Deeper Than Accupuncture

So it’s been a while, but when the writer of a blog about running ceases to run, well, there’s not much to write. Sure I’ve dabbled here and there, but there isn’t a whole lot to share about a junk mile filled with discomfort. And I’ve been busy.

Back when this whole Achilles thing first happened, one of the therapies suggested was dry needling (along with Graston and a bunch of others). Of course, I was slow to go with any therapy, but eventually I gave Graston a shot to no avail. In fact, it seemed to make things worse. Not long after the Graston didn’t work, I gave up on running – March 23, 2016 – altogether. I think I can say that over the last six months, things have improved, but I’m not entirely sure. The progress has been slow. Small nags, morning stiffness, discomfort. It’s all still present.

I can’t say why I finally went for it, but three weeks ago, I jumped on the dry needling. I didn’t really do my homework before hand. I knew I was going to have some needles stuck in me. I knew there’d be some discomfort. I knew the trigger points would (hopefully) be released. I did not know how much discomfort would be following me around for the next day and a half.

Generally speaking the needling wasn’t that bad. When he would find a knot and stab it a few times, that’s when the discomfort would escalate a bit. I’ve read of people likening it to an electric shock, and I guess that is true to some degree, but while a shock seems to let go after a bit, the dry needling holds that shock. Imagine a calf cramp – the type that wakes you up  at night with your toe thrust downward while you fumble to find your toes and pull them back up – well dry needling isn’t that bad, but it’s that prolonged cramp feeling that leaves you feeling exhausted and sore afterwards. Not having run an actual workout in at least a year, the exhausted ache afterwards was just the bump I’ve needed.

The first dry needle course really did a number and I wish I had taken the advice I received over two years ago and gone with the dry needling right away. The amount of Achilles discomfort subsided significantly.  It was exciting – and hopeful, so hopeful. I’ve had a second course and while things are better, it’s not ready yet. I’ve read of Achilles taking a year or more to recover. It’s not ruptured, so there’s that glimmer. For now, I just need to keep getting needled for my exhausted-muscle fix.

Rose Tinters

I think I can say, without much dispute, that the majority this blogs audience are runners, or other athletic types of some nature. Anyone who has been way-laid from their sport of choice, has an idea of what happens when we aren’t able to walk outside, close the door behind us, and disappear for an hour, two, three, or even more. I don’t think there is any one single reason we need to venture off for fractions of our day, but for me, it has something to do with exploring.

Zipping around in cars, on the same roads every day, we forget to see things. We stop looking. We might see the oncoming cars, or the roadkill that wasn’t there last night, we might even notice a field slowly turning colors as the seasons plod on. But on foot, we see more. We have more time to admire the little flourishes of God’s paintbrush all around. We can truly examine the natural world; see colors once thought unnatural outside of a Crayola box, witness purples melding into creams, greens turning to orange without border – we can see things we can’t see from the comfort of our bucket seat or the swivel of our desk chair. On foot we see things few others do. We are privy to a world that only a select few take the time to admire.sunrise1

Not running, I started noticing that I was missing these things. I was focusing on how not being able to cruise for 15 miles at a clip was forcing me to stay in a tiny sphere (there are only so many routes to go when you’re running a mile at a time.) I began noticing how much noise there was in my head and how impossible it seemed for me to escape them. All these things started adding up, and driving me nuts.
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It’s taken a while, but I’m starting to get over all of the missing. I’m starting to realize that while I can’t get out and cover 20+ miles at a time, I can still explore. That there are smaller things to see. That walking lets me see things I might not on a run. That sometimes a walk with the family can be just as enjoyable and mentally quieting as a 60 minute jog in silence. Sure, these sunrises would be better seen from the road with miles behind me, but they can be just as awe inspiring from the comfort of my porch, coffee in hand, dog at my feet, child on my lap.sunrise

I’m not done. I will continue to plug along, and hopefully someday – soon – I’ll be back on the road, putting down some miles. And if not, it’s the little things that will have to suffice.

The New Long Run

Things have been quiet here – the blog, not real life – and while I have a lot of reasons for the silence, the main reason, the overwhelming problem pertaining this blog is this: my Achilles. I put it through the wringer – knowingly and not. I had an idea of what I was doing, but I had my goals in mind (VT100) and that was all I could see. I knew I would have to take sometime easy, but no clue how long, or what the process would be like.

The last time I raced was the Arena Attack in January. After that, I started to take it easy, though not easy enough. I found myself caught up in my mileage. I had scraped my yearly mileage goal of last years miles, but tried to stay on pace for 2000. When my Achilles didn’t seem to get better, I opted for the “at least 100 miles a month” program. Still, things didn’t seem to get better. The stiffness in the morning was less, and every time I lowered my mileage, the discomfort would go away for a couple of weeks, and then show up once more. It was a slow downhill game of cat and mouse.

When we got to Georgia in June, I forsook my shoes and went barefoot for at least a month. Just as things started to feel better, the feline of pain caught up. In a final effort to save any sort of future running – and playing with the kids as they get older – I bought a pair of the Iguana Racers from Carson Footwear, cut up an insole from a pair of SKORA Tempo and shoved the makeshift 5mm heel lift into the Carsons. I also gave up on any mileage goals, (but am still hanging on to my runstreak) and started running 1-1.5 mile days. It’s been like this for over a month now – 8 mile weeks, a 37 mile month, a long run that doesn’t pass as a warmup. It’s my hope that tomorrow the slope takes a change and starts to head back towards the sky.

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Tomorrow is my first “long run” in over a month. It isn’t far. Nine laps on the quarter mile loop I mowed info the field: 2.25 miles. I have no idea how it will feel. I’m hoping that I won’t be cussing myself out on Friday morning. I’m hoping that this is the way to recovery – along with lots of other p/t type stuff – and by the two year anniversary of this injury 2/4/14 – I’ll be slowly building and maybe even signed up for some races.

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So in short, the main reason its been quiet here: there has been a serious lack of running.

Running By Numbers

Running, like any other sport really, is measured by numbers. At first thought, it might seem that our numbers are simple – time and distance. But the reality is, there are a plethora of numbers that come into account for most when we think about our running. We don’t just log our time, but now we have watches that log each split – about every mile or so, we know our pace. Our watches tell us how fast our heart is beating. Not only do we know how far we’ve run by mile, but we can find out down to the thousandth how far we’ve run. We log our days by miles and time, and at the end of the week we have a nice little total. Our totals add up monthly and eventually yearly. And over time we’ll know just how many miles our legs have traveled; we’ll know how many days we’ve run; how much time we’ve spent on our feet traipsing around chasing fantasies and finding solace in ourselves.

For me, adding these numbers up – following my own progress – gives me motivation. I like to be able to look back and see that I’ve hit my weekly mileage  for 10 weeks, 20 weeks, a year. At the start of every week, I lay out a mileage goal of some sort for myself – my little carrot. This year I’ve also laid out some mileage goals for the year and am attempting to run-streak for the year, and maybe beyond. But all these numbers, all these little goals, can muddle the end point. The focus on staying healthy and running fast can get forgotten as I look to accumulate miles and time.

Since February I’ve been running with a bit of nagging Achilles issue – nothing too big, but stiffness in the morning, tenderness to touch, and discomfort to run. It wasn’t a gradual occurence, rather one of those trauma induced injuries you get from running at 4:00AM in single digits without properly warming up. I think a big fear of any athlete is to bugger the Achilles. A bad injury takes months to heal, and it never seems to heal to full strength.

Last week, after yet another early morning longish run and a day standing around corralling fourth graders, it became apparent that my Achilles was, in fact, not happy. It was time to evaluate. It didn’t go away on it’s own as I had wished it might. Nor did it really progress pain-wise. With a half marathon in a little over two weeks and the VT100 a little over two months away, I knew I had to do something.

All those numbers that were so important to me. My mileage goals for the week, the month, the year had to be tossed. My training plan was scratched. It was time to reevaluate and think long term. With my future in mind, and forsaking all the numbers that mean so much to me, I took a week easy. A whole week. It might not seem like much, but for the past seven months I’ve been building up for my first 100 mile race, and with two months to go, I would be logging less weekly mileage than I have in almost a year.

But then I did some realizing. I already knew it, but I needed to remind myself – the miles, the weeks, even the months, they don’t really matter. Sure, if your miles plummet for a long time so will your fitness, but what is seven days, fourteen days? If I had started my week on a Tuesday instead of a Sunday, my weekly mileage would be different, and what would it matter? I had been – and probably will continue again – to focus on the little things, the numbers that matter, but don’t. The numbers that will impact my final goal, but not more than a significant injury.

And so with great discipline, I took a week easy. I ran short four mile or less days. I didn’t fret over the pedestrian pace or the low mileage. I made myself ignore the finishing time on my watch. And while my log book looks a bit disappointing, my Achilles feels much better, and as I come back to real training, I’ve never felt more motivated to get out and hit it hard.

Listen To Your Body*

I hesitate to write this post for fear of sounding like a pretentious-know-it-all-elite-runner-coach. I of course am none of those things, but that doesn’t stop me from having an opinion. And since this is essentially my soap box, I will proceed.

“Listen to your body.” It is good advice. If we didn’t listen to what our bodies were telling us, we’d end up running ourselves ragged, developing injuries, and eventually come crashing down as lumpy piles of human flesh. Lately, I have been hearing this phrase quite a lot, and it almost seems to be the new mantra in the self-help exercise world. I’ve seen it bandied about on facebook, twitter, blogs, even speaking to some other runners. Personally, I don’t mind the New Age, Hippy Granola, wannabe-Zen, catch-phrase, but I think it needs a little caveat, a but, an asterisk.

The problem is, that if all we did was listen, we wouldn’t get anywhere. Listening is great in that it alerts us to a potential problem; our job is to hash out the problem and react accordingly. Therein lies the real issue. Too often – I think anyway – people will pick up a knock or feel some tension or a sore muscle and take some time off, or ease up on their workouts. Our reactions tend to be way overkill. If every time we felt discomfort of some sort, we would stop. Our bodies don’t really like pain or hurt. Most first time marathoners vow to never run that far again. How many people would run ultra marathons if they just “listened to their bodies?” How about an obese person getting into a fitness program? I can’t imagine their bodies are happy with that feeling when they start.

Just because we feel something that might be out of place or uncomfortable does not mean we should stop – or even slow-up. Rather, I think we should push a little harder and see where it takes us. More often than not, those little nagging uncomfortable spots disappear; the sore muscles fade and we’ll be in the clear. When they don’t we can take it easy – but never stop. Eventually, over time, we learn to interpret what our body tells us, but it takes effort and a fair bit of pushing. A child will never learn to swim if they stay in the wading pool, likewise we will never learn to run to our full potential if we ease up when something ‘hurts.’ It takes time to learn your pain threshold and where that falls on the continuum of healthy pushing vs. overtraining.

There are no universal rules to learning your body and it’s messages. The only way is to push. So next time you listen to your body, and it’s telling you to stop – think seriously why it’s telling you to stop. Then go for a run.

 

Poodle Chomp!!

Running as frequently as I do, I get to know a lot of the local dogs. Most of them are unleashed, which is totally cool with me. My runs take me out into the middle of nowhere, where pedestrians are few and kids are non-existent. The houses are on acres and you can go half a mile without running into any houses on some stretches. Tuesday, I set out for a 15-miler on a loop that takes me by a number of friendly mongrels. Unfortunately, it would prove that one of those mongrels was feeling less than friendly yesterday.

Poodle Choomp!! (Might have been a Wheaton, I can't tell...)

Poodle Choomp!! (Might have been a Wheaton, I can’t tell…)

I love dogs. I always had dogs growing up, and I currently have two. They don’t really scare me, and more often than not, I’m fairly smart when it comes to approaching them. With that said, I was kind of a moron on Tuesday. About a mile and a half in there’s a house with two poodles, a black one, and a white one. They’re never leashed, and while the white one is somewhat timid and stays on the lawn, the black one will come running towards me barking. Typically we both stop in arms reach of each other and commence the whole ass-sniffing-dog-greeting thing. (I just put out a upside down hand and let him give me a sniff or two.) After a few moments he wanders off, and I mosey on up the road.

Figuring that since this dog and I have been through this routine a huge number of times, I could just keep running and do away with the greeting. And it may have worked, except that his person was out getting the mail, and I neglected to take that in. Here he saw a half naked person who usually stops, keep running towards his person – he panicked and took a nip at my calf. I can’t really fault him as I figure he was just doing what dogs do – protect their owners. (I don’t really know anything about dogs, but it seems to make sense to me.)

Luckily, I wasn’t wearing the synthetic Phase, and not the leather Core. Could have been a lot worse if I had leather on my feet…

Staying Ahead of the Curve

I know I carry on a bit about listening, and logging, and I apologize for that, but here is something interesting, at least for me. And a perfect example of why listening and logging are important.

Over the past few years, I have had the occasional calf knot. The first time, I felt it mid-run and kept going, I ended up having to cut the run short and hobble home. Not a good idea. The knot has never fully gone away and from time to time, I still notice that my calf will get a little tight and I can feel the knot tightening. At first, I could not pinpoint the why. All I knew was that there was no method to this knot. The shoes were different, the workouts and intensities were different. The best method I learned was to jog it home and take the next days easy and just do light mileage until the knots were gone. I would roll, and it would hurt, but it would usually take a week before I could get back to full bore training.

Meanwhile, I had noticed that my right toe would get numb on occasion. Yes the first time was winter, and at first I figured it was running through snow that did it, but the numbness lasted for a week or two – obviously it had nothing to do with temperature. The numbness would go away randomly – or so it seemed – and come back randomly. Some have suggested it is tarsal tunnel, but I have my doubts.

By about the fourth or fifth time my calf knotted up, I got a little pissed and went scouring through my logs. I could not figure it out. And then, something sort of clicked. About two weeks before my calf would knot up enough for me to notice and retard my training, my toe would go numb. Now I have no idea why this is happening – not yet anyway – but I have learned that when my toe gets numb, I need to roll the hell out of my calf and get that knot gone as best I can. Since I have started doing it this way, I have not had a problem with calf cramping. If I did not keep notes on the tiny cues my body gives, I would still be battling random weeks of minimal training.

Good News!!

This is the fourth of Noakes’ Ten Laws of Running Injuries. “Most Injuries are Curable”

Chances are, your running injury, it is curable – and you do not need any strange holy water, bizarre cacti, or rare metallic based salve to make things better. When you consider that most running injuries are due to intrinsic forces, it would make sense that we – the runner – are capable of fixing these problems. Noakes says, “Only a small fraction of true running injuries are not entirely curable by simple techniques, and surgery is only required in very exceptional cases” (Noakes 753). If you walk into the doctors office and they offer to cut you up without trying a whole bunch of other stuff, hobble on out and find someone else.

Unfortunately, there are a few occasions in which simple is not the answer. Firstly, Noakes points out that people with severe biomechanical abnormalities might be at risk,  but in his experience, “only a small number of runners have such severe mechanical abnormalities” (Noakes 753). So chances are, you probably are not that biomechanically abnormal it is not fixable. I would even go so far to say that with minimal running, and some long term form work/rehabilitation, there is a good chance your biomechanical abnormality will stop causing injury.

Secondly, Noakes mentions severe degeneartion of important tissues – in particular the Achilles tendon (AT) – can cause damning injury. No one really likes their AT. Tendons are hard to stretch and are lower on the blood flow list, consequently, when they do get minor tears, they take longer to heal. The AT is such a vital part of running, that repeated damage that is not allowed to heal correctly can tank your running career. Noakes also notes that “the prospects of a complete cure without recurrence are rather small” (Noakes 753). Take care of your AT, and do not ice it. It is already low on blood, massage it with a warm compress.

The last type of injury not easily curable is for those “who start running on abnormal joints.” Again this is not a lot of us as most of these abnormal joints became abnormal through some contact type sport (rugby, football, soccer). Often when big joints (knee, hip, ankle) get mangled they seldom fully recover; even for the stars with million dollar doctors looking after them.

Noakes ends this law with some information that I think every runner should heed when confronted with an injury:

An imporant corollary to this fourth law is that if you are not completely cured of your running injury by the experts with whom you consult, it is time to look elsewhere. But treat even the advice of runners with some caution, and do not accept it unconditionally without seeking a professional assessment from someone knowledgeable about running and sympathetic to runners (Noakes 753).

That quote is pretty gnarly, and incredibly important. If you are not cured, go somewhere else. Do not trust runners. Sure we give each other advice, and chances are, it is probably pretty good advice based on experience, but get a professional opinion, too. And see a doctor who knows a thing or two about running. In college the head of our medical staff was on the medical crew for the Islanders back in the 80s when they were winning Stanley Cups all over the place. (He would liked to wear his rings and would rotate through them despite the fact he probably just ordered tape…). He despised running and runners.  He had no problem telling runners who checked in that they should not be running, that getting injured was to be expected if you were a runner. Do not go to someone like that, they will not help you.

Break Down

This is the third of Noakes’ Ten Laws of Running Injuries

This law, according to Noakes, “emphasizes that once an injury has occurred, it is time to analyze why the injury happened.” Unfortunately, when we pick up an injury of some sort of another, we seldom look to the why it happened, and we look to solve the problem with some rest or some pain killers. Instead, we should be thinking about our training and trying to figure out where the breakdown that caused the injury happened.

A lot of the reasons that Noakes gives for breakdowns occurring can be summed up with the acronym TMTS – too much, too soon. “The athlete has reached the breakdown point, usually because a higher level of training has been sustained for longer than one to which the body can adapt. (Noakes 750). He is not saying the body cannot adapt, but it cannot adapt as quick as the runner would like. Take your time and build up your routine, Olympians are not made overnight.

Whilst not really advocating for minimalist/barefoot running, Noakes does so (for me anyway) when he says that injuries “may first occur shortly after the runner has changed to uphill or downhill running, or to running on a beach” (Noakes 750). These different terrains may indeed cause some pain, but that is because the runner is not running on them appropriately. Running in minimalist shoes lets us feel the ground better and adjust our stride and footfall accordingly. With big marshmallows on our feet, it is all too easy to go crashing down a hill, smashing heels into the ground and causing massive impact forces in our knees – with minimal shoes, you are much more aware of what you are doing.

I love this law. Find the breakdown, and then you can fix the problem. You can patch the problem, but a patch will not work if you do not understand why the problem occurred in the first place. You are not supposed to leave readers with a quote, but I will. Next time you get injured, think of this: “Athletes who are frequently injured do not yet appreciate their bodies’ threshold” (Noakes 750.) Learn your threshold.

More Grades?

2. Each Injury Progresses Through Four Grades

This is the second of Noakes’ Ten Laws of Running Injuries. It is fairly short and rather simple. It reminds us to listen to our bodies, and how to judge objectively what ails it.

If you have a child, or pay attention to the state of our (United States) education system, you know testing is the end-all-be-all. And with testing comes grades. Even first graders are receiving grades these days. No longer is little Johnny satisfactorily writing his ‘J’s’, but he is doing them on the ‘C’-level. Awesome.

I digress. Even in running there are grades, at least to some degree. Noakes breaks our injuries into four grades, each a little worse than the prior. These grades are important for a couple of reasons: they can help us talk to a doctor if you choose to go that route, and mainly, they help the individual ascertain the damage that is occurring when something hurts. These grades are for intrinsic injuries.

The first is Grade one and it is the most basic. It is “an injury that causes pain after exercise and is often only felt some hours after exercise has ceased” (Noakes 749). Those little knocks that seem to slow you down in the morning, or bother you a few hours after you have called it a day, those are grade one. A grade one is the simplest injury to deal with. and sometimes, they seem to go away on their own. (They do not really go away on their own, you have changed your form to compensate for the injury and in turn fixed what was wrong.)

A grade two injury actually occurs while you are exercising. Noakes says that it does not cause pain sufficient to stop or reduce the exercise, but it is enough to cause discomfort. This one is tricky as it can sometimes be difficult to decipher what is fatigue, and what is an injury. With patience you can learn, though it does take time. I am still learning.

Grade three takes the discomfort seen in grade two to another level and the pain is actually enough to hinder training and race performances.

Finally, grade four. This is the worst type of injury and is “so severe that it prevents any attempts at running” (Noakes 749). You do not want grade four. It is a doozey and can take long periods of time to heal.

These grades can help athletes determine their injury level and what actions they should take. It is important to listen and recognize when your injury is migrating from a grade one to a grade two as it is a sign that what you are doing is not working.

Aside from IT band issues and stress fractures, a grade one injury will not suddenly deteriorate into a grade four injury (Noakes 749). So have no fear your little knock will suddenly render you couch bound, get out there and keep going. Listen to the knock, what is it telling you? Pay attention to your injuries and if they start to get worse, start thinking about changing things up. It seems simple enough, but it takes discipline.