A tale of two races: returning to the Soldier Field 10 Miler

29 05 2012

2012 = one year older, twenty pounds lighter, almost a full minute per mile faster, and not even trying as hard as I could have.

2011 = reluctant, slightly discouraged, too slow, and not sure where I was going.

Last year, I was a rudderless runner scrambling for direction.  A lot of transitions had taken place in my life:  unexpected job change, starting my own business, a stress-eating generated weight gain, training for a marathon I wasn’t sure I wanted to run and uncertain about the future.

From the day I finished the Couch to 5k program in December 2008, I knew running would be an integral part of my existence for as long as I had the legs to do it.  I just hadn’t anticipated how to manage it when life turned upside down.  “Fun running” has never been my thing, and I’m always training for an event.  Having a deadline keeps me going and signing up for races is now as automatic as breathing.  Choosing the 26.2 distance when I was ill-suited to take on any extra challenge was not the wisest decision to make, and it didn’t take me long to realize that.  An excerpt from my 2011 blog entry speaks to my disconcerted mindset:

  • “… lining up in my corral behind the “14:00/mile” sign, I note that I am ensconced by the rest of the old, the fat and the slow. Or to quote one of my favorite movies:  Mohammed, Jugdish, Clayton, Sidney and Flounder.
  • “It reminds me that although I am extremely grateful to this old body for getting me here and that just by showing up I have already bested those who never left the couch, I still have a long way to go.
  • “Being back here in what is tantamount to the short bus of running at once comforts and shames me.  Two years ago I ran 12:00-13:00 paces depending upon the distance.  Now I’m older, fatter, slower — both embarrassed and determined to get fast enough again to return to this event or another with a better position next year.”

The 2:32:23 finish (15:15 per hour) was one of many moments in 2011 when I learned what it felt like to fall short of my own expectations.

Flash forward one year, and many things have changed.  Financial issues remain in the mix and being my own boss is a roller coaster ride but at least I’m used to it now.  Twenty of the unwanted pounds have been shed through a 180 turn from fast food and junk.  I’m training for a half marathon that I am looking very forward to, and running is back where it belongs as a central focus of my life.  Without so many other matters in flux, I have more resilience for the ups and downs of being an elderly newbie in the world of competitive athletics.

So I showed up at the 2012 Soldier Field 10 Miler on a day predicted to be uncomfortably warm with a left ankle/Achilles tendon that might have been equally uncomfortable with the distance.  I’ve had tendonitis intermittently for years due to a succession of bad sprains and strains which has bequeathed me a calcific network of scar tissue that occasionally becomes problematic.  A recent jump in long run miles caused the sleeping injury to awaken and it has become colicky baby of my life once again.  But on this day it wasn’t.

Standing in the corrals behind the “14:00/mile” sign this year, I felt neither regret nor resentment.  I was just there and ready to make the best of it, which turned out to be the perfect mindset.  When we finally got underway I resisted the temptation to start out too quickly, remembering my intention to use the first mile as a warm-up to save extra strain on the tendon.  I looked around as I usually do and picked out a few runners to use as inspiration, some of whom I wanted to pass and others merely to keep pace with.  In the back of my mind, I hoped to beat my previous finish by a full ten minutes – one minute per mile – but I knew that might be an issue for the tendon.

The day was cool and overcast:  a true gift from the weather deities since the forecast had been for mid-80s.  As the first 5 miles passed under my feet and my energy level remained steady, I began to hopefully calculate my mileage splits.  I didn’t want to get too ambitious and push the tendon so hard as to endanger a healthy arrival at the start of the Anchorage half-marathon.

By mile 6, I began to feel some fatigue but I shook it off and kept on going.  I’d done a few 10k races in recent months and my body was used to that distance.  Mile 7 came and the thought that I was just 5k away from the finish kept me shoving my body along.  “You can do a 5k in your sleep,” I told myself.  I was passing some of the runners I’d started with and this gave me cautious courage.  Then at Mile 8, I could hear the music from the stadium.  I let visions of the finish block out how badly I wanted to slack off.  By Mile 9, I was really pushing.  The easy run at 12:00/mile and walk at 14:30 had fallen apart miles ago.  I would sprint a bit and then walk along further.  When I caught myself walking too slowly, I would surge forward again.  I was beating last year’s finish and there would be no shame this year.  Short of a screaming pain from my leg, there was no way I was going to let myself stop.  Finally there it was: the entrance to Soldier Field and a mere sprint through the underground to finish on the 50.

2:23:33 after starting, with a pace of 14:22 per mile, I hopped across the finish line and curtseyed for the crowd as they announced my name on the loudspeaker.  Almost ten minutes faster than 2011 and without aggravating a nagging injury, I wiped the slate clean of last year’s embarrassment.  I’m ready for anything now.  And I think I even looked cute on the Jumbotron.

On “boldly going” where someone thinks you may not belong

25 05 2012

I was finishing up a bike ride the other day when I happened across a friend who is somewhat of an acclaimed amateur athlete and currently works as a sports coach.  He inquired about my ride and I mentioned that I have a 100-mile century ride coming up at the end of the summer.  He looked taken aback as he visually scanned my bike, a 21-speed Trek Women’s cruiser well-suited for “Sunday afternoon rides with the grand kids” according to one review I read on Trek’s website while researching my purchase three years ago.  “Oh you’re gonna have a hard time doing a Century on that bike!” he offered, walking over to examine my bicycle’s various shortcomings.  “You’re gonna see people out there with racing bikes, and you’re gonna have to stand up to pedal when you go up hills.”  As I assured him that I don’t give a rat’s ass what others are riding and I already do stand up to pedal uphill, he finished his inspection of my tires, handlebars and seat, recanted a bit and then changed the subject.

I smiled and made an excuse about needing to get to work (which terminated our conversation) but I have continued to seethe about the encounter for the past several days.  I’m sure my friend had the best of intentions but I became annoyed nonetheless because I felt like I was being profiled.  And I have always hated being profiled!

It irks me when people who fit a certain stereotype look askance at me because I don’t. My stomach churned when I showed up in college as a 37-year-old freshman and was actively discouraged against pursuit of a pre-med education by a few skeptical professors. My blood later simmered in med school when some random attending would spot tired old me lined up at rounds with a gaggle of 20-somethings then cock his head to the side like a befuddled dog.  And my teeth grit to this day when I arrive at a race where a young gazelle-like runner will stop mid-stretch to glance dubiously in my direction as I waddle on toward the start line.

These are the days when I literally want to shout “I’m just as good as you and I don’t give a damn what you think!”  But apparently I do care or I wouldn’t even be writing this post.  The fact is I WAS as good as anyone at college, indeed better than most, because I got into medical school despite being older and poorer with less of a support system.  And I DID belong with other med students on rounds because I am now a fairly well-respected family physician with my own private practice.  And I AM a friggin’ runner because my big butt gets out there to do anything from 3 to 13.1 miles and finishes them, then walks away smiling.  And I WILL ride that 100 miles on my bike despite how unlikely IT or I may seem to someone who thinks they know better.

Yet as much as being underestimated drives me crazy, it also drives me forward.  The minute someone seems as if they think I can’t, my first impulse is to show them “oh yes I will”.  Students and doctors and runners come in all shapes, sizes and ages.  And nobody should ever try to convince anyone else that they are incapable just because they don’t conform to a pattern!

OK.  This rant is over.

Here is a recap of my training for the past couple of weeks:
Following the Bloomington Lake run, I had a considerable amount of left Achilles pain due to aggravation of that chronic injury.  Taking it easy on running, I ramped up the biking to keep cardio fitness and leg strength from sliding backward too much.

Sunday May 6 — took the day off
Monday May 7 — back/chest/core, lower body stretch
Tueday May 8 — took the day off
Wednesday May 9 — took the day off
Thursday May 10 — 3 miles walking, the Achilles grumbled
Friday May 11 — 45 minute bike ride, first of the season; my butt didn’t hurt afterward!
Saturday, May 12 — through an act of Divine Providence a lightning storm caused the cancellation of the Lemont 10 miler; I very wisely took the day off

Sunday May 13 — took anther day off
Monday May 14 — 4 miles of run/walk intervals, after which the Achilles screamed
Tuesday May 15 — active rest:  4 hours of gardening
Wednesday May 16 — 30 minute bike ride, slow
Thursday May 17 — 3 mile walk
Friday May 18 — 1 hour bike ride around 12 mph
Saturday May 19 — almost 4 miles of run/walk intervals (mostly walking)

Sunday May 20 — off
Monday May 21 — active rest:  1 hour of light gardening
Tuesday May 22 — 66 minute bike ride around 12 mph, followed by 2 hours of gardening
Wednesday May 23 — almost 5 miles of run/walk intervals (negative splits); I felt really good
Thursday May 24 — 40 minute bike ride, slow (a very windy day)
Friday May 25 — upper body weights, lower body stretch


I acknowledge the glaring absence of abs/corework and I truly have no excuse.  I’ll get back to it with more dedication next  week.  Having the abs of Betty White’s older sister is not my heart’s desire, and I can most certainly do better.

Maybe what I need is for someone to ogle my jiggly midsection with an eyebrow raised like Mr. Spock and dryly comment, “well she will obviously NEVER have abs that ever amount to anything”…

Ya think?

Locked in battle with Achilles

10 05 2012

In the Star Trek original series episode called “Bread and Circuses”, Kirk, Spock, and McCoy are captured on a planet that resembles a Roman Empire with 20th-century technology. They are set to die at the hands of gladiators for the sake of public spectacle.  One of the gladiators named Achilles was assigned to fight Spock.

Spock holds his own against Achilles, but McCoy is severely outmatched and Spock overpowers both opponents, saving the day for our Starfleet heroes.

Once again, for maybe the third time in the past six years, I find myself in a battle with my own enemy called Achilles and I could really use a Vulcan hero to come swooping in and save me from this dreaded combatant.  However rather than an extraterrestrial opponent to contend with, my Achilles lies between my left heel and calf.

My first run-in with this Achilles tendon was in 2006 when I had the misfortune of prescribing myself a course of Levaquin for an infection.  My reason for choosing the drug was mere expediency because the clinic where I was working happened to have a supply of samples in the closet.  About the fourth day into the course, I was doing step aerobics when I suddenly felt left Achilles tendon pain.  I thought I must have tied my shoes too tight so I loosened them and kept stepping.  No change.  A few minutes later, I abandoned my workout and began what would become five months of intermittent pain and limping.  I knew from the med school mnemonic that “quinolones hurt the attachments to the bones”, but I never thought it would happen to me so easily and last so long.  I have continued to have 1-2 out of 10 pain on a daily basis ever since but have lived with it and worked out in spite of it, including running three half-marathons.

Flash forward four years and a bad left ankle sprain (with inevitable scar tissue) later to August of 2010 when I began to experience twinges during speedwork while training for the Rock and Roll Las Vegas half marathon.  Naturally, I ignored the pain at first but it persisted.  And then it worsened.  And then I was sidelined for another five months.  I never did get to Vegas that December, and didn’t even start running again until February of 2011.

Moving yet ahead in time we come to the present day whereupon I recently advanced my Long Run mileage from 6 to 8 to 10 miles within a matter of 15 days, with two of the occasions being races rather than leisurely Long Slow Distance runs.  Even still….I was okay after that 10 mile race and the Achilles didn’t bother me any more than usual.  It was after last Saturday’s Lake Bloomington 12k (7.44 miles), done on a day I likely should have rested or severely cut back mileage instead of racing, that I heard the familiar short sharp shriek of the left Achilles tendon piercing the pleasant soundtrack of my life.

And so here I am again locked in battle with Achilles, and trying to strategize my way to victory.

I have registered and paid entry for a 10 mile race this Saturday in Lemont which I will not be running.  In fact, I will not even be walking.  There is a 5k portion still tempting me, but we’ll see about that later.  I didn’t run a step after Saturday.  Instead I rested and stretched, finally venturing out this morning for a quick 3-miler of walk/run intervals (75% of which I walked) just to see what I could do.  The pain is not horrible but it’s there.  I’ve been wearing a plantar fasciitis night splint to bed every night to keep the tendon lengthened and massaging the living daylights out of in between sporadic stretching throughout the day.  I REFUSE to let this get the better of me!

I know an Achilles injury is one of the few that you just don’t “run through.  Thus I have respect for the healing process required to ensure I make it to the start line of the half marathon in good enough shape to rock the damn thing.  But I want to run.  I really really really want to run.  Even though I know I shouldn’t and can’t.  And it’s killing me.

I was thinking today during my outing that if I lost my legs, I’d get a wheelchair and race by pedaling it with my arms.  If I lost my arms, I’d find a device that I could power by blowing through a straw.  And if I lose my whole body, it will because I won’t need it anymore and will be able to leap like a gazelle in the realm of the spirits.  Nothing short of death will keep me from running.  But it’s driving me CRAZY to have to take this break and heal.

I could really use Mr. Spock right about now to come beaming down, Deus Ex-Machina, with a solution to my quandary that would fit neatly within a 42-minute episode of my life.  Ah, if only…

Seriously…. I have not been trapped in a stasis chamber!

6 05 2012

ImageActually I have probably been more active in this past month than any month of the year.  However, I have been remiss in reporting those activities to whomever in the galaxy actually reads these entries.  Therefore, I will summarize the activities of the past month and hope to stay current going forward:

April 4 —Prevention Walk Your Way Slim DVD, an easy but invigorating cardio
April 5 — MotionTraxx Treadmill Coach MP3 followed on the treadmill, a tough but fun mix of speed, hills and then speed uphill
April 6 — Jason Crandell 15 Minute Beginner’s Yoga video from YouTube followed by extra calf and Achilles stretching; it was an achy day
April 7 — took the day off to go into Chicago and see Jersey Boys with friends/family

April 8 — lazy!  took another day off
April 9 — Cathe Friedrich’s Pure Strength DVD, chest/shoulders/triceps segment
April 10 — walked the dogs 2 miles
April 11 — Cathe’s Pure Strength DVD, back/biceps/abs segment
April 12 — ran 2 miles
April 13  — 10 Minute Solutions Carb Burner Slow and Steady Burn segment followed by Cathe’s Cross Train Express Upper Body download (chest and back portions only) followed by an oldie from the FIRM captured on YouTube:  5 Day Abs, Day 3
April 14 — a most truly EXCELLENT run!
The Rockdale Ramblin’ Run 10k, touted to be the Toughest 10k in the Midwest, really just a super hilly 6.1 miler, but what was MOST EXCELLENT and wonderful about it was the fact that I beat last years time by 5 seconds per mile….even with the half-assed and sporadic training I’d been doing.  It was great.  It boosted my confidence and put a huge swell of inspiration in my sails.

April 15 — worked at the Urgent Care, took a day OFF
April 16 — 3 miles of mixed speed/hill intervals on the treadmill
April 17 — Cathe Friedrich’s Pyramid Upper Body DVD followed by an oldie-but-moldy from YouTube (which I love) 8 Minute Abs
April 18 — 4 miles outdoors:  1 mile warmup, 2 miles of speed work and 1 mile cooldown
April 19 —  20 minute YouTube Cardio Chellenge workout by Kendell Hogan of Exercise TV followed by the opening abs portion of the FIRM’s Sculpted Buns Hips Thighs
April 20 — 3 miles easy run outdoors
April 21 — a day OFF

April 22 — 8 miles easy run outdoors, my longest outing of the year so far, and pretty tough to accomplish.  It was hot and sunny but I made it.   Jumping up to 8 miles after maxing out with 6.1 for the past 3 and 1/2 months is not recommended on most training plans but it’s what I had to do in order to be ready for the 10 miler on April 28.
April 23 — most wisely chose to take a day off and rest those tired legs.
April 24 — 4 easy miles outdoors; went well, not too sore.  Picked up my race packet for the 10 miler.  Very excited and a little bit scared.
April 25 — FIRM Tight Buns and Killer Legs DVD followed by another round of 8 Minute Abs
April 26 — 2 fast miles outdoors.  I did good.  I surprised myself.  Confidence came home to roost.
April 27 — OFF
April 28 — CARA Lakefront 10 Mile Race.
The weather was AWFUL!  It was rainy, 44 degrees and gusty with winds up to 20 MPH along the ever-windy lakefront.  It was HORRIBLE.  But it was WONDERFUL, because I beat my previous 10 mile race pace by 40 seconds per mile.  That was HUGE.  I never thought in a million years I would do that well, but I did.  And under very challenging conditions.  Go me!

April 29 — worked at the Urgent Care; took a day OFF.  Felt really good.  Better than I expected I would after jumping from 6 to 8 to 10 miles in a two week period.  Nice.
April 30 — in a fit of stupidity, tried a new workout:  Cathe Friedrich’s Lower Body TriSets.  Just about killed whatever leg muscles I had left.
May 1 — Oh the freaking DOMS!   I could barely sit and could hardly walk, yet a 5 mile run was on my agenda for the day. I walked it.  Slow.  The new workout damn near killed me.  I vowed that day:  as soon as my muscles recover, I’m going to do it again.  And again and again until it doesn’t hurt any more.  What doesn’t kill you will only make you stronger.  So I will do it again.
May 2 — In an effort to make my legs work again, I walked another 2 miles in the morning and then followed it with Cathe’s Pyramid Upper Body chest and back segments.
May 3 — Ran 3 miles.  Still sore.  Took it slow.  It was a struggle.
May 4 — Took the day OFF.  Finally starting to feel normal legs again.  A few twinges but nothing like the past 72 hours.
May 5 — Lake Bloomington 12k Race.
Still struggling despite the DOMS being completely gone.  It was hot and I was slow.  It took a lot of positive self-talk to keep going mid-race because I was so tired.  I think I’m feeling the effects of the rapid jump in Long Run mileage.  Will definitely take it easy next week.

May 6 — Today.  Resting.  Left Achilles tendonitis rearing its ugly head.  Will do some stretching later on tonight.

And that brings us up to date with the events of the past month.

On tap for the week:
Possibly running the Lemont Quarryman 10 Miler coming up this Saturday, May 12, if my legs are at 100%.  I don’t want to risk being injured before the big  events on my calendar:  Soldier Field 10, Peoria Steamboat 15k, and the Anchorage half marathon.

Pencilled in for the interim:
A pair of total body workouts.  Two mixed-pace runs, none greater than 5 miles in length.
Stretching.  Resting.  Hydrating.  Eating well.

More later.