Sunday, May 29, 2011

Race Report: Ottawa Half Marathon

Short version:
I finished my first half marathon this morning! Woohoo! I ran it in 2:26:25 and am very proud of my time. I ran the whole thing, from start to finish. I'm tired, sore and ravenous.

I achieved all the goals I set for this race. I'd adjusted them earlier this week after my test run was successful. The goals were:
Bronze: Run to the best of my ability (aka: if you have to DNF, it's not the end of the world).
Silver: Finish.
Gold: Finish in under 2:30.

Long version:
Woke up at 6:30 and dawdled around the apartment, applying heat to my foot and doing my back exercises. We live close to the start line, so I watched the marathoners go by from our balcony at 7 a.m.

I headed out at 8 a.m. My gear was my Adidas running skirt, Sugoi Brand Champions singlet, armwarmers, hat, and fuelbelt with G2 and GU gels pinned to it. I managed to snag a free Powerbar and I was so happy about it, as I was still hungry despite eating my usual pre-run meal of cereal+milk, plus I had a Larabar on my way to the race. It might've been nerves, too, but I ate most of it as I watched the marathon elites run down a Colonel By at about 32K in 1:4o. Wow.

The race weather was 17C, cloudy and very humid. It took about 7 minutes to cross the start line (there was supposed to be a wave start, but I guess they dropped the idea). Saw Hubby at Kent/Laurier where I handed off my warm warmers. My first K was really slow at 7:16 or something like that, but hey, I was running and I felt good.

We ran under the new arch in Chinatown, then through Little Italy along Preston Street. By about 4K, I was feeling the humidity. It was gonna be a long race. I was getting ready to shelve my time goals and just enjoy the race.

Next the route headed into a residential area. Lots of great community support along this stretch. I saw the best sign of the day here: YOU ARE NOT ALMOST THERE. That got a good laugh out of me. Around this time, it started to drizzle a bit, and it was refreshing after the humidity. Next I saw the best spectator of the day: crazy old woman near Wellington St. W loudly swearing at all the runners in French.

My parents and brother were out cheering at Wellington/Kirkwood with signs. I waved to them and continued on my way. Soon the rain started to really come down. I finished 10K in 1:10 and we ran eastward along the Parkway. I ran next to an amazing walker from the Bytown Walkers (they're seriously competitive, btw) for a time. He had a fast pace and we were near each other the entire way. The road was quite cambered through this stretch and I was starting to feel it in my calves and ankles.

We turned from the Parkway onto Booth by the National War Museum to head into Hull. Saw Hubby here, gave him the report that my foot felt tight, but good. Crossed the Chaudiere Bridge and then up the hill on Eddy. This hill was brutal, long and late in the race at 15K. Next we passed the Museum of Civilization where I saw Hubby again (he'd rented a bike to get around)... he tells me I surprised him here as he underestimated my speed. Ha!

From here we ran up the Alexandra Bridge. I was most worried about this stretch as it's two fairly steep hills in a row, with the flat bridge in between. I kept telling myself "I eat hills for breakfast", my favourite mantra, and I think it helped. I got to the top of the hill and turned on Mackenzie without feeling totally exhausted. But by this point, I could feel my legs getting tired. Foot still felt tight, but not bad. Down Colonel By we ran (downhill, yes!) I took a gel more for the mental boost (yeah sugar!) than anything else. Lots of people were walking by this point and I had to weave quite a bit in order to keep my 6:50 pace.

Crossed over onto Queen Elizabeth and only 1K to go. I was feeling pretty spent and this is where the mind games kicked in. I focused on the runners in front of me and picked them off, one by one. My legs wanted to give out, but there was no way I was walking now. Then I saw the walker man I'd met way back at 12K. Here was my target. I passed him about 100m before the finish and finished the last 200m or so at 5:55 pace, so I had enough of a kick left in me!

Clock read 2:37 or something crazy like that, but my Garmin told me 2:26. Grabbed my space blanket, picked up my medal, and posed for a photo. I grabbed some food and met up with hubby. We walked the four blocks home in what had to be the SLOWEST walk ever. Huge props to my husband, who normally melts in the rain but spent the entire morning outside biking across downtown to cheer me on. He's a keeper.

I almost cried after the finish. Running this meant so much to me after my issues with my back and foot. Two weeks ago I thought I was done for. I'm already thinking about my plans for running, but I know this week won't involve much running!

Photos to come. A huge thank you to everyone for your support and kind words through the rollercoaster of these past few weeks. I know some of you thought I was crazy for running the race despite my back. I did it and lived to tell the tale! Though I may have some choice words for walking and stairs tomorrow...

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Verdict & Plan

I visited another physiotherapist last night for a second opinion. I saw Jordan last year during my injury then and he was the one who suggested the treatment plan that allowed me to recover, so it made sense for me to reach out to him this time around.

The verdict:
I am more flexible now than I was last year. Yay! Though this may be a product of going to physio three times in the last 10 days.

I didn't do anything "wrong" with my training plan. Double Yay! This is not an overuse injury.

The problem:
The pounding of running causes my nerves to splinter and become irritated. The muscles guard the nerves to protect them. Then my back seizes up and all the joints in my back harden and compress the discs further on the nerves. And it goes around and around in a cycle. The remaining good news is that this is treatable, not just in the short term, but I can "undo" it with hard work over the long term. What that involves, I have no idea.

The plan:
I'm going to run the half marathon on Sunday. I ran a test run today of 5K and there was some discomfort, but no pain. I never stopped running and it didn't change my gait. It went in waves of no discomfort to more discomfort, and each subsequent wave was less uncomfortable than the previous one. The worst that could happen during the race is that I have to bail partway through, but then at least I tried.

I'm switching physiotherapists. Unfortunately my current one isn't the right match for my situation. I have a consult next week with a new physio that has been recommended to me by a couple of different people.

I want to thank everyone for their encouragement and support. This has been one helluva rollercoaster ride and it isn't over yet!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Punishing myself

As I alluded to in my last post, I really overdid it on my long run on Sunday. The sciatic pain that sidelined me for 5 months in 2010 is back, but on the other foot. Great.

I've done this twice before: I ran really hard runs right before the Ottawa 10K in 2009 and the Army Run 5K in 2009. In the first race, I aggravated a nerve on the outside of my knee, but still was able to run the race. In the second one, I got sick and didn't run, as it was 2 weeks before my wedding and I didn't want to end up even more sick.

I've gone to physio twice since last week and I have two appointments this week. I'm diligently doing my exercises and applying heat to loosen up the muscles. The foot seems to feel better each day, so I'm trying to stay positive about the half marathon. I'm treating this as an extreme taper. In a test run on Thursday, it hurt to run. So I have to be honest with myself. Not running the half is a real possibility. If I can't run the race, it's not the end of the world. I'll be disappointed for sure, but there are other races to run.

What I need to figure out is why this keeps happening. I thought I had been doing well: I was going to physio every 6 weeks to get my back/muscles addressed, I was stretching regularly and doing my preventative exercises. But I still ended up here. It's incredibly frustrating that it's the same injury as before, just on the other side.

So this leads me to wonder: what am I doing wrong? I'm fairly sure the sciatic pain is related to cumulative muscle trauma - I'm damaging the muscles repeatedly before they have time to heal, and eventually the muscles and nerves end up in a cycle of swelling/overtightening/shortening. I need to figure out why the muscles are not healing. Is there a medical reason, like say, anemia or poor circulation? Is it my training, like I'm running all my runs too hard? After this is said and done, I'm going to find a running coach to go over my training log and help me design a training plan so I can avoid this in the future.

And I'm going to join the Ottawa Running Club. I've been meaning to do so, as they have track sessions and group runs. Since I don't play Ultimate anymore, I want to make my running more social, as running alone is not conducive to meeting new people!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

It's coming!

The city's really starting to buzz with excitement for the upcoming event. There's lots of media coverage and action on Twitter these days. Check out the my #myORW and #runottawa hashtags on Twitter to see all the comments from excited runners.

And the preparations are underway at Ottawa City Hall for Race Weekend. The banners were up when I ran by on Sunday...
And the start line positions are marked on the roadway asphalt. Seeing this made me giddy...
Less than two weeks to go until I'm one runner in the 2nd wave of thousands of runners in the Half Marathon. This will be our view down Laurier Avenue...

I'm hoping the weather will improve, as we've had so much rain already this spring. I just want it to be nice... and I think all Ottawa runners are at the point where they'd like a nice, dry, somewhat warm run. But not too hot, either!

I'm getting nervous and worried, as I've had a good bout of sciatic pain these past couple of days. I really overdid it on my long run on Sunday (oops) and was really upset when I woke up on Monday to my running nemesis: sciatic pain on the outside of the foot. I feel like I'm a walking injury. I need to learn how to train well and NOT overdo it. I've started a two week taper, so I've been busy stretching, applying heat and visiting my physiotherapist. I'm going to try a short run tonight to see how it goes.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Finally some good news

I finally had a pain-free run! Hooray!

I suffered my calf strain two weeks ago on that ill-fated long run on my taper week. I can't deny that the run itself was a lot of fun and the hilly terrain was challenging. Too bad my legs didn't agree!

Since then, I've done a lot to try to recover quickly:
- cut out shifted runs and increased rest days,
- cut mileage,
- cut quality runs (hills/tempo/intervals)
- employed a run-walk technique that involved running to increase blood flow, but not to the point of making it ache or hurt,
- gone to physio,
- applied heat,
- self massage and stretching.

I was starting to get nervous about my goals for the half marathon. While I didn't lose any fitness, I certainly lost some progress on my training plan. I didn't hit my 20K run that I'd planned for myself, but I kept telling myself that if I can do 18, I can do 21.1.

I headed out the door this morning not really knowing what I was going to run, though the schedule called for 20K. As I ran, I kept telling myself that I was loose, strong and that I felt good. When I passed the 5K mark, everything felt great and it didn't change the entire run! I'm so happy to report that I felt good the entire 18K. I ran 6.5K, walked 500m, Ran 6.5, walked 500m, Ran 4K at 10 sec. faster than HM pace. My calf felt fantastic and walk breaks were preventative more than anything else, as I didn't want to overdo it today only to suffer a setback so close to the finish.

Now I feel a lot better heading into my taper. I know I can do this. It's hard to believe that Race Weekend's only two weeks away!

Monday, May 9, 2011

The long run that wasn't

Saturday's long run just wasn't meant to be.

My calf was feeling better, so I went out hoping that I could make it the full 20K. I chose a fairly flat route, warmed up with a walk to the starting point and made sure to start out slow. At 5K in, it was starting to get sore. I decided at 8K to stop and stretch it a bit, then head home... cutting it to 16K. As I ran a bit more, I realized it wasn't feeling better and was only going to get worse. I called hubby to meet me 3K later.

I decided that since I wasn't going to hit mileage goal for the run, then I might improve the quality of the run. I worked on my speed and tried my half marathon race pace (6:45/K) for about 3K and it felt good. At least that's promising!

My 20K long run is important, but really, the half is my goal. Last thing I need right now is a more serious calf strain than the one I already have. My number one goal through this training cycle was/is to get to the start of the half uninjured.

I stretched right away and have spent most of the weekend RICEing it. I've also pushed my runs back this week to give my body an extra day to recover. I'm going to try the 20K again on Sunday before I head into my taper. I'll feel better if I can get it under my belt, but I've already done 18K so I know I can do 21. I plan to use my taper to reduce volume over 2 weeks, but still do some quality tempo/interval workouts. This isn't what I wanted to face 3 prior to the race, but I'll deal.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Friday RunPorn

Enjoy today's edition of RunPorn. Oh and if you're a Twitter user, do a search for #youknowyourearunnerwhen - it was a great chat that started on Wednesday with some good laughs to be had, such as: #youknowyourearunnerwhen you apply bodyglide instead of deodorant. Lots of jokes that only we runners would understand!

As for the calf muscles - they're feeling better. While I had to cut my Tuesday run short due to tightness, physio really helped on Wednesday. I also canned my Thursday mid-long run so that I can hopefully get my full 20K long run in tomorrow. It's just a Grade 1 Calf Strain, but I'm doing lots of stretching to get it back into shape, pronto.

Have great weekend runs, everyone!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Hills by Accident

Yesterday was one of the warmest days so far at 20C, so I thought it would be a good day to work on getting acclimated to the warmer weather in preparation for my goal race. So I headed out on my long run in the sun and heat. Hard to believe 20C is considered hot, but hey, I live in Canada! Plus it was dry... I had to run in that weather given that we had record-setting rainfall in April.

Two years ago I ran the 10K at Race Weekend. We had no warm weather leading up to the event, so the 20C+ plus weather on race day was a shock to the system! I wanted to take advantage of yesterday's weather to experiment with my hydration needs and clothing. I was also lucky that it was my cutback week, so it was a long run on the shorter side of things at 12K.

I ran on the bike path along the Western Parkway to Island Park. This is the middle of the half marathon route, though it'll be run on the road and not on the path. When I reached Island Park, I was 5K in, so I figured it was an opportunity to finally try the path on the Quebec side of the Ottawa River. I ran across the Champlain Bridge... man, that sidewalk is narrow! But it wasn't crowded, so I was able to enjoy the views of the rushing water, the vistas of downtown Ottawa and the noise of the rapids with the birds flying overhead.

I turned right onto the bike path on the Quebec side and ran right along the water. I followed the cyclists in their team gear, figuring they'd lead me back towards Hull. All was flat for another KM or so... but the last 3K? Rolling freaking hills. And steep ones to boot. I hadn't meant to do a hill workout, let alone such a challenging and aggressive one. It was pretty much up-down-up-down, complete with hairpin turns, until I hit Terrasses de la Chaudière. Oye. At least I know where to go if I want a killer hill workout now instead of doing hill repeats in front of the tourists at the locks by the Bytown Museum.

As a result of the accidental hills workout, my left calf is NOT happy today. By the looks of things, it's just a calf strain. I'm icing/stretching as much as I can in an effort to get it back to normal ASAP. My mileage peaks these next two weeks at 37K, with long runs of 20K before I taper. I can cutback the mileage if I need to, but obviously I'd rather not do it unless I absolutely have to.