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When your ice bucket doubles as your puke bowl

November 21, 2017

I ended up running a marathon this year! Didn’t hear about it? I guess 2:37:51 isn’t exactly newsworthy. Good thing I have a blog where I can tell you all about it…

On November 12th I ran the Shanghai marathon along with 38,000 other runners. You’re probably wondering why I would run a marathon so soon and go all the way to Shanghai?.. You see, Shanghai Marathon is an IAAF Golden Label race and to maintain their status as such they need to have a certain amount of Gold Label athletes from a certain amount of countries. Having placed inside the top 25 in the Olympic marathon I am a Gold Label athlete. Otherwise the standards for Gold Label men are sub 28:00 10km, sub 1:01:00 half marathon and sub 2:10:00 marathon.

It’s actually a scramble to get 5 different countries on a start-list so races will invite Gold Label athletes even if they aren’t in PB shape. When I got an invite a few months ago I gambled that I would be in good enough shape by mid-November to tackle a marathon. Thankfully training has gone fairly well since mid-Septmeber.

This was a quick trip. I left Wednesday and arrived in Shanghai on Thursday at 4pm and was back in Hamilton by Monday evening.

When I arrived in Shanghai I saw a bunch of Ethiopian athletes (including my roommate from Rotterdam 2015 who finished 4th at 2016 World Half Champs) ahead of me in the hour-long customs line. On the other side I greeted a Chinese chaperone with some athletes. He told me this was not the Shanghai marathon group. I then spotted my name on a sign and met the greeters from the Shanghai marathon. There was a massive amount of Kenyans and Ethiopians around. I saw Terer, (who I trained with in Iten), and he was actually going to another race (in Nanjing). China is having a running boom by the way. I randomly talked to Canadian who is a principal at a local school for a while as we waited for some of the Ethiopians to clear customs (ones who were originally ahead of me in line).

That evening I ran, actually shuffled, around Shanghai a bit. 14 hour flights do a number on your legs. The next couple of nights I slept fine considering the 13-hour time difference and woke up at 4am. The second day my legs still felt like garbage and I did a bunch of 30 second strides to put some life into them. By Saturday my legs felt good on my short run and I was looking forward to going out with the leaders who were scheduled to chase 3:00/km.

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Running by some bamboo in a park.

Not being in Shanghai to run a PB gave me the freedom to walk and explore the city more than I would normally when I travel to a race. Ian Burrell, an american who finished 25th at the 2015 World Champs, was in the same boat as me so he came with me for an afternoon of sightseeing the day before the race. We went to Shanghai Tower, the second highest building in the world with the highest observation deck in the world. The elevator goes as fast as 64 km/h so we got to the 118th floor faster than it took to get to the 11th floor at the hotel. (I kept imagining a kid running his fingers down 118 floor buttons but there were only 3 buttons on this elevator). After that we checked out Nanjing Rd and then walked to Old Shanghai.

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View from 118th floor of Shanghai Tower (this observation deck is at 561m compared to 446 of the CN Tower)

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Looking down on the 9th tallest building in the world, Shanghai World Financial Center

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Old City of Shanghai

 

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Not your typical pre-race food.

On race morning I set-out to cover 10km with the leaders but knew that I had to finish the race so not to kill myself if the pace felt too fast. I was able to settle into a pack of 12 or so Africans and ride the train. We seemed to be right on pace at every km and I felt good clicking along at 3:00/km. For some reason, perhaps the pacers thought they were behind schedule, the pace got quicker on the 10th km. I thought it was just me moving up from 12th in the pack to right behind the pacers. I went through 10km in 29:52 and then shifted into cruise control. Afterwards Stephen Mokoka (the eventual winner in 2:08) told me he got dropped on the 10th km as the pacers ran 2:48 and it took him a few km to catch back to the lead pack.

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I’m right in the middle, Stephen Mokoka to my right in the orange.

 

From 10km to 36km I ran about 4:00/km stopping twice, once for a bathroom break and once to grab a drink. At 36km I started to get tired and bored so I picked up the pace. The guys who were running around me at this point were competitive with me and I hoped to pull them along to the finish in the big stadium. I ended up letting one of them catch me at the line and I finished in 2:37:51 (2:36:25 on my watch).

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The race started in the Bund area of Shanghai. Across the river is the Shanghai Tower.

I didn’t seem too beat-up from my effort even though it had been my longest run by about 10km this year. And although my 4th metatarsal was a bit sore it wasn’t too bad and it felt *normal the next time I went running. [My *normal for that 4th metatarsal and toe is not normal.]

After the race I explored the city a bunch more, both on Sunday afternoon and Monday morning. Basically I would pick a spot to visit and then get off the subway a stop or two early and walk to my destination, hoping to get a little lost along the way. I find walking is usually good for recovery for me and I love to explore new places.

While I was away Louis and Marie went to Halifax to visit Marie’s family. On the flight there Louis got sick and threw-up all over Marie. Louis wasn’t feeling much better a couple days later so he went to the hospital where he was put on an IV because he was really dehydrated. In the hospital Marie ended up getting sick too. All the while I felt useless on the other side of the world. But they were troopers and they even made their flight on Monday evening.

When I picked them up from the airport on Monday night they were recovering but far from feeling healthy. By the time Wednesday rolled around they were feeling fine and I was glad I had dodged the sickness. (We had all got our seasonal flu shots a couple weeks prior in case anyone is wondering).

After decent runs on Tuesday and Wednesday I decided to do my first workout back on Thursday. I started off with some fartlek on the roads before I picked up my spikes and went to the park. I hadn’t worn spikes since National XC in 2015 and I got a new pair of NB XC5000’s as I need a bigger size now so my toe has more room. My first 4 minute interval went well and then early into a 1 minute interval I stepped on a stick hidden in the grass in a very awkward way and my ankle rolled right over. I knew it was bad the second it happened but the exact severity takes a minute to assess after you roll your ankle. After trying to walk it became clear to me that this wasn’t too bad (complete tear or break) but I wasn’t going to be running again that day, (or as it turned out the next few days).

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Beauty spikes! 

 

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An hour after I sprained my ankle it felt much worse than it looked.

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A few days later my ankle looked much worse than it felt.

Thankfully I was about 600m from my house when this happened. I was able to hobble home all the while frustrated that my ambitions of running, or at least doing well at, National XC on November 25th were done.

Before Shanghai my plan at Nationals was to help the Speed River team-score, use the race as another fitness boost and have fun. After I surprised myself with the control of running 29:52 in Shanghai I figured if I had a couple of good workouts in my spikes I could mix it up with the front pack.

When I woke up Friday morning I was sick as a dog. I spent the next two days in bed eating very little and sweating through t-shirt after t-shirt. I kept on forgetting my ankle was busted-up until I would get out of bed and put weight on my feet. By Sunday I was feeling good enough to get outside for a walk. Walking didn’t aggregate my ankle but any time I stretched it to the side there was a distinct pain.

On Monday I went running, I was still really weak and my ankle felt manageable running slowly. Today (Tuesday) my ankle felt much better and my overall strength is coming back. At this pace I should be able to try some 1 and 2 minute intervals tomorrow to test out the ankle. And then hopefully recover some more strength and get some more mobility in my ankle by Saturday.

I’m pretty sure at this point I’ll race in Kingston this weekend but I’m definitely back to my pre-Shanghai goal of trying to help the Speed River team-score if I can. It seems 2017 is trying it’s hardest to prevent me from having a decent result but there’s still a race on Boxing Day in my neighbourhood. Probably going to be a blizzard that day, haha.

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Keeping the flame

October 15, 2017

It’s been a while since my last post. I kept putting this one off until I knew how my foot was holding up and what my race plans are. Spoiler alert; foot is still problematic and plans are still up in the air.

Beyond not having a good read on my foot and not knowing if it’s going to crap out on me any day (I just tell myself I’m healthy) and not knowing what races I want to do I figure it’s easy to get tabs on my running through social media. Between Twitter, Instagram and  Strava it’s easy to get a snapshot if I’m back running/racing/travelling.

Here’s a quick recap of my 2017 running timeline: 4 months off, 7 weeks running, 8 weeks off, 7 weeks running. That brings me to today where I’ve just capped off my highest week of the year (152km) and yesterday my first 30km run of 2017.

My fourth metatarsal and toe have been the problem all year. In January I was told I had no blood flow in the metatarsal. In May an MRI showed that blood flow had returned even though there was still some pain. We hoped that running would make it feel better but of course, that was wishful thinking. After another 8 weeks off my foot felt much better when I started back up running in late-August. After 8 runs I had another MRI in September and I was confident the MRI was going to be the green light I was looking for.

The MRI was more of a red light. I was really surprised to hear the MRI showed that some of the swelling and plantar plate were worse. But my foot doesn’t feel too bad running so at this point I’m going to keep on running. There was no mention of fractures, loss of blood flow or flattening of the met head (the main things that would concern me). I’m still going to seek out another opinion and I’m just waiting to hear when my appointment is.

Last weekend I ran the Victoria Half Marathon (great trip and race btw) where I surprised myself by running 67:28. Two months before that I agreed to come out and talk at the expo and pasta dinner and perhaps jog the half marathon. Things came around in the two weeks leading up to Victoria so I decided to run it as a tempo. Every few days my goal would get a little quicker. By race day I wanted to try and run 3:15/km and off the bat I settled into 3:12/km and it felt sustainable. I ended up holding that pace throughout the entire race.

In my last 8 weeks off I really got into road cycling. Marie, Louis and I went to Halifax to visit Marie’s side of the family and when I was there I took her old road bike out for a ride with her dad. By this point I was so sick of the elliptical and pool I decided to take the bike back to Hamilton and use it as my main (turned out the only) cross-training tool.

I’ve been a fan of professional cycling for the past 10 years but I’ve never trained on a road bike before. Right away I just started riding about 100km a day. It was a nice change to be outside and discovering new roads and places I haven’t seen.

Now that I had a road bike I was going to try the climbs around Hamilton and see how I stack up on Strava segments. Turns out riding takes a lot more power than running does as I would do a 4 minute climb and think I did alright only to find myself outside the top 50 on that segment and 1 minute off the leader. Over the weeks I got more used to riding and figured out how to hurt on a climb. At first my heart rate was only in the 140-150’s on climbs (similar as to what I would get on the elliptical during intervals) but then I was more in the 150-160’s (similar to running efforts) and improved a lot on the Strava segments.

Strava definitely gave me some goals to shoot for and push a little harder. Basically I would try to get into the top 10 on any significant climb (longer than 2.5 minutes) within about 30km of my house. Riding with Jeremy Rae opened my eyes to real climbing and seeing him pull away from me helped me dig deeper too.

When I started back up running it didn’t feel as though I had gotten any shape from cycling as my stride didn’t feel comfortable. That probably has to do with sitting on the saddle all the time and never extending my hips on the bike. HR indicated that I had worked hard on the bike and sure enough once I had a couple of weeks of running I felt decently fit for not having run much.

My only race plans in 2017 were to mix it up in the Shanghai marathon for a little bit (I’ll write a blog on that after the Nov 12 race) and help out the Speed River team at Cross Country Nationals in Kingston. After Victoria I felt I was fit enough to help out some guys at STWM so I’ll pace a pack there next weekend. Also, now I feel as though I’m closer to real racing than I thought one month ago.

Ultra marathons have always been on my mind and a few weeks ago I was certain that I was going to start working towards my first ultra in early 2018. Now that 67:28 came quicker than I thought I’d like to keep more options open. I’ll train for 10km XC and see what kind of shape I get in and then decide in what direction I want to go. If I think there is a chance of a marathon performance that will excite me I could see myself training for that. But if I feel I’m going to be off of my best then it might be a good time to experiment with ultras. Of course both options depend on my body holding up.

 

Louis turned 1 two weeks ago and Marie is back at work a few times a week. It’s been a smooth transition for Marie at work and Louis at daycare (9am-12pm most days) and myself finding time to stretch again.

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Marie pulled Louis in the bike chariot and gave me company for a 25km run the other week. Louis is earning his allowance as a waterboy (Maurten and Endurance Tap).

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The pandas are skating. On very thin ice.

July 8, 2017

So far this year I’ve only run about 8 weeks and amassed less kilometres than I often run in one week. The running I missed was eating at me for a long time but I’m past that point now. I can’t be concerned with lost running time, my main concern is getting my foot better to run.

It’s been 10 days since my last run. I was ordered to take another six weeks off because I was still feeling pain and my injury was not getting better while I continued to run. The swelling at my toe joint went down after a few days off and the pain is subsiding. However, the discomfort I get when I flex my 4th toe is still there. That is the problem that aggravates my foot and beats up my metatarsal head.

Six weeks of no running should help heal the damage but I’m not convinced it will fix the mechanical problem. I’ve had a few doctors tell me to take time off running and cross-train and see where I am in six weeks. I took four months off already this year and although that yielded the healing I needed it didn’t address the underlying problem.

Taking a big chunk of time-off and avoiding any surgery or injections was the best case scenario for me. I have no regrets going that route but now that I realize the problem isn’t going away with rest I’d like to delve deeper into other options.

On Tuesday I have an appointment with an orthopaedic surgeon and I’ll discuss possible paths I can take. This is a weird injury that has experts stumped and it’s hard to say what will get me back to normal. There are things that are helping but at the end of the day the injury is too profound and the pain comes back.

Throughout the last four weeks of running I always felt I was teetering on the edge of good fitness or injury. While my workouts continued to trend in the right direction there were times when my foot felt as though it was going to really flare up. It never got too bad (like how it felt in January) but it wasn’t improving.

My main goal was to get ready for the Toronto Waterfront Marathon on Oct 22. I had everything plotted out and wanted to start marathon specific training by the beginning of August. Even though I was making progress I could tell that my foot wasn’t ready for marathon training and it didn’t seem as though I was going to turn that corner if I continued to run 110-140km/week. That is why I reached out to my medical team to see if anything could be done to get over the injury. Better to take care of things sooner than later now that I know my foot isn’t ready for running.

On June 17th I raced the Waterfront 10k and ran about as well as expected. I ran 31:51, about 2.5 minutes slower than last year on the same course. Going into the race I figured if I was within 2 minutes it would have been a great result and outside of 3 minutes would have been a little discouraging. Even though I only got in less than 8 weeks of running it was enough to give me that feeling of being in decent running shape again.

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The past year I’ve had my fair share of injuries and sometimes I think that there are enough signs that point towards taking a step back and stop chasing big goals in the marathon. I know I’ve said this before but if it wasn’t for running 2:10:55 at Fukuoka seven months ago I’m sure the self-doubt would be much, much higher. That result lets me know that I’m still capable of achieving my goals, as long as I can, you know, actually run.

Other than this damn toe joint injury and mind-numbing cross-training life is good. Watching Le Tour, Canadian Nationals this weekend and enjoying the summer with the family.

 

 

Pick it up and throw it into shape

May 21, 2017

This update has been a long time coming. I’ve been busy putting together fields for the Speed River Inferno on June 14th. If you’re in the Guelph area you should come out and watch the action on the track. There will be a bunch of Olympians across many events representing about 10 countries.

I got my MRI results back on May 5th and it showed revascularization in my 4th metatarsal (yes!!). That was the main thing I was concerned about. It also showed that there is tendinosis of the fourth flexor tendon at the toe joint and MTP joint effusion. Basically my bone is healed but the other stuff causing pain and problems is still present.

I was so concerned about the bone over those four months I wasn’t being proactive enough to sort out the other problems. I thought if the bone was healed everything else would heal during all that time off too. I probably needed to be getting more treatment on the tendons and joint in the past couple of months.

It’s so good to be back running! I’ve been running for three weeks now. 3km the first week, 26km the second week and 63km this past week. My foot hasn’t felt great yet but it hasn’t gotten too painful. Because I took 4 months off running my tendons didn’t get stretched much and hopefully running is working things out more than it’s doing damage . To fix things I’m getting physio once a week (@ Speed River Physiotherapy and Wishbone Athletics), shockwave therapy (@ Dundas Elite Health) and orthotics from DKOS.

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So good to be back on trails.

Four months off running is a lot and the return to form is taking it’s sweet time. When I started running again I planned 3 weeks of easy running to simply start feeling like a runner again. I don’t count the 3km week as week 1 so I hope I feel good by the end of next week. After that I’ll transition to a couple weeks of low-grade workouts to transition into real workouts.

Ideally I’d like to get back to racing this summer and see where my fitness is with an eye on a fall marathon. Gotta keep the balance between not getting ahead of myself and keeping myself motivated. That means having my eye on some races while being flexible with my comeback timeline.

Just thought I’d throw this out there: I’m sick of cross-training. I’m still doing it 6-7 times a week but most of the time it’s fairly pedestrian, listening to podcasts.

The fam is good and Louis is doing really well.

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Those who run seem to have all the fun

March 26, 2017

It’s been 12 weeks since my last run and it looks like I’m not about to start back up anytime soon, (soon as in the next few weeks).

There is plenty of good news though.

The injury is finally starting to feel significantly better. For the first 9 weeks I was barely noticing a difference and at times I felt as though I was just telling people (and telling myself) that it was getting better. Now I can confidently say it’s improving.

The last set of X-rays showed that my metatarsal head is healing and that the architecture of the bone looks good.

In the past few weeks I’ve been able to cross-train and I feel like an athlete again. There was a four week period where I amassed a scant 3 hours of cross-training, total. On Saturday I got in as much biking as I did in one whole month.

My next MRI is schedule for early May and should be a good indicator if there is revascularization in the bone. My 4th metatarsal is still a little tender when I prod or squeeze my foot with my hand. That pain is decreasing as well as the discomfort I get when I get up on my toes (which I try and only test about once every 10 days or so).

I’ll have a lot of work to do once I’m back running but I can be patient when I’m running. I’ve been through this before and know that the extra weight comes off, the fitness comes back and the splits improve in due time. In 2014 I took off 3.5 months due to injury (with no cross-training) and was able to come back stronger than before.

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Cross-training for me consists of pool running 5 times per week and spin bike 6-7 times per week. Right now I’m just focused on volume and doing small fartlek workouts here and there. Eventually I’ll add in elliptical and increase my quality.

It’s probably best that I wasn’t cross-training this whole time because I think I only have the head space for about 6-8 weeks of proper cross-training. If all goes well I’ll start running again as I get sick of cross-training.

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Every week that goes by the more I count my blessings that I had a good race in Fukuoka 4 months ago. If I was dealing with this injury and the last marathon that I was happy with was one and half years ago it would be much harder to believe I could still run a good one. Even though Fukuoka seems like ages ago, four months isn’t really that long ago. It definitely helps keep my motivation up.

The other thing that keeps me motivated in the pool and on the bike is the prospect of racing a good marathon. The marathon is still my driving force to train hard and at this point preparing properly for a fall marathon is very much within the realm of possibility.

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Louis continues to grow, and grow, and grow… It’s quite amazing to see him develop day to day and take in new experiences. Marie and I took him to the Around the Bay race today. We were too afraid of the forecasted rain to watch the suffering on the hill so we opted for the indoor finish (in the end the rain held off). The good part is the finish area is a better place to catch up with friends.

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I’ve been testing Maurten drink on the bike and I really like it. I’m really interested to see how it will go down when I’m running, which is the real test. I like that it doesn’t have artificial flavour or colour and packs in a ton of carbs even though it doesn’t seem like it. Between Maurten and Endurance Tap I like my line-up of simple and effective fuelling.

One thing these sub-2 hours projects are focusing on is maxing-out fuelling. For most people (me included) properly fuelling takes practice to get good at. My stomach couldn’t handle many carbs when I first started out and now I’m better at taking in drinks while running marathon pace. Getting the right products that work for you is a big part of the puzzle and makes such a big difference in the marathon.

 

Quick foot update

February 1, 2017

Good news, it doesn’t look as though I need surgery (no surprise really). The plan is to rest and off-load weight to the area. That means I’ll be wearing an aircast for a while and taking a little break from x-training. To make sure I don’t come back too soon we’re going to take more images (CT scan and X-rays). Unfortunately this doesn’t look like it will be a quick six week recovery and probably take twice that long.

It’s still a bit of a mystery why this particular injury (osteonecrosis and flattening of the metatarsal head) occurred in my 4th metatarsal. We can deduce that overuse had a hand in this but why the 4th metatarsal? My theory is that my toe was jammed in the socket which made it rub the met head and prevented blood flow somehow. The reason I think this is because one day in January I pulled on my toe and it had a big release (different sensation than the other toes when they ‘pop’ upon tugging). Since then when I pull on that toe it feels funny when it comes out of the socket and when I stand up I can feel it pop back in.

After my last blog I was pool running quite a bit and also tried getting out on the bike. The bike ride wasn’t great for my foot. Plus, I ended up taking one crash which was close to being bad and my feet froze into solid blocks.

In the coming weeks I’ll get back to pool running. In the meantime going to the pool looks more like this:

 

It’s February now and that means I have already served one month of this injury sentence. Fukuoka Marathon (Dec 4) feels much longer than two months ago! When I’m not running because of injury time goes by at a different pace. It’s hard not to dwell on the missed training and unfortunately Strava reminds me everyday that I’ve only run 10km this year (and it was on Jan 1). If I wasn’t coaching a few people I’d probably avoid Strava instead of checking it daily.

The mental aspect of injuries is complex. You need to learn how to deal with it. It’s much easier when you’re able to cross-train and when you have a solid timeline. Six weeks of cross-training isn’t a big deal for me anymore when I’m able to adjust my race schedule. (Being able to pick another meaningful race is a big difference than training for a fixed race when you’re injured).

Now I’m taking full rest and don’t know for sure when I’ll be back running. To stay sane I tell myself this is a good break for my body and it will allow me to return healthy and rejuvenated. Perhaps extending my competitive career?

 

Of all thats come and going

January 17, 2017

The plan for Spring 2017 was to run the NYC half and the Boston marathon. Those plans have been cancelled because of a foot injury that flared up on January 1.

Going into Fukuoka I had a little bit of pain in my 4th metatarsal (left foot) close to my toe. I was a little worried that running 42km in racing flats was going to be problematic but it turned out ok. Surprisingly it didn’t even hurt much after the race.

That’s why I’m not too bummed right now. I’m counting my blessings that this didn’t flare-up before (or during) Fukuoka. Had I got into good shape and missed the race it would have been a tough pill to swallow at the end of a frustrating racing year. Instead I had one of my best races ever. There’s never a good time to have an injury but it could have been much worse.

I planned on taking 2-3 weeks off after the Fukuoka and I ended up resting for 15 days. My first run back was 5km, then another day off, and then I slowly increased my volume over the next 10 days. I started to feel pretty good again and was planning on doing some workouts in early January.

Unfortunately on Dec 31st my foot started to feel uncomfortably sore at the end of my run. The next day I was cautious and ran around the park close to my house (soft surface and never getting more than 1km from my house). After 9km I had to head home because the pain was overwhelming.

I was hoping it was a stress fracture because the pain was severe enough to know I had a significant injury and I didn’t want it to be something more complicated. A straight-forward stress fracture would normally requite about six weeks of no running. I have a history of getting complicated injuries.

Yesterday I had a follow-up with my doctor to discuss my MRI and it turns out I have osteonecrosis and collapsing of the 4th metacarpal head. The end of the bone has been taking a beating and there isn’t enough blood flow in the area for the healing process to keep up with the micro-trauma of running.

I have yet to see an orthopedic surgeon to go over the severity of my injury and figure out what route I need to take for recovery. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that this is similar to a stress fracture and 6 weeks or so of rest will let it heal. The other option is surgery and that doesn’t sound appealing.

I’ve been in the pool here and there. I’m torn between taking full rest and maintaining fitness so I basically go to the pool when it’s convenient. That will probably mean 4 days in the pool this week. As this heals I’ll up my cross-training volume and introduce bike, elliptical and hopefully XC skiing.

 

On January 2 when I knew I had a significant injury and would need to take many weeks off I quickly started to plot out a path to still run the Boston marathon. The dialogue in my head went something like this:

“OK, I’ll take 6 weeks off running which will give me 9 week of running before Boston. I’ll spend the first two weeks in the pool, then add in bike weeks 3-4 and then add in elliptical weeks 5-6. The first week of running will be low volume so I’ll keep up with cross-training. The second week of running I’ll still do workouts on elliptical. That will give me 6 weeks of running workouts before I have to taper. I can make this work…”

And then I remembered how frustrating it was to rush my Rio training last year and I came to my senses and decided to clear my race schedule.

I don’t want to run the Boston marathon just to do it (well at least not at this point in my career), I want to go there and run my best. I don’t need the stress of rushing through a marathon build-up, especially having done it last year. I mean, I’m glad I did it last year as the Olympics only come around every four years but I also saw the result of compromised training and it missed the mark in terms of my potential.

I can’t really comment on what my next steps are until I consult with an orthopedic surgeon. Hopefully this will be a similar timeline to a stress fracture and I’ll be running in the second half of February. So hard to say at this point.

Good thing Louis is a great distraction.

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