Sunday, June 22, 2014

Struggling for Balance

                I have decided to back out of the US Mountain Running Team Qualifiers this year. It was a tough decision to accept but one that must be done. For those that don’t know, I’m chasing my dreams and one of those is making the US Mountain Running Team and representing my country. The first half of this year has been challenging both mentally and physically for me. Balancing training, injuries, school, work, and family issues, I’ve been left stressed and exhausted, feeling as if I’m hanging on a weak branch above turbid waters. Despite all the setbacks, I’ve still managed to get some mediocre training in and keep my win streak alive. Since Hell’s Hills, I have only run two miles. Instead, I have been spending a lot of time pool running, swimming, and biking; accumulating around six hours of cardiovascular exercise and two to three hours of core, strength, and balancing workouts each week to maintain fitness. I’ve also noticed a change in my mental attitude towards running. I firmly believe that if something is worth doing it is worth doing correctly and giving it everything you have. However, you must find a healthy balance so that you can enjoy life, and this is where I tend to struggle. I love running, training, racing fast and hard, but more often than not I allow it to consume every aspect of my life. This leads to me missing out on many things and strains my relationships with others. Around this time last year I embarked on a journey, to see how far and fast my legs could take me. While, I have many goals associated with this journey, I must learn that these goals are not the important part but that the journey itself is what will truly be remembered and failing to do so by focusing solely on race times and finishes will ultimately leave me hollow and regretful.

                So, why have I been taking time off? For the past two years, I have been plagued with shin pain only on my right leg. For the longest time I suspected the causes to be poor form and biomechanics, over-training, lack of rest, and poor shoe choices. However, I have recently become more aware of what I do outside of running and training. I have noticed poor posture, too much sitting, and leg pain while driving. On my daily commute to Baton Rouge, I finally realized how much strain driving was putting on my right shin. For the past few months it has especially hurt when driving, so I decided to do a little research. Turns out I’m not the only person with this problem as driving for prolonged periods of time (my commute is approximately two hours daily, minimum of five times a week) can cause enough pressure to separate your shin muscles from the bone thus causing shin splints. Now, I’m not saying this is the total cause but I believe that in combination with excessive training my leg has just never been able to recover. If it were my shoes or excessive mileage I should experience pain in both legs but in the past two years regardless of weekly mileage or shoe type, I have never experienced any pain in my left shin. Another reason is that in the past three weeks of no running, I should expect to see improvement in the injured area, but unfortunately my shin hasn’t improved; fortunately, the tender spots on my tibia bone have disappeared completely. The reason I decided to forgo USMRT this year was primarily because I felt this injury was preventing me from running the weekly mileage I felt necessary to compete at a top level. Each month, I have had to spend three weeks running low mileage with pool workouts in place of tough interval sessions in order to get one decent week of training in.

                So where is my running future heading now? As mentioned earlier, my views towards training are beginning to change. I have realized over these few weeks that there is more to life than being able to run really fast or far but instead focusing on overall athleticism. I’d like to be able to swim, climb, bike, paddle, and run as long as I would like any given day. Ultimately, my journey is about adventure, but why limit my adventures to just running when I can experience so much more that life and nature has to offer. Realizing this, I now understand that I’m not just in love with running but with movement and this can be expressed just as beautifully by more than just running. I got hooked on running because it is the simplest and most liberating of all forms of movement requiring little to no gear. I will still keep running as the primary focus but will also train for overall athleticism so that when any chance arises to go on an adventure I will be able to thoroughly enjoy it by moving to the best of my abilities and perhaps pushing my limits. While, I still have some fast running time goals I would like to achieve, I’m currently feeling the urge to start running more ultra-distances. I will never give up running because I love it and it makes me a better person. I must focus on finding a healthy balance though so I can enjoy more of what life has to offer. In the end, just enjoy your ability to be able to move, many don't have or lost that ability, so cherish it!

Sunday, June 1, 2014

2014 Forge Racing Hell's Hills 10km Race Report

After returning from northeast Tennessee on Tuesday, I decided to take it easy this week because of my long stint in the mountains and to taper for Hell's Hills in case of some stiff competition showing up. Unfortunately, my legs were pretty beat up from the mountains with tender spots reappearing on my tibia. Fortunately, I rarely feel pain when running; it is just tender to the touch can cause some pain when pushed and at rest. My main concern is that it could develop into a full blown stress fracture. This situation has been plaguing me for some time and is now the primary cause of my insufficient training. I've been running consistently but not training consistently. I think its due to a number of reasons. First, not taking enough time off after Thunderbird to allow my body to heal. This is difficult to do in Louisiana because most places are experiencing a brutal winter filled with snow in December but here it is the best time of the year to be running. Conversely, the summer would be best to take off here but everywhere else it is prime racing time. In the future, I plan to pick up an activity like cross-country skiing or maybe just get on an elliptical for a month to get some adequate cardio in without the impact of running. Secondly, I pushed it too hard last week. Forty-five miles in a week might not sound like a lot but doing it in the span of five days and in the mountains was just too much. After coming off a very solid fifty mile week, I should have ran only 35 miles, but every time I'm in the mountains I just want to tear it up! Mountain miles are much more difficult because it is either up or down the whole time and the long descents are really what hurts my legs.

With all that being said, I traveled to Ruston on Friday feeling very un-confident but knowing I was in the best shape I could be in given the circumstances. I stopped at FitRight Active in Monroe, LA, on the way to use my gift certificate from winning the half marathon last year. I managed to upgrade my watch which was still in use thanks to Maureen's ingenious use of hairbands. I picked up a basic Soleus watch, which has six timers so I can really customize my fartlek workouts now. I arrived around three that afternoon and the anticipation was starting to build. I really love Forge Races for a number of reasons and feel honored to be sponsored by Forge. Jeff and Brenton do a great job of exposing people to different trails all over the state and some surrounding regions. For instance, I would have never known about the Lincoln Parish trails, Homochito, and Chicot State park without them. They do a great job of incorporating the whole state in the Forge Trail Racing Series. Another reason and possibly the best is the camaraderie, everyone treats you like family. It is great for me because I don't always get to attend the weekly Ales and Trails because of my training schedule so it is very awesome to see everyone and hangout before and after the races. I also spend the vast majority of my time and runs by myself, so when I get to see friends I don't stop talking sometimes. After the rain temporarily subsided we all helped Jeff setup the start/finish chute before the rain picked up again. It was a fun night because everyone decided to sleep inside the building that was being used for race registration and merchandising, etc. due to the rain. So the camaraderie was high, as if we were at an adult summer camp. Also, this race has special meaning for due to a few reasons. Last year, I won the half marathon here and it was my first official and out-right win since my senior year of high school. Secondly, the trails are just amazing. This race is an actual trail race with the vast majority of the race being on technical, hilly, but fast single track trail that is designed and maintained immaculately.

Finally, the rain lifted just before the race on Saturday morning leaving a light mist in the air and cooler temperatures; unfortunately, it made things very muggy even though the sun wasn't beating down on us. Even without sun, the ability for your sweat to evaporate is still poor so your body is just as likely to overheat. The trails were still in decent shape despite all the rain but were slick and soft in some spots. I went out a little quick to put a comfortable amount of space between myself and the chase pack. The good thing about Lincoln Parish trails are that they double back over themselves in a few spots so you are able to get a look at your competition and get an idea of where they are in relation to you. I was able to quickly establish a good lead and forced myself to leave it on cruise control but still maintain a focused pace forcing anybody to work really hard to catch up to me. I planned to burn it down around 25-30 minutes in but decided it was unnecessary today. I ran very controlled and relaxed while cruising through the course. If anybody decided to chase me down, I planned to drop the hammer and really make them hurt. However, nobody ever caught up and my lead continued to grow. I was really hoping for a very hard and fast effort but overall was happy to finish up without any injuries or unnecessary stress. I was also very happy with my time considering I didn't put in maximal effort. So, this race was good for building some confidence and making me realize that despite the setbacks, I'm in better shape than I thought. I raced in Scott Sports Trail Rockets which is basically a racing flat with serious grip for the trails. They performed incredibly well, not once did I slip or lose any traction on any part of the course, which considering the conditions was pretty good. Another great thing about Forge Races are the post-race activities. While, I'm not the biggest beer drinker, mostly because I get white-girl wasted after one beer, they have some of the best craft beer brewed by Brenton Day, Kyle Cassidy, and Bobby Love at every race! Also we had some delicious jambalaya made by JP! Plus, there are great prizes if you place and great raffles in case you don't. I got another gift certificate to FitRight Active. When I returned on my way home today to get some new socks for Maureen, the guy working there was laughing because Friday I half jokingly told him I might be back with another one. All in all Forge Racing failed to disappoint, their races are incredible and I feel lucky to be a part of the team. Thanks guys and keep doing what you do! I also want to thank everyone that helped make this weekend such a great experience! If you have never done a Forge Race definitely make it a priority to try one, you won't be disappointed!

Snuggling with unicorns is what makes you fast. Photo: Kyle Cassidy
At least he won't have to worry about wild animals getting him. 
The start. Photo: Jeff Beck