One step back…

Okay. There is no more room for denial. No more room for positive talk. No more room for “breathe in: strength; breathe out: weakness” imagery. No more room for “if I tell myself I am prone, I am just perpetuating the problem.” Face it. I have shin splints (sorry, that’s a pretty cheap link, and we all know I sort of hate RW). Mind-over-body exercises failed, and my body won.

My last major injury was in May 2010. I fractured a metatarsal during track season – literally while I was running sprints. You don’t mistake the sound (or feeling) of that crack for anything else. In addition, I have suffered many common “runner injuries” during my career: IT band syndrome, Achilles tendinosis, plantar fasciosis, posterior tibial tendinosis, and I never a pulled hammy but I have pulled a quad (twice). And 90% of the time I ran track, shin splints were a given.

Though the list above is lengthy, I haven’t suffered any major injuries since the stress fracture (errrr well… minus that weird calf strain early this summer). But I rarely get more than several weeks into a new training session without developing shin splints. My most dreaded injury. The inevitable onset.

Last Christmas I started getting pretty into toe-spreading exercises all day, every day.

Last Christmas I got pretty into “toe yoga”

My first serious encounter with shin splints was my freshman year of high school. I got them so badly (read: was a huge wuss) that I terminated my season early to drag my dad around for bone scans and X-rays in fear that I was developing stress fractures throughout my entire body (in hindsight, hysteria of that scale was definitely a huge waste of money – sorry, Dad). I even wore an air cast and skipped a day of school because my legs hurt too much to walk (there’s a good excuse, kids!).

Enter: prescription orthotics and stability shoes.

Well, I still got shin splints and became introduced to ALL OF THE ABOVE injuries.

After my stress fracture, I got crazy dedicated to PT. I credit that event as the “injury to end all injuries” because I became so focused on the bigger picture – working on overall stability instead of just doing lower leg drills. I also learned how to weight lift after discovering in physiology class that placing stress upon the connective tissues and bones makes them stronger (I think I actually lost sleep over what became a slightly obsessive need to lift like crazy to build the sturdiest skeleton ever). And it turns out that in the four years since the stress fracture, I have not had a single overuse injury.

Except shin splints.

When I worked at ZombieRunner, I threw away my orthotics and ditched the stability shoe. At the time, everyone was really into “minimal” footwear and learning how to manipulate running form to decrease injury risk, i.e. the forefoot strike and light, quick cadence. Well, as I mentioned in a previous post, for me that translated into “push off the ground using ONLY my calves!” which was a total recipe for disaster, culminating in the calf strain from this summer. Not to mention some of the worst shin splints I have ever had.

This year at Runners Roost, I learned how to assess a customer’s gait using a treadmill and a slow-motion video recording. The idea was to watch — up-close — the amount of over-pronation that occurred in each individual, and then to pull a stack of neutral shoes or stability shoes depending on his or her analysis. I performed the experiment on myself once, knowing since that first year of high school track that I am a lowly over-pronator. Trust me, it’s really awful to watch your own footage (no pun intended).

I ran the experiment (no pun intended) in three Brooks shoes: Ghost (neutral), Ravenna (guidance), and Adrenaline (stability), and to my dismay I learned that I over-pronated badly in ALL of them.

MYTH BUSTED.

Yes, it was really hard to diagnose someone as an over-pronator and pull out the stability shoes after that. I also felt a huge sense of despair knowing that even if I wanted to surrender and go back to a stability shoe it wouldn’t help. I am going to get shin splits no matter what, no matter the shoe. There is nothing I can do. Maybe I can never run long distances when I am this prone to shin splints. In some ways, it was a devastating discovery.

Well then I went to PT for my calf strain and talked over the whole history with Craig. I said, “I won’t wear a stability shoe or an orthotic again – tell me what I can actually do.” And he was awesome! I’ve already covered it, I know. But his diagnosis makes a lot of sense to me: right-side dominance and calf-dominance have almost single handedly caused all of my running injuries – even offering explanation as to on which side of my body they occurred.

This summer was a huge success. I ran injury-free from the end of June to… recently. I adopted a new running form, and even though I occasionally lapsed into laziness with my exercises, it made a world of difference in holding off injury… until now.

Was it the mileage increase? Please don’t tell me that I will be stuck at 25 miles a week until the end of time. Is 29 MPW really too much to ask!? Is it the uneven dirt roads here at the ranch? Please don’t tell me that sticking to soft surfaces to reduce joint impact inadvertently caused too much strain on my lower legs. Maybe it’s all the hills. Is it the elliptical? Please don’t tell me that my saving grace in the cross-training world has been responsible all these years (truthfully, my shins have been feeling the most inflamed post-elliptical lately). Is it self-perpetuated by stress over getting shin splints? I believe in the negative power of stress, oh yes. After my stress fracture, I learned that all my time in the ATR before practice may have been partially responsible, because there is such thing as too much fussing and not enough relaxing. I certainly don’t award the theory full credit (helloooo pressure and overtraining), but I don’t shrug it off, either. Or… Am I just prone? I’ve overcome every other injury, why can’t I prevent this one?

Standard icing procedure: massage cup

Standard icing procedure: massage cup

One step back, two steps forward.

Gonna nip this in the bud.

No more running this week except for Long Run Sunday (slow and with good form). Next week is a scheduled Down Week anyway, but I am limiting runs to one easy + my single workout. Taking three days off and cross-training the remainder (my bike rack should get here too so I will gladly embark on a long ride). Ice bucket twice a day. Tissue floss my calves (I swear that tight calves are have something to do with the pulling and “ripping away” associated with shin splints). Prioritize my actual PT exercises over the broader menu of glute-strengthening work. Take a week off and not fret about it. What does one week matter in a year of training if it allows me to continue to progress healthily in the coming weeks? One week off is better than a month – or two.

I trust that I will be back to a full schedule in no time. As PT Craig reassured me, “a little tenderness along the medial tibia is no big deal,” so if I play my cards right I can reverse this quickly. Time to dwell in positivity. Breathe in: strength. Breathe out: bullshit shin splints.

I hope this is my last post on shin splints E V E R.

Race Recap, Fall in the Tetons, and Looking Ahead

 

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No extra motivation needed to get out and run here!

First off: thanks to everyone who read and shared my previous blog post about joining the Oiselle Flock and embracing a team. I am humbled and moved by the attention, and I am so eager to get moving and start contributing to this stampede of women!

^my 15 minutes of Twitter fame, y’all

Second: I am the proud new owner of a laptop, guys. Turns out it is hard to keep a blog without equipment (or internet).

Overdue race recap

I’m still on cloud nine from this race. This was my second entry at the Old Bill’s Community Fun Run for Charities, and my second win. Last year was a chilly, overcast day, and I was ecstatic to break the 20:00 barrier for the first time. (why yes I did “run” college xc, but I can count my races on one hand and none were 5ks.) I had no idea after finishing that I had won, although I suspected I was top 3. I drove back to the ranch, put my wrangler costume on, and guided an afternoon horseback ride, and it wasn’t until I looked up the results later that I learned I had won.

Race day this year was beautiful. A perfectly crisp fall morning. While driving into town, I said out loud to myself, very matter-of-factly, “it’s going to be a more competitive race this year.” Somehow, I sensed that I would have to run a much faster race to win, 19:56 wouldn’t cut it, but I wasn’t sure I was in shape for that. My brain hovered around 19:30, my supposed base fitness level 5k effort, and I prayed I could do it.

I felt springy and quick-footed during warm up. The weather was like spiced cider. I thrust myself towards the front of the starting line and anxiously fired up my Garmin like everyone else. I was feeling awkward, out of shape, and a little ambitious in a tank and booty shorts when I glanced sideways and spotted a Oiselle singlet. What is that doing in Jackson and why aren’t I wearing Oiselle. My first thoughts. Then I looked at the rockstar in the singlet and felt really unprepared for this race. She had a 10k bib attached to her singlet and her arms were totally buff and veiny. I look stupid. A furious debate raged in my brain as to whether I should chat her up or not, or maybe hunt her down after the race??? Damn it, it wasn’t even arm warmer weather so I had nothing to show for being a fangirl.

The first mile of the race starts with hurdling the youth runners (who get lined up in front), and then it calms down on the side streets of town where you bypass things like miniature pony ranches. Several minutes into the race I started to panic because I was pooped. My legs felt heavy, my breathing was desperate, and my watch said 6:30 pace. The truth hurts. I was among the front runners, with only one woman several strides ahead. But already I was having doubts as to whether I could compete in this race. I was starting to settle for a 21-minute jog. Failing to prepare is preparing to fail. I knew I hadn’t put in the work.

Well, the first mile is mostly uphill.

The second mile takes runners onto the Elk Refuge road before hairpin turning back into town. My eyes were locked on the woman in front of me as I continued to question if I could catch her. I glanced at my watch and saw 6:05 pace. The collective pace of the front pack had quickened, and I hadn’t even noticed. I’m not struggling! Actually, I felt crazy good OK.

I was just footsteps behind the first woman at the turnaround. A string of approaching runners greeted my eyes as I circled back towards town. Several places behind me was the woman in the Oiselle singlet, who would be continuing farther on to the 10k turnaround. Without thinking, I gasped, “GO BIRD!” and fist-pumped in her direction as she passed. What?

The third mile is a long, straight shot towards the finish line. Talk about serious tunnel vision. I was still several paces behind the first woman, and we had not slowed. I told myself that she was fading, though – that I was gaining on her. I told myself that if I passed her, she would not be able to hold on. I told myself that if I wanted to win this race, I had to make a move now

There is a strange thing that happens when a runner makes the decision to compete. In my head, I was battling fatigue and asking myself if I could settle for 2nd place. But my heart answered back louder and stronger and said do not let this race get away. I would not let this woman go without a fight. The switch flipped. Suddenly the pain was numbed by the desire to dig. The desire to make my race happen. I picked up my pace by fractions of seconds. I closed the gap. The race was no longer an internal battle between me and my watch. It had transformed into something bigger that couldn’t be quantified by pace, but judged solely by heart.

I passed her late in the last mile. My arms burned and I couldn’t feel my legs, but I kept telling them to turnover. I could not afford to drop my pace. I had to live with my decision to surge if I wanted to win. My watch said 5:50. I was running scared, but I would not look back. The finish is always ahead. Slowly, the line came into view. The clock was ticking away around 18:40. I croaked out a laugh.

Seconds later, I crossed the line. My official time would be 18:57.6. A smokin’ new PR. I have been chasing the 19:00 barrier since last December, and I never would have thought to find it here.

I thanked my competitor for setting a merciless pace. I sucked on some oranges and took in the atmosphere, the sunshine. The bliss that only happens after a race like that. I wanted to wait for the 10k finishers so that I could word vomit all over the Oiselle athlete, but I had volunteered my day off to help at the ranch, and I could not stay.

***

To this day, I realize that no amount of training could have guaranteed me that PR, which I had wanted for so long. I had been stock piling easy runs and only TWO fartleks of perfectly “meh” quality leading up to this race. On paper, I should not have been able to run that fast. It was all about heart. I could have spent years lining up at 5ks waiting for sub-19 to happen with no success. But on that day, I had competition. I was faced with a choice about how to handle it. The instinct to fight – to rise to the challenge – is worth more than a year of specific training. Now I know what it takes, I know what kind of runner I am, and I know that I am stronger than I think.

I am stronger than I think.

The ceiling has been raised. Since that day, I have shattered my own expectations of fitness in not one but three separate workouts. I am a stronger runner than I let myself believe. It is time to dwell in positivity. I am no longer defining myself by the times I have run, but rather the ones I am working towards. I am not a finished product, but a work in progress. I am not a sub-19 5k runner. I will be an 18-minute 5k runner. I improved my 5k by a minute in one year, who is to say I cannot do it again? Breaking barriers is scary powerful, and Lauren Fleshman said it first:

“One workout [or race] has the power to change everything, but it takes many … to see the change through.” from Lauren’s blog entry “The Boulder Budged”

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Time to get to work.

The road ahead

I have a vaguely outlined calendar of races for the upcoming year. My mileage plan has been a success (and I really need to send PT Craig a thank you note). I have now run several weeks near 30 miles/wk with no injuries! I’m progressing slowly towards higher mileage. The 10% increase plan DOES work for me thankyouverymuch (eff off RW we are all different!) and I am spending at least three 4-week mesocycles at each new mileage.

I plan to finish out this “season” with some 5k races in Fort Collins, and then I will return to easy miles and recover in December. In January, I am looking forward to track work! I’m all about 5k training this winter, and then I will use the warmer months to work on my half marathon game. Like this chick (hey can we be friends??) I have never trained for a 5k, and I am pumped! Bring on the winter altitude training, Laramie.

Here’s a sample of some races I have my eye on in 2015:

Sarasota Half Marathon – March

BAA 5K – April. Because I have to watch Anna throw down in Beantown!!

May – 10k in Colorado (BolderBoulder?)

June – half marathon in Colorado

Fall – fast, destination half marathon for a BIG PR…..

… under 1:25:00.

There. I said it.

I don’t see any downside in sharing what we are striving for. I don’t want to sugarcoat it—I’m honest with myself and with other people about my goals. I don’t feel entitled about them or what it’s going to take to get there—some of them are pretty lofty ones! It’s almost like writing your goals on your wall, like when you were a little kid. It’s the same kind of thing, and if someone asked me what I want to do, I don’t try to hide what I want to achieve. I guess I’m not afraid of failure. – Shalane Flanagan to Competitor Magazine, discussing her race at the Berlin Marathon

There is no point in hiding our goals, dreams, and desires. Powerful words by a powerful woman.

In other news

September was all about family here in Teton Valley! Kelp and Aunt Lynn visited the ranch as guests for the first time since 2008, and I rode with them so much that I was thoroughly burnt out on riding after they left. I don’t know how I used to do that every day.

Kelp, me, and wrangler LO going 10 years strong at TX!

Kelp, me, and wrangler LO going 10 years strong at TX!

At the end of the month, Aunt Becky and UB visited and brought Gramps and Aunt Betty (better known as BJ) in tow. Becky, UB, and I spent a beautiful afternoon hiking to Bradley Lake, and I mentioned that I had started a blog over the summer. Aunt Becky, welcome to my blog! Thank you for all the talking-to-ward-off-bears, we covered some interesting topics. Gramps is approaching 91 years young. An inspiration and role model. I hope I am half as rowdy at the old folks’ place when I am that age!!

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The crew does Bradley.

And to my brother, whom I hope has taken the time to read my blog. This is for you, too. Set goals, dream big, and don’t let anyone tell you no. 

Forte et Gratum, Oiselle

There was a banner in our school gymnasium that I used to stare at deliberately. Adorned in red and gold were the names of every track and field athlete to win a state title for our school. I knew the dates and each woman’s name by heart. One day, I used to think, my name will be stitched onto that banner.

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2008 after a runner-up finish at state with the 4×400 relay.

I competed for an all-girls school. Our track team was small but mighty. We embodied our school motto: Forte et gratum – strength and grace. After my first high school season, discouraged not to have contributed more, I began studying those athletes whose names I knew so well. I thumbed through old yearbooks to read stories of the legends who had set school records and won state championships. We had listened aptly to The Colonel tell his stories about these girls – they ran workout splits faster than I could race, and they set records at paces I had never imagined possible.

These leaders lit a fire in me. I told a teammate and runner hero that I wanted to break the school record in the 800m. She and I whispered about doing what those girls did. We set plans in motion.

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2008 with the League championship trophy.

Over the years, our little team collected trophies and “hardware” from huge invitationals, and with time we gained enough momentum to win titles at league, district, and regional meets. I forgot my homework, preferring instead to stalk Internet discussion boards to see where my teammates’ names came up (they did), and each morning I tore through the newspaper to clip out last night’s meet results. I knew which area schools had stacked 4x800s, what was the fastest 400m time in the state, and which teams to hunt down at the next invitational. We were hungry for success, and we had only to look at the girls we practiced with for inspiration and motivation. My contemporaries in Ohio were Bridget Franek*, Emily Infeld**, Jessica Beard***, and Stephanie Morgan****. Though we were in awe of these fast women, we would not be a team of one. A collective effort took us to state finals. In the end, it was a 4x400m relay that took me the farthest at state – to 2nd place on the podium.

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Celebrating a happy 2008 season that earned team titles at League, District, and Regional meets, and a 3rd place team finish at the Ohio Division III State meet.

I’ve never been on a team like that since. In college, I often trained and raced alone (<–my bid for nationals in 2010). I was a single entity among a host of athletes with separate goals. I forgot what it meant to be a team, and my personal season absorbed my energy. There was no collective dream to win state championships. Instead I was one of a handful of athletes with the potential, but no incentive, to go to nationals. I didn’t care without a team.

Gone was the excited whispering and passing grins in the hallway; gone were the chats with Colonel, the air heavy with the loud ringing of unspoken but mutually understood potential. No more hanging out in the training room with our legs in ice buckets while we waited with giddy excitement for practice. I knew nothing of the athletes who came before me. Now, it was just me, an individual among many, and no one wanted anything.

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An easy 800m win with no challengers at Occidental College, 2012

When the Flock opened this summer, I was still just an individual, still unaccustomed to sharing larger-than-life goals with a group of runners. What’s in it for me? I wondered. I didn’t get it. I failed to see the larger picture that Sally painted. But in September, I ran a 5k next to a talented woman in a Oiselle singlet, and I felt it calling me.

Six years since I left the nest of my high school team, I found the Flock. Oiselle’s team initiative is bursting with energy and ideas. In the blink of an eye, I’ve been introduced to and inspired by fearless women who are all united by one thing: the passion to take grassroots women’s running by storm. We offer kudos to women we have never met before, and celebrate women who are just getting out there and RUNNING, loud and proud. Oiselle is our little engine that could. These women want to move mountains. They challenge the playing field and prove that women are unstoppable forces. Femmes fatales.

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Just some fierce boss ladies at work (2008).

I ultimately decided to join Oiselle because I realized the potential behind this brand. Women’s running – and this incredible company – is happening now. I am in the same place I was 10 years ago, when I first flipped through my yearbook to find the 800m school record and declared I wanted it. I see the strides so many Oiselle women have taken before me – boldness I admire, performances that leave me speechless – and I catch myself saying, “I want to get there.” This is my new team. Small but mighty. I don’t want to miss out as these women, whom I follow on Twitter and Strava, take the running world for a spin. I want to run my race for the advancement of our sport, not for myself. Let’s make this a championship team.

Forte et Gratum, Oiselle. May we all go fast and take chances, united by sisterhood in sport.

Courtesy of oiselle.com

Courtesy of oiselle.com

We’re taught to discipline, find courage from within

To gain strength and knowlege, defend what’s right and win.

*In 2006, I raced Bridget in the 800m at the Ohio Division II state finals. That day, she ran a record-setting race and I placed 11th. BTW her record upset the one set by Jennie Castle in 2001 (who has previously been a Oiselle ambassador).

**AKA Shalane Flanagan’s training partner. Just FYI.

***Total baller.

****She ran a 2:09 to win the 800m at the Ohio Division III state finals. I was right behind her at the bell lap, but I ultimately finished in 4th, 6 seconds behind her in 2:15.9.