Running quote of the week

"Running is a towrope pulling through my life, and at a time when stress squeezes me, I hold on tight." - Jen A. Miller

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Timely track run

 
Today's run (track): 3.25 miles

My son competes in Long Island science fairs because of an advanced research project he is doing in high school. Although most of these fairs are held during the school week, he had one happening today. That meant we needed to take him to the high school at 7:00 AM to meet the bus to the event. Usually my wife manages these logistics, but I volunteered to do it today.

It may seem like I was doing this to give Mrs. ER a well deserved break, but my motivation was more selfish than altruistic. Having to get my son to the bus forced me to get out early. I can be an awful procrastinator when it comes to getting ready for a run, but this worked out well since I was planning to run at the high school.

In the days when I'd run before work, I was on a split second time-table. I needed to allow time to get dressed and run my distance in time to get to my preferred train. Without that immovable deadline, I would have have taken twice as long. When I run with my friends, or have a race, I manage to get out on time. When it's a lazy Sunday morning, time usually slips by.

After I dropped off my son, I went to the track behind the school to start today's workout. When I arrived, I saw the usual suspects - 30-something women walking in a group, an older couple (also walking) and a middle aged man run-walking. It's always different people, but the mood and the rhythm is usually the same. Today I played the role of the middle aged man running slowly.

Yesterday's neighborhood run was a confidence booster. Although my running felt awkward, I ran relatively pain-free. I hoped for the same thing today. I did have some abstract soreness when I started, but no real pain, I tried to force a more natural stride but felt constrained throughout the first half of my run. I wore my Virratas and didn't experience the the shoe issues that I had with the Kayanos and Triumphs. I guess I'll be sticking with them for now.

I picked up speed with every mile and I think that was due to warming up enough to open my stride a little. The only negative was near the end, when I could feel some discomfort in my upper thigh as I ran. It was in the same place that I felt the stabbing pain last week. Today it wasn't painful, more like uncomfortable tightness. I reached my goal distance and stopped the run before that got any worse.

Well I definitely made progress this weekend, but I still have a long way to go. The important thing is that I can run without much discomfort or doing any further damage. I'll be spending a lot of time on non-impact fitness machines this week. I'm pretty sure they're helping me recover.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Passing the pavement test

Following the flattest route possible
Today's run (street): 3.1 miles

If my orthopedist correctly diagnosed me as having a herniated disc, I must be having a remarkable recovery. Based on what he told me, I should be having a lot more pain when running. That's not the case and I'm thinking of getting a second opinion. I'm still waiting to meet with this guy to go over the results of my MRI. It's taking a lot longer than promised, because he's canceled my last two appointments. This is the place that canceled my original appointment but didn't let me know until I showed up for it. I've just about had it with this office.

I've been using our elliptical machine at home and have also been testing hybrid running units at a different location. These no-impact workouts have helped me maintain some fitness without aggravating my disc problem. I'd felt incremental improvement in terms of pain prior to my run last Saturday, only to have it return in a big way during that run. Yesterday's one mile treadmill session was a test to see whether the pain was still present while running. I ran slowly and my gait felt awkward, but the stabbing pain from last week was gone.

There's a big difference between running on a level treadmill and hard pavement. I had hopes for a painless outdoor run, but feared it was too soon to expect much improvement. The temperature was only in the high 30's when I headed outside. I dressed accordingly and felt comfortable with the gear I'd chosen. Once my Garmin showed ready, I was off.

I wore the Kayanos rather than the Saucony Triumph ISOs this morning. The Triumphs made my feet feel squished at the front during last Saturday's run. The Kayanos did the same thing today. It's clearly related to my current stride and foot strike. Although I've continued to work out despite these running problems, ellipticals don't provide the same level of intensity as a treadmill. Due to that, I'm feeling some conditioning gaps when I run.

I started today's run along my usual route. The first left off my street goes about a quarter mile up a 2% grade. It's enough to notice, but usually not an issue for me. Today it felt like I was running up James Street during the Great Cow Harbor 10K. If you're not familiar with Widow Hill, it's the stuff of nightmares. For me anyway.

There was no real pain during the run, but my stride didn't feel very natural. I ran slowly to avoid triggering a problem. My plan was to do my distance and then evaluate both my fitness and my readiness for increasing mileage and pace. For a three mile run, it felt like a lot of work, but I'm very pleased that the soreness hasn't returned.

I'm going to add 10% more distance tomorrow and I'm thinking about going to the track to take advantage of that soft, flat surface. Someday, I'd like to go there to run intervals. Tomorrow my hope is to do a little more and hurt a little less.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Somewhere between running and not really running

Running-ish
Workouts this week (running fitness machines): 60 minutes 
Today's workouts (treadmill): 1 mile plus (elliptical): 20 minutes

I'm very fortunate to have the opportunity to participate in a test of fitness machines that mimic the motion of running. Unfortunately, I can't share the brands or models until after the study is completed. At this point I'm thinking that the only fitness machine that actually makes you feel like you're running is a treadmill. However, if you keep an open mind, these machines can provide a great workout.

The concept of running comes up a lot in discussions about the test subjects. It's probably more accurate to look at these fitness machines as variations on an elliptical trainer. If you don't like ellipticals, your opinion won't change much when using this new design. Runners who do like elliptical machines will probably appreciate the key differentiator: user controllable stride length.

I've had orientation sessions using three different machines that have provided distinctly different experiences. On the positive side, the lack of impact produces a pain-free workout. Each machine approaches the motion of running differently and my acclimation to the "running" process varied greatly, based on the design. Not so positively, I've noticed a slight pain in one heel and at the side of one knee, although this may not be related to testing. I had a stand up desk installed in my office and have been on my feet a lot more this week.

High stand-ards
The pain from my herniated disc has noticeably diminished but hasn't disappeared. My orthopedist has once-again canceled my follow up appointment, so I need to look into finding a different doctor. The improvement I've been seeing is encouraging, but I suspect that it may still hurt if I try another road run,

I decided to test the waters with a one mile treadmill run this morning. The forgiving and flat surface provided the best possible scenario for protecting my injured disc. I feared that the pain in my upper thigh that made Saturday's run a torture session would reappear. The pain didn't return, but my gait felt awkward throughout the entire session. I followed the treadmill run with 20 minutes on the elliptical, making it a well balanced, moderate workout. I may hit the road tomorrow and I hope it doesn't hit back.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Running without gravity

Can't resist ('cause there's no resistance)
Today's workout (elliptical): 36 minutes

After yesterday's difficult run, I was worried how my leg and hamstring would feel in the morning. I'd violated my doctor's no-hills rule and expected at least some soreness. Surprisingly enough, I felt great. That encouraged me to consider another run today. Mrs. ER debated the merits of doing that and suggested that I use the elliptical. I agreed and had a decent, pain-free session that didn't produce any post-workout soreness.

Today is my birthday and while I generally don't like to make a big deal of it, I do like our family tradition of celebrating with a nice lunch. I'm not talking kindai maguro at Le Bernardin. More like Japanese Pan Udon at Noodle & Company. It was a nice simple meal on a beautiful day.

After lunch, we stopped by SA Elite because I've been looking for a pair of lightweight track pants to replace my six year old C9's that were ugly when I bought them and have not improved with age. There were few options that fit the bill (or my size) so I ended up taking a pass. I'm participating in a test of "running machines" - hybrid fitness equipment that supposedly provides a "zero gravity" running effect. I wanted new track pants so I wouldn't have to wear shorts in an office environment.

I'll be curious to see how close these machines come to simulating real running. I'm really hopeful that it will provide that experience while providing protection for my current disc injury. I won't be able to provide many details until the results of the testing have been published, but I will report on whether it's helping with my recovery.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Runsketeer reunion: first spring run!

Our traditional selfie, courtesy of a random Starbucks customer (photo credit to TPP)
Today's run (Bethpage State Park): 3.6 miles

Take a look at the picture above. Why is this man smiling? Is it because he ran 3.63 miles today, his first run in two weeks? No, definitely not that. The reason for the smile comes from the people to his right and left. While I suffered through a difficult and painful run this morning, I ended up having a great time today. I will admit most of that happened once we hit Starbucks.

I've been feeling good about my recovery. I've still experienced pain in my left hamstring that's likely caused by my recently diagnosed herniated disc. I've tried a few easy strides along the halls of my office to better gauge my progress. Things have felt pretty good and I was both encouraged and excited to run with my buddies this weekend. But when the (blown and carbon) rubber hit the road, that familiar feeling of being stabbed in the leg with every stride was clear and present.

Our plan was to start out in our usual place, just north of Haypath Road. SIOR and TPP wanted to run longer than my planned 3 miles, so they arrived earlier and ran south for about 1.5 miles before turning around. I texted them when I arrived and SIOR texted back suggesting that I head their way so we could meet up on their way back. After just a few steps, I realized that this was going to hurt.

I took it slow but every step was painful. At least I could run. My doctor said I should avoid hills. Unfortunately, there are quite a few on this path. I made it to the top of a short, steep hill where I saw my friends coming from the other direction. We exchanged hugs and hellos and headed north together. There was no way I could keep up with them today (could I ever?) but they stopped periodically to allow me to catch up.

I had neglected to restart my Garmin when we met up. Fortunately I discovered my error at the point where I started so all I needed to do was double the initial distance to get my true mileage. We continued together but soon I watched my buddies disappear into the distance. I was not enjoying myself and it wasn't just the pain. I realized that the combination of fewer workouts and less intensity (the elliptical can't match the treadmill) has taken a toll on my fitness.

Somehow I made my way through the run and, as I approached my endpoint, I saw that TPP and SIOR were waiting near where I'd parked, talking to a person dressed in white. As I got closer, I realized that this person was on a bike and I was happy to see that it was TPP's paramour, JC. We caught up briefly and JC suggested that steroid shots may relieve the pain from my disc issue. I'm really hoping it doesn't come to that.

Happy birthday to me - thanks SIOR!
We left JC to his ride and the Runsketeers started a convoy to Starbucks. I led the way which involved Route 135, Old Country Road and South Oyster Bay Road. At one point, SIOR texted me asking if I was lost. She thinks she is funny. When we got inside Starbucks, SIOR presented me with a birthday gift - a SPIbelt - one of the best things you can give to a runner. Mine is getting old, ripped and frayed and I rely on it a lot. I'm happy to have a new one that I don't have to worry about breaking on a run and dumping my credit cards, cash and cell phone on the street.

SIOR also bought me coffee. I should have birthdays more often! The three of us hadn't got together since the morning of the Hangover Run  (Jan 1) so we had a lot to catch up on. They patiently listened to me describe my job and company and we recounted our various adventures in travel. SIOR wins hands down with her transatlantic crossing via catamaran from South Africa to Brazil.

As usual, we ran out of time long before we ran out of conversation. Despite the painful run, I ended today's workout in a fantastic mood. The Runsketeers cannot go another four months between our runs! My current injury will make it hard to keep up with my friends for a while, but we know it's the non-running part that puts the smile on our faces.

Wishing SIOR a great race tomorrow at the MORE Half Marathon in NYC. I tease her about it being a woman's-only event, but I really do support it. It was a little less than a year ago when we all ran the Brooklyn Half. A lot has happened since then in terms of my running. At least I'm seeing an orthopedist and just had an MRI, so I can understand exactly what's causing this pain. What to do about that will be another story.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Buzzing, banging and recovering

This won't hurt a bit
My longstanding soreness has taken a turn for the better lately. For a while, the pain accompanied me on every step I took. I felt stiff and unbalanced when I walked, especially after my 90 minute commutes to my office. When I did try to run, I'd feel acute pain in my hamstring. I haven't run since I tripped and nearly fell a couple of weeks ago. Extended rest has always led to healing for me and that may be true in this case.

I started my day with an MRI. With all this progress toward recovery, I questioned whether I needed it. That thinking was quickly corrected while I changed for the scan, I twisted my leg slightly in the process and felt a surprisingly sharp pain. I'm not out of the woods by any means.

I'be been through a couple of MRI's and knew what to expect. Although I had to stay completely still for 45 minutes while a large white appliance buzzed and banged inches from my face, it wasn't too bad. It may have have been the noise, but I developed a sizable headache by the end. I took care of that with ibuprofen, but I remained a little dizzy and tired throughout the day.

Tomorrow I plan to join the Runsketeers in progress as they take on five or six miles along the Bethpage trail. On the advice of my doctor, I'm limiting my distance to about three miles and will try to avoid hills. It's impossible to miss them on this trail so I'll do what I can. It's been months since we've all got together and that's the important thing about this workout. I won't be able to keep up with  my friends on the path, but I'll match them cup for cup at Starbucks later on.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

The lost workout

Onion volcanoes and warm sake -
Emerging Sister-In-Law (L), Mrs. Emerging Runner (R)
Today's workout (elliptical): 45 minutes

In the almost-seven years that I've been running, I've prided myself on my meticulous process to record workout metrics. I can look back on Garmin Connect to see the detail about every run and elliptical session that I've done since early 2010. If I want to go back further than that, I can look at MapMyRun stats, or see my earliest running data on the Nike+ site. I also have years of Daily Mile records that capture different information like shoe mileage.

In addition to all this, I can look at the Emerging Runner archives for measured mileage on every run. All this data recording takes time, and over the last year my record keeping has gone from meticulous to casual. I stopped recording my runs in Daily Mile last July and most of the time I don't even wear my Garmin when I'm on the elliptical. It's because of this that I cannot remember whether I did a workout on Friday.

I've been on vacation this week, but my time off has been more busy than relaxing. On top of that, I needed to go into my office on Wednesday. That made this vacation more like a couple of long weekends. Friday afternoon my brother and his family came to stay for a few days and my dad and his wife came out on Saturday afternoon. Later we went out to a local hibachi place and had a great time, but I don't recommend the lukewarm sake administered via a squeeze bottle.

With all that going on, I didn't have the opportunity to do a workout on Saturday, because our guest room is also our fitness room. It's also my office. Maybe we should take page from the local elementary school and call it the multi-purpose room.

So I may have done an elliptical session on Friday morning. I know I did a workout this afternoon. My pain from the herniated disc has been manageable, although it does give me a small zap if I move my leg in a certain way. I've been applying heat and that seems to help. It's no worse after today's elliptical session than it was before I started.

My biggest concern is that I'm returning to a week of commuting. That means three hours a day sitting in a driving position. I'm convinced that driving has been a factor in this disc compression. My standing desk (or as they put it, "stand up desk adaptation") gets installed on Monday. I'm hoping that will help me counteract all that drive time. I'll know more about the problem on Friday after my MRI.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Disc error

I discovered I'm not a diagnostician after meeting with a real orthopedist this afternoon. He shot down my piriformis theory in about two seconds. I went to the same office that screwed up my appointment last time because it's five minutes from my house and convenience counts. This time the doctor was in. I was curious to find out the true cause of the sciatic pain that I've had since early December. After chilling (literally) for 30 minutes in the freezing checkup room, the doctor came in and started asking questions.

After a quick check of the source of the pain, he said, "I think it's your back." He took some X-rays and we looked at the results that showed that my hips and pelvis looked fine. I must say I photograph well from the inside. Then we looked at the spinal view where he pointed out compression in my lowest segment - a herniated disc. The disc problem was putting pressure on the sciatic nerve that makes it feel like the injury originates from a lower place.

I asked the doctor if this meant no more running. He said that running wouldn't do any harm, but I should avoid hills. Yay! The doctor also suggested that I run on a soft, flat surfaces like the track or the treadmill. What he really recommended was to lay off running and focus on the elliptical for the time being. He showed me some stretches that would be beneficial and suggested I keep heat on my lower spine as much as I could.

I'm going back next week to get an MRI. I'll follow his orders, especially the one about not running hills. I think I can do that one really well. I told the doctor that I'd read that trail running helps injuries because the soft dirt and the constantly changing surface supports many different muscles. He said trail running's fine, but don't run hills. So much for Stillwell.

I have my heating pad working and I'll run through the stretches tomorrow. I'll stick to the elliptical for now and sneak a treadmill run in when I can. The good news is that I don't have any torn muscles, tendons, or - apparently - piriformis syndrome.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

The sting of a million bees

Tools of recovery
Today's run (street): 3.75 miles

Whenever I go out for a run, I think about the things I should capture in that day's post. This blog has served as my running journal since November 2008 and it's been a handy resource for looking back throughout the years. Today I thought about how two people wished me happy Easter as I ran through the neighborhood (hey, what about Passover?!), how I could smell the the salty ocean air and how annoying it was to get gravel in my shoes from all the recent pothole repairs. Little did I know that the key item of this post would happen during the last second of my run.

Things started out okay. My nagging piriformis injury felt a bit more pronounced this morning than yesterday, but not by much. I had used both my massage stick and a tennis ball earlier to loosen up my sore muscles. I was hoping for more improvement. To understand how I felt, imagine how it would feel to have a skilled rolfer jam their index finger knuckle deeply into your left glute every time you took a step. It wasn't too comfortable, but it was tolerable.

After about ten minutes, the discomfort began to diminish and I started to feel more like my old self. My goal was to increase my distance 10% beyond yesterday's run and I knew that would not be a problem. I was less than a quarter mile from my house when I turned onto a road I'd literally run a thousand times and made my way over to the sidewalk. I typically end my runs by following this sidewalk that wraps up and around a couple of short roads before delivering me to my street.

Just when I was feeling encouraged by having completed two decent neighborhood runs this weekend, my toe caught a raised section of the sidewalk and I began falling toward the concrete. I know what it's like to take that fall and did everything I could to stay upright. My instinct was to pull up on my hamstring. When I did that, I felt the pain of a million bee stings along in my lower glute.

My first reaction was frustration that I was back to square one with this injury. I tried to take a couple of walking steps, but was warned off by the pain. Although I was only a minute's walk away from my house, I didn't feel like I could do it without making the injury worse. I called my wife and asked her to pick me up. It was not the way I'd imagined this run would end.

After the very brief ride home, I was able to walk more comfortably. That gave me hope that I hadn't done further damage today. I immediately began icing the sore area and I've continually rotated cold packs since then. It's uncomfortable, but I'm not getting the searing pain I expected when I move around. It's more of a heightened version of my previous sciatic pain.

I've taken a few "running" steps in the meantime and it's actually not that bad. I'm guessing that all the icing has helped reduce painful inflammation. What I don't know is how it will feel under non-iced conditions. I'm on vacation a few days next week and was hoping to get in some additional running. With today's setback, I may need to hold off. I will test the waters with an elliptical session tomorrow and see how it goes from there.

Oh, and you can bet I'm remaking that orthopedist appointment.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Reunion with the road and the wind

A sight for sore piriformis
Today's run (street): 3.4 miles

It's been such a long time since I've run outdoors that I was surprised to see that Milemeter has reverted back to being called Gmaps Pedometer. I realize that's an esoteric observation, but it shows that things have changed in the eight weeks since I last did a neighborhood run. Not much changed in the neighborhood except for a whole lot of tar and gravel being laid down to fix this winter's potholes.

I was excited and a little nervous prior to going out this morning. My cold is still present, but it hasn't gained much of a foothold. Despite some sniffles and nasal congestion, I've had no breathing issues doing indoor workouts. My concern centered on my self-diagnosed piriformis syndrome. I already knew what to expect when running on the flat, flexible surface of the treadmill. How would the injury feel when running on unyielding pavement over varying elevations? What will the longer stride do to my form?

The other thing on my mind was the weather. The strong winds were evident and the local station said they'd be increasing throughout the day. I knew I should get out early to minimize that effect. I procrastinated predictably, and didn't start my run until after 9:00 AM. I probably overdressed because of the winds, but never felt overheated during the run.

I knew within ten seconds that I'd be okay once I reached the road. The piriformis/sciatica pain was there, but it didn't bog me down too much. I did notice that it affected my gait and it underscored my need to get to an orthopedist. Overall it was fine and it proved I could run. Not real fast, but it was real running.

The strong winds hit when I rounded a corner around the half mile point. It felt like a huge invisible fan and the mild air suddenly became very chilly. My route soon changed direction and all was well, although half of the last mile was spent running against strong headwinds.

I didn't have my HRM for this run, so I can't gauge my real effort. My perceived effort was moderate and I felt I'd passed my fitness test. That said, I'd purposely kept my expectations low. I'm very aware that I tend to take recovery progress as evidence of readiness and I end up overdoing it the next time I run. Tomorrow I'll aim to go a little longer and, if feels okay, perhaps a bit faster. But not fast. I've learned my lesson with this injury.

Friday, April 3, 2015

A good run, all things considered

 
Today's run (treadmill): 32 minutes

I'm in the middle of a lot of change at work right now and it's affecting a lot of people. Do you know that people don't like change, especially when it involves how they do their jobs? When you are the person who's forcing all this change, it can create some tense moments. But deep down I know they appreciate my efforts and I'm sure they don't mean it when they tell me I'm ruining their lives.

I'm exaggerating a little, but it is a busy time right now. Just to make it interesting, I've developed a head cold that I'm hoping will be short-lived. My schedule isn't conducive to weekday workouts, so today was my first run since Sunday. Between the piriformis pain and this cold, you'd think it would have been a tough session. It wasn't great fun, but it really wasn't that bad.

I still haven't seen an orthopedist but the pain has lessened significantly. When I started today's run, I felt a mild jolt of pain. It wasn't anything that prompted me to rethink the workout, but I kept the speed moderate in the spirit of not doing further harm. I couldn't tolerate watching the news or listening to music, so I ran in silence. I kind of liked that.

Tomorrow is supposed to be mild (51°) but with 26 MPH winds. I'm aiming to run outside for the first time since February. The high winds don't sound too inviting but the idea of running on a non-moving surface makes me happy. I'm thinking that a trail run might be the perfect venue for my reunion with terra firma.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

I'm running again, if you call this running

The 12/6/14 run that started it all
Today's run (treadmill): 3.25 miles

Recovery should happen slowly and in stages, and that's the plan I've been following over the last four weeks. Last year at this time, I was training for the Brooklyn Half using the Hal Higdon intermediate plan. That required some type of running workout nearly every day. It was a mixture of long and easy base runs, short and fast speed drills and 3-4 mile tempos. I could manage that because I was injury-free and had a very flexible schedule.

One year later, conditions are different. I have a long early commute four days a week and my running comfort has been compromised since December 6. That's when I let my ego get the best of me and foolishly overextended myself to prevent another runner from passing me on a long road. The symptoms I had the next day match the ones I have today.

It's been a roller coaster of recovery since then. A race in late December, along with the New Year's Hangover Run, reignited the pain and soreness. An icy and snowy January and an unusable treadmill provided time for healing. By the time we acquired our new Freemotion unit, I was ready to return to the run. So ready, that I did a high intensity workout that (unfortunately) produced some serious pain near the end. One week later, I suffered through an extremely painful three miler. It was the last time I'd run until yesterday's session.

Which brings me to today. After yesterday's encouraging experience on the treadmill, I considered taking it to the street this morning. It had snowed all day on Saturday and there was still a coating of powder on the roads. I opted for the treadmill and slightly increased both my speed and the length of the run. The soreness was there, but it was fully tolerable during the run. Like yesterday, it felt better as I went on and the soreness is responding to the massage roller.

So I've transitioned back to running, but I'm doing it a lot slower than I had before my injury. The things I like about running (fresh air, changing views and the sense of forward progress) that come from being outdoors, are absent. When the weather gets better, I'll run outside and take it easy. I think I've finally learned my lesson but I hope I don't get challenged to race anyone too soon.
 

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