Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Pain and Panic

Not to expose my inner-nerd but Pain and Panic are Hades' bumbling sidekicks in the Disney movie Hercules. Don't judge. I was thinking about how when a runner experiences pain they must determine whether it is good pain or bad pain. If I am experiencing good pain I can relish and enjoy it and if it is bad pain I usually end up panicking. When it's bad pain, it often requires a doctor's visit in which I pay someone a lot of  money to tell me to stop running. So I've stopped visiting doctors and try to self diagnose.

I'd say I'm usually pretty good at self-diagnosis, just really bad at self-treatment. This is, of course, because those highly paid doctors who tell me to rest are usually right. Over the years I've gotten really good at pain management through dealing with shin splints. The "nice" thing about shin splints is that they come on gradually and if you know what to look for you can take precautionary measures to ward off the pain or keep it at a tolerable level. After years of pounding the pavement, trail running became my solution to shin splints.

Then came an ordeal with sciatic back pain. I managed the pain with stretching but didn't scale back my training. In fact, I amped it up and trained for my first marathon and scheduled surgery for the week after. And as you may know from watching me race or reading past blog entries, that didn't end up too well. I had to quit at mile 18, crying on the side of the road, crushed with disappointment. The thing was, I thought surgery was going to be a quick fix. Not so.

Though removing a small mass that may have been pressing on my sciatic nerve alleviated some pain, it did not erase it entirely. As I sit here writing, the pain seems small but maybe that's because I've become so used to it. It reminds me that I'm alive and active. The problem is that now I feel possible side effects in other areas of my body. For example, sometimes my cheek becomes numb when I run and now I experiencing pain in my foot. I have a new foot pain that came up suddenly and I have no idea what it is. It feels as if someone stepped on my second toe and left a deep tissue bruise (there is no toe-stomping in my recent memory).

When I experience new pain, I usually ignore it. I can mentally block out most pain, the problem is that pain is your body's way of telling you to stop what you are doing. If I ignore a pain that lingers for a few days, then it's possible that I'm going to do lasting damage. Right now, though, I can't really scale back the training because I'm running a trail marathon on March 9th and hopefully a 50k on June 1st.

On Monday, something very encouraging happened. It was snowing and a woman came in to the store wearing running shorts. After finding out that her and her husband(?) had come up from Salida, I decided to throw out that I was planning to run a trail marathon in Salida and she exclaimed, "That's my marathon!" We chatted about the race and I asked her how she got into race directing. She explained, "Well I'm an ultra-runner and do you know what the Hardrock 100 is?"

I tried not to get too excited because every time I meet a potential runner at the store I hope for this kind of interaction. Usually I hear something about how trail running is too dangerous because of the rattlesnakes or people don't believe me that running 100 miles is actually something that people do. Well this woman, Rickie, has kissed the Hardrock nine times and has done many other races as well. And then she gave me a lesson in pain management. She was in town before heading to the airport to get knee surgery in Mexico!

Somehow I was just so encouraged by the fact that she had managed significant knee pain throughout countless ultramarathons and then somehow managed to find a reputable doctor in Mexico and was planning to be back on her feet walking normally in six weeks. Let me just add that the race she is directing is in just over 5 weeks so it's not like she has much of a choice.

Pain is an important part of life and I'm just going to keep on living hard. On Sunday I did 16-17 miles with 4,000 feet of elevation gain over icy trail in 3 hours 10 minutes. I guess it makes sense to be in pain after that. If anyone reading this knows anything about foot injuries, I would appreciate the feedback:)

Here's a link to the race website! I promised Rickie I would talk it up!!
Run Through Time Marathon

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Quest for the Perfect Hydration System Continues

Rarely do I get new gear immediately after it comes out. Though I spend a great deal of time thinking about gear/apparel and how to market it to people, I don't have the funds to purchase gear that I'm not 100% sure about. And so I usually don't write gear reviews because by the time I actually get around to buying it, other people have written reviews. Not so with the new Ultimate Direction AK vest.

We first saw someone sporting one of UD's Signature Series Vests at the Bear Chase Race this September, but the vest wasn't officially released until November. The AK and the SJ (the two more minimal models) sold out immediately. You can watch very detailed videos about all three of the Signature Series Vests here.

The most striking feature about these vests, at least to me, is that the bottles are carried in the front of the vest. When I first saw this design, I fell in love (specifically with the AK vest). I hate drinking the from a bladder and so I typically carry handheld bottles, which is tiring and cumbersome. After watching the video about the vest I thought that maybe my search for the perfect hydration system would be over. I'm very happy with the vest, but I am still searching.

Let's first address the reality of having bottles in the front. I now know what it feels like to be a 32DD and I thank God that I am not. In order to keep the bottles secure the vest needs to be strapped down very tightly. With two heavy sloshing things pressing into my chest I thought that maybe I was going to suffocate. As I drank more water, this feeling subsided but gave way to another problem. The sloshing becomes distractingly loud and if you drink from the bottles at differing rates then it becomes difficult to settle into that rhythmic groove you typically strive for on long runs.

I was pretty happy with the bottles themselves because the odd-looking nipple design allows you to keep the top popped open without any water splashing out of the bottle. The down side is that it is difficult to suck water out and you have to squeeze pretty hard to get a good flow. I get a sloshy stomach pretty often and I felt like more air bubbles got into each sip with this bottle's design. I think next time I will try it with some 10 oz bottles to see if that helps with the noise, but then that would be the same as carrying one 20 oz hand held.

Other aspects of this vest are fantastic. The fit is great with side adjustable straps. There are two sternum straps in the front that slide along a track. The pockets are adequately deep and have velcro to keep your goodies secure. You definitely won't be losing gels like I did with the MH Fluid vest in this race. I thought the storage capacity for this vest is perfect. You can easily fit a bladder and layers if desired but even if you don't have much in the back, the front load stays secure. As a fiber nerd, I especially like the cuben-fiber material that they used. Very breathable and no stretch. This bad boy will hold up for years to come.

Overall, I'd say Ultimate Direction did well with the AK vest. I don't think I'm going to be storing bottles in the front unless I was running terrain that required trekking poles. In that case it would be necessary to have hands free. But otherwise the storage capacity, fit, and fabric make this vest ideal for multi-hour running adventures.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Self discipline means running LESS

I sit here in pain, reflecting on how my mind thinks I can go farther than my body is actually able to go. I'm three weeks into my training plan and my shin splints are acting up. I can easily figure out the problem. My first week (as you may have read in my last post) we got a blizzard and I was working six days straight, house/dog sitting, and then flying to Wisconsin. As a result I didn't get in all of my miles.

When I arrived in Wisconsin I severely underestimated the amount of snow they had gotten. My dad provided me with yaktrax and gaiters and we headed off towards our beloved Ice Age Trail. We were hoping that the snowshoers would have packed down the trail for us, but after five steps of post-holing up to the thigh we turned back. I almost cried. I was so looking forward to running the good 'ol IAT. Now I'll have to wait for September when I'll hopefully run the North Face Challenge.

The only trail that was slightly runable was the Military Ridge Trail because it becomes snowmobile territory. If you've never seen a snowmobile, picture a jet ski with rails. Snowobilers get possessive about their domain and it is your responsibility to dive out of their way. Pretty sure if you were killed from getting hit by a snowmobile, the law would defend the snowmobile owner. At any rate, my knees and ankles started feeling pretty torqued from running through the pock-marked snow and so I switched to roads. The roads were covered with ice and hard as a... rock? Cue shin splints.

Needless to say I remembered why I moved away from Wisconsin. Again, I didn't quite get my miles in, but I flew home determined to do better. Well I was just so happy to be home that even the Highline Canal Trail seemed fun! Unfortunately I overcompensated and ran too many miles this week. When I finally got out to the trails today I went a little overboard. Here's my mileage progression over the past three weeks: 27.5, 32, 38.

And now I'm realizing that sometimes self-discipline doesn't mean running more even when it's painful. It means listening to your body and knowing the difference between good pain and bad pain. I'm going to be running less this week.

Here is a totally unrelated, but very amusing, picture: