2013 Review

Another year has come to an end and it’s always fun to look back and reflect on everything. This was my fourth year of participating in races and was easily my best yet. It was a year with a lot of firsts for me – I wrote my first blog post, I did my first triathlon, and I ran my first marathon. At the start of the year, I had a couple of goals in mind. I wanted to venture into triathlons and I wanted to take things a step beyond a half marathon by running a 25K. Little did I know that I’d end up aiming for a marathon as well.

The first real goal of the year was to finally try a triathlon. I’d gotten back to swimming near the end of 2012, I’d been biking a little bit, and obviously I had the running thing down. I took things slowly, starting with a short indoor race in March at the Life Time Fitness in Rochester Hills. 10 minutes of swimming in the pool, 30 minutes on a spin bike, and 20 minutes on a treadmill seemed very doable and gave me the courage to give it a shot. It was a lot of fun and I was surprised to find out that I was the female winner! I realized that doing so well in my first attempt was a sure sign that I should really get into triathlons.

A nice award for my first triathlon

A nice award for my first triathlon

I followed that up with three outdoor triathlons this summer. Again, I took things slowly with my first “real” one and did the First Try Triathlon in Linden. It was a great introduction to triathlons and was very beginner-friendly. It was considered a “mini-sprint” distance since it was a little shorter than a typical sprint race. I’m really glad I chose that race for my first real experience.

I finished my first real triathlon!

I finished my first real triathlon!

I did my second tri at Metro Beach and my third in Clarkston. All of the tris were a fun challenge and I really enjoyed them. By the middle of the summer I had started marathon training, so it got tricky to juggle training with triathlons. Trying to do long runs the same weekend as a triathlon was not ideal, so I called it good for my first year of triathlons and vowed that I’d do more in 2014.

Pictures Matt took at the Village Triathlon in Clarkston

Pictures Matt took at the Village Triathlon in Clarkston

On the running side of things, I got a new 5K PR in March then again in June. I managed to hover right above or below 22 minutes in two races, with one race being a little long and the other being a little short. I guess I technically broke 22 minutes, but next year I’ll see if I can do it by a little more to convince myself that I’ve legitimately broken that 22-minute barrier.

May 11th was the big day I really trained for all winter and spring – the Fifth Third River Bank Run 25K in Grand Rapids. I had run three half marathons in 2011 and three in 2012, so I felt ready to jump a couple more miles in distance and try racing 15.5 miles. I had a great training segment and it ended up being one of the most successfully-executed races I’d ever run. I took things a bit easy for the first half of the race, then stepped up for the second half. I got faster and faster during that second half, broke my half marathon PR within the race, and felt so strong at the end that I was running at 10K pace for the last couple miles! I was thrilled with how the race had gone.

After the River Bank Run

After the River Bank Run

I couldn’t believe that I felt that strong for 15.5 miles. It really gave me a boost of confidence and led to toying with the idea of a marathon. I had never seriously considered running a marathon because it kind of seemed crazy and torturous to me. I never really had the desire to try a marathon. After dealing with shin splints for so long, I wasn’t sure my body would want to go through that kind of training. However, the 25K went so well…

I started to look into potential fall marathons and Grand Rapids stood out as a good one. It was small, some of the course was the same as the 25K, it was billed as fast and flat, and I’d heard nothing but good things. I kept debating if I really wanted to do it, and at some point I finally broke down and decided to go for it. Being super ambitious, I decided to follow Hal Higdon’s Advanced 1 training plan. Obviously I was not advanced when it came to running a marathon, but the advanced level incorporated the kind of speed and tempo workouts I’d already gotten used to running. I followed the plan pretty closely and training went great. Aside from developing a sore hip a couple months in, everything went as planned. I ran the Romeo 2 Richmond Half Marathon in the heart of marathon training and officially broke my half marathon PR by about two and a half minutes.

When October 20th rolled around, I was ready. The Grand Rapids Marathon was a great choice for a first marathon and I had a great experience. Aside from knee pain for a few miles in the middle of the race and the struggle of getting through the last few miles, the race was great. My ambitious goal was to finish around 3:35, though I really wasn’t expecting to hit that on my first try. Finishing in 3:42 was awesome to me. Although I hurt everywhere when I finished, it wasn’t bad enough to keep me from considering future marathons. I had never seriously considered trying to run a marathon until mid-2013, but once I set my mind to it, I was all-in and I’m thrilled with how it went.

I'm officially a marathoner!

I’m officially a marathoner!

Before starting marathon training, I questioned how my body would hold up to training. Little did I know that it would be AFTER the marathon that I’d have to worry about. When I felt my left knee for a few miles in the middle of the race, it was surely the beginning of this ugly IT band issue I’ve been battling ever since. It’s been a frustrating struggle to get back to running. I’ve taken time off in the past to deal with shin splints, but the pain was never bad enough to shorten my runs. It was always the after-effects that really got me. Dealing with my IT band has been a whole new challenge for me. It’s the first real injury I’ve had that has really prevented me from running. I made six attempts at running in the six weeks following the marathon, and the pain in my knee never allowed me to make it much more than a mile. When the pain hits, it’s not something I can push through – I have to stop.

Several visits to Dr. Erik Barazsu at The Active Fix have helped me improve. I still can’t run as much as I’d like to, but I’m getting there. I’ve been hovering around a 3-mile plateau lately, making it as long as 3.75 miles a couple times. Most of my runs end when my knee hurts bad enough to stop me in my tracks, or when I’m smart enough to stop just before the pain gets that bad. In addition to going through active release treatments, I’ve started to do a bunch of stretches and exercises to work on my hips, glutes, and more. I made it up to 5 miles today and my knee was still okay, so I’m hopeful that things will look up heading into the start of 2014.

So far, I don’t have any races in mind for 2014. I’m going to take things slowly and see how recovery goes before I sign up for anything. If I get back on track, I may consider a spring half marathon. Who knows, maybe even a late fall marathon? In the meantime, I definitely want to aim for more triathlons this coming year. I found out pretty quickly that I’m okay at swimming and the run is my strong point, but I need work on the bike. I didn’t put nearly enough time in on the bike last year and I’m already working on that as this year wraps up. With a new stationary bike in our basement now, I plan on getting in a lot more miles. I’m thinking that I’ll try to do at least one Olympic-distance triathlon.

Here is 2013 in terms of numbers:

– 12 races (3 were triathlons)

– 1351.5 miles of running. August was my biggest month with 210 miles. My biggest weeks were around 56 miles.

– 583.3 miles on the bike

– 45.75 miles of swimming

– 80 times of strength training

2013 was a good year and I’m looking forward to what may come in 2014. Happy New Year everyone!

– Janet

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ART Treatment

As I’ve dealt with chronic shin splints for more than a couple years, I’ve probably read about every possible solution. The first solution that finally helped was going to a chiropractor. It was a very slow and gradual improvement, but I finally reached a point where my shins didn’t throb the day after every run. The pain was reduced enough that I felt confident enough to commit to marathon training. I did still have some shin issues during training, but the pain was not as bad as it had been in the past. Still, I wondered if there was a way to completely shake the problem. As I kept searching for a solution, I was always a bit curious about active release techniques (ART). I read that ART can help deal with scar tissue that builds up as a result of overuse, and I couldn’t help but wonder if that was part of my problem. I kept wondering if I should give it a try but didn’t actually pursue it.

Six weeks after running my first marathon, I was pretty frustrated that IT band/knee pain kept me from running more than a mile at a time. Rest was not fixing anything so it was time for me to figure out the next step. I considered physical therapy, going to an orthopedic doctor, etc., but I was still curious about ART. I liked the idea that it is supposed to help loosen tight areas to allow a full range of motion. Typically, ART is practiced by chiropractors, but not the one that I’ve been going to. That meant going through the complicated process of figuring out how to find a doctor. I always hate trying to find a new doctor. Without a recommendation from someone, I feel like I never really know if I’m picking the right person.

As I began my search for someone who practices ART, I spent quite a while trying to find someone close to home. I found that my choices were pretty limited. In a way, that was a good thing since having less people to consider made the decision process easier. Activerelease.com lists nearby providers and I found three doctors within 13-15 miles from home. I read through their websites and debated who might be best. I found myself leaning towards The Active Fix in Berkley because Dr. Eric Baraszu is a runner, has worked with triathletes, and the site mentioned using ART to deal with things like shin splints and knee problems. When Matt and I looked at the Facebook page, we saw that a runner friend had liked them. We asked her opinion and she had great things to say, so at least I finally had a recommendation from someone. I knew that insurance wouldn’t cover it and it was going to be pricey, but I wanted to give it a shot.

I called Dr. Barazsu to get more info and liked what I heard. For one thing, it was nice that I actually got to speak to him. I asked if he likes to have people start out by coming three times a week, which I’ve found to be kind of typical for many chiropractors. He doesn’t push that, which was another bonus. I set up an appointment and went for my first visit on December 4th.

My first ART visit was somewhere between 60-75 minutes, including paperwork, an exam, and my first treatment. The exam involved things like doing squats, balancing on each foot, rotating my body to each side, etc. I laid on the table as we started with the active release, beginning with the easy stuff and saving the painful stuff for later. He’d apply pressure to certain spots and have me do things like stretch my leg out and to the side as far as I could, or start with my leg straight and bend back as far as I could. Some things were difficult because I was stretching more than I was used to and I really felt the burn from the stretch. Other things were difficult because the pressure he applied could get painful in spots. When he applied pressure to my knee, that hurt as expected. My left adductor hurt a bit too. It seemed like as he felt around, he kept finding new spots. I wasn’t even aware that most of the spots were an issue until I felt the pain! I was surprised that my knee wasn’t the most painful spot. He did something where he bent the three smallest toes on my left foot and I was in agony. I am not very educated about all of the muscles, but I believe he told me it was triggering the extensor and peroneus in my lower leg, as seen here (from NY Times):

Lower leg muscles

Lower leg muscles

In a way, I viewed the pain as a good thing. I figured if it hurt, he was probably finding an area that needs work. As I knew going in, although the knee is where I feel pain while running, I probably have a bunch of problem areas. Limited motion in other areas could be causing the knee/IT band problems.

I expected to feel sore the next day and I was a bit, but probably not as much as I expected. A couple spots were a little sore, my knee was tender to the touch, but the psoas was the worst. That’s a muscle I didn’t know anything about before going in. I felt a little bit like I’d been punched in the side and the pain had faded for a day or two. Overall, it really wasn’t bad. He told me to go ahead and run to see how it went.

I ran the day after my first visit and didn’t know what to expect. I was hopeful that I’d see some improvement, but at the same time I was skeptical because I’d only had one treatment session. I got on the treadmill and was thrilled to make it 2.5 miles. That was double what I had done earlier in the week and the longest I’ve been able to go post-marathon. Maybe I’m on the right track by trying ART? I ran a few days later and made it to 2.1 miles. I went for my second ART treatment the next week, and I was really thrilled when I made it to 3.75 miles the following day!

I’ve been in for ART four times now over the last few weeks and I like how it’s been going. The sessions are around half an hour long. I’ve gotten used to “normal” chiropractic adjustments being pretty quick. It seems like there are usually a bunch of people waiting to be adjusted, you see the doctor for maybe five minutes, then you’re done. I understand that adjustments may not take longer than that, but the half hour ART sessions make me feel like I’m getting more for my money at least. Working on the soft tissue takes longer. I like that Dr. Barazsu didn’t pressure me to come in several times a week. I was very overwhelmed when I first went to a chiropractor because I felt like I was being told that I had to come three times a week for several months, it was going to cost a lot, and they wanted a decision and huge payment right then and there. Dr. Baraszu monitors progress as we go, and he hopes to see improvement in three to five visits. I definitely made some progress right from the beginning!

I’ve been using the treadmill because I don’t want to worry about my IT band stiffening up from the cold, uneven footing with snow, and most of all, because I never really know how far I might make it before the pain starts. Typically, when I start to feel my knee, I need to stop within a minute or two because the pain kicks in pretty quickly. I don’t want to be stuck outside half a mile away and have to walk it in. I’m tired of the treadmill but I’m trying to tough it out for now. My last few runs have hovered around three miles or so, always ending with the same pain on the outside of my knee. I’ve been hoping to make it longer, but I’m also thankful that I’m beyond a mile now. I’ve tried keeping it slow and easy, and I’ve tried speeding up to as fast as an 8:00 pace. I don’t think the speed makes any difference in how soon the pain kicks in.

I’m going to continue with ART and I’m hopeful that it will help. In the meantime, 10 miles per week has been my peak mileage lately. It’s not where I want to be, but what can I do? I’m swimming, biking, and doing more strength training at least. I’m curious to see how things go as I continue on with treatment.

– Janet