MCM Training Week 7: “Hey, Listen!”

Any nerds out there recognize this little pixie? Well, she was the one-time companion of this guy in the N64 game “Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.”  And man, was this chick annoying. She’d constantly be peppering the hero with suggestions or little quips, sometimes helpful, but other times obnoxiously obvious (though not as bad as Fi from Skyward Sword… anyway, off-topic).

Now that I’ve fully (and proudly) shown my Nerd Card, let me get to the point. Sometimes as runners, we need to be bashed over the head with the obvious before we start taking heed, and when we do listen, it can save our training.

I’ve had my fair share of aches and pains, and it’s taken me a while to start truly listening to them. Near the end of my spring 2011 training cycle for the Pittsburgh half, I was getting some pretty gnarly hip pain and tightness, especially after long runs. I wasn’t stretching enough. I wasn’t strengthening my hips enough. And I wasn’t foam rolling enough. So the miles just built up on me, and being a slightly sturdier female athlete, and running in hilly Pittsburgh, this was a Bad Thing. I skipped a track workout (did a run walk instead as long as it felt okay) when the hip wasn’t warming up and loosening at all) and skipped a couple other runs, then cranked a 12 miler that weekend. I had a bridal shower immediately after, and I was in agony. The run itself felt fine. But man was I not okay. I managed the race alright, but I really should have been smarter.

That fall before my first Air Force half, my right knee started bugging, probably jumper’s knee. I took some time off and even used a knee band a little, but still was just trying to push through. The race was fine, and my issues were actually nutritional and blister-related, not the knee, but it was pretty bad post-race.

Last fall, before what would have been my second Air Force, which itself was a week out from the Ragnar Relay and in the midst of Philly Marathon training, I rolled my ankle – hard – mid-tempo run. I learned my lesson. I stopped immediately and took all my weight off of it. Sometimes with an ankle roll you can sort of shake it off, but I decided the smart thing to do would be go home and ice-ice-ice. As I walked, I thought – maybe this isn’t so bad, but probably better to be cautious. I was absolutely right: it definitely swelled up a bit and I kept it elevated and compressed most of the week, not running again until the following Wednesday, and then only a  couple miles. I probably would’ve been fine for Air Force, but one misstep could have put me out not just for Ragnar, but for the rest of the season.

I wrote last week about how in the middle of a long run, I was really dumb and ended up falling on my ass. Well, that’s doing just fine now, and didn’t affect my running (though I found trying to do dumbbell bench press this week was interesting, since laying on the bench while holding weights was VERY uncomfortable, and i had to get creative), but apparently this wasn’t the end of my clumsiness. Sunday morning we had an 18 miler scheduled, and I was really looking forward to it, especially since it wouldn’t be solo, and would include our friend Devin in the last 6 miles. Saturday night, as I was hanging laundry to dry, I slammed a toe (fourth toe on my right food, and my third toe a little) against the bed. OOOOWWWWW.

It was one of those delayed reactions, where first you’re just sort of surprised, then the pain sets in. I sat down and put a little pressure on the toes to try to disperse the pain. I had to switch the laundry, then immediately set to icing the rest of the evening. I prayed it was just a temporary pain and would dissipate by morning.

No such luck. It wasn’t too  bad – I wasn’t limping, and I actually used some athletic tape to buddy tape it to the next toe to see if stabilization helped (it definitely wasn’t a break – I’ve broken my baby toe a couple times, each side, in the past and know how bad that can feel, so this was definitely just a bruise) but I could still feel the pressure with every step. I laced up my shoes a little tighter, wearing my most cushioned trainers as I always do for long runs, had a little oatmeal and a Gu, and we headed out the door around 6:40.

The quarter mile trudge uphill at the start felt pretty blah, and my right leg felt very tight, but I figured it was just the hill and maybe not related to the toe. But even when it flattened out, I felt tight on the right side as my gait was altering to compensate for the toe. And while not exactly painful, I could feel the bruise on every footfall. At .69 miles, I threw in the towel and walked home, leaving my guy to slog through 18 miles mostly by himself. Womp womp.

I considered going back to sleep for an hour or two, but instead spent the morning watching Netflix, moping, and icing my toes (20 minutes on, 10 minutes off), then driving Devin home after he called it a day (he’s got a bad cold and cut his run short). I mentally beat myself up for missing an 18 miler – how could I miss an 18 miler – but knew I made the right choice. Maybe it would have been fine, but 18 miles of pounding on a bruised foot? My body would have been screaming for me to stop and listen.

I drove into Cleveland that night for a visit with family, and went for a walk around the neighborhood with my mom, feeling okay. Looking closer at the toe, I saw lots of purple and blue, so knew it was just a surface bruise, and not a bone bruise – phew! I brought only my Ghost to run in, and managed a very comfortable, zero-pain three miler the next day. Hurray!

Marathon training is mostly about getting the miles in, but we also have to remember that – in the midst of that grind – we have to stop and tend to the little aches and pains so they don’t become big aches and pains. So the tight calf doesn’t become a torn calf. So the sore hip doesn’t become a stress fracture. So the physical and mental fatigue doesn’t become total overtraining and burnout. This week is cutback – which I’ll write about later – and about listening to my body and letting it rest and recover so I can come back the following week that much stronger – and get another crack at 18 miles.

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