[Apologies in advance - this will be long]
If there is such a beast as a schizophrenic hypochondriacal chameleon, then I am he.
I recently had a stretch of bad days involving quite a bit of foot and ankle pain. After posting here last Tuesday that I HAD to get in to see a sports podiatrist, I got pretty busy with work. The next day, my foot suddenly felt pretty good. On a total whim, I put on my running shoes w/my Superfeet Green insoles in them and gently stepped onto my cheapo treadmill. I jogged a 9:30 mile. Hmm. No pain. I was actually hoping there would be some pain so I could justify the visit to the doc even more than I already thought I could. I didn't want a situation similar to bringing my car into the shop and telling the mechanic, "well, it's running fine now, but trust me, it was making all kinds of horrible noises yesterday."
I then ran a slightly faster (8:19) mile on the treddy on Thursday. Same thing. No pain. I skipped Friday because there actually was a little discomfort in my upper ankle area (not where the pain usually is, and not as bad). I iced, massaged and stretched. Today, I stepped back on the "going nowhere fast" machine and grinded out a 17:06 2-miler (8:33 pace). Good news - no pain once again. Bad news - I'm HORRIBLY out of shape. It felt like I just ran a half marathon at race pace. I guess that's to be expected.
Does this mean I'm all better and can start ramping up the miles now? Does it mean I won't see the foot doc? As for the latter, I honestly don't know...but I definitely won't be increasing my mileage any time soon, though. At best, I'll attempt three very short treadmill runs per week to hopefully strengthen my legs and feet. If there's any sign of recurring pain, I'll stop. If I'm regressing, I'll hit up the doc right away. I think the flat, forgiving treadmill is easier on my foot than the hard pavement or uneven trails.
Why did the pain seem to suddenly disappear? Maybe some friends and family threw some prayers up for me (yes, I believe in them). It's an odd thing. Like I said, I can still feel something unsavory happening down there, but it's nowhere near what I was experiencing about a week ago.
The above report leads into my new plans for later this year and the first part of next year. Since it seems that relatively high mileage (for me), long runs and hills led to my foot issue, I'm going to focus on…hold onto your hats…speed. And I'm not just talking Mario Kart Wii speed, either (although I'll kick your butts on most courses…bring it on, homeys. I'll even give you my "friend" number if you ask). I'm going to train as if I'm training for high school track season, starting either late this year or the beginning of next year. My true desire would be to slowly ramp up the mileage again for either a 2nd marathon attempt next spring or a 1st ultra attempt, but I don't think my foot could handle it.
Last year, during marathon training, I started to miss my (ahem) leg speed (assuming I ever had any). Don't get me wrong - I LOVE long runs and I get sucked into the lure of more and more miles, but I truly felt I could be running faster. Where it really hit me was during Ragnar. I was fortunate to be on a team with some pretty quick young(er) guys. There were four of us over 40 and I held my own compared to them, but I started to get envious of the youngsters knocking out 6-6:15 mile splits.
To further support my rationale (i.e. try to convince myself), I can hopefully avoid the cumulative fatigue that the longer miles and few rest days were causing. Not to say that intense speed work will be a walk in the park. While my foot may not agree, I still think of myself as a long-distance runner, and busting out fast 400 meter repeats sounds like torture. But it doesn't involve the foot-beating hills nor 2-hour runs (although I love both).
I try not to dwell on or relive the past, but a lot can be learned from it. My high-school track program (distance, anyway) left a lot to be desired. During my senior season, I averaged 18.5 miles/week during the season (more than that leading up to it). It included a LOT of speed work and very little distance. I managed to improve my mile time from 5:13 (end of my junior season) to a still-not-terribly-fast 5:01 by the end of my senior season. On that paltry mileage base, I also knocked out my fastest 10k right after track season ended (39:06). Even at age 43, I still feel like I can get relatively fast again. I doubt I'll see a 5 minute mile in the future, but I think I can go sub-6 and even break my soft 5k PR. I may even consider racing in an all-comers track meet next summer.
Something I learned after training for my marathon is that I need to build more rest days into my program. I don't recover very quickly anymore. Once I begin this program, I'll shoot for 4 running days per week instead of the 5-6 days I was running last spring. I won't run as much speed work as I did in high school – maybe twice per week – but I'll average a few more miles per week, even with fewer runs. I'll keep up the strength work and maybe hit the bike trainer once a week.
Assuming my plan works, I should be ready for some fast(er) running at Ragnar next year. Then, if the foot is holding up, I'll transition into longer runs (still allowing for adequate recovery), with the hopes of either running a fall marathon or my first ultra.
If you're still awake and reading this, congratulations. I've even bored myself. But I gotta say that I'm excited to focus on something different for awhile. I always love a challenge and, while I'd love to jump back into some long, slow miles and hilly trails, I'm eager to see just how fast these old legs can turn over.
Of course, all of this is contingent on my [heavy sarcasm alert] always-compliant foot. In another month, there's a good chance I could be writing a book called Once A Runner*
*that title hasn't been taken, has it?