Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Zen of Injury


If a New England is the runner's doldrums, then there you have an explanation for the infrequency of my 2009 postings. Having gotten hurt playing soccer, I'm happy to report that I'm on the mend. I'm glad to report that I logged 35 miles last week, but - most importantly - I'm particularly pleased that I have managed to handle this injury with minimal drama and virtually no self-pity. There are a few reasons for this.

While I had PTSD-inspiring visions of my 2005 groin tear, this injury has been only a strain. I am in the best shape of my life, and while being a dedicated endurance athlete means that one's chance of injury increases, I firmly believe that our bodies adapt and become more adept at healing themselves when faced with the inevitable challenges to the homeostasis which is regular training. I find that my body, mind and spirit thrive on mileage now, maybe not when I'm testing my limits, but certainly when I'm knocking off regular 50-mile weeks.

The timing of this injury was also about as ideal as possible. I'd already decided not to do a February marathon. It's been around or below zero (at least in the early morning) for much of the past few weeks. Being forced to exercise indoors without having to sacrifice any perceived sense of being "hardcore" has been just fine by me.

Most importantly, though, I kept some perspective on this setback, which made me realize how minor it is. Recently, our nanny's baby was born 12 weeks early, my father spent weeks hospitalized with pneumonia, my mother's knees are not fully healed over 15 months after having knee replacement surgery and people all around us deal with cancer, job loss and other bona fide hardships, it just seemed stupid and petty to wallow in my own disappointment because I had to exercise on the elliptical machine and stationary bike for a week or so, instead of being able to run outside. Since I was hurt, I have skipped a grand total of 1 day of exercise. I'm running again, and plan to run a half-marathon on February 15th. My continued healing and resulting training schedule will dictate that day's goal. Could be a PR; might be an easy long run; may involve trying out my goal marathon pace and seeing how it feels for a few miles.

So, the "zen" of the title of this post is really nothing more than my own realization that there are many things more significant than my own strained groin, and that acting as if that is not the case betrays an ugly selfishness which I'd like to believe I have outgrown. Perhaps the collective sentiments surrounding the assumption of office by our 44th President has something to do with this, as well. Among the nation's top priorities, my groin does not factor in prominently.


I'll pretend that you asked, so I will answer. I have thought about returning to the "scene" of last spring's marathon crime, Burlington, Vermont, but am close to deciding instead to run the very intimate, potentially quite fast Sugarloaf Marathon in Eustis, Maine. The course involves some climbing in the first 10 miles, but then loses elevation for the next 16-plus. While Vermont ends up feeling kind of "big" thanks to the many relay runners, Sugarloaf may have 200 runners. I'm hoping that the combination of a lower-key atmosphere, along with a successful training cycle and nice weather, will allow me to run a better marathon, ideally one which reflects my true "potential" at this point in my running life. Of course - though I'm not saying that this would happen to me - with 200 runners, the risk of being last starts to creep into the neurotic's mind.

I may sign up in the next couple of days for Sugarloaf, but may wait until after the February 15th half-marathon. The registration fee is less than half of the big-city marathons, and the reviews of the course and race organizers are overwhelmingly positive.

Like it or not, I will keep you posted.


Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Holden MacGroyne

I was never a big fan of "Friends", but I remember an episode where the dimwitted Joey was looking for a new stage name. Chandler, ever the ever-clever prankster, suggested one, which Joey spoke out loud for the first time at an audition. "Holden MacGroyne", Joey called out, as the realization that he'd been had washed over him. Well, I've known "Holden MacGroyne" and I am sad to say I know him again. Actually, I AM Holden MacGroyne.

Last Wednesday, after a nice stretch of decent mileage in the face of lousy weather, I relented to some pressure from friends and - against my better judgment - played in a casual (though pretty skilled) game of pick-up indoor soccer. I ran hard for a good 75 minutes, played as well (or as poorly) as I used to and enjoyed myself. Then, I felt a little twinge in my right inner thigh/groin area. I stopped, stretched and went back on the pitch for a few more minutes, until I made a very easy right-footed pass which hurt like heck. I was done for the night, and may be done playing soccer forever.

Since that fateful moment last week, I've channeled my energy in two ways. First, I am trying desperately to keep myself from descending into a deep, dark morass of running-related depression. I'd al;ready scrapped my February marathon plans. I may still be able to run a flat half-marathon on February 15th. It's the best time of year to be forced off the roads and onto the elliptical, stationary bike, pool, treadmill and indoor track. And, best of all, my beloved physical therapist says it's just a strain, not a tear, and that recovery should be relatively quick (a couple to a "few" weeks, maybe). Of course, there will be some lingering effects. My plan to incorporate more hill work into my training will have to wait. Tempo pace or faster running will also go on the backburner for now, as I'll focus on being able to run smoothly and comfortably. I even half-jokingly observed that maybe the injury to my RIGHT groin will balance out the asymmetries which resulted from the left groin tear I sustained in 2005. Still, it's tough to come to terms with having a "weak" groin. Not something most guys want to admit themselves.

My second sanity-saving technique has been to spend lots of time on the elliptical, stationary bike, stretching and doing extra core work, which I'd been neglecting in the name of limited time as I tried to get and keep my mileage up before starting another marathon training cycle. Podcasts have kept me company, and I may even read when I next get on the bike. It's certainly frustrating not to run (last weekend was a lovely mild but snowy one), but with sub-zero temps on tap for the next few days, having no choice but to stay inside is okay with me.

So, I may be posting less for a bit, but I hope to be back on the roads by the time I travel to Florida for the obligatory annual parental visit at the end of the month.

The other recent "training-related" development is that I finally decided to track what I eat. I downloaded an app called "Lose It!" for my iPhone (before I was hurt), and it's been very useful. I have not changed what I eat much, but am paying more attention to portion size, avoiding regular second helpings and being more conscious about previously mindless snacking, especially at night. Tracking my input and total output each day has led to my already dropping about 3-4 pounds, reaching my everyday goal of 157-158 and putting me in a good position to get to my training peak/race-day goal of about 154-55. Given that I have had to curtail my intake since I can't run, I look forward to when adding 50+ weekly miles will let me consume another 5000-6000 calories. That means, for example, that I can go back to my guilty pleasure of eating one full sleeve of graham crackers - usually with a glass of skim milk - on the nights before I plan to run the next morning . . . among other things.

Stay warm, healthy and motivated everyone.