Sunday, March 29, 2009

Heal Thyself, Part I

It was the week I got back from my California adventure, running an easy eight miles on the rolling hills surrounding the lake, when it happened. A dull ache in my right hamstring that had been nagging for a few days suddenly turned into a sharp, searing pain shooting through the back of my knee. In one random stride, I was stopped in my tracks.

I’ve been injured before and have made all those mistakes we know not to make, but do anyway—like stubbornly running through the pain in some lame attempt to stick to a training schedule. When you give so much time and energy in pursuit of a goal, it sometimes takes even more discipline to give it a rest and realize that the time-out contributes just as much to achieving those goals. Luckily, I have people.

After a phone call with Mike, which ended with a mandate to skip the next day’s speed workout and a few pleas to keep smiling, I decided to wipe the worried look off my face and think about ways to speed the healing process. Yes, I know—classic control-freak tendencies coming out. I couldn’t help but wonder what I could do to feel as though I had some power over my own recovery.

First of all, Mike encouraged me to think about what might have led me to this place. What had I done in the days or weeks prior that may have contributed to the breakdown?

“Often it’s what we do outside of training that sabotages our running—it’s not the running itself that leads to injury or illness,” he has reminded me, several times.

That was no mystery to me. After I had returned from California, I had an unusually heavy workload. Good news for my bank account, but it wreaked a little havoc on my sleep. Between the work and the sleep deprivation, I didn’t pay much attention to what I was eating—which is to say, that I was not eating enough of anything, or at the right time.

It was a perfect recipe for disaster during the time that we were also holding weekly mileage at up to 65 miles per week. Training at that intensity means that the body needs adequate sleep and the right nutrients to constantly repair itself. If it doesn’t have the resources it needs to properly recover, it will simply stop working.

The lesson in this? There are many, but a key point is that when life becomes hectic outside of training (and, unless you’re a professional athlete, whose doesn’t?!), I’m better served by tweaking the training schedule, in order to remain healthy. Sacrificing some miles is a better answer than forcing them in just to feed my ego. I’d rather be running less than sitting on the couch covered in ice packs.

With this part figured out, I still had a fantastic case of tendonitis to deal with and just six weeks left until the Boston Marathon. My OCD wasn’t done with me yet. So, I fired off an e-mail to my good friend Christine—a.k.a. the Holistic Guru—to find out what I should be eating in order to promote healing.

As usual, she had some sage advice.

To be continued…

Tuesday, March 3, 2009


I’ve been in a funk. I confess that I used to think that Seasonal Affective Disorder was a load of crap. People honestly want to blame the weather for their woes? Really? Well, let me tell you. Spend one harsh winter training for a marathon by yourself in the Pocono Mountains and you, too, will become a believer.

Fortunately, I’m not one to wallow. The endless inches of ice and snow, the gray skies, the wind-chill factor, and the general feeling of isolation were starting to bring me down. I was struggling with the simplest work assignments. And Mother Nature had interfered with one too many of my workouts. So, two e-mails and a plane ticket later, I was on my way to visit friends in Southern California; a bag of running gear and my laptop in tow.

My California adventure began in “the O.C.” with the O’Briens—friends who I love dearly and can never get enough of. With a new house I hadn’t yet seen and a new son I hadn’t yet met, it was the perfect opportunity to visit. And thankfully they didn’t seem to mind that I invited myself. Yes, I have good friends.

I could write a lot about how nice it felt to head outside in shorts and a tank top, instead of the usual three layers of winter gear. I could talk about how I couldn’t help but feel unadulterated bliss in the California sun on that first morning, looping around suburbia for six easy miles. I could recount the 16-mile, hamstring-burning adventure on the fire roads that twisted up and down and up and down the canyon hills.

But what I really cherished were my afternoon runs with Finn.

Finn is all of 22 months old. Did you know that kids don’t even have patellas at that age? No joke. He’s got no knee caps yet--well, technically they’re there, they just haven’t ossified yet. But, I’m telling you that the boy can run. And he loves it.

Finn, who hasn’t been slowed down in the wake of taking on “big brother” status, lives the life of an elite, professional runner. He wakes up early, has a healthy breakfast of plain yogurt, cheerios, and “nanas!” before he hits the playroom for his morning session of tricycle riding, sprinting around the playground, and climbing on the jungle-gym play set. After a few hours, he heads in for lunch, downs some milk, water, and almond-butter sandwich on whole wheat bread, and takes a nap.

And then the afternoon running session begins. Finn was kind enough to invite me to join him, preventing me from becoming too lazy after my own training was long over for the day. Once sprung from his stroller, Finn takes my hand and takes off, squealing with joy, pulling me along for the journey.

His face? Glowing with an enormous smile. There is nothing in the world the boy would rather be doing than moving forward as fast as he’s able. He views running as freedom and fun. He doesn’t worry about pace, time, mileage, form. He stops for water when he’s thirsty. He looks at the scenery along the way, especially enamored with anything resembling the shape of a circle (“Kirkle!” ). He says hi to other people passing by. He doesn’t know what tired is or that what he’s doing is hard work. When he meets a hill, he charges at it, screaming, “Up, up, up, up, up!!!!!”

Running in Finn’s world is simply play. And after more than a mile of running hand-in-hand in his world, I started to think of it that way too. What can I say? It was infectious. And I suspect that on April 20th in Boston, I will hear that enthusiastic little voice in my head as I tackle Heartbreak Hill: Up, up, up, up, up!!!!

Yes, thanks to the little guy, it wasn’t just the California weather that started reinvigorating my attitude and perspective.