Thursday, January 3, 2013

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

Since it's the Bobby-and-Shannon-Blog Show, it looks like I'm up.

Alright, so maybe nix USA Cross Country this year. Following a return to training post-Club Cross Country, I managed to string together a handful of half-decent runs...but my foot. My dadgum foot. I figured taking a week off after Clubs would yield a miraculous recovery--actually I never thought twice about it--but to no avail. Following a uh...really delightful (attempted)...long run up the Chutes to Goldcamp Road that ended up being abruptly halted by said foot--resulting in a LONG walk/jog/hobble/shuffle back home (but at least it was nice out) I actually had to relent to the fact that there might be something up. And that it might unfortunately have nothing to do with too-tight shoelaces, which is what I'd been telling myself since freakin' October.

So fast-forward a couple of weeks and one reluctant MRI later, the mystery of the last two and a half months of not quite being able to run longer than about 4-5 miles at a given time and not even being able to put together more than a couple consecutive days of that without my toe feeling like it might snap in half, was finally solved as there was not one, not two, but two and a half (the half being a stress reaction) stress fractures in my big toe. One toe. It didn't even spread the love to any other toes. That poor guy, not sure what happened there.

Sometimes it's just

So as my friend/teammate Amanda asked me the other day, "So, are you just like 'SERIOUSLY?!'" Yes, I'm just like SERIOUSLY. Not being particularly prone to stress fractures, there's about a half a dozen potential reasons I could think of for how the whole thing transpired: Could've been the upped-mileage this past year (slightly likely), the upped-mileage being performed mostly in less shoe than what I'm used to (very likely), the attempt at vegetarianism that I still get made fun of for (unlikely), the slightly altered and hopefully more effective (at least eventually) mechanics recommended to me by a biomechanist I saw last spring; more specifically, one issue being that I didn't effectively use my big toe during push-off (incidentally on what ended up being the affected side) and needed to learn how to do it better (also very likely), the suggestion of acquiring more of a forefoot strike (also very likely) with less of a shoe (again, likely), or it could've been the quick-as-possible comeback from an SI joint injury last summer (slightly likely), or maybe the fact that I stupidly can't seem to learn to take an easy day all that easy and can't get away with it as easily as I could in college any longer (very likely), or it could be a combination of most or all of these things. Whatever the case, advice thrown in for free: when it comes to your mechanics, if you're going to make changes, no matter how small, you'd better do it painstakingly slowly. Thousands of steps a day makes small pretty huge.

Or it may not have been any of these things. I've decided that if you try to figure out a reason for every single setback your body throws at you, you'll just drive yourself nuts and get paranoid over every niggle. There will always be weak links to fix, but if you change one thing, you'll change everything, so approach with caution. Sometimes it's a single misstep that'll throw you off for weeks, and it just has to run its course. I guess you just have to avoid things that you know don't work, be proactive, and take care of stuff as best as you know how to before a molehill becomes a mountain, but you can't prevent everything and you can't always learn from everything either. But in spite of that, there are always blessings in disguise. A screwed up SI joint and messed up hip/hamstring that put me out for almost two months last summer led to the discovery of an awful lot of longstanding imbalances going on in the hip flexors, glutes, core, and low back, and thanks to being forced to address all of those issues during the downtime, I now have a pair of hamstrings that aren't forever feeling ripped-in-half after EVERY workout (for the last two years) and glutes that actually do their share of the work. So there is occasionally a silver lining. Two steps forward, one step back, and eventually things get there. Although truthfully the actual training part of this sport can sometimes be the least challenging part of the process of "getting there."

On the upside, this injury isn't nearly as tough a nut to crack as that one was: No tight this or weak that or scar tissue to be broken up here or there. Just four to six weeks and GO. In the meantime, back to my Injury BFF's the pool and the stationary bike out in the garage (who I have christened Old Goldie--he's older than me and has been my faithful ally in many a comeback) and soon enough the Alter-G.

Okay, admittedly 2013 hasn't gotten off to the greatest start, it's a pretty discouraging start actually. I'm really disappointed I won't be on the line in St. Louis on February 3rd, chances are I'll be unplugging myself from the running world as much as possible that day. But sometimes that's the risk you run for putting most of your eggs in one really small basket: extreme disappointment. But, as Cassie said to me referencing her broken foot following last year's Clubs (and that was a legit break, none of this measly crack-in-the-bone nonsense) that caused her to miss most of last year including the Trials, "There's a reason for it, I just haven't figured out what it is yet."

2012 was far from everything I was hoping for. But even so, I PR'ed once, I finished higher than I ever have at Clubs (and a few spots closer to Team USA--baby steps), and I got out of some of the training ruts that I got myself stuck in for the last few years. Two steps forward and one step back. So here's to an injury-free and PR-plagued rest of 2013.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Green Mountain

After the sun rose on the last day of 2012, I decided that despite surviving the now-miscalculated Mayan Armageddon, along with the other 364 days in the year 2012, I would finally take a shot at the mountain that shadows over my apartment each evening. Green Mountain stands 8,100 tall, and I've reached the summit on a run once before - though never deep in the winter, when the trails are covered in snow and ice, and never when the mountain itself was lonely of most of its' visitors. At this time of the year, I had slight chances of seeing beers, mountain lions, or ultra runners. The Boulder Bubble doesn't reach into the open space during the winter months, so I knew I would be safe. I went into the mountains to get away from the noise, I went into the mountains to find out why I had the desire to go into them in the first place.

What I found on my journey, was that multiple times a year I'll grow weary of the bubble, with seems to be littered with overly-priced lattes, restaurants, and gym memberships. Not that I indulge in any of those consistently, though the rat race does attempt to steer you in that direction. It's hard not to simplify the equation: Why not brew coffee at home? Why not cook food at home? And more importantly, Why would you pay $100 on a gym membership for information you access on the internet? It's been my experience that if you can afford a $100 gym membership, you can afford the internet. Maybe it's the navigation where most people grow confused and tired, so for them I'd like to add one more one-worded tip: Google. When you have a town full of fitness advocates, health nuts, and talented athletes, you're bound to have both sides of the coin. The bubble at times can be suffocating, which (back to my point) is why I sought to get up and over the ridge, to the west side, away from the noise, away from the lattes, the insanely pricey (and small) steaks, and the overly-priced gym memberships.

The trails were quiet, they didn't talk to me, and I to them. I ran in silence, body and mind. Understanding works best when you're mouth is closed. The only challenges were natural - hill (mountain) climbs, sections of slippery ice, and animals (deer, mountain lions and bears, oh my!). The stability of the cosmos seemed to exist here, where man hadn't intervened to tip the scale. I didn't pass a Starbucks, see any training groups in matching uniforms, or anyone trying to find a signal on their Garmin watch. The challenges in the wild are Real. Unlike life on the Front Range, the purity of the canyon I climbed, the rocks I hopped from, and the peak I summited, the simplicity of things here made the challenge worth it. The mountain doesn't offer trivial pursuits, it offers a challenge of the Will, nothing more, nothing less.

I glided on the packed snow, up and up as the peak grew larger and larger. The higher I got, the more I could hear the crunch of the snow beneath my feet, and my ailing breath echoing through the canyon. The final push to the top was a rocky scramble, coated with ice, owning a pack of chia seeds, or having a fro-yo date on the calendar wouldn't be any help here, only caution and patience would. I bounded from rock to rock until finally reaching the summit.

The beauty of reaching the top of mountain is always in the opportunity to look back down on where you came from. Boulder seemed small, and insignificant. Each overly-priced restaurant sat next to another, but in that same bubble was the lone McDonalds (which ironically enough is next to the only Burger King). I wondered how their business was in this town for a moment, then got cold enough to head back down, not before realizing that the both sides of the coin exists in the same bubble.

Perspective. This is the only word I could come up with in my brief moment atop Green Mountain. From down low, within the bubble, the noise and chaos of the rat race can be annoying, and quite depressing, but  from up here, beyond the bubble, or just outside it, it's quiet and serene. Life is simplified in the mountains, which explains why so many (including myself) head out into the wildness to find some quiet trails. The mountain does not care if you ate a $50 steak last night, what gym you go to, how many times you went to Pure Barre last month, what training group you're a part of, how often you eat frozen yogurt, if you're a part of something bigger than yourself, smaller than yourself, or being someone else's self. The mountain, quite simply, does not discriminate. It only cares for one thing, and one thing only: The Will.

It cares only for the Will to reach the top, the Will to burn your legs and your lungs, depleting them of sweet oxygen as you pump hard up a mountain - at altitude - as quickly as possible. It cares for your Will to survive. Now, don't misinterpret this post as me dramatizing a monstrous climb to the top of Green Mountain, which actually isn't insanely challenging, this is about what the mountain whispered to me while on my journey. This is about simplifying your life, getting rid of the excess "weight"; the unnecessary items and things that only complicate what we're all actually here trying to do: Run Fast and Enjoy The Journey. 

After firing down the mountain on the soft packed snow, I arrived back at my car and looked up at the mountain I just ran.  From down here, it's just a blue silhouette each evening, but each evening it beckons me back, reminding me not to get lost or caught up in the things that really don't matter, the mountain  reminds me to do one thing: Simplify.