Monday, March 23, 2015

Being Smart

My celebratory "Spring Is Here In The Mountains!" stance... and celebrating running pain-free

I've been thinking a lot lately about what it means to "be smart" in our sport of ultrarunning. Ultras, on paper, don't appear to be a very smart activity. The extreme distances can strain the body; the time commitment can strain relationships; and the FOMO adventures with friends can lead to poor decision-making due to Groupthink.

In my early years as an ultrarunner, I took some risks that now make me cringe when played over again in my mind. That first-ever night run in the Massanuttens in pouring rain that led me to the edge of hypothermia when we missed our rendezvous driver. Or running part of the first Reverse Ring in snow, with temps in the low teens, and with no one aware of our location on the ground in case one of us got injured. Or, more recently, running on the AT with friends and turning back due to ice-covered trails, only to then have a fellow runner fall, break her wrist and have to be rescued off the mountain in sub-freezing temps. Ugh. Not smart.


For the first time since 2004, I found myself sidelined this past month with an injury. I wasn't too surprised, given that I had been playing with fire by running back-to-back ultras, the Sean O'Brien 26++ followed by the Holiday Lake 50K++ the first two weekends of February. As I have gotten older, I've become much more conservative in my race scheduling and more committed to rest and recovery, so attempting this double was out of character for me. But as my students would say, YOLO ("You Only Live Once" for us old people), so when the chance to run in California came up the week before Holiday Lake, I couldn't resist.

Both races went well. I emerged relatively unscathed after Holiday Lake with only a slight right calf strain, which is my typical sore spot after a long run. This strain is a result of some chronic wear and tear around my right big toe, which I've dealt with for almost 8 years with help from Montrail inserts and Hoka Stinsons, Cliftons, and Challengers. (The Hokas have been a game changer, actually. They allow me to push off without requiring big work from the big toe, and the inserts support that as well). After all the snowfall we had in mid-February, I took out my cross-country skis for a spin around the farms near our house, and the repetitive action of lifting my heel up and down did a number on my sore much so, that when I resumed running a week later, two miles soon became impossible. Ice, rest, Aleve, and stretching did nothing to help, so after three weeks of this routine with no change, I visited my physical therapist, Eric Magrum. The last time Eric had helped me was when I had ITBS after running the Ring in 2004, so we had a good time catching up on local trail talk (Eric is a dedicated biker and trail work volunteer for our local mountain bike club) while he massaged (read: squeezed, beat, worked, bruised) my calf into submission. His Rx: stretch my soleus and calf 5-6x daily as well as my big toe, and "don't be stupid." I smirked and said, "Yes, sir." And, I meant it.

After a fun few days of trail marking and pacing Bill Gentry at the TJ100K, I'm grateful to have been able to run 50 miles last week and finish my first long run in the mountains yesterday with no issues. As a 52-year-old ultrarunner with 13 years of running long stuff behind me, I've learned that in order to keep training and racing at a high level I will have to be diligent with foam rolling, stretching, continuing my 2x weekly strength training, swimming and pool running routine year round, as well as take off 1-2 days a week. In other words, I have to be smart. I'm grateful to be on the road to recovery with just a soft tissue repair, because I have friends who are battling chronic arthritis in their joints or nerve damage in their feet and may not be able to run again without pain. This was my wake-up call. I have to truly listen to my body and pick my training runs and races carefully. FOMO and YOLO is going to be replaced with my new mantra, "Be Smart."

Over the years I've been asked by my running friends,"How do you stay uninjured, with all the miles that you run?" My response was always tinged with a bit of hubris: "I rarely run on pavement and I don't race too much." But from now on that response will be tinged with humility: "I'm lucky. I rarely run on pavement, I don't race too much, and I try to be smart about when to run and when to rest."

Happy spring, my friends! As you celebrate your return to the trails after the long, cold winter, enjoy every moment. And run smart.