Thursday, February 27, 2014

My Boston Trip and my Run to the Marathon Finish Line

I went to Boston on business this week, and it was my first time back to "Bean Town" since April 16, 2013. I was excited to get back and revisit the city in a "normal" setting, since last time I was here I left the city in the midst of the tragic events the day before.

On Tuesday morning, I headed over the Harvard Bridge (my hotel was in Cambridge) with the goal of a run/walk to the Boston Marathon finish line. However, getting swept up in the moment, I decided to run all the way there - about 1.5 miles. Once I got over the bridge I ran the last block or two on Commonwealth Ave, took a right on Hereford St, then a left on Boylston. Okay, it was actually on the sidewalk, but I didn't want to get hit by a car! Needless to say, running on a cold winter morning with hardly anyone out and about, running down Boylston felt surreal. The last time I ran down Boylston Street there were hundreds of runners alongside me, hundreds of flags waving in the sun and thousands of screaming spectators. This time, just a handful of people walking to work. The painted finish line was faded and dirty had snow on it and there were construction trucks parked on and around it.
At the Boston Marathon finish line on Tuesday
Faded finish line
The street signs at the most famous corner in marathoning
After snapping my photos I was on my way. I ended up running all the way back to the hotel, and my ankle felt fine. I was nervous that my ankle would flare up later or the next day, but I was cautiously optimistic. Spoiler Alert: I am still able to walk and my ankle pain is slight, but it has been slight for the last week or so, so no change is a good change, right?
Harvard Bridge Runner
Runner on the Ramp over the Charles River
One of my co-workers is an ultra marathoner/marathoner who lives in Boston. He trains the last 6.2 miles of the Boston Marathon course four times a week. This includes running Heartbreak hill four times a week. It must be nice not to have to run a "Boston simulator" and instead just run the real thing all the time! Anyway, running Heartbreak Hill and then back into Boston so early in my comeback, however thrilling it would be, would definitely not be a good idea. It would be a lot of miles and there would be a lot of downhill pounding. So instead, my coworker suggested that I run the relatively flat course along the Boston side of the Charles River and then back over the Longfellow Bridge and run back along the river on the Cambridge side. By the way, a woman I rode the 2013 Boston Marathon bus told me she saw Shalane Flanagan and Kara Goucher running their shake-out run on the river trail the day before the marathon. Who knows, maybe they'll be out there in April again?

Anyway, I snapped some pictures (yes, I did wear the same running jacket/hat every day, but at least I changed my shirts).

On the Boston side of the river
Mandatory chin-up pic
Thursday, I was going to do the river run again, but the excitement of a final run over the last mile of the marathon course was too tempting, so I headed over the bridge once again to Commonwealth/Hereford/Boylston. There were local news reporters at the finish line setting up, ostensibly to report on the Marathon security measures that were announced on Wednesday.

I got this shot of "Marathon Sports" which is right in front of the finish line:

I am cautiously optimistic on my recovery. I know that I still have an ankle issue as it is still slightly janky. The key will be to see if I can strengthen it further and not over-stress it by running too much, too soon. Maybe it's an issue I will always have to deal with and it will always be my body's way of telling me to slow down sometimes. Anyway, I may return to Boston next month, in which case I may be further along in my "comeback". Who knows, if I am feeling strong, I may even try running Heartbreak Hill. In any case, the excitement I felt during my casual runs around town has helped inspire me to return for the Boston Marathon next year!

Monday, February 17, 2014

Skiing in the City and a Chin-up Video

There are a handful of bloggers out there that embrace the winter. They strap on snow shoes, skates, skis or running shoes and they get out and enjoy the short winter season that we have in Chicago. I love it too. I have found cross-country skiing to be an awesome workout in the cold air. My lungs, legs and arms get a tremendous workout while I glide through the snow. As an added bonus, it does not seem to bother my ankle. In fact, I would say that my ankle feels a lot stronger after cross-country skiing than just about any other workout. I bought all of my equipment (skis, boots, poles) at Play-It-Again sports for under $70.

Yesterday, I broke out the skis for the first time and did about a mile around Horner Park:
In Horner Park yesterday
The snow was icy, but there were some trails grooved by other skiers so it was pretty fast going. Afterwards, my legs were sore, but my ankle felt stronger. I think that the constant heel lifts must do some good.

Today, due to the snowstorm I got to work from home, so as soon as 5 pm rolled around I headed out the door to enjoy the fresh powder:
Chicago River at Montrose Ave.

My fresh ski tracks in the woods at Horner Park
Skiing down Irving Park Rd.
I even did two chin-ups at the playground with my skis on:
Video of me doing two chin-ups in Horner Park

The snow was fresh and deep, so it was much slower going than yesterday. It was also a better workout.

Based on years past, most of the skiable snow will be gone after the first week of March and temps will start to soar once again until November. So, if you have access to get out and have fun in the snow, give it a whirl. There are only three to four weeks left!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

My Running Status: An Interview With Myself

Recently, I conducted an interview with myself in order to answer questions that everyone (i.e. me) has been asking about my running status.

How Long has it been Since My last Run?
It's been about two months since my last real run. Yes, I did "jog" a 5 mile race a month ago, but besides that, I have not put in anything more than a handful of slow treadmill miles since. Even during short treadmill workouts, my ankle has let me know it still hasn't fully healed. I'm basically "untethered", that is to say that I have no training plan and feel no pressure to jump back into running. My running fitness has pretty much faded completely, so it makes no difference if I start tomorrow or in two months time.

RnR Half '13

Ankle Injury? How did it Happen?
Looking back at my ankle injury, I think it's been the same chronic injury that I got about 12 to 13 months ago. The injury culprits were likely A) Running too fast too soon and B) experimenting with new shoes. The injury cut short my 2013 Boston Marathon training, forcing me into a run/walk marathon. It also helped cut short my Chicago Marathon training to nine weeks.

How did I Run With an Injury for Over a Year?
So, how was I able to run two full marathons (and several other races) on a bum ankle? Well, I was able to "suck up" the injury for almost a year by training every day. This allowed me to build up other muscles around the injury and helped me to ignore my specific ankle pain because my entire legs were hurting everyday. That is, my legs were constantly stiff/sore so I didn't notice my wonky ankle as much. However, the training insanity came to a head sometime in early December when my ankle had had enough and sent clear pain signals. I finally took notice and decided that it was time to rest and get it resolved. My type of "kamikaze" running style, where I ramp up my miles too quickly with no rest days had finally caught up to me.

How will I Know when I can Make my Running Comeback?
It will likely be when I don't notice any twinges or ankle pain when I walk down the street or sit on the couch. When my ankle is no longer at the forefront of my daily thoughts, then it will be time.

What will my Comeback Look Like?
I will start at a mile a day and ever so gradually build up to a handful of lazy slow miles. At the first sign of pain, I will take a week or two off. I will yield to no self-imposed pressure to stick to a regimented schedule even if I have made fitness gains or a race is "looming" on the horizon. If I have to miss my two paid for half marathons in May and July, I won't feel pressure to run either of them. If I somehow am able to run the Chicago Marathon, it will be on a handful of 35 mile weeks instead of lots of 60 mile weeks. With that type of training, I probably won't get a Chicago qualifying sub-3:15 but I will hopefully be able to resume training quickly and injury-free in the weeks following the race. That way I can start anew in 2015. 2014 has been relegated to a rebuilding year in which I plan on running base mileage in preparation for 2015.

How is Life without Running?
On the positive side, the downtime has given me more time to get house projects done, sleep longer, focus on gym workouts (I can now do nine chin-ups), and figure out how to eat better - since I'm not burning as many calories/day.

Any other Thoughts?
Hopefully, there won't be too many more of these injury-related blog posts. In the best case scenario I will see everyone out on the Lakefront Trail in the near future!