My funky foot part three; becoming a runner again

It’s been ages since I felt the way I do now about running; a feeling I’d describe as quasi-euphoric. I won’t go into any detail here about the trials and tribulations of the past 12-18 months. If you’re really interested in such long-winded stories, part one is here and part two is here. The long and short of it is that I was becoming convinced by the middle of last year that I might just have to hang up my runners for good, with severe nerve-related pain, discomfort and tingling, resulting in an inability to run more than a couple kilometers at a time.

I’d already come to the conclusion that ultimate was no longer a good idea due to a minor tear of my left medial meniscus about three years ago, and was really thinking I’d be almost completely focused on cycling for my endorphin fix. The problem with that is that I just love running. I like cycling well enough, but in my heart I am a runner. It’s cheap, easy and I feel better when I’m on a good run than I do at almost any other time. Whether I’m chasing people and a plastic disc in cleats, hitting the trails or pavement or ramping up for speedwork or hills, running gives me a fix like no other exercise.

Things felt pretty bleak. Bleak, that is until late last year. I’d spent a good chunk of the year getting injections for my neuromas and purchasing all manner of arch support, metartarsal pad and shoe to find the right combination that would mitigate my symptoms. I’d try doing a little running, have one or more problems, back off and so on, for what seemed like an eternity. As I finally found a good podiatrist, made my way through seven sclerosing alcohol injections and settled on a small foam metatarsal pad and latex toe separator on my runs, my symptoms calmed down bit by bit. By December, while I was still experimenting with various orthotics I was starting to tolerate slightly more regular runs and had ventured toward 10k on the weekends. This seems absolutely paltry compared with my past running, but 2-3 runs for about 20k a week was trending in the right direction. And, I was feeling very little discomfort on the runs by Christmas.

Needing some goals

You can never really tell if you’re getting better until you begin increasing overall volume and intensity, and the duration of individual runs. Since I hadn’t done a race since 2011, as 2013 hit, I figured I needed some goals to ensure I ramped up. As opposed to focusing on time, I just wanted a few targets to shoot at whereby I’d have to run more in preparation. Just before the price increase at midnight on New Year’s Eve, I registered for the BMO Vancouver Half and sometime shortly thereafter I registered for the 5 Peaks BC trail series. Nothing heavy, just enough that I could ramp up and see how my foot held up.

Settling on shoes

Newton Motion picAfter trying Hoka One One, Columbia, Salomon (and other) shoes over the past year and not finding what I needed, my shoe testing continued into 2013 and I discovered Newton Running shoes earlier this year. I loved running in the Newtons and still use them for some shorter mid-week runs. Ultimately, however, the way the Newton gets to a zero heel-to-toe drop is by putting rubber lugs under the forefoot of the shoe, and effectively pushing it off the ground and forcing the foot into more of a flex position. It would appear that placing my foot in this position put too much stress on my calf muscles. It took a few weeks to figure it out, but basically any run over about 8km in the Newtons and my calves were aching for a day or two afterward. Multiple runs per week simply exacerbated the problem, with no amount of rolling, pressure or stretching providing any relief.

Back to New Balance

890V3 picSince the injections and orthotic adjustments had killed the symptoms which stopped me running completely in April 2012, what I was really dealing with now was determining whether I could run more and longer and not see a return of my painful toe and forefoot symptoms. As New Balance has been my shoe of record for the most part, I decided to take a stab at returning to the fold. I have an old pair of 1400s that I began using again for some of my mid-week shorties, just to see if I could even run in a flexible forefoot again, and I passed the test repeatedly. I decided to take a look at the 890V3s since I really liked the V1s from a couple years back. Since I have also generally found I now need a wide toe box and stiffer forefoot I picked up a pair of Kintec composite inserts, but ultimately they were too stiff and I’ve found the 890V3s are working out very well on their own. I’ve been using them from April onward, including the BMO Vancouver Half about 10 days ago, and have been very happy so far.

1210 Leadville picSince I hadn’t really been trail running since the 2011 5 Peaks series, and needed something for the 2013 edition, New Balance seemed like a good choice. Last week I picked up a pair of the new 1210 Leadvilles and only got one short urban trail run under my belt as a test prior to Golden Ears this past weekend. I have to say that I absolutely love them. They’ve got a naturally stiff forefoot and an 8mm drop, which is exactly the same as the drop in my 890V3s. They seem to have just the right balance of structure and flexibility and my foot felt great in last week’s Golden Ears enduro.

Training, events and frisbees

I made a very conscious decision to not ramp up heavily in advance of the half marathon on May 5th, only to get my long runs up to a couple 20k’s with a couple short, slightly higher paced mid-week jaunts prior to race day. Plus, in addition to having to ease off for a few weeks of Newton-induced calf problems, I lost almost three whole weeks in late March and early April due to a bad cold which turned into a lovely sinus infection. This happened right when I should have been tuning my legs in the race prep phase of my half marathon training cycle. This was the only place I really planned on doing a few weeks of shorter interval training. As such, I don’t feel too bad about still managing 10 runs/85k a month between January 1st and April 30th.

I haven’t run big volume yet, but considering what I lost, I probably averaged 25-30k per week during the times I ran. The most important thing to me was that I haven’t really experienced any of my prior symptoms in 2013 yet. I do have a tiny little numb spot on the tip of my big toe, but it comes and goes. Compared to the painful arches, big swollen nerve lumps and explosive toe jolts I had with every run about a year ago, the difference now is nothing short of remarkable to me.

BMO Vancouver Marathon Half

bmo van marathon half picThis is a purposely tiny race report, because well, I didn’t race it. Just wanting to ramp up to a half distance after a long time off, there was no hill, speed or power work in preparation for this event. In short, everything went just about as well as could be expected. Other than the training gaps mentioned above, I slowly got myself up through some 16-20k long runs in the weeks before the event and was feeling good in the days leading up to the race.

The weather was beautiful and warm. I had no issues on the run and that’s all I wanted. It was probably just about my slowest half marathon ever and I was absolutely fine with that. I now know I can comfortably do a half without foot issues right now. This was also my first run on the new (as of 2012) course and I generally liked it a lot. I did find some of the downtown twists and turns to hit all the key neighbourhoods reduced the flow for me, but that’s a very small issue. A net downhill run was perfect for my situation.

All in all, my chip time of 1:37:47 put me in the top 7% for my AG (32/454) and the top 9% of my gender (341/3998) overall. At this point I have no plans for road races longer than a half, but it makes total sense to do the work to get back to a pace at which I’m happier running. Sub-1:30 again, maybe?

5 Peaks Golden Ears

2013 5 Peaks BC Golden Ears-188The week following the BMO Half was the first of the 2013 5 Peaks BC trail runs. These events are great for where I am right now. Enough distance and climbing for a challenge, but short enough that you’re done in 1-2 hours and on with your day. I’m not as strong on the trails as I am on the road, and that was certainly no exception with this event.

elevation picIt was another beautiful day, bookending a week of incredible weather that began just before the marathon the Sunday before. Arriving at Alouette Lake with Greg and Rob around 8:30, this was another happily uneventful day for me.

Edit – You can see Greg’s fine (and far more detailed than mine) 5 Peaks Golden Ears race report here. We ended up within about 25 meters of each other for probably the first 10k of the run. I think his GPS is even wonkier than mine though, since he measured the 14k race at just over 12 and my Garmin said 13.3

I seeded myself a little further back than I normally would have, expecting the moderate run I would ultimately have. The only things worth mentioning for me are the gnarly little climb up Incline and my insistence on catching my right toe repeatedly on a stump or boulder and nearly face-planting on the trail. Incline was tough as expected, and probably slower than when I did it two years earlier. As the elevation pic above shows, you gain about 200 meters over 1k of the course, so it’s pretty steep and feels longer than it is. As I kept stubbing my right foot, at least I managed to catch myself with my left foot before breaking my face, so that’s a good thing.

As opposed to how I typically place in most road races, I’m usually around the middle of the pack in trail events. This is likely an outcome of very little hilly trail running in general. Since I had absolutely zero of either prior to the event, my expectations were suitably moderate. My time of 1:24:56 was good enough for 68/158 overall, and 18/30 in my AG. I don’t necessarily expect to be as strong on trails as the road, but top 1/3 in all categories is a decent goal for races this year. Given that, with just as little event-specific training in 2011, I ran 1:20:18 on the same course, it’s clear I’ve got a little work to do before the Squamish event in June.

Chasing plastic

Despite my earlier assertions that I was done with ultimate due to my minor medial meniscus damage (permanent, but not bad enough for surgery), the knee has felt almost perfect for quite some time, well before my foot problems actually. I really love playing ultimate, but it’s become a young, fast person’s game and I’m no longer that. However, since my wife is still playing a couple times a week, I decided to give it one more shot and play Monday single headers. One game to 17 is much easier on the joints than double-headers to 13, so I figured I’d play and see how things feel.

I’m happy to report after two weeks, I’m moving quite well and not as slowly as I expected. My hands aren’t as rusty as I expected either, so all in all it’s going well. I’ve promised myself that, should my knee begin giving me the slightest problem, I will drop the ultimate. I don’t want it to cause any issues for my running or cycling, both of which are higher priorities. Plus, if for some reason I do need to drop it, this is absolutely my last kick at the can and I’ll be hanging my cleats up permanently. Continuing to play will be a year-by-year decision, but the next time I do stop will be my last.

What’s next?

As of right now, I’m only registered for the 5 Peaks series, since I like getting the extra swag and I wanted a reason to get to the trails more often. At the very least I’ll do a late season half marathon to measure my progress, probably Victoria in October. I could easily register for a bunch of races – Iron Knee next week, do the next 5 Peaks on June 8th, the Longest Day 10k on June 14th, and the Scotiabank Half the week after that, just to name a few. I’m thinking I’d like a few weeks just to begin getting my speed work and hills regularized. Since I already know I’m running Squamish in 3.5 weeks I’m seriously considering doing the Scotia Half a couple weeks after that to gauge my progress. That would give me four races for May and June, and I should hopefully see some small improvements in my running over that time.

I’ll likely pick a few well-spaced additional running events this year to keep focus, but nothing really ambitious. I’ve also got to narrow down things and pick two or three longer cycling events. At present I’m looking at the 145k Canada Day Populaire, with the 160k Valley Granfondo a possibility three weeks later, and the 140k Tour de Victoria in September. The Victoria ride is well-spaced between the last two 5 Peaks events of the season, and a full month before the Victoria Marathon half.

In particular, 5 Peaks Cypress is the day before the Valley Granfondo in July, so I have to consider how much I want to load up on one weekend before committing to the Fondo. I can always consider the RBC Whistler Granfondo too, but that would put two fondos in September and I really want to do the Victoria ride. August is looking a little empty right now, except for 5 Peaks Whistler Blackcomb, so I may consider another trail or road running event and focus on tuning my riding for September.

I just love being able to think like this, picking target events and planning training, instead of figuring out when my next injection is going to be.