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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A Humbling Race in Berlin

Bitterness of beer was such a welcoming change after oversaturation of sugar from Gatorade, power bars, and gels. Resting on a stone bench and savoring my second glass of non-alcoholic Erdinger I was mesmerized watching volunteers working behind a long set of tables in Tent Beer. Economy of scale would suggest that beer is served on taps to such a large clientele, more than 45,000 to be precise. Surprisingly, the bartenders, a bottle in each hand, were pouring beer from both bottles simultaneously into a pair of x-large plastic cups that were quickly claimed by thirsty crowd of Berlin Marathon finishers. A big bonus of racing in Germany,I reflected, although Chicago had done it back in 2010 with a real alcoholic one.

I still had half an hour before a meeting with Alma gang at pre-arranged location in the nearby park. A little bit of time to process my thoughts after the race. This was my number 9. Each race was so unique and different. BMOs in Vancouver felt “routine”, Portland was “qualifying”, Boston felt “classic”, Chicago was “scorching”, Eugene “ecstatic”, New York “punishing”. What about the race I just finished?

Time of 20 minutes slower than aimed for was deeply disappointing but should not overshadow, I reasoned, the overall enjoyment of this great city, perfect weather, huge crowds, massive expo, group of close friends who came from Germany, Poland and Vancouver to run this race.

In disbelief I checked my Garmin again only to see the same 3:22, the slowest marathon since BMO in May 2009. “It was your first run after a lower back injury last year in December”, I tried to comfort my hurt ego. “How come you hadn’t adjusted your expectations”, replied my rational brain. Did I become overconfident in my running abilities and expected to run sub-3 marathon on any given day despite limited weekly mileage due to injury?

My cup was empty. It was time to go. On my way, I grabbed my third Erdinger and started limping to meet my friends contemplating this “humbling” lesson that reminded me that regardless if it’s your first, 9th, or 99th race, these 26.2 miles is a long, long way to run.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Hardest Part of Running: Not Running

Dealing with an injury seems to be an inseparable part of running for a majority of runners. Close to 80% of runners are injured at some point. Running is physically stressful and coping with an injury, especially during training for a race, is mentally difficult. 
As far as I can remember, each of my races was somehow associated with an injury I had to deal with: BMO in 2003, runner’s left knee; BMO 2005, strained right calf muscle; Portland 2009, foot hairline fracture; Boston 2010, plantar fasciitis; Chicago 2010, stomach flu; Eugene 2011, IT Band syndrome; New York 2011, piriformis syndrome; and training for the Berlin Marathon in September this year will need to involve a recovery from a lower back injury, probably the most serious injury for me so far. This is a long and depressing list. Maybe that’s why I can easily sympathize with a Canuck, Sami Salo who had to deal with lots of adversity and various injuries on and off the ice in his NHL career. His passion for the game gave him the strength to go through the rehab and come back on the ice again and again. 

Many of you asked me about my status. Well, in recent weeks I learned more about L5-S1 vertebrae and disk injuries than I ever wanted to know. My message on Facebook to Mike P. quoting MRI results of my lower spine included words that would be incomprehensible to most of us, difficult to find in regular English dictionary, and could be deciphered only by a smart MD.  But ultimately these complex medical terms and concepts can be simplified. A runner simply wants to know: what should I do to speed up the recovery and when can I run again? Unfortunately, in case of lower back injury, this date seems to be like a date for Sidney Crosby to recover from a concussion. There is no hard rule. There is no hard date. It all depends.

Thanks to recommendation by Nicole’s husband Harondale, and a short trip to Costco, my daily routine now includes a 10-minute session on an inversion table to decompress my spine, followed by traditional stretching. This self-applied treatment seems to be helping. Radiating pain along my right leg has abated and I can walk again without limping.  

To keep my spirits and fitness level high, I often go for long power walks or hang out in the Gold's Gym at UBC at least 5 times a week. A 90-minute session on the elliptical is my lifeline. And just between us (my chiro and physio don’t need to know) every time I come across a hill on my power walk round, I can’t resist running it. Hill running keeps my cardio high and the impact on my lower back seems to be low.  

However, the part of running I miss the most is its social aspect; the tradition of going for coffee after the long run with a group of friends from Alma RR. Well, one day, hopefully soon, I will see you all again at 8:30 on Sunday morning.

Run Strong,

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