Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Cotton Row Run / Limp

Monday was Memorial Day here in the United States. And Memorial Day is race day for me and everyone else entered in the Cotton Row Run. This is the race I had been trying to train for, but struggling with calf injuries. I've never had a problem with calf injuries in the past. This is something new to me. Apparently my calves wanted to make up for lost time with a vengeance because they've given me hell over the last 2 months.

Two months ago I hurt my left calf while training for the Cookie Dash 5K. I thought it was just a cramp so I kept on running. The next day my calf was in extreme pain. I tried to rehab the calf and continue my training, but the decision of whether to race or not came down to the day of the race and even then I was unsure. I started that race slow and remained slow for the entire course. I finished with a lousy time, but I finished without reinjuring my calf, so I called it a minor victory and basically a training run that just happened to include 499 other runners along with me.

2 weeks later, while running, my right calf started to hurt. "What the hell??" I stopped immediately, but it was still giving me problems days later. Throughout my training for the Cotton Row my calves were an issue. They just never seemed to be right somehow. Along with my calves, my left hamstring, right where it attaches at my knee, has been spasming like it wants to pull, too. It does this at the oddest times, like when I'm stepping over a pile of crap in my bedroom or something, rather than while I'm out running.

Monday at the starting line of the Cotton Row I was wearing a calf sleeve on my right calf. I considered wearing one on both calves just to be on the safe side, but I ended up not doing it. It was hot and humid, but not as hot as it was last year when this race nearly killed me. Overall I felt pretty good. I was planning to average not-so-spectacular 10 minute miles and try to come in as close to 30 minutes on the nose as possible.

I am in there somewhere
The start of the race was surprisingly disorganized. The race announcer never ordered the runners to get behind the starting line before the race began like they had last year. He also never warned the slower runners and the people planning to start out walking to get over to the side and out of the way of the runners who came to actually run and compete. Consequently, the race started with a significant number of runners ahead of the starting line.

Our race numbers included a strip containing a computer chip which records the exact moment we start and again when we finish, to make sure our times are precise. How they deal with runners who started ahead of the line I have no idea. Maybe they just use the official race start as their start time and don't account for the fact that they were 10 to 20 feet ahead of the line at that point? I don't know.

The start
Once the gun sounded, I was jammed into a pack of people trying to get moving. It was like crowding onto a subway car in New York City. There was no room to really move and get going. The people who simply walked at the start, I hate to say it, but they were selfish jackasses to be out there in the center of the road starting up at the front of the pack in everyone's way doing something like that. People tripped over them and while trying to get past them. If I had been injured trying to get past walkers at the start I might've been tempted to take a swing at one of them. Luckily that didn't happen. But getting past all of them, and there were a lot, was very frustrating. Every race has walkers, but this was the first time I'd ever seen walkers line up at the head of the pack in the center of the road like that.

The first half mile was nothing but runners trying to get away from the slow people jamming us all up. One woman next to me shouted in exasperation, "this is like a blood clot or something!" I knew exactly what she meant and I agreed.

Cotton Row Crash
The first mile I really didn't feel like I was running especially fast. I hadn't fully warmed up before the race because I was a little later than I intended getting there. I didn't have a good sweat going before the gun sounded. I ran the first half mile with my water bottle in my hand and continued to water up a little at a time while I struggled through the massive 'blood clot' of slow people and people who oddly chose to line up at the start only to mysteriously stop running at the beginning of the race and walk, causing collisions with the people running behind them who weren't expecting anyone in a race as big and competitive as the Cotton Row to walk within the first half mile. What is wrong with people that they never even think about all the other competitors who signed up for this race and paid their money to run while they, the novices, line up at the front and block everyone else? Is this the newest thing for passive/aggressive drivers, the newest frontier, to move into competitive races and try to jam everyone up out of a twisted desire to screw the world over?

Once I was past the majority of walkers and jog/walk/jog people, I began trying to settle into a pace where I felt comfortable. At the first mile marker they called out 10:15 at me as I ran past. I was shocked. Considering how many obstacles I'd had to fight through I hadn't expected to be on pace at all. But according to what the timers were reading out I was dead on the money. Losing a mere 15 seconds to people blocking me was a nice surprise.

During the second mile, as I was moving around slower runners and people stopping to walk, some guy moved over and tried to jam me up. There was no reason for it. No one was stopped head of him blocking his way, but someone was stopped ahead of me and he knew it. He just decided to slam into me and see if he could make me run into the girl who stopped in front of me. I managed to pass her on the other side as an opening appeared at the last second and then spent the remainder of the next mile dealing with him. He was a big guy, fairly thick to be a runner. In fact, he looked nothing like a runner. He reminded me of guys I used to play soccer with who only showed up to hurt people and pick fights. And he seemed to have a problem with me. We were side-by-side a lot, periodically changing the lead when one of us got ahead of the other. I was mad, and instead of thinking about my pace I was thinking about what I was going to do the next time he threw his elbow up at my throat one more damn time. About the time I had set in my mind how I was going to take him down to the asphalt and bounce his face on it like a hockey player, he fell off the pace and dropped behind. I never saw him again.

At the end of the second mile they read out 20:15 or so. I had run a good 10 minute second mile. I was right on the goal I had set for myself. If I could maintain for most of the third mile and pick up speed at the end, I might even have a shot at coming in below 30 minutes, like I used to do with significantly less effort. I began remembering just a short time ago when a time of 30 minutes or slower was absolutely out of the question for me. I never even thought about being slow enough to hit 30 minutes in a race. It just wasn't going to happen. 30 minutes for a 5K was a casual jog. But then my training had gone off into oblivion and my efforts to get it back on track hadn't been consistent. I'd had various injuries and illnesses to throw me off-track. I'd had other life issues that wrecked my training. And now I was dealing with calf cramps and pulls and a weird problem with my left hamstring. But today I was cruising.

And then my right calf went out on me. "Ow!" I started limping immediately. My right calf, the one with the sleeve on it to protect it and help it along, cramped and pulled. It was bad, too. I was forced to limp dramaticaly, going flat-footed on my right because I couldn't push off with my calf at all. I ran like this for awhile. It quickly began to exhaust my left hip to be running so crooked and awkwardly. I knew I couldn't go for another 1.1 miles like this. I was either going to have to stop and try to stretch it out or force my right calf to function even though it hurt. I hit a water station and grabbed a cup of water. I slowed to a fast walk while I drank it and poured it on my head. I tried to extend my stride in such a way that I could stretch my right calf with each step. I stretched it like this for several strides and then I resumed running, forcing the calf to work. It worked a little bit. It still hurt, but it was at least functioning partially now. I knew if I could just get the cramp out of the muscle I could probably force it to work long enough to finish the race. And then there would be hell to pay after.

Over 5,000 runners compete in this race each year
The last mile of the Cotton Row is annoying. It's a long straight stretch up a slight embankment. It's so long, in fact, that everyone begins to feel convinced that we're near the finish. I see runners pick up speed along here and I know that they're going to regret it and suffer. What I mean by that is, if a runner is in the same part of the pack as I am by this point in the race, chances are they don't have the strength or endurance to start speeding up so far from the end and still make it to the finish line. We're further from the end than it feels.

After an eternity we are directed to turn right and run a short distance down another street before making a sharp left and running down a slight embankment on a new street. It's disheartening for the runners who were convinced that we were nearly done before. You can see it in their faces as they sigh and either complain openly or simply stop and walk out of exhaustion. This new street is long and straight, too, every bit as long as the previous one that was so long as to feel like the final stretch before the finish. That road wasn't the final stretch, but this one is.

We ran for a long way in the blazing sun, with no shade and no more water stations, before we could begin to see a banner far off in the distance. But it's another agonizing illusion. That banner is not the finish line. And every year a significant number of runners see that banner far, far down the steaming sun-scorched road and begin to speed up, expending every last drop of energy in the effort to reach what they believe is the finish line. It's like being nearly out of gas and seeing what you think is a gas station far down the road, so you press down on the gas pedal and use up your last few drops because you believe you are about to reach your goal and refuel. Unfortunately for you, you aren't, and by the time you realize it your fuel is gone and you are doomed.

I repassed all the runners who sped up on the previous stretch, wrongly believing we were nearly there. I repassed the runners who waited until the final stretch to speed up and sprint for the banner over a half a mile down the road that looks so much like the finish line. By the time they were close enough to read it and realize that it wasn't the finish, but the starting line we were approaching, they had nothing left to carry them any further. So many people stop and walk as they approach this banner, ending their long race by walking defeatedly the last hundred yards or so to the finish line, which is further ahead beyond the starting line.

The problem with a 5K is that it isn't 3 miles. It's 3.1 miles. It's that extra .1 that causes so many headaches for races that are organized in such a way as to have overlapping start and finish stretches. The Cotton Row used to be laid out differently, back when there was no 5K and only the 10K race was offered. The start was on one side of a lake and the finish was all the way around on the other side, so that you knew when you were coming to the starting line again that it meant nothing and you should actually wait until that point to kick in your afterburners and try to sprint around the lake to the finish. With this new course people still aren't quite getting it, and the starting line, with its big white banner so easily seen from far up the road and blocking the runners view of the finish line banner so that it appears to be the only banner, is killing people at the end. It's like a race with a few tricks thrown in just to mess with your head.

Last year I was too devastated from the heat, humidity and my own lack of adequate training to sprint for what appeared to be the finish only to turn out to be the start. So the starting line illusion didn't affect me. I maintained my steady pace and just motored along as best as I could. I was dying last year by this point, but I had enough left that I could continue past the starting banner and hold my speed to the actual finish line, coming in just as the clock ticked 34 minutes, the worst time I had ever recorded in my entire life.

But that was last year. This year I was supposed to be different. This year I was in pain as I came to the banner where we had started and saw the finish line beyond it, along with countless runners stopping and walking in frustration because they had further to go than they had allowed for and had run out of gas. I was limping and tearing up my injured calf. And I saw the clock up ahead reading 30-something. Oh hell, I was a long way from that clock and it was already past my target time of 30. I started to speed up as much as I could. As I got closer I could see the clock more clearly. It said 32:something. Dammit, I had really blown my time on the last mile with this stupid injury! 33:00 clicked off and I was running as fast as I could for the finish and trying not to trip or collapse before I reached the end. There were two lines running across the road. Which one was the finish?? Which one had the sensor that was going to read my computer chip and record my time? Did I have to lean forward and throw my upper body across both lines? Why were there TWO lines????

Why are there two lines?
I crossed the line(s) at what felt like a sprint, but probably looked more like a normal, healthy runner's ordinary pace. Everyone was crossing the finish and then just stopping dead. I crammed into the crowd of runners at the end and came to a stop. I could barely breathe and I didn't want to stop. I needed to keep moving. I turned sideways and slid my sweat-lubricated body through the crowd of heat-stroked zombies until I came out the other side. Then I stumbled further past, looking for the water arch that they set up each year.

Invented for kids, increasingly used at races
Once I saw it, my only thought was to get to that arch and stand under it while the water sprayed over me. The water arch is just a bunch of PVC piple with holes drilled all along it and a hose attached to one end so that water flows through it and sprays out the holes, creating a wide showerhead that dribbles streams of cold water over about 6 feet and allows multiple runners to stand under it and rapidly cool off. I stood under the water arch for a long, long time until I was completely soaked. Then I limped over to a shady spot near a wall and began trying to stretch my calves.

My corrected time, which they posted on a wall, was something like 33:15. I can't remember exactly. It wasn't good and so it wasn't memorable. It was simply better than last year. But it was 3 full minutes worse than what I was aiming for. It's frustrating that I might have reached my goal if only my calves had held up for the full race. There is nothing I can do about that now, though. So at this point I just have to start rehabbing my calves and try to strengthen them significantly while I get ready for the Warrior Dash later this year. That race isn't until September, if I remember correctly, and it isn't the sort of race where time is really the most important thing. But even so, I don't want an injury problem ruining that one for me, too. Last year I was sick as a dog for the entire week prior to the Warrior Dash. I went to the race not knowing if I'd even be able to attempt it and yet somehow managed to complete it. I didn't do well, but I did it. That was my victory then. I'm hoping for something a little better than that this year, without injury problems or sickness to make it less fun.

So what did you do over the weekend?

Sunday, May 20, 2012


So over the past few weeks my training has gone to hell. We went out of town two weekends in a row for family reasons. I couldn't train on those weekends. during the weeks between I ran, but pulled my right calf muscle. This is hugely frustrating as it was my left calf muscle I pulled before. Now both legs are gimpy.

I wasn't able to run this week because of work. I've been working long, long hours at work and not getting much rest. By the time I get home I'm so exhausted I just want to go to bed.

My race is in a week. I am not ready, as usual. I am injured, not as usual. Adding the injuries to the lack of adequate training is a new problem. I'll likely be running this one wearing a calf sleeve on both legs. Somehow I'm going to have to improve the condition of both my calves for future races. And in the meantime, I'm likely going to run a lousy time in this race due to the lack of training, the abundance of injuries, and the surprisingly hot, humid Spring we're having here.

It's so much hotter than it usually is this early. It feels July already, with the heat so hot you sunburn just working in the yard for a short time and the humidity so nasty that you can't step outside to get your mail without soaking your shirt with sweat. Last year's Cotton Row Run was a disaster for me because of the surprisingly hot weather and extreme humidity. I nearly died in that one. Crossing the finish line without walking was all I could do, and that's pretty sad.

Anyway, I have one week left to do whatever I can training-wise. What I really need is to run outside in the heat and just try to get my body more accustomed to it, even if I can't go very fast.

In other news, my mother-in-law is in town, staying at our house, attempting to boss me around with obvious contempt, and generally making me want to throw her out and lock our doors. What is it with mother-in-laws that they can't visit and be grateful instead of making everything into a battle?

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Sunshiney May and Ebay

I realize I haven't been online much over the past 2 months. I apologize. I am really struggling to keep up with the workload at my job, plus personal issues and everything Internet has suffered as a result.

I'm still trying to recover/train for the next race. Thank God it isn't until the end of this month because my calf is still bothering me. I ran a few miles last week and it was just sort of OK, but not exactly 100 percent. I tried to do a few mild semi-sprints, which is to say that I was jogging along and decided to pick up my knees, get on my toes and rapidly high-step from one tree to the next along the path before slowing back to my pathetic jogging pace again. I did this several times to test both my calf and my lungs. My calf held up, just barely, but my lungs struggled quite a bit. I clearly need to do a lot more speed work once my calf is totally healed.

I read a good article on preparing for your first triathlon the other day. The main advice that I remember from it was to relax at the start of the swimming portion of the race and just get into your stride instead of getting all pumped up and taking off in a sprint that leaves you gasping right from the start. The second things was not to go out and throw down $5000 on a racing cycle for your first race because the majority of people will do one triathlon and then never do it again, leaving that $5000 bike gathering dust in their garages. Any road bike will do for a first race, but don't use a mountain bike. Apparently you don't notice the difference between a road bike and a mountain bike until your in the middle of a race surrounded by people on road bikes and you're on a mountain bike suddenly realizing that it's heavier than you remembered, has smaller wheels than road bikes thus requiring you to peddle faster just to keep up, and its wide tires create greater friction and resistance on the pavement, slowing you down and making you work harder. That's all good information. I already have an antiquated Italian road bike probably built in the 1970s or '80s. I've been told that I can have a gear or two added to it without breaking the forks and get it up to a decent facsimile of a modern cycle. It will never be able to accomodate as many gears as a new bike, but for a first race it'll probably be fine.

And all this is just if I ever do decide to try my first triathlon. As of now I haven't really set my sites on one, but I have a feeling I'm going to at some point barring a major injury.

I spent all my money last month. Curse those estate sales and Ebay! I blame you!  Some millionaire had some sort of financial set-back, I suppose, and so he threw an estate sale on Saturday. I happened to stumbled across it and stop in. His mansion was already sold ($1.7 million) and he had moved his family to a smaller house. But they had excess stuff that wouldn't fit in the new downscaled house so they decided to just sell it all in an estate sale. I spent roughly $500 on stuff I can only marginally justify buying. One of the things I bought was a Yamaha keyboard. It's nice and I had been planning to get something along those lines anyway, so that was fine. But then I bought this painting for $200. Sure, it's a cool painting and probably cost a lot more than $200, but I've never been a big art collector so I don't know why I did it. It'll hang on my wall and gather dust. Every now and then someone will look at it and say "nice painting. Who did it?" And I'll say "I have no idea. I can't read the signature."

Before the estate sale I was on Ebay. I spent $400 on a stereo receiver for my 'man cave' and another $50 on a turntable that I have been waiting a solid month for and they still haven't gotten it to me. The USPS website shows a single scan for it somewhere in Virginia and then nothing after that. It seems to have just disappeared. So awesome. I spent another $50 on something or other, I can't remember what, and $12 on a belt for my record player because the old one broke. Who would have thought I'd be going to Ebay to get belts for my record players? I remember when finding one at all was a major pain. Now I just go to Ebay. Yay! Oh, and I bought Led Zeplin IV on vinyl so I could test out the new belt. It works fine and the album sounds great. Yes, I like vinyl. What of it?

I dented my car. I looked everywhere for a new panel to replace the dented one since I'm fully aware that I'm too lazy to buy a dent puller and pull the dent out myself before welding up the holes and spending hours bondoing and sanding, rebondoing and resanding, until it looks smooth enough to primer and spray. It's good that I know this because I regularly see people in cars like mine driving around with dents they intended to fix themselves, only to quit halfway through and drive it for months with a big primer red blob on their fender that looks like a horse threw up on it and never finish the repair. Auto body repair is a LOT of work. I don't mind priming and painting a new fender, but I hate pulling dents, trying to get things smoothed out just right, slapping Bondo on it, sanding for hours, and eventually deciding its close enough to smooth for me to paint. I just want to go straight to the painting step.

There's crap going on in the news I'd love to comment on, but I don't have time. I'm wrestling with a problem right now and I need to get back at it. If my sunburn that I got courtesy of 'Snellville Days' just outside of Atlanta last Saturday doesn't prevent it, I'm planning to run at the park today after work. That's in about an hour. We'll see how it goes.

Oh, but one thing I will say, you guys HAVE GOT TO READ THIS - SO funny!!! I've never heard of 'dance dare' but it looks like a riot. Congrats to Alana for having the guts to do it and then blog about it. You rock!