Ass Sweltering Pain

Yep, that’s what I’m calling my race report. Three simple words, combined, encapsulate the week leading up to, and including, the National Marathon To Fight Breast Cancer, aka “Running with Donna 26.2”. Warning: This is a long, long, long post.

First off, the ass. I won’t include a link here, since most of you know what one is. Matter of fact, I’ve been called one from time to time. It’s even likely I’ve been called one in the past 24 hours. But I digress.

For those of you that follow this blog, you’ll know of my inability to run for the past month due to a very painful “calf pull” that I experienced in mid-January. A couple of weeks off from running, as well as stretching and massage, did seem to help. At least until I ran on it again. With only two weeks until the marathon, I was desperate to find something to fix my pain. So last week, while driving to the rodeo, I did some exploratory poking and squeezing on my calf (while driving, which I DO NOT recommend). The exquisite pain that shot up my thigh, into my glute and the small of my back got me to thinking and a bit of research once we got home that night. With the help of my Trigger Point Therapy Workbook and TriggerPoints.net, I was able to narrow down the culprit, which certainly didn’t cross my mind in the previous weeks.

Who would’ve thought that a debilitating calf issue would be caused by your butt? Even with my experiences and successes with trigger points over the past year, I certainly didn’t. In the picture below, my particular issue is the one on the right.

As you can see, the X’s mark the trigger points and the red areas mark the associated pain. I didn’t typically feel any pain in my hamstring area and had only felt the pain in my cheek area during my long runs leading up to my “calf pull”. The majority of the pain associated with this trigger point was in the area on the outside of my calf.

But that still wasn’t the “calf pull” area. That area was more associated trigger point #2 on the Soleus, but frequent massage and pressure on that trigger point did not solve the problem, so it had to have something else contributing. That turned out to be the Gluteus Minimus.

After referring to the book and the web site, it was time for a bit of exploration. For such a sensitive area, I’d normally turn to the Goddess for help, but one thing usually leads to another, so I had to do this one myself. Plus, since the gluteus minimus lies beneath the gluteus maximus, the probes had to be deep and forceful; not something she enjoys doing (she tells me “that’s your job”). The probes confirmed a line of large knots right where the muscle attaches to my pelvis. Let me tell you, there was no pleasant in this probing.

So all last week I massaged them by sitting on a tennis ball on the living room and slowly rolling over the muscle, working from one knot to the next. Quite a few times the pain took my breath away. Following each rolling session I’d stretch. I found the most effective stretch for me is the Prone Glute Stretch, which feels absolutely wonderful. By following this sequence on both legs last week, I was comfortable that I could start the marathon on Sunday.

In the final days before the marathon, I revamped my original goal (break 4:00) and came up with three separate goals, two of which I could fall back on if the previous goal was unattainable. They were:

  1. Break 4:00. Even with one month off, there’s always the possibility that the forced rest from the injury would deliver me to the line so fresh that I would comfortably crank out the required 9:09 miles (which I was doing with ease on my long runs leading up to my injury last month).
  2. Complete the race. With the most likely possibility that I would still be feeling the effects of my calf through the race, I would have to adjust my finish time goal on the fly and hold out for the finish.
  3. Stop the insanity, wait for Goddess and my sister to catch up, then walk the remainder of the half-marathon with them. The intent of this goal was to continue to heal and hopefully set myself up for April’s Country Music Marathon in Nashville.

The overarching goal was to not injure myself any more. But doesn’t that go without saying?

Goal number three was the only goal as recent as 7 days out from the race. I had resigned myself to not running the marathon and would enjoy the morning with Goddess and my sister. That certainly isn’t a bad thing, not by any means, but my goal signing up was to race the 26.2. But with the “discovery” of my gluteus minimus, goals 1 and 2 quickly became more attainable.

After a gaggle at the start area (see “BAD” and “UGLY” below), we were off. I was very comfortable at a 9:30 pace for the first few miles, figuring that if I was to achieve goal 1, I would warm up during the first few miles and then be able to slowly ramp up the pace. That’s my typical race strategy anyway, since I don’t typically warm up for 4-6 miles.

By mile 4, I could feel my calf. No pain, but a steady discomfort; enough discomfort to back off the pace and toss goal #1 out the window. At no point during the 26.2 miles did my calf hurt like it had during the previous month, so that was a huge success.

By mile 6 I had passed the turn-around for the half-marathon, so I was committed to the full.

At mile 10, my quadricep heads started to cramp slightly. Not a good sign, but a reality of the day.

By mile 13.1, I was a full 20 minutes slower than my half-marathon split at the Flying Monkey Marathon, which had over 2,000′ of climbing. This course was flat, with only 215′ of total climbing! It was a run-walk strategy for the last 13.1 miles.

Why so slow? Other than the leg issues, for me it was the weather. Over the past several months, I’ve been running in a Kentucky winter. Runs in the snow, runs in some pretty cold wind chills, runs in dreary overcast days with temperatures hovering in the 20’s. The morning we left to drive to Florida, it was 19 degrees. And that was after a couple of days of ice and snow. In Florida, by the time the race started on Sunday morning, it was 69F with 75% humidity and continued to get worse, settling at 75F and 65% by the time I finished. In other words, relatively oppressive heat.

Although I knew it was going to be warmer, I failed to properly build my hydration and electrolytes in the days leading up to the race. It caught up to me.

I inhaled my Clif Shot Bloks, wishing I had more than just one pack of the Margarita with Salt. I started gulping the Accelerade that they provided and even talked a First Aid tent volunteer out of his bag of Lays Potato Chips at about mile 20. I was able to keep the cramping at bay for the most part, but it would rear its head enough to keep me focused on sucking down as much electrolytes as I could.

Goddess called and told me that she and my sister had finished. I was (and still am) so proud of them; neither had done anything like that before, not even so much as run a 10K. They committed to walking the 13.1 with each other.

Between miles 20 and 21, I had the most amazing walk with a lady. I first approached her because she was wobbling like crazy and I was worried about her. The heat was definitely taking its toll on everyone. Turns out she was a 68 year old who was using the marathon as a training run for an upcoming 50-mile race. She was quite upset with her performance thus far because she knew she was fitter than that, just coming off a 70-mile training week and had run under 4:00 in the past year. She was from out west, so the humidity was definitely getting to her. I waved down medical support, who had a talk with her and let her continue. I was quite pleased last night to see that she had finished the race.

By mile 22, I did some quick calculations and realized that I needed to pick up the pace if I was to finish in under 6:00. With the heat and cramping, it was going to be a challenge. At this point, everyone was walking. Occasionally someone would shuffle for a minute or so, but it really was the walk of the dead.

I revamped my walk-run strategy and threw time out the window. No matter if I picked a 2:1 or 1:1 time strategy, I just couldn’t get the legs moving very well after walking. So I decided on a 30:30 strategy, not of time, but of foot strikes; 30 left foot strikes while running, 30 left foot strikes while walking. It kept me focused and moving relatively quickly at a 9:45 pace during the run segments. In the next two miles I figure I passed between 75-100 people. That was a huge confidence boost.

At a mile-and-a-half out from the finish, the worst climb of the day arrived as we had to climb a bridge that crosses the Intracoastal Waterway. Past the last water stop and starting to cramp again, it was back to walking. Turning the last turn, greeted by the sign “The last .2 mile will kick you in the ass” and seeing the finish line got me moving again. The cramping got me walking again. Even coming up to the timing mat that they had set up with 100 yards to go, my leg locked. Luckily that didn’t come through in the pictures. I was passed by quite a few folks at this stage, but I couldn’t have cared less.

Finish time – 5:57:14 by my Garmin, chip time 5:57:18.

The Good

  • I finished. Thanks to the lack of running over the past month, this entered back into my race goals.
  • I broke a rule of racing and was better for it. I wore my new pair of Injinji Toe Socks and they rocked! I had been wearing Thorlo‘s for the past year+ and had always had problems with blisters on the balls of my feet, no matter how much or how long I ran. The Thorlo’s are thick and have good padding while the Injinji’s are very thin with no padding. So I discovered that with the Injinji’s I’ll likely have to come down half a shoe size to make up for the difference in sock padding. With the thinner socks, my forefoot was sliding around a bit in the shoe box, but absolutely no blisters!
  • I had several mental breakthroughs during the race. Details are unimportant, but they happened.
  • The communities of Jacksonville Beach and Neptune Beach absolutely rocked! A significant portion of the race ran through neighborhoods, which effectively cut them off to all auto traffic. So the residents made the best of the situation and stood out in their driveways, sprayed the runners, provided oranges and cheered. One group of guys even provided shots of beer at the 21 mile mark (it was GOOD).
  • For a first-time event, the course was completely stocked with supplies on the course. There was never a shortage of water, Accelerade or Gu (I didn’t use it, but they had plenty). This was in sharp contrast to several of the more well-established events that I’ve participated in.
  • The support from the community and runners (I know I mentioned the community before, but this is different). Since this event was to raise funds for Breast Cancer Research, each of us could wear a sign on our back that said who we were running for. Mine said simply “Mom”, who is a survivor. I had many folks run past saying “I’m running for Mom too”. That was always a great boost. More humbling were the folks who ran by with 7, 8 or 10 names on their sign. More amazing was running and talking with survivors who were out there pushing themselves. The couple of times that I thought about folding I thought about what my Mom and all of these others had gone through; my discomfort paled in comparison.
  • The support and advice from those of you out in blogland. Thank you so much for the public and private advice and concern. That really means a lot to me.

The Bad

  • There weren’t corrals for the runners, just pacers with planned finish times, so you would look for your planned finish time and stand near that person. The gun went off and it took a couple of minutes to get to the start line (normal). But once we got moving, it was evident that several walkers had seeded themselves at the front, causing several traffic jams and collisions as the thousands of runners had to work around them. I applaud those ladies for getting out there and moving, but at the front of 8,000+ was not the place to be.
  • This also goes for the folks following the Jeff Galloway plan. Overall, I believe that this group did great things for thousands of runners at the marathon, but sticking to the plan in the first mile was a recipe for disaster as the pacer yelled “Walk” and groups of 60+ runners stopped to walk just 3 minutes out from the start line; again, they caused huge traffic jams and many collisions in a very crowded situation. Tempers were flaring already and I’m surprised no one got hurt.

The Ugly

  • The race started a full 30 minutes later than the 8am start time. They knew it was going to be warm and were announcing over the loudspeakers that folks need to adjust their pacing and not plan on a PR, yet still started it late. It looks like they’ve fixed this and have adjusted the start time for next year’s race to 7:30am. Hopefully they’ll start it on time.

Lessons learned

  • Electrolyte loading – I can’t believe I still haven’t figured this one out. I’ve known for many years that I’m a very heavy sweater and that I lose a lot of electrolytes during a race. Yet I never remember to load up on them until I’m in the race.
  • A stride-focused walk-run strategy is the key when I get to that stage. I was amazed at how easy it was to get moving once my left foot hit 30. And it was easy to hold an unflagging pace for “only” 30 strides.
  • The Base layer is crucial. What’s that? A base layer in 70 degree weather? Yep. After running the Monkey and chafing my nipples down a full 1/32″, I learned that I needed to wear a skin tight layer under my shirt. Let’s just say it was a good thing that I wore a red shirt for that race. Since then I’ve always worn a skin tight technical shirt and haven’t had any problems. I did the same for this race and it was a godsend. Once the heat got unbearable, I peeled my outer shirt and let the slight sea breeze cool me. The wicking effect really kept me cool, even though the shirt was black. I’d even dump a cup of water over me and get chilled, which was great! So if you look at my race pics, you’ll see that I’m wearing two different shirts.
  • Stretching, massage and cross-training. I need to do more of each to help with these injuries, all of which have been flexibility related over the past year. I’ve had much success with identifying the appropriate trigger point and relieving the pressure, but some have taken longer to solve and have kept me away from training longer than I’d like. So I now need to schedule more sessions each week.

Will I do this race again? Absolutely. The location was great, the community was great and it had the added bonus of allowing me to spend several days with my parents as well as my sister and her family.

From here it’s the Tom King Half Marathon next month and the Country Music Marathon in April, both in Nashville.

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7 thoughts on “Ass Sweltering Pain”

  1. Hi Bill –

    Great report. Actually this post more or less sums up why I read your blog. Unlike some Über Runners / Triathletes / Whatevers, who’re only in it for the winning, your writing shows that trying your damnedest in the face of adversity counts for so much more. Having flexibility in your goals, fallback positions, and the capacity to think yourself through them during the race makes you a better, tougher person than the guys who’re out for a PR or nothing.

    Thanks for sharing.

  2. Congrats on pushing through!

    And nice job with your timing control – manaing to stop the watch at the exact moment you cross the line (and subsequently got your photo taken). 😉

    Well done and good report!

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