July 21, 2010

Catching up on 2010 and Lessons Learned So Far

This year has been a big year for me so far, and there is so much more to come! I ran my first marathon, set half marathon PRs twice (one by 12 min, the next by an additional 8 min just 8 weeks later), and this past 4th of July, I set a 5K PR by about one minute, finally breaking the 24 minute mark. A link to all of my race results is here on my home page. My husband and I have an annual tradition of running the Village Runner 5K in Redondo Beach every year. Beautiful course and always a gorgeous morning. If you live near the area, it's a great way to start off the holiday!

I have been plagued with IT band issues since the beginning of 2008 which held me back for over a year and a half; many months of barely getting in 15 miles a week. Let me re-phrase that, “barely getting in 15 painful miles a week”. IT band injuries are one of the most common of all running injuries, particularly among beginners. The IT band (IT stands for Iliotibial) is a big piece of connective tissue that runs down the outside of your thigh. The band attaches to your pelvis, and runs through your hip all the way down to the outer knee. It contributes to knee extension (i.e. straightening your knee as you do during both walking and running with the leading leg) and hip abduction (this means moving your leg sideways, out and away from your body). Overuse and doing too much too soon is the common culprit and the resulting pain can be so excruciating that it will literally stop you dead in your tracks. [Picture captured from http://www.northshoreathletics.com]

As you run (and walk), the piece of the band that runs over the outer knee is actually rubbing back and forth over a bony bump (anatomically named the "lateral epicondyle", as seen in the image above) causing friction and eventually inflammation with overuse. So, let's work this out… if my average foot strike per minute is 160, my IT band is rubbing back and forth across that bony protuberance 80 times a minute on each leg. Now multiply this by 60 for an hour-long run and we’re at 480 times – per leg! Add in the fact that experts estimate runners put 1.5-5 times their body weight (also dependent on speed) through their lower body and we’ve got some serious forces at work here (not to mention all the friction!).

Having been sidelined for weeks in ’08 and ’09 and missing a couple of races (including the first full marathon I was going to run), I knew I had to find something different to try because my solutions were all leading me back to the same spot – IT band pain. Only now, it’s switched from right-side pain to left- side pain. Oh good. I can heal one side at the expense of injuring the other. That’s quite a talent!

I had signed up for and missed several races in early/mid '09 due to this damn injury and it seemed like no matter what I did, the pain always came back at some point. This is when I decided I needed to treat myself like I was hurt every single day. I bought a Cryo Cup and gave myself ice massages on both IT bands every night and found IT-band and hip stretches that I did every night as well. And used the dense foam roller and kinesiology tape. It was helping, but the pain wasn’t completely subsiding. My 2009 Dland Half (my 3rd time running it) time was 8 minutes slower than the previous year. I could not have run any faster or I would have ended up worse off than when I started. I guess, in a way, I could see this particular race as a victory too. Not because of my time, but because of the discipline it took to hold back and run smart. I never thought of that before now...

By this point, my husband had been running for about a year and a half and had a half marathon under his belt. I was feeling confident enough by mid- October ’09 to start considering running a December marathon. Just about the time I was ready to register, the hubby spoke up and said “I want to do one too!”. We chose the 2010 Walt Disneyworld Marathon held in early January. It’s where we spent our honeymoon so why not go back for our first marathon? I’ll post a blog about this experience (as much as I can based on my memories and the pictures!) and the training leading up to it soon.

This race was a HUGE turning point for me. I had been working hard on the mental aspects of running and not letting my brain talk me out of pushing my physical limits. The morning of the marathon, even though I had laid out ALL my clothes and gear the night before, I realized when we got to Epcot (the Start and End point) that I didn’t have my IT wrap with me, and there was definitely no way I had time to get back to the hotel. I freaked out for about 30 seconds. Geez, like I wasn't already a stress case; and now THIS?!?! A thought passed through my brain that said “well, you might as well not even try. There’s no way you can do this without it”.

It's amazing how much marathon training strengthens more than just your body, it also strengthens your mind. And guess what? I told it to go to hell. I don’t need that wrap and I’m going to prove it. “It’s just a crutch” – do it!!!! At mile 13, the pain was so bad that my left knee buckled and I thought “this is it”. I’m going to fail in the middle of the Magic Kingdom at the “Happiest Race on Earth” staring at the castle. “No!” I told myself. “You can do this”. “Mind over matter”. And you know what happened? I slowed down and made it all the way to the finish with ZERO pain (in my IT band – my feet would tell you a different story). This pic was taken by a Disney photographer about 3 minutes after I decided not to let that pain stop me from finishing. It's one of my favorite race pictures and captured a very significant time in my running career.

After taking a few weeks off, I eased back into my schedule with renewed confidence. I was finally getting control of my IT band issues. My workouts were going well. I bought an iFit card for our treadmill and let Jillian Michaels from Biggest Loser take over the speed and incline a couple of times a month. She had me running at 8.0mph at some points; how about 6mph at an 8% grade? I didn’t even know I could do that! More confidence building. Thanks Jillian. :-)

So what have I learned this year? If you want to run and keep running, you’ve got to believe in yourself. I know it’s hard to do. Even the best of the best have confidence issues. It’s how you move through the tough times that makes you successful. Find your truth. Find out what’s in you. Don’t give up.

I’ve learned to train smarter. I’ve learned when to push and when to take it easy. I play by the 10% rule. Don’t increase your workload by more than 10% a week or your risk for injury spikes. If I’m doing speed work or hills during the week, I don’t run for distance the following weekend. I keep a detailed journal (on an Excel spreadsheet) that tracks my daily, weekly and monthly mileage; on a daily basis, I also track speed (and incline where appropriate); heart rate; level of effort; level of enjoyment; and a column for miscellaneous comments such as my mood, nutrition, environmental conditions, etc.

Following these principles and learning how to get my brain to work with me rather than against me has earned me 3 PRs since March, and I am damn happy about it. Proud most specifically of the discipline – not the discipline of running per se, but the discipline to develop a smart training program and stick to it! Yes, I’d like to run every day and I’d like to be running more than an average of 25 miles a week, but with the added speed work I’m finally able to incorporate into my training, I’m perfectly content with my 100 mile months and 4-day a week running schedule.

Next goal: Breaking 2 hours at the 2010 Disneyland Half Marathon this September. I know I can do it!!!

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