All posts by Philip Krooswyk

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.

Table Mountain Summit

Injury at Table Mountain

My marathon training took a major hit this past weekend while hiking Table Mountain in Washington state. I opted for trail running shoes instead of boots and twisted my right ankle while climbing a talus slope over loose rock. I made it through the remainder of the hike, but I’ll be taking some time off from running. I’m depressed because I was quite happy with my prep for the inaugural Pacific Northwest Marathon, but I want to be smart and heal fully. There are still two remaining marathons on my calendar for the year. This just means that my May 2 attempt won’t be my A race for the year. On the bright side, Table Mountain was a great place to hike and I’m thrilled to have had the opportunity to hike in the Columbia River Gorge once again. I used a GoPro to film the hike and the below video is the result.

Lincoln City Pacific Ocean Fun

Lincoln City Half Marathon 2015 Race Report

This is easily the most beautiful race of the year. My wife and I are big fans of the coast and were excited to race in Lincoln City. She would be running the 10k and I was scheduled to tackle the half. I was preparing for the Pacific City Marathon and was very excited to test my new goal marathon pace on the half marathon.

We arrived a day in advance and stayed in the Siletz Bay area. We always enjoy time spent on the Pacific and this weekend was spectacularly sunny and comfortably warm. We spent some time wandering the beach, drinking a couple margaritas, eating fish tacos and relaxing with books on the hotel balcony. We got a good night’s sleep and got up early to make sure we got a good parking spot at the race. I was glad we arrived early. The parking lot wasn’t crowded, but it was nice to be close to the race start so we could stay warm in the car as long as possible leading up to the race.

The 10k and half runners all toed the line together and the well-organized race crew got us started. Throughout the weekend, I was continually impressed with the event organizers and volunteers. They worked hard and put on a fantastic race. I went out fast, as I tend to do in the first quarter mile of any race, particularly when I can get out front and out of traffic. The number of race entrants was small enough that I was able to get out front of nearly all of the runners, other than those faster than me. Without any traffic, I felt unstoppable.

The first few miles of the race were interesting. We started off in one direction, and then turned around after a quarter mile. It was a funny way to make sure we hit our distance, but it was fun to give my wife a wave and blow her a kiss as I looped back toward the starting line. After another half mile, a herd of elk ran alongside the road for a while. It was an amazing experience to run along a herd of wild elk and a great distraction while my body was warming up in the chilly air. A short while later, I passed a small horse pen with two horses prancing and running around. I don’t know if they were responding to the runners on the road or if they’re always active, but it was fun to see up close.

The route was hilly, but not brutal. The first portion was gradual downhill followed by gradual uphill. Then there was a decent drop in elevation that I knew would give me trouble at the end. Half of the race or more was tree-covered, so the rising sun was warming, but the trees prevented us from becoming overheated. Just beyond mile 3, 10k runners split left, while half marathoners turned right. I felt strong, but there was relative uphill at this point, leading up to the final stretch before the turnaround. The last mile before the turnaround was mostly gravel and rock. It was actually a welcome change from the roads and I felt strong, especially on the downhill portions, where I tend to excel by allowing my body weight to pull me downhill without using much energy.

After the turnaround, I was feeling strong. I knew that I had a mostly downhill run for the next 5 miles before that last big hill. I was able to stay very consistent in the second half of the run. Even when I hit the hill, I was dodging walkers and slower 10k participants, so I had a nice distraction. In the last mile and a half, I set my sights on two runners in front of me who looked to be about my age. I pushed hard to catch them. I got in front of both of them, but one of them didn’t appreciate my last-distance push and blasted right back in front of me just before the finish. Either way, it was a fun way to finish the race. I came around the last turn and realized I was under 1:49, so I sprinted to the line.

My wife was already there waiting for me and she had received her medal and a ribbon already. She had crushed her 10k race and finished 3rd in her age group. I got my medal and waited around for a bit to get my official finisher’s information. Although I didn’t scoop up a podium finish, I was still thrilled with my time of 1:49:19 at a pace of 8:20 per mile. This was my fastest half marathon ever and I had beaten my goal time by 17 seconds per mile.

IMG_1971

This race was definitely worth the trip from Portland. It was a beautiful undulating run through the coastal forest. The organization and direction was top notch, the course was fun, and all the competitors were friendly. There was a nice post-race food spread and the medal and t-shirt were nice as well. If you’re considering this race, just sign up already. Go to Lincoln City, eat fish tacos, and run your own race.

holiday half medal

Foot Traffic Holiday Half 2014 Race Report

From the start, I knew this race wasn’t going to go my way. My wife and I had signed up a couple months prior. She was going to do the 10k and I was running the half. We traveled to Chicago a week prior and on return, we were both miserably ill. I was finally getting over my illness that morning, but she wasn’t recovered enough to participate. I felt bad leaving her in bed, but I was still excited to run in the brisk morning air.

I got to the parking lot much later than anticipated. I had purchased a shuttle bus ticket to get to the starting line. Apparently, so did everyone else. There was actually a fender-bender where a carload of runners had rear-ended another carload of runners while waiting to get into the parking lot. Things were not off to an awesome start.

Eventually, I made it to the parking lot, made my way onto a bus and arrived at the starting line. Three minutes later, the gun was going off. By some miracle, I had managed to work my way up to approximately the front 40% of the runners. I assumed I was in a good position as per my expected pace. I was totally wrong.

First off, people were crossing the starting line all over the road. Many of them were missing the timers on the ground. I’m not sure how the officials didn’t manage to clarify this for all the runners, but it was a chaotic start as people were turning around and trying to go back to the start to get an official time. Shortly, I realized the misery of a mass exodus race start. Within the first 1/8 of a mile, people were walking. Five and ten-wide, sometimes. Those of us looking to actually run this thing fanned out to cover all available space. Some of us were on sidewalks. We had to dodge cars that were parked on the streets. Every corner was risky.

Running around the third corner, a man next to me caught his foot on the edge of the curb and wiped out. I tried to help him up and hand him the iPod he had dropped, but I was bumped along by the mass of runners trying to escape the bedlam. I was at mile 4 by the time I broke free of the herd and was able to settle into my own pace. Unfortunately, I wasted a lot of energy just dodging people and I never fully recovered.

Other than the volunteers and the unique medal, I don’t have a lot of good things to say about this race. In the future, I’ll try to avoid races that don’t have wave starts. It turned out to be a sunny and warm day for mid-December. I know a lot of people were just there to have a fun run. I don’t blame them for that and I’m glad some people seemed to have fun.

By the time I finished the race, I just wanted to go home. I didn’t stick around for any of the post-race festivities. I was also disappointed in my final time of 1:57:12 at 8:56/mile pace. The medal, though. I admit, that is a great medal.

Vancouver Half Medal

Vancouver Rock & Roll Half Marathon 2014

I dragged my wife and two friends up to Vancouver, BC to run the inaugural RnR Half Marathon a while back. The race was run on October 26. After a week of miserable spitting rain and bitterly cold weather, the sun came out for the race and seriously bolstered our moods. My wife ran the 10k and the rest of us lined up for the half.

I was unsure of what to expect from this race. Reports of previous RnR events were mixed at best. Some people loved the party atmosphere while others despised it. I wasn’t really looking to blaze the track, but I was eager to tour Vancouver. I had never been there and I hold that there is no better way to see a new city than to run it. In the days leading up to the race, I had run several routes around Stanley Park and in the city. The only feature I was concerned about was the hills. Vancouver is far from a flat town, but I think that’s part of the fun.

Before the race started, I huddled with a large group of runners warming up at the Starbucks by the starting line. I bought a large coffee just to have something warm to wrap my hands around. I didn’t drink a single sip of it and dumped it in a coffee bucket just before the start of the race. According to the volunteer nearby, that’s what the bucket was there for. Apparently purchasing warm beverages and then discarding them is a frequent occurrence at these frigid early morning events.

I went out fast in this race. I started next to a pacer, but didn’t look at the sign he was holding until well into the race. At mile 7, the pacer finally started to pull away from me and I realized I had been moving at a 1:50 pace, which is well faster than my expected time of a flat 2 hours. Throughout the race, I felt an ebb and flow. When the sun was shining through the clouds and the landscape was especially beautiful or interesting, I sped up. When I was running through parking lots or under highways, I slowed. I didn’t notice this fact until after the race when I reviewed my GPS results.

The crowd was great the entire time. Many cheering folks with cowbells in hand made even the most remote areas of the race feel welcoming and encouraging. Perhaps my favorite moment came around mile 11.5 when I was starting to fade. A wild man dressed like a deranged yellow superhero with a cape came rushing past me. He was holding a little stuffed monkey up and talking to everyone he passed. When he reached me, he held up the animal and said in a high-pitched cartoonish voice, “Hey, I hear there’s gonna be bananas at the finish line!” Maniacal. I was happily distracted for a short while watching him say random things to the others he passed.

The last mile of the race outlines Stanley Park and the water. It’s a beautiful place to run. The home stretch was teeming with cheering people. Vancouverites were out in force and their support was greatly appreciated. I pushed my pace for the last mile and wound up finishing at 1:55:26, with a pace of 8:49/mile. It wasn’t my best half marathon effort, but I was quite happy with it. After the race, I found my wife and enjoyed the post-race activities. Our friends had started in another wave and shortly they joined us for a photo.

Vancouver Rock and Roll Half

Cabs were scarce, so we wound up walking back to the hotel. There were dozens of people looking for taxis. If you do this race, plan ahead to have a gear bag with warm clothes or some arrangement for transportation. I was freezing after the race and the walk did nothing to keep me warm. I made the mistake of showing up in shorts and a t-shirt and didn’t bring anything to keep me warm after the race.

All in all, this was a great event. It was a fun way to see the city and I enjoyed the music along the way. The other runners were all very friendly and I’m excited to see more of Vancouver and Canada at large. I wouldn’t rule out running a marathon here in the future. Also, I highly recommend checking out Lynn Canyon Park and the beautiful suspension bridge and creek there.

Lynn Canyon

Portland Marathon Finish Line 2014

Portland Marathon Race Report

I’ve been meaning to write up a race report for the Portland Marathon for a while now. This was my first marathon. I ran it on October 5, 2014. It was the hottest Portland Marathon on record. I came in with the hope of finishing in 4:20:00 or less. I wound up finishing the race in 4:12:34 with a pace of 9:37/mile.

The entire event was a great experience. The signup, expo, and organization were all top notch. At no point was I confused about where to go or what to do. My wife was able to meet me at my starting corral before the race for last minute nutrition and clothing discards. I was nervous as I approached the starting line, but I settled myself down with the mental reminder that I was about to enjoy four solid hours of running. I get excited for a nice, long run. I can’t be the only one, right?

One of the early highlights for me was running through Chinatown. The drummers and dragons put on a great display and the sights and sounds charged me up. I felt like I was cruising and not crowded at all in the first mile or two. In fact, my only problem was my attire. I had lost a considerable amount of weight during my marathon training and my shorts were much too baggy. I took 10 Gu gels with me and it took all of 100 feet for me to realize that my pockets weren’t going to support my nutrition. I wound up holding several of the gels in each hand for much of the race. I have since purchased new shorts.

My proudest, if not smartest, achievement of the race is that I never walked. The lead up to the St. John’s Bridge around mile 15 is a tough hill and nearly everyone else was walking it. I probably should have saved the energy, but I made an agreement with myself before the race to run the entire thing. Part of me feels that walking at least part of that hill briskly could have saved me from the wall I hit a few miles later. By mile 18, I was struggling and my pace was falling off with each minute. Despite the wonderful cheer squads and Widmer Bros. beer crew pushing me on, I was fading fast. The sun was beating down by this time and I found myself bouncing from one side of the street to the other, trying to find shady spots on the road. In the end, I wandered around so much and took so many corners poorly, I ran a half mile more than the expected 26.2. Lesson learned. Run straight and watch those tangents on the corners.

With each of the last few turns coming back through downtown, I expected to see the finish line. I had my heart broken again and again. By the time I finally saw the finish line, I didn’t have the energy for a big final push and I stammered across the finish line exhausted, but elated.

My wife and friends kept tabs on me throughout the race and met me at the finish line. I used Nike+ during the race to track my progress. I also paired Nike+ with Facebook so my friends and family could cheer me on during the race. Nike+ doesn’t always get rave reviews, but I appreciated the cheering feature very much as the surprise crowd noise and cowbells got me through some dark moments. I used my wife’s photos and videos to put together a video of the event below. All things considered, I’m thrilled with this race and highly recommend the Portland Marathon to first timers and veterans alike.