Summary: August 12-18

Sunday August 12
 4 Miles, 700′ 40:14 Short jaunt through Allamuchy: TH to summit, then skirted around the backside of the hill and directly back to the trail-head. It’s nice to finally get back on some technical trails and not feel beat up about it. Overall a slow 4 miles, although the trip to the summit was in the ~16min range, which is pretty spot on for average runs, even during heavy training.

Monday, August 13
 5 Miles, 740′ 42:10 Powerline trails. This is probably the hardest “short” course for me to run right now, since I ran it so much during the spring that even without a GPS, I know all of my “typical” splits for the major course landmarks. Since I’m very much not in the shape I was in, it’s incredibly frustrating to see how far behind my times are (average time on course was ~38m)

Tuesday, August 14
 5 Miles, 740′ 44:16 Dead legs, humidity, general suffering while running.

Wed, August 15
 5 Miles, 740′ :43 More dead legs, some gnarly heartburn as well. Trying to remember how to run first thing in the morning, and my stomach seems to not be agreeing with coffee quite yet…. or it’s still lagging behind from the previous nights dinner… all in all, very frustrating.
PM 1 Mile, Barefoot 9:14 Barefootin’ always feels good, trying to get the biomechanics back in line, and get the two-a-days feeling normal.

Thurs August 16
 5 Miles, 360′ 39:39 Broken Shin Loop with the usual suspects. Luis flew ahead right out of the lot, so I ran the loop with Bob at a semi-recovery pace. Felt good to pound the pavement for a bit, gaining some confidence in my legs.

Fri August 17 
5 Miles, 740′ 44:52 Hearburn, dead legs, ran in the heat of the day. All in all, a bad idea.

Sat August 18
5 Miles 740′ 42:23 Back to a semi-normal run time on the course, and not feeling like complete and total crap the whole way. I think my body may be adjusting to the consistent running, I’m also starting to find my (slow) groove again.

Totals: 35 Miles, 5500′ Vert, 5h6m

So, we’re back to normal, sort-of. While I’m really excited that I can grind out a 35 mile week, and not re-injure myself, it’s tough to think about the mileage I was able to put in, as well as how long it may take me to get back to that sort of consistent volume. I’m also still wearing the ITB strap, although Sunday’s hash seemed to prove it unnecessary. Ideally, I’ll hang out at this ~35mpw range for a bit, add in some more barefooting, and eventually start to push the volume up (this time in a much more prudent manner).

No pictures, so here’s something that’s been on repeat in the car for a while now…

Try Again.

It looks as if I’m falling victim to the overly cliche never-ending injury cycle. Every time I get a glimpse of some positivity with my IT band, I do exactly what I would be doing if I were truly healthy, which is, run as much as I possibly can until something hurts, the sun sets, or I’m too tired to keep running. This obviously is NOT the way to recover from an over-use injury (this is where you cue in a quote from my mother saying that one should not cure overtraining by overtraining.)

After having a really encouraging week in the Pine Tree State without any hints of needing to slow down, I ran the River to Sea relay with the Highlands Hashers. Whilst the R2C jaunt only totaled a pedestrian 12.6 Miles, of entirely flat terrain, in 2 legs, on road… cranking it out at ~7:15 pace proved just a little too much for my knee, as well as my calves (which, after a week, are finally feeling normal again). So, after limping around for a few days, having 2 really shitty runs, I decided that it would be a brilliant idea to run with Dave on Friday morning to check out the course for the Wildcat Ridge Romp. As you could expect, this only re-aggravated my knee, and wiped me out pretty well.  (Yes Dave, you kicked my ass on this one)

So what does this mean in the broad scheme of things? I really need to focus my energy on trying to run pain-free for a bit right now, especially with autumn (my favorite running season) right around the corner, and some pretty lofty (albeit unspoken) goals for next year. So for the time being, I’m going to pretend that racing is non-existent, and concentrate on simply enjoying my runs, pursuing the terrain, and courses that I really want to run on. So hopefully if I stop dangling the idea of racing in the near future in front of myself, I can do a better job of increasing my mileage in a prudent way, instead of the reckless mileage spikes I’ve been having lately.

As for how I’m feeling about all of this… maybe some graphs can make it easier:

My fitness level since getting hurt:


 Here’s how I feel about myself, and my eating habits:

 And how my mileage effects my life:
 

Pursuing direct lines

Spending some time in the Pine Tree State running the local mountains… I’d forgotten how much fun, and how challenging running directly up a big mountain can be. For the sake of brevity, and my (still) lack of trust in my right leg, I’ve been choosing the most direct lines to the summit, to reduce the amount of actual mileage, while still getting myself above treeline, which has amounted to pretty short trips (~45 mins) but with maximal effort throughout the entirety of the trip.

Only a few short months ago, I would be frustrated going for a run where the overwhelming majority of my time would be spent hiking. In fact, it seems that hiking, despite its inherent necessity in mountain running, (especially at the ultra-distance) hiking is often under-appreciated. The reality of the situation is that these more direct lines, while shorter in mileage, more than make up for their brevity by requiring a backbreaking effort throughout. Nothing can compare to an extended incline session with your nose to the ground, hands on your knees, and breathing heavily with every planting of the foot. Sure, it’s not a run, but it’s still the most efficient way to move quickly through the mountains.

 This past weeks worth of serious vertical abuse has helped me to successfully regain a lot of the lost trust in my right leg. In spite of the brevity of my sessions (the longest being ~1h46m) I managed to really attack some vertical gains and losses, and contrary to my expectations, my knee/ITB feel great, even after bombing down scree, leaping over boulders, and generally being reckless. Perhaps more importantly to me is the fact that I was able to consistently get above treeline almost every day this past week (I did take a day off for prudence, and one for travel). and if the sunburn on my shoulders is any indication of summertime mountain-efforts, I’m doing pretty well.

Saddleback in the fog, Photo courtesy of Snake-Girl

Wearing the ITB strap… for prudence

Summit Proper

Return from the Horn

Finding the groove

Finally. It’s now been long enough since I’ve had any knee pain worth mentioning that I actually can’t remember the last time things flared up. (note: I have a short memory) I’ve managed some modest trail running (~5 miles at a time) hiked in the White Mountains (with poles/small pack) carried a full load through the Kittatinnies, gone barefootin’ barrelled down techy trails at full speed, and even got 3 (small) runs in today on a variety of terrain… and…. no pain. If I’m not actually out of the woods right now, then I can definitely hear the cars on the road.
While my running times are terrifically inconsistent right now, in the past several days I caught glimpses of the runner I was before the injury. I’m not making any promises about upcoming race plans, not at least until I can string together a couple of serious training weeks. But honestly, I don’t care, all I know is that right now, it looks like I’ll be able to actually run through August, and try to make up for some lost trail time in June/July.

Oh trails I miss you
Dirty feet and muddy legs
My shoes look too new

Little Haystack, Weather kept me from traversing the pass

Weather…
Setting up Camp
Camp

Schooley’s Mtn this morning

 

Hints of Normalcy

I’m (not) back. This past week I was able to scrounge together a seemingly normal running week for the first time in what seems like ages. Six consecutive days of running (Mon-Sat) with ~23 miles, and even a couple grand worth of Vert. While this is really chump change mileage-wise in comparison to the volume I prefer to run, nevermind the volume that I had thought I’d be putting in over the summer, I’ll take it. After several weeks of not running, running in pain, or running hesitantly, I’m beginning to fully see how massive a part of my life this really is.

While I choose to arbitrarily quantify my “weekly” totals with regard to the literal calendar week (Sun-Sat) today marks my 8th consecutive day of running, and 3rd consecutive day of getting on trail/some not so embarrassing vert (~140’/mile). While I’m certainly not in the sort of shape I’d like to be in at this part of the year (how can you not want to run all day during the summer…) I’ve managed to maintain a pretty fair amount of fitness, which I can really only attribute to the solid base I had until I got hurt, as well as some diligent gym visits utilizing both strength and cross-training.

As for the future? Right now it’s hard to really consider where the next several weeks are going to take me leg-wise, as after a modest 14 miles on trail over 3 days, my knee is feeling a slight bit twingy, which means, to me, that it isn’t fully prepared for the full on assault that my idea of ultra-marathon training would require. With this in mind, both Running With The Devil and Wildcat Ridge are officially off of my schedule although it looks like I will be at least crewing for Dave (and possibly Gene) at Wildcat. If things continue to progress at this rate, I could potentially be prepared to run at Wildcat, but I think the risks outweigh the desire to race. I am still rather convinced that I’ll run at Jay Peak but I’m mentally preparing myself for the possibility that I will either not be fully healed, or not be in the kind of shape I’d require of myself to undertake it as a race (and I’m not so interested in running ultras for the sake of running ultras). Beyond that, my plans are very much up in the air, I’m eyeing Mountain Madness which looks like a good course up in the Ramapo range, and I really should toe the line at some NJ race this year… I’m also flirting with running another road marathon, but that depends heavily on my ability and willingness to train specifically for a road race, so only time will really tell on that one.

Courtesy of ON

Finally back on the hill in my natural form… excepting the garter belt…

Rebuilding

After spending the better part of May sitting on the couch complaining about how nice the weather is, I think I’m starting to turn the corner in my ITBS healing process. Unfortunately (for me) the only reliable way to properly recover from an overuse injury such as this is plain and simple rest. Of course, like any over-zealous 20-something, I managed to fail in my original attempt at resting, making it about 14 days without running before I restarted, only to run 6 miles of trail on my 3rd day back, successfully re-aggravating my condition (although much less painful than the initial flaring, so the resting wasn’t for naught). So, after that I decided that my best bet was to refrain from running for at least another 10 days, but begin cross-training as soon as things felt normal again (in a day to day walking stair-climbing sense of normal).
So this time around, I’m approaching my return to running in a very different manner. I’ve never been a fan of weight lifting, or the gym in general, but the obvious weaknesses in my hip abductors, as well as the relative weakness in my core yields a breakdown in my running form over a long mountain race, which is fundamentally unsustainable without some sort of intervention. So, following my mother’s advice (note: she’s a personal trainer, which makes her maternal concerns/advice a good deal more valid[or at least I’d like to think it does]) I’ve joined a Gym. Yes, I have begun to lift things up and put them down. My primary goal is, in the short-term, to salvage as much strength/fitness as possible through a combination of strength training, and low-impact cardio. In the long term I’m hoping to build more strength overall to stave off late race fade, and postpone the inevitable breakdown in form late in a race. With some luck (and diligence) this should help to reduce the likelihood that I find myself laid out again after a long racing effort, and should in turn reduce my injury rate in the long term.
As far as actual running is concerned, my plan as of now, is to begin running lightly in the upcoming week, increasing my mileage at an uncharacteristically prudent rate for at least the first few weeks while utilizing my new-found gym access to build some additional strength. I’ve also begun applying twice-daily therapeutic ultrasound to my IT band, which helps repair tissue on a cellular level by increasing blood flow, and breaking down scar-tissue. With some luck, I’ll be able to salvage some late summer race plans, and fully take advantage of a couple of New England trips I have planned in the next month.
Bonnaroo is happening this weekend, so here are some Jersey bred guys to kick off the summer.

Bear Mountain Video

This is of course, inherently self-serving, (but isn’t the point of a blog self-serving anyhow?), but Dave has just posted the video from the NF 50 over at the Highlands Hashers blog.

Thanks Dave!!!

Frustration

Any high volume runner knows what I’m talking about when I tell you that the inability to run is ineffably frustrating. Putting aside any race plans, and any other associated fitness goals, the real issue is that there’s a tremendous part of my day to day life that’s simply… missing. The smell of the mornings fresh air, the sense of depletion after a run, the joy of a prolonged sweat, all of this seems to be infiltrating my thoughts, memories of what seems like a past life (although it’s only been a few weeks since I was running healthily). In fact, it’s much like getting sick, where after a few too many days of illness, you begin to forget what healthy feels like…  More omnipresent, is the longing for that time spent truly alone. Having the opportunity to tune in, and listen to my body, both the joys and the pains of distance running. Even more, the chance to truly let my thoughts go through my head at their own speed, and simply observe them. So while it’s annoying to think that my fitness is slowly reducing, this pales in comparison to the mental aspect of not being able to hop on trail first thing in the morning (and often times, last thing in the evening) and leave it all behind for a while.

My knee is starting to feel better, in fact, it’s MUCH better than it was when I originally began resting(I’ve now taken 14 of the last 18 days completely off from running). When it first started to act up, I couldn’t make it more than 3/4ths of a mile or so before the pain began to become unbearable, whereas this past Monday, I ran 6 miles on trail(AT, at Sunrise Mountain), without it being beyond a nagging discomfort, and last night I ran 3 miles on the roads, again testing it out, finding the pain bearable, but certainly concerned that a light 3 mile jaunt would still cause some aggravation. With this in mind, I’ve decided to take another ~8-10 days off from running, concentrating on icing, stretching, compressing, and starting to integrate ultrasound therapy. Hopefully this will allow my IT band to fully heal so that I can get back to the trails soon, and retrieve the part of my life that’s been missing for the past month or so.

In other news, I’ve been selected to be a Merrell Delegate for the upcoming Outdoor Nation Summit in NYC. I’m not sure how much Merrell wants me (or any of the other delegates) to divulge about the perks of being sent on their behalf, but the bottom line is that they’re covering my expenses, and have provided me with a generous amount of apparel in exchange for my participation, blogging on their behalf, and a couple of conference calls with their outdoor people. Basically the purpose of the summit is to gather a sizable amount of 20-somethings in a room to discuss ways to encourage more people to get outside, get on trail, and be healthier, so I’m every much looking forward to it.

Gino chased by Bob

John crosses a stream

Jeff doing some downhill

Healing

Few things are as frustrating as waiting, especially when you’re waiting for your body to heal, or just simply feel “normal” again, as I’ve been doing for the past week and a half. So what exactly has my strategy been for getting through this bout of ITBS? It’s really quite simple, starting primarily with an abundance of foam rolling, mostly to loosen up the tissue surrounding the IT band, all of which was surprisingly sore, like screaming in pain when I first started rolling kind of sore (and I’d like to think I have a pretty high tolerance for physical pain). Beyond that, I’ve been icing rather regularly, as well as stretching all of the supporting muscles (as it’s nearly impossible to stretch the actual IT band) and doing a handful of exercises designed to strengthen the glutes and hamstrings (whose weakness supposedly leads to ITBS…).

Right now, my leg/knee feels surprisingly… normal, there’s an occasional twinge here or there, but I can run down the stairs again (as opposed to limping like a geriatric old man) without any discomfort, and have even harnessed the gumption to ride the bike a bit, and spend some time picking things up and putting them down. As far as getting back into “real” training, I’m planning on taking at least a few more days of unaggravated existence before I ease into running again. I still have a pretty solid base level fitness, which I don’t think has regressed too much in the time I’ve taken off, and I’d much rather allow this to heal properly, than aggravate it again, which will only end up with more time on the couch. So, while I’m not running as much as my typical volume (zero miles at the moment…) I’m planning on using the bike a lot more, and considering finally getting a gym membership (no guarantees on the last one).

Otherwise, my strategy for the next race(s) is primarily the same as it was for the NF 50, run as much as I physically/mentally/logistically can, with an emphasis on trails and vertical gain. I’ve also decided that I should try to capitalize on the lessons learned at Bear Mountain, and am actively trying to spend more time doing core exercises, toughening up the soles of my feet (see: spending more time barefoot) as well as exercises designed for overall stability, and hill climbing strength. I have a few more tricks up my sleeve, but they’re very much in the experimental stages right now, so I’ll only allude to their existence at the moment, and if they seem to be helpful, I’ll write about them later (diet, mid-run fueling, hydration etc etc etc).

I also tried some “alternative” therapies

Failed Recovery

I’ve fallen victim to one of the cliche troubles with running ultra-distances, the post-race injury. It seems that this is a rather common occurrence, and, to me at least, seems to make sense. After training at a sub-maximal level for months on end, topping mileage out at a near maximal level, eventually the body simply needs a rest, which should commonly come before the race (see: taper) and then afterwards in the recovery phase. However, like any over-zealous cocky runner who see’s his fitness as having peaked for a race, I decided to begin running again immediately, on what were obviously sore/tired/un-healed legs, and have as a result, found myself dealing with ITBS.
ITBS, or Iliotibial band syndrome is probably best described here. Fundamentally it’s and inflamation of the IT band that manifests itself as lateral pain in the knee. So, as a result, I’m relegated to resting, icing, limping around (even though it no longer causes much discomfort, limiting the flexion of the knee reduces strain on the IT band, and should be advantageous in helping it heal) and generally doing…. nothing.
Since I cannot run, for at least a few more days (this is day six of consecutive non-running) I’ve found myself with an abundant amount of additional free time, which is… well, very strange. If I look at my average totals for the year thus far, I’ve “gained” at least a solid work-day’s worth of time, if not more, and frankly, the extra time, and inability to run is starting to get to me. So, with that in mind, I guess I’ll concentrate on some core work, continue icing the heck out of my knee/IT band, stretching, and pleading with my leg to hurry up and heal, as I have some over-training to get back to, and the trails are calling my name as I sit here, reading.