As runners, it’s tough not to run. And when something’s hurting (and it’s not going away) it weighs heavy on our minds. Denial can sometimes be stretched out for weeks, even months. After dealing with an injury a year ago, however, I was a bit wiser this time around, and recognized the need to get some help with my issue, rather than procrastinate as I’d done before, just increasing the time it took me to come back to healthy, happy running. The hardest part was taking the first step, before things really got outta hand.
At the end of Jan, an x-ray and MRI at Kaiser revealed I had some nasty stuff going on inside my left knee (likely my right too but not as severe). Here’s the blog-post about it with MRI results. Now of all times, this was an especially shitty time to have an “injury” to deal with, since, for the first time, I’m entered in this year’s Western States 100, held at the end of June. But as happens with many ultrarunners, we tend to run ourselves into the ground. And living in the Bay Area, man it’s not hard to do since there’s such a wealth of wonderful trail running events. Peer pressure and supporting sponsors are contributing factors as well. Well that, and racing is fun! So yeah, at the end of 2015, I ran myself into the ground, but mind you, for what I perceived as an essential reason (see previous post for more on that).
So the knee was really pissed at me and I now knew exactly why. The next step was to visit Dave Townsend at Santa Rosa Physical Therapy. Whenever I feel it’s the “beginning of the end” [of my running], Dave gives me hope, and that leads to [patiently] bringing my running back to life, and with renewed gratitude.
Kaiser suggested I take 8 weeks off with no running or cycling. That made me really nervous because I knew two months away could really put me in a hole, out of which would take some time to recapture the fitness I wanted to have in the bank by June. I wasn’t prepared to think about running Western States in any other form but excellent. I need confidence to be high, for this, my eight 100mi trail run, and one that’s on a pretty big stage. I might not get another opportunity to run this bad boy. I need to make this one count!
Dave did a thorough assessment of my situation, and we discussed how and why my left side was dealing with yet another stress-related injury, now two in the last 16 months. After this assessment, Dave and I went to work on creating a rehab routine that included a variety of stretching and strengthening exercises. I’ve done them religiously since our meeting back at the start of Feb. I’ll be 42 this year, and what I’ve learned—the hard way—-is that if I want to keep running at a high level, I have to be increasingly vigilant about giving my body more TLC in the form of foam-rolling, yoga, the use of Trigger Point balls, cycling, strength training etc. Yet again, my run training needed a face-lift. I needed to evolve and I had plenty of time in Feb to think about how I wanted Mar-Jun to roll out, in order to give myself the best chance of running well at States on 6/25.
As you can see I was really into the cross-training during the work-week starting out in early Feb. Intuition (and a little ego) told me it’d be okay to do a long ride on Sunday, which I felt was necessary to at least break even with my fitness once I returned in March. That first Sunday I hit 100mi, which I found was me trying to show myself I was still strong and could do a bike workout that felt similar to my standard Sunday long run. The knee didn’t hurt but the notion that I really needed to use this month wisely, to really recover, started to sink in, through my thick, stubborn skull. Thus, I just focused on morning TLC sessions, doing my SRPT routine mixed in with some yoga. I walked to work a lot as well. The weather in Feb was dry so I was lucky to be able to consistently get out on Sunday for long rides. I focused on hitting long, sustained climbs in my Zone 2 (ultrarunning HR zone).
My wife, Amanda, also helped nurse my knee back to health with a variety of remedies including mixing up some Essential Oil blends as well as having a friend of hers make me some amazing bone broth (I drank a cup every morning and night for a few weeks. Amanda also researched and got me a variety of supplements that I’m still taking, more out of fear at this point than anything. I’m grateful how smart and proactive she is, dealing with her unreasonable, grumpy-when-injured, ultrarunning husband.
March 1st couldn’t come fast enough, and my patience was indeed wearing thin. I was itching to run. Coming back, I knew I had to continue exercising restraint. There’s just too much on the line this year, to take unwarranted risks. So, I figured running every 72hrs (3 days) starting back would allow my knee to continue strengthening while easing back into run training. Those first few runs were pretty wonky. I wasn’t confident at all my knee was ready to come back to the stress of running. By the weekend, however, things felt a lot better. The following Monday, I felt I was ready for a quality session. And since it was my downhill running that overtaxed the knee, I felt an [up]hill session was a wise choice for the first quality session back. That went well and so, encouraged, I did a tempo run 72 hours later followed by a Sunday long run 3 days after the tempo run. It felt so good to run up at Lake Sonoma, even if I did get tangled up in a bunch of briars while swimming across a flooded section of trail from recent heavy rains. I’ll take it!
According to plan, I just wanted to get my feet back under me, build a bit of fitness, then take the next 5 days or so to really recover and absorb those initial quality sessions. This time off preceded my Spring Break from teaching, which, including weekends would be ten days in duration (3/19 – 3/28). With all that time off I could easily over do it…
I love hilly long runs. Naturally, this is why I gravitate to long, hilly ultrarunning events. They speak to my heart and soul. Thus, I planned it out to conduct four long runs over the 10 day spring break. Where once I would’ve done a long run every other day (and more heavily accumulate fatigue) I decided it best to stick to my 72-hour rule, which had been working well since I started back running. The plan was to hit the first long run that first day off, which coincided with the Lake Sonoma 50mi Training Runs anyway, and Lake Sonoma doesn’t have the long, steep descents that I find at Hood Mountain & Sugarloaf Ridge. Essentially, Lake Sonoma would be a little friendlier to my knee for this first “official” long run back.
My long runs were then scheduled as follows: Saturday, Tuesday, Friday, and Monday. The day after the long run would be a non-running day where I’d get out and ride the bike, easy, for a few hours, just spinning the legs. The day before the long run, I decided to do double days. But, running twice in a day didn’t seem like a wise decision considering my knee, so I decided to make the morning session a pretty easy fast-hike wearing my 20lb weight vest. I get a kick out of this session because I’m killing two birds with one stone, i.e., practicing a skill—fast-hiking—that’s important in ultrarunning while getting some strength stimulus from the vest. I soon started listening to podcasts during this session as well. Eventually I’m going to integrate minimalist shoes since the session’s only an hour, I’m not running, and stress on the legs is minimal. Seems to me a cool place to get my feet even more in touch with the trail. Hoka’s got some very light, more minimalist style shoes that’ll work well for this particular session.
Another point of note: now two days removed from the long run, I was feeling the effects of the long run and felt validated in the decision to run long every three days versus every other day. We feel the effects of Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) most two days after a hard session. With the extra day of recovery, I feel we can not only arrive more fresh to the next quality session, but increase the duration of that session, deriving even more quality from it. Because most of us are slaves to the 7-day work-week, we can’t take full advantage of this 10-day training cycle that a lot of pro endurance athletes use. If/when life presents the opportunity to employ it, I highly recommend trying it out! Quality sessions are more fun when the body (and mind!) are fresh. Weekly training volume is what it is.
The PM session—opposite the weight vest session—is what I now refer to as the “Easy. Light. Smooth,” or “ESL” run, whose name I stole from Chris McDougall’s book, Born to Run, documenting how the Tarahumara Indian tribe runs—Easy, light, and smooth. Recall, this session is my first actual run since the long run two days prior so I want to use it to gauge how I’m coming off the long run before I ask my body to do another one. As it turned out, the method turned out to be very effective. Endurance sports training 101: Keep the easy days easy so the hard days can actually be hard. And in a long run, the quality comes from duration not intensity.
For the subsequent three long runs, I wanted to get out to my fave place to train here locally—Hood/Sugarloaf, where I spend much of the time just going uphill, which is great for me ’cause that’s my limiter in ultra racing. And all the low-impact uphill work didn’t affect my knee. Over the whole spring break I was very reasonable and controlled with my descending (my strength), which unfortunately places incredible demands on the knees, especially in races that last 7-19 hours! Anyway, I really enjoyed these last three 5+ hour runs with around 8000′ of climb each. The streams are flowing and everything’s green. The temps were down and I could easily get around my loop on one 300cal bottle of Vitargo for hydration. That will not be the case as the season heats up!
Spring Break Running Totals: 147mi w/ 36,000′ of elevation gain/loss
Thus my spring break served its purpose—establish a strong foundation moving forward with training and get some very specific work for the 16,000′ of elevation gain/loss at Canyons 100k on May 7th. I’ll hope to have this wonderful opportunity to race on the Western States 100 course, but also get to compete one more time whilst I’m still 41 (I turn 42 just two days later). I love getting to race on or near my actual birthday. Provides some extra incentive! I will, however, have to keep my eyes on the prize and listen to my body during Canyons. If the knee’s really talkin’ to me, I might have to make a tough decision and drop in order to, as I tell athletes I coach, “preserve the future.” I do anticipate racing strong from start to finish but given that Canyons is only 7 weeks out from States, I just have to be careful. There’s a big difference between doing an easy 5-hour long run and racing a demanding 100k. My plan is to arrive to the starting line of Canyons very fit and fresh so I can not only race effectively but also recover very well in time to get back to a training block for States, which I’m very excited to do!
Faster than Twitter, thanks to my beautiful, loving, and highly supportive wife Amanda for her thankless job [even from afar] as “First Responder.” | Thank you to Julbo Eyewear for the beautiful, functional, and comfortable sunglasses. It’s GREAT to be working with you! | Thank you to Hoka One One for your continued support and producing the best shoes out there—#LetsGoHoka! | Thanks to Inside Trail Racing for offering so many fantastic races in great places. | Thanks to Vitargo for the steady energy and SIMPLIFYING my nutrition. | Thank you Healdsburg Running Company for all the wonderful support. HRC rocks! | Victory Sportdesign produces the best drop-bags in the biz! | Thanks to Dave Townsend at Santa Rosa Physical Therapy for helping me keep the dream alive!