Thursday, April 23, 2009

thoughts in rehab

So if you've wondered where I've been since Ragnar (besides the usual rounds of mommying and housework), I've been in Ragnar Rehab. Rehab for a runner refers not to going cold turkey on the endorphin addiction we carry - are you kidding me?? - but trying madly to rest an injury while simultaneously maintaining the running addiction at the highest level the injury will allow.

The fallout for me of running 38 miles and change on a downhill road course has been a nagging knee pain that emerges about 30-45 minutes into a run and only subsides when I stop to walk. Downhill seems to make it worse. Despite casually trying to ice my knee after my runs, and then less casually decreasing my runs to 3x a week with cross training, I started feeling it ache occasionally even when not running, and decided the casual method wasn't working. A little research convinced me it might be ITB - a common long distance runner knee malady - so I continued the icing and reduced running further to 2x/week only on trail, hoping the softer surface would reduce impact on the joint and allow healing to progress. Finally, my husband and a couple of my Ragnar teammates made "go to the doc, dummy" comments, so I bit the bullet and went to the doc. Since then I've had an xray, seen an orthopedic specialist, and got an MRI for which I am awaiting results with the proverbial bated breath.

In the course of the past few weeks in runner's rehab, I've decided it's not so very different from rehabbing less healthy addictions. For one thing, the primary addiction is starved which leads to funneling energy into various other, lesser addictions - in my case, spending a lot of time swimming, cycling, hiking, ellipticalling, yoga-ing, basketballing, racquetballing, and lots of other -ings in mad attempts to attain the calorie burn and endorphin rush of my sport of choice.
Secondly, the seriousness of my efforts increases in direct proportion to my desperation for the addictive agent in question. The more unattainable running becomes, the more I do the work - the ice and heat and exercises necessary to achieve my goal. Runner's rehab echoes that ugly cycle of desire, denial, fear, frustration, and occasional lapses that rehab from unhealthier addictions seem to generate. I ice, it feels better; I try to run, it feels worse. One step forward, two steps back. I cross train, it feels better. I miss a couple nights of good sleep, it seems to ache more. I try Motrin, and get a rebound ache after it wears off. One step forward, 3 steps back. Progress is agonizingly slow, roller-coasterish, or seemingly non-existent.

Third, both addictive and injury rehab seem to involve lots of pondering one's life, choices, and patterns of behavior. I deal with thoughts like "how did I get here?", "why does God apparently want me here?" and "what would life look like without this?" I may not come up with coherent answers, but pondering seems inevitable.

Fourth, both require support. Support from longsuffering friends and family willing to listen to me whine about how hard it is and only occasionally tell me "I told you so", or "go see a doctor" or "time for intervention;" and support from addiction/injury professionals who have the expertise to help me out of the hole in which I find myself.

In fact, the one differentiating factor from addiction rehab is that my ultimate goal is to return to the addiction that precipitated this pain in the first place, without causing the injury that resulted. My goal is to dance that fine line of training that takes me to my physical edge without sending me hurtling over into pain, injury, and overtraining. To be the best I can be, within reason (and sometimes without reason). To "run and not be weary, to walk [if I have to] and not faint" (I think Isaiah was a runner). To inspire others to be all they physically can be, as much as possible in this life, if for no other reason than that God designed us with these amazingly strong and versatile bodies and probably didn't intend for us to abuse them by sitting on a couch watching TV or staring at a computer for what ends up being years of our short lives. Speaking of which... I'm done. Time to get on with living.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Ragnar Relay del Sol 2009

Completed the Ragnar Relay del Sol last weekend, ultra version. I've run over 30 races in the past 7 years, but I don't think I've ever felt so accomplished at the finish of any of them. (Except perhaps my first race, when I surprised myself by leaving my brother in law in the dust and won first place in my age division). Running with a relay team felt more meaningful. Running over 200 miles with a team of five other people put it on an adventurous scale I hadn't experienced in a race for a while, and gave my part in it more importance knowing that the others were depending on me. ompleting over 38 miles of that at less than an 8:30 pace may have made it my best racing effort thus far. What is doing a 10K at 7:15 or a half-marathon at sub-8:00 pace compared to 38.5 miles at 8:30?

I got invited to join the team back in November. At the time, I had been planning to switch to doing a few fast 10K and half-marathon distances, so I had to switch training gears. I knew I didn't have time to ramp up enough long run mileage without risking injury, so instead I focused on the back-to-back aspect - running hard 2 days in a row, or even 2-in-a-day runs. I hadn't tried that since my back injury, and was pleased that my careful approach didn't tweak the touchy disc. I also hoped it was enough to complete three legs of 10-12 miles each in 2 days, and not crash on one of them.

My teammates included two friends from JR's gym, Bart and Eric, and several others from a running group of theirs - Gail, Shanna, and Brett. Gail, a petite 50-year old with thick dark hair, expressive eyes, and wide friendly grin, was the team's master planner. She kept us stocked with updates by email going into the event, and organized our running schedule complete with color codings, estimated start and finish times, and everything else we needed to know from the Ragnar Bible, as it was called. Both vans were required by race rules to carry a Ragnar Bible at all times. Our team could have gone with one van for all six of us, but Gail insisted on 2 vans. It was a wise choice, considering all the masses of high calorie snacks, technical sweat-wicking clothing, and other racing paraphernalia that crowded the vehicle. My van included Bart and Brett, and we were due to complete the first legs of the race. I am realizing that I could really get detailed now on what happened during those 32 hours of Ragnar, but if I get going, I won't know where to stop.

So here's my condensed impression of Ragnar:

The Ragnar Relay del Sol. Two hundred miles of winding Arizona backroads between Prescott and Mesa. Two hundred miles of white passenger vans, hatchbacks, Hummers, and minivans passing and re-passing each other, decorated with brightly colored team names of funny and often crude description, some topped with mascots of bizarre description, all dedicatedly and erratically following their runners to the finish line. Two hundred miles of adrenaline junkies at various stages of surge and depletion, pounding away at the pavement. Two hundred miles of racers handing off the slap bracelet baton to a teammate at crowded exchanges surrounded by hooting supporters, teammates in costume, cowbells, and rows of brilliant blue porta-potties. Two hundred miles of running uphill and downhill - lots of downhill; of running along white-lined road edges, narrow potholed verges, dust-clouded dirt roads, sandy trail bits, and thick concrete sidewalks. Two hundred miles of passing through Prescott's cool evergreens, Congress's lumpy rock forest, Wickenburg's silent night, Carefree's dark highways, Fountain Hills' hazy purple hills, the Beeline's inexorable afternoon sun, Mesa's quiet neighborhoods. Two hundred miles of running in sunny pine-scented 60 degrees, in cool starry 60 degrees alongside US 60's rushing semi-trailers with only a beaming reflective vest and blinky red butt-light for protection, in wan dawn 60 degrees fighting headwinds and growing fatigue, in late morning 80's fighting sunburn and blisters, in early afternoon 90's battling nausea, chafing, and the looming wall, and in waning afternoon staggering, limping, or surging to the finish line in the park. Two hundred miles of one foot in front of another. Two hundred miles of running party, running silliness, and running determination. Two hundred miles of driving. Two hundred miles of pulling out the Ragnar Bible for directions, and arguing potential exchange times, missing potential exchange times, and digging for cellphones to call the other van. Two hundred miles of leapfrogging, pulling up before the dogged teammate on duty to offer drinks, slaps, jokes, and photo ops every couple miles. Two hundred miles of trying unsuccessfully to catch a couple z's. Two hundred miles of salt-lined technical clothing, electrolyte drinks, granola bars, spare shoes and sweatshirts, water bottles and igloos crowding you with growing chaos in the vehicle. Two hundred miles of new friends. Two hundred miles of discovering how to pull a little more out of your gut. Two hundred miles of adventure - and misadventure. Two hundred miles and thirty-plus hours, in other words, of crazy fun. Yeah, I'd do it again.