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September 29, 2008

The Running-While-Injured Life

At the conclusion of my 2008 race season, I spent a fair amount of time pondering the sports of ultrarunning and triathlon. My plan is to distill these thoughts into a post next month comparing the relative degrees of difficulty between an ironman triathlon and a 100-mile ultra, both in terms of pre-race training and race performance.

Unfortunately, the official post is going to take me a while - so in the meantime, I’ve got a couple of somewhat related items on a similar theme:

* First, I think I’ve got myself a new hero, in the form of a guy named Graham Cooper. Ultrarunners should recognize his name as the winner of the 2006 Western States Endurance Run. He was primed to reclaim his title this past summer, until the wildfires ruined everyone’s plans. While many people (like, um … me) moped and then scrambled for a substitute 100-miler, Cooper smoothly shifted gears and entered Ironman Canada instead.

Check that – he didn’t just enter, he smoked the course and earned a slot to compete in the Ironman World Championship at Kona on October 11th. (Thanks to Scott Dunlap for the
legwork on this info). There are literally thousands of extremely talented, dedicated amateur triathletes who work their whole lives to earn a slot to Kona; to think that Cooper did it as a rebound race is absolutely stunning.

I used to have this theory that somebody could participate in both ultrarunning and long-distance triathlon, but that it was next to impossible to perform well in both sports simultaneously. Now Cooper comes along and proves – as if there was any doubt left anymore – that I’m simply an idiot.

So to all of you ultrarunners who claim that you don’t know the first thing about triathlon, and can’t relate to any of the type-A obsessives who populate the triathlete ranks, now you’ve officially got someone to root for at Kona next weekend. And I’ll be cheering for Graham Cooper right along with you.

* One of the training advantages triathletes enjoy over runners is the ability to vary their training based on how their body is feeling. If your legs are fried from a hard tempo run, you spend a couple of days in the pool focused on upper body technique. When your neck and low back are sore from being in an aero position on the bike for six hours, you do an easy run the next day. You’re always building fitness, but having several different means to do so decreases the strain on any particular area of the body.

Dedicated runners, on the other hand, don’t have that luxury. Consequently, they’re much less willing to wait a couple of days until a problem area resolves, and more likely to train with persistent aches and soreness. Inevitably, many of those aches become injuries of varying severity – but that usually doesn’t stop a hardcore runner from doing the activity he or she loves.

That was the premise behind last week’s Monterey Herald column, which follows below:

Running Life 9/25/08 “The Running-While-Injured Life”

We typically utilize this space describing all of the benefits of running – however, sometimes it might be possible to have too much of a good thing.

Many avid runners become so hooked on the sport that it often consumes their thoughts. Sure, a hardcore runner may appear alert and attentive on the surface - but it’s a good bet that internally, that otherwise normal-appearing person is completely preoccupied with all manner of details pertaining to his or her running.

They’ll spend countless waking hours thinking about how many miles they logged today, what their average time for the run was, when and where their next run will be, how many miles they’ve run this week, how much longer it will be until they need a new pair of shoes, which running clothes they need to buy once the weather changes, how much fluid they should be consuming during the day, when their next race is going to be, and whether or not one of those nagging sore areas is going to turn into an injury.

That last point is a critical one – because when a runner develops physical problems, all other concerns get pushed to the back burner. Runners are notorious for having tunnel vision when it comes to focusing on (and worrying about) anything that prevents them from doing the activity they love. Unfortunately, injuries are an all too common occurrence among this crowd.

For example, here’s a typical conversation that might take place between any of our group of friends who cross paths in their everyday (non-running) lives. Let’s say they meet unexpectedly on Alvarado Street this week. They certainly have a wide variety of discussion topics to mull over: the economy, the presidential election, the war, career changes, or family developments.

Despite all of that, it’s a virtual certainty that the conversation would unfold something like this:

Joe: “Hi Susie, haven’t seen you for awhile. How are you doing?”

Susie: “Good to see you Joe. I’m OK but I’ve hardly been running at all. My piriformis problem just isn’t going away. I’ve been stretching, doing ice massage, and taking Advil. I’m even going to Bikram yoga a few times a week, which helps for a few hours, but by the next morning it’s bothering me again.”

Joe: “That’s too bad. I haven’t been running much either. My left shin is really painful when I run, and hurts all day long afterward. I had an x-ray and MRI last week and there’s no stress fracture right now but the doc says it looks imminent if I keep running. I don’t think its shin splints. It could be compartment syndrome. I’m seeing my physical therapist but the progress seems really slow. Occasionally I’ll try the elliptical machine but it’s just too boring.”

Susie: “Yeah. It’s really frustrating…. Oh, look, there’s Ted.”

Ted: “What a coincidence. How are you guys? I’ve been decreasing my mileage because of some Achilles tendonitis. Luckily, it’s not a complete tear, but when I run it’s extremely painful. I’m also doing some pool running, but I don’t get the same endorphin high in the water. And I feel like everyone’s laughing at me when I’m wearing my swimsuit.

Joe: “Yeah, I hate it when that happens. My wife just had a knee operation for patellofemoral syndrome and did some pool running during her rehab. She’s favoring her right side a bit now, so her left plantar fascia is becoming a problem. She does ice massage and flexion exercises using toe curls and a towel. It takes about an hour a day - really a hassle.”

Ted: “Hey Susie … how is Dave doing?”

Susie: “He hasn’t been running a lot either. His right hip hurts and he aggravated his left illiotibial band because he was running funny to protect his hip. He’s going to both the physical therapist and chiropractor but he still has problems. He’s also trying myofascial release therapy and it seems to be helping a little.

Ted: “Wow, good luck to him for sure. Did you hear about Rod? He ran a race last month and right near the end he pulled a calf muscle. He had to beat someone in his age group so he gutted it out, but now he’s injured again. He’s doing intermittent heat and ice treatments. He also sees a massage therapist twice a week for really deep muscle work. Hope he gets better soon.”

Joe: “So … are we all running at the regular place tomorrow morning? 12 miles on the Wharf starting at 5AM?

Susie: “Sounds great to me. See you then.”

Ted: “Someone should call Rod and tell him – he’ll probably show up.”

Joe: “Yeah. It will be great to talk with everyone again!”


Downhillnut 9/30/08, 1:45 AM  

Too funny! and too true...

I keep telling newer runners I know that it's not about the time on the clock or the numbers on the log - it's about surviving the training and the goal well enough to be able to recover before you resume training for another one.

It's not about "checking the box" at the immediate finish line, it's about being able to string a lifetime of good solid efforts together with a balanced life in between.

All the same, if I were to fit into that last conversation, I'd probably show up to start and finish with them if they're meeting for coffee afterwards. I'd probably only manage 6 or 7 miles on their same out and back route in the same time, but be happy for knowing we were kind of out there together.

Danielle in Iowa 9/30/08, 7:10 AM  

Ha! It's funny cuz it's true!

Deene 9/30/08, 7:43 AM  

so true! it's a whole new set of lingo once people start talking of running injuries. i still haven't figured out what a torn meniscus is, afraid to ask.

21stCenturyMom 9/30/08, 10:59 AM  

I'm just shaking my head at that conversation.

As for Cooper- I was just looking at the finishing times for women in my division for IM CdA and the winner in one of those years didn't have particularly great swim or bike legs but she smoked the run. Who knew?

Speed Racer 9/30/08, 12:06 PM  

A really, really strong run coupled with a background that makes a marathon after 6 hours part of your usual routine is bound to lead to success in ironman. Some people are just talented and fast no matter what they do. The rest of us are human.

triguyjt 9/30/08, 1:43 PM  

I laughed so hard that I got a side stitch which is too bad because I have been having stomach issues lately and when i run its hard to keep things down..so I stop and try to stretch at times but then that starts to make me realize that my right hammy is sore and so I compensate and then my plantar fascia on the left foot is bothering me alot...thats okay cuz being a triathlete, I can swim some but only when my shoulder doesn't bother me that much so I leave the pool and spend some time on the bike but my hips get sore.......... ahhh what was your post???

Darrell 9/30/08, 1:49 PM  

So darn funny, but so darn true. I think I know Joe, I think I AM Joe. And we wonder why people think runners are weird?!

Backofpack 9/30/08, 5:22 PM  

Well now, I meant to mention that I've got some nagging hip/IT pain, so I've been running a little easier - just five miles a day, mostly flat, it came on from a stumble during the 50K, and I'm sure if I rested it would go away, but I've got a marathon this weekend and I can't not run the week before the marathon or everything will tighten up, but you know advil always helps and my running buddy told me about miracle balls so I'm trying those too and I'm sure I'll be fine for the marathon, then I can rest for one or two days but not too much before the MCM at the end of the month....

Sunshine Girl 9/30/08, 6:46 PM  

Hi Donald,
Haven't checked your blog for awhile and just catching up.

Truth be known, I have been far to busy training and racing in triathlons to see what anyone apart from myself is doing these days. I have also gotten myself injured. According to my Physiotherapist, my Gluteus Minimus is under developed. I always knew my quads (while being quite gorgeous) are over developed and this has been my undoing. He has prescriped daily treatments of Active Release Therapy from the Chiropractor, Deep Tissue Massage from my Massage Therapist and finally, AStym. The Astym, is very effective, yet quite odd. They use these medieval looking appliances to manipulate my under developed Glutes. This is the reason why I missed qualifying for Kona this year, I just know it. It's all just such a pain in the ass (literally). I'm thinking a new custom saddle for the bike might help as well.

Oh, yeah. I forgot to mention, I have 8 toenails, too!!

Rainmaker 9/30/08, 8:14 PM  

Hilarious - but oh so true. You do bring up good points about being able to vary workouts to accomadate 'issues'.

I'm also very interested in your comparison regarding Ironman vs. 100M training. Although I'm sticking to my story that I'm not going to run 100M...nope, not gonna do it. Nu-uh.

RunBubbaRun 9/30/08, 8:34 PM  

I always think if you got talent, you can do comparable sports pretty well.. KNow I wish I had just a little of that..

But would have been ineteresting to know if he would have still done IMCDA if he had placed at WS100?

Yeah, I think we atheletes are all the same, had many conversations like that this year.

Rick Gaston 10/1/08, 1:54 PM  

Yeah Graham is awesome. I read his bio before and knew he was a talented triathlete besides being an ultra-marathoner. At the Western States 2006 awards ceremony, the year he won, he was walking around with a Big Kahuna shirt on. It was sweet.

So I was hanging with another runner at Rio this past weekend, we were both pacers and we hung out while we were waiting for our runners. Anyway I inquired about a friend of hers who I did know and she went on an exasperated response of how her friend keeps on running despite the doctors orders. Said friend has even fibbed about her running until she caught her running one day. "I finally told her, we have to break up", she said. She was kidding but she really was at the end of her rope with said friend.

This is already too long of a response but I just wanted to comment about how runners can talk about their injuries and expect the other runners to know exactly what they are talking about. Funny thing is half the time I know exactly what muscle group or body part that is being mentioned.

Fe-lady 10/1/08, 2:15 PM  

I started tris in '82 coming from a long distance running background (nothing ULTRA really except a double canyon crossing) and faired really well because of all my trail/distance background.
I have since learned to swim and ride a bike somewhat-but still consider myself a "runner" even tho it's probably my slowest event at the moment....but those memories. Sweet memories.

And the conversations...notorious at tri parties also....ya just can't get away from them!

P.S. HOW did he get into Canada at such a late date? Just wondering....

robtherunner 10/1/08, 6:27 PM  

Some of us have been waiting awhile now for that IM and 100 mile comparison. I suppose I can wait a little bit longer.

Judi 10/3/08, 9:45 AM  

SO funny, awesome post! That conversation is totally real, and I have it all the time - even with non-runners and non-triathletes. I guess that's why I haven't got a lot of friends, lol.

olga 10/4/08, 5:17 PM  

That was perfect! Heck, I even feel good that I am NOT running right now:) OK, scratch this. But I did find so many other things to do, it's insane. The only problem is, those "other" don't help me keep the weight balanced...

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