Archive for October, 2006

Trick or Train?

Tuesday, October 31st, 2006

My day started with a trip to see Dr. Ray, about my plantar fascitis. I met Dr. Ray at a racewalking clinic a couple of years ago, and he seemed like a real foot geek. The kind of guy who is just intrigued by this amazing human part, who wants to absorb facts about it and study it and poke it and see what happens if. In other words, exactly the kind of guy I want giving me foot advice. Today was my first visit as his patient, although the plantar fascitis started back in July.

Plantar fascitis is all about an injured foot part called the plantar fascia, that runs along the bottom of your foot from the heel to the base of the toes. Many people experience it as heel pain, but, never one to follow the pack, mine’s been all about pain at the ball of my foot. There’s really only been two cool aspects to this injury: one, I learned what sesamoids are, and that I have them (so do you); and two, I was radioactive for about a week, after I was injected with radioactive isotope for a bone scan to be sure I didn’t have a fracture. The rest has been some combination of sticking my foot into ice water, stretching, picking up a towel with my toes, tylenol, athletic tape, rolling my foot on a hard leather ball, trying one arch support after the other, and a really exhausting series of attempts to get some sleep while wearing a boot designed to keep my foot at a 90 degree angle. (Its not possible to sleep with the boot. My inspirational thought about getting a wig and calling myself Bride of Frankenstein is really the only fun aspect of the boot. I admit to uttering many unfriendly things to the boot in the middle of the night. The boot seemed unfazed.) I go for treatments two or three times a week, where they do something called Graston. The idea of Graston is to break down the scar tissue that has formed from the injury. This is done by digging into the bottom of my foot with a hard tool. The first time I had this done, I spent the whole time digging into the sides of the table with my hands, saying over and over in my head “Don’t kick the doctor. Don’t kick the doctor…” (I told this to the doctor afterwards, and he laughed and said he had plenty of practice dodging kicks so I shouldn’t worry.) It only lasts a few minutes, and over time its gotten alot less painful. They also zap me with electric current. This is either to stimulate the tissue to speed healing, or to enhance the previously mentioned Bride of Frankenstein effect, depending on whether you believe the doctor or me.

I arrived at Dr. Ray’s office with a giant gym bag full of shoes. My workout shoes, my previous workout shoes, my alternative workout shoes, several pairs of everyday shoes, and four or five different arch support inserts. His assistant carefully laid these out, taking out all of the innersoles and arch supports. After checking my foot, he handed my workout shoes to his assistant, who replaced the arch support with a metatarsal pad and changed the laces so they start halfway down from the toe instead of at the first set of holes near the toe. The metatarsal pad goes just further toward the heel than the ball of the foot. The effect is to spread out the toes. I tried them on, and was surprised at how comfortable they now felt. Months of trying all kinds of shoes and innersoles and arches and socks, and this incredible genius foot geek guy solves the problem in about 3 minutes.

I was really looking forward to my workout, to try out the new shoe solution. As often happens, I was delayed at work, then delayed in traffic because I’d left late. I then found myself at home with an awful decision: go for my training walk, or stay home for the trick-or-treaters? I took a deep breath and squared my shoulders: those kids would never know what great candy I’d bought. Besides, I’d still be back in time for some of them. I started out and the shoes felt great. My feet felt better than they had for awhile. My walking felt smoother. On the bike path I relaxed into the walk, enjoying the darkening sky and the surrounding trees. After a bit, I realized the bikes all had lights on, so I could still see them even though it was … oops! It was dark. There I was, in the middle of the bike path in the dark, alone and only mildly reflective. Well, in spite of a couple of near misses, I didn’t actually get run over. One guy said “Sh*t!” as he rode by, but I couldn’t tell if that was because of me, or because he’d just realized *he* was late for trick-or-treaters. It was hard to stay too worried about the whole dark thing, because there was a decent chunk of moon, and it was reflecting in the nature preserve pond. A bit further on, a goose sounded like it was just laughing and laughing.

Well, I wouldn’t call the end of my walk a “cool down,” and I only got in one quick calf stretch as I was opening bags of candy, but I did get to greet dozens of trick-or-treaters, decked out as Fiona (as in Shrek). Then I got hit with the “trick”: me at home with a huge tub of leftover candy. I can’t say I didn’t yield to temptation. I guess the best I can do is a nice long workout tomorrow.

There’s nothing psychedelic about LSD

Sunday, October 29th, 2006

Today was long walk day. Goal: 30k. About 18.6 miles.

I did it!

This kind of training is called Long Slow Distance, and its what it says — the idea is to keep a very moderate pace, and go for a looooong time. I’ve learned from past experience that I suck at “slow,” so I use a heart rate monitor with an alarm set to ring whenever my heart rate climbs above 75% of max. The first time I did my long walk this way, I learned some goofy things about myself. For example, I unconsciously increased my pace every time somebody passed me. Well, that must be a good thing, you say, after all, aren’t you some kind of competitive athlete?? The “goofy” part is that this happened even when the folks passing me were *bicyclists*. Or rollerbladers. Or runners. Another interesting note is that I speed up to the Talking Heads, no matter what the song. Ditto for the B-52s. I’m considering really reworking my workout playlist for long walks…

My plan for today was to do the weekly walk with my local racewalk club. That would give me about 5 of my miles completed. Then, I’d jump in my car, and switch to a nearby bike path for the rest on my own. The club walk starts at 8, but I really was dragging about getting out of bed. By the time I got out the door, I was running about half an hour late. So I was surprised when I got to the track and nobody was there. It was raining, so I figured it was remotely possible folks had stayed home, but really this was unlikely — this is the Pacific Northwest, and we don’t not do things because of rain — with that approach not a whole lot would ever get done, for 8 months of each year. Finally, a bit later, a few other club folks came onto the track. It wasn’t till awhile later that someone mentioned turning our clocks back. Oops. I’d spent all that time thinking I was late, but I was the early bird! This is not a role I’m accustomed to, so I’m really enjoying knowing I was first. If its possible for *me* to be early to a morning event, well, it kind of seems like just about anything’s possible. Me finishing the 50k? :)

Club walks on the track are great, because you can spend some time doing a few laps with different people, so you get to talk and catch up alot. A couple of the guys teased me because I was going so slow, but I didn’t let myself get sucked in. “Long Slow Day” I told them. “Training for the 50k.” They passed me and various comments floated back to me: “Oh, ick!” “What are you, crazy?” “Stop your talking and start walking.” The great thing about this way we tease each other, is that it usually makes me laugh, or at least smile, and either of those things go really, really, well with Long Slow Distance.

As the club walk wound down, I hopped in my car and headed out. Crossing a bridge, I noticed a wall-like end to the clouds overhead, not very far north, with a clear blue sky past the edge. Seemed the rain was just about over.

I did the remaining miles on a mixed use bike trail that runs between a river and a nature preserve. Lots of fall foliage colors, geese, other birds, a couple of kayakers. The trail is pretty heavily used on weekends, mostly bicylists and joggers. Today I saw someone doing that off season cross-country thing — inline skates with ski poles. Plus the usual mix of racing bikes, commuter bikes, bikes with kiddie carts in back, recumbent bikes, and one bicycle for two. I did my first 5 miles in a fleece jacket and warmups, and just as I finished the wall of clouds moved south and the sun came out. So I peeled those off back at the car, and did the rest in my shorts and shirt. On LSD days I do loops from my car, because I don’t carry any water with me. So about once an hour I do a pitstop, fill up with water, gels, sports drink, whatever. Today’s location had the added bonus that there’s a bathroom just off the parking lot. Running water and everything — very civilized. I tried something new — Cliff Shot Bloks. An alternative to gels, they’re a bit denser than a jello cube, and 3 cubes gives the same calories as one gel. (IMHO they missed the boat on the name — Cliff Cubes was the way to go.) I *loved* the cubes. I’ve certainly never said that about gels. I use gels, but its more a feeling of “stop whining and eat the gel” than anything resembling my usual exuberance for food.

What do I do *after* walking? On long slow days, anything that takes my mind off how I feel, and doesn’t involve any kind of movement. With an exemption for anything that involves eating, because I end up feeling hungry about every two hours for the rest of the day. Napping is a nearly optimal post-long walk activity. Speaking of which…

A funny thing happened one day

Saturday, October 28th, 2006

I’ve never blogged before, never wanted to, really, but after reading my fourth or fifth email about my current training endeavors, my friend Ted said “Have you considered doing a blog on this whole race thing?” I’m awfully busy, so I said “well, I suppose I could do that if you could set it all up for me” and Ted’s a pretty smart guy, so he mailed me my password, and here I am. This post is supposed to explain how I’ve come to be on this particular journey, but I’m thinking the real answer to that is so long and complicated and intertwined with so many life events, the best I can hope for is to just pick a day and start.

I’m a racewalker. Like many people, you may read that and think “oh, one of those power walkers” or “hmm, that’s speedwalking, right?” but actually, racewalking is different from both of those, its a sport that’s been in the Olympics since the start of the 20th century (well, for men, anyway). Racewalk competitions have judges who stare at your legs as you go by, prepared to disqualify you if you don’t have one foot on the ground, or if you don’t land on a straight leg. Racewalking is primarily an endurance event — standard competition distances range from one mile to 50k. I’m not a very fast racewalker, although being a moderate racewalker makes one a very fast walker, and I do pass joggers. I’m certainly not an elite athlete — this whole walking thing is a bad case of Adult Onset Athletics for me. In real life, I’m a scientist, but I got hooked on the really amazing feeling 5 miles into a walk when it all clicks, and I’m just smooth and fast, and there’s nothing else.

This past year, reading all about the Racewalk World Cup, it occurred to me that there was no 50k for women, only a men’s event. The same had been true in the 2004 Olympics. So I wrote a post to the racewalk group on yahoo, and asked “why isn’t there a 50k for women?” I got several answers, from officials, from racewalkers, but this story is all about one particular reply:

“50k for women? I can only think of 3: kitchen, kids, and kleenex.”

I was alone when I read this, so nobody heard what I said aloud, and that’s just as well. I sat there at my desk for awhile, thinking up the rudest replies I could post. But in the end, I found myself really, really wanting to do a 50k, just to show this guy he was wrong. Way, totally, incredibly, cluelessly WRONG. Of course, that was just a wildly impractical plan. Let me emphasize for the metric-impaired, that 50k is *31 MILES*! Marathon plus 5. I’ve walked 5 marathons, and not once have I crossed the finish line thinking “oh, if only I had 5 more miles to go.” I’ve crossed thinking “WATER” or “ICE” or “OUCH” and once even “MEDIC TENT” (a more complicated thing, putting two words together after mile 22) but not one thought of greater longer glory.

One day in August, I found myself sitting in a brewpub with a bunch of racewalkers. I told my “kitchen, kids, kleenex” story to the 4 other women at my table. “Makes me just want to do the damn race, just to show them.” The woman sitting across from me slammed her glass down on the table. “I’m in!” My mouth gaping from this reaction, the woman next to her said “Me too.” And so our team was born.

We are Western Women Go the Distance, and we are training for the USA National Championship 50k racewalk in January 2007. Our numbers have varied between 5 and 7, and we are from various Western States. We all have demanding jobs, and various cares like houses and pets and families. And we’re all pretty strong, so its really pretty likely that more than one of us will be crossing that finish line come January. Am I ever looking forward to writing *that* post!