Monthly Archives: April 2015

Jackson Square

Running the Big Easy

I recently had the opportunity to visit New Orleans with a group of friends from back home in Chicago. My physical therapy has been paying dividends and I’m back to putting in decent mileage and comfortable speeds without too much worry about my ankle. I have been to New Orleans before, but I had never run there. I was excited to see the riverfront and explore a little bit.

My wonderful triathlete friend Jen joined me for the first run on the morning of our second day. I love running with a companion and we enjoyed a comfortable conversational pace. It’s always a strange feeling waking up and cruising party central so early in the day. The bizarre combination of smells struck me as the ghosts of the night before. Some good, some bad, some horrible.

We started running as we passed Bourbon Street, heading for the Mississippi River. Almost immediately, I stepped into a crater on the sidewalk and twisted my ankle. I managed to stay upright and was shocked to find no residual pain or weakness. This physical therapy stuff really works! We continued all the way to the riverfront. There was a small wall lining train tracks. If you are in this area, be extremely careful. It is difficult to see the trains coming until you look around the wall.

We crossedNOLA Run to the levy and started on the path. The riverfront path is busy. Like, always busy. Between walkers, runners, cyclists, homeless wanderers, and oblivious tourists taking selfies, awareness is critical. The path is made of mostly slate tiles, so running can be a bit treacherous here as throughout the city. If you try to run on roads, you’ll find many potholes. Some of the streets alternate asphalt and old brick. The sidewalks are all tiles, many of which are broken. I found it best to take my runs slowly, enjoy the scenery, and soak in the city.

The riverfront path is quite short. I am not even sure it was a full mile. We wound up circling from the end of the path, back to the aquarium area, and back several times. The breeze off the river was wonderful and it was fun to see so much maritime activity so early in the day. At some point, a very long freight train pulled through the area and blocked our access back to the city. We simply continued to run until it was clear.

Getting back to the hotel was a bit of a chore because of the hoards of beignet-devouring tourists waiting to get to the riverfront in the other direction. We jogged through Jackson Square and snapped a couple photos before winding through a few more blocks home.

NOLA Run 2On our last day in New Orleans, I went out early in the morning for a solo run. I pretty much followed the original path to begin and started cruising down the riverfront path once again. A disheveled-looking man and woman were sitting on a bench as I passed by. The woman croaked at me, “Hey man, you can’t run away from all your problems!” I quickly responded, “How do you know? Have you ever tried?” We all laughed and I continued on my way. This was typical of New Orleans on both of my visits. Everyone I met was really friendly and outgoing.

I thought I would extend my run a little bit, but wound up getting lost somewhere near a casino. I accelerated my pace because time was getting tight and I was concerned about getting to the airport on time. With a little GPS help, I found my way back and everything worked out fine.

Though I don’t find New Orleans the best city for a run, it was relaxing enough. It was strange to run on flat land again after so much time spent in the Pacific Northwest. I am curious about outlying areas. I never did locate any off-road trails or parks to run in. I’m sure we’ll go back soon and I look forward to exploring a bit more. Any suggestions on where to run are certainly welcome.

Treating Feet in River

On Injuries, Time Off, and Physical Therapy

This has been my worst year of running. I injured my ankle twice and have twice needed to take significant time off to recover. The first injury was a sprained ankle while hiking. The second was an overuse situation because I was hurrying to get back to marathon training, making up for lost time. How many times can I do this to myself before I start listening to my body? What am I doing wrong that is leading to these injuries? After losing seven weeks and a marathon entry fee to injury this year and learning some very difficult lessons, I think it’s time to share my experiences and knowledge regarding injury prevention and recovery from mild injuries. Before we begin, I want to make it clear that I am in no way a physician, and this information is simply my set of guidelines for my personal running life. If you have a major injury or emergency, obviously get medical help. And as I’ll discuss later in this post, a professional should always be consulted when it comes to preparation and recovery.

RICE: First things first, RICE. I’m not talking about organic brown rice for your diet (although, it is pretty great). I’m talking Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation. Of these components, I don’t think anything is more important than rest. If you have an overuse injury, in particular, stay off your feet. As runners, we want to get back out there as soon as possible and work through injuries, if we can. It can be hard to determine when to stay put and when to get back to it. I prefer to err on the side of caution these days. Too many times I’ve gone out quickly after an injury, just to hobble home dejected and frustrated. Ice can work wonders for many injuries. Ice serves multiple purposes by helping to reduce swelling and numbing an injury. While inflammation can be good for injuries, too much inflammation can prevent nutrients from getting to the injured area. Use an ice pack or a frozen bag of peas for up to 15 minutes on an injury. Toss the ice back in the freezer for 45 minutes before using it again to prevent frostbite. Compression is the wild card here. There are those who advocate letting an injured area swell to brace the limb from movement to aid in healing. In my experience, I prefer to use compression to reduce swelling and encourage blood to flow to and from the area easily. I use an elastic bandage or wrap. Elevation is also important. Try to elevate the injury to the level of your heart, or slightly higher. This allows more blood to flow to the area and to remove any damaged tissue that could be lingering. I tend to stack pillows on my couch and recline as comfortably as possible. Use this as a good excuse to relax and catch up on Netflix.

If you don’t notice injury improvement in a week after you begin the RICE routine, seek a healthcare professional’s advice.

Time Off: It is difficult to take time off. We don’t want to stop. Whether we fear a loss of momentum or a reduction in fitness, cutting back on exercise is not something we runners do well. Perhaps we feel like ‘slackers’ for not moving. Maybe our inner voice is screaming that we’ll never be ready for that marathon now. Whatever the reason, it’s important to come to terms with time off from running. There are still things one can do to stay fit. During my time off, I focused on various exercises I had been neglecting. Upper body and core work became a daily routine. While I wasn’t trying to gain upper body mass or do anything to risk my recovery, I found it rewarding to move every day and retain fitness and confidence. I felt it important to address ‘time off’ separately from the ‘Rest’ in the RICE routine. Sometimes we need days to recover fully, sometimes weeks, even months. The important thing is that we do recover fully. Rushing back out the door to another injury will only land us back in the RICE routine all over again.

Physical Therapy: Some of you are rolling your eyes. I used to be just like you. But after three weeks of inaction and getting tired of sitting around waiting to heal, I got proactive. I scheduled an appointment with a physical therapist who is a runner. To me, it was important that my PT understand runners and what makes us tick. From the start, physical therapy was difficult. My PT put me through a battery of tests, pokes, and prods to determine my injury, the severity, my weaknesses and strengths. In addition, I provided my injury history, current running workload and race goals for the near future. In my first couple of visits, I was assigned homework: a workout routine aimed at strengthening and stretching to relieve my injury. In following weeks, I was assigned additional routines, based on my progress. I was also cleared for slow, short runs. Time went by, I received gait analysis on a treadmill and all sorts of other strength reviews. My progress in a short time astounded me. All this time, I had errors in my stride. One of my hips was dipping. I wasn’t extending my legs fully behind me. My hamstrings were weak. I never engaged my glutes. The laundry list went on and on. Not only were these issues causing lingering pains and injuries, they were making me an inefficient runner. Eventually, we came to discover that the crossover angle of my right ankle was overly aggressive and was putting extensive pressure on the ankle. I started extending my arms further behine me, engaging my glutes and stretching my legs out fully when I ran. This allowed my hips to rotate properly and straightened out my crossover angle. Problem solved! These days, I still regularly return to my PT for evaluation and improvements. We’ve moved on to posture and core strength as ways to improve my overall power and balance.

Oh, and foam rolling. I roll after every run now, before my post-run stretching and cool-down. My recovery time, especially after long runs and even tough hikes, has been reduced exponentially.

Core Strength: This might seem like a no-brainer to veteran athletes and anyone who has ever had a coach, but I feel like most runners I know avoid anything that isn’t running. Since I started working on my core, I’ve noticed that I have more balance and confidence, particularly on trails. Things like bridges, planks, mountain climbers and squats can strengthen muscles from the chest to the knees. While core strength can help prevent injuries in the long run by improving strength, flexibility, and form, a quick internet search can dig up a core routine that works safely to accommodate those who have already sustained an injury. For me, I was able to work around my ankle and still maintain fitness and gain strength without compromising my ankle recovery.

Know Your Limits: Overworking ourselves with mileage, hill repeats, interval sprints or any other aggressive activity is the easiest way to find ourselves injured. I was running five days per week before my injury. I have since recognized that four days is plenty for me. I cross-train twice per week and take a full rest day as well. Cross-training is imperative as it allows us to strengthen additional muscle sets. Whether you enjoy rock climbing, kayaking, cycling, swimming, or weight training, get out there and break up your routine a little bit. If you can run seven days a week with no problem, great. Good for you. Humans like me need recovery time and the sooner we realize it, the better our running lives will be. We all like to dream of bigger and better things. We all want to maintain our fitness into old age. If we don’t take the time to recover and enjoy other activities, we may as well say goodbye to running as we get older. Figure out what works for you and don’t lie to yourself. If your body is screaming after your fourth day of 10k hill repeats in a row, it’s time to rest. And don’t forget to follow the 10% rule when you’re building mileage. If you did 10 miles this week, do 11 miles next week, and so on. Building up mileage too quickly is a rookie mistake that leads to miserable injuries and setbacks.

This is a short list of what works for me and what doesn’t. So many other things factor in: foot strike, shoes, stride, illness, weather, and much, much more. I’ll try to address some of those items in future posts. But for now, I encourage all of you to find your limits. Test them, but understand the consequences if you push too far. Get healthy, stay healthy. Here’s to hitting all of our remaining race goals for 2015.