Dig Up, Stupid!

I had been digging myself into a hole. As I lay on the examination table at the MacIntosh Clinic for the second time in only a few months, I had a vaguely familiar premonition of bad news. A few days prior to that visit, I had gone out for an easy run and made it about 10 steps before having to limp back home. I felt a tingling pain in my heel that made it almost unbearable to walk, and since I had plans to temporarily re-invent myself into some middle-distance turbo machine by training for and racing in several meets, I decided to see a doctor immediately.

Not new to injury, I went through the drill in auto-pilot: lie on the bed; push, pull, flex, relax; talk about training, diet, shoes. Usually my injuries have been medial-tibially located; this one in the heel was new. Turns out, new is not always better; sometimes new is just relocated and more of the same. After the initial examination, the doctor suspected a calcaneal stress fracture, for which I would be sent off for a late-night, mid-bachelorette party MRI; the results of the MRI would not be known for a few weeks, but in the meantime, it was suggested that I treat it as a stress fracture and not to run for at least six weeks.

(It would be determined following the results of the MRI, that it was in fact a stress reaction and not a fracture, but it was all same-same to me since I had my foot in a boot for most of the time as a result of the pain.)

Earlier in the year, I had another visit to the MacIntosh Clinic because of sharp focal pain in the medial-tibial region, again nothing new, and again, suspected of being a stress fracture. This was becoming a recurring theme, like Brad Pitt stuffing his pie hole in movies; unlike this delicious theme, my recurring injuries and time taken off from training left a bad taste in my mouth.

So, after the second suspected stress fracture in a few months, I sat down with the doctor, defeated, to discuss why my body was crapping out on me. Questions of menstruation, caloric intake, energy levels, and mood were asked, and once enough of a picture had been painted, I was told that my profile fit into what is called RED-S, or what could also be referred to as Female Athlete Triad 2.0.

That was five months ago.

Since then, I’ve been regularly meeting with a really kick-ass sports nutritionist, who has been emphasizing the need to fuel properly by eating more than I have been comfortable with, in a very hilarious and practical way that I am comfortable with. I also had to dial back my training considerably. For the first few weeks after the initial injury assessment, I couldn’t run at all, partly because I was told not to, but also because it just hurt too damn much. Afterwards, when I could run, I ran a lot less and I ran alone; being competitive, hard-headed, and an occasional jerk, I knew I wouldn’t have the discipline to run within myself among my all-star teammates.

Throughout this time, I was lonely and upset and I felt fat and slow; it wasn’t easy. But what I felt more than that was sick of being injured and at odds with my body –and I still do. I was able to train for and race fairly successfully in Chicago, but my abbreviated season and lack of optimal fitness act as reminders that I can likely become stronger. Recovery will be an on-going, long-term process of re-wiring my thoughts about food and training, of exposing vanities and insecurities, and of re-evaluating what is important to me.

My advice would be not to get into this deficit in the first place. Have you ever seen someone trying to climb out of a hole? It looks awkward, and, well, hilarious. But if you do end up in a hole, whether it’s through deliberate choices or through sheer neglect, surround yourself with knowledgeable professionals and supportive people to help you dig your way up. And out.

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Numbers Game

Finishing time: 03:08:12

Splits: 21:20 (5k)/43:12 (10k)/01:05:03 (15k)/01:31:47 (half)/1:49:11 (25k)/02:11:53 (30)/ 02:34:42 (35k)

I went out aggressively for a couple reasons. Before the race, I decided to start with the 3:05 pace bunny and try to hold on; with the forecast of high winds and wanting to get into a rhythm early on, I figured that running with a group would have its benefits. When I got to the corral in the morning, I was late and pushed to the back. It took me a while to get up to the pace bunny and when I started running with the group, I realised that they were under pace, at times doing 4:15/km. Sure, it felt okay for the first few kilometers, and sure, the prospect of running an unexpected sub-3 marathon was blindly exciting; I stayed with them for a while, especially since the high buildings and my Garmin were not making friends, but as the pace showed no signs of leveling out to an actual 3:05 finish, I bailed on that group and decided to run my own race.

Another reason I wanted to start out aggressively was this over-whelming and Grammy Award-winning Drake-onian voice that reminded me YOLO. I knew that I was not likely in PB shape; I questioned if I could even hold 4:30 pace and run a 3:10 marathon. There’s a lot of uncertainty when you’ve only trained for six weeks and maxed out at 91k/week. Still, I had heard that this was an easy course, and not having planned to run a marathon next spring, I knew this would be my last for a year. I figured I would go out hard and deal with the fatigue and pain later on in the race, rather than regret going out too easily and feel like I had dogged any part of the race. I did end up fading but I did feel like I worked hard at every part of the race. Perhaps I would’ve had a faster time had I paced it better, but it seems like it mirrored the same pacing strategy of some of the elites, and who am I to argue with those nerds.

Number of gels consumed: 5 (one pre-race in corral, 9k, 18k, 27k, 35k)

Unfortunately, I did not have a great strategy for gel storage during the run. Had it been colder, I would’ve kept them in my gloves as I did in NYC, but in the first few kilometers I started over-heating and ditched the gloves. Options for storage did present themselves prior to the race in the form of belts, fanny-packs, arm bands, but I insisted and continue to insist not to run with anything strapped on or dangling from my body. The cost of my anti-accessory stubbornness is a bit of carnage. Mild regrets.

Rob Watson sightings: 2

Pre-race shakeout run along Michigan Avenue up to Roosevelt Road to Columbus Drive.

Toni Kukoc sightings: 0

Race morning schedule: race start at 7:30am, alarm set for 4:50am, plan to leave hotel by 7:00am, 10 minutes late

Reasons for being late pre-race or otherwise are most likely GI-related.

Number of people in corral: a lot

I’ve never been so crowded and uncomfortable in a corral. It was like being at that LCD Soundsystem concert where MIA opened up for him.

Bowls of oatmeal consumed within 24 hours: 3

The day before the race I had a bowl of oatmeal for breakfast with a peanut butter bagel and banana for breakfast, another one at lunch with another bagel with peanut butter, and then one race morning. The pre-race dinner was at an Italian restaurant called Pazzo’s, which was a 4 minute walk from the hotel and refreshingly not over-crowded and hectic as it becomes in Boston during race weekend. Post-race dinner was at Howells & Hoods, which touts the largest draft beer selection in Chicago. We also went to a great restaurant for a late dinner when we first arrived on Friday night. It was called Remington’s and they played an amazing line-up of music, including M83, Passion Pit, Washed Out. No connection to the Remington’s in Toronto as far as I could tell.

Times we fell asleep on the boat tour: 2, maybe 3

And this was not because the boat tour was not interesting; it was, in fact, very interesting and a great way to get an overview of the architecture of Chicago without having to walk around. Highly recommend it! They sell beers and fancy nuts downstairs!

Layers in the carrot cake: at least 5

I was hoping for a cheesecake (in the bed) post-race, but went for a carrot cake in the hotel lobby restaurant instead. It was an almost perfect carrot cake, with thin layers of moist cake interlaced with light icing, and topped with ground pistachio –not too sweet, bordering on bland.

Days off running: 7

I promised not to run, not even easy, for at least a week after the race. Unlike previous seasons, I’m totally okay with that.

Races left for the rest of the year: 3-4

1-2 cross-country, 1 half marathon, maybe 1 road race in Santa suit. These remaining races should be for funsies.

Lessons learned and people to thank: so many

High Fidelity

Top Five Pre-Race Jams:

“Midnight City” – M83

First jam pre-race B.A.A. 5k, Boston 2012

“Don’t Stop Me Now” – Queen

Queen was my favourite band for most of my early teens. Also, this.

“Dancing on the Ceiling” – Lionel Richie

Best live show I’ve ever seen. His tour was called “All the Hits, All Night Long” and he played all the hits, all night long.

“Sugar (Remix) ft. Nicki Minaj – Maroon 5

This version only.

“Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” – Starship

Climbing Whiteface Mountain, Lake Placid 2013. Also, at least twice a week. Also, Bill Hader on air piano.

One-armed Man

5 days out.

While tapering and nursing a poorly-timed cold, I’ve had time to do some research on Chicago. It will be my first time there and my knowledge of the city is limited:

  • Chicago Bulls (Tony Kukoc was my favourite basketball player when I had a favourite basketball player)
  • Chicago-style hot dogs are served without ketchup
  • The Fugitive was based in Chicago and is one of my favourite movies
  • Deep-dish pizza probably has a lot of warm cheese
  • The Chicago Blackhawks were one of the Original Six teams in the NHL
  • Chicago, the band, was formed in Chicago; Peter Cetera is also from Chicago
  • “If You Leave Me Now” was covered by Boyz II Men in 2009

Gerund-ing

What a beauty evening for a tempo run. Last night was the 10-day out mark before Chicago, an interval that has significance in varying forms, whether it’s a tempo, a track workout, or what my friend does is a 10-miler at race pace. I looked back at my training log for the past few marathons and I’ve leaned toward the T-minus 10-day tempo for Philly in 2013, Boston in 2014, NYC in 2014; the only exception was earlier this year Boston 2015, when I realise now with head-shaking incredulity that I did not do a single tempo before the race.

This might seem ridiculous to some, to most, but I felt nervous about this workout. I wanted to have a strong run, to squeeze in a bit more strength into my legs, and also to cultivate a bit more confidence for the race. Prior to the workout, a friend asked what my goals were for the race; I responded that I was on the fence about going out with the 3:10 or the 3:05 pace group. His advice: Just yolo and go out with the 3:05.

I hadn’t realised that yolo had attained verbal status, like Google, or Tinder, or sandwich.

Great advice.