First Half race report: more questions than answers

With regard to the weather, this race has serious horseshoes up its a**. That’s a good thing, because like most other years the rain held off and the weather was very nice. There was a very strong field this year, in part, because the race was not run last year due to the Winter Olympics. I knew a lot of people – likely well over 20 – running today and many had PB’s. In particular, Brian Wynhoven and Dave Papineau came in pretty much together in 1:18 and change. I’m pretty sure that’s a PB for both. I didn’t come close to a PB (not that I was expecting to), but I didn’t have a bad race either.

Roundhouse Community Centre, scene of the First Half
Roundhouse Community Centre

In light of the news earlier in the week that I do indeed have a damaged medial meniscus in my left knee, my chip time of 1:33:38 was OK.  It leaves me with more questions than answers at the moment, but I’ll come back to that shortly.  My hard goal for the race was 1:35 and, while that’s close to 10 minutes off my PB, the last half I did was the Vancouver Marathon Half last year, at 1:37:26.  I figured with the increase in running and faster tempos/speed sessions, this should have been doable.  My soft goal was 1:32, which I didn’t quite do, with today’s result falling right between the two.  Beating my last half by four minutes was fine, given that this was the first one of the year.

Race details

I tested out a smaller version of my normal breakfast shake and it seemed to work pretty well. No gut or digestion issues at all. We got down to Yaletown with lots of time to park, but I got into the starting chute a little later than I wanted so probably well over half the 2000+ runners were ahead of me at the start.  It thinned out pretty quickly and I hit a decent stride.  What I figured I’d do was shoot for a 1:30 race with my pacing and see how long I could hold it, hoping to end up at 1:32 or better.  I did pretty well through about 1/3 of the race and ran about a 6:50 mile.  By the halfway point I’d probably lost 3-4 seconds a mile.  At this point I felt my soft goal was probably still within reach.

The second half of the race was where I really found out what I need to do in my training going forward.  Nothing big or catastrophic happened at all, but in the last six miles I just slowly lost time on a steady decline of 1-2 seconds a mile.  My average HR for the race was 164, so I was pushing reasonably hard, but my pacing just sort of trailed off nonetheless. I was running about a 6:54 mile at halfway and my pace for the whole race was 7:06 per mile, but it’s much better than the 7:18 mile I ran at the last half I did. Knocking another :45 per mile to get into PB range will be a work in progress, particularly at 46.

Given the meniscus news, I figured I’d do a 30 minute spin on the trainer this afternoon, to kill off a bit of the lactic acid buildup. As I write this, everything feels pretty good so I’m hopeful I won’t get too much stiffness tomorrow, the ‘day after’ hallmark of this knee injury over the past 3-4 months. Last week, in particular, after a reasonably heavy Saturday trainer ride and fairly quick Sunday 14-miler, my knee was verging on sore Monday and Tuesday.

Menisc-osity

If I’m going to improve my half marathons over the course of this season (the big goal is to get back under 1:30), one of the keys to doing so will simply be more mileage. Since I’m still considering a late May marathon, more mileage will be imperative anyway. I expect to do more doubles, running to-and-from work, and make the effort just to get out for a 5k, when I might normally not bother. I’ll also need to do more frequent longer runs with a significant race pace interval to end the run.

Medial Unloader Brace
Ossur medial unloader brace
Since the meniscus damage diagnosis, I’ve been put on an MRI waiting list and got an Ossur medial unloader brace (at right) for a month trial. Since my knee only tightens significantly after harder/longer runs, the advice I’ve been given is to find the distance and intensity that doesn’t cause noticeable tightness the next day and stick with that for a while.

As well, I’ve been told to use the brace for harder workouts, including speed and hilly stuff. I tried it out for a four mile tempo run last Friday, but I have no idea if it had much of an effect, as I haven’t got a running baseline to use yet. In addition to figuring out the running, I’ve been told I can safely do as much cycling as I want, so I’ll be upping the trainer mileage and trying to get my cycle commuting going. Finally, I’ve got a new regimen of static and dynamic leg exercises to build strength. In truth, I’ve got to reduce what I was already doing, alter a few things, and get rid of the jumping and plyometrics (likely a big irritant for the damage cartilage).

What’s next?

Getting back to the training I need to do this year, it’s going to be entirely dependent on my knee trial-and-error and new exercise protocol. Before the diagnosis, when I thought the knee tightness was something I’d just work through, this year was going to be all about middle distance. Now, I’ll be evaluating my racing goals over the next couple months, as I rehab. I’ll have a much better idea if I can hold onto this year’s racing goals or not. Once the MRI is done, it will confirm the level of damage and, coupled with the progress my rehab makes on my knee, my doctor and I will probably make a determination as to whether surgery is needed to repair the cartilage. I have an appointment for further evaluation in about a month.

As it stands now, over the next three months I’m registered in the St. Patty’s Day 5k, 5 Peaks Golden Ears and the Vancouver Marathon half. I’m hopeful for the half and willing to let the other two go if I start to see some progress with the new approach outlined above. It’s possible that no running will be the best amount of running, so unfortunately all I can do is play it by ear.

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