Thursday, February 20, 2014

U-T California 10/20 Race Review

This was the inaugural U-T California 10/20, taking place in Del Mar, Solana Beach, and Encinitas (beach communities just north of San Diego) on February 16, 2014. “10” is for 10 miles, and “20” is for 20 bands.

The band at mile 1 and 9

It was a PR by definition. I’ve never run a 10 mile race before. My time was 1:09:55 (7:00 average pace) (31st female of 2060; 9th of 261 in division F30-34. 93rd overall of 3241).

The race organization was really good – same quality as RnR race series but with a similarly high entry fee of $85. This is the second in the “10/20” series by this race director – the other race being in Austin, TX. The prize money was $3,000 for first male and female, bringing out some fast elites. First place male was 48:00 (4:48 average pace) and first place female was 54:49 (5:28 average pace). Good prize money for age groups as well.

Weather was very foggy at the start and then the marine layer burned off by mile 2 or 3. It was actually pretty warm - and there was a coastal eddy wind coming off the ocean to deal with.

My goal was to keep on track with incrementally speeding up my half marathon pace. I ran a 15K at the beginning of January at 7:11 average pace, a half marathon in mid-January at 7:09 average pace, and now this 10 miler in mid-February at 7:00 – although my Garmin shows an average pace of 6:53 with a course of 10.16 miles.

Sidebar:  I read on Jake and Andrea’s Wasatch and Beyond blog that the mile markers on race courses are more accurate than a GPS watch’s mile readings, so you should manually mark your mile laps on your watch.  I forgot until a few minutes before the race so couldn’t turn off my mile auto-laps in time. I’ll definitely be trying this in the future in races when I know there is a sign posted at each mile.

Overall the course was flat - most of it along Highway 101 up the coast from Del Mar through Solana Beach and to Encinitas and back. The first and last miles are within the Del Mar fairgrounds (not on the racetrack). I have run this 101 route probably a hundred times – it was my easy weekend route for a lot of years – so it was kind of my home course. I know where the hills are. 

There was one mile that had a longish hill, which was made more difficult by the wind. But most miles were right at a 7:00 pace or just under. I ran the last two miles fast - 6:36 (lots of downhill) and 6:44 (flat). I passed 11 people in the second half of the race, continuing the trend of strong finishes in my 2014 races.


I spent a lot of the race with my eyes closed, as documented by the race photographers. During the early miles, I was closing my eyes and telling myself I was in control of the pace and I could keep it up. In the late miles, I was closing my eyes to dig deep to stay at those fast paces and not get re-passed by anyone!

And no hip pain - it absolutely vanished when I started using the inserts with a little more arch support. 

two little runners

Friday, February 14, 2014

So You Have A Femoral Neck Stress Reaction / Fracture...

I've received quite a few questions about my recovery from my femoral neck stress reaction, and thought I would write a post about it. Sorry to our regular readers for the epic length, but I remember when I was injured and trawling blogs and forums, all I wanted to see was a detailed insight into the various stages (and timelines) of recovery I was in for. So here's mine.

Disclaimer: I am not a health or fitness professional. This post is based entirely on my own personal experience. I am a lawyer, and thus the only thing I am really qualified to write is this poorly-phrased disclaimer, which I'm sure lacks any significant legal efficacy. Let that fact be a warning regarding the extent to which you should take my advice on something that I haven't been studying/practicing for the last 7 years.

So by way of background, you can find the post in which I was injured here, the post in which I think I just have a hip flexor strain (and am whining about not running) here, and my post about my diagnosis, here.

I think the biggest question people have when faced with this injury is how long 'til I can run again, and what can I do in the interim.

The answer to that depends on the severity of your injury and particularly, whether you have a stress reaction versus a fracture. A reaction is the inflammation of the bone, which is the precursor to a stress fracture, where a crack in the bone has actually occurred. Fractures will take a LOT longer to heal, so its vital that if you suspect you have this injury (watch this video for a helpful demonstration by my doctor on self-diagnosing hip injuries) you go straight to the doctor and ask for an MRI (stress fractures often don't show up on X-Rays).

Given my disclaimer, I'm not going to be prescriptive. I am going to describe my experience. What I had, how I felt, what I did and the timeline of all of that.

I. Background To Getting Injured.
As my post on my diagnosis states, my injury was caused by low bone density in certain (not all) areas. It was diagnosed by a bone density scan. I'm relatively comfortable that my training - while heavy - was not generally too much, but it was too much with the added disability of weak bones. I was averaging around 55 miles, and had been running that mileage for quite a few weeks, after building up slowly from several weeks running in the 40s. This was not new mileage territory for me; I had run similar mileage in training for my marathon. I was taking at least 1, usually 2 rest days per week.

Leading up to the race in which I was injured, I had had a very light niggling pain in my groin, what I thought was a groin or hip flexor strain. I had had groin strains before, and given the discomfort was a 1 on the pain scale (and was markedly alleviated by stretching my quads, hips and foam rolling my hip flexor), I felt comfortable racing on it. If I had known that it had ANYTHING to do with my bone, I would not have raced. Full stop.

II. Getting Injured
I got injured on September 16, 2013.

I ran my race, feeling nothing but a small amount of discomfort from miles 1-3. Thereafter I felt nothing in the injury area, until after I stopped running at the finish line. Note that I pushed very hard my last three miles, and I suspect that is where most of the damage was done. Again, if I had felt pain during the race, I would have stopped. Especially if I had known it was in my bone.

Immediately post-race, I felt strong sharp pain in the front of my hip almost as soon as I stopped running. I could just jog on it, but knew that it was bad enough that that I shouldn't. I still thought it was muscular. N.B. As the video notes, pain in the front (versus side) of the hip should be treated with caution.

The day after my race, none of my other running muscles were sore, but I could not climb stairs, hop or jog with my injured leg. Walking was low-pain as long as I walked with a stiff leg (no bending at the knee), but very slow (as Kristen will attest). The fact that walking was not bad led me to believe that I didn't have a stress fracture.

III. Recovery

Weeks 1-2 Post-Injury
Pain Level: It took about two weeks before I could properly step up on my injured leg (albeit with some discomfort). Walking with a stiff leg allowed me to walk almost no pain. I could not hop on my injured leg. Pain was about a 9-10 if I did that. Walking was about a 2-3.  Reading back on my training log entries, I note that I had a lot of stiffness in my quads, and pain in my hip flexor, when I drew my knee to my chest. This was significantly relieved by foam-rolling and stretching, which again, led me to believe that I had a muscular problem. Note, however, that foam-rolling and stretching did nothing to affect the "impact" pain, when I performed the hop test.

Cross-Training: Week 1, I did no exercise. Week 2, I believe I ellipticalled a couple of times, before realizing that it was putting pressure on my quads, which led to discomfort in my hip. I swam lightly, because kicking didn't seem to hurt, though it didn't feel like much of a workout. I did some upper body weightlifting as well. I had a sports massage that did precisely diddly-squat (i.e., nothing).

Week 3-4: Diagnosis and Beginning Cross Training
 In the third week of my injury, I got a diagnosis. I had a very high grade stress reaction, but no cracks had formed in the bone. My doctor gave me the go ahead to do non-impact cross-training by elliptical or pool running and as much strength training as I felt comfortable (obviously no jumping). I was able to walk on it, and thankfully did not have to use crutches. I am aware that usually stress fractures in this area of the bone come with crutches, so I was grateful I didn't have to use to them.

Pain Level: Hopping was producing about a 7-8 on the pain scale. Walking was a 1-2, and feeling better every day. The stiffness in my quads was beginning to release, and drawing my knee to my chest was not hurting much. I believe now that those muscles were all strained in part on their own, and in part because they were working hard to protect the bone. 

Cross-Training: Lots of foam rolling and stretching. I tried pool running about about 3 times. It was a great workout, but I felt a significant amount of discomfort during and afterwards in my hip flexor muscle. I have since read that pool-running can put a lot of strain on this area (the muscles then pulling on the bone) which can delay healing.

Instead, I found the ellipticals like this one (though not as new and snazzy) where you can set the ramp really high to focus on your gluts. I don't know if it actually strengthens your gluts, but it took all the pressure off my quads and (consequently), my hips. Because I experienced no pain doing this, I began doing regular elliptical workouts (mostly at an easy heart rate, between 145-155) with some intervals thrown in for funsies. Week 3, I did 5 elliptical workouts and Week 4 I did 6. Also focused on adding some good core strength routines in.

Weeks 5-6
Pain Level: (going off of memory) this was a frustrating period, because all my acute pain was gone. I could walk with almost no discomfort, and felt like running was not far off. As Kristen mentioned with her injury, the 90% of healing didn't take long at all. It was the remaining 10% that took the longest. At this point I think I could climb stairs with no pain. Hopping on one leg was probably a 4-5. I could do it, but it was obvious that healing was not complete.

Cross Training: gave pool running a couple more tries, but then focused on elliptical workouts about 5-6 days a week (again, feeling no pain on the high-ramp elliptical), as well as core workouts. Leg strength was still tough. I recall that squats (body or low weight) were ok, but single-leg dead lifts or lunges felt uncomfortable. I tried to do a little, to promote some strength, but kept it very low-key. My rule of thumb (and doctor's advice) during this period was a little bit of discomfort was ok, as long as I was not feeling it by the time I got round to the next workout. It was all about walking that tight-rope of maintaining some fitness and promoting blood flow and movement, but not over-doing it. Lots of stretching and foam rolling, with a focus on hips and quads.

At the end of October, I saw my doctor again, and he gave me another two weeks before I could start running again.

Weeks 7-8
Pain Level: The Pfizinger Plan for returning to running after a stress fracture, states that you should be able to walk briskly for an hour without pain before you return to running. About 6 weeks after my injury, we hiked for 8 miles which, while not particularly brisk, took us several hours. There were moments I was scared my hip would hurt, but I was mostly pain free. I felt a discomfort lower than a 1, which was more of an awareness that my hip area felt weak, rather than any actual pain. Hopping produced about 2-3 pain, but stepping up was fine. I did the occasional 2-3 meter jog down the office hallway to test my hip, and it started to feel like normal again.

Cross Training: Still the elliptical 5-6 times a week. I added some workouts, like "Yassos" (10 x 3 mins hard, 1 min easy), which helped the time pass. I kept trying to do strength (upper body, core and light-leg strength), introducing some single-leg squats and deadlifts.

On November 6, I wrote in my training log: I haven't been able to do single leg strength work until yesterday. My hip feels a little achey, but not "re-hurt" in the way it used to after single-leg stuff. A little acheyness is fine apparently [NB: this was per my doctor's advice].

On November 11, I wrote:  Hip feeling pretty great; I know running isnt far off. Im trying to progress to where I feel zero discomfort doing elliptical upright and all my single leg weights. Once Im there, and Im close, I feel like I could start my 5 min runs. Going to follow the Pfizinger plan to return to running. I would usually be a little more aggressive than this, as I only had a stress reaction. But given that its in the femoral neck (weakest area of the femur + most time off running if I had actually fractured it), its just too risky to be anything less than conservative.

Week 9
Pain Level: Hopping produced about a 1 on the pain scale. I was under the impression I had to be at zero before I could run again, but my doctor was happy with me being able to hop several times on the injured leg, with very minimal discomfort.

Cross-Training/Return to Running: I began this training plan: Note that I used the training plan as a guide only. I noticed that I needed more time off between runs than the plan had scheduled; often 2-3 days for the first month. Conversely, I was able to run longer, earlier, than the plan had allowed for. For instance, while many of the runs were still at 20 mins, I was able to go 30 mins. I was very careful to continue the walk breaks and assess how my hip was feeling. I went by this guide: if I felt pain at the beginning of my run, I stopped. If I only felt pain/discomfort towards the end of my run, or the day after, I would simply wait until it went away before I ran again.

Very mild discomfort in my hip continued well into January. I had no pain when hopping (the bone/impact test) but could feel that the muscles around the injury area were still tight, especially when I drove my knee upwards. Foam rolling and stretching my hips (pigeon post, standing quad stretch, seated piriformis stretch especially) really helped.

IV. Epilogue: Some Additional Notes
1) Medication:
I did not take anything for my pain. I have nothing against pain relief generally (and use it frequently for head aches and period pain) but I wanted to be very aware of how my healing was progressing. I also did not want to risk "feeling better" and then over doing it in my return to running.

2) Food:
Throughout my recovery I ate more. More of everything. More than I had been when I was running 50 miles a week (I know, I know). While my hunger dipped for a short time when I was not exercising at all, it returned with a vengence when I was cross training, and I took it as a sign that my body needed more calories to heal. I especially ate a lot of dairy products (chocolate milk after every workout, greek yogurt and almond milk daily + calcium/Vitamin D tablets).

I probably gained about 10 pounds initially and while I haven't weighed myself for a couple of months, I'm fairly certain I've dropped back down close to what I was before. And I've continued eating more. My body NEEDED the calories and macronutrients to first, recover, and second, to support my mileage build up. Im not talking about just fruit and vegetables, of which I ate plenty, but really good quality protein, healthy fats (peanut butter, avocados, etc) and a LOT of carbs by way of potatoes, rice and other whole grains. And while I'm not some snake-oil promoting, naturo-quack who thinks a good diet can cure all, I know in my case I needed it and it really did help. (I might write more about this at some point, but I couldn't have worded Kristen's nutrition post better myself).

3) Mileage and Return to Running:
Many people complain that running feels odd when they restart after an injury. I did not. Running felt perfectly normal (apart from being very conscious of weakness/discomfort in my hip).  

Below is my progression of mileage (per week) build-up to now:
November: 3, 10, 8 miles
December: 15, 14, 22, 28 miles
January: 26, 32, 35, 40 (at the beginning of Jan, I did my first fast run at (coincidentally) my first 5K (approximately 10-11 weeks post injury).
February: 42, 44
I am presently doing a long run of 13 miles each week, and 1.5 workouts (one scheduled, the other low-key fartleks or hill sprints) per week. I plan to hover around the low-40s in mileage for a month or two to avoid injury. The mileage feels very easy, and I haven't had any soreness or niggles to speak of. My calves and quads are occasionally a little tight, but this is normal.

4) Sanity (ETA)
I will be writing a post about the mental side of injuries, but I thought this post needed a specific addendum. This femoral neck injury can be the worst running injury to have. Not only because the healing time can take up to 5-6 months, but because if your stress reaction becomes a stress fracture, and your stress fracture becomes a full fracture, then're in for a hip replacement about 30-40 years early. Its really scary. And its really vital that you take recovery seriously, and give yourself a real break from thinking about running and maintaining your fitness.

It sucks. I get it. But it will end.  It will heal. It will heal stronger than it was before (the only upside to the injury). And you will be running strong and PR-ing before you know it. But don't waste a single day of recovery time. Give every day your fullest effort in avoiding anything that hurts, and doing everything that helps. That means sleep. Eat. Stretch. Roll. Spend time with your loves. Running will be there when this injury is over, I promise.

So there you have it! Hopefully I've covered everything, but please email us at twolittlerunners at gmail dot com, if you have any other questions.

Got any cool injury stories or tips? Whats the worst running injury you've ever had? Did you nearly throw your fridge out the window in frustration? Did you have the presence of mind to eat everything in the fridge before you threw it out the window?

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Nutrition for Runners - Approach to Training (and getting more veg!)

I read Matt Fitzgerald’s new book on nutrition for runners. It’s called The New Rules of Marathon and Half-Marathon Nutrition: A Cutting-Edge Plan to Fuel Your Body Beyond “the Wall.” Catchy!

The book summarizes recent literature on how to best eat during your taper and for race day. This is all good stuff – and I've read variations on it before in other books –  but it's mostly irrelevant to me right now because I am only doing half marathons this year. And for those I don't need to do a fat load/carb load during my taper or any thing extraordinary food-wise for race day.

So the most interesting information to me was on how to best eat during those long months of training.You know it’s really important to eat right and to get enough calories during your training cycle. First, it makes those hard workouts easier to complete – and more effective. Ever tried running a long tempo on an empty stomach? It’s enough to make you cry. And if you’re not eating enough, and enough of the right stuff, you are more prone to injury. I've also found that eating lots of good calories during high mileage weeks combats the runner-grumpies that I typically get when running over 50 miles per week.

The book proposes a “Two-Rule Diet” for runners. It's actually pretty good. It's not a gimmick. Do read on...

Rule 1 is getting enough carbs. Your sources of carbs are vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. The more you train, the more carbs your muscles use, and the more carbs you use, the more carbs you need to eat. I’ll let Matt fill you in on why and how much you need. It’s anti-Paleo.

Rule 2 is to maximize the overall quality of your diet in order to get to or maintain your ideal racing weight – let’s just call that your healthy weight. He puts all foods into 10 categories. Basically, the best quality, most nutrient dense foods are the top 6. They also happen to be the least calorically dense foods. The lower quality, less nutritious – but higher calorie – foods are at the bottom of the list, 7-10.

1. Vegetables (including legumes)
2. Fruits
3. Nuts and seeds
4. Fish and lean meats
5. Whole grains
6. Dairy products
7. Refined grains
8. Fatty meats
9. Sweets
10. Fried foods

It’s simple: Eat more 1 than 2, 2 than 3, 3 than 4, 4 than 5, 5 than 6, 6 than 7, 7 than 8, 8 than 9, and 9 than 10. Stick to a week timeframe to measure. It won’t be possible to follow the rule in every meal and snack. Biasing your diet to foods in the top 6 will allow you to attain or maintain your healthy weight. And you should eat as much as your appetite dictates – as long as you are sticking to mostly the top 6.

My takeaways were that I should eat more vegetables, less fruit, and more whole grains. I am a fruit monster and tend to get more 2 than 1. Cutting back on fruit was easy. But upping the vegetables was more of a challenge. (More on whole grains at a later date...still experimenting with them.)

So ideas on how to get more tell!

Soup! Even the stuff in the can counts! I usually take a sandwich to work and eat at my desk. Adding a can of soup was a really simple way to get another vegetable serving.

Bonus if you can find all the soup ingredients in your kitchen.

Cut vegetables. Keep cut up vegetables around. Just cut them up right away when you are unloading them.

Pull them out of the fridge for an afternoon snack or when you get home from work. Eat with hummus,Greek yogurt veggie dip, salsa, or guac. It stops me from mowing down a bunch of chips (category 10) before I start making dinner.

Salads. Keeping lettuce on hand to whip up a quick side salad for dinner –  also using your stock of cut vegetables. I dress most of my salads with just a splash of lemon juice or white wine vinegar and some olive oil. Maybe a turn or two of the pepper mill and some sea salt.

These are pretty obvious ideas...Any good veg snacks in your routine?

two little runners

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

My favorite intersection

The corner of San Diego and California in San Diego, CA. Any unusual intersections in your neck of the woods?

two little runners

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Park Run 5K (Albert Park) Recap

Its still January in 'Merica, so I can still post January stuff, right? Wait, I wrote that sentence three days ago, and its now no longer January even there. Bugger.

I have been promising posts to Kristen, lately, and promptly following up with... no posts. Its kinda tough to blog, when you don't have a table... chairs... place to live... hotspotting wireless from your iPhone....

Anyway, I'm doing a bang-up job with the excuses, but should probably just get straight to the running stuff. Right-o.

So I ran a 5K.

I'll repeat that.

I ran a 5K.

It was about as yuck as I imagined... and I did it at a time in my running life that was probably going to make it even less a pleasurable or rewarding than usual. This was my first race back - indeed, really the first fast running I had done - since my injury. (I have had a few questions about my femoral neck stress reaction, and am currently composing a post on my recovery! Coming soon! That's not even slightly a promise!)

Anyway, so lets see. I was out for 8 weeks from Sept-Nov, and began running between 15-20 miles a week through December. In late December, my dear friend Racer was all like "Hey, you should do this 5K with me." I'm like, this sounds like a great idea. Except I don't want to run a 5K. He's like "[something or rather blah blah] fast, flat course."

I'm like well, ok, I should probably do one at some point. And its a fast, flat course, how bad can it be??

So I did it, and it hurt like a mofo (as I understand all 5Ks do). Aaaaand Racer told me afterwards that he was going to mention the possibility of the wind being horrible, but decided against it to ensure I'd come along. Hmmmm. Well played, Racer, well played.

Time was 20:37. Splits were: 6:22, 6:37, 6:51 and 6:18 for the 0.1. Average pace was 6:37. Yowch.

To put this in perspective, this is almost the same pace as I ran the last 5K of my last half marathon in September.  I don't think I've lost quite that much fitness... So what went wrong?

First,  I obviously went out too fast in the first mile. I was planning a 6:30, and had no idea how that felt, so crashed and burned! Second, the headwind was pretty hardcore in the second half of the race. Finally, I guess I have a little to learn about racing 5Ks! Kristen (resident 5K expert!) gave me some great pointers beforehand, but I kind of failed to execute those... I'll definitely try harder next time (e.g. to go out at a reasonable pace in the beginning, when it all still feels relatively delightful!)

Here are some pictures from the race (I'm in the blue top, light yellow shorts; Rory is in red top, black shorts).

Starting out at about a 6:10 pace. This cannot possibly go wrong.
Not even considering the possibility that a lovely tail wind on a loop course would result in a headwind later on.
Just after I said goodbye to Racer in order to let him beat me when I realized I couldn't keep up with his pace. Next time, Racer, next time.
And just focused on passing as many people as possible.
Pain place... and not even at mile 2. Good signs.
Racer on the home stretch, looking strong...
Pain place here is evolving into something akin to despair and questioning my life choices.
Despite very seriously considering DNF-ing at least every 0.2 of a mile, I actually ended up coming in second female (and kind of kicked myself, because if I'd known the lady in front of me was first, I might have tried to pass her).

Anyway I actually really liked this race. Its a free, timed entry, through Park Runs, which are done throughout the world, as I understand it, in many major cities. I understand that its usually a larger field, which could be good to compete in... on this day (Jan 3rd) I actually was second female. The people who run it are really friendly and the whole thing is a fun start to a weekend.

So thats that. I might do more of this 5K business at some point... if nothing else, it represents a challenge... which my little black competitive heart just adores :)