The Setback

Over the past several days, I’ve pondered different subjects to write. I have thought of gratitude — how grateful I am to have such a supportive family in all aspects of my life. I have thought about the natural meshing of Zen principles with that of the long distance runner (I know it’s clichéd but I truly experience it). I have thought about the subject of being an example for my kids, especially as I am about to meet my third daughter any day now. All of these subjects warrant serious consideration but today the subject jumped up and bit me — in my right ankle.

Today’s run was a wonderfully refreshing morning run lasting around two hours and twenty minutes. I ran through various neighborhoods of Guadalajara. I finished the run with a run straight up a steep incline with a very positive rush of a job well done 24.5 km/15.2 mi in the books. A strange thing occurred happened about 20-30 minutes after the run. I finished showering, getting dressed and preparing my morning tea. As I walked from the kitchen to the bedroom of my daughters to help them get off to summer camp, I felt a pretty sharp pain on the inside of my ankle just to the back of the ankle bone and below it. It was not a terrible pain but one that caught my attention. As I was getting ready to go out the door, I noticed that I started to limp a bit.  

 

If you look to the right, you’ll see the ramp I went up to end my run.

 
My wife and I had our final appointment with the doctor prior to our newest daughter’s arrival next week. As I accompanied her to the medical building of the doctor, my limp became more pronounced. Hmmmm… I thought. This is not boding well. While we were in the doctor’s office, the pain continued to increase. The area around the inside of my ankle was very sensitive to the touch. Now I’m started to worry.

Side Note: I recently hired a running coach to help me prepare for my next race.

When we were called to go in for my wife’s exam, I could barely walk. I had to put all my weight on the heel of my foot to try to minimize the pain. Full on panic started to set in, did I break something? Could it be a stress fracture? As obsessive as I am, I immediately pulled out the iPhone to start Googling the symptoms. The first thing I found was Tibialis Posterior Tendonitis and other variations. As I read website after website, I was not happy with what I saw. This could mean weeks/months of being out of commission. Since I started running regularly, I haven’t had any major injuries. I’ve tried to be very careful with mileage increases and workload to ensure that I stay in the game for the long haul. As we were finishing our appointment, my wife asked her doctor if he could recommend an orthopedic specialist. Luckily for me, the doctor he recommended was the floor below us. We went immediately there and my wife, with her amazing personality and persuasiveness, was able to get us squeezed in even though they were telling her in the beginning that their next appointment was not until August 14th.  

The doctor saw me within minutes. During the examination, he asked me some standard questions and then started poking around my ankle. He then touched on or around the ankle bone and I shot straight up and then back in the examination bed. It was like I had a convulsion. Talk about pain…good lord!!! It even surprised the doctor. He sent me to get an X-ray since there was the possibility of a stress fracture. I was quite worried at this point. The pain is so severe that I thought there was a chance of the stress fracture. The only thing I thought (probably incorrectly) was that since I didn’t see a ton of swelling, maybe that means there was less of a chance of a stress fracture. We got the X-rays done and then had to wait about an hour to be seen. I forgot to mention that I was then being wheeled around in a wheelchair.  

Tibialis Posterior Tendonitis

  
Good news came when the doctor saw me again. He said there was no fracture and Tibialis Posterior Tendonitis, which I had guessed thanks to the Internet, was the diagnosis. He wrapped my foot in a Robert Jones bandage (I had never heard of it before) and told me to stay off of it. I am on crutches now and will go back on Tuesday.

  
At this point there are a few things floating around my head:

My wife is just about to give birth and I injure myself–way to go Dad! I am supposed to be giving her all the support in the world. This is not how you do it. Now she is caring for me. I am disappointed.

I just hired a coach. My initial analysis has been done and I am super excited to get the professional training plan started. Now who knows how long I am going to be in this state?!  

Could I have avoided it? I am not sure. Merida is completely flat and Guadalajara has lots of hills. The last time I trained here back in December, my left knee bothered me for a few weeks after the trip because of the hill training. I made a point this time to take it very easy on the hills and avoid any long uphills more than once per week. Today was day eight, and was only the second day that I ran up some long big hills. The best thing I can figure is that I ran up a very steep incline at the end of my run–one that was so steep that it was pure stairs at the top. My only guess is that after running for 2:20, my calves were very tight and it was just too much pressure for the tendon to take.

The good news, according to the doctor, is that we caught this very early. Since this just happened and has not been a chronic injury or one that has been slowly getting worse and worse, that should mean that recovery/rehabilitation will be faster. I am going to use my free time to try to find as many types of natural remedies to help with reduce inflammation. I am very aware of the properties of turmeric so it is on the top of my list to purchase but I need to find other things I can add to my smoothies and cereals.

I am committed to staying positive. The race I want to run is in 4.5 months. I think that if I can get back to running by September, I will still have enough time to train. My base fitness is the best it has been in my life. Even if I have to do a lot of cycling to maintain fitness, I will.  
Chin up!

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The Art of Sharing

This past weekend I had the honor of running with a good friend of mine when he attempted his first ultra-distance — a 60km run (36 miles).  My buddy had run several marathons in the past but since we met around a year ago, I’ve been planting the seed for ultramarathons with him.  A little less than two months ago, after he finished a marathon, I challenged him to do this run with me.  I encouraged him and said that he would definitely succeed and would enjoy the experience.  He said let’s do it!

Fast forward to last Friday.  After work, I prepared my house as our aid station to pass by every 20km.  I had plenty of Hüma Chia Gels, Hammer Gels, Justin’s Nut Butters, Tailwind, Succeed Amino, Succeed S! Caps, hummus, and other snacks as well as a ton of water.  I had a blister kit, Trail Toes cream, and other aid station staples.  I mapped out three 20km loops around the city of Merida, Mexico.  I told him to bring extra shoes, socks, shirts, and anything else he might want to change during the run.

Getting ready to start.

Getting ready to start.

Around 6pm he showed up and by 6:30pm we were off and running.  My goal for the first 20km was to slow him down and keep us at a reasonable pace.  I use a heart rate monitor so I used that to judge our effort.  Luckily for us the weather cooled a bit–but don’t misunderstand me–it was still around 86-88°F/30-31°C with substantial humidity.  It was just cooler for us because of how hot Merida normally is.  Things were pretty easy going and as we passed by a little village, we actually found a dog that had run with us for around 5-6km a week earlier.  The dog recognized us and even paused to consider running again but thought better of it.  I think we wore him out the last time.  At around the 40 minute mark, I got my friend started on his eating regiment.  It was one of my goals to show him how important calorie intake will be during this adventure.  He had experienced problems around the 35-38km mark in past runs where he completely ran out of energy.  We made it back to the house a little over 2 hours later and started our refueling.

20km in the books, 40km to go.

20km in the books, 40km to go.

When we set out for lap 2, it was dark.  I knew this is where things will start to get a little rougher.  We plowed through the first 10km without problems but I noticed that oddly enough the temperature in the city was rising and the air was getting more stagnant.  This added to the challenge.  I was trying to keep tabs on my friend’s rhythm, pace, and breathing to notice any changes or struggling.  Right around the time we passed the halfway mark, I could tell things were getting tougher for the both of us.  At 35km, I had gone through my water bottle and my other bottle that had tailwind mixed with water.  I was sweating profusely and my legs had definitely lost their spring.  When I had to jump up and down on curbs and sidewalks, it was definitely more of a challenge.  Shortly thereafter, my friend let me know his knees were starting to really bother him so I suggested us do some intervals of 5 minutes running and 1 minute walking.  We used this change of pace to stop by a store and get some more water.  Funny enough, when we walked out of the store, we encountered another runner I had met a few weeks earlier who was also out for a long run that night.  It is a very cool bond runners have.

Merida runners unite.

Merida runners unite.

After chatting with the runners for a couple minutes, we headed off for our remaining 5km to the house.  This was definitely the challenging moment of the night for my buddy.  He was experiencing that low feeling that one encounters multiple times during an ultra.  I decided my goal was to try to motivate him, cheer him up, and see him through the woods so to speak.  I assumed the role of the pacer to the racer in an ultramarathon.  We continued our 5/1 intervals and about 1.5km from the house we gutted it out to finish loop 2.

40km done but we still have 20km to go.

40km done but we still have 20km to go.

Upon reaching our aid station aka my house, my buddy dropped to the floor.  He was definitely suffering but was also trying to recuperate.  I found a Hüma Chia gel with double caffeine to boost him out of his hole.  I made him drink more water and take an S!Cap to help with electrolyte loss.  While he was laying on the ground, he asked if we could alter our final 20km and do two 10km loops.  Great idea, I thought.  This way it was mentally more paletable and he could pass by our aid station once more.   I could definitely see where going out for a 10km run is a lot easier to think about than going out for a 20km.  He eats 10km for breakfast.  After 40km and nearly 5 hours on his feet, another 10km shouldn’t be too bad.  After about 15 minutes or so, we headed out for our next loop.

Sometimes you just need to lie down.

Sometimes you just need to lie down.

Something amazing happened during our run between the 40-50km mark, my friend started to rebound.  He no longer needed intervals and was running with a rejuvenated spirit.  It was exactly what I was hoping would happen.  This is quite customary during ultra distances.  If you can just get past the dark moments, you will experience comebacks that you thought were impossible.  We ended up running about 8km and then walked for about a half of a km and then ran the remainder.  That loop was much easier than the last one.  We refueled, stretched a bit, and headed out for the last loop.

Limbering up for the final part of the run.

Limbering up for the final part of the run.

The last loop is where I started to feel some of the fatigue setting in but I wanted to stay strong for my friend.  As we wound our way though a nearby neighborhood our conversation picked up quite a bit more and I shared some of my experiences of similar runs.  We did one more walk break of about 5 minutes at the 55km mark and then pushed the effort to get home.  I started experiencing some gastrointestinal issues, I guess because of some of the experimenting with different food combinations.  Like the experts say, training runs are the time to experiment and not the race.  It was nip and tuck to see if I could make it home with out having to find an “emergency” bathroom but around 7 hours after setting out on our adventure, we made it!

We did it!  60km in the books.

We did it! 60km in the books.

The aftermath of the run was a moment of joy I had not experienced before and the reason I’m writing this post.  To hear the sense of accomplishment in my friend’s voice brought a huge smile to my face.  He kept repeating over and over, “60 kilometers, 60 kilometers”.  My best guess is that he was happy, amazed, proud, and exhausted all at the same time.  This moment was the reason why I challenged him to this run–I knew he would love it and knew he could do it.  I wanted to provide for him what I didn’t have when I first got into ultrarunning:  a person to share it with and a person to learn from.  Don’t get me wrong, I love the path I have followed to arrive to this point but it would have been a lot easier to do some of my first ultra-distance runs with an experienced person to help push me through.  That night adds to the many reasons why I love to run.

This is where we ran.

This is where we ran.

Officially Masters

40

I have been mulling over what my next topic should be for many days now.  The funny thing is that I have ended up procrastinating by being indecisive — paralysis by analysis.  My goal, which I missed by a bit, is to get at least one post up every week.  Topics I have considered:  how to choose a coach, keeping a training program diverse, how to measure your progress, importance of family support, how to stay motivated when your race is so far away, and the concept of a milestone birthday.  I think all of the topics are worthy of blog posts but typical to my personality, I am going to go with the easiest topic first and move on from there:  milestone birthday.

This week I turned 40.  It has been surreal, exciting, motivating, a time for reflection, and, at times, no big deal at all.  For the better part of the year, when I was 39, I was already considering myself 40.  I am not sure why.  Maybe I was excited to be 40, maybe I just wanted to get it over, who knows?

The first part of turning 40 is everyone asking how do you feel or what do you think about turning 40?  Honestly, I am very happy to be 40.  For me, it is some sort of validation that I have done pretty well so far in life.  I have been happily married for ten years, I have two lovely daughters with a third on the way, I have an amazing family and some very important and wonderful friends in my life.  I feel more grounded and confident at this point in my life than any other point in my life.  My youth and early adulthood was filled with worries–worries for the future, worries about the unknown, worries about my past, worries about what decision to make, worries on what will happen in terms of love.  You get the idea.  The incredible power of the love, in which my wife has showered me, has almost completely erased that pervasive feeling of worry that plagued me for so long.  Imagine this:  have you ever been in an office, public building, restaurant, or home where there was a very loud a/c running or some sort of white noise that was in the background but not loud enough to be an acute sound and then that sound is removed.  Do you remember that feeling of relief you felt once that agitating white noise was gone?  That is what I feel in my life now.  The love from my marriage has removed all that unwanted white noise from life.  I have clarity and a defined direction.  Do I know what is to come in the future?  No, but I do have the feeling of calm because I know that whatever comes will be great and will work out.  Plainly said, I have faith in what is to come.

Wow, I think I digressed quite a bit there.

finish start

The title of this post ties into the fact that age 40 I am now officially in the masters category for racing.  Does it matter to me?  Maybe.  Why do I run?  I run because I love to run however, I do have a desire to compete and to test my limits in and out of competition.  It might be a nice goal to try to win the masters title in a race.  It will take a ton of work since many strong ultrarunners are 40+ but I think it is highly important to set lofty goals.  Without them, we are limiting our potential.

Another thought I have had regarding turning 40 is that I wish I would have discovered my passion for running at an earlier age–like in my twenties.  At age 40, I am aware that biologically I am past my peak muscular development point in my life.  I also understand that in order to perform at your absolute maximum in various sports, you need to put many years of dedicated training.  Multiple experts claim that it takes around seven years to reach your pinnacle of performance.  I have only been a dedicated runner for three years.  In terms of ultrarunning, my weekly/monthly training at that level just started in midway through 2014.  This means that I still have a long way to go in my development.  The part that frustrates me is that I may be in my mid to late forties before I reach full potential.  At the same time, I do have concern that time/age is burning the candle at the other end.  Had I discovered running at age 25, for example, I would be in my early thirties at the predicted time to reach full potential.  Biologically, that would match perfectly.  What I finally realized is that it is a waste of time to spend energy thinking about the “only if” or “what if” scenarios.  What use is it?!  I am not going back in time.  I need to focus all my energy on what I can control.  I do realize that many of the runners I respect and admire have been running since high school and have 20+ years under their belts.  I cannot do anything about that.  On the flip side, I have much less wear and tear on my body.  Maybe that could work to my advantage.  And again, does any of it really matter?  It only matters if I make winning or placing in the top 10 the end all be all.

Tranquility

Where am I going with this post?  I am not exactly sure but the point I want to make is that I am very happy to be 40.  My life experiences, both successes and failures, have taught me many lessons and give me the direction and drive to pursue my passions to the fullest.  I relish the opportunity to discover what adventures are to come and I am putting as much energy as I can into who I am as a runner today.  That, in and of itself, is as much as I can do to push myself beyond the imaginary boundaries of my capabilities now.  I do want to succeed yet success is an artificial construct.  It may not necessarily be in winning a race but more so in the path that I am following to find out what my potential truly is.  The truth of the matter is that success is only in my mind and if I find peace and fulfillment in my journey, then I have already won.  Bring on my forties because I have been waiting for you all my life.