Tuesday, October 15, 2013

2:49:47! I did it!

2:49:47. Ninth woman overall. 
Yes friends, you read that heading correctly.

2:49:47 in the Melbourne Marathon. 

A new marathon PB. More importantly, proof positive that I have conquered high hamstring tendinopathy and I am back and running stronger than ever.

At the end of last year I was told there was a chance I would never race competitively again. This ripped my heart out - not only did I love to run, but I had lots more I wanted to achieve with my running. The ensuing months of treatment and rehab and false starts and set backs are documented a little in this blog, although I refrained from posting about the really, really dark times.

Always, always at the back of my mind was Melbourne Marathon. My big goal for the year and, as the months progressed and recovery took far longer than I wanted, my ONLY goal for the year. I just couldn't write this entire year off - I needed something good to come out of it.

Crossing the finish line on the MCG on Sunday and seeing 2:49 on the clock was the most wonderful reward for all the work and patience and perseverance and the many, many tears that were shed whilst trying to get back to running.

Personal drinks ready to go. 
I can't even begin to express how utterly grateful I am to everyone who had a role in my recovery since last November. Without my wonderful husband Andrew, my family, friends, coach (Sean Williams), physio (Brent Kirkbride), doctor (Donald Kuah), massage therapist (Michael Viera - Complete Body Dymamics) and Mizuno I couldn't have done it. Thank you all from the bottom of my heart.

I know I'm going on as if I've won a gold medal at the Olympics or something, but I really need to express how much I appreciate everyone who has supported me. I love to run and, as much as I freak out before a race, I love to challenge myself by racing. I am so incredibly grateful and happy to be back at it again - and to be racing better than I ever have been before.

Wooooohooooo! Seriously! WOOOOOOHOOOOOOO! I'm sorry I can't be more eloquent - if you picture me running around madly waving my hands above my head you may have an inkling of how I'm feeling. 2:49:47!! YEAH!

The race went well. I wore the Mizuno Ronin - the first time I've worn them for the full marathon distance and they felt fantastic. No blisters, no bleeding and I still have all ten toenails. Excellent.

Early morning at the 'G'.
The weather wasn't as bad as I feared, although there was some wind and it started to rain a bit near the end. By about 9k I hooked up with two other women (Aarthi Venkatesan and Fleur Flanery) and we started to work together to maintain a pace of about 3:59/k. We were soon joined by some other women and a few men and our pack ran together quite strongly until that dreaded turnaround point near St Kilda Esplanade (25k). Not too long after that (I'm not sure where) we started to fall apart. Laura James and Hannah Flannery took off like they had jet-packs on - they both ran such strong, smart races and made it look so easy - while a few women fell behind me. I had a couple of bad stages but managed to hold a reasonable pace together until the 37k mark, where a hill and fading legs caused me to go from a 4:01km (@36k) to a 4:19km. Ouch. From there I had a couple of other bad splits which caused the anxiety levels to spike a little because I knew I'd be close to blowing the sub-2:50 time.

The last few seconds of the race, as I ran towards the finish and knew I was about scrape in under 2:50, were magic. A mix of utter relief and complete joy. The worst year suddenly became the best year, thanks to that little 42.2 kilometre run through Melbourne.

So happy. So grateful. So blessed.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Let's do this

Apologies if this post looks odd. Im posting from my phone and Blogger is misbehaving.

I arrived in Melbourne yesterday after an 'interesting' flight on Jetstar that was late and also included a snotty nosed woman sneezing all over me twice. Nice.

Sorted out my bib in the afternoon (my original number, 8, never arrived in the post so I'm now 222. If anyone sees a runner wearing number 8 it'll be my postman!).

Drinks dropped in today followed by an athlete briefing. Short wonder through a few laneways for some shopping then back to the hotel to chill.

How am I feeling about tomorrow? Grateful that I am here at all, given the year I've had. Prepared, although I know my training has been cautious to prevent the injury coming back. Hopeful of hitting my target time. I would love to run sub-2:50. It's what I'm aiming for and it would make my year if I can do it. I know some people don't like to publicly state their goal - I don't always do it - but part of me is so relieved I am back racing strongly again that I'm not going to feel like a complete failure if I miss the goal and everyone knows it. Of course I'd be disappointed and I'm going to give it every single thing I've got - I desperately want it - but I feel OK with letting people know what I'm chasing.

It's a pretty obvious goal anyway. Everyone wants to slip down into the next time bracket don't they?!

The weather isn't looking great for tomorrow. The wind is my biggest worry so if it picks up as expected I'm hoping there will be a few of us together and we can work as a group. Hail is also on the cards although later in the day.

That's it from me for now. All the best to everyone running tomorrow, as well as my friends over in Kona for Ironman world champs.

Let's do this.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Blackmores Sydney Half Marathon - I'm back!

I wrote the first part of this post the day after the Blackmores Sydney Half Marathon. I had every intention of finishing it the next day but life, work and worries about the looming Melbourne Marathon got in the way. 

So, here it is now. The Blackmores Sydney Half Marathon race wrap up.

After a nightmare year, it is with enormous pleasure (and relief) that I can say I have finally run another PB.

I raced the Blackmores Sydney Half Marathon on 22 September - but kept it very low key because I was feeling pretty nervous about it. I knew this race would give me a good indication of what sort of condition I am in for Melbourne Marathon (three weeks after the half) and I was concerned that if the race didn't go well I'd blow any sort of confidence I had to smithereens.

Luckily, it was a good day.

I finished fourth woman in 81:28 - a PB by one minute and ten seconds. And it was a 'good' race. I felt in control the whole time, I settled down almost instantly and got myself into what felt like a pretty good rhythm. I hung off the back of the 80 minute pace group for a while - which wasn't an intended plan but once the race was underway and the group was there I thought it would be nice to keep them in sight. I lost them a bit every time I grabbed a drink but would catch up again until the rope snapped around the half way mark and I wasn't confident enough to try and chase them down - I was worrying about blowing up towards the end so I kept to my own pace.

To be honest, I couldn't tell if the course was easy or difficult. There were a few ups and downs and a fair bit of twisting and turning, especially in the second half, but I never got to a stage where I started to think, 'Shit, this is awful, I just want it to end.' I was in fifth place up until around 16k when I snuck into fourth. The position very honestly wasn't important to me - I just wanted to see if I could run a decent time and compare my form to where I was this time last year.

The worst thing about the race was probably the super-early race start - with the gun going off at 6:15am I was up to eat breakfast at 3:15am. My husband had gone out in the city the night before (while I stayed in at the Grace Hotel and went to sleep), so he was certainly a little worse for wear as we walked from the CBD, over the Harbour Bridge and to the start at Milsons Point. Actually, at one point he said, "It's just lucky I'm still drunk." Hmmmmm. I think he was half joking.

In all, it was a good race and it showed me I'm certainly much stronger and in decent form for Melbourne, which is now only four days away. From what I can figure out I think I will be close to hitting my goal time but it certainly won't be a given. I will have to really fight for it - and hope the conditions are absolutely perfect. I am hoping the extra strength I have gained through the months and months of exercises and rehab I've done to get over the high hamstring tendinopathy will mean I will be stronger through the second half of the marathon and maybe avoid slowing down as much as I did last year.

Big thanks to my coach, Sean Williams, whose program and advice has been invaluable in getting me back racing. Also thanks to the eternal pessimist (!) but best physio in the world, Brent Kirkbride, who was responsible for putting me back together when I was broken.

I'll post one more time over the next couple of days. Taper is in full swing right now and I am about to explode!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

First post-injury win - Sutherland Half Marathon

Again, it's been some time between posts. The good news is things have been going really well. For the first time I'm beginning to think I've conquered this high hamstring tendinopathy. Seeing as though I was told in no uncertain terms that there was a chance I wouldn't get over it, I'm very happy with how everything has been going.

My best piece of news is that I've finally won a race again - my first win since being injured. My coach put the Sutherland Half Marathon on my program - a tough little off road race. I knew it wasn't going to be a fast day so I thought that if the pace was right I'd try to stick with the front girls and hopefully outlast them.

The start of the Sutherland Half Marathon.
Surprisingly, the plan actually worked. There was a group of four women early on which dropped to three, then to two by the turn around point (a little over half way). I thought I'd try and put a bit of a gap between myself and the other female, which I managed to do. I'm not actually sure how much space I put between us, but after I while I couldn't hear her anymore so I relaxed a bit and kept the pace comfortable.

Now, at this point, let me point out one thing. The woman in second place was Laura James - who is a much faster runner than I am. My advantage came from the fact that Laura had already run, and won, the 10k race earlier that day.

Getting closer to the end of the half I considered speeding things up a bit, but given that the terrain wasn't great, and I tend to be pretty uncoordinated, I thought it'd be safer to stay at the pace I was at. With 4k to go Laura pulled up along side me - 'Oops', I thought, 'I should've run a bit faster!' Luckily I had some fuel in the tank and managed to put a gap between us again. I won, but I really do want to say what an awesome effort Laura put in. Winning the 10k then coming second in the half mara after it - she's such a strong runner.

The time was nothing to be proud of - even for a tough course - 87:29. Having said that, I made a conscious decision to race for the win, not for a time, and that's what I did. I raced the race I was given and, thankfully, it went my way.

After the horrible year I've had it was really nice to finally achieve something. Although, I guess it should be said that recovering from the injury was a pretty big achievement in itself.

Thanks to Sutherland District Athletics Club for putting on a great event. I got to speak to a few people from the club and they were all really friendly and enthusiastic about running. I love this sport.

Since the half mara training has been solid - up until last week when something weird happened to my ankle/foot. After the Sutherland Half my ankles felt a bit stiff - I just put it down to racing off road, but it was enough for me to comment to my husband on. Then I got a pain on the medial side of my left arch, which was a bit worse after being on the dance floor at the Pink concert wearing Converse boots. After a couple of days, that arch pain moved and I started getting a pain up in my ankle joint. It was also a bit swollen, tender to touch and felt hot. I iced it, put some anti-inflam gel on but nothing helped and I ended up skipping a couple of runs, including a 35k long run (I did 12k and called it quits) because I was worried about doing damage. Out came the anatomy diagrams so I could try and figure out what  on earth was wrong, but that whole area was just far too confusing so I booked in to see Brent (physio). Better to get straight on to addressing whatever it was.

I saw Brent after work on Friday and whatever manipulation stuff he did seemed to help a lot. He said I probably did something at the Sutherland Half (likely, given that I nearly tripped over a handful of times). His advice was to watch it, ice after running, use anti-inflams if I needed it and don't run off road on uneven surfaces. After physio I gave it another day to settle down, and had a couple of anti-inflam tablets, and by Sunday it was much, much better.  I got through a strong 35k run and only noticed it a couple of times, and even then if i hadn't been consciously thinking about it I doubt I would have taken any notice of it at all. It has stayed settled down so I'm hoping it was just a small hiccup which is on its way out.

Just over three weeks until Melbourne Marathon.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

On the up!

I have been on 'blog hiatus' for a while. At first it was because I thought the injury was rearing its ugly head again and I didn't want to deal with it, then I got busy trying to get right into my training and I thought the blog could wait for a while.

At the time of my last post  I was having some niggles again which were worrying me. One day I did the hamstring bridge test, which is an indicator of the state of the tendons, and I felt a tiny bit of pain - a sure sign things weren't great. I was told by my physio that if there was ever pain I had to back it off and not run to let it settle down so, in my new-found obedience, I took two days off running. During that time I focused a lot on the stability/strength exercise that has my back laying on the fitball, my feet on the floor and my knees bent at 90 degrees - then lifting alternate feet whilst keeping my hips level. I swear, this is a magic exercise - it, above everything else, seems to bring things back into line. It feels like it's switching all the correct muscles on again and stabilising everything.

After getting through this brief bumpy patch, things have been going from strength to strength. I haven't been this happy (or this fatigued) in a long time and it's wonderful.

I did my first race on 13 July - the NSW Road Relay Champs. This was a good, low key way of getting back to racing. It was short (4k) and I asked to be one of the middle runners (I was second) so I just blended in and didn't really have to think about a starting gun or a finishing position.

I guess it was a solid result - officially my time was 14:43 (I recorded it a bit quicker - there was a timing problem and my chip didn't register, but we'll go with the official time). That pace isn't great - it's pretty much the same pace as I've run my 10k PB in, but it was a race and it was so great to get back to it. Our team (Hills Open Women) finished in sixth place and my time was the 11th fastest run in the Open women's division.

The most positive things was that there was no pain during the run, no pain after (even though I had to drive a fair way home and sitting in a car never helps) and the next day I did my 31k long run without any issues.

Two weeks after the road relays I did my first half marathon since being injured (last November). Again, I did it in a really low key way - as part of a two-person relay in the Westlink M7 Marathon. My coach, Sean Williams, put the race in my program as a training run, so there was no taper which I was a little concerned about - I didn't want to run really slowly because I was both out of shape and tired!

The day before the race I realised how out of practice I am at preparing for a race. I couldn't remember the little things I do and even getting my clothes organised became an issue that I was overthinking. I thought I'd carry a gel in case I needed it but then discovered all my gels were past their used-by dates because it's been so long since I've used them. I found one that had only gone out about a month ago and figured it would still be OK. (I didn't end up using it so I don't know if it was. Most of them were probably fine but I didn't want to risk stomach problems from a dodgy one).

M7 Marathon Relay.
I paired up with another local runner, Jim Perrett, and he was fine with me running the second leg which meant I didn't have to deal with starting gun nerves. Jim got us of to a great start, running 79 minutes. I started my leg too fast (yep, as usual) and the first nine kilometres felt really clunky and uncomfortable (but no hamstring issues). Thankfully by 10k the running started to feel fluid again and I was loving it.

With 4k to go I was passed by a runner in another mixed team - Tim Molesworth. Not only is Tim fast, he's also one of those runners who puts it all on the line and doesn't stop until he detonates so, even though I tried to hang on to him for a while, he wasn't going to let our team have the win. Jim and I finished up second in the mixed pairs division and my half marathon time was 83:35.

I was satisfied with my time, given that I very honestly had NO IDEA what how fast or slow I would run. It's actually only 58 seconds slower than the PB I ran when I got second in the state champs last September (although I've never been happy with my half mara PB - it's soft).

Since then my tendon has behaved itself perfectly. I'm getting through all my sessions with hardly any variations (a couple of times I've had to swap things to different days to fit in with other commitments) and I'm working hard enough to have that wonderful fatigued feeling, but not so fatigued that I can't get through my training. I've had a bit of a flu-type thing for the past few days but other than that all is good.

Things are on the up. I'm so, so grateful.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Speed kills. Tendons.

Speed kills. Tendons.

Well, my tendons certainly seem to dislike speed - or to be precise, my left hamstring origin tendon dislikes speed.

Sigh. This was supposed to have healed by now.

I had to skip my track and long interval sessions last week - my left leg was still not up to scratch. I hated having to skip sessions so early back into training, but I guess if I push through things now I'm going to make it worse further on down the road.

To be honest, I'm feeling very up and down right now. After initially thinking I was about to get back on track, time seems to be slipping away rapidly and I often feel myself starting to panic when I realise how quickly Melbourne is approaching. But, in reality, there's no point in panicking is there? It's not going to help the situation - it'll just make me more frustrated. Instead, I have to take this whole thing One. Day. At. A. Time.

Yes, there is still a 'big picture'. And I'll get there. I have to. It's just going to take a bit longer than I originally planned. Freaking crying about it won't help.

Interestingly, while we're on the topic of Melbourne, the Melbourne Marathon isn't the Australian Championships this year - they've gone to Sydney. Even if I were in top form I doubt I would have changed my plans and run Sydney. Melbourne has always been faster for me and the elite athlete coordinator, Tim Crosbie, does everything possible to make it a really positive and easy experience for us. I'm out to get the fastest time I can and I think Melbourne's the place for that. Especially now they've sorted out the merge with the half marathon runners.

Anyway, back to the topic at hand.

I did 30k on Sunday (23/6) for my long run. Do you know, I'm pretty sure that's the longest run I've done since Melbourne Marathon last year. It felt good to get it done and the tendon was OK. My endurance held up fine and the next day I only had a tiny bit of tightness in my calves - nothing you'd think twice about and my morning run got rid of it.

I've also been in touch with Mizuno to ask about some other shoes that might be worth testing out. At present I am running most of my kilometres in the Elixir, which is working out well. The Elixir used to be my marathon race shoe and I trained in the Nirvana because it had more support so would be kinder on my body. I'm doing all my track work in the Ronin, which I love. Love, love, love. Best shoe ever.

I've found that using a lower profile shoe, such as the Elixir instead of the Nirvana, helps me maintain the body position and form that I need to focus on to get myself through this injury (and to stay uninjured). There doesn't appear to be any scientific evidence for this - even the Mizuno podiatrist said there wasn't much correlation with hamstring injuries and lower profile shoes and my physio said he didn't know, so all I can go on is how my body feels and how it reacts to different shoes.

I am going to try the Inspire as a training shoe - it's got a little more support than the Elixir but less that the Nirvana, so it might be good for doing lots of kilometres. I supposed I'm lucky in that I'm a lightweight so it's not as vital that I have shoes with loads of cushioning, but I'm going to test the Inspire out and see how it goes. A friend recently started running in a pair and he's really happy with how it feels.

So where to from here? I'm literally taking things day by day - seeing how the body is feeling then deciding if the program has to be modified. This week I swapped some days around but I did all the sessions (but again, the track session was cut short - probably a wise move because my 4k cool down had some 'not-right-discomfort'). I had a 25k trail race scheduled for this Sunday - I had a choice of two. I entered one - Woodford to Glenbrook, that I've won the last four years in a row - knowing I'd only be a 50/50 chance of actually racing, depending on my leg. However, it's been cancelled because of flooding. The other one, the Wingello Trail Classic, is a new race in the Southern Highlands. I am doubtful I'll head down to that. Even if I feel OK on Sunday morning, a two-hour drive before a race is never going to benefit the tendon. Sitting in a car for anything more than 40 minutes still causes it to ache.

I do need to get a race in soon though - just to get it over with. I haven't raced since last November and I'm nervous (more nervous than usual!)

So that's where things are at right now.  I'm still fighting.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Two steps forward... and...

I have been making solid progress in regards to returning to a 'normal' training program. I'm now into week three and, generally, the hamstrings have been behaving themselves and I've been able to do some solid training. Last week I did 95k in total, with a fair bit of quality running. It's made it feel like a weight's been lifted off me and I've been feeling so happy and motivated.

Yesterday and today, however, were not good days. My left hamstring/tendon was definitely feeling something so yesterday I decided to swap Tuesday's track session with Wednesday's 14k run in the hope that an extra day away from the track would settle things down.

Unfortunately when I woke up this morning my hammie felt a bit achey and, as I feared, when I did the hamstring bridge to test things out I felt the slightest little twinge up under my butt. Just the slightest bit, and only for a split second at the start of it, but it was there. Not what I wanted.

So, in an effort to let it settle down completely, today was a cycle only day - as per my instructions from physio Brent that if there is any pain when I do a bridge I'm not to run (let alone to the track session I was planning on doing). I've been feeling very positive these last few weeks so today broke the spirit a little bit. I'll admit to having a bit of a cry this morning, then another one this afternoon when the Athletics NSW email newsletter arrived rubbing salt in the wound.

I just want this to disappear once and for all. I suppose I was naive in thinking there wouldn't be any setbacks when getting back into training. At this stage I suppose I'm prepared to modify my training every now and then to cater for any niggles but the worry is that I'll have to keep modifying it, and modify it too much, to the point that I'm not going to get the best out of myself.