Definition of stubborn
: performed or carried on in an unyielding, obstinate, or persistent manner
Hello. My name is Chris and I can be stubborn. Maybe just like you.
"Stubborn" is a trait that is over represented in endurance athletes and is further nourish through hard training. As we push up that last hill repeat, the tiny voice of our central governor squeals, “SLOW DOWN. WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS? YOU ARE GOING TO DIE”, and we fire back, “Na, I’m gonna just keep running.”
One could argue that being stubborn is critical to becoming a successful endurance athlete. One liners like, "Never give up.", "Never quit.", "Get gritty.", come to define us, yet being stubborn can also get us in trouble.
After a busy 2016 racing season, I needed some downtime. By August 2016, I had raced around 380 miles for the year and just finished the Squamish 50/50. This is Gary Robbins’ brutish race which entails running 50 miles on tough terrain one day, and waking the next morning for a 50k race on the same course. Fastest combined time wins. A dream race for us stubborn-types.
I had a blast at this race, and fortunately, had no resulting nagging injuries, but was feeling mentally tired. Related to this, I decided to back off serious racing and gear up for an early 2017 race at Bandera 100k. In this instance, I was able to listen to my body and overcome my stubborn instinct. Smart move.
After backing down intensity in September and October, I ramped training back up quickly in November and was itching to do some smaller races. My mind was no longer tired, maybe even too rested, and ready to test what my slightly deconditioned body could handle.
I had signed up for the Whistle punk half marathon, an old-school-feel trail race put on by a local trail master and Bay Trailrunners founder, Robert Rhodes. I had also signed up for and been planning my attack on the Ginger Runner Virtual run (GRVR), which would happen the day before. The GRVR was a 2 hour race you could do anywhere in the world and upload to Strava to compete in various categories (Cool graphic: showing the worldwide participation). I decided I wanted to do the most vertical gain in 2 hours. Since I did not have a mountain that I could climb up for 2 hours straight, I decided short steep hill repeats would be the most efficient way to accumulate vertical gain. Unfortunately, I had to take call at the hospital the day of the race so my prospects of doing the GRVR faded.
After a long day of call at work, I got into bed early to get some sleep for the Whistle Punk half trail race in the morning. While laying comfortably in bed, the stubborn side of me said, “You signed up for the GRVR and still have 4 more hours to do it!”. My heart started to race a bit. "Yes, I do. I should go do it in the dark! What a great idea!" I jumped from bed, got my stuff ready and drove to a local 1/10th of a mile 14% grade hill. As I drove to the hill, I called Jenny to tell her my "brilliant plan". She was less enthused and said it was not a good idea, but supported my decision. She wished me the best and said 'Don't get hurt". Unfortunately, I must not have been listening. I started my repeats a 9PM and finished 2 hours later at 11PM. I was very happy but also very very sore. Now I had about 8 hours until the start of the morning half marathon. Not good.
SAW-TOOTH STRAVA DATA FROM THAT NIGHT
During the GRVR, I did hill repeats for 2 hours at a moderate effort giving me 5,010 feet of climbing but also requiring 5,010 feet of descent on asphalt. The descents on asphalt would be my downfall. My calves were crushed after this effort and I had minor left foot discomfort that seemed expected given the effort.
The next morning I got up and my legs had been replaced with inflexible pegs. I stiffly pegged my way to the shower, cleaned up, threw on fresh running gear and headed out to the race. Unfortunate for me, given the status of my legs, the beginning of the race included one of my favorite downhill trails. I did some half-hearted calf stretching and took off at the start of the race, I could not resist.
STARTING THE WHISTLE PUNK HALF AND MY DESCENT TO 5 MONTHS OFF FROM TRAINING
The course descending around 800 ft in the first two miles and I ran hard. Around the two mile mark I knew something was wrong. The pain in my left lateral heel increased with every step and my pace fell off before hitting the first big climb of the race at mile 6. Being subborn, I pushed through the rest of the race, thinking I would be fine in a few days. Maybe just a mild foot strain. This was not the case.
After two months of persistent heel pain, I decided it was time to get some imaging. I’m a radiologist and know to avoid imaging when the diagnosis is clear or it won't change clinical management. Given the persistence of my pain and unclear diagnosis, I decided to get some imaging. The MRI revealed a tear in my plantar fascia where it inserts along the calcaneus. No wonder the pain was not going away. There was also concern for stress reaction in my 4th and 5th metatarsal bones.
PLANTAR DIAGRAM AND PLANTAR FASCIA TEAR EXAMPLE (NOT MINE, A BALLET DANCER'S)
I immediately took off around 4-6 weeks from running completely. For rehab, I did physical therapy and got regular expert body work (especially on my tight calves). I slept in a night splint and wore an OS1st plantar sleeve during activity. I also started working with Uhan Performance to correct any gait imbalances that could predispose to reinjury. The last things I tried was Extracorporeal shockwave therapy (ESWT), which finally pushed me over the chronic pain hump and back into training.
In the end, I was off from regular training for 5 months and missed early season 2017 races at the Bandera 100k, Way Too Cool 50k, and the American River 50 mile. I had planned to use these races as tune ups for my main goal race of the year, the Western States 100 mile. As weeks ticked by, 20 weeks out --- 16 weeks out --- 14 weeks out, the prospect that I could miss Western States began to loom. At 13 weeks out from race day, my foot finally felt sufficiently healed and I decided to start up my training. My base during time off included walking and hiking with some higher intensity work on the bike trainer. My first week back training I did 35 miles at low intensity and a single 10 mile long run.
Currently, I am 5 weeks into training and hit 70 miles last week with 9k of vertical gain (my training). I have started to add in some moderate efforts, trail and more vertical gain. I want to compete at Western this year for a top 10 spot. To do this, I will be pushing my body hard in training but also trying to listen better to when it needs rest. I have a renewed appreciation for what running brings to my life and I hope to run for a lifetime.
I know when I step up to the start line at Western States 100 mile in June, I won't be overtrained and my mind will be ready to do battle.
- Listen to those close to you: They know what they're talking about.
- Listen to your body: It usually knows what its talking about.
- Listen to your central governor: Na. Just keep running.
"It is better to be undertrained than injured."
- Anonymous Optimistic Undertrained Ultrarunner