Running: The Continuing Saga of Returning from Tendonitis

Several weeks ago, I wrote about overtraining my way into Posterior Tibial Tendonitis (PTT) on my way to attempting my first 50k trail ultramarathon. Then, in a bold move of bravery / stupidity, I ran the 50k anyway. As one might imagine, running 50k didn’t exactly help my tendonitis, so I accepted that my spring running season was going to essentially be one of rehab. Mainly, I rested. I rested until it didn’t hurt to walk. I also did a bit of physical therapy with a licensed practitioner, I strengthened and then Rested, Iced, Compressed, and Elevated (RICE for those who have been there), and I’m happy to report that I’m on the mend.

The Keys to Success

Looking back, there are a few things that have been very effective in my recovery from PTT: shoes, speed, and strength.

First, shoes. I invested in some new running shoes and I started wearing old running shoes in lieu of dress shoes for most of the day. While I’m not one to dole out free advertising, I have a couple of go-to brands for my running shoes. For the last couple of years, I’ve funneled the vast majority of my shoe dollars toward On – the Swiss running company that brings us the Cloudflow. Cloudflow has been my weapon of choice for all of my marathons and essentially all of my training runs. In the height of my training, I’ll put 60-70 miles per week (100k+), so my shoes don’t last a long time. I try to retire them after about 400 or 500 miles, although I’m not fantastic at keeping track. However, for my 50k trail run, I opted to try the Hoka One One Speedgoats. These shoes are gaudy. When I was buying them some young lady walked by and exclaimed, “Why is everyone switching to these geriatric, super soled things?!?” I wasn’t offended. I agreed with her. But I was trying to put in some big miles on a bad wheel. And my goodness, did these things work! So much so that I have since bought a pair of Hoka One One Cliftons, more or less the road version of the Speedgoats. These shoes have been an excellent source of comfort as I work my way back into fitness. I will say that I’m now splitting my running time between the Hoka and the On products, but as I slowly ramped up, the Hoka One Ones were very important to my recovery. I also mentioned that I started wearing old running shoes instead of dress shoes. This was also very important. I now routinely wear a pair of my On Cloudflows that have at least 500 miles on them to and from the office, and unless I have any big meetings, I’ll wear them all day. I have no data on this, but in my mind, the shoes help my foot maintain a good shape so that I’m not collapsing the arch on my flattish feet in my fashionable dress shoes. After wearing my old running shoes all day, my feet feel stronger and ready for a workout.

Second, speed. And what I mean by speed is the absence of it. I have to admit that I am inspired by ultra-athletes like Scott Jurek, Killian Journet, and Rich Roll. I’ve been a bit of a fan boy and read all of their available advice, which says, “do volume first, then work on speed.” After taking 1.5 months off, I worked as if I was starting over. So now I’m a few weeks into building volume again. At this point I am doing 6-8 mile runs 5 or more days a week, all without compromising my pesky tendon, at least until last week. For shorter runs, I’m wearing my beloved Ons. For longer runs, I’m wearing my “geriatric” Hokas. This really isn’t fair to a shoe that has helped me recover. But they are a tad on the obnoxious side. As far as my actual speed goes, I’m comfortably in the 9+ minute/mile range. At the height of my fitness, I was turning in sub-7 minutes/miles. But now is not the time. I’m simply rebuilding my base level of fitness. And it is working very, very well. I’m finding that my heart rate is lowering by 20 beats per minute at the same pace in just a matter of weeks. So, running is getting easier as I plug away slowly. Now, I will admit that I took a speed detour this past week and set myself back. But that was a learning opportunity too. I have been feeling very good, so I opted to work on a bit of speed this past week. On Tuesday, I did 2+ miles of 30/30 in which I ran hard for 30 seconds (5:30 minutes/mile pace) and then rested for 30 seconds. This didn’t hurt my foot at all, so I decided to hit the “go button” on a shorter distance run at pace. I was targeting 5 miles after warming up. I made it 4 miles at 7:14 minutes/mile, but with some discomfort. In the days following, I was in pain. However, my strict regimen of resting and wearing running shoes throughout my day has helped put me back on track. I’m happy to report that I did a slow 7 mile trail run today with no discomfort. So, I’m experimenting and learning. This helps me focus on my recovery time rather than sit idly by and attempt to wait.

Finally, strength. My physical therapist gave me several exercises to do with bands and such to strengthen the muscles in my foot, ankle, and other parts of my legs. I have somewhat dutifully followed the prescription. However, as previously reported, I have also started rock climbing. When rock climbing, I often have to gain a foothold on the smallest of edges; thereby working muscles in the foot and ankle. I have found this to be extremely useful. I’m not one for weight training for the sake of weight training. I much prefer to do something that has the spillover benefit of improving strength. Rock climbing has fit the bill beautifully and I have built strength capacity for my runs while having a great time learning a new skill. I’m still a novice of course, but that’s ok too. Novices see all kinds of gains in new skills as they put in the time.

Summary Recommendations

OK, so here we have it. I hope you never come down with the dreaded PTT. But if you do, I have 4 key recommendations: 1.) Rest until you can walk pain free, 2.) Give your feet a break with a shoe solution, 3.) Take a break from speed training and come back cautiously, and 4.) Find a way to strengthen the muscles in your foot and ankle in a way that works for you. Of course, I’m no doctor. So work with your licensed professional on your specific recovery plan. However, hopefully my path to recovery can be used as you navigate the tricky path of soothing a savage tendon.

Thanks for reading!

Running My First 50k

I started this blog post the morning before attempting my first 50k run. The title of this post very well could have read, “My first ‘Did Not Finish’ (DNF) Race.” As I stated in an earlier post, Taking a Zero Day, I had some setbacks in my training routine running up to the race. Those setbacks lingered. And then lingered some more. My foot never really healed all the way. The most I had run at one time for the 3 weeks prior to the race was 4 miles, and my foot hurt every time. So to think I could make it 31 miles was pretty silly. But, somehow it worked.

Before the race, I took a mental assessment over breakfast of my physical and mental states. Here is what I wrote down:

  • Body feels good, well-rested and ready to work
  • Ankle pain 3 out of 10, worst when I flex the outer part of my foot upwards
  • Thinking about which wheel will fall off first: most likely my ankle, maybe my legs from a lack of running, least likely my cardiovascular system
  • Considering disappointment of being listed on the race results as DNF
  • Thinking about letting down Matt – my friend and running partner – whom I roped into this crazy idea
  • Given that it is a trail race, I cannot walk the required pace to make the cutoff time
  • Realistic probability of finish: 30%
  • Trying to quash the negativity, I am starting affirmations and visualizing a pleasant run in the woods

Then it was time to go. So I stopped thinking and put myself on auto-pilot. I loaded up my truck with my pre-packed supplies from the night before, and drove to the race start in the dark. When I say I stopped thinking, I put all my meditation practice into effect. I stopped assessing and ruminating. I stopped thinking about disappointments and pain. I used the skills I have learned in meditation to go through the motions and accept whatever came. Once at the race start, I continued to go through the motions. I met up with my friend, we made the decision to run light and rely upon the aid stations for food and drinks. Soon it was time to start.

The Rocks and Roots Trail Series at Alum Creek State Park in Lewis Center, Ohio, is one of the best organized I’ve ever experienced. It is a very small race, capped at 400 runners, and it is organized by runners for runners. I highly recommend it if you can get a spot. The leading picture for this post is one of the many stunning views you’ll experience throughout the two 10k loops of this fun and challenging course. So with some quick, no-nonsense announcements and an old-fashioned, “Ready, Set, Go!”, we were off at 8 AM.

I started off limping and then eased into a slow, methodical stride. A funny thing happened. My foot pain spiked early and then within 10 minutes subsided back to a 2 or 3 out of 10. I thought, “I can live with this.” So I just kept going. That’s how it went. Minute by minute, hour by hour, I just kept going. One foot in front of the other. 4 hours into the race, we had completed our first 30k (18.6 miles). If you’re doing the math, these are not fast miles, but that’s OK. We decided that this was a “just finish” race because it was our first attempt at this distance and, given that it was a trail race where we go up and down ravines and hop over downed trees, this was never going to be flat out. At 30k, the course was getting really boggy. There were significant portions of the course where the term “running” simply did not apply. Think, “ankle-deep pancake batter” and you get the picture. For these portions, we slowed to a walk and then picked back up on drier parts of the trail.

Somewhere around mile 29, I caught a root with my bad foot and it sent pains spiking through my leg. So I walked for a bit. My running partner and long-time friend – ever patient – walked along just in front of me, willing me forward. There was no stopping now. I had to cover the two miles back to the finish line anyway. So I walked on and used deep, focused breathing to let go of the pain. Soon I was back to trotting on drier spots and slogging through the mud.

And then it was over. We popped up out of the woods and came down the final stretch to the finish, where 20 or so people were cheering us on. Just over 7 hours of constant movement, and we had done it! Our first 50k. Matt and I crossed the finish line together, just as we had started. I want to be clear here that he could have gone ahead and beat my time by a good 30 minutes. But that isn’t who he is. After getting our medals and picking up our bags, we cheered the next 5 runners down the path. As the post-run chill sank in, we decided to call it a day and head back to our families, exuberant at our accomplishment.

As I put the finishing touches on this post, I feel great. My foot is a little swollen and tender, but I’m able to walk and be productive the day after a 50k (31 mile) race. I accomplished a major 2019 goal on day 6 of the year in the face of adversity. Perhaps I spend too much time on Zen Buddhism in my blog, but I will tell you dear reader that without my experience in sitting meditation, there is just about zero chance I would have attempted this race, let alone finished it. With that said, I also want to recognize the power of the team. Because without my friend Matt running along with me, I would have limped slowly across the finish line wondering what more I had left in the tank. Here’s to friends and zen!

Cheers!

Taking a Zero Day

In hiking parlance, taking a zero day means taking a day off. It isn’t often that I take a day off of running, especially with a long race coming up. I am preparing for a 50k trail race, which is the first time I’ll officially run longer than a marathon. To support the extra ups and downs of a trail race, I recently added 3 mile stair workouts with a weight vest and the change in training strained some muscles in my arches. I did my best to run through it, but the pain kept increasing as I put in miles on my other runs. So… time to take a break.

Taking a break from 6-days-per-week running after eight months should be easy in theory. As in, I could simply not run. But breaking a habit, even a habit that takes effort, is leaving me feeling adrift at the moment. This weekend, I found myself feeling stuck – almost paralyzed – and quite unproductive. It was like I had a computer program in my brain that said, “run” and when the “run” program didn’t execute, I struggled to figure out what was next. Instead of just skipping it and moving on to the rest of my chores, I sat stewing on the fact that I couldn’t run. I’d flex my feet and wince at the pain instead of simply moving on. What a wonderful opportunity to use a bit of mindfulness practice to overcome my faulty program!

First, sit with it. Instead of fighting reality, I took the opportunity to sit with the discomfort of the break in routine. I sat in meditation and worked on settling my brain. I found that I was stuck on repeat. “I just want to run. But I can’t. Stupid foot. Why did I have to overtrain? Maybe if I flex it, it will feel better.” Rinse and repeat. I thought through my attachment to the task of running. Really, I was attached to the expectation of being pain-free. I wanted things to be different than what they were right now. Instead of repeatedly berating myself to accept what was, I decided to focus on what I could do. Perhaps an anti-inflammatory or some ice or a bit of massage therapy? So after breaking the mental cycle of wanting to run pain-free, I decided to make a to do list. First, I’ll use a tennis ball to put pressure on the affected areas. Then I’ll follow that up with some ice. Finally, I’ll take some ibuprofen at bed time to calm the angry muscles. Satisfied with a plan, I was starting to let go of the attachment.

Second, take action on what I can do. I put my plan into action. I grabbed the tennis ball and put as much pressure as I could stand on the affected area. Rolling it over and over for about 5 minutes. The logic here was that I probably made the small muscles in my arch area “angry” with all the stair work and needed something to break up the knotted tissue. After some rather intense moments, I got an ice pack and applied 10 minutes on, 10 minutes off cold therapy for a half an hour. Nearing bed time, I took some ibuprofen and called it a night. The next morning, my foot was feeling significantly better.

Finally, accept the progress and use it as motivation to continue on the path to recovery. This morning, I decided to take another zero day. Two in a row? Yep. My wife and I took the kids skiing this morning for our second-youngest child’s birthday, so it served as a nice distraction. After we got home, I resisted the urge to attempt a run and – even better – resisted the urge to go back to stewing about not being able to run. Instead, I folded laundry, I tidied up the kitchen, I wrote my first blog post in a month, I caught up on televised soccer matches from the day, and this evening I’m going to watch a movie with my lovely wife.

Who knew a zero day could be so much fun?

Our Devices are Probably Listening to Us

You have probably seen the Facebook / cat food test on YouTube. Now, I am no conspiracy theorist. I don’t wear a tinfoil hat and as a law-abiding citizen, I’m not terribly concerned about Big Brother or Big Data or whatever the next Big thing is. But still. It is creepy to think about. In spite of Facebook’s continued assertions to the contrary, it seems to keep coming up for us. My wife – who has designated herself as our family’s Facebook liaison (more on this in a minute) – has observed it repeatedly in the last several months. She has a conversation about some product or service that we don’t currently use, and then she starts getting ads about the product or service on Facebook within 24 hours.

Listening Devices

Now let’s consider for a moment the latest fad in technology. The virtual assistant operating via a microphone and speaker. Alexa operating on the Amazon Echo, Siri on your phones and Homepod, etc. These devices are listening for you to command, oh I don’t know, “Play Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen.” In addition to taking you on a trip down musical memory lane, isn’t it in the best interest of their parent companies to listen to your conversations? Everyone wins when they provide you with deals on the products and services you’re considering, right? I have not seen the code and so I cannot comment on whether or not it is happening. However, at this point, I operate on the assumption that it is.

Tech’d Out

Some time ago in a morning meeting, one of my team members asked the question, “What future technology are you most excited about?” My answer: “None.” I know I’m starting to sound like everyone’s Dad here, but seriously – where does it stop? I feel over-marketed, over-surveyed, over-autodialed and over-emailed. I don’t feel like I need more. As mentioned earlier, my wife knows that I’ve grown weary of social media, so she has volunteered to be our “Facebook liaison.” I guess it means that she’s active enough for both of us. Love you, hon!

There is No Tech on the Trail

This past weekend, my marathon training schedule called for a long run of 16 miles. I’ve been pounding the pavement lately and my calf muscles are feeling a bit knotted up. So I opted to put my 16 miles in on the trail. With an elevation chart that reads like a saw blade, I got one heck of a workout. But you know what else? I got trees, dirt, mud, underbrush, spiderwebs (enough to stick my hat to my head), sun-dappled landscapes, lake views, and a whole lot of quiet. At the end, I felt great. I felt like I had put in some serious work and that I had gotten a reprieve from haptic alerts, pop-ups, and calls from New Jersey offering low cost health insurance. So… if you’re like me and getting a bit tired of Big Tech, I highly suggest getting outside. Happy Trails…

Let your hair down

Sometimes, you have to let your hair down. This is week three of my marathon training. Tonight I should have lifted weights while I let my legs recover from yesterday’s interval training. But instead, I came home, did a couple of chores, and then took my better half out to our favorite local eatery for Spanish wine and our favorite dishes.

Like the kid in We’re the Millers, I’ve got “no ragrets.” Not even one. We had a lovely evening and now tomorrow I’ll be doubly motivated to knock out my tempo run after another busy day at work.

Are you motivated after letting your hair down? Or are you more of an “inertia person” who once is at rest stays at rest?

Remember the Mosquito

If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.                                           – Dalai Lama

This evening I went for a training run at dusk. I was sore from the weekend’s running and had to push myself out the front door. While out there, I “ran” at a paltry pace through my full post-dinner belly and my weekend soreness. About three miles in, I started hitting these swarms of stinging bugs. They’d stick to my sweaty skin and sting me repeatedly. It reminded me of the Dalai Lama quote above, which of course made me smile. After that, I got a little smarter and started ducking and dodging the swarms. To the casual observer, I probably looked like I was off my meds. Again I smiled. These little 1 mm insects were causing me to run like Rocky while he was training for his fight with Ivan Drago. I ran anyway. We don’t have to be massive to make a massive difference.

Can’t Run? Hike!

I have a busted rib or two at the moment. After about a week of trial and error, I have figured out that the only way it is going to get better is for me to reduce physical activity to a bare minimum. Within a day of hurting my rib, I figured out how to “run” at a slower and modified stride. But I also quickly realized that with the deep breathing and still occasional jolt of the stride, I wasn’t doing myself any favors with actual recovery. I’m now on day 3 of minimal activity. The words “stir crazy” seem to fit the bill, so I needed to do something. So this fine Saturday afternoon, I decided to go to Highbanks Metro Park and go for a hike.

I use the term “hike” here pretty loosely. Its pretty much a walk in the woods on improved paths. But… the place where I wanted to hike is underwater from the June monsoons Ohio has been experiencing, so you’ll just have to bear with me. On a lark, I took my camera along for the ride… er, hike. I figured I’d catch a squirrel or a couple of migrant songbirds with my trusty DSLR. It turns out, the squirrels were not in the mood to pose for me; and the vegetation was so dense that I only spotted a few birds but I wasn’t quick enough to catch them with my camera. So I hiked on.

Undeterred by the unwillingness of Mother Nature’s sentient beings to pose for me, I snapped several pictures of the park’s flora.

After a bit, I decided to slow down and take a deeper look at the world around me. I’m so glad I did. A whole new set of life opened up right in front of me. I found a frog or toad that would sit comfortably on my thumbnail, a daredevil snail transitioning from one blade of grass to another while upside down, a millipede making short work of the gravel mounds it was traversing, and a moth that didn’t seem to care about my camera one iota.

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Heartened by my transition from the big picture to the smaller focus, I decided to transfer back from fauna to flora. What views!

As I close, I have to admit that this rib issue has had me on edge. For several weeks, I have been plodding along, running easy pace miles. I am supposed to be running some quicker miles over this week and next as I officially begin marathon training on July 6. Not only am I not ramping up into my training, I can’t run at all. Instead of wallowing in my own self-pity, I decided today to get out and move in a way that won’t hurt my rib. I hiked up and down hills for nearly 3 hours. Along the way, I was able to capture several snapshots of the absolute magnificence of this world we live in. I hope you enjoy.