Running Fiesta

Writing and running in Austin, TX.

Pre-Marathon Tipping Point

It’s early Thursday morning and I’m sitting at my desk, trying to crank out something for the blog before I have to start my actual work day. It’s a sad state of affairs, but life has gotten so busy lately that the post-run, pre-work, barely-post-dawn hours are the only guaranteed free time in my day.

In an even sadder state of affairs, I’m sitting here in a sports bra because Handsome J’s sister is currently occupying our guest room (known in calmer times as “my closet”), and when I grabbed my clothes for the day I, uhhh…missed a few things.

I attribute my current state of disarray to the fact that we just returned from four days of Canadian “Holy Matrimony Dance Party”. Two of J’s college (or university, as they say up north) friends decided to tie the knot in the area of Ontario known as cottage country. Here’s a pic of the resort’s beach that I stole from their Web site. I’m thinking they won’t mind because this counts as advertising:

Cabin at Crane Lake Resort near Parry Sound, Ontario

As you can sort of see, the accomodations were large three-bedroom cabins into each of which we crammed at least 2 more people than technically allowed by fire code. The cabins included dishes but mysteriously lacked bath towels – a detail missed by several unfortunate souls in our party. I personally had a hand towel, because months of showering at work have taught me that 5 feet of bath towel can take up a solid 30% of luggage space.

Enough about the cabins, though. On to the roads!

Even though this weekend’s long run was a relatively short 10 miles, I went in with a mild sense of trepedation about where exactly I would find said miles. After all, this wasn’t our first trip to cottage country, and the place we normally stay is accessible only by boat. Luckily, the Crane Lake Resort had a road/driveway hybrid that’s about 7 miles longs. Unluckily, that road/driveway was apparently installed about…1 month ago. It wasn’t exactly paved, but it wasn’t exactly a trail either. It was a sort of hard-packed mixture of ground asphalt with a topping of loose gravel. At the sides, the entire road became loose, requiring a runner to tread carefully lest she end up in a heap at the base of a Maple tree.

This wasn’t quite road running and it wasn’t quite trail running.–more like their unwanted stepchild. The road-running-esque features included a decent amount of car traffic, endless steep hills, and hundreds of blind corners. I haven’t uploaded the data from my Garmin yet, but I’m pretty sure my course will look like I ran it after enjoying the open bar. Normal rule of the road is to run on the right side, against traffic. My rule of the road was to run wherever I thought oncoming traffic would be most likely to not kill me. 

The trail-running-esque features included beautiful wooded scenery, rampant wildlife, sudden drop-offs, and a highly unstable running surface.

The wildlife factor was exciting, at first. I ran to the music of foreign bird calls and spied a gorgeous black squirrel. In Texas, our squirrels are mostly a brownish burnt color. Except for the albinos.

Of course the black squirrel got me thinking about another woodland Canadian creature: Black Bears. I figured it wasn’t really bear season – apparently they’re more of a problem in the winter when forest-food becomes scarce and they start heading into towns – but I knew they were not entirely uncommon in those parts. On the plus side, the Black Bear is decidedly less aggressive than another Canadian resident, the Grizzly. On the minus side, I have zero knowledge of how best to survive a bear attack.

I spent a solid mile contemplating what action I should take if I were to actually encounter a bear. I happened to be reading Bart Yasso’s My Life on the Run over the weekend, in which he includes a story about a time he was on a wildlife preserve in India with a large rhinoceros population.

Apparently, the way to handle a rhino siting is to stand as still as possible and hope he misses you when he charges. I considered this as a Black Bear defense option, but rejected it when it occurred to me that a bear’s claws are considerably more manipulable than a rhino’s tusk.

Still, running didn’t seem like a good idea – any dog person knows that even a small, fluffy carnivore will chase a running object – so I settled on curling up and hoping my fictional bear would opt to treat more like a tennis ball than a meatball.

Of course this whole bear scenario was just a product of my persistent paranoia, and never actually came to pass. In reality, the highly unstable running surface was the real danger on that run. (Well, that and the trucks.)

With every step, my foot would slide just a little. It wasn’t enough to throw me off balance, but it was enough to seriously impede my forward momentum. It also was a solid test of all those little stabilizing muscles that keep your body upright over something as flexible as an ankle joint. Turns out all those crazy runners you see in the gym wobbling around on rubber balloons might be on to something…apparently, MY stabilizing muscles had rarely (if ever) been utilized.

By the 5-mile turnaround, my legs were aching from foot to knee, with a particularly painful spot in my right calf. If I were being cautious, I would have walked back, but 5 miles is a long way. Besides, with six weeks to go, I’m approaching a personal milestone in training: The Pre-Marathon Tipping Point.

Here’s a confession that might sound dangerously like unqualified running advice: Once I get truly close to the date of a marathon, I perform a mental 180 with my injury-response strategy. If you start to hurt in the first 3/4 of marathon training, you should definitely rest, ice, and minimize impact so as to interrupt as little of your training as possible. If you start to hurt in the last 1/4, you have to consider the fact that rest is going to seriously deplete your ability to feel fit for race-day. If I get hurt in the last month before a marathon, I will generally bandage it, ice it, and ignore it unless “it” actually involves the potential loss of a limb.

Is this a sound long-term strategy? Probably not. But I’m still in my 20s, and the chances of doing seriously lasting damage seem relatively low. (I repeat, I have zero qualification for giving medical advice. I’m just a runner who was laid up with injuries for an entire year, and thus feel depressingly in-tune with that line between annoyance and MAJOR PROBLEM.)

For example, for the past couple weeks, my left foot has been creaking. Any time I flex my big toe, it feels like I’m opening the door to a haunted house. Not painful, just…creaky.

If you Google “creaking foot”, the first thing you’ll get is a computer virus that requires you to contact your IT department and confess that you were Googling “creaking foot” at work. The second thing you’ll get is a diagnosis: tendonitis.

Tendonitis is basically aggravation of a tendon, and the primary treatment is rest. In a severe case, it can inhibit daily life, making it painful just to walk to the bathroom. In a not so severe case that presents itself in the final weeks leading up to a marathon, it becomes something I can ignore until it starts to really really hurt. And lucky for me, it hasn’t.

I think this is evidence of the same phenomenon whereby I know a sudden yen for breakfast tacos mid-run means it’s time to down some Powerade. If you do any endurance sport for long enough, you will come to really, truly know your body. I’m no professional, but somehow I just know that this mild tendonitis isn’t going to flare up enough to hamper my marathon. Just like I knew my aching calf would go away even if I ran the 5 miles back on it.

If I have a message in all this, I suppose it’s this: Trust your body.

Note that I’m not saying “trust yourself”, because your mind can cause all sorts of problems. For instance, if you’re feeling less-than-confident about your abilities on race-day, your mind might convince you that a minor ache is justification for throwing in the towel altogether. Your
knees/ankles/whatever, on the other hand, won’t mess around. If your issue is minor enough to run through, you’ll be able to forget it as you continue running, and half the time you won’t even feel it after a mile or two.

If your issue is more severe, believe me, you’ll know.

In summary, I am not advocating for running the cartilage out of your left knee. However, I am advocating for weighing all the factors at hand.

After all, taking that week off AFTER the marathon is a far less bitter pill.

P.S.-Watch out for the bears.

3 comments on “Pre-Marathon Tipping Point

  1. Jeanine
    September 3, 2010

    "Creaking foot," HA! That cracked me up. I think I'll let IT know in advance that I'll probably have to Google it at one point.Now I am also paranoid about bears. 😛

  2. Handsome J
    September 4, 2010

    Still impressed that you ran a "16.09-K" (as we call it) while the rest of us were too hungover to even fry bacon. For the record, I still find the albino squirrels more terrifying than the black bears.

  3. Arcteryx
    September 7, 2010

    So good to hear your blogging and running in spite your busy schedule.I'm impressed.

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This entry was posted on September 3, 2010 by in injuries, travel.
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