Monday, September 22, 2014

Why I should never run a road half marathon as part of a long training run

It was maybe the Thursday before Labor Day when Rob said something to the effect of, “Hey, there’s a half marathon on Monday.  That seems like something you’d be interested in."

And I thought, why not.  I had yet to run a race in Fort Collins, and with the Bear Chase 50 looming on the horizon, it might be good to get one in before that.  Plus, it would be a good way to start off a high mileage week:  run over there (2.5 miles), run the race (13.1 miles), and run back home (…wait a minute, that’s 6 miles).  Once I realized the start and finish were at different locations, and the finish was a lot farther away, I didn’t think I would want to run home afterwards.  No matter.  Ever eager to put our new cargo bike to use, Rob offered to bike over to the finish line with Will and take us both home.  It sounded like a good deal.

One of the biggest problems with doing a race as part of a training run is figuring out what to do about clothes and gear.  It would be in the high 40’s when I left home to run over there, but likely in the 70’s as the race ended.  Also, I have this thing about going cup-less at races, which is to say, I don’t like to take paper cups of water and throw them away.  It just seems so wasteful.  I do all of my training with either handheld water bottles (for short distances) or a vest (for longer runs). 

After much debate, I decided to wear Rob’s Anton Krupicka vest to the race but with a bottle of water in the front pocket instead of a bladder of water in the pack (because I can’t stand the way a bladder doesn’t attach to anything and just sloshes around).  It is slightly awkward showing up to a half marathon wearing a hydration vest (made for a much longer run), but whatever.  At least three people asked me very detailed questions about the vest because they were considering buying one.  Also, it was a good thing I had worn the vest over there because I had some swag to pick up with my packet (a pretty nice t-shirt) and otherwise I wouldn’t have had anywhere to put it.

Finally, we were off.  The race began on the track at Poudre High School, then headed south to Hughes Stadium.  Though it was a road race, part of the course went on some kind of bumpy gravel, and then there was even a tiny snippet of single track as we went around Spring Canyon Community Park.



I got off to a pretty good start, although somewhere around the halfway point, my water bottle fell out of the vest front pocket and I actually had to backtrack a little bit to pick it up.  

I started to feel really, really tired by about mile 7 or 8, when we ran along the Spring Creek Trail (paved).  This is where I run on days when I’m not on one of the area trails.  The course was really spread out by this time, and I had trouble making myself remember I was in a “race” and not just a leisurely morning run.  I slowed down a lot.


I was feeling pretty awful by the end and just wanted to get it over.  My time of 1:45:XX was about 4 minutes slower than my half marathon PR, about a year ago in St. Louis.  I didn’t really care, since I wasn’t trying to beat that time anyway, and was actually kind of surprised that I’d managed to do it in under 1:50.

Meli finishing

My time was good enough for third place in the Older Ladies division, and I got a commemorative glass beer mug as a prize.  We stayed around at the finish line for a while, chatting with a couple of Rob’s trail-running friends who had also done this race, and then Rob biked home with Will and me on the back of the Surly.  

IMG 3959 Verdict: It wasn’t worth it.

My quads were really sore for a few days after the race, so I took some time off.  On Friday (4 days out), I tried running again and felt pain in the same area where I had a stress fracture/tendonitis over the winter.  Shit.  I stretched, iced, panicked.  This was the same thing, the same exact thing that had kept me from running last February-May.  I had soooo thought this was behind me.  I’d been worried about my dodgy peroneus brevis, wrecked from my brief foray with Altras, and I’d been worried about my also-dodgy IT-band, wrecked from switching to 8mm drops after the Altras.  But my calf had seemed virtually indestructible.  This was an injury I had not been expecting.

About 3 weeks have passed by now, and those weeks have not been filled with running.  The Bear Chase 50 miler is on Saturday, just 5 days away.  I have been trying to manage this injury as best I can.  Hiking doesn’t hurt, so I have been doing that as much as 3 hours a day.  Finally, on September 14th, I ran 8 miles pain free was ecstatic.  Bear Chase: game on!!  

I cautiously resumed running last week and things were mainly okay until yesterday, when I did 10 miles at Soderberg.  I felt great during the run, fantastic in fact, but afterwards at home I could not deny that my tibia hurt.  

I’ve got 5 days to make this go away.  I’m no longer scared about anything pertaining to the Bear Chase 50 as much as the possibility of not being able to run it.

My one request is that the next time I have the bright idea to run a road half marathon as part of a long training run, someone please tell me not to do it. This whole distal tibia injury began last winter when I was running over to Forest Park to do the Frostbite series races, and then running back home.  In fact, I think I can trace the first twinges of it back to January 25th, when I did the half marathon as the middle leg of a 17 mile training run.  I’m going to assume that I will (eventually) bounce back from this, but then let’s never let this happen again.

What I learned from this race: Road half marathons, just say no to them.

Mile 1 - 7:35
Mile 2 - 7:48
Mile 3 - 7:22
Mile 4 - 8:17 (oh hello uphill bumpy gravel!)
Miles 5 and 6 - 15:29
Mile 7 - 8:02 (dropped water bottle!)
Mile 8 - 8:48 (where the hell did that come from?)
Miles 9 and 10 - 16:05
Mile 11 - 8:18 (I can no longer talk or smile)
Mile 12 - 8:04
Mile 13 - 8:08
Mile 0.1 - 1.08
Total: 1:45:10 

Friday, September 12, 2014

Dear William (61 months)

Dear William,

The big news this month is: K I N D E R G A R T E N.

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1st day

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It has been kind of a rough transition.  There has been some crying.  I honestly hadn’t expected it to be that hard.  But overall, you are happy and excited to go to school everyday, and you are making lots of friends. 

Normally you ride your own bike to school, but sometimes, you persuade Daddy to take you on the new Surly.

Big Dummy

Your biggest concern with kindergarten (aside from the fact that they don’t give you a snack in between second breakfast and lunch) is that you don't have enough time to play with your Legos anymore.  We try to make sure that you get your Lego play-time in during the weekends and afternoons.

Back yard LEGO

We’ve gone to a lot of Fort Collins festivals this month, such as the Peach Fest, where Daddy placed 7th in a 5K and won a non-vegan peach pie that we gave to our college student neighbors.

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After the race you had fun playing in some bounce houses:

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And going down a really big slide:

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IMG 3893You look scared, but you begged to do it again. And again.

We also went to something called New West Fest, which I think was supposed to be about music, but we were just there for the rides and super heroes.

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Tour de Fat was this month too.  We didn’t ride in it, we just watched the parade, but we are already planning our costumes for next year.

Parade watchers


More bubbles



You went to your first USA Pro Challenge Bike Race in Denver.  You and mommy dressed alike.

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 You went for a hike with me up Horsetooth Falls on my birthday!  We didn’t see any rattlesnakes or anything.

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 You enjoyed a few nights out on the town  with the family.

IMG 3835 Dining at Cranknstein as Daddy tried to convince me we should buy the Surly.

You also enjoyed some nights in, cuddling with your bear (who used to be my bear) Corduroy.  

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You kept enjoying blue skies and mountains.

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Many more adventures await.


IMG 3925 My little so-big.

Love always,



Tuesday, September 2, 2014

August 2014: How I got injured doing everything you're supposed to do

Before we left for Nicaragua, I’d begun feeling pain in my right fifth metatarsal (i.e., baby toe), and I was hoping that taking some time off for fieldwork would be all I needed to recover.  I only ran once the 11 days we were out of the country, but I did walk as much as 25 kilometers in the forest each day.  By the end of the trip, my toe didn’t really feel any better.

I tried to jump back into things as soon as we were back home but struggled with exhaustion, the lingering effects of 100+ chigger/sandfly bites, and a caloric deficit from lack of decent eating options while we were away.  The metatarsal pain became more noticeable, particularly when I ran on trails in my relatively new Altra Lone Peaks (0mm drop), which is what I did most often.  I wondered if there was something about the Altra toe box that was pressing on my foot and causing the problem.  To manage it, I switched to my Sketchers Go Run Ultra, a cushiony 4mm drop road shoe that our runner friend chrism42k recommended.  These shoes are what helped me recover from my stress fracture/tendon injury, and what got me through the Estes Park Marathon.  At this point, however, they are falling apart.  The tread is almost worn through on the mid foot, which is where I strike in these shoes.  Plus, they are good on the roads, but not good for trails—and trails are what I need to be training on, considering that the Bear Chase 50 miler looms in the not so distant future.

I iced, stretched, and got by.  On Friday, August 22nd, it was William’s first day of kindergarten, and I planned on going out for a 20 mile trail run after dropping him off at school.

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I was fine until one of the other moms started crying.  Then it was rough going for a while.  There was nothing else to do but leave for my run.

My foot was hurting from the get-go— not enough to make me stop, but enough to notice.  After 15 miles on a rocky, rooty trail that is a challenge for me, I decided to do the last 5 miles on the dirt path bordering the Spring Creek bike trail.  Easy.

Mile 18 and everything was fine.  One minute I was running, and the next minute, there was a blinding pain in my skull.  I was on the ground, but I had no idea how I’d gotten there.  I hadn’t felt myself trip, there had been no sensation of falling, no time to right myself in midair.  Just, *bam* and I was down.  

I picked myself up and felt totally out of it.  I wondered why there was blood on the trail.  God, my head hurt.  I looked behind me and there was a tiny tree root sticking maybe and inch above the dirt.  I must have tripped on it, but how?  It had happened so fast.  I saw a drop of blood splat onto the trail and realized that it coming from me.  I used my phone as a mirror and was surprised to see myself looking like this:

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The wind was knocked out of me, but I started walking.  This had happened at a very fortunate place:  there was a bathroom at the tennis courts about a half a mile away.  The front of me was covered with dirt and there was more blood coming from several scrapes on the back of my right hand, my right hip, left elbow, and left knee.  My brain felt jarred.  I wondered how hard you had to hit your head to have a concussion.  

I made it to the bathroom and washed myself up.  Now less than two miles from home.  I didn’t notice any pain in my little toe anymore.  I thought, how strangely fortunate it was that I’d hit my head instead of injuring my legs—this way, getting myself home would not be a problem.  

I arrived at our house shortly after Rob returned from collecting Will from school.  Will was having a snack at the kitchen table but stopped short and grew very solemn when he saw me.  “Oh no, mommy,” he said.  “You have bleed on your head."

I felt completely wrecked.  It was hard to tell how much of that was a result of simply having run 20 miles, and how much of it pertained to the fall.  My head hurt so bad, especially at the point of impact near my eyebrow.  It occurred to me that this unfortunate head-trail interaction might lend some additional evidence to the endurance running hypothesis of human evolution.  My fall might partially explain the mystery of why our endurance-running ancestors had protruding brow ridges (i.e., supraorbital torus)—  to help buffer their brains from injury when they fell while chasing down antelope on the trail.  We’ll never know.

Erectus Image from:


At some point during my state of possible concussion, I apparently agreed to let Rob go buy a cargo bike:

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We attended the Fort Collins Peach Festival, where Rob got 7th place overall in the 5K and won a probably-not-vegan peach pie (which we gave to our college student neighbors).

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We also went to Denver to catch the last of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge, which was Jen’s Voigt’s final race before retirement.


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By the end of the weekend, my head didn’t hurt anymore, but I could no longer ignore the persistent pain in my right metatarsal, which had nothing to do with the fall.  It didn’t take too long searching Google and my old anatomy textbooks to figure out that the pain was coming from the insertion point of the peroneus brevis tendon on the fifth metatarsal.  The cause of this kind of injury?  Forefoot striking.  


This is crazy.

Ever since Born to Run was published in 2009, “minimalist” running has been all the rage, and forefoot striking is thought of as a panacea that will prevent injury. Before Born to Run, we all over-pronated in our clunky 12mm drop shoes, we struck the pavement with our heels, and we suffered chronic injuries: plantar faciitis, chrondromalacia, iliotibial tract syndrome.  The way avoid all these things is to run barefoot (or in low heel to toe drop shoes, 0-4mm) so that you land on the balls of your feet as nature intended, and to leave behind the concrete jungle of sidewalks in favor of more forgiving surfaces, such as dirt and trails.  

So here I was, doing all of that.  In the past 5 years I’ve run mostly in 4mm drop shoes, but in late July, I switched to Altras— 0mm drops.  My gait has actually been pretty weird throughout this whole time—for years, you can tell from the wear patterns on my shoes that I was forefoot or midfoot striking with my left foot, but still heel striking with my right.  With this switch to the Altras, though, I think came an unconscious switch to forefoot striking in my right foot.  And a concurrent injury to my right peroneus brevis, which was strained too much with the sudden gait change.

I did some ice massage (seriously, this helps) and KT-taped for peroneus brevis, a method that actually forces your foot into pronation (maybe not as evil as we once believed) and takes the pressure/impact off your lateral metatarsal.  I also put the the inserts that my Skechers came with back into the shoe, converting it from 4mm to 8mm drop.  And then I ran.  It worked like a charm.  No pain more, so to speak, in my foot.

Now, to continue healing from the fall, keep other injuries at bay, figure out what shoes I’m going to wear for Bear Chase 50, and somehow ramp up my mileage enough that I’m able to run the race.

156.22 miles in August.  969.62 year to date.  I’m across between optimistic and terrified of the 50 miler I signed up for in September.

Thanks for reading.

August 2014