Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A Journey to a Place I Never Thought I'd get to

I remember reading about Mark Allen going to another place to avoid or get away from pain and suffering during a race.  I've never thought that I'd be capable of doing that, but today I may have found that place, at least for a little while.  I did a hard bike workout and then got on the treadmill for a run and began practicing my "brain training" to keep the twinges and pains and spasms at bay.  Well, about 10-15 minutes into my run, I realized that it was almost like I was somewhere else, in a way outside of my body, and just running.  I really tried to lock this in from the perspective of how I will feel towards the end of the California 70.3.  So, instead of responding to pain, spasms, discomfort, like I did at Boulder City (slowing down a little in order to keep the muscle spasms at bay), perhaps I could learn to override them and go to another place where there is no pain.  Anyway, something to practice.  

The irony is that all of a sudden, the injury that I suffered 3 weeks ago is now looking like a godsend.  I've not only trained through it, but I've learned new mental techniques to allow me to do so.  If I can transpose these techniques on race day, look out!

Another stressful day at work, but I was committed to leaving early and getting my workouts in this afternoon.  I managed to get out (leaving a pile on my desk for tomorrow) and get home in time to get in the bike and the treadmill workout.  I was supposed to play poker tonight, but my daughters have friends over and it was actually an opportunity to take my wife out to dinner and have some time together.  Couldn't miss that:)  Speaking of which, that's what I have to get back to:)

Monday, December 22, 2008

Who's smarter? My Brain or my Back?

Woke up this morning with some back soreness, nothing unusual for the last 2 1/2 weeks, but it always makes me wonder, why do I train so hard? Well, one reason is that if I were a couch potatoe, my back would be worse.

As I'm standing and brushing my teeth I get the dreaded middle low back "twinge from hell". This is a twinge that actually predates my piriformis spasm of 2 1/2 weeks ago. I've had this intermittently for some time. It lasts less than a second, but has an almost indescribeable feeling, like, if it lasted for even a few seconds, I'd be flat on my back without even an opportunity to prevent myself from going down. It's arguably the worst pain I've ever experienced, but for less than a second, I can live with it.

Now, as I'm a doctor, I have to analyze the situation. There is no pain down my leg, no numbness, no weakness. Check that. It shouldn't be my disc (I have a herniated lumbar disc). Hopefully, it's just a rogue muscle. I felt the same twinge two or three times during my treadmill workout yesterday, each time when I mistakenly landed on my heel. I ignored it during the treadmill run. That said, if I get the twinge while standing and brushing my teeth or on a 111 minute treadmill workout, if I'm going to have it, I'd rather it happened on the treadmill!

In reflection, I spent the morning after my workout helping to clean up the house prior to having a discussion group about our health care system at my house in the afternoon (for change.gov) and went to a family friends for a Hanukkah party last night and didn't get home until after 10pm. What I missed out on was a 30-60 minute nap that would have solidified a great workout in the morning. I really find these days that such a nap really helps me. Otherwise, I really am dragging by the afternoon/evening and the next day I'm not as fresh.

So, only time will tell if my brain really won yesterday or if my back is going to win this "battle":)

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Brain Training

Haven't blogged in a month (I realized when I went on the site today).  That's what my life has been like.  2 1/2 weeks ago, after a really hard effort doing muscle endurance work on the bike, my low back felt really tired and my piriformis went into spasm.  It's been a challenging time since then, alternating low back pain, buttock pain and iliotibial band pain and tightness.  on Wednesday at precisely 50 minutes into my treadmill session, my left IT band tightened up on me.  This is a little scary, as IT bands have a tendency to lock up at a fairly precisely appointed time.  On Thursday, it was tight and sore after 40 minutes.  So, it was with some trepidation that I began my treadmill run this morning.  The goal for to go 100 minutes, that's what my coach set for me to do.  However, any pain was supposed to get me to stop immediately.

With that in mind, not really, but it sounds good, I started reading "Brain Training for Runners" last night.  The idea that pain is something that starts in our brain and not in our muscles was fascinating.  So, as the inevitable twinges, tightness, and spasms would come about, I overruled them with my brain.  I literally visualized melting the spasm, relaxing the muscle, ignoring the pain. 111 minutes later, I completed my 13.1 mile treadmill run.  This was pyschologically important as I have a half marathon in 6 weeks.  Now I have no doubt about my ability to run the distance recovering from my latest physical malady.

Of better note, the run was entirely done in zone 1 and 2 and I managed to keep close to 8:20 pace.  This bodes well for my race goal of running just at or under 7 minutes/mile.  But, too early to start thinking about that.  

Years ago I went running with an ultramarathoner.  He talked about regularly checking every muscle in his body throughout a race and literally making sure that he would alternate different muscles throughout a race.  I kind of did this today as well, varying my speed by 0.1mph with regularity, thus assuring a very slightly different gait.  I would occasionally focus on my toes and feet and how I was landing.  That said, heel striking was NOT GOOD.  The few times I landed on my heel, my low back immediately felt like it was going to spasm.  This brain signal was probably good and instead of ignoring it, I focused on landing on the balls of my feet. Downhill running (while running on flat ground), like downhill swimming, is not a bad idea.

When I look back at the last 2 1/2 weeks, I can be quite happy.  I missed one workout (the day after my back was set off).  And while my coach adjusted my workouts, I put in more time than I ever have for this time of the year.  My HR and pace are going great in all three disciplines.  It's been a huge mental challenge, however, especially with end of year work issues (I need to take some vacation time).  But, that's what triathlon is all about to me, being sharp mentally.  Today's treadmill was all about the brain.  You don't run on a treadmill for 111 minutes without being focused ("The best of the Beach Boys" helps, but only so much).