Pole Pole – Running (slowly) with the Kenyans.

Just after the marathon!

My watch alarm sang a gentle tingle. I quickly silenced it. I was already awake.

I lay in bed, warm under the Maasai blanket except for my nose. It was sticking out from my blanket bunker so I could breathe, smelling the cold wind, carrying smells of dew and nature and fire.

A much louder alarm sounded. Molly, a few feet away in her bed, turned over to silence it.

It was marathon day, in Kenya. We’d be running Lewa Marathon with the fastest people on earth.

“Ready?” I asked her, in the darkness.

“As I’ll ever be,” she said, her British accent surprisingly alert for 5:00 a.m. She’d been lying in bed since 3:00 a.m., unable to sleep; her husband had sent her a text message from Spain that morning, waking her up.

About seven months ago, I was running hills one morning as a training exercise. I tweaked something in my right knee on a steep downhill. I deserved it; just moments before, someone had warned me to take the downhills easy, and I had cavalierly ignored him. However, since then, I’d not run more than eight consecutive miles – the knee pain was unbearable. My last “long run” before coming to Kenya was maybe a 5k (3.1 miles) in March, along with a few more just a few days ago. I ran a total of seven miles on Wednesday before the race. That was it. Continue reading

And … we’re back!

First in age group for Horseshoe Lake 50k. #ComebackKid

My mom always told me to frame questions not as binary, Yes-No decisions, but as multiple-choice, A-B-C decisions. That is to say, there’s always more than just two outcomes for success. I’ve applied that to racing. Before I start a race, I set several time goals and give them each a letter grade. If I hit any of them, I still consider it a successful race.

Yesterday was my first 50k since my injury, and I was so excited to be back. I set these goals:

  • A: Finish in 6 hours (super stretch goal!)
  • B: Finish in 6:30
  • C: Finish at all!
  • F: Drop out. =(

Therefore, as long as I didn’t drop out, I was a winner. Continue reading

Minimum Viable (Tri)athlete

Right before I wiped out – I look so psyched and have no idea I’m about to hit the pavement. Image c/o Chris Chabot

In the tech industry, there’s this concept of Minimum Viable Product. An MVP is a really basic, stripped-down prototype of the ideal final product. It’s got just enough to work – barely.

Yesterday, I competed in my very first triathlon – the California International Triathlon. Summary: triathlons are awesome. This was an Olympic Triathlon, which means 1.5k swim, 40k cycle, and 10k run. I finished in 3:21ish, which was in the middle 1/3rd of my age group.

Triathlons are very tech and logistic-intensive. Having never done one before, I didn’t know if it was something I’d want to do again. As such, I adopted the MVA approach – Minimum Viable Athlete. What was the minimum amount of gear I could invest in while still competing in this event?

Continue reading

Siempre Quiero Mas – I Always Want More (Running)

Tango is serious business.

Outside of running, I’m a sometimes Tango dancer. Tango is a beautiful dance, although not for the reasons most people think. It is passionate, but subtly passionate. It’s energetic, but it’s a strained, unresolved energy. It’s tense, but the tension creates the sweet moments of relief – the occasional breaths between beats.

It’s fairly common for dancers – especially female ones – to have a strength imbalance in their legs. One leg is the “Support Leg” – the leg that holds and balances the body. The other leg is the “Flair Leg,” which is the one that embellishes with kicks, swirls, toe taps, and extensions.

My left leg is my Support Leg. It’s easier for me to balance on my left leg. The muscles in my left leg are thicker and denser than those in my right leg – every sports masseuse has said so, unprompted.

In comparison, my right leg is a weak excuse for an appendage. It’s skinny and weak. It’s also flexible; when I’m dancing, the toes of my right leg draw beautiful circles and swirls with exquisite timing.

Tango saved my running. Prior to dancing, I occasionally suffered from shin splints, which happen when calves get too tight and those muscles start to pull away from the bone. Tango is a dance that happens primarily on the toes, so that extra calf strengthening allowed me to combat shin splits and run farther.

Tango also ruined my running. Continue reading

Confessions of an Injured Runner

This is not a stress fracture! Also, check out my dense and well-defined muscles.

“Let’s go schedule a followup. You okay to walk?”

“Yep. Let’s go.”

I stood up and walked out of the room. Blood quickly started draining out of my head. My vision looked like a poorly-focused vignette.

“Nope.  I need to sit down again. Hang on a minute.”

My name is Lisa, and I’m an injured athlete.

That exchange was about five weeks ago, in a doctor’s office at Stanford. The doctor had just told me he was about 80% certain I had a stress fracture. It was on the growth plate of my right tibia. I most likely wouldn’t be running for about three months.

“What can I do?”

“Swim.”

The next few days were disastrous.

I was immediately terrified that, without a regular exercise routine, I would promptly gain 40 pounds and never be an athlete again. Despite the irrationality of this thought process, it seemed like a very real outcome. To try and combat this perceived impending obesity, the first thing I did was sign up for a membership at 24 Hour Fitness, the only gym nearby with a pool open at all hours of the day. Within a week, I was swimming 2 miles a day. Within three weeks, I was up to 3 miles.

In my mind, I was no longer a runner. I wasn’t actively running, and it wasn’t clear when I next would, so that meant I wasn’t a runner.  I felt like I was lying to the world, posing as a runner when I clearly wasn’t one. I didn’t tell anyone about my injury. I was too embarrassed, and it was too painful to think about it, much less talk about it.

I stopped eating for about a week and dropped several pounds. Because, in my mind, I wasn’t an athlete, I didn’t know how to eat anymore; food no longer was categorized as fuel. It was an undefined quantity with no clear use to me.

The first few weeks were worse than any breakup I’ve ever been through. After a breakup, I could pound out a hard 10 miles to work off the emotional turbulence. Running has always been a way to burn of pent-up emotional confusion. This injury was the first problem I had encountered where it couldn’t be solved, or at least temporarily alleviated, by running.

Every time I felt pain, I imagined my bone splitting apart. It was nauseating.

A few weeks later, I went back for an MRI to confirm the diagnosis. I made sure to eat breakfast beforehand; I had convinced myself that the dizziness from the last visit was due to low blood sugar, not shock.

There was good news, and bad news.  The good news: it wasn’t a stress fracture. The bad news: it was tendinitis. Recovery time for tendinitis can be as short as 4-6 weeks. I was relieved, but it also didn’t immediately change anything I was doing. I still had to spend every morning confined within the walls of a windowless gym.

Sidenote: There’s no doubt in my mind regarding what caused this injury. I didn’t give myself enough time to recover after my 100-mile race. Consider that lesson learned.

Today, about five weeks after the first diagnosis, I ran 1.25 miles without pain. Today is the first day I’ve felt real optimism that I’ll run again.

Over the past few weeks, things have settled down a bit. I’m cycling almost every morning, and I’ve started lifting some weights. An exercise routine has been successfully established.

I’ll probably do some additional writing on different facets of this recovery process, mainly so others can read about some of the things I’ve learned. Having never done any research on injuries prior to this event, I’ve definitely learned a lot about injury prevention, recovery, and some specific health issues, like the female athlete triad.

Because of this process, my motivations and psychology around running and my approach to life have been torn apart, laid bare, and pieced back together. It’s been an eye-opening experience, made even more shocking because of the relative lack of severity of the injury.

Importantly, I’ve come to terms with this injury. Just because I’m not running today doesn’t mean I’m not a runner. I’m still a runner. I’m just taking a vacation.

Have you had a sports-related injury? How did you recover?