Saturday, December 23, 2017

My Knee Injury

After four and half years of running, 3 marathons, 15 half marathons, and countless other races it happened to me. I came face to face with a knee injury. I am not invincible after all. Injuries can happen to anyone. Apparently there is such thing as too much running. Although the threshold is different for everyone. I discovered my limitations by pushing too far.

My knee pain first presented itself during the Mobile First Light Marathon. (Read about that here.) I trained longer and harder for this marathon than I had for my first two, adding an extra day a week of running and a second 20 mile long run. I just knew that my training would result in the marathon PR that I longed for so badly. Surprisingly I experienced no pain during my training. Sure I had an occasional case of DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness), but it was nothing that a day of rest, Epsom salts, and an anti-inflammatory couldn't cure. Needless to say the pain was so excruciating during the second half of the race that I resorted to walking, and I didn't get that PR.

I've always followed Hal Higdon's "no racing for 26 days after the marathon" policy in the past. I used his marathon recovery plans to reverse taper or ease back into the mileage after my first two marathons. I took a week off after Mobile First Light Marathon to rest and recover. Then, I ran some shorter runs of 3-4 miles pain free. Against my better judgment, I attempted a half marathon just three weeks after the full. My knee pain returned at mile 5 of the Big Beach Half Marathon. I walked the majority of that race and clocked my second slowest half ever. (Read about that here.)

When I crossed the finish line of the Big Beach Half marathon, I feared that something was seriously wrong with my knee. I had three other half marathons coming up in February and March, and I hoped that my knee pain wouldn't keep me from running them. I pushed through the pain and continued training for the upcoming half marathons. I only managed four three mile runs before my knee injury stopped me dead in my tracks. I couldn't walk without limping much less run. The pain was unbearable. I knew it was time to get my knee checked out.

Fortunately, Michael works with the best orthopedic specialists in the area. He was able to get me an appointment within a week. The doctor examined my knee and immediately suspected that I had a torn meniscus. He scheduled an MRI that same day. The MRI confirmed that I had a longitudinal tear in my medial meniscus.

I had a knee arthroscopy on February 22,2017 to repair the torn meniscus. When the doctor went in to operate, he found that the tear was on the underside of my medial meniscus not a surface tear. Since it shouldn't cause any complications he left my meniscus intact.

However, the doctor did discover a soft spot on the cartilage surrounding my tibial plateau. He performed a chondroplasty, stimulating the area around the soft spot and injected me with PRP (platelet rich plasma) which will help with recovery. It's a good thing that I had the procedure done when I did because too much more wear on that soft spot could have cause full blown arthritis.

My cartilage damage was caused by overuse from logging so much mileage. The doctor told me that I could attempt some shorter races by late Spring, but he advised me to take a break from the longer distances especially the marathon. Cartilage damage is like wear on a set of tires, once the tread is gone it's time for another set. I don't want a knee replacement before age 40. Although I don't like the thought of never running another marathon. I have unfinished business with that distance.

The doctor also advised me to cross train, which is something that I've never done consistently. I did a few weeks of PT and rode on my bike trainer as part of my recovery. Once my incisions healed, I tried lap swimming. Swimming was my first love. I swam competitively for several summers when I was younger. After a few days of swimming on my own, I attended a Master's Swimming practice. The group was so welcoming and I liked the organized workout. I joined the team after three practices and I've stuck with it. If there is a silver lining in all of this, it's that I rediscovered my love for swimming. I've met so many great people through my master's team, and they make me feel accountable for attending practice. I haven't been consistent with my running since my injury, but  I've found a cross training program that works for me.

Cornerstone Peach Run 5K Race Recap

June 17, 2017

I've always wanted to run the Cornerstone Peach Run in Clanton, AL. Mom and I registered just two days before the race. I'm glad that she wants to start doing races again. I've missed my running partner.

This race had both a 5K and 10K, but most runners did the 5K. Deep down I wanted to improve my time from the Paradise Island 5K that I ran in May. I decided to start my run/walk intervals from the beginning instead of waiting until I felt like I needed a walk break. I increased my run interval to three minutes in the weeks leading up to this race.

To my surprise I clocked the first mile in 8:05 with the 30 second walk breaks. I hoped that I could maintain that pace, but I faded in the last two miles. I clocked the next two miles in 9:32 and 9:23. My overall time was 29:20. I placed 2nd in my age group, but they only awarded the top finisher in each age group. They give out Clanton peaches as prizes.

Paradise Island 5K Race Recap

May 28, 2017

The Paradise Island 5K was held on Memorial Day weekend in Orange Beach, AL. The race started at the Orange Beach Sports Complex and ran along the paved Back Country Trails. It followed the same route as the Shrimp Festival 5K.

My doctor was confident that I would be recovered from my knee surgery in time to run some late Spring races. I had several pain free runs of 3-5 miles. I was eager to race again. Although I worried that I wouldn't do as well as I hoped.

It was hot at the start (79 degrees and 97% humidity). I knew the weather would be a huge factor in my performance. My goal was to give it my all for as long as I could. If I started hurting I would back off, but as long as I was pain free I would push.

I started out too fast as usual and ran the entire first mile in 8:13. It was nice to see that pace again, but the heat was already starting to get to me. I knew I would struggle to maintain it. I decided to take a 30 second walk break after the first mile since I used the walk/run method on all my runs leading up to this race.



I continued with 2:00 run x 30 sec walk intervals for the remainder of the race. I finished in 28:35. Although that time is nowhere near my personal best, I was happy with my performance. My knee cooperated and I was able to give it my best shot.

There were so many fast women ahead of me. I checked the official results even though I was certain that I didn't place. To my surprise I placed 3rd in my age division. I was lucky that most of the women ahead of me weren't in the 30-34 division.

AGAPE Run for a Mom Race Recap

May 13, 2017

The AGAPE Run for a Mom is a tradition that Mom and I started in 2012 and we hope to continue for years to come. This race takes place each year on Mother's Day weekend. Proceeds from this run help assist women facing crisis pregnancies and find forever homes for children. Many of the participants dedicate this run to their mothers or other special women in their lives. This race has grown over the years attracting several hundred participants.

A look back at previous years running this race

Mom and I took it easy on this race. We walked and talked the entire time. It was nice to catch up with her while doing something that we both enjoy.

Approaching the finish line stride for stride

My mom introduced me to running in 2012 when she asked me to do a 5K on her birthday. I've been hooked ever since then. Running has strengthened our already strong bond. We've accomplished running our first half marathon and qualifying for Half Fanatics together. Mom helped me pace the first half of my first full marathon and in turn I helped her achieve a half marathon PR that day. We have a lot of great memories and I hope to create more in the future. We're both struggling with re-establishing a routine of running after injuries. Hopefully we can do more races together soon. 

I saw my former co-worker and friend Pam Bienias at this race. She ran in memory of her mom and placed first in her age division. Way to go Mrs.B!

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Big Beach Half Marathon Race Recap

January 29, 2017

Jeff Galloway's Running School
Saturday, January 28th

I began the Big Beach Half Marathon weekend by attending Jeff Galloway's Running School at the Hangout. This was my big Christmas present from Michael. I looked forward to this day for over a month. The class was lecture and Q&A format, and it lasted three hours from 10:00-1:00. Jeff Galloway offered a wealth of knowledge about speed training, mental toughness, nutrition, the walk/run method, and many other running related topics. I look forward to incorporating his walk/run intervals into my longer runs and races to help with my overall performance and recovery time. At the end of the course, Jeff Galloway took time to sign our books and take pictures. He was a very nice, down to earth person. I am so thankful for the opportunity to meet him.

Former Olympian and founder of the Run/Walk Method Jeff Galloway

My friend Dee also attended the class. It was great to see her again.
I love meeting IG friends! It was so nice to meet Katie at Jeff Galloway's Running School. I hope to see her again soon!

After the class I picked up my race packet and checked out the discount merchandise from different vendors.

Michael and I ordered pizza for dinner that evening.  It was so chilly and windy. We didn't feel like going out anywhere. I laid out my things for race morning. I was in bed by 9:30.

Race Day
I debated running the full at Big Beach after not meeting my goal at Mobile First Light Marathon just three weeks prior. I read several blog posts about redemption races and learned that most of them rarely result in a PR. I decided it would be best to stick to the half marathon as originally planned. I experienced some knee pain at First Light, but after taking a whole week off from running and doing a few shorter runs the pain was completely gone (or so I thought). I've always followed the 26 days no racing rule after running a marathon. I've never attempted a half marathon this quickly after running a full, but I hoped that I would have a decent, pain free race.
I ran the Inaugural Big Beach Half Marathon in 2016. My only complaint last year was that the course was long (13.47 miles). I was pleased to see the half marathon course was accurate and certified for this year's race. The 2017 race is also part of the new Run the Beach Series which also includes the Sea Turtle Half and Kaiser Coastal Half. All three races are in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach. Participants receive a special medal and jacket after completing all three races in November. I signed up for the series on Black Friday weekend and scored this really cool medal holder.
The race started at 8:00. My mother in law's condo is just a short, five minute drive to the Hangout. Michael dropped me off around 7:30. I ran into my friend Dee before the race. She swapped to the full with her friend Penny. Dee has run a number of full marathons. She's a part of the Fifty States Club and Marathon Maniacs. I admire her strength and endurance. We took a pre-race photo. Then I wished her luck as we made our way to the start line.
Pre-race photo with Dee
I didn't have a time goal for this race, but deep down I hoped to beat last year's time (2:12:24). The weather was much cooler this year (40's and breezy) perfect for a course PR. I lined up behind the 2:00 pacer at the start line. They went over the course, played the National Athem, and we were off.
The first three miles ran along Hwy 59 and Fort Morgan Road. I stuck with the 2:00 pacer and the pace felt comfortable. I was confident that I could maintain the pace and run perhaps my second fastest half marathon. That fantasy was short lived when I lost track of the 2:00 pacer at the first water stop. I tried my best to pick up my pace to catch up to her, but no matter how hard I pushed she stayed several strides ahead of me.
Mile 1- 8:51
Mile 2- 8:53
Mile 3- 8:58
Mile 4- 9:17
Mile 5- 9:59

The photographers captured this picture of me in the first miles a few strides ahead of the 2:00 pacer. That lead was short lived.
By Mile 5 I felt a familiar twinge in my right knee. "Not again," I said to myself. I stopped off the trail to stretch. Several runners asked if I was ok. I love the support of others in the running community. My knee felt a little better after stretching, but it ached when I tried to run again. I had to resort to walking A LOT.
My friend Dee asked me if I planned to use Jeff Galloway's walk/run intervals during this race. I've never used timed intervals before and I didn't plan to try them for the first time during a race. However, at this point I was willing to try most anything to get to the finish line, so I decided to experiment with his method. I set the timer on my phone to 1:00 minute. I ran a minute, then walked a minute. The walk breaks definitely helped relieve some of the pain, but I wasn't able to run fast during my run intervals.
Mile 6- 11:31
Mile 7- 12:02
View of the Shelby Lakes from the Backcountry Trails

Most of the course ran along the paved Backcountry Trails
The half marathoners split around 7.5 miles. I couldn't be happier to make that turn. I definitely made the right decision by not attempting the full marathon. I certainly wouldn't have PR'd and I doubt that I would have even finished.

Half Marathoners keep right
The 2:15 pacer caught up to me around Mile 8. "Wouldn't it be nice if I could at least hang with him?" I thought. 2:15 isn't too far off from the 2:12 that I ran at last year's race. I increased my run/walk intervals to 2:00 run/1:00 walk in an effort to keep up with the 2:15 pacer. I was successful in my attempt until we reached the water stop around Mile 10. 
Mile 8- 11:05
Mile 9- 10:51
Mile 10- 11:59
I stopped to take a picture of the Lower Alabama Parrot Heads group who volunteered at this water station. They had a pretty awesome set up and they even handed out leis to the runners. This was the last water stop before turning directly into headwind on Beach Blvd. The wind was so strong that it blew off my headband. The 2:15 pacers were out of sight after stopping to take pictures and retrieve my headband.
Lower Alabama Parrot Heads at the water stop around Mile 10

The headwind was so rough on Beach Blvd. I gave up on trying to reach a certain finish time all together. I was on pace to run my second fastest half in the first three miles of the race and by the last three miles I was on pace for my second slowest. The pain in my knee intensified with the 2:00 run/1:00 walk intervals, so I resorted back to 1:00 run/ 1:00 walk intervals.  I originally told Michael to look for me at the finish line between the 2:00-2:15 hour mark. I texted him at this point on the course and told him I was pacing closer to 2:20.
The final 5K along Beach Blvd was rough! The dude on the bike told us to get behind a big guy to help block the wind. I didn't see a big guy to get behind and even if I did I wouldn't have been able to catch up to him. Haha!

At this point in the race I was all about taking pictures and having fun.

We crossed over to the left hand side of the road around Mile 11, one step closer to the finish line.

A woman wearing a "Cougar Runner" shirt passed me in the last mile. She seemed to be annoyed by me because I passed her several times during my run intervals. Then she would quickly speed up to pass me. I wanted to tell her that I wasn't interested in racing her, but I kept my mouth shut. She was long gone by the final turn anyway.
Mile 11- 12:05
Mile 12- 12:12
Mile 13- 12:33
The final turn was right where it should be this year. Last year, I hit the 13 Mile marker well before the final turn to the Hangout. I was so glad to be heading to the finish line. The clock read 2:22, so I sped up the best I could to cross before it reached 2:23. My official time was 2:22:41, my second slowest half marathon.
Another thing to love about this race: FREE photos!

Despite my disappointing performance and finish time, I still had a lot of fun at the Big Beach Half Marathon. This is a race that I would love to run year after year. They had an awesome post race party with live entertainment, free beer, and sandwich boxes with fruit and cookies. Michael and I didn't stick around long. I wanted to go back to the condo to shower before making the three hour drive home.

I love this year's bling!



Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Mobile First Light Marathon Race Recap

January 8th, 2017

I chose to run my third marathon at Mobile First Light primarily for the cause that it supports.
L'Arche Mobile is one of many L'Arche communities worldwide. L'Arche is an international federation of communities in which people with intellectual disabilities and those who help them can live, work, and share their lives together. The members of the L'Arche Mobile community spent countless hours on the unique handmade wooden medallions and they presented them to the runners at the finish line.

Any race that supports organizations that benefit people with disabilities is special to me because of my brother Raymond who had Down Syndrome. He lost his battle to two types of cancer both diagnosed in the last year of his life. He was just 13 years old. Raymond would have turned 27 on January 7th the day before this race. They say that time heals all wounds, but there are times when the pain of losing him feels so fresh like it just happened yesterday. This weekend was one of those times. Everywhere I turned I was reminded of him, which made for an extremely emotional race weekend experience.

It started while waiting for the elevator in the parking garage at the hotel. I struck up a conversation with a woman with Down Syndrome. She traveled from Chicago to participate in the fun run. She asked me what race I was running. When I told her I was running the marathon she hugged my neck and said, "I'm so proud of you." I tried to hold back tears and swallow the huge lump in my throat. I imagined Raymond would say the same thing. This was a sweet reminder that he is with me always.

We checked into the Admiral Hotel next door to the Government Plaza where packet pick-up and the expo was held. This hotel offered a reasonable race discount. It was convenient to the start and finish lines and was within walking distance to several restaurants downtown.

View from our hotel room
Packet pick up was quick and easy. The expo was on the smaller side with only a few local vendors and discount merchandise. L'Arche had a booth with some handmade jewelry and crafts. I bought a necklace from this booth. I met several members of L'Arche at the expo. They were excited for the race. They talked about their pasta dinner that evening and about how cold it would be on race morning. I purchased a pair of Hot Hands at the last booth. They were a hot commodity.

We had dinner at the Pizzeria Delfina. They served delicious authentic Italian cuisine: pizzas, calzones, Stromboli, and pastas. I had the traditional spaghetti and meatballs. The meatballs were huge! I wish I remembered to take a picture (blogger fail).

We got back to the hotel around 7:00. Good thing because I spent the next two hours debating on what to wear on race morning. It was going to be in the 20's at the start with the real feel in the teens and the temperature wouldn't reach the 40's until I was finished. To add to the chill, the wind was going to be a steady 10-15 mph. After much debate I decided on my long thermal tights instead of capris and a long sleeve insulating layer under my half zip pull-over. I was worried that I might get too hot once I got warmed up, but fortunately that was not the case.

A winter storm blew though the south on Friday. Some people had snow, but it brought mostly freezing rain and ice accumulations. Unfortunately for runners attempting the Back 2 Back Challenge (Mississippi Blues on Saturday + First Light on Sunday) this storm cancelled the Mississippi Blues on Saturday. It was a good call by race officials but still a disappointment for runners. Mobile First Light was not affected by the winter storm. There were some patches of black ice coned off on sidewalks and a few fountains were frozen, but the course was clear.

Race Day

The race started at 7:30. Runners flooded the hotel lobby. Everyone was trying to stay warm before the start of the race. I finally braved the cold and walked to the start line around 7:15. It was just outside the hotel lobby on Government Street. I'm all about convenience. I was glad I got to meet an IG friend Katherine (irunthislifeins) briefly at the start line. She was running the half as a training run for her upcoming full marathon and 50K.

Me and Katherine at the start line

My goal for this marathon was to run a PR (4:45 or better). I trained longer and harder for this marathon than I had for my first two. I used Hal Higdon's Intermediate plan instead of his Novice plan adding an extra day a week of running and an extra 20 mile long run. My training went well. I was confident that I would reach my goal.

The first several miles run through portions of downtown and through residential areas. I loved looking at the historic homes. The architecture reminded me of New Orleans. I was settling into a comfortable, steady pace.
Mile 1-10:00
Mile 2-10:11
Mile 3-10:07
Mile 4-10:25

Michael captured these pictures of me in the first few miles of the race. I never even saw him.
Michael took this picture of the Church Street Cemetery. We passed it around Mile 4.

 Mile 5-10:17
Mile 6-10:15
Mile 7-10:02
Mile 8-10:14

The half marathoners split just past mile 8. I felt confident when I turned left for the full marathon course. Only a few other runners made the turn with me. Not long after making the turn, I felt a twinge in my right knee. I assumed it was because of the frigid temps. Maybe I didn't allow myself enough time to warm up. Maybe my tights were too restrictive. I stopped to adjust them. There was a seam along the knee cap that I hoped wouldn't aggravate things any worse. "I've got a long way to go." "If I felt this bad miles ago I would have split off with the half marathoners." I tried to drown out the negative thoughts by turning up my music on the iPod. Despite the pain in my knee I was maintaining a consistent pace.

Mile 9-10:13
Mile 10-10:24

There's a misconception that Mobile is flat and fast. I didn't look at the elevation chart until after registering for this race. Miles 11-20 were uphill climbs followed by downhill stretches. I tried to simulate this in my long runs. I ran the biggest hill I could find near my house three times on my last 20 miler.

It's hard to see, but this is the elevation chart for the full marathon. You get the idea.

I encountered the first hill around mile 11. I almost reached the top of it before stopping to walk. My knee felt fine while climbing the hill, but when it leveled out I could feel every step pounding the pavement. I reached the half way point in 2:15. I was on track to reach my goal of 4:45 or better.

Mile 11-10:38
Mile 12-11:10
Mile 13-10:39
Mile 14-10:29
The next hill was just past mile 14 before entering the University of South Alabama campus. It was a steady incline but not terribly steep. I walked most of this hill while I ate my Honey Stinger chews. I fueled with the chews every five miles. There were several times on the course when I wished I had my cell phone. The USA campus was one of those times. I wanted a picture with the statue of the Jaguar mascot. We ran past the Mobile Museum of Art during mile 17. I wanted pictures of the neat looking sculptures along Museum Drive.
Mile 15- 11:27
Mile 16- 10:25
Mile 17- 11:45
The water station at Mile 18 was awesome! They served warm chicken broth, Fig Newtons, fruit, and of course water and Gatorade. I wanted to partake in the chicken broth, but I decided to stick with what I knew worked for me during training. This water station must have been strategically placed because the toughest hill was just past it. My hill back home couldn't prepare me for this one. This is the most challenging hill that I've ever encountered. I walked every step of the way to the top and clocked my first 12 minute mile.

Mile 18- 10:34
Mile 19- 12:35
We ran through the Springhill College campus just past mile 19. The streets were canopied with oak trees. Once again I wished I had my cell phone to take pictures. This was a beautiful campus. I reached the 20 mile mark in 3:35 still on track to reach my goal of 4:45, but I didn't have time to spare. I knew the last 10K was all downhill and I hoped to pick up my pace.
Mile 20- 10:57
Mile 21- 11:21
Mile 22- 11:50
I completely fell apart when I reached Dauphin Street at mile 23. I took my beanie and gloves off earlier because I was getting warm. I was glad I held onto them when I got to this point because the headwind made me feel chilled. I was shivering from head to toe. Several runners commented that the road was slanted. I could definitely feel the slant in the road as the pain in my right knee intensified with every step I took. I tried to run towards the center of the road, but the traffic was getting congested on this open course. The bike support asked me if I was ok several times. They were so encouraging throughout the entire race. I didn't come this far to give up now.

Mile 23-12:49
Mile 24-13:00
I clocked my slowest mile at Mile 24. It hurt to walk much less run. I've never experienced so much pain during a race. I cringed with every step I took. My goal was out of reach by now. "I can still sub 5:00." I told myself as the grinding, burning, and aching in my knee intensified. "Forget sub 5:00, just focus on finishing."
Mile 25-12:27
Mile 26-12:20
Tears filled my eyes when I caught a glimpse of the finish line ahead.. I almost begin bawling.  I was overcome with so many emotions: disappointment that I didn't reach my goal, fear of what caused the excruciating pain in my right knee, and elation that I was within a few hundred feet of finishing my third marathon. I noticed Michael in the crowd of spectators and I immediately tried to gain my composure.

Michael captured this picture of me approaching the finish line.

0.45 Mile- 4:51 (10:46 pace)
I crossed the finish line in 4:51:49. I was pleased that despite my struggle in the final miles my finish time was still faster than my first marathon. A young man with Down Syndrome welcomed me at the finish line. I hugged and thanked him before he handed me my medal. He smiled and asked, "Do you want your medal now?" I will cherish that handmade medallion forever.

They had plenty of post race food and entertainment at Bienville Square. We didn't stick around long because I wanted to get back to the hotel and shower before heading home. I loved this race and the special cause it supports. I would definitely run it again, but I will stick to the half marathon in the future.