Friday, March 29, 2013

Spring Thaw -- a look back before the steps ahead

It’s been roughly six months since my last race, six months since my last post, and six months worth of yet another lesson in running. Following my last 50 mile race back in late September I bounced back rather quickly. Within a few days I was feeling great and ready to go. No sign of injuries other than a few minor tweaks that are sure to arise after cranking out 50+ miles in less than 9 hours on a hilly course. But, sure enough, I denounced my plans to take 2 weeks completely off from any running or high impact activity to give my body the full recovery it needed, whether I was feeling any lingering pain or not. Enter the recipe for disaster. Under-recovered and overworked, I slipped slowly and quietly in an injury that would frighten me like never before. It started with a twinge in the back of the right knee. It spread to a tingle down the lower leg. And come to think of it, that tenderness in my hamstring never fully healed since I had crossed the finish line just 6 days prior. Still, I carried on and cranked out a hard 15 miles less than a week after the race -- completely disregarding the recovery plan. Moving forward, those tweaks and twinges and lingering aches turned into a problem that would soon send the notion of an electric shock down my right leg. In the first bout, I pushed through it for a mile or so, but the intensity only grew. Eventually, the pain increased to a nearly excruciating level. For weeks I’d go on battling the pain, only stopping after just a few miles simply because my right leg wouldn’t and couldn’t move without the feeling of a thousand volts shooting from my lower back, down the back of the upper leg, and finally ending in the middle of my shin. My leg was going numb each time I stepped out the door to move freely in my passion. The diagnosis: Sciatic nerve damage. The thought: Was running being taken away from me?

The worst part of the mess is that I knew I was the only one to blame. I’ve always been a huge advocate for recovery. Proper rest is a key part to any training plan. Bill Bowerman, the legendary coach of the University of Oregon track team, said it best: “Stress. Recover. Improve.” A solid 3-step mantra that has no effectiveness if you skip any of those key stepping stones along the way. Therefore, my state of pain and panic had simply come to life because I failed to welcome enough recovery. Now agitated and deflated that my stubborn self would not be logging 10 hours in the trails each weekend for awhile, I needed to find a release and a way to get myself back and ready to go for the spring racing season. The one good thing about this injury was the timing. I usually take it a bit easier in the winter to allow some downtime, but in my mind I was already prepping for longer, new ultramarathons -- Not something one can do when his leg is filling with an electrifying pain before going numb after just 1.5 miles.

After spending too much time in a state of panic for 2 months following the initial injury (with some “pitifully” low mileage weeks), I finally realized that if I didn’t take this winter to really cool off and focus on low-impact cross training and maximum rehabilitation, then there could be a chance I’d never run an ultra again. In the end, I’ve spent the last 4 months on the bike, in the pool, and limiting my running to just 30 miles per week -- a far cry from my typical 70-80 mile weeks. Less running, more cross training, skipping a spring 50 mile race, and getting plenty of acupuncture (something I swear by, ever since my first treatment back in 2011) seems to have brought me to where I am right now: BACK and ready to fly in the Long Island Greenbelt 50k (31 miles) on May 11.

To honor my successful injury rehabilitation, I’m continuing to keep my mileage relatively low each week. I’m still hovering around the low 30s on average, with sufficient time getting in plyometric/bodyweight strength workouts (another practice I’ve always strongly advised and have always enjoyed much more than hitting a weight room) -- not to mention throwing in stair climbs up to my 11th floor apartment after each run, whether it’s after a 3 mile shakeout or a 20 mile long run. The weekends have been still consisted of a good long run or two, mainly in the trails, which I can never get enough of. Weekends away from the concrete City for some trails, trails, and more trails. Some roads -- to get to the trailhead, of course.

Nothing beats a few hours and many miles of “playing” in the woods, discovering new paths in my own wild “backyard” (thanks to Connetquot State Park) and later reflecting on the day’s run with a solid micro brew in front of the bonfire (thanks to my actual, immediate backyard)...

That said, it gives me great pleasure to announce a fun and tasty new project I’ll be starting tomorrow and posting about daily here on Miles ‘til Midnight: the Long Island Trails & Ales Tour -- 5 days of pure bliss courtesy of L.I.’s endless trails and craft beer. A “stay-cation” for the sole, soul, and taste buds, the “Trails & Ales” tour will come complete with a daily writeup on the blog -- full of thoughts and ramblings from the trail, followed by a nice beer review or two (or more) highlighting the local micro brews I plan to enjoy each day, preferably fireside.

For endless reasons -- and many more unknown -- craft beer is a huge part of the trail running/ultra running community. For one, I believe it is the simple, community-driven aspect that both of these niche passions have formed close ties over the years. Many trail runners are probably just as versed in the complexity of the frothy treats as the brew masters themselves. For those of you that do run and compete in trail and ultra races, you are probably well aware of this beautiful relationship between good beer and endless miles. But for those of you that have a disconnect to the sport, I can assure you that there are countless reasons as to why some of our nations finest micro breweries sponsor our races. Both establishments, racing and brewing, thrive on the camaraderie of other runners and artisans, respectively. In that notion, I believe the two institutions have become tethered and continue to grow at a notable rate as more and more people fumble upon the discovery of an endless trail or a hoppy delight. With this next week off, I vow to embrace the freedom and ability to immerse myself in rediscovering these two American beauties -- THAT simple availability is the impetus behind the Long Island Trails & Ales Tour; a morning in the trails, an intermission consisting of whatever else the day brings, and a refreshing elixir to wrap up a day among my family and friends -- all courtesy of L.I.’s finest creations.

Long Island Trails & Ales Tour*

(*occasional Roads and Lagers welcome)

Stay tuned... the Tour kicks off TOMORROW! Check back here each night for a recap (to keep up on-the-go, follow instagram @RunningOnBeer ... #TrailsAndAles for some visual stimulation as it happens).

Happy Trails and Hoppy Ales...

...Stay Relentless.

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