Monday, April 30, 2012

Race Report: Trail Marathon

"Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go."  -- T.S. Eliot

I ran the Trail Marathon in Pinckney, MI this weekend. It was an iffy proposition because my IT band had still not healed all the way. After the bad day at the Martian Half Marathon two weeks ago, where I had to quit at 5.75 miles, I was not hopeful about making it through the marathon on this tough course. It is a hilly course, mostly on the Potawatomi trail, but I really did need to get a long run in if I hope to successfully complete the Dances With Dirt Gnaw Bone 50k in two weeks (one of my four key races in pursuit of my Bloodied, Boned, Bruised, and Burned belt buckle).

I was saved in this race by my friend Janet, who recommended that I get some Rock Tape. I credit much of my ability to get through this race to the wonderful therapy I have been getting from Dr. Tom and the magic of the Rock Tape (which I will be reviewing in my post later this week).  I wrapped my knee up as directed with Rock Tape the night before and was hoping for the best come race time.

It was a beautiful but cold morning in Pinckney. The forecast had said 36 and sunny at start time. They were part right. It was sunny but a very chilly 26 degrees,  with 50s forecasted for the afternoon. I was already grumpy because it was so dang early, but this made me even more grumpy. What to wear? I had planned tights, a short sleeve top, sleeves, and gloves, but that was going to be nowhere near enough. Thankfully I had grabbed an extra long sleeve on the way out of the house and had a lightweight vest in my bag. I ended up with tights, long sleeve, light vest, hydration pack, and gloves. I probably could have done without the light vest, but I was glad to have it on as we waited for the start. I had brought a friend, Nicole, who was running her first 50k. She had brought no warm gear and had on shorts, a tank, and sleeves. I felt sorry for her at the start, but she was happy at the end of the race.

I found some of my RUT (Running Fit Ultra Team) friends to hang out with at the start. As I said, it was a beautiful sunrise, with steam rising off the lake. Randy, Running Fit's head goat, started the race. We went out in waves of about 50 people each, self-selected, with about 30 seconds between groups, with Randy saying "Go" for each of the waves. It was chip timing, so it was a pretty informal start.

We ran across the grass and started the "conga line" that happens at the start of every trail race where groups of people have to sort themselves out on the single track. Thankfully, there was a road crossing and a slight road stretch at about a half mile that helped in case runners had not seeded themselves correctly. At least where I was running the sorting out seemed to be a pretty orderly process, not the half marathon the previous year.

I started out at a very comfortable pace. I was purposefully avoiding looking at my watch and just concentrating on running relaxed and easy. As I said, for me this was a training run rather than a race, so I was just out there to put miles on the legs, hopefully for as long as I could before my leg made me stop. I was afraid I might only get 8 to 10 miles, but was hoping that if I had a good day I could make at least 20 of running till I had to stop and then walking the rest of the way in. My plan from the start was to walk the uphills, run the flats and downs.

The marathon course is a 13.1 mile loop (the half course) which runners do twice. I had vague memories of the course from doing the half last year. Mostly what I remembered was that there were some really hellacious hills in the middle of the course. The first four miles or so went by really pleasantly. The trail was in excellent condition. It was damp, but not muddy, and pretty much free of debris. The course was rolling, and I was having a good time staying focused and relaxed.

The real work for me began somewhere around mile five, with the first of several fairly steep hills. I got passed by quite a few people on the uphills, like always, but because I was not racing, I was able to keep a good attitude about it. I passed some of them back on the down hills, like always. Downhills are my thing. 

Miles five through nine were kind of tense ones for me. I figured that if the knee was going to start acting up, this would be the place. However, the anxiety was broken up by the high point of the race for me, visiting my friend Paula at Aid Station Ernie at 6.5 miles. Because I was just messing around and didn't even really expect to finish the race, I sat down for a  minute or two to shoot the breeze with Paula and try to cajole her into a running road trip I am planning for later this summer. Finally I decided I better get going and took off again, much refreshed.

There were some pretty hilly parts between miles 6.5 and the next aid station at 9.5. I was starting to flag a bit so decided to take some gel. Unfortunately my gel was so cold that I could hardly get any out of the flask. It was irritating. I decided I better start using Gatorade at the aid stations for some calories. I had a no calorie electrolyte drink in my hydration pack to go with the gels. If I wasn't going to be able to get the gels steadily, I was going to need calories from the Gatorade. 

I pulled into the last aid station of the loop and was delighted to find another of my RUT team members, Jan, who is recovering from a serious calf injury. Again, I spent a few minutes catching up before heading on down the trail. The last segment of trail is one of my favorites. It has ample amounts of downhill at regular intervals, with a few walking breaks for uphills. I started feeling good after getting some Gatorade in, and I managed to pass some people in the last mile or so of the first loop. Still, my knee started to feel a little "funny" on the last steep downhill, and I still had my doubts about finishing.
Jan (great as a volunteer
but hope he is running soon)

When I came past the start/finish at the end of the first loop, it was really warming up. I got rid of the lightweight vest, told Jer that I was feeling good enough to keep going, that the Rock Tape seemed to be working, but that I didn't know if the knee would last or not.  I told him it might be a while because I was still expecting to walk in.

As I went out of the start/finish on the grass, my knee was a little twingy. I was happy to get back on the dirt trail. Soon the Gatorade kicked in again, and I started to feel good. I was cruising along at this point with a smile on my face.  I was surprised to be feeling so good, especially with the lack of long runs. The uphill walks gave me time to recover and be able to keep a good pace on the flats and downs. I was surprised to start passing people on the second loop. I don't think that my running time had slowed that much, but my time was slower because I walked a few of the smaller hills on the second loop that I had run on the first.

I find that if I am going to have hills, I would rather have a loop course. I knew what was ahead of me hill-wise on the second loop and was mentally prepared. I struggled less mentally with the hills on the second loop than the first.

Me with Paula and Ernie
I cruised into Aid Station Ernie for the second time, got a picture with Paula, drank about five cups of Gatorade and headed out. I glanced at my watch and could not believe my time. For all the messing around I was doing, it looked like I could still be under 5:30. That cheered me up. As I was heading out of the aid station, on the first hill, some guy passed me and said "You look like you are hot." I still had on my gloves (mostly to wipe my nose) and a long sleeve. He said, "I got rid of my long sleeve at the last aid station."  Thanks guy. I had not been hot until that point, but suddenly I was overheated. I took off my gloves and stuffed them in my belt, shoved my sleeves up a little higher, and kept going. I couldn't take off my top because I wasn't willing to risk the chafing from the vest I had at Green Swamp.

Just before the last aid station, I ran into my RUT friends Kai and Farra. I was amazed to see them because they are WAY faster than I am, but Farra was struggling some with her IT band. (In true Farra fashion, though, she still managed to pull off an age group win in the 50k).  I was also starting to feel a little nauseous and knew I needed an electrolyte capsule. I had been sweating pretty heavily in the long sleeve. We hung out together to the aid station. Once there, I popped an electrolyte capsule and ate a handful of trail mix. We talked to Jan for a while and then headed out. Leaving the aid station I was feeling pretty good, with my favorite section of the course coming up.
Farra and Kai

I was cruising along at about 23 miles when I got my first calf twinge. I should have known it was going to happen. I had waited too long with the Endurolyte and was behind on electrolytes. This put a bit of a cramp in my style (pardon the pun) for the last few miles. I could still run downhills, but anything that had the slightest uphill had to be walked to keep my calves from seizing up. Normally this would stress me out, but since I was doing so much better than I had expected and realized that I was going to finish sub 5:30, even if I walked, that I didn't care.

In the last mile to the finish I was able to pick it up. I passed 4 people, including a 16 year old guy doing his first marathon that I had been playing leapfrog with all day. He actually finished ahead of me in the results, though, because we had started in different waves. I finished feeling better than I ever have after a marathon. I was completely shocked to get handed an age group award, a nice coffee mug, at the finish line. I never in my wildest dreams thought that the day would result in an age group award, but I ended up second to a fellow RUT member, Ellen. 

Nicole and her new friend Lisa
After I finished, I waited for Nicole to come around on the second lap on the way to her first 50k. They did two loops plus an extra five mile loop at the end. I was really happy to see she had found someone to run with and looked like she was doing great. I headed back to the car to get warm and took a quick nap before going out to watch her finish. I got back to the finish just as she was crossing the line. We were all delighted to find out that both she and her new friend she was running with had won age group awards.

This marathon was a completely different experience for me, much more relaxed and a lot of fun. I love trail running, but on race day I am usually so stressed out with racing and trying to do everything I can to run a good time that I don't always enjoy the race. I am definitely going to reflect on this and take this insight with me going forward. I need to find the happy medium where I am racing but also enjoying the experience as well.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

It's The Little Things: Replacing Your Garmin 205, 305, or 405 Watchband with Something More Comfortable

You've probably heard the saying "It's the little things in life that make a difference."  Nowhere is this more true than in long distance running, where the slightest little rub, irritation, or annoyance can become a major deal after an hour or two on the road or trail. That is why the number one thing I care about in my running gear is usually comfort. That is also why I have had a real love/hate relationship with my Garmin Forerunner 305.

What I love about my Garmin is that it is accurate, it gives me the data I need, and most importantly, I can see the screen. This model allows me to set the number of screens, from 1 to 4. Even these old English teacher's eyes, that have been worn down by many years of paper grading, can manage to see the screen clearly when it is set on 1 or 2, and usually even 3. That is a big plus.

However, what I have always HATED about the watch is that it is so uncomfortable. I am going to ignore the size for this post, because I can't change that, and focus on what I can change. (But come on Garmin people, women wear these too!!) The band has always been super uncomfortable on me. First of all, I am a fairly small woman, at least in my wrist size. To get the Garmin to fit snugly on my wrist, I have always had to tug it down to the very last hole in the band, and even then it did not feel real snug. The plastic of the band was also stiff, and it just was never comfortable. Some women, such as my friend Leslie, even wear wrist bands under the watch to make it fit more snuggly and make it more comfortable. I lived with it and so did most other women I knew that had this model because I did not know I had an alternative.

That is where having a great network of running friends can help. My new running buddy Kate showed up one day and said, "Guess what! I just got the coolest new band for my watch. I love it!" It was a velcro band that allowed her to snug it down on her wrist (which is even more petite than mine). Now her watch was a 405 not a 305, but I started to wonder if maybe there might be something like that available for my Garmin.

A quick search of the Internet showed me that they did have them, and they were available at Amazon (shameless plug for Amazon  -- I am an Amazon affiliate). After reading the reviews and making sure they would fit my model, I ordered one. It was only $13.10 plus shipping (18.68 total), so I figured it was worth a try. It came earlier this week, and I have to say I am thrilled. For me, it is a much more comfortable alternative to the crappy plastic strap that comes with the Garmin.

What's in the Kit
Let me tell you a little about it in case you are interested. I was initially worried, until it got here, about how it would attach and whether I could find the band changing tool that had come with my Garmin. That was wasted worry. When the box arrived, it contained everything I needed to change the band: the new strap, an extender strap for larger wrists, the tool, and the two pins needed for the new band, as the original pins seem to be built into the plastic strap. The box also contained instructions.

Step 2: Insert pins in new band
Step 1: Remove the old band
Honestly, the hardest part about replacing the band was finding my glasses to be able to see the end of the tiny pins and tool. From that point forward it was easy. The tool slips in between the watch and the plastic band to compress the pin. The band pops right off.  The new pins slip into the slots in the velcro band. These then slip back into the slots in the watch. Easy!!

Step 3: Insert pins in slots

The velcro band actually runs across the back of the watch itself which has created some comments from reviewers that they had to take the band off to charge the watch. This is absolutely NOT true (at least not if they installed it correctly). The charger slides right under the band when it is time to charge. It is made that way.

Watch with charger
Charger under Band

All in all, I love the band. My only complaint, and it is a minor one, is that because my wrist is so small the end of the band sticks out a bit, but so far it hasn't annoyed me so is not a problem. One positive, as Kate pointed out, is that you can wear it easily over long sleeves, and if you want to push up your sleeves, it is easy to loosen and readjust.

*** There are different strap kits available for the different Garmin models. Please see the links at the bottom of the page for your model.
405 Kit

As I said before, it is the little things that can make or break a running experience. Just having a more comfortable watch band seems like such a minor thing, but since it is something I use most every day, it is nice to have something that is comfortable. If  you hate your Garmin band, you might want to consider a change.

For the 205/305

For the 405

For the 610

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Does my butt look FLAT in the shorts?: Running, weak glutes, and injury

I wouldn't say this if we weren't all a bunch of runners here. I am not proud of it, but here it is: I have weak glutes. I know what you are probably thinking. "Oh how sad. I never would have guessed.  She hides it well." I know, but it is true. Apparently not only has the rest of my body known for a long time, but it has been compensating and covering it up until finally it had enough. My body staged a glute intervention.

I was totally shocked. I always thought that my lower abs were the slackers in the group. I mean every time I checked, they seemed to be the ones that were hanging around looking kind of flabby. I was probably partly deceived by the compression shorts, which hide a multitude of sins, but also truthfully, I was not really watching the glutes. I mean, they usually lurk back there out of sight and always seemed to be behaving when I bothered to check on them. How was I to know that when I wasn't looking they were apparently guzzling beer, eating powdered donuts, and watching Nickelodeon reruns on television while the rest of us were out there trying to run.

I didn't always have this problem. In fact, I used to have strong hard-working glutes. I know because before I started running (many, many years ago), I had done several years of serious weight training. If I remember correctly, I think I was squatting and leg pressing somewhere around one and a half times my body weight. I am pretty sure my glutes were not lazing around back then. However, obviously at some point, they decided that they just weren't that into the whole running thing.  

Actually I think what happened is that I gave them the wrong impression about their importance in my life. You see most of the time (pretty much the entire day except when I am running), I sit. I just tell those glutes that they really aren't needed, put them on a cushy recliner (yes, with my new laptop, and since the spleen recovery, I do most of my work in a recliner -- I don't even bother with the office chair anymore), and pretty much ignore them. I guess the running just wasn't doing it for them and keeping them stimulated. I mean they are big muscles, meant for activity. I guess like big dogs, they just need more exercise.

Dr. Tom:
Banisher of the weak glutes
Well, as most of you know, the upshot of all this is that I am injured. I went to a very knowledgeable chiropractor and active release guy who immediately spotted the problem. His name is Dr. Tom Livermore, and he is a runner (He did the Lansing marathon today as a training run in  3:41, even with stopping to talk to his patients along the way  -- Go Dr. Tom!!). If any of you have running injuries and live in Lansing, he is the guy to see in my book. Here is how he explained the problem to me (well not exactly, I took a little poetic license):.

When the glutes gave out, the quads started compensating. When they got tired of doing all the work, they turned it over to the tensor fascia lata (TFL), which apparently is a little pip squeak of a muscle that is not supposed to be doing heavy duty work. It started tugging on the IT band, who ultimately decided to blow the whistle on the whole scheme, which it did at Green Swamp. It did give me a few warnings earlier in the season, but I didn't listen.  You know how that whole denial thing is. Plus, I didn't really think it was anything serious. I really just thought my IT band was being a bit of a baby about the whole thing. I had no idea the quads and TFL were involved. In fact, I never even knew I had a TFL.

When I think about it, though, the warning signs were probably there long before I  had a problem. For the last several years, even when I was aerobically fit and running fast, I felt weak. In fact, several times I mentioned that I just "didn't feel strong" when I was out there running. I would weight train sporadically at those times, maybe start to feel a little better, and then stop and go back to more running. In hindsight, that was not a good plan.

So now that I know what is going on back there, it is time for heavy rehab. First Dr. Tom prescribed therapy for the poor stressed out quads and the poor little TFL. In addition to their sessions with Dr. Tom, they required many sessions with the foam roller to deal with the trauma of being overworked for so long. There were a lot of tears involved in that therapy, let me tell you.

Now, it is on to those lazy glutes. This is a little tougher. You know what they say. Change doesn't come unless you really want it. Well, truthfully, I don't think the glutes are sold on this whole change thing. I think they like being lazy. This is going to be a long term process to change their habits. Unfortunately the process will be hindered because they still have to spend several hours a day around those bad influences, the office chair and recliner. 

Again Dr. Tom came to the rescue with a series of exercises for me to do to work on the buns. These include the famous clam, with resistance bands, as well as bridges, and side steps with resistance. More, of course, will be forthcoming as I continue to work on the problem.  

In addition, I have added a few exercises of my own. They came from the book Brain Training  for Runners, which is one of my favorite new books on training right now. It is about the physiological (rather than psychological) connection between the brain and body in running. It is a little heavy on the physiology for some people, but incredibly interesting. The author, Matt Fitzgerald, is big on stressing the importance of strengthening the glutes, deep abdominals, and hip stabilizers in his programs. Unlike many running training programs, his running programs prescribe a minimum of two training workouts a week for these muscles. His programs also involve a graduated strengthening program for the muscles that help make sure that the strength training progresses just as the run training does. While I am not following his running training program for my next marathon, I am planning to incorporate his strengthening exercises into my program.

Finally, because I am a little "off," as I will gladly admit, I have also added an oldie but goodie to my workout. I dragged out a copy of the old Buns of Steel workout. Yes, that original classic from the '80s, with the big hair, bright exercise clothes, and cheesy commentary from Greg Smithey (who, by the way, used to be a pole vaulter, which is kind of connected to running...). I have put that in the rotation for days when my buns just don't feel like Dr. Tom's serious workout and  need a little laugh therapy. There is nothing like giggling at the campy 80s video to help get your buns through the burn.  (But don't tell Dr. Tom!)

What does this all mean to you? Well, this is a cautionary tale. You may be running along down the road assuming that your glutes are back there working away when really they are on a vacay to the Bahamas. I mean, do you really know what they are doing back there while you are checking out the scenery? If you have not been keeping an eye on your glutes, you might want to start. You also might want to start working a few glute exercises into your running routine. If not, you may want to bookmark, Dr. Tom's site. Chances are good if you don't take care of your glutes, that there may be a running injury in your future. 

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

DNF: It's Not As Bad As You Think

As many of you already know, my racing season is
not going so well. After a good training marathon in
Kentucky that went just as planned, I had  a bad day at Dances with DirtGreen Swamp 50k  because of IT band problems. Now I had a DNF (Did Not Finish) at Martian Half Marathon this past weekend. 

For most recreational runners a DNF is a devastating experience. Not finishing a race is just about the worst thing that can happen to a runner, short of a serious injury, and often the two go hand in hand. However, if a person runs long enough, most likely he or she will eventually have one, probably in a marathon.

I remember my first DNF very clearly. It was at my second marathon, Las Vegas, in 2002. I was well trained and expecting to do very well.  At what I think was the first aid station, there were no volunteers, just a table. There were no filled cups to grab, but there was a pitcher with what appeared to be sports drink. A guy grabbed the pitcher poured a cup and handed it to me and took a cup himself. I took a big gulp, and as soon as it got into my mouth I knew something was wrong. It was very strong. I should have spit it out. Instead I swallowed. 

At the next aid station I took some water to wash it down. Soon after, my stomach started to slosh. The more I put in, the more sloshy I got. By mile 15 I was sick and dehydrated (nothing was absorbing). I know now that I should have tried to throw up and "reset" my system, but being inexperienced, I stopped. An ambulance gave me a ride back to the finish. I sat on a curb at the finish line, wrapped in a mylar blanket, and cried while I watched the group I had been running with cross the finish line in 3:34, what would have been a 11 minute PR for me.

I was devastated. I felt like a total failure. In fact, I was even thinking that I probably would never run a marathon again. When you DNF at a marathon, all those people that you told you were running a marathon ask "How was your marathon?" You are stuck retelling your failure, over and over and over again. It took about five or six tellings before I could do it without starting to cry.

The next week, after several days of moping, I dragged myself into my local running store to speak with one of my mentors, Doreen Fay, an experienced runner who had run in the Olympic Trials. She helped me analyze what had happened, and she tried to cheer me up and put it all in perspective. As we were talking a guy walked into the shop. He was obviously a runner, but I didn't know him. Doreen, obviously did and greeted him warmly. At that moment a real paying customer came in, and Doreen said something like "You two talk. Lori just DNF'd for the first time." I was mortified.

The guy came over to talk to me. He was very soft-spoken. He began the conversation by saying something like "I have had many successful races, but I too have had some disappointing DNF's."  Then he continued talking with words like "World Championships" and the names of foreign countries, and I thought "Who is this guy?" He continued by telling me how devastating it was for him and saying that he just had to regroup and move on and that I could too. He was so supportive and uplifting. A few minutes later, Doreen came back and he said he had to go. He said how nice it was to talk to me, and wished me luck in my next marathon.

After he left the store, Doreen came back and said with a mischievous grin, "So, did you figure out who that was?"  I said I didn't know his name, but that he is definitely an elite runner. She said, "That was Noureddine Morceli, He is a 1500 m runner," and explained to me about his World Records and Olympic medals. It seems that he had stayed at her parent's house while he was attending college in Riverside. Her father was a running coach and often took in international runners who ran for the college.

I raced home and pulled out my book Running with the Legends  to read about Morceli. I could not believe that I had met an Olympic athlete and world champion, but more than that, I could not believe that successful athletes like that DNF'd too, and it didn't mean that they "sucked." It sounds naive now, but at that time, I did not know anyone else who had DNF'd. (Actually I probably did, but it is really not the kind of things that runners usually talk much about.) It changed my whole attitude. I entered the L.A. Marathon that was occurring the following month. I didn't PR, but I did finish in a respectable time, and I restored my faith in my own running ability.

Since then, I have DNF'd a few more times, once in a marathon and twice in half marathons. The marathon was a DNF that was again emotionally painful, but in a different way. I DNF'd there because I went in not properly trained and had not had enough long runs. It was completely my own fault due to a lack of diligence. That I could easily accept. It was a lesson to learn, an oldie but goodie. Ten years ago, I might have gotten away with being a little undertrained in a marathon, but at 49 that is not likely to happen. Older bodies do not like to be pushed beyond what they have been prepared for.

The two half marathon DNFs were different. They didn't hurt as much emotionally. In both of these cases, I went into the races knowing there was a good chance that I might not finish, both times because of IT band issues. This past weekend at Martian, I figured the chances were better than 50% that I would not finish, but since I was entered and wanted to support a friend that was there running the full marathon, I decided to start anyway, promising myself that if I had problems I would stop.

I did have problems, at only 5 miles, and I did stop. I stopped before I had to stop. I stopped as soon as I started to have pain. Some people have said to me "Couldn't you have walked and just finished, like you did at Green Swamp?"  The answer is that yes I could have, but what would have been the point? At Green Swamp I needed to finish to stay in the race series. However, at Martian there was no reason to continue, and by continuing I might have done damage that would take even longer to heal. In ultra running we often joke that "DNF" means "did nothing fatal."  By stopping when I did, I did not do further damage and increase my healing time.  I still have Dances with Dirt Gnaw Bone 50k  in just four short weeks. That one is a "must finish."

Perhaps I  should not have even started the race, but the thing about the IT band problem for me is that it comes and goes. After my other half marathon DNF at Santa Clarita in 2003, I came back just over four weeks later and set a huge marathon PR. I went into that marathon not sure of the IT band and prepared for a possible DNF, but never had a single problem. (The Running Gods answered my prayers that day!)  I had to take a shot at Martian just to see how it would go.

Admittedly, part of the reason I did not feel the emotional letdown at Martian as completely is that I was buoyed up by the joy of my friend Janet completing her first marathon. Sharing her joy and seeing her sense of accomplishment allowed me to remember why I love running. It also helped me remember that ups and downs are part of the process and that the highs and lows both contribute to the total experience. I am sure I will appreciate my next successful finish more by having gone through a few bad races.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Boston Marathon: Shared Experiences

Bob, Ted, and Frannie at Boston

I have never been to Boston and have never run the Boston Marathon. I have qualified three times, but it has never worked out for me to be able to go. I have watched many of my friends do the race and have amazing experiences. The hardest one for me was the year that three of my dearest running friends went. I love the picture I have included here of Bob, Ted, and Frannie waiting for the start. Just look at those happy faces!!

Someday I hope to go myself, even though large road marathons are not really my thing. I like small races and prefer long trail runs to long road runs these days. My desire to go comes mostly from a respect for the history of the city and of the race. I think that it is one of those experiences that will happen when the time is right.

Since I can't speak on this topic myself, I decided to let some of the readers share their experiences and impressions of Boston and the marathon.  First I will start with an entry from one of my former students. (I am so proud that she sent in this fine piece of descriptive writing).

Melissa Stanley Baker:
Part of my family is from Boston as I was married twice and both men were from Newton, Massachusetts.  I am a native Floridian, but from the age of 16, I spent my summers in New England, and Boston is the heartbeat of that part of the country.  It is just two hours south of where I had a house in Kennebunkport and just two hours North of Cape Cod and Martha's Vineyard.  I can still smell the wharf when I think of it.  The clam chowder and steamers are the best at the seafood restaurants on the Waterfront.  These are close to the Paul Revere House and a terrific Children’s Museum which was the site of my sister-in-laws’ wedding.  The New England Aquarium is right next to Legal Sea Foods where they serve scrumptious raw oysters with horseradish, lemons and cocktail sauce with a champagne sorbet.  Mmmmmm good.  I remember seeing the QEII in dry dock, and it was huge.  In the park called Boston Common & Public Garden on the Fourth of July there is this amazing show by the Boston Pops with spectacular fireworks.  During the day there are ball games and so many birds and elegant swans in the ponds.  It is a great place to run with so many bridges and statues.  Summer hasn’t officially arrived in Boston until the swan boats emerge from hibernation and glide onto the Public Garden pond.
Of course there is shopping at Faneuil Hall with all of the street performers. It was the first place my daughter Sarah saw a mime.  Faneuil Hall and Boston Common are the best places to people watch.  Boston also has a knack for creating curious visual juxtapositions, and one of the most remarkable is Copley Square where there is a 19th century Romanesque Trinity Church that reflects in the blue-tinted glass of the 20th century John Hancock Tower.  The Church is known as one of the ten greatest buildings in the country.  Fashionistas shop around Newberry Street and share the sidewalk with punk rockers.  Some of the world’s greatest thinkers have come from Harvard University like T.S. Elliot, Leonard Bernstein, FDR, Henry Kissinger, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Henry James, John Adams, and Al Gore.  Benazir Bhutto, who became the first woman to lead a modern Muslim state when she was elected prime minister of Pakistan, went to Harvard.  I always wanted to audit a summer class there just for the experience but really just so I could say that I attended Harvard.  The cobblestone streets there really provide a sense of history.  There is a place known as Copp’s Hill Burying Ground with headstones dating from the 17th century.  As a history buff I always found Boston to be a groovy place and an architectural zoo.  There is the Paul Revere House which is known to be the oldest private residence in Boston.  Finally, there is the Boston Red Sox, but I never cared for baseball.

Now that you have a feel for the city, let me share a few comments from my Michigan running friends.

Sue Masten:
OK... I'll write about seeing one of my colleagues from grad school run the Boston Marathon back in like 1983! Yeah, a long time ago. Patriots Day is a holiday in Boston - so no classes even at Harvard. We all went in to see him run... funny I can't remember his name, although I can picture him and can still feel the excitement watching him and the other runners turn the corner to run to the finish line. Or perhaps this is all a distant dream?

We were all lined up at least two to three deep, the roar of the crowd was deafening. I still remember being in awe of the runners as they crossed the finish line, some running, some barely walking, some almost crawling... but they finished, with such pride, and rightly so for it was such an accomplishment.

I actually walked the course twice as a grad student. There was a 20 mile walk for hunger in Boston that used most of the same course. Nowhere near the same level of excitement, yet at the same time, we were all thrilled to be out there walking, raising funds for the homeless shelters in Boston/Cambridge, building a sense of community, and I suppose being able to say we walked the course of the Boston Marathon, well at least 20 miles of it. I also remember barely being able to walk the next couple of days!

Bill Pinches:

Once you've reached the point where you can run a marathon in a pretty darn decent time, you begin to think, "Now what?" With all due respect to the ultra runners out there, running more than 26.2 miles at a time doesn't have a whole lot of appeal to me. But trying to improve my time so that I could qualify to participate in one of the most prestigious events in the sport . . . that sounds like a challenge worth shooting for. It's enjoyable and rewarding to see the progress I've made in this sport over the last few years, and to think to myself, "I wonder how much better I can get?" I've heard stories about Heartbreak Hill . . . maybe one day I'll get to experience it for myself. Having a goal like Boston to shoot for makes all the training runs all the more meaningful. We always need to be looking forward.

Ann Whitmer:
Here's the finish line for last year's race. It's not my dream to get there, so I know I'll never put in the work to qualify. But, I do hope to see my son cross that line one day.

Kate Johnson:
I never thought I would want to train and run a marathon. It was something my parents did in the 1980s, and I thought they were crazy. When I started running again in 2011, after about a decade off, I found team Playmakers and joined their training team. It was kind of peer pressure that caused me to sign up for my first marathon. I completed my first marathon in October 2011 and missed the 2012 Boston qualifying time by 9 minutes. They announced the 2013 times would be 5 minutes faster, but that is more of a challenge than anything. Soon after my first marathon I was already thinking about what I was going to do different next time. I am striving towards qualifying and running the Boston marathon. What an honor it would be to run the oldest annual marathon on a very challenging course.

(If I do run Boston in the next year or so, it will probably be because I want to run it with Kate. I predict a qualifying time for her very soon.)

Finally, I got one report from a Boston runner. He is a friend of mine from California who also has a running blog if you would like to take a look. It is called Runner's Mania.  He has a really interesting article right now on changes he has been making in his stride length and running form.

Here is Russ Barber's Boston story:

Started running with Lopers in Ausgust 1999 weight 212lb
March 2000: First Marathon, LA 5:19:49 weight 195lb
March 2001: 2nd LA Marathon 4:42:09
March 2002: 3rd LA Marathon 4:11:50
Oct 2002 St George Marathon: 3:33:40 Qualified for Boston Weight 180lb
April 2003 Boston Marathon: 4:02:46 (Got compartment syndrome two weeks before Boston from being on Prednisone for a pinched nerve in my neck. Ballooned up in weight to 190lb.)

I went to Boston somewhat disappointed because I wanted to be able to run close to my qualifying time! I still had a little bit of compartment syndrome.

My wife Mary went with me and we had a great time sight seeing. It was our first experience using subways and we really enjoyed that experience too. We took an all day tour of Boston via a tour van. Our driver had a very funny personality and kept us both informed and entertained. The tour was somewhat self guided in that our driver would drop us off at certain locations and tell us a little about what we would be able to see and the let us all out to walk the tour ourselves. We got to see a lot of historical sites and had a great time.

It was chilly and cold most of the time we were there but warmed up the day of the race. At that time the race started at noon, and it was already 70 degrees with bright sunshine at the start.  It took about 12 minutes from the gun to reach the start line. In the first two miles compartment syndrome started to kick in and I had to pull off to the side and stretch it out. I started again at a slower pace and had no problems with it from then on. I remember going through Wellesly and hearing how loud the girls were cheering for us. Some were holding signs that read “Kiss a girl from Wellesly.” I failed to take them up on it! The crowds were awesome the whole way really and that was great.

Russ with Alan Remele
Personally I did not think Heartbreak Hill was that tough of a hill perhaps because I has run so conservatively but mostly I think because I trained on a course that had similar hills. By mile 23 I ran into a fellow Loper friend, Allen Remele*, who had also qualified at St George. He had recently hurt his knee and had also been running a conservative race. We both felt good at that point and picked up our pace, running roughly 7:30 pace the last three miles and passing a lot of people. It was slightly downhill and cooling off again. It was really a thrill to cross that finish line and know what I had accomplished going from a couch potato 2 years 8 months earlier to qualifying for and running Boston. My Boston finish time was 4:02:46. Yes it was a slight disappointment to not be close to my qualifying time but only slightly as I could look back and see the accomplishment as a great achievement in my life, both physically, spiritually and emotionally!

(*Interestingly enough, this was my two sons' elementary and middle school band teacher.)  

Well if Russ' story doesn't get you motivated to work on that Boston qualifying time, I don't know what will. 

Good luck to any blog readers who may be running Boston, and a special "good luck" to Coach Lynn from Playmakers.

( If you are lucky enough to have Universal Sports, they are televising the race tomorrow, 9:30-12:30 ET,  and they will be streaming it live. You can also link to the live video from the BAA site.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Boston Memories and Reflections: Help me out!

Hey everyone, I need help. I would like to do a post on the Boston Marathon for Monday, but I have never been to Boston. Can any of you help by sharing your Boston memories, experiences, or reflections. What did/does Boston mean to you? If you would like to participate, send a short paragraph or two to me at I will compile the responses and create a post for marathon day. 

If you would also like to include a photo of you at Boston, that would be awesome as well. If you have not been to Boston and want to participate, you could write a short paragraph on what it would mean to you to qualify for Boston. Let's see what you have to say!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Gear Review and April Giveaway: Nathan Sprint (Quickshot) hand bottle

Spring has sprung for most of the country. Here in Michigan, the flowers are blooming, leaves are popping out on the trees, and the sun has been shining most days since I have been back. Although the temperatures are not quite warm enough to totally suit this California/Florida transplant, all of us runners are ecstatic to have some warmer running weather. However, with warmer weather brings the need for increased awareness of hydration.

I have a love/hate relationship with hydration. I love being hydrated, but I hate most of the options available for staying that way on the run. As some of you may know, I am a "gadget girl" and love to try new pieces of running gear. Over the years I have tried the whole array of hydration options, from hand bottles, to waist belts, to hydration packs (both belt type and vest type). In fact, I have a very large bin full of these failed attempts at finding the right hydration system for me.

Here is the thing: I get annoyed very easily. One of the things I find most annoying is waist belts that will not stay adjusted on the run. Anyone who has used one of these faulty belts knows what I mean. Eventually, about every quarter mile or so, you end up reaching down to retighten the waist strap which has slipped a bit and which is causing the pack to bounce. Super annoying!! In fact, I found this so annoying that I once left a brand new $35 hydration belt at about mile 10 of the Fontana Days Half Marathon.

I like hydration vests and have happily settled on my Nathan Intensity vest, but like other hydration vests I have tried, it is no good unless there is a shirt underneath it to keep it from rubbing abrasions into one's back. I just re-established that this was true in my recent fiasco at DWD Green Swamp. (I had originally learned this lesson on my first 50 miler where we ended up wrapping my waist in duct tape to stop the chafing. You'd think that would have been enough of a lesson, but no.). I was so relieved when I passed back by the start at mile 26 and could drop off the vest. I do love the vest, but it is only for days when I wear a shirt.

Thus, I am left to rely on hand bottles to meet most of my day-to-day hydration needs in hot weather. Truthfully, I was not really thrilled with this situation, but I was willing to live with it because it beat the other options (becoming dehydrated, wearing a shirt in warm weather,  wearing an annoying waist belt, or driving around town or trails leaving water in key spots prior to the run). That was until I met the Nathan Sprint (now called the Quickshot).

I first saw the Nathan Sprint/Quickshot  on a trail run when one of my favorite running buddies, Corey, showed up with one. It was small, and I could tell just from the way he was unconsciously holding it that it was comfortable for him. I asked if I could try it, and in thirty seconds I was sold. It fit so beautifully in my hand in a way that was different from any of the other hand bottles I had experience with. I had to have one!

When I got mine, I was not disappointed. It was everything I had hoped it would be in a hand bottle. I bought a second one shortly after, both because I like to be symmetrical when I run and because carrying two is a good idea on longer runs because of the smaller volume bottle.  Let me tell you a bit about the pros and cons of this bottle.

There are lots of reasons I like this bottle, but the number one reason is comfort. The bottle shape has a lot to do with this. It is not round like most other bottles. It is flat to slightly concave on the side that rests against my hand. The key idea here is that it "rests" against your palm rather than being gripped. When your thumb is placed through the slot in the carrier, the bottle rests against the meaty part of the palm, with the fingers curving naturally around the bottle, but not gripping it. This is a super comfortable position. 

In addition, the hole that the thumb slips through is edged with very soft material that does not irritate the thumb where it goes through the carrier, like some of my other carriers do. The bottle will stay in your hand, even if you are not gripping it with your fingers. Also, because of the way it sits in your hand, you can actually use your fingers and thumb to grip other things or to push buttons on a watch more easily.

In terms of fit in relation to hand size, it seems to work well for people with different size hands. It has an adjustable velcro strap that fits around the bottom of the bottle to loosen or tighten the hand grip. It works for my super-small hands, but also works on my husband's very giant hands. I am a big fan of the velcro closure. It does not slip like the straps do that adjust some of other water bottle carriers.

The bottle's spout is also a plus for me. It has what Nathan calls the "Quick Cap," which was originally designed for dispensing gels. They describe it as a "high-flow, one-way valve [which] opens and closes automatically and offers a quick burst of fluid." What that means to me is that I don't have to open and close a valve with my teeth. It may just be me, but I always end up busting my lip on those hard plastic valves on some other water bottles.  The water shoots out with a squeeze of the bottle. I really like this set-up.

Finally, there are a few other features of the bottle that are a plus. It has a wide mouth for a bottle this size, which allows for easier filling and cleaning. The bottle can also be removed from the carrier for easier cleaning. Some people have said that the bottles will not come out, but the plastic collar at the top of the bottle slips off on both of mine to remove the bottle from the carrier.

Although I love this bottle, I would be remiss not to mention a few of the minor cons of the bottle. One con for some people is the 10 oz size rather than the larger 20 oz bottle most carry. This is a drawback if you are needing to carry a lot of fluid. For runs like that for me, I switch to my hydration vest. For medium length runs, I carry two of these. I find that 20 oz. is enough for me for runs up to an hour and a half. For short runs, an hour or so, this bottle is just perfect. This definitely is not a long distance hydration option, though.

A second drawback is actually in an area that I mention as a positive. Some people do not like the Race Cap valve. It is very responsive (some might say "touchy"). If you squeeze, water will shoot out. Many people unconsciously squeeze the bottle if they tense up as they are running. I don't have a problem with this, though, because one of the things I love about the bottle is that I don't have to grip it as I run. However, if this is a problem for you, you can replace the race cap bottle with the regular flask with the pop-up tops.

The third drawback is partially operator error. The bottle will leak if the top is not screwed on exactly. This is annoying, and it has occasionally happened to me. If there is a flaw in the bottle's design, it would be that the top is not as easy to screw on as one would hope. The first few times I used the bottle I had the occasional problem with this. However, now that I know about this little "quirk," I check the bottle by shaking it upside down after I screw the lid on to make sure I have a good seal.

Even with these slight drawbacks, this is still my absolute favorite hydration accessory at this time. Besides being great for short to medium length training runs, it could work especially well for races of 5k and 10k. It is light enough and comfortable enough not to interfere with fast running, but it would allow one to breeze by the water stops that often take those valuable seconds that keep a runner from achieving a PR.

Because of that, I would like to share it with one lucky reader. For this month's contest I am giving away a Nathan Sprint/Quickshot hydration bottle.  To enter just comment on this post letting me know why you think you need or where you will use your new Nathan Sprint/Quickshot. Will it be training on the trails? For an upcoming race? To train for your first marathon? (I'll be using mine in my training for Dances With Dirt Gnaw Bone!) One entry per person, please.
A winner will be chosen next Monday, April 25, 2012, from all entries in the comment section of this post by whatever time on Monday morning that I get around to doing the drawing. 

Friday, April 6, 2012

Follow-Up on Micah True Post

Today, as I was searching to find out whether or not the autopsy results were in on Micah True, I found this video. I had not seen it before, and it brought tears to my eyes to think that running community had lost such an extraordinary and passionate person. If you have read Born to Run, you will especially like to hear the account of the Leadville 100 race firsthand.

This video is one of three. I am not posting them all here, but they are available on youtube. 

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Reflections on the Loss of Micah True, aka Caballa Blanco

As many of you probably heard, the ultrarunning community lost one of its more famous members last week. Micah True, also known as Caballo Blanco, who had been featured in the book Born to Run, disappeared last Tuesday while out for a 12 mile training run in the Gila National Forest in New Mexico.  His body was found on Saturday. For those of you who aren't familiar with ultrarunning or True's story, one of my favorite bios that has come out in the wake of the tragedy is this article from the BBC.

When I first saw the post on one of my Facebook groups that True was missing, I felt what a lot of other runners probably felt, a little bit of concern, but a feeling that he would be found soon, alright, perhaps with some injury that kept him from getting back sooner. As time passed and he did not come back, I started to feel a deeper sense of foreboding. My thoughts immediately turned to foul play because my brain could not or did not want to process the idea that this highly skilled, highly knowledgeable, and extremely self-sufficient ultrarunner had had a running-related mishap.

Then the news came out that they had found True's body. The reports said that he was sitting in a natural position, with his feet in a stream and his water bottle by his side. An early report in Competitor magazine  (that has since been taken down) said he had abrasions on his knees and possibly a broken finger, but we won't really know what happened until the autopsy results come in. Many regular trail runners took that news with shock, disbelief, and a sense of unease. If someone like True could have an accident like that and perish, what did that mean for the rest of us regular trail runners?

What really shocked me, though, was a line I read in an article today from ABC News. It said that they had found his body "around three miles from where he was last seen." That, to me, was the most shocking information.

Somehow, when I heard that he could not be found and was lost in the "wilderness" of the national forest, I assumed that they would find him in some remote area far from civilization. Three miles from where he was last seen?! That is around a 30-35 minute run for most of us -- or maybe an hour walk if we are hobbling on a sprained ankle. It is less than the distance of my short recovery days.  It is mind-boggling that True could have died so close to civilization.

On a practical level, though, I do understand. Last summer when I had a simple little fall and ruptured my spleen, I was less than a half mile from the trailhead when I went into shock. I was bleeding internally and having trouble breathing. Although I had a cell phone in my pocket, which was still playing music as I was hobbling up the trail, I did not have enough mental capacity to realize that I could use it to get help. If I had not been lucky enough to run into some hikers, I might have collapsed on the trail, probably less than a quarter mile from the parking lot where my husband was waiting. I could have bled to death.

If I had not gotten out of the trails that day, it would have been at least an hour to an hour and a half before my husband came looking for me. Even though I was expected back in about a half hour (I was doing loops back by the parking lot), he would not have worried too much for a while because he knows that like many trail runners I get distracted or intrigued or sidetracked and often don't follow my running plan. I often pop out of the trailhead a half hour or hour past the time I said I would be gone with a smile on my face, excited to tell him about some new trail or adventure.

In fact, like many trail runners, I often wander off for distances and times that are not planned. I also often run by myself. Sometimes I even leave for a run while my husband is gone and don't leave any type of information about where I am going and when I will be back. I know I shouldn't do this, but hey, it is just a short little trail run, right?  I guess True's situation answers that question for us. Until the autopsy is in, we won't know for sure, but would True still be alive if someone had gone looking for him sooner, say like when he was just a few hours late coming back from the run...

Trail runners are an independent and self-sufficient lot. On top of that, one of the reasons most of us run trails is that we love to feel at one with nature. Nature, to many of us, is a companion on the trails. It is easy to forget, as we are puttering down a beautiful trail, that nature is also harsh and unforgiving. One mistake can mean serious consequences. In a heartbeat a nice day on the trail can turn into a life-threatening situation. That is an inherent risk of the sport that we all accept and that most of us will never have to deal with, but obviously some of us will.

True's death shows that it doesn't matter how experienced, how self-sufficient, or how knowledgeable one is, that disaster can still strike. What can someone do? Well there are a few things that trail runners should always do that can make the difference between life and death. One is, obviously, not to run alone. Being a trial runner myself, I know that I will violate that guideline even knowing that it increases the risk. There just aren't always people to run with, and I am not willing to give up the trails except for when I can find a buddy (although I will probably make more of an effort on this one than I have in the past).

The biggest thing, then, is probably to make sure that someone knows where you are going and when you expect to return. If you, like me, are prone to taking a little longer than you plan, let the person know the acceptable amount of time before they should become concerned and take action. I now tell my husband something like "I am going xyz. I should be back in 40 minutes, but it may be as much as an hour and twenty. If I am not back in an hour and a half, start looking for me."  That lets him know how much might be me just messing around doing trail stuff and when there might really be a problem.

Another thing I will change about my approach to trail running is to curtail those little impromptu exploratory runs that take me far from where I said I would be. If any of you read that blog post about the trail lessons learned in Florida, my little outing on the archery range was a good mile away from where I was supposed to have been running, and it was on private property where they might not have even thought to look if I  had come up missing. If I had fallen (and ruptured my spleen again), they would have had no idea where I was. From now on, when I see that new trail beckoning, I will make a mental note and schedule my exploration of it for a future run rather than just taking off on a new trail in a direction I hadn't planned, without telling anyone where I am going.

Just those two simple things, running where you say you will be and letting someone know when you should be back, can go a long way toward saving your life. I know that this sounds so basic, but it is easy to forget safety when running the trails is so much fun.  I know because I am guilty of those types of things myself. 

I am sad and distressed over the loss of Micah True, but he will live on through the pages of the book and in the lessons we can learn, both from his life and from his death. If you haven't read Born to Run, you should, if for no other reason than to get to know this extraordinary ultrarunner so that you can understand the loss so many of us feel. 

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Four Things This Old Runner Can't Do Without

I get home from my month long running odyssey today. I will be happy to be home, not just to sleep in my own bed or to know for sure that my shower has hot water and good water pressure, but because I inadvertently left one of my key pieces of running equipment at home. In fact, that little oversight might have helped contribute to the disasterthat was DWD Green Swamp. When I packed for the trip, I remembered running shoes (several pair), hydration pack, gels, bottles, socks, electrolyte caps, and almost everything else you would think a runner would need, but I forgot one key piece of equipment: my foam roller.

You see, I am one of the saddest of all species, an aging runner. That means that besides all the normal training things I have to worry about, I am also now engaged in a never-ending battle to keep my body from tightening up into a flesh and blood version of the tin man from the Wizard of Oz.

I first became aware of this as a new runner, a spring chicken in my late 30s. I was attending a running camp put on by two veteran runners, who at that time were in their mid to late 50s, I believe. We were staying at a dormitory, and every morning we would meet outside to go for a run before breakfast. There were only about ten of us campers, me being the oldest, and most of the others being high school cross country runners. We would be out on the lawn stretching and bouncing around, ready to get going. Out of the dormitory would come our fearless leaders. Both were hobbling so badly that we all had serious doubts about whether they would be able to continue walking, let alone run. Somehow, once they got going, they both managed to loosen up and could have easily left any of us in the dust. I laughed at them then, but now I know exactly what they were going through.

As I have aged as a runner, I have found that there are certain things I absolutely require if I am going to run injury free and keep myself moving. I have tried a lot of things over time, but I have found that there are four things that are essential to keep me running injury free.

1. Strength Training:  Strength training is hotly debated  in the running community. Many runners feel that time "wasted" strength training is time that could be better spent running. However, I find that as an aging runner, strength training is essential. Science will tell you that I am fighting "sarcopenia," which is age-related muscle loss. I have to weight train, just to keep from losing what I once had! There is more to it than that though.

I lead a very sedentary life, despite the fact that I run 30-40 mpw. I am an online English teacher. I sit for most of the day, plain and simple. That does horrible things to the muscles in my hips, glutes, and lower back. They just waste away. In addition, when I am running,  it is repetitive motion using primarily the same set of muscles. I need to strength train to be sure that the muscles in my legs don't become imbalanced.

I don't do a typical body builder type of strength training, though. I do more of  a dancer's workout, including lots of plies', squats, and leg lifts of various types that target the supporting muscles in my legs. I also do core work and upper body work. In ultras we often have to carry bottles. Several hours of carrying a 20 oz. bottle (a little over a lb.) can fatigue the muscles of the back, shoulders, and arms, so strengthening these is necessary as well.

Often as I get fitter from the strength training, I am able to increase my mileage and am running so well that I tend to let the strength training slide. The inevitable result will be problems with my IT band that could have been avoided if I had stuck with the strength training program. I am embarrassed to say that I still have problems remembering this lesson when I am running well.

2. Yoga: Another essential that I have found that keeps me running more comfortably and with fewer injuries is yoga. I have never been a big fan of stretching before or after a run (although I do stretch more often after a run now than I used to -- usually yoga type stretches), but I have found that doing yoga has definite benefits. When I am doing yoga on a regular basis, say two to four times a week, I feel better, am more flexible, and move more easily.

My favorite Yoga DVD
Perhaps more importantly for me, yoga helps with balance and propriorecption (a sense for where a person's body parts are and how they are moving). I found out recently, first by being told by my massage therapist (more on that later) and later through the school of hard knocks, that my aging, repetitive motion exercise, tightness, and muscle imbalances are leading to some problems with "lateral stability" and balance. With road running, this was not a big deal, but with trail running, balance and stability are very important (they keep one from falling and rupturing a spleen, for example). Yoga shows me where my balance is off and helps me make improvements in those areas.

3. Foam Roller: This is a new addition to my running necessities. Prior to my downsizing (and subsequent drop in income), the work of my foam roller was handled by my running essential number four (the massage therapist). However, in these tight times, I simply could not afford the weekly or bimonthly massages that I had used in the past to loosen up all the knots that I had tied myself into with running, particularly hilly running or speed work. The foam roller is the poor runner's massage therapist.

The foam roller has become a key part of my running routine. In case you haven't met the foam roller, it is one of the greatest torture devices known to runners. It works on the principle of myofascial release . Basically, when we run, we do muscle damage, such as creating small tears in the muscle fibers. The body, in an attempt to heal these tears, lays down scar tissue between and around the muscle fibers. This creates adhesions where the muscle fibers stick together. They interfere with the muscles' ability to work properly. The foam roller breaks up these adhesions and allows the muscle to move freely again. Unfortunately, this process involves quite a bit of pain, as anyone who has used these rollers (or who has had a deep tissue massage) can attest. Often I will not realize that I have a problem in an area until I feel the pain as I roll over the spot.

My primary running problem is related to my IT band. I have a leg length discrepancy that over time has caused my pelvis to twist and tilt. It causes tightness in the glutes and leg muscles on one side of my body. It is a chronic condition that will continue as long as I run. I have found that I can manage it effectively, though, with the foam roller and massage. I believe that if I had brought the foam roller with me to use after the marathon in KY, my IT band would probably have been fine at Green Swamp. Although I was not having pain or noticeable tightness leading up to Green Swamp, the adhesions were probably there from the damage done to the muscles on that hilly KY run. The soreness in my legs after that run were a warning that I should have paid more attention to.

4. Massage: Massage used to be a key part of my running training. In fact, back when I was running much faster, I had a weekly massage appointment, usually one or two days after my speed workout or a race. I counted on those sessions to undo the damage that I had done to myself with the hard running. Sometimes the entire session would be spent working out the problems I had created on one side of my body. I have been very fortunate to work with some really outstanding massage therapists who understood what I was doing as an athlete and who were able to recognize what I needed to keep my body in working condition.

I have also been fortunate in my running career to have had all soft tissue and overuse injuries, usually the type brought on by imbalances. I have never had a running injury that could not be addressed effectively by massage. Many runners brush aside suggestions of massage as a way to deal with injury, but I believe having a good sports massage person on speed dial is important for keeping a master's runner healthy and running in top form. It is not an "indulgence":; it is a necessity.

You may wonder why I still feel massage is a necessity, now that I have the foam roller. Well, the roller is great, but it is not as good as an actual massage. The hand can get to spots in ways that the roller can't, and the knowledge of anatomy and the feel for what is going on in the muscles provided by the massage therapist are still my preferred way of dealing with problems in the muscles, when I can afford it.

In addition, the foam roller could never have said to me, "You need to start addressing some of your muscle imbalances and work on your lateral stability," which is what my massage therapist told me two years ago, long before the problem had gotten out of hand. Unfortunately, I did not take him as seriously as I should have at the time. I could possibly have prevented the fall that led to my ruptured spleen if I had addressed the issues when he first brought them to my attention.
Being a master's runner and trying to maximize my performance is no picnic. It requires a lot more attention to the little things than it used to when I was younger. I would like to think that somehow being fit is a silver bullet that will fend off the ravages of time, but that is not the case. If I am going to still be running ultras in my 60s, I have to take better care of myself now.