Sunday, July 31, 2011

Metatarsal Test on Green Mountain

After getting a stress fracture last summer and feeling similar early symptoms again I backed off on my running for the past week. I did a couple of three mile jogs and walks of a mile and a half. I had also tried to remedy the situation by cutting a hole in the insert of the shoe, wearing shoes all the time, and favoring the foot a somewhat while running. By favoring, I mean going for either a heel or a flat foot strike.

Yesterday I decided to go for a long run and see how it would do. I'd been wanting to do a circumnavigation of Green Mountain on the edge of Boulder. It was already 90 degrees when I was ready to go. I drank a quart of diluted cold Gatorade before starting and carried two liter bottles in my hands, one with water and the other with diluted Gatorade. As I started up toward Chautauqua Park from the Pearl Street Mall I realized I was already struggling. Something wasn't right. The heat shouldn't have been a problem that soon. I stopped and checked my pulse; it was irregular. It seemed to be in atrial fibrillation which I've had over the years but not recently. I had noticed some irregularity the day before after a particularly strong cup of coffee at Ozo. Excessive caffeine can trigger it. I decided to go on; going for a run has often been effective in making the rhythm return to normal. It didn't seem to be working. I went on, thinking I could always turn back and if things got bad I was still where an ambulance could get to me. Funny how we think sometimes. After about 2 miles and 800 feet of elevation gain it seemed that maybe I was returning to normal. I would soon be in terrain that if things were to go bad I would be stuck there. I ate a Honey Stinger and drank some water and kept going. I don't know if my decision to continue was stupid, well-analyzed, or what but after a while the initial distress was all but forgotten and I was enjoying the trail.

Much of the running was on steep trails which made it easy to not make pounding foot strikes. The two and a half hours were uphill for the most part and the last hour and a half was a steep descent and then a mile and a half on streets all downhill. Once I was back to Pearl Street I discovered the temperature was 95, but as we say here "it's a dry heat". The heat index probably made it 91 and being in the mountains in semi-shade I can knock off a couple of more degrees. I drank three quarts of water and a beer to rehydrate. The foot seems no worse for the tens of thousands of foot strikes. I'm still going to take it easy for a while so that the foot isn't getting excessive repetitive load every day. I'll save that for a long run later in the week.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Running Acculturation

Many of us have lives that involve complex interactions with people and demands on our time and our being. We may feel that we are riding a horse that sometimes we can control and sometimes it has a mind of its own and all we can do is hold on and hope it goes in the general direction we want to go. One of the many pluses of running is that when a runner is out on a trail or, heaven forbid, a road he or she is in control for that time period. One can speed up, go slow, stop for a breather, walk, take a drink, change routes, etc. We don't have to consider how it affects the needs or wishes of others. Running with others changes that.

Six months or so ago I joined a local trail running group and I manage to run a couple or three times a month with them. There are about fifteen hundred runners on the contact list but the groups that I meet up with usually have between 10 and 20 runners. The runs I choose generally take place on trails that don't require I drive far; consequently, the terrain is relatively flat and the runs are usually "no drop" easy runs. The social format is that the group stays more or less together and over the course of the run each person seems to have the opportunity to chat and run with the different runners in the group. The etiquette is fairly informal and simple to follow. Sticking with the horse metaphor, I'm on a horse that is going where I want to go.

Recently I woke up early and couldn't get back to sleep. I knew there was a 5:30 AM run that day, so I decided to join it. I wrote of this run in an earlier post but not with respect to running etiquette. The mountain trail route was more challenging and the pace was faster. There were five of us and we were soon a group of three ahead and a slower paced pair running behind. I was in the threesome; we went faster than I would normally run solo but it was good for me to be held to a pace. We stopped two or three times and waited a minute or so for the other two to catch up. After a three and a half mile ascent of about 5% average grade we had a somewhat steep descent. The two I was with dropped me and one by one the two behind me went by. On the ensuing ascent one of the two caught the lead pair and I caught the other who had asked to scoot by on the downhill. We chatted a bit about shoes and such but he was soon a couple of strides behind and I sensed, slowing down. I pulled away and reached the top of the ascent a few seconds behind the lead three. We waited a couple of minutes for the other runner and took off through the woods on a slight descent. I was fourth and comfortable with the pace. After a few minutes, on a tight turn the fellow in front of me glanced back and noticed the fifth runner was by himself a minute or so back and he pulled off without saying anything, but clearly just waited for the other runner. I went along with the two with whom I had started out.

I wondered if I should have slowed down to accompany the last runner since I was the closest to him in pace. But he had gone by me on the descent. The run wasn't a declared "no drop run" and usually the run leader takes charge to keep the group together. I don't know how everyone else thinks, but my view is that as a runner I'm used to running by myself. Having other runners around provides some peripheral entertainment and if running shoulder to shoulder and chatting happens that's cool, and if I end up dropped that's OK too. I still interact in a way; I see if I can recover and catch up. Communicating ones wishes directly is good too; we could always say what we want or need.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Averting a Metatarsal Stress Fracture in Progress

I've been sensing some dull pain and odd twinges on the top of my foot for at least the past two weeks. I've worried that I have another stress fracture in the works. Last year at this time my right foot had been in a protective boot with a stress fracture of the second metatarsal. I don't want another break, but I don't want to stop running either.

To confirm that the pain was related to a metatarsal I took a golf ball, placed it on a half inch foam pad, and stepped down on it at the second and third metatarsals heads. I used my left foot as a control and there was no pain or discomfort. The second metatarsal on the right foot (the one that fractured last year) seemed OK probably because it ended up stronger through the healing process, but there was definite discomfort when applying pressure on the ball under the third metatarsal. There was even some lingering pain. The discomfort was also not to the level of the two or three days leading up to the eventual break. My self-diagnosis is Stage I or II of a stress fracture in which there is crack initiation or an area of stress for Stage I or even some stress propagation in which any repair that is occurring is happening slower than the damage that is being done if I'm at Stage II. Stage III is complete failure; I know what that feels like and I am not there. It is a pain that can not be run through or even handle any weight bearing.

I did some googling and found that all advice suggested a rest period. I want to rest it, but I'm wondering if I can just rest that particular metatarsal. One bit of hope was the mention that the other metatarsals act as a splint to some extent for the distressed metatarsal. My thinking is that if I can divert most of the load that falls on the third metatarsal to the first and second and to a lesser extent, the fourth and fifth it may be able to recover while "going along for the ride".

It seems to me that if the metatarsal head weren't to bottom out during the foot strike that it wouldn't receive the forces of bearing weight. At this point, just wearing a shoe feels better than being barefoot. To relieve the metatarsal of its duty I cut a hole in the insert under the forefoot at the third metatarsal. The hope is that the metatarsal head doesn't bottom out and that it just enters the void in the insert.

For a test run I ran 3.3 miles pushing Elliott in the running stroller on pavement. I tried to heel strike a bit more and focus on getting the front inside edge of the running shoe down to the ground. The foot felt fine running, but walking around later, especially barefoot, the dull ache and an occasional hot twinge were apparent.

The question will be whether I've isolated the bone enough so that it can repair itself faster than I damage it. I'm assuming that reducing the upward force on it will be enough, but there may be lots of torsional stresses that occur that I haven't taken into account. I'm imagining the healing process to be similar to a cut on a knuckle that gets a lot of movement; it will eventually heal, but it takes longer than a cut on the forearm. Less movement should be better, but are the dynamics of bone healing different from skin? Look for updates in subsequent posts.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Sunrise Run (with Elliott images)

I've never been one of those people that start their day off with a run. I like to start the day a little slower than seven miles an hour; I prefer sipping hot coffee and checking out what's going on in the world. Tuesday I noticed that there was a Boulder Trail Runners' run scheduled for 5:30 in the morning. I contemplated getting up for it, thinking that if I got the run out of the way I could dedicate more time to family and household needs, but by the time I was asleep it was 1:30 so I abandoned the notion, that is until I woke up at 4:30 and felt that if I went back to sleep I wouldn't wake up until 9 so I got up for the run.

There were four other male runners at the Dowdy Draw trailhead from BTR but I didn't recognize any of them. We took off up the draw and there was talk of ones plan for the Leadville 100 after not having done it for four years, another spoke of his 2:57 at Boston and another brought up Big Horn and other ultras that he'd done. It sounded like I might be in over my head and that the group would have to wait for me at each junction but I hung with them; we were only running 8 miles not 80. It was easier if they were conversing and I just chugged along inhaling and exhaling.

The route is one of my favorites so I was rather comfortable with what we would be doing. We covered about 7.8 miles in an hour and twenty minutes (11 minutes faster than previous runs of the same loop) with about 1000 feet of elevation. We were back at the parking lot right at 7:00.

It took a while to recover over the course of the day. I think I hadn't hydrated and didn't bring any liquids with me. I also felt as if I had been up partying all night. I puttered around, played with Elliott and slowly I felt as if I had a normal night sleep and had not run.

I guess I've always know the reason I don't like to run early in the day is that the run is then behind me and I'd rather have it to look forward to. A run later in the day also seems to serve as a pick-me-up, so at about 4PM I took Elliott out for a couple of miles in the Baby Jogger.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Monsoon Madness

Looking out across the back yard and to the blue sky as far as one can see it is difficult to imagine that sometime this afternoon dark clouds will be overhead with their monsoon moisture and a need to balance their electrical charge with the ground below, but this has been the pattern for about ten days now.

The weather and an ever-lengthening to-do list has forced me to have some rest days this week, which is probably not so bad. This time last year I was trying to get accustomed to wearing a cam walker to protect a stress-fractured foot. Moving about pre-coffee this morning I sensed that the middle metatarsal on my right foot is fatiguing under the burden of a converted heel-striker and the tightness and sharp pain of Achilles tendinitis is present in the left foot from the adjustment to the new Asics 3020 (which I like for trails although not a trail shoe) which I bought with the hope that they would protect me from the stress that my right foot doesn't seem able to handle in more minimal footwear.

Yesterday I added "long run" to the top of the aforementioned to-do list. If I can keep adding to the bottom of the list, why not add to the top? I rode the motorcycle down to Eldorado Springs. It's been a while since I'd trod on those trails. I headed out under blue skies with a liter of water in each hand, a half a liter, a bowl of Malt-O-Meal, and three cups of coffee in my stomach, and a pocketful of assorted nutrition in my shorts. I thought about how for years I wouldn't enjoy the first three or four miles of a run but now I find pleasure from the first step. The run would be seven miles uphill eventually taking me to the railroad tracks at the top of Rattlesnake Gulch. I doubt is was named as such because of the presence of rattlesnakes but rather to discourage more viper-phobic prospectors from venturing up there. The climb seemed so much easier than it has on other occasions. I typically would walk some of the steeper sections but not yesterday.

I descended the way I went up until I was back to the Fowler Trail which I took to the North Springbrook Loop until it joins to where I had elected the south loop on the way up. I had planned to run across the valley and go up the switchbacks on the other side and do the relatively flat loop on the mesa but the dark clouds had appeared and I was already hearing thunder from the area that I had just come down from so with threatening weather moving in I took a left and headed back to the trailhead.

In three hours and ten minutes of running on some of the greatest trails around I only saw two other runners. Earlier this week Alex had left to do parkour and returned a short while later saying the gym was too full. I told him the trails are never crowded and he said that's because there aren't that many crazy people and I said it's because not that many people know where to find sanity.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

On the Up and Up

Friday and Saturday I took advantage of bringing Valerie to work at the cart on Pearl Street to do a couple of runs from downtown Boulder. My plan Friday was to run to Chautauqua Park and from there take the Mesa Trail to Bear Canyon to circumnavigate Green Mountain. I'd run on on the trails I planned to take, but never in this sequence. I liked the route because it would be an uphill grade of about 6% for about seven miles before a steeper descent back to town. Once in Bear Canyon, about 4.75 miles out, I started to hear a lot of close thunder and the clouds were quickly darkening overhead. I had to decide, and quickly, whether to continue around or return the way I had come; to me this was a case where "when in doubt go uphill". Maybe there wasn't any doubt; I turned around and headed back. I felt the edge of the storm was pushing right behind me most of the way back. It should have been; most storms during our monsoon season seem to track to the northeast and my return trip was due north. At one vantage point I was able to see that the storm had taken a turn and moved out to the southeast toward Denver. By the time I was back to Pearl Street the sky over my planned return route was entirely blue. I would most likely make the same decision; live to run another day...which I did yesterday.

Again, I dropped Valerie off at Pearl Street and armed with about 60 ounces of water I took off toward Ebin G. Fine Park mostly along the Boulder Creek Path. Near the park there is what would appear to just be a dirt alley but it is the access to the Viewpoint Trail which connects up to the Flagstaff Trail which would take me to the summit of Flagstaff Mountain. There are enough switchback on this trail to make the entire route runnable except for a short stretch near the top where it just makes sense to hike for a couple of minutes. The trail crosses the road that has its own switchbacks winding its way up the face of the mountain. Flagstaff is actually a rather small mountain rising to 6872 feet above sea level which is about 1500 feet above the park where I started the ascent. Anywhere else in the Rockies it probably wouldn't even be named, but being right on the western edge of town and a popular and convenient destination for some great views of the area it certainly makes sense that it have a name.

The weather held out for me on this run. The deluge, two of them actually, came a little later on in the day. I generally prefer to run in the afternoons, but given the weather pattern we're in I expect I'll be venturing out more in the mornings.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Boulder to Betasso Preserve and back

I didn't run yesterday and although I ran 36 miles last week, most of the outings were half an hour or an hour so today I felt up for a longer and hillier run. I dropped Valerie off at the cart and headed out from there. I had heard some talk of the Betasso Preserve. I ran streets and worked my way to the Boulder Creek Path and took it up Boulder Canyon until it ends and then ran about a mile along the narrow edge of the winding heavily holiday-trafficked road before coming to the Betasso Link about 4.1 miles out. It was a little steep but runnable. The 1 1/4 mile link comes out at the Betasso Loop which is 3.3 miles around. There were some hikers and lots of mountain bikers on the trail. Every other month they do the loop in the opposite direction. I chose to run against them to make it easy to see them coming. I think there was about a 1400 foot elevation gain to the loop, but from the point where I entered the loop there was maybe a 500-600 elevation drop before returning back up to the starting point.

The temperature was surely about 85 at the start but with cloud cover in the mountains and the elevation gain the weather was rather tolerable. I had some Malt-o-Meal for breakfast and drank plenty of liquids to be hydrated. Just before starting I drank about 20 ounces of water and carried two 24 ounce water bottles with me. I don't think I touched the water until I had reached the loop. I ate a Clif Bar at that point as well and had a Gu before heading back down to Boulder. I drank the other water on the way down and found the conditions bearable. Once back I found myself disappointed that the run was over already. I had anticipated a more strenuous run but I felt as if I could have easily gone longer.

I wore the Asics 3020 mentioned in the previous post and found them effective on the trail. The real proof will be with how my feet feel in the morning.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Asics 3020

June finished with my mileage at 600.3. I would like to run more, but 100 miles per month is my without fail target so I'm satisfied. The current week finds me out for some short runs pushing Elliott in the original Baby Jogger that I bought used fifteen years ago for Valerie and tried to sell at a garage sale the month before we knew Elliott was going to exist. It's blue canvas is rather faded, the spokes are rusted, and the two rear tires are thin on tread and lined with cracks, but it's a smooth ride so we like it.

The short runs have given me a chance to accustomed my feet to a new pair of running shoes. I like the Merrell Trail Glove, but my right foot is structurally challenged to handle day after day or runs over an hour and a half. My analysis is that on that foot the big toe point inward and in effect doesn't extend out as far as the second toe and consequently the weight burden disproportionately carried by the second metatarsal which fractured last summer under the stress. Minimalist running though has helped me change away from being strictly a heel-striking runner. I have bought several different running shoes over the past year and nothing seems to work for me so I keep running in either the Merrells or two very used pairs of Asics Evolutions, but the tread has worn smooth so I've had a little difficulty with traction on the trails. Last week I bought the Asics 3020 (available in EE) which is supposed to accommodate a mid to forefoot strike and it seems to live up to it's billing. I haven't been able to get out on any technical trails with it or for any runs over an hour so I can't state unequivocally that it meets my needs. I am a little concerned that I've sensed a little Achilles tendinitis in my left foot. This seems to occur with new running shoes if I don't alternate them in slowly with other shoes.

I think I will be able to take them out on the trail this weekend at some point. The forecast is for mid nineties so I may not run for more than an hour and a half but that should be long enough to give me a sense of whether the 3020 is going to work for me as a trail shoe although it certainly isn't designed as one. The Trail Glove suits my wide foot but almost all of the traditional trail shoes only come in a standard width so I have to use a road shoe for trails if it's not the Merrell.

Speaking of trails, I was looking at my elevation gain for the year. On 600 miles I have 53,000 feet of elevation gain in six months. I remember looking at Anton Krupicka's stats for the first month of this year and he had over 100,000 feet of elevation gain. I guess the trade off on that is that I'm able to run and he's been injured most of the year.