separate season, and that this return post-break represented a start-of-season base-building mode after what was effectively a post-season break. In light of this more realistic new view of my recent training I’ve dropped my plans for BolderBoulder, postponing them to next year, and am focusing purely on getting my hamstring healed in time for Sawtooth relay in early June. I’m going to be cautious and patient with that June 10th date in mind – I’d rather be out of shape than in shape but running two 6-mile segments on a cramping leg!
For my ‘back to base’ plan I’m sticking to a maximum of 5 days a week of running, and am focusing on controlled, gentle pacing for all runs (no faster than 9:00 pace average unless I go a whole week of running with zero pain, and absolutely no workouts). I’ve also adjusted my hamstring rehab routine to include some lighter exercises to warm up before doing any higher load hamstring rehab, and I’ve been getting out on the bike more to exercise the hamstring in a low-impact, small range-of-motion manner. So far things are improving – my hamstring pain during normal daily activities has been eliminated, and I’ve had several solid, pain-free runs in a row!
My runs are rough even at the controlled pace and I can tell I’ve lost fitness, but I’m hoping the solid training from the start of this year will still give me a boost when I finally get back to workouts and racing. I’ve had a few frustrated moments when I think of all the tough, miserable winter miles that I ran in the dark, thinking the suffering would pay off in Spring/Summer races. However, I know that even with time off I’m still in better shape than I would have been if I hadn’t put in those miles, and the several speedy Spring workouts I got in pre-injury were rewarding even if I never got to ‘use’ the fitness gained. They reminded me of what I can do as a runner, and will hopefully let me get back to those exciting paces a little quicker once I’m healthy!
March ended in a whirlwind of travel for a conference and family visits, some wild weather, and a little hamstring trouble that changed my training plans from high mileage and fast workouts to a couple weeks of focused glute/core/hamstring work and easy running. With all the chaos and unexpected hamstring trouble I still managed a little under 160 total miles, or just over 5 miles a day on average, giving me plenty of miles to enjoy the experience of running on new and home-town trails.
The adventure of mid-late March started the Saturday before last, as I stepped groggily from the crowded, air-conditioned airport and into the startling mid-day San Diego sunlight, poster tube in hand and suitcase full of conference and running clothes, ready to enjoy a change of working and running scenery.
I was excited to attend my first Orthopaedic Research Society meeting (which turned out to be AMAZING!) and was also appreciating the change to escape the chill of the mountains for the warmth of the southern California coast.
My first run from my hotel the afternoon of my arrival did not disappoint – I sweated through 13 meandering miles exploring the nearby Balboa Park, taking in the shimmer of the happy green plants and the sweet scents of the flowering trees. The difference from the bare branches and grey, muddy fields back home was an enjoyable surprise!
After three solid days of air-conditioned long-run recovery spent absorbing (or at least trying to absorb!) a steady stream of orthopedics basic-science knowledge, research presentations, and new names and faces, I escaped into the overcast, humid outdoors of downtown San Diego for a more physically challenging activity.
I’d been lucky to find the San Diego Track Club online prior to my trip, and decided to check out the free Tuesday workout, which is open to visitors as well as club members. I jogged over to Balboa Stadium to warmup, and then joined the large group for a couple laps and drills. The workout on the schedule was a fartlek of 1-2-3-4-5-4-3-2-1 hard/easy on the track. The club director broke our large group (maybe 100 people) into three groups by pace (from 10+ minutes/mile for 5k down to sub-six pace) and I hopped nervously in with the fastest group.
Each group got 3 lanes of the 9-lane track, and we spread out quickly enough that the large group provided lots of pacing buddies, but no overcrowding. The air was humid and warm, and the fog of sweat and shimmer of shadows thrown by the stadium lights provided a hypnotizing backdrop to the swirl of colorful runners. We sped up and slowed in a huge flock, obeying the sharp sound of the coach’s whistle every few minutes. I started to fall off near the middle of the workout, breathing becoming ragged and legs becoming heavy in the heat. I latched on to a few runners and focused on sticking with them on the shorter segments, trying to ignore the sinking feeling that came with being lapped by some of the faster women. I full-out sprinted the last 1-minute segment, racing with the flying herd of fellow sufferers.
Unfortunately, my hamstring didn’t find the combo of travel and hard running as delightful as the rest of me did, and it stiffened up as I cooled down back to the hotel along the now-dark downtown streets. I spent the rest of the week nursing a crampy medial hamstring, but luckily my next stop at my grandparent’s home a few hours outside of San Jose provided the perfect place for some shorter, relaxed runs and plenty of time for stretching and foam rolling.
With the recent rains the ranch roads around the fields below their house were muddy, and the road their house sits on has no shoulder, so I was effectively forced into a couple of days off. I did enjoy 2 short runs after the mud set a bit, and was glad to feel only mild tightness during those runs. Instead of worrying about missed training I spent my time chatting with my grandparents, looking through old photos with them, and curling up on the couch with coffee and several of the books scattered about their house to enjoy the quiet, windy days in the country.
After several days with the grandparents I got to hop onto yet another flight, this time back to cooler regions and my parents’ house in Idaho. I was lucky to be able to trade scar-tissue-removal/sore-muscle-fixing tissue mashing sessions with my sister, who recently had ankle surgery. We left each other’s legs bruised and sore, but hopefully a bit healthier! Outside of these *delightful* pain-sessions I was able to take the recovering hamstring out for some spring bloom viewing, trail exploring, and former-teammate visiting runs. I’ve also tried out these amazing core/glute activation exercises, with good results (and sore core/hip muscles the next day!)
Overall the travel was a good time to have a fiddly little injury, since it limited my running a bit and allowed me the free time to work on rehab and rolling. The visits with much missed friends and family made any decrease in my running mileage feel unimportant, and the runs I was able to do covered either exciting new routes or familiar, and much loved, hometown trails that distracted me from the usual post-injury running anxiety.
I’m back now in the chilly Colorado mountains, with a mostly-healed hamstring and a renewed dedication to getting my pre-run warmup done, squeezing my hamstring, glute, and core exercises in, and rolling/stretching regularly to keep me running healthy into late spring and summer.
I still remember the four mile run in the park back in Grad School City with MountainMan during which he told me he thought I’d eventually be able to recover from my persistent foot injury and work my way back up to 35 mile weeks. At the time this seemed nearly impossible, but his confident talk gave me hope.
Now, over the last couple weeks, I’m averaging 45 miles per week, 10 miles beyond that 35-miles-per-week dream.
I’m absolutely thrilled…and have purposely inserted a lower mileage week into my training in order to avoid riding this fun higher-mileage wave right into a brutal injury-or-sickness crash. As seen in my lovely training plot below that slope is getting a teensy bit frightening :-O Time for some short recovery days to reward myself and protect my legs.
However, even during this chill, restrained week I am enjoying the benefit of having several consistent weeks of higher mileage training in my legs. About 4 weeks ago I did a workout of 2 x 2 miles at tempo pace with 2 minutes recovery in between. I managed the sets at 7:16 pace average, with a rough , slower second repeat and a very upset stomach after (lunch enchiladas on workout day = poor decision).
This week I did the same workout, but with an added third 2-mile repeat. I lucked out with a breezy but sunny free afternoon post dentist appointment, and headed over to the ~1200m bike path loop around the local pond/park. I went out hitting 7:09’s and spent the 2nd mile thinking ‘This feels lovely, but oh man I may have just made the rest of this workout exceedingly painful…’. The second set was (unintentionally) even quicker, at just under 14 minutes for the repeat. I tried to relax at the end, and went into my two minute recovery thinking the last set was either going to be amazing or a total mess.
The last repeat was definitely tough with 4 fast miles already in my legs, but I held it together and gritted my way to a final repeat average 7:03! That put me at an average of 7:05 for two miles further than four weeks ago, a pretty big jump and a huge mental-toughness and physical fitness confidence boost for the BolderBoulder 10k coming up at the end of May.
I jogged slowly home and spent the evening just about talking MM’s ear about off with post-workout energy. Luckily he’s a patient listener and is still run-nerdy enough to get excited about my random speedy workout 🙂
I looked back at last Fall and realized this workout was better than all but one of my pre-13.1 workouts. The biggest difference seems to just be base mileage since I haven’t done *that* many workouts since coming back from my break. Last year I had a few low-40’s weeks, but was still regularly in the mid-high 20’s for weekly mileage. With consistent training for a year and a quarter I finally have the mileage in my legs to allow me to do a six-mile workout, and 8-10 mile workout days (warmup, workout, and cool down total). The difference is amazing – I still struggle through the end of long workouts and long runs, but I don’t end every run feeling a little ragged, and I can pile on longer workouts without spending every ounce of energy that I have. I was a bit worried that I wouldn’t actually notice a difference with the bump up in mileage but it looks like increased training is treating me kindly and my legs, lungs, and heart are all absorbing the increase and rewarding me with improved performance!
Hurrah for exercise physiology theory working in real life and the practice of slowly wearing down my running shoe soles paying off in fun, fast workouts 😀