Week Seven: Baltimore Marathon Training

Photo Courtesy: Etsy.com

Officially, the Baltimore Marathon is in less than 3 months. Said to non-runner ears, that’s plenty of time. Said to runner ears, who speak in weeks, 11 weeks will earn you a polite eyes-to-ceiling tight-lipped grin and a cautiously optimistic nod accompanied by an, “Ehh, you have time,” which translates to, “Better get your sh*t together.” For the next 11 weeks, including Week Seven, I cannot dip lower than 30 miles a week. That has to be my goal. I can do it, too. I’ve trained for marathons before and I walk a minimum of 4 miles a day commuting, walking the dog, and generally just getting around. I’ve basically run between 10 and 20 miles every week since January. The fact that I haven’t breached 30 miles a week as I am marathon-training just makes me wonder if I am wasting my time.

My Planned Training Schedule: July 27 – 31

  • Monday: Cross-Training
  • Tuesday: 4 easy pace miles (Goal Pace: 10:37 – 10:59)
  • Wednesday: 6 medium effort miles (Goal Pace: 9:07 – 9:35)
  • Thursday: 4 easy pace miles (Goal Pace: 10:37 – 10:59)
  • Friday: Rest Day
  • Saturday: 15 long miles (Goal Pace: 9:36 – 10:36)
  • Sunday: 4 miles at race pace (Goal Pace: 9:06)
  • Total Weekly Mileage: 33 miles
Not how I prefer to start a 33-mile week.....
Not how I prefer to start a 33-mile week…..

Monday: Rest due to injury. Week 7 started off with a scare. Sunday night of week 6, I slipped on a bed sheet that was inconspicuously grazing hard wood flooring and I twisted my foot pretty good. When I woke up the next morning, I was hobbling along. My foot wasn’t bruised or swollen, but it hurt to put my weight on it, to rotate it at the ankle, and to walk. There was also a weird stabbing pain in the muscles that run along the underside of my heel toward the back end of my plantar fascia. Interestingly, the more I walked on it, the less it hurt. But keeping it immobile while working a desk job meant that it wasn’t getting any movement all day. I kept it iced, I wrapped it in compression athletic wrapping, and took a rest day. Always something, right? Taking a rest day for a non-running injury makes me feel like my lunch was stolen in grade school. I foam-rolled that evening and iced the crap out of my foot. I left it wrapped all night. Even as my foot was injured, I still walked a little under 5 miles for the whole day with just getting around. I was determined to make sure it wouldn’t miss a beat this week. I decided I’d have to switch my Friday rest day with my cross-training day. Not in my plan, but hopefully this would just be a minor setback. At least I can say that this wasn’t a running injury, but instead a fluke accident.

Photo Courtesy: Couples Retreat
Photo Courtesy: Couples Retreat

Tuesday: Cross-training with Iron Strength workout DVD. I woke up on Tuesday morning and it was almost like my foot hadn’t been injured the day before. There was still a dull sharpness along the underside of my mid-foot and heel, but I was able to walk my typical brisk walk to work with almost no issue. I still spent the day icing it and keeping it wrapped on and off. I wasn’t sure for much of the day if I would be able to get my planned 4 miles run, so my contingency plan was to just push things up a day: if I couldn’t run, I would do cross-training today and, instead of my Friday rest day, run 2 easy miles and squeeze in the remaining 2 miles as a two-a-day. Bottom line, I was not panicking. However, I felt that a foot injury that hurt the way it did one day and was better the next day was a little too suspicious for me. Out of an abundance of caution, I threw on my “Iron Strength Workout” DVD and did some light cross-training instead. I knew this was probably the right call when, during the plyometric lunge superset, a sharp pain surged through the area in my foot that had been injured. I stopped my superset and continued the rest of the workout, doing only the isotonic and strength moves. Better safe than sorry…

Wednesday: Rest Day. It was a day I should have run, because I don’t like to feel defeated by life. If I have a bad day, I go run it out. Usually when I get home after running, I’m already over what I was pissed about in the first place. Bad days can’t win when you are on an endorphin high. But running doesn’t solve problems either, and after an incident triggers something, an avalanche of issues that I’ve shelved after a run usually tumbles down. Wednesday was that day– a day I had to take care of me off the trail. Ego injuries happen to runners, too.

Photo Courtesy: Curiano.com
Photo Courtesy: Curiano.com

Thursday: 2.53 miles at an average 10:59 pace. After leaving work on Thursday, I realized that something was seriously wrong. It felt like my muscles in my back and the muscles down my legs were in a tug-of-war over my glutes, and I felt this incessant straining pull that manifested in my left glute and lower back. I tried to ignore it. Maybe I need to stand up more, I thought. Maybe I just pulled something after lifting something heavy. I decided I would try to run 8 miles that night. Yes, 8, because I was really behind. Despite my foot injury and horribly bad Wednesday, I was still looking at getting in at least 30 miles. But the walk to the running trail, the pull in my backside was almost unbearable. When I start running, I felt my form going all over the place. My paces were in the 11:00’s, my breathing was heavy. I had to stop about a half mile in and just kind of freak out. I needed minute. It’s so frustrating to constantly be committed to a goal of improving yourself as a person, to always put yourself out of your comfort zone on a hard run, to dedicate everything you have in getting over a hill or up to a certain mileage point at a certain pace and then, as a result of your hard work, you get injured. It has happened to me so many times by now, and all I wanted was a marathon training season where I didn’t get an injury that would bench me. That’s why I spent January through May running between 10 and 20 miles per week, why I started incorporating strength and core work, why I had runs of various degrees– easy pace, race pace, medium effort. I decided that I would go as far as I could– try for 2 miles, then try for 4– and just see if the pain let off. It didn’t. I wanted to push for 3 miles, but I realized I had already gone too far and I had no choice but to stop. The walk home was excruciating– runners passed me with curious eyes, the stabbing pain in my glute made me audibly gasp, and I was almost involved in several serious crashes with bikers traversing the hills too fast.  When I finally got home, I popped open Dr. Jordan Metzl’s book Running Strong, which is the companion to his Iron Strength Workout DVD. If you haven’t gotten this book, you should invest. A quick flip to the glutes injury section gave me a quick and easy diagnosis: I had a strained glute. A what!?! I’d never had that before in my life. The most relatable symptoms were, “pain while you run as well as afterwards… possible pain when you go up and down stairs, walk uphill, or even sit down.” That explained everything: I had just moved to an apartment that required me to walk up and down a steep hill every day and I had been taking the Rosslyn Metro steps several times a week. Of course I had a strained glute!! Honestly, as much as that sucked to hear, I was grateful that was “all” it was. I’d gone to the worse case scenarios in my head and I was already dismissing a number of things that were possible culprits, including strength-training. Unfortunately, eliminating my walks up and downhill were not possible options for me– I had to get home every night, after all. But almost immediately, I stopped taking stairs and I put ice on the area. While I don’t recommend using the book as a substitute for personalized medical advice, I was able to see what was the culprit and know that it wasn’t a result of me doing something wrong with running. That’s all I needed.

Sometimes, your body calls the shots.
Sometimes, your body calls the shots.

Friday: Rest Day due to injury. Having only learned the night before that I had a strained glute, I spent Thursday evening under a bag of frozen peas. The pain had subsided only a little on Friday, but I was now in recovery mode. No time for this, so I checked my ego at the door and focused on getting well. This meant no running. Dr. Metzl’s book advice was not to run if the injury meant my form was sacrificed, and I knew I could risk more injury if I decided to ignore the pain and run anyways. It wasn’t worth it. However, knowing what the injury was specifically made me much more aware of what I was doing to contribute to it. Walking uphill from the Metro (after not taking the steps!), the muscles at the top of my calves were so tight, I almost wanted to call a cab to take me the remaining quarter mile. I felt like they would snap any second. I foam-rolled the area, trying to loosen things up, which helped some. Hopefully, I would be able to make up the mileage during the weekend.

Saturday: Rest Day due to injury. On Saturday, my glute was feeling much, much better, but still had a few sharp aches once in awhile. I was afraid to run. Truth be told, I probably could have run my goal mileage of 7.5 plus. 47 to round out Thursday’s unfinished business, but I didn’t want to risk my weekend long run. I’d already missed a long run, and I needed to keep that. I probably would have been fine, but I’m not a doctor and I don’t know how my body will respond all the time. All I could see was that I was about to miss my weekly mileage goal yet again and I wanted that to only be relegated to this week. If this was “the week of the injury” during this training season, then wham, bam, thank you ma’am. I was thinking long-term.

I know it's for my own good, but hills suck during long runs.
I know it’s for my own good, but hills suck during long runs.

Sunday: 15 miles at an average 10:53 pace. Sunday, again, was projected to have a high near 90, so I had to wake up early to get it done. Remembering the hot run from last week, I did manage to get to the trail early. But only by a whopping 45 minutes. I’d once again overslept and gotten up at the time I wanted to be out running– 6AM. Have I said this before? Mornings are really, really, really hard for me. When I did get out there, it was still a relatively cool 68, but the sun made it hot. I decided that I would run what is called the Arlington Loop: 5 miles along the Mount Vernon Trail, 4 miles at the Four Mile Run Trail and then 2.5 miles along the Washington & Old Dominion (W&OD) Trail, then 2.5 miles on the hilly Custis Trail. The first 10 miles are flat, but the W&OD heading west to Falls Church has a subtle uphill and Custis is all-out war on your legs. I put Custis at the end because I knew I needed to practice running hills when I am tired for Baltimore. I also knew that out-and-back runs when they get past the 13-mile marker are, for me, a form of torture, so I needed a loop. The first 5 miles were a breeze— it’s a beautiful trail along the Potomac River with views of DC. Splendid. The next 5 miles were mostly for mental training. It runs through South Arlington, which is ugly. There’s a water treatment plant, the backside of some sketchy apartments, and a stretch of sunbaked major road and not many bikers or runners. It’s easy to want to quit when you’re on this trail for the sheer fact that it’s ugly and depressing and borderline dangerous. Once I got to the Custis Trail, I made a quick stop for a water refill and made the mistake of stretching my hips and legs. Big mistake. My paces had been near the 10:18 mark all that time, but rubber legs on hills put me down around 11:00. Thankfully, my glute hadn’t been giving me too much trouble, but it was starting to show its ugly face by that point. The hills were exhausting. It was hard to run them, feeling like I’d just run race pace, and seeing my Garmin give me a 12:00 pace for a small but steep hill. I wanted to quit at mile 14; call it a day. That was good enough. But I also realized that I was still a mile away from home and I needed to traverse it somehow. Might as well run it– this is why running loops on long runs is best. And run it, I did. When my watch beeped 15 miles, I was just thankful my paces were back under 11:00. And I was too tired for a selfie. That says a lot! I ended the evening with a 40-minute paddle along the Potomac. My new favorite sport and great cross-training!

Recap: I started out the week with an ankle injury, managed a glute injury and a nervous breakdown, and ended the week with 17.5 miles. I had a lofty goal of at least 30, but my goal shifted during the week to focusing on getting well. I don’t know what I can say about that when I live on a hill and have no choice but to adapt to walking it every day. Next week marks 10 weeks until the race, and I still have plenty of time to adjust my focus. So, I’m going to just take this week in stride, be grateful that my twisted foot was only injured for 2 days and not 2 weeks and that my strained glute is manageable with a known cause. I was able to run 17.5 miles– much better than nothing.

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