Sunday, January 31, 2010

What are the odds?

Thursday was the last chance for a good workout. The forecast indicated the potential for heavy snow, once again, on Friday. A low pressure system from the west was set to perfectly intercept moisture from the south. I usually snicker at the meteorologists who seem to perfectly hedge their bets by confining their predictions to chances between 30 and 70 percent. We could all benefit by responding in this way to requests for information.

“Will you take out the garbage?”
“I’d give it a 70% chance.”

“You won’t forget to call, will you?”
“Oh, there’s a 30% chance.”

It was quite reassuring that in this instance, by contrast, the chance of snow was reported at 100%. That’s heavy odds. Nothing “potential” about that – it was a done deal. I was not nearly so sure about the status of my heels, both of which have been grieving me. Unless I lie there and stretch them first, my first steps out of bed are stiff and painful. I slap the ground awkwardly for the first 20 minutes of every run while my Achilles tendons warm up. I’ve been icing both heels obsessively for a couple weeks now. They have given me problems, off and on, since I started back running in late October. For several months, due to my ankle injury, I turned to the bike. And when I say turned to it…

Cycling is a great outlet for endurance training, and, well, braggadocio. Get a group of reasonably fit guys together on bikes and you’ve got the perfect combination of cohesion and status. You cruise in a well coordinated pace line along the flats, and then try to explode the lungs of every other guy on the climbs. The climbs. Man, I love the climbs. The image of myself as an oxygen burning machine is enhanced by the rhythmic stroking of the pedal cranks, and the radial flashing of the spokes. I hesitate to shake the bead of sweat off the end of my nose because it seems like part of the lubrication. The strain on the bike is apparent in the creaking of the bottom bracket. Less apparent is the strain on my Achilles. The range of motion required of the ankle is greatly reduced on a bike, and I’m guessing that mine adjusted by thickening and shortening.

With the cold weather and my return to running, I’ve once again asked my Achilles to adjust, so I’ve tried to accommodate that by varying the terrain of my runs to include more road and more flats. I have been able to continue training, for the most part, though I have backed off for a few days at a time to curb a downward trend and encourage healing.

Despite that, my last two long runs have finished with significantly sore Achilles. I ran for 3 hours and 3 ½ hours on the last two weekends, respectively. The pain bothered me for 20-30 minutes, subsided for the next 2 hours, and then returned to haunt me for the remainder of the run. So I backed off for a couple days afterward, generally shooting for one tempo-style workout mid-week. Last Tuesday I ran easy in the morning and then again in the afternoon over to the nearby high school track. I did 4 times 400m at a comfortable fast pace. I think of these as long striders – a chance to increase range of motion and turnover without incurring significant debt. I jog an easy 400 between each.

My heels were predictably tender Wednesday morning. Ideally I would have worked out on Wednesday afternoon, run something hilly Friday, and then something long(ish) on Saturday. Instead, Wednesday had to be easy. I might have waited for any kind of workout until Friday, except for the certainty expressed by the 100% chance of snow. In comparison, I was just mildly dubious that my tendons could handle a workout on Thursday.

For the past several weeks my training has been predicated on a series of ultras for the winter and spring. The next in the series is Louisville’s Love’n the Hills 50K on February 6th. I know the course well (I made it up) and it is a good test of an Achilles tendon: short, steep, and constant hills. I have to allow my body some rest beforehand. I’m not going to run a long run or a workout in snow or on a treadmill this close to the 50K. So it was decided: my last workout, both in length and speed, would be Thursday.

I’ve got a new favorite course for just this sort of run. It’s a horseshoe configuration – so I get the feel of a point-to-point with nearly the convenience of a loop (I have to get a ride across the gap). It has 3 clearly definable and balanced portions: a 30 minute warm-up to a turn, a ridge run with a climb at the start and descent at the end that takes 30 minutes of hard driving effort, and a 30 minute warm-down on "the salt trail" to finish it.

I almost bailed out after 15 minutes of running. My heels hurt. I blithely stuck it out. I’m glad I spent 30 minutes warming up. The ridge run was pain free. I went slower than I wanted – it took 32 minutes. But I completed the workout without, I think, setting myself back. And sure enough, the snow hit Friday – if a few hours late. If I can hold out, today will be my third day off. My heels are much less tender now. I can pinch them without wincing, and I don’t have to hobble to the restroom when I get up in the night.

Contrary to the message of my prior post – I’m adjusting to the circumstance. I’ve avoided running in this snow and I’ve backed off to let my Achilles heal. It doesn’t feel like the stuff of human freedom. I would like to be able to take a principled stand and run, no matter what. Problem is, I’m not that certain.


  1. Eric, It certainly sounds like you are listening to your body. Good luck this weekend and be safe in your travels. Rick

  2. Hi Eric,Thanks for writing this post. You are a smart human and growing with the understanding that you'll get your freedom back...yet it is taking longer than you want it to. Too late to wish you well in I will wish you continued whole and patient recovery! Annette