Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Think More, Run Less

This past weekend was my first big race of the season, the American River 50. When I say “was,” I don’t just mean that the race itself is over. I mean that the idea of it being my first race of the season is also a thing of the past. I was a big, fat DNS at AR50.

My intention for this race was purely to use it as training, to get big miles in the month of April. I’d planned to follow it up with the Diablo Marathon the following weekend to ensure that I indeed wouldn’t take it too seriously. Unfortunately, Diablo got cancelled, and in searching for a replacement race, I came up with the Leona Divide 50. (What’s an additional 24 miles at this point, right?) Although plenty of people have questioned my plan for back-to-back 50’s, I have every confidence in my ability to take “races” as training runs, and I think it would have worked out beautifully. If I had been healthy. (And here’s where “unfortunately” starts to become my repetitive word of the day.)

As it turns out, I seem to be having a posterior tibial tendon issue. (I’d put in the actual, technical term where I have substituted the word “issue,” but I don’t think I could spell it.) To be honest, this is an issue that has plagued me for over two years, and no amount of time off seems to find any improvement. Unfortunately, the past few weeks have seen a marked increase on the pain scale, mostly likely due to increasing my weekly mileage fairly quickly.

It’s been enough to motivate me (at last!) to find an excellent physical therapist, and I’ve learned a whole lot about what is going on with my body. I’ll do my best to spare you the mind-numbing details, because the truth is, I don’t even enjoy trying to wrap my brain around it all. I’ll keep it to the basics so that we don’t all fall asleep here.

First, I love my physical therapist. He came recommended from a wise friend, so I guess it shouldn’t surprise me, but I have a really hard time trusting people in general, and especially when it comes to my running. Because, you see, I know everything. No one knows more than I, and woe to anyone who tries to tell me what to do. But this PT and I, we are on the exact same page. He has a very balanced approach, doesn’t think I’m crazy, and doesn’t necessarily think time off is always the answer. He makes sense out of a complicated picture, and he seems to approach things in much the same way that I do. Obviously he’s brilliant.

Second, I have learned that one of my legs is fully half an inch longer than the other, and this seems to be causing no small number of problems for me. The end result of all of this is that I am currently involved in the process of re-learning how to run. There’s a lot more to it than that, but that’s what it boils down to for me, and I hate it. I have to spend so much time thinking.


Running long distance, and trail running especially, has never been about thinking for me. It’s been the place where I have been the most free, the most at peace. In the past I have always felt in tune with my body while running, and it’s a part of the experience that I really enjoy. Lately though, we’re speaking through translators. It’s time now for me to learn the foreign language of my dysfunctional mechanics.

I know in the end, when I am healthy again, it will be worth it, but right now it’s tedious to think about every little detail of what I am doing when I run. It’s not a fun place to be when the thing that is normally a remedy for stress, becomes its main source. My love affair with running is definitely “on a break.”

So, while I’m grateful to be still running, I’ve taken many days off in an attempt to rest this inflamed tendon. The week before AR, I was out on a 30 mile trail run. At about mile 27, the complaints emanating from my tendon increased sharply in volume. It wasn’t a bad run, but it certainly caused me to question the wisdom of two 50-mile runs in a row, and the subsequent stress of this questioning made for some sleepless nights.

One lesson I learned (and will probably have to relearn many more times) is that it’s generally the indecision itself that causes the most stress. Once I decided running AR would constitute complete idiocy (although I’m fully capable of idiocy, I assure you), it was only a day before I got over the depression of my DNS and started to feel pretty good about the decision.

At this point, I’m looking at this weekend’s upcoming Leona Divide and feeling pretty excited about it. It’s a brand new race for me, and I haven’t run a new ultra in a few years. Unlike AR, it’s all on trail (much more my style), and it’s on the PCT. If you don’t know, I have a long-standing romance with the Pacific Crest Trail. Perhaps one day I’ll spend some time to wax poetic on that topic, but for now just know that I am thoroughly excited about the prospect of my first race on this trail. I’m still not taking a real taper (although the last few weeks of lower mileage have me more rested than I really should be), but without the AR50 teaser, this won’t be the “survival on dead legs” that I’d originally imagined. I’m going in with a conservative mindset, knowing I may have to back off if the tendon flares up, but also knowing that I’m pretty excited to get out there for an early season test of fitness.

Here are a few pictures from my last two weekends of running, and from yesterday’s powder day with Andrew. You can see how I have the best of both worlds in terms of getting both alpine adventures, and still finding dirt within a reasonable drive.


Castle Peak

Climbing Donner Peak

Top of The Lake Run

Preparing to drop in


  1. What beautiful enticing trail pics Gretchen! Makes me want to visit that trail right this minute. :) I'm really sorry about your tendon flare-up! I completely understand about physical therapy and how difficult it is to retrain. When my back was out-of-whack my left leg was anywhere from 1/8 to 1/2 half an inch longer than my right. But I've been a good girl and have kept up with my exercises and it has made all the difference in my over-all health, not just my back. Anything is worth it to be able to visit the trails and the enjoy the great outdoors! :) I have no doubts that you'll be back at it and as strong as ever, my dedicated friend~

  2. You certainly have my empathy, having just gone through four months of true rest and PT to heal a torn achilles tendon that resulted from two years of tendonitis. (Yes, apparently the tendon will let you know it can't take it anymore and snap!)

    I think the term 'rest' is relative. I thought of it as "reduced mileage" and more days off when medically, the only way to heal is to leave the body be. This may end up being the case with you too as you work with your new knowledge of your body's inherent limitations. I also got out of race mode rather quickly, since they had always been the major driver overriding common sense when I was injured.

    Good luck, Gretchen!

  3. Girl, I KNOW your pain! Literally. I battled the same thing for almost 2 years as well, and once I started seeing my current PT, back in December, it magically disappeared. Whoa! I was the same way about trusting my PT at first too, hilarious! I was laughing out loud reading your description of knowing everything and no one else can tell you something you don't already know :) Too funny.

    It will get better. Time off indeed was NOT the answer for this injury. It was simple balance and strengthening exercises that changed it all for me. Who'd have thought? I've been in the process of re-learning how to run as well, moving into a midfoot strike with shorter stride length, level hips and slightly higher knees. Feels good, and makes me wonder how I got away with my previous 'style' for so long!

    Good luck at LD50!!

  4. I wondered where you have been hiding!

    Sorry to hear about AR, but it sounds like the right call. Good luck with Leona.

  5. Easy with all that thinking, girl ... you're gonna hurt yourself.

    Good luck with the rehab. I know you'll make smart decisions to take care of it, and finding a good PT is a huge bonus.

    Have fun at LD! That course profile looks pretty impressive. I'll have to put that one on the list as well.

  6. Amber - You are right about anyting being worth it. I am just trying to remember that, and to be thankful that things aren't worse.

    Anne - Thanks. I didn't know a tendon could snap like that. Yikes!! hopefully I'm taking care of it before things get that bad.

    Paige - Wow, we really are/were going through the same. That re-learning to run that you described is my exact prescription. Let's hope it works as well for me!

    Thanks, Michael! I think Leona should be fun.

    Donald - No joke, I'm a runner not a thinker. But since I already have hurt myself, I may as well give the thinking thing a try.

  7. I have been dealing with Posterior tibial tendinosis since early 2007. It has been an on and off battle. I have tried everything. Custom orthotics and wearing the right supportive shoes have helped. It is currently the best it has been in a long time. Good luck with that. It is a pain in the you know where! Great job at LD! Olga sent me the pre-race pic. Thanks!

  8. Just, catching up. It sounds like me once you've made the choice you can live with, the pain of indecision is worse then the pain of the injury, decide accept move on

    I have the leg length thing too; orthotics work for me

    Lastly I hope you had a good LD I've run it twice and it was my first 50m, I am interested in you thoughts comparing it to others you have run

  9. Very sorry to hear you're having to manage injury, too. Part of the game, I've finally come to accept. (That didn't take long, at my age, did it?)

    I get VERY uncomfortable when the balance of power shifts from running to thinking, too. For what it's worth, I'm having really good results taking a moderately more meticulous approach to taking care of myself. I won't say I completely like it, but it has been worth it so far. So hang in there and may you see similar results!

    Gorgeous photography, as usual.

  10. Kelly - Interesting to know about your tendonitis. What shoes are you using these days? It must be doing okay - you looked awesome on Saturday, and that was a great follow-up to Sonoma!
    Great to see you out there, and I'm glad Olga forwarded you the photo. Hope to see you around on the trails/races.

    Stuart - Leona was a blast! Full report coming soon, of course, but for now I will say that I could definitely see returning to this one.

    Stacy - Thanks! I don't think I've actually come to accept it yet, so you're doing better than me.Glad to know you're seeing results though!

  11. I can relate....running is no fun when you have to think too much about your running. I hope you can get back to "mindless" running again soon. It sounds like you had a good run at LD. Looking forward to your race report!

  12. Good on you for listening to your body's signals! Man, ultra running is filled with runners who tune out the "bad news". It's not "bad news", it's "smart news"!

    LD has been on my radar for a few years now. I hear it's a blast - have fun and enjoy having a rested body to take out on the trails!

  13. Sarah - You are really the inspiration when it comes to doing what needs to be done to take care of injury. Your schedule at times has blown me away.
    That reminds me, I need to go do my PT exercises...