Friday, December 31, 2010

Year in review (TL; DR)

I'm not a big fan of "New Years Resolutions" (my view is: if you have something you need to fix, fix it now.  Don't wait for January 1).  But I do see some value in doing a year-end running/training sum-up.  It encourages a look at the broader picture, as opposed to the snapshot you get with an individual race. This year?  Not pretty.


The story actually starts in December 2009.  I run the Jingle All The Way 10K, setting a PR of 40:53 (report), and continuing a trend of knocking off ~2 minutes off of my time for that course each year.  I want to break 40 minutes for a 10K at some point, and this race makes that seem like an achievable goal in the next year -- possibly at Jingle All The Way 2010.  But my first goal is to break 1:30 for the half-marathon, with my goal half-marathon being the National Half Marathon in March.

A week later, DC is hit by a massive snowstorm.  I run on the treadmill for a few days, and then decide that I'm going to toughen up and do an easy run in the snow.  Four miles of slipping and sliding in the slush, and I decide that was a bad idea, and best not repeated.

A day or two later, and I've developed severe pain on the inside of my right ankle.  I can only hobble, and running is out of the question (this is the first injury I have been unable to run through, ever).  The podiatrist diagnoses acute posterior tibial tendonitis.


January is dedicated to cross-training, using the elliptical, the arc-trainer, and the bike, plus kettlebell swings.  And substantial physical therapy, with a focus on cross-frictional massage for the damaged tendon.  I sub in hard bike rides (30 seconds all out/30 seconds recovery) for workouts.  I don't consider poolrunning an option at this point, as I'm concerned that the water will be too cold for me, given my cold intolerance, poor circulation, and Raynauds.

In late January, I start running again.  I start cautiously, and then as it becomes clear that the tendon responds very well to exercise, more aggressively.  I have tentative hopes of still breaking 1:30 for the half in March.


I continue to ramp up the running, with the majority on the treadmill, as DC is hit by snowstorm after snowstorm.

Apart from running, a friend dies suddenly, and horrifically violently, during a dispute with his girlfriend.  Grief and shock are combined with the truly surreal experiences of a) publication in the local rag of a series of moderately incendiary articles regarding his passing, and b) numerous facebook invitations and messages from "him", as his account is used to reach out to his many many friends.

Dirk Smiler wrote on the Wall for A Wake for Dirk Smiler.

It gives a needed, if cruel, perspective on the year, and the difference between running frustrations and true tragedies.

MARCH 2010

I continue to push the running, but it becomes more and more clear that it will be a real stretch to break 1:30 for the half in March.  My workouts aren't hitting the times that they should, and I'm also dealing with a frustrating breathing issue.  It's like asthma, in that my throat tightens, my breathing becomes strained, and my heart rate surges.  It persists for about the first 40 minutes or so of a run, before loosening.  An inhaler helps to some extent, but not fully.  We attribute it to allergies/exercise induced asthma, but it doesn't match the pattern in several ways.  For one thing, I experience the tightness whether I'm on the treadmill or running outside (arguing against allergies).  I also do NOT experience the tightness during very hard bike workouts, but I do during easy runs (arguing against exercise induced asthma).  I start working with an allergist, to try to figure out what's going on.

I run the National Half Marathon on March 20 (report).  I battle chest tightness and breathing issues the whole race, and it also becomes clear that I'm just not quite fit enough to run the time I wanted.  I finish in 1:32:17 for a minute PR, and deem the race acceptable, if not thrilling.

Soon after, a discussion on Runners World clues me into the possibility that my breathing issues may actually be related to gastric issues, rather than my lungs.   I research GERD, and then experiment with cutting traditional acid reflux causes, such as chocolate and citrus.  And I start swigging Pepto before my runs.  The difference is staggering -- the tightness is there, but much reduced.

APRIL 2010

I run the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler on April 11 (report), with the assistance of Pepto.  Wonderfully, the chest tightness doesn't manifest until the last mile or two.  I manage to battle through the final 10 minutes, and get a PR of 1:08:02.   I suspect that I had sub-68 wrapped up until the last 2 miles, but I'm still happy about the time, and optimistic that I can get this breathing thing licked.  I decide to take another shot at the half-marathon distance in early May; with a few more weeks of training and a flatter course, 1:30 seems more likely.

I go back to the allergist, and mention the Pepto issue, however he wants to eliminate asthma, and refers me for an exercise pulmonary function test.

I show up for the test, only to learn that the treadmill is broken and the test must be done on the bike.  Never mind that my symptoms only appear when running, not when biking.   Furthermore, they explain that the test will involve peddling at a slow cadence while they increase the resistance to max out my heart rate.  Hmmm...I'm not too sure about this one.  And just as predicted, my legs hit muscular failure and stop working when my heart rate is just barely in tempo range (my heart rate hits 170 during the test; during tempos my HR usually ranges between 174 and 182).

The test establishes that I don't have exercise induced asthma.  However, it does show a very weird exhalation pattern during exercise.  When most people exhale, the graph of their volume over time shows a sharp peak, and then a gradual trailing off -- they push out a large amount of air at first, and then the rest at a decreasing rate over time.  My exhalation looks like this during rest.

However my exhalations during exercise show a bizarre pattern, best described as an upside down bowl, where it takes me a while to get all the air out, with the peak flow being delayed.  Interestingly, this matches something I've always noted, which is that I cannot breath anywhere near as fast as those running near me during a race -- even when I'm running all out, my breaths are slow, deep, and measured.  Speed them up, and I feel like I can't get the air in or out at all. Chair of the pulmonary department thinks this is very exciting and cool, and sends me for a CT scan of my lungs -- he suspects that I may have something weird in them that blocks my air flow under certain circumstances.

CT scan shows that my lungs are fine.  Doctors now find me less interesting.  They point out that I am still fit, even though with an exhalation issue like that, "you're not going to the Olympics".  Thanks.  I knew that anyway.  I decide my next stop is the GI doctor to rule out acid reflux.

Training is going well.  However, on my last workout before my scheduled half-marathon (Alexandria Running Festival - May 2), I feel a sharp pain in the bottom of my left foot near the heel.  Hobble home, ice, and rest.

MAY 2010

The left foot feels like I should be able to tape it and run on it, if I stick to cross-training before the race.  But then it becomes unseasonably hot and humid (temperatures of near 70 degrees with dewpoints in the high 60s).  Between the foot and the weather, this is a no-brainer.  I skip the race, and decide to focus on another half-marathon a week later -- the Pacers Running Festival Half-Marathon.

A few days later, I go for a test run to confirm that the left foot will hold up for the half.  Bad idea.  The foot explodes in pain along the bottom near the heel, as well as each side of the heel.  Back to the podiatrist and physical therapy, with a diagnosis of a) plantar fascitis accompanied by b) a weird inflammation of the ligaments on each side of the heel.

More cross-training, this time alternating between pool-running, biking, and the arc-trainer.  Plus lots of exquisitely painful cross-frictional massage.

JUNE 2010

The inflammed foot heals to a point, and then stagnates after a few weeks. At this point, about 4 weeks into the injury, I decide that I'm going to start running on it.  I run a half mile at first, and then a mile. True to form for me and soft-tissue injuries, careful running seems to promote healing -- with each run, I am able to go a bit further before the pain forces me to limp.  I carefully, but steadily increase my mileage, and 6 weeks later the pain is gone.  But it's now summer, and I don't race in heat/humidity (I have a history of passing out in hot conditions).  So I continue to train steadily.

Separately, my GI doctor notes my symptoms (which besides the symptoms of acid reflux also include a buncha things TMI for this blog), and schedules me for a combination "upper endoscopy" and "flex-sig" -- basically cameras going in both the front and back doors of my GI system.  The results show moderate inflammation of my digestive tract all the way through.  Finally, some answers.  The plan of attack is to eliminate the stuff that's been giving me the most trouble (dairy, wheat, chocolate, and citrus), be more careful in terms of avoiding large meals and late meals, and also to take a stomach lining medication.  Over the coming months, this proves to have addressed the issue.  (no chocolate sucks, but sucks much less than not being able to breathe while running).


 I continue to train, but not race.  It's hot, so most of my workouts are on the treadmill.  I am growing enthusiastic about the fall, if a bit concerned about being so rusty (total of 2 races since December 2009).  I also decide to register for the Richmond Half Marathon in November, to take another shot at 1:30.


I run my first race, the Kentlands 5K, as a "rustbuster" -- run it at tempo effort, without a watch, just to get back into the rhythm of racing (report).  My allergist and I have been playing with allergy meds, and at his advice, I take one in the evening and a second in the morning.  Oops.  I am a lightweight when it comes to things with a sedating effect.  I nearly fall asleep on the way to the race, and then start dozing off at the start line.  I feel blah and unmotivated the entire run, and am a bit disappointed to cross the finish line in 20:40 (I had hoped that a tempo effort would get me closer to 20:20).  Lesson learned: anti-histamines on the morning of a hard run are a bad idea.

The next week is my first real race -- the "Race for the Schools" 5K (report).  Unlike last week, I decide that this week's goal is to pace it poorly.  I want to go out hard, run super-aggressively, and see where I break.  Mission accomplished, as I blast into the lead.  I crash at around 2.5 miles, and deathmarch home, losing the win in the process, but I'm actually pretty happy with the race.  It's not an awe-inspiring time (20:50 for a 5K that is at least a tenth of a mile too long), but I know where my limits are now, and I also have confidence that I can gut it out to the finish even if I crash and burn.

I am eager for my next race, the "Run Geek Run" 8K (report).  It's on a very fast course, and my 8K PR is very weak.  Unfortunately, I develop a bad cold complete with fever the day before.  I decide not to race, and then the fever breaks in the early morning, and I decide "what the hell".  I'm clearly not 100% at the starting line, but I give it my best shot and run 32:45.  Again, not great, but I'm pretty happy with it, given my state.

Around this time, I start developing a weird pain in my right leg (are you keeping track?  the injuries alternate right, left, and now right again).  The pain is sometimes on the inside of the calf, and sometimes on the outside, and the leg is also weak.  It improves as I run more, and a few days of cross training make it worse.


My next race is the AIDS Walk 5K (report).  My right leg continues to be weak and painful (with the pain now migrating into the outer thigh and lower back), but I continue to work out of it with a solid warm-up.  I plan to run a smart race and hopefully get a PR here.  Everything goes according to plan -- as we turn for the last mile-long stretch towards home, I have the female lead and feel in control, with plenty in the tank.  And then I tie up.  I lose the lead, and struggle home in 20:00 flat.  Frustrated.

The pain in my right leg diminishes, but the weakness increases and manifests very strangely.  If I do a single leg squat, the right leg collapses on the first rep, is weak on the second, and then great for any further reps.  Take 2 minutes rest, and try the single leg squats again, and...same result.  Nearly fall down on first one, weakness on second, fine there after.   I show my leg to the podiatrist.  He examines, thinks it's muscular, and tells me to wear a calf sleeve and keep running.  The physical therapist does not object to my running, and hypothesizes that it's a nerve issue of some sort.  Massage of the lumbar spine region seems particularly helpful, as does nerve release work.  I continue to run.

I have been planning on running the "Boo Run For Life" 10K, but am reconsidering it due to the leg issue.  I register anyway, and get the number 666.  As far as I am concerned, skipping this race is no longer an option.  I run it as a tempo, in costume, for a time of 42:34 (report).

About this time, I start rethinking the Richmond Half-Marathon.  I'm not sure what's going on with my leg, but I'm not traveling to Richmond and running 13 miles unless I have a decent shot of accomplishing something.

My next race is the Army 10 Miler.  My right leg continues to have a lot of weakness.  I visit an orthopedist for a second opinion -- telling him that I have continued to run on it, and that it improves with running, but that I will absolutely stop running and skip Army if he recommends it.  He examines, x-rays my back (clear), and tells me that he thinks something is inflamed and pressing on a nerve.  He tells me to run the race, and prescribes Voltaren.  When I tell him I don't believe in masking pain, he explains that the intent is not to hide pain, but to bring down whatever's pressing on the nerve.

Sure enough, the Voltaren reduces the weakness (though it's still there).  I'm enthusiastic for Army. And then I wake up race morning and feel like a car has run me over.   I don't know what's going on, but I decide to give the race a shot anyway, and just drop out if it's clear that I'm not right.

I'm not right.  I feel foggy during the race (report), and am hitting splits 20-30 seconds slow.  I'm missing mile markers, and can't concentrate.  Somewhere around the 4 mile marker (which I miss), I decide that I have nothing at all to gain from finishing this race.  I keep on to the 5 mile mark, and drop out there (despite the Army officer yelling at me to tough it out) and walk to the metro.

I get home and fall asleep. For the next week, I am sick as a dog.  I am registered for the Marine Corps Marathon 10K the next week, but decide to skip it.  I also decide to skip the Richmond Half.  Time to regroup, and then see if I can still salvage some good races in late November and December.  But it makes no sense to keep pushing the races and the hard workouts right now.

I don't know what's going on, but I'm having a lousy fall.  Heck, I'm having a lousy year.  I feel like I've got the mind of a wannabe Stig, but my body's a Yugo.

Separately, I see my neurologist (who is also a runner) about my right leg.  He rules out ALS and MS (a huge relief, as I have a significant family history of ALS), and sends me for a nerve conduction study and an MRI of my back.  Both will come back negative.  He also encourages me to keep running.


On November 1, I get yet another opinion from another physical therapist during a "free screening".  She does a thorough work-up, and then suggests that a nerve may be getting trapped.  She shows me how to do some "nerve flossing", and it seems to really help.  I run two very easy test miles that evening, and the right leg feels solid and strong.  Yay!  The light at the end of the tunnel.

The next morning, November 2, I do the nerve flossing and then hop on the treadmill for a workout.  Since I'm regrouping, I decide to keep the tempo on the slower side. I crank out the tempo, and feel great.  And then my left foot goes "pop".  It's an odd feeling, like a joint popping, but instead of that weird relief feeling one gets after cracking a knuckle, the foot just feels floppy and off.  I don't know what's going on, and it's probably nothing, but there's no reason to risk a cooldown.  I hop off the treadmill, grab some ice, and call it a day.

The foot starts to hurt a bit that afternoon, so I schedule an appointment with the podiatrist.  As it happens, he's open the next morning. Good thing, as it starts to hurt even more that evening, and weightbearing becomes painful.

November 3:  Podiatrist examines the left foot (are you keeping track?  injuries have gone right, left, right, and then left again).  X-ray shows a clear fracture of the second metatarsal.  Plan is a boot and nothing but pool running for 6 weeks, and then 6 more weeks of non-impact exercises, with projected return to running date of Feb 1.

I'm pissed off.  I clearly am screwing up. I get a coach, and resolve to treat his word as law.

The rest of November is poolrunning, bone stimulators, and missed races.  True to form, without the running, the right leg gets weaker, and the pain returns.  So now both legs hurt, though one's allowed to bear weight.  Nice.


More poolrunning.  More bone stim.  More missed races.  Jingle All The Way 2010 goes on without me.  The pain and weakness in the right leg slowly dissipate as the weeks pass.  And then, on the Wednesday before Christmas, the podiatrist tells me the bone's healed in the left foot and I am cleared to run.  Two good legs, 5 weeks ahead of schedule.

So, here we go again.  Let's hope the next round goes better.   But at least I'm fortunate to have good friends and family, plus my health, as the year turns.


  1. Thanks for putting together such a great recap. 2011 has some awesome things in store for you! Looking forward to running with you on the land, well in the same place at the same time but behind you :)

  2. I didn't think it was a "TL, DR!" I read the whole thing. I remember all of these things happening to you, but it was nice to get this recap. I'm sorry you've had so many health struggles this year. I admire your perseverance and I sympathize with your frustrations. Best wishes for a healthy 2011!

  3. Wow, what a year!!! Some great ups and sad downs but I know 2011 will be a great year for you. best wishes!!

  4. I remember most of these incidences and you definitely had a weird, tough year, but still ran some great races. I hope now that the foot is healed, you can get back with it in 2011 and really roll out all those PR's.

    Also, thanks for the info about Broad St. 10, May starts getting pretty hot here, but Philly should be cooler. I'm definitely looking into it!

  5. Crap year overall, but you've kept the right attitude. You'll be back because of it.