Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Knee update

Today was my fifth day running after almost two weeks off with a knee injury; it's been a rocky road back for sure.

A week ago I was uncertain I'd be able to run at all, but set a target for two days later, cut up my shoes, and went for it. By Monday I had run three times, and my knee was steadily improving but my toes were still being pinched by the Hokas.

So yesterday, in a cold, nearly freezing rain, I went back to my standard Brooks Launch shoes, which were easier on the toes, but the old knee pain was creeping back. I'm not sure if this was due to the shoes or the cold, but I decided I should go back to the Hokas. I increased the size of the holes in the shoes, and added extra holes on the other side. Today would be the big test.

I woke up and could tell my knee was feeling quite good. The plan was to go to the gym for my standard weight-training routine and then run 4 miles with my friend Tristan. At the gym, everything was feeling so nice that I decided to try squats, which I haven't done for over 3 weeks due to the knee issues. I could actually do proper squats, getting all the way down so my thighs were level with the ground. I was lifting a substantially reduced weight, but I was doing it. Awesome!

Then it was time to do the run. Fortunately the weather was much-improved today compared to yesterday and Tristan and I were able to complete the run at a comfortable 7:54 pace. The last mile was at a 7:20 pace -- with no knee pain at all.

After the run the knee was a little sore, and I'm treating it with ice and heat now, but I think it might just be possible for me to be nearly 100 percent by mid-December, when I'm running the Kiawah Island half marathon. It will still be a challenge to hit my target time of sub-1:25, but I think I'm at least going to be able to give it a go.

I'm also doing better on the weight front. I want to be down into the 170s for the race, and my weight had climbed as high as 186 while I was recovering from the injury. Today I was at 182, so I'm getting closer. The big challenge will be restraining myself tomorrow, Thanksgiving day!

Details of today's run are below.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Running, for real!

Finally! This morning I headed out for a run and for the first time in two weeks, I could run more than a half mile without any pain. After falling and severely bruising my knee after a race November 9, I've been in recovery mode, mostly doing treadmill walking and cycling.

Gingerly, I tried to run on Friday, and had pain starting about 50 yards in. I toughed it out and found that if I ran slowly (less than 9 minutes / mile) the pain wasn't too bad, and I ran 3 miles. On Saturday I dialed it back even farther, running 3 miles at about a 9:30 pace, again with moderate pain.

Sunday I just rode a bike and didn't run at all, but still felt quite a bit of pain in the knee, both during and after the ride.

So I was surprised when, this morning, I was able to run quite easily at an 8:00 pace. I ran the regular 4-mile DART loop with Tristan and Joey and felt okay for pretty much the entire run. It was a bitterly cold morning, and the only time the knee really started bothering me was when we picked up the pace at the end, anxious to get back to the warm confines of Summit Coffee. I had to dial it back just a touch, but still completed my final mile in 7:40.

There are still some things I can't do -- at the gym afterward, I found I still can't do squats, even with a substantially reduced load. I can't do any exercise that requires me to put weight directly on my knee. But I'm RUNNING!

I have just under three weeks until the Kiawah half marathon, so if I continue to make progress like this, I think I should be able to give it a solid go. The next project is going to be losing some weight.

I gained about 7 pounds during the course of this injury, so I'd like to lose at least 5 of that before the race. It'll be tough to do, especially with Thanksgiving this week, but I've got to give it a shot. I'll try to keep you updated on my progress here.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Why I cut up my $170 running shoes

Drastic times call for drastic action. I badly bruised my knee in a fall during my cool-down run at a 5K two weeks ago.

It was bad enough that I went to the doctor for X-rays. She confirmed that I hadn't broken any bones or torn a ligament, but she advised me not to run for the next week. I tried running six days ago and found it unbearable. I dropped out of the Thunder Road Half marathon, where I had been hoping to PR.

The doctor cleared me to do any exercise that doesn't hurt, so I've been doing uphill treadmill walks nearly every day. They don't hurt, but I still don't feel like they give me the kind of workout running does. With another half-marathon scheduled in three weeks, I felt like I was losing fitness every day, even as my knee improved. I set a date for Friday -- tomorrow -- to try to run again.

That brings me to the shoes. Just over a year ago I bought a pair of $170 Hoka One One Bondi Bs in an effort to cushion my legs for the super-hilly, mostly-downhill Crater Lake Marathon. They worked okay, but the fit wasn't ideal -- they pinched my pinky toes, causing sore feet and blisters on long runs.

Meanwhile some runners I really respect have started to rave about Hokas, saying they have helped them recover from injuries and reduce the pounding of runs ranging from 20 miles to over 300 miles. My friend Todd, who had a knee injury so bad I never thought I'd see him running again, ran over 30 miles last week.

Jeff McGonnell, who completed the 314-mile Last Annual Ball State Run wearing Hokas, swears by them both for running on pavement and technical trails.

I thought maybe I should try them again...but I still was concerned about the narrow toe-box. Jeff says the latest models have a much roomier toe box -- but I don't want to drop another $170 on shoes before figuring out whether they would really work, so I decided to try a little experiment. Inspired by Jonathan Savage, I'd cut holes in my existing Hokas to give them more room for my toes. If I liked that, then I could try buying a new model.

Here are the shoes:

The look definitely takes some getting used to

As you can see, they are extra-thick, and the padding definitely helps. I tried running on the treadmill for a minute wearing them and I could really feel them doing their job. The knee felt fine! But I could also feel the pressure starting to build on my toes -- you can see the bulge in the shoe just to the left of the "Hoka" logo.

I took a sharpie and marked the area I was going to cut away:

Yikes! That's gonna smart!

Next I grabbed a sharp utility knife and started cutting:

Make sure to remove foot before cutting!

Here is one of the shoes on my foot, with cut-out in place:

Notice my pinky-toe spilling out of the hole!
I took these for a walk on the treadmill and found that I could feel the edge of the hole with my foot. Maybe I'd need to cut away some of the leather toe support as well. But when I cranked up to running speed, that sensation went away, and I just felt like I was running in nice, soft, roomy shoes. This just might work!

The true test will come tomorrow when (hopefully) I complete my first 4-mile run since the injury. I'll keep you posted. If I can run comfortably with this set-up for a few days I'll go ahead and order the roomier new model, which hopefully won't require modification in order to give me a comfortable ride.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013


It's the word no runner wants to hear, or use in reference to themselves.


I've seen friends absolutely devastated by injury, seemingly just as they are peaking in their training. It's a bizarre feeling of helplessness: "I'm in the best shape of my life, except for this lousy [insert body part here]."

For me, the injury didn't even come as a result of pushing myself too hard in training or a race. I was cooling down after last Saturday's race, at a triumphal moment, having won my first-ever 5K race. Rob and I were running an easy 8:30 pace, staying on the sidewalk to keep out of the way of 10-milers who were still finishing their race.

In my defense, this was a really lousy sidewalk, with huge chunks of concrete lifted up, and barely enough room for two runners side by side (although arguably this should have motivated me to be even more careful with my running). I had just spotted Richard Hefner heading toward the finish and was about to wave to him and yell a few words of support when -- BAM -- suddenly I was on the concrete. I fell so quickly that I didn't have time to extend my arm to break my fall. I landed on my left elbow and left knee.

My running jacket was torn and my elbow was bleeding. But I could tell almost immediately that the knee was the real problem. I tried to bounce up as quickly as possible, to jog it out, but I could tell that jogging wasn't going to be an option. I told Rob to go ahead and finish his cool-down while I walked back to the finish line. After a minute or two I tried jogging again and this time it seemed all right; I jogged another three-quarters of a mile and went back to celebrating with my friends at the finish.

I even snapped a picture of Chad on the course and then managed to beat him to the finish line to get another shot of him as he finished:

Chad's in the yellow shirt...

The next day I ran with DART as I had planned -- over 13 miles. The knee hurt a fair bit as I started, but after I warmed up it was fine, until about 12 miles in, when it started to be painful to run faster than about a 9-minute pace. I limped home, iced the knee, and planned on taking it easy on Monday morning.

Far from taking it easy, after running less than a quarter-mile I realized that running was too painful to continue. I made my way home and wondered if it was time to visit the doctor.

I've often wondered why injured runners don't want to face facts and do what is necessary to get better. Time and time again I've seen them leap into recovery too quickly, only to aggravate an injury. Now suddenly I found myself in a similar position. I turned to online forums and Facebook for advice, and the message was near-universal: VISIT A DOCTOR. The few exceptions were jokes of the "rub some dirt on it" type.

Fine. I visited the doctor. I got an x-ray. The x-ray confirmed that there was no evidence of broken bones (though I'm aware that small cracks in bones can often go undetected for weeks). The doctor, as expected, prescribed rest.

Rest? But I've got a half-marathon on Saturday!

I think I had told the doctor that she would have laughed me out of the examining room. She did say I could do any exercise that didn't cause pain in the knee.

Yesterday I decided to try the "elliptical" machine at the gym. I have such an aversion to this sort of device that I had never even tried one. I couldn't figure out how it worked. I pressed the "start" button but nothing happened. I tried "pedaling," and some lights came on, but my knee also hurt. Maybe this wasn't the ideal machine.

The doctor had mentioned "power-walking," but I feared this wouldn't give me enough aerobic benefit. But there was the treadmill -- maybe I could set it up with a steep incline at a walking pace.

I ended up settling on 15% grade -- the maximum -- and a 3 mph pace. This actually seemed to work. My knee didn't hurt, and yet I could tell I was exerting a similar effort to an easy 8:00 running pace. Somehow I managed to keep it up for an hour, after which my knee didn't feel appreciably different from when I started. Sure, it was boring, but at least I wasn't going to get out of shape while I recovered.

Today I did the same workout, but remembered to bring an e-book. Much less boring, and I managed to pass another hour on the "dreadmill."

My plan -- perhaps a foolish one -- is to do another walking workout tomorrow, then on Friday, try running. If I can run four miles and pick up to half-marathon pace for one of those miles, without pain, then I'll give the race a shot on Saturday. If I can't, then I'll resign myself to cheering on my friends. Fortunately the knee does seem to be getting better every day, so hopefully, if I'm careful, I should be back up to speed in time for my target race of the fall season, the Kiawah Island Half Marathon on December 14.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Race Recap: Spencer Mountain 5K

Saturday morning. I'm 1.8 miles in. The road turns uphill, again. I am gasping for breath, trying to focus on solid, long strides. Trying to look strong to intimidate the runners behind me. Wondering if I can possibly hang on to this pace until the finish. The plan was to run with complete abandon, to give it absolutely everything I had, to leave nothing in the gas tank. Finish on empty, or limp in, running on fumes. But here now is this hill. If I push hard up the hill, can I possibly have anything left for the final mile? I have to try. I pick up the pace...

Wednesday morning, three days earlier, I'm sitting in Summit Coffee after my last hard workout of the week. "What are you doing this weekend," Sam asks.

"I'm going for a PR at the Spencer Mountain 5K," I reply.

"Didn't you just PR two weeks ago?"

"Yeah, but I felt like I still had a little bit left. This time I want to go all out. I'm either going to PR or I'm going to finish in, like, 22 minutes."

"Ha! Seriously?"

I am completely serious; that is honestly the plan. But on race day, naturally, things can play out a little differently. My PR from the Runway 5K was 17:49, officially a 5:45 pace. So this time I would head out at a 5:30 pace.

Saturday morning at the start line, we're all standing around wondering when things are going to get going. Suddenly about 8:03 the race official shows up. "You haven't started yet? They already started the 10-miler!" Then she runs about 10 yards past the start line and yells "Ready, Set, Go!"

Here we are at the start! Rob is 3 to the right, and "Mop-Top" is just past him

Rob Ducsay, a mop-topped teenager, and I push out into the lead. About 100 yards in Rob yells "I'm in first!" At which point Mop-Top blows by both of us. I resign myself to finishing second to a teenager, again.

I look down at my watch and see that it reads 5:35. Really? It feels like I'm going faster than that, but I decide to stick to my plan and pick up the pace. About a half mile in I pass Mop-Top. It's just me and the lead police car.

The first mile of the race is a gradual uphill, which gets steeper towards the end. As the hill increases, I find myself slowing down. I'm going as hard as I can, but I can't seem to bring my pace down to 5:30. I don't want to look back and check on the other runners; I just have to keep pushing the pace. I pass Mile Marker 1 at 5:25, but my watch doesn't beep. I keep running, and 20 seconds later I finally hear the familiar mile chime. 5:49 according to Garmin, slower than at Runway. But this hill is bigger too.

I crest the hill and start heading down, again resisting the urge to look back. It's an out-and-back course, so I'll see all the competition at the turnaround. My pace is now over 6:00 per mile. Come on, Munger, you can do better than that! The turnaround should be at exactly mile 1.5, and it can't come soon enough for me. It's two cones in the middle of the road, and I realize at my pace I'm going to have to swing wide to clear it. I do, and I see Rob and another runner, right behind me.


Somehow I find the will to run faster. It's a gradual downhill now, and we're more than halfway through the race. There's just that one uphill right before I get to the Mile 2 marker, and it should be downhill all the way home. The rest of the field is still running the opposite direction, cheering me on as I go. I see Ashley, and Roberta, and Johane, and Bill, and many other familiar faces. They seem really impressed to see me in the lead. Maybe I can pull this off!

Then I reach that final climb, starting at mile 1.8. I'm gasping for breath, and though it honestly doesn't feel like I can keep this pace up, it's still slower than I want, about 5:43. In a moment of clarity, I realize that I must run up this hill all-out. Even if I take it easy on the hill and end up winning, I'll always ask myself how much faster I could have been if I had pushed it on the hill. So I push it. Hard.

Somehow, crazily, I finish Mile 2 faster than I ran Mile 1. Once again, I reach the mile marker before my Garmin clicks through to Mile 2. Now it is all downhill, and I try to stretch my strides even longer. I'm grunting with every breath. Really? Grunting? Who am I, Monica Seles?

The walkers are still heading out, and they seem amazed to see the leader of the race, running so fast in the opposite direction. I've been on the other side of that road many times, watching the leader streak by, wondering what it must feel like to run so effortlessly.

Now I know: It's damned hard.

Some idiot in a Jeep pulls between me and the lead car. The cop pulls over, and another cop gets out and directs the Jeep to the side of the road so I can pass. Crazy! Now I'm past all the walkers, less than a half mile to go. I know it's downhill, but it's so gradual and / or I'm so tired that it doesn't feel that way.

I can see the 3-mile marker ahead, and again I resist the urge to look back. Just keep pushing, Munger. Either you win or you don't; looking back won't help.

Headed for the finish!

I blitz around the final corner and dash through the finish. I think I even remember to raise my arms in victory. Then I remember to stop my watch.

17:32. Yes, it's a PR, but more importantly, it's a win! I've never won a 5K before, never won any solo race with this level of competition. Rob crosses the line in second place, followed shortly by three much-younger guys. I give Rob a huge high-five. He's PRed too! What a race.

As Rob and I congratulate each other and go over the play-by-play of the race, we notice several 25-ish guys hovering nearby. Finally one of them says to me "do you mind if I ask how old you are?" I tell him I'm 46. "Wow, you've got me by two decades."

"Well, if it's any consolation, I beat my two-decade-younger self too," I tell him.

Rob and I are subsequently grilled by these much-younger men on our training miles and methods. They're super impressed by Rob's ultra-running. We've clearly opened their eyes to what a couple of old guys are capable of. That was definitely the moment of the day: Those young guys looking at us, thinking "if these old guys can do that, who the hell am I?"

A couple of very fast old guys

Some other great moments from the race:

Roberta Villneff finishing first in her age group.

Jo Hirschfield finishing first in her age group and getting a PR.

Ashley Neff finishing first in her age group and third overall.

Winning $50 as the first overall male!

Spending the $50 -- on coffee for my teammates and a little nip of something for me:

Crashing and burning while on my cool-down run. Two big scrapes on my elbow and a very sore knee.

Watching the ten-milers stream in. Here's Chad approaching the finish:

Hanging out with the whole gang while we waited for results and collected hardware.

Mark Ippolito

Roberta and Diane

Kathy and Johane

Cheryl and Jenn
Overall, a great event.

One last note: After some thought, I'm not sure if I'm going to count this as a PR after all. My Garmin measured the course at 3.04 miles, so it's probably short. My pace according to my Garmin was 5:46 per mile, compared to my official pace at the Runway 5K of 5:45. So despite finishing in a time of 17:32 versus 17:49, despite feeling like I gave it absolutely everything I had in this race, this one doesn't seem as "legit." The win, though? That definitely counts!

Details of today's race are below.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Fastest tempo ever

Lately I've been lucky enough to find workout partners for nearly every run. I love running with people, and the support they give me definitely helps me go faster and farther than I would otherwise. But I knew it would be a longshot finding someone interested in the workout I had planned for this morning. The schedule called for a 6-mile tempo run. With my recent PR in the 5K, I knew I should reconsider the pace for the run, so I loaded up McMillan Running. McMillan allows you to enter your PR at any distance, then gives you projected times at other distances. But the most useful feature is hidden: You click on "training paces" and it tells you how fast you should be running when you are working out.

McMillan gives paces for three types of tempos -- "Tempo intervals," "Tempo run," and "Steady-state run." A "Tempo" for McMillan ranges from 25-40 minutes. My run was going to be just at the upper end of that, and for me McMillan recommends a pace of 6:02 to 6:17. Ouch! But the pace for "Steady-State," which runs 25-90 minutes, was a little more reasonable -- 6:17 to 6:32. I still didn't think I was going to find anyone who was interested in a 6:32 pace, but I went ahead and posted the workout to our running group, just in case. The message I got back was basically "uh, no thanks."

So I figured I would just warm up with Ashley (we both live about a mile from the usual starting-point for group runs), then run my tempo solo, and meet up with the group again at the end. As a bonus incentive, Chad and Michelle would be doing a 4.7-mile loop at around an 8:30 pace, so if I really crushed it on my 6.38-mile tempo loop, I just might catch them at the end.

I took off solo, heading downhill on the first mile. I was hoping to do a little better than a 6:32 pace, since that was the top end of my steady-state pace. Mile 1 felt pretty good at a 6:19 pace. Mile 2 would tell me a little more about how I was feeling today, because it involved the first major climb. I didn't slow down much, finishing in 6:24. Next was another downhill mile, which again felt great at 6:15. Miles 4 and 5 would involve some serious climbing. The first part of 4 was flat, but then I turned on to the locally infamous Robert Walker Drive, the start of a long, gradual uphill. To add to the challenge, I was now running into a headwind. Somehow I maintained the pace, finishing Mile 4 in 6:25. But Mile 5 continues uphill, and the headwind continued. I now realized that I had run every mile under 6:26, which means I was under 40-minute 10K pace. Could I do even better, and complete the 6.38-mile loop under 40 minutes? First I'd have to make it up this hill.

Somehow I kept up the pace, finishing Mile 5 in 6:26. If I was going to catch Michelle and Chad, it'd be in the next mile or so. Right now I was just focusing on maintaining speed and cresting one last small hill in Mile 6. As I headed back into town, I could see a pair of runners ahead in the darkness. Could it be Chad and Michelle? I finished Mile 6 in 6:25. Just over a third of a mile to go, and I could now see clearly that Chad and Michelle were ahead of me. I picked up the pace, striding past them as confidently as possible, cruising into town at a 5:59 pace.

I wasn't gasping for breath when I stopped, but I could definitely feel that this had been a substantial effort. How good was it? I didn't know, exactly, because my tempo run was combined with the easy warm-up I had done earlier. I did some quick math and came up with 40:13 for the 6.38-mile loop (later, looking at my GPS data, I saw that it was actually 40:20). Dang! I had just missed breaking 40 minutes. But still, I was quite pleased, because my previous PR on the DART loop was 42:55. I had crushed that! My overall pace for the tempo was 6:21, which would easily break 40 minutes for a 10K.

That's the pace I'd like to be running in a week and a half, when I do the Thunder Road Half Marathon. Do I think I can sustain it for a half? I'd say definitely for a flat race. Thunder Road isn't flat, though. On the other hand, I will have other runners to key off of at Thunder Road, so that will probably motivate me to keep up the pace a little better than running by myself in the dark. In other words, we'll just have to wait and see.

Details of today's workout are below.