Monday, August 21, 2006

Dealing With Injuries - I

The Achilles Lament
Help! Help! It's my Achilles
That's hurting when I run.
Will you help me please,
To make my runs more fun?

The legendary Greek fighter,
Vanquished Hector, a Trojan.
My tendon, getting tighter,
Is what I fight on every run.
I know there's hope for me:
Some of you have been there.
I'm truly at a loss, all at sea;
Help me please, if you care.
Like Achilles, I don't want it to defeat me,
I'll do anything to cure it, whatever it may be

All of us, at some time or another, elite or not, have suffered some sort of a running/sports related injury that ends up making us take time off from the activity that we love.

Over the years, starting in March of 1996, I've experienced most of the common injuries that afflict runners. Stress fractures. Stress reactions. ITB. Shin splints. Tight hamstrings. Tight hip flexors. Tight quads. Achilles tendonitis.

How did I deal with them as they happened? It was always tough mentally. Not being able to run made me feel like I was missing a vital part of my life. I have, however, learned to read about and study the injuries in order to prevent them from occurring again. This has not only benefited my running but also that of the runners that I helped in my role as coach of Team Asha.

This was the injury that caused me the greatest emotional suffering. I had discovered Utopia in running. That was a land where nothing ever went awry. Until the day it all came crashing down around my ears. Pain on the outside of my right knee. A PCP advised me to stop running since he had diagnosed my problem as Chondromalacia Patella. No help there. He was busy trying to reduce insurance costs instead of helping me.

A physical trainer in my gym turned out to be my savior. He correctly diagnosed it as Iliotibial Band (Friction) Syndrome. Even after resting a couple of weeks (I was going out of my mind by then at not being able to run), the pain returned in as little as half a mile of running. I knew that this injury was not going away in a hurry and that I would have to tackle it head on.

I set about learning about ITB. Diligent stretching, biking and strengthening exercises eventually got me back to running in 4 months. I also had custom orthoses made and it is safe to say the ITB has not been a problem since I started wearing them in 1997.

Achilles Tendonitis
Acute Achilles tendonitis in my right foot sidelined me for 2 weeks in early 2002. By this time I had become an expert in diagnosing my problems and taking corrective/preventative measures to prevent their recurrence. I started on a program of strengthening my Achilles tendons with specific exercises. These exercises are described here and shown pictorially here. Did they ever help! AT has not really bothered me since.

Stress Reaction
A stress reaction in my left shin sidelined me for 3 weeks in early August 2003. I biked like crazy (including spinning classes) to keep my fitness up. I went on to run my marathon PR of 3:37 a couple of months later, up in Victoria, British Columbia.

These days I prefer to run at least once a week in a pool. This form of running has been prescribed for injured runners, of all levels, as a way of keeping their running fitness up. I tend to do speedwork in the pool. These workouts are so different from any running you will ever do, even on a trail. Absolutely non-impact but still able to tax the body and keep it on its toes. David Holt has a good Web page on pool running.

Over the years I have learned to ask the following questions about injuries, both mine and those of others (in my capacity as a coach the last 4 years):

(a) Did the pain come on suddenly? If so, are your shoes old? How many miles do they have on them?

(b) Knee pain? Just started a running program? 8 times out of 10, strengthening the quads will eliminate the pain

(c) Pain in the front of your shins (Anterior Tibial Stress Syndrome)? Strengthening by walking on one's heels will do the trick

(b) Are you landing on your heels when you run? Not advisable. Heel landing causes the body to brake the forward motion, leading to a slew of problems. Switch to a midfoot landing.

(c) So what did you do differently in the past few weeks before/while/after running?

(d) Ankle/arch problems? Loosen your shoe laces in order to permit the inside arch to have more room to do its stuff. Try lacing your shoes so that the foot does not slide forward. This lacing method (for people with narrow heels) is the last illustration (Lock Lacing) on

(e) The pain is where? Please check if any of the connecting muscles are tight. For example, these days, when I feel a bit of tightness in my Achilles tendons, I know that it's because of a slightly tight ITB which, in turn, is tight because of tight quads or tight hamstrings or glutes. Ergo, fix the source i.e. the quads or the hams or the glutes.

R (Rest) I (Ice) C (Compression) E (Elevation) are still valid in order to deal with injuries. They are not everything though. If the root cause is not tackled, the injuries might surface again. It is important to address the cause and to eliminate any problems caused by biomechanical imbalances brought on by an imbalance/tightness in musculature on the two sides of the body or from using the wrong kind of running shoes etc.

Core strengthening will go a long way in helping one run better. There are numerous sites out there that describe such exercises but my personal favorite is here.

Stretching regularly also helped me over the years. As did the use of a Foam Roller.

The following are resources for identifying and addressing some of the common running problems:


To be continued ...

Monday, August 14, 2006

24-Hour Run

Rashmi, Rajesh Agarwal & Sarita, Arul & Gayathri, Kalyan, Mohan, his Dad and Satyavati, Shalmali and Vidyamani, Anurag, Arpana, Dinesh, Anu & Raj, Vandi, Suchu, Anju, Antara, Meghana, Naina, Trisha, Nishad, Malhar, Sameer, Shaunak, Aseem, Sandhya Mohan, Deepak & Aruna, Abhijeet & Anjali, Arun Simha & Sowmya & Vibhas, Anil, Shekhar, Sunil & Renu, Rajeev & Renuka Char, Anu Mayuran & Ganesh Pattabiraman, Venkat Kalkunte, Kaarthik, Pavan, Kasturi, Pragati, Samanvitha.

The names of all the people who showed up on the tracks in West Valley College in the 24-hours that Anil and I spent between 7:15 a.m. Saturday and 7:15 a.m. Sunday.

To say that Anil and I were moved would be an understatement. This outpouring of support and love was incredible. Most of them shared one or more laps with us. We are indeed blessed to have such friends on our team.

Friday, August 11
I left work early to pick up Nishad, Anu's son, from his school. Anu and Raj had left for Santa Rosa around 2 p.m. Anu was doing the Half Aquabike (1.2 miles swim, 56 miles bike) on Saturday. I was spending the night in her home. Vandi, along with Anu's dad, stepmom and the twins (Antara & Meghana) came over in the evening. We watched a Hindi movie, Iqbal, until 11:30 p.m.

I just could not sleep that night. It had nothing to do with nervousness. I think the room I was in was unusually warm in the beginning. It finally cooled down once I opened the windows. The dogs were restless too. They woke me up at 4 a.m. with their pattering down the stairs in order to go use the backyard.

Saturday, August 12
I finally called Anil at 4:30 a.m. to ask him if he minded starting an hour later, at 7 a.m. He agreed and that's when I finally got an hour or so of uninterrupted sleep.

I was at the tracks by 6:35 a.m. By the time Anil arrived and we moved all our supplies from the cars to the tracks, it had become 7:10 a.m. We posed for a couple of photographs (Rashmi was the photographer) before starting at 7:15 a.m. on the dot.

We were not bothered about total mileage. Our purpose behind the whole endeavor was to (a) learn what it felt like to be on the move for a day, (b) experiment with different foods and drinks along the way, and (c) find out how to keep awake during the wee hours of the morning.

We learned a lot along the way.

Anyway, we used my Timex Ironman watch (100 laps) and Anil's watch (100 laps too) to keep track of the laps. Since almost 95% of our running was in Lane 8, where 4 laps equalled 1.12 miles, it would be relatively simple to multiply the eventual number of laps by 1.12 to get the total distance. We wound up doing 218 laps for a total of 61 miles

Every 100 laps, our plan was to reset the watches and start over again.

The first hour went by in a flash. Rashmi, Anil's wife, took off right after we started to go and get us coffee. She came back around 8 a.m. with coffee and eventually left around 9 a.m. for a root canal. Brave lady!

Rajesh Agarwal was the first one to show up, around 8:45 a.m. He gave us company until 11:45 a.m. Along the way we talked about his upcoming first Ironman race in Ironman Canada. He is a very strong athlete and I am sure he will do very well.

The scripting could not have been better had we employed professionals to write the story of our run. Arul showed up promptly and he ran with us from 11:45 a.m. until 3 p.m. Those 3 hours were the hottest. A slight breeze, now and then, helped us cool a bit but we relied primarily on our Cool Off bandanas, partially filled with ice, to keep our necks cool. They worked like a charm. Before we knew it we had finished a fourth of our run! Rashmi, around 1 p.m., had brought us pasta and soup from Pasta Pomodoro. I could not eat much at all because of the heat. I put the pasta into a cooler for later consumption.

We had decided to try Clip2, an energy drink supposed to help ultra runners. We mixed Succeed salt tablets (350 mg of Sodium per S!cap) and Cytomax with the Clip2 and kept drinking that concoction pretty much through the day and for the better part of the night. Now I know what to use for Rio Del Lago!

Around 4 in the afternoon, Vidyamani and Shalmali, runners from Team Asha 2005, showed up to offer their support. Vidyamani ran a few laps with us. They finally left around 6 p.m. In the middle Mohan, Anu's brother, showed up with his Dad and stepmom. They were on their way back home from a day spent in San Francisco and they dropped by to check up on the 2 nuts!

What a day Anu had! She swam the 1.2 mile swim in an awesome time of 52 minutes. Her 56-mile bike ride, which included long stops at every aid station AND a semi-nasty fall off her bike, was completed in 4:33. She too will do very well in her upcoming Half Ironman in Miami in November. She brought coffee before heading home to shower and relax a bit before returning.

The late afternoon was much more comfortable. We could feel the temperature dropping perceptibly. The breeze had picked up a bit too. This is when Vandi, Suchu and Anju showed up with all the children - Antara, Meghana, Nishad, Malhar, Sameer, Shaunak, Naina and Trisha.

Around the same time, Anurag and Arpana (2005 runners) showed up along with a 2006 runner named Dinesh to log miles on the track. The husband and wife ran just over 12 miles in total while Dinesh did 10. The track was beginning to get crowded! It was a great boost to our spirits. We had been looking forward, especially during the noon to 3 p.m. period, to the cooling off of the day and, when it came, it felt so good!

The ladies left around 7 p.m. with the children. This is when Anu came back to spend some time with us again. Rashmi brought us dinner around 8 p.m. Simply the most fantastically tasty pizza from Cicero's!! We loved it so much that we asked Mohan, who was planning to come to the tracks around 9 p.m., to pick up a couple more.

By now there was starting to be a steady stream of people coming and going from the tracks. A co-worker of Anil's, Aseem (also part of Team Asha 2006), brought more ice for us and was with us for about an hour. Sandhya Mohan (2005 team) stopped by to offer encouragement. Deepak and Aruna dropped by too. Abhijeet and Anjali showed up and spent many hours with us.

Shekhar Hemnani showed up around 10 p.m. and was with us until almost 2 a.m. Sunil and Renu spent a few hours with us. Rajeev Char and Renuka joined the party around 11 p.m., straight from the Toyota dealer where they bought a brand new Camry. They were there till just past 1 a.m.

Sunday, August 13
Anu Mayuran and her husband Ganesh brought us beer around midnight. I chugged down a warm Gordon Biersch Marzen before resuming the laps.

Anil had been bothered by a swollen right foot all evening. He finally decided to chuck his shoes and run in his socks the rest of the way. He put on flip flops in the early hours of the morning (around 2 a.m.) after we decided to walk the rest of the hours until 7 a.m.

I took off my shoes and put on Teva Wraptors (a trail running sandal of all things!) for a few hours. My original intention had been to try them in RDL in the latter stages of the race (after 80 miles). They seemed to work quite well. I will try them out a few more times in the remaining days before the race. I was starting to feel a bit sleepy by now. I popped a NoDoz as did Anil. I think it worked. I had to pop another one around 4 a.m. in order to conquer the last wave of sleepiness.

Venkat, Anju's husband, got us well needed coffee at 2 a.m. We had been joined by Kaarthik, Kasturi and Pavan by then. They left around 4 a.m. Right around 2:30 a.m.Pragati, having flown in on Friday after 2 weeks in Tuscany, joined us. She gave us much needed support until 5 a.m. Venk left around 3 a.m. Kaarthik, Shekhar, Pavan and kasturi left soon after. Sam and Anju showed up around 4 a.m. It was thus Pragati, Sam, Anju, Anil and I who formed the cavalcade around the track from 4 a.m. until 5:30 a.m. Anju left around 5:30 a.m.

Sam, Anil and I welcomed daybreak at just past 5:45 a.m. The sky gradually lightened as Helios chased Selene back into her boudoir.

Anu brought her cheerful and bubbly personality to the track at 6:15 am. We decided to stop the laps at 6:30 a.m. We then spent the next 20 minutes cleaning up and carrying our stuff up the steps to our cars. We were about to leave at 7 a.m. when Vidyamani, Shalmali, Abhijeet and Anjali showed up with cameras and a Finish line banner.

Both Anil and I posed in front of the banner while numerous photographs were taken.

It was a hungry and happy throng of people that sat around Anu's dining table at 7:45 a.m., eating the delicious breakfast Anju, Gayathri and Arul had made for us.

How fortunate Anil and I are that we have such loving people in our lives. They give so selflessly that it humbles me and makes me realize that the world is filled with more loving and kind people that most people think.

Running round and round on a track for that long is hard on the body. My right arch hurt as did the outsides of both my knees (ITB pain). I hope that RDL will be a different story altogether.

Did Anil and I have any problems mentally? Nary a one. The longest we had spent on our feet in a race was the 17 hours in TRT 50. We were confident of being able to spend an additional 7 hours without any worries whatsoever.

Running on trails is so much more fun that I look forward to Rio Del Lago and know, deep in my heart, that I will have fun doing it. Whether I finish the race or not will not be something I will worry about. If I finish, so be it. If not, so be it too. Que sera sera.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Yasso 800s

I started serious speedwork in Jan 2001. My then coach, Tom McGlynn (, used to put me through the paces with hard workouts. All that labor paid off in 2002, 2003 and 2004 when I ran Personal Bests from 5K all the way up to the Marathon.

It's been 2 years now since I stopped doing any sustained speedwork. I decided, a few weeks ago, to restart.

This time around I decided to forego traditional VO2Max & Lactate Threshold (LT) workouts. Instead I chose to test the efficacy of something I had heard and read about last year.

Yasso 800s is what the repeats are called.

The first workout was 2 weeks ago. I decided to start very conservatively. 4x800 was what I was going to do. It was a hot Tuesday afternoon. I had a friend do 6x400 while I did my workout. My splits were a rather hard 3:40, 3:39, 3:39 and 3:40. I had deliberately chosen 3:40 as the target marathon time. I don't believe I am in that kind of shape but I can always think big can I not?

There was a hiatus of 1 week before my next workout, this past Tuesday. I decided to 4x800 again at 3:30 pace. This time around, the workout was a lot harder. My splits were 3:31, 3:30, 3:29 and 3:28. Curiously enough, the hardest part was not the last few meters but the section from 200 to 300m. Very strange.

I want to try and run the Helen Klein 50m in a time that's at least 60 minutes faster than the 10:12 I did last year. I also want to try and run the California International Marathon in Sacramento on Dec 3 in under 3:50 if I can. It's been some time since I've run a sub-4 hour marathon and I have lost confidence in my ability to do so of late. This is because I decided to devote most of last year and this year to running ultras at the back of the pack.

Stay tuned about the Yasso 800s.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Tour de Peninsula

Last night my friend called me and asked me if I wanted to accompany her, her husband and her 10 year old son in the annual Tour de Peninsula bike ride today. They were planning to do the 33-mile ride.

I had planned to do between 30 and 40 miles anyway so I agreed. I reached Redwood City at just past 8 am. I parked in a K-mart parking lot, about a mile from the start.

The first thing I did was to go and register for $40. I soon found my friend and her family in line to start. We were among about 150 odd cyclists making the 9 am start. Starts were in waves (I think), with the first people having gone at 8 am. We were soon off. After the first mile her husband took off with her son and she and I brought up the rear.

The course was hilly. The first major hill, a mile long one with an average grade between 7-9%, was up Ralston Ave. We crested soon and found her husband and son at the first aid station on the top of the hill. I chomped down a Powerbar and drank some water. I also used the port-a-john and we were off again.

Ralston Ave becomes Polhemus Road on the other side of I-280. The descent down Polhemus was a blast. We soon made the turn onto Crystal Springs Road, a mile long climb (3-5% grade) up to the South entrance to the Sawyer Camp trail. The rail had been closed for the race and it was a blast negotiating turns at 16-18 mph without having to worry about any oncoming traffic, on foot or otherwise.

We were soon at the other end of Sawyer Camp, 6 miles from the South entrance and onto Skyline Blvd. We went 280 again and onto the descent back to the South Gate of Sawyer Camp trail and beyond. The descents were so enjoyable. I reached speeds in excess of 40 mph today on some of them.

We were soon biking on Canada Road. Made a left turn up Edgewood for the last climb of the race and then it was a breakneck descent again for the next mile. A few more miles and we made the turn into Sequoia High School for the finish.

We finished the race at just past 12 noon. 3 hours for 33 miles. Not bad.

Her husband and her son came in about 15 minuts after us. Her son is an amazing athlete! He biked 40 miles (he added another 7 miles AFTER finishing the race) in his first ride of anything over 15 miles. What an kid!! He is indeed his mother's son. She has done 6 marathons and 1 50K. She is currently training for the Miami Half Ironman.

After eating of some of the goodies in the finish area and picking up my T-shirt, I got on the bike with the intention of adding a few miles before going home.

Few miles? It turned out to be another 17 miles!!! I got back to my car with the odometer reading 50.09 miles! Holy smokes!! I sure am obsessive about these large numbers am I not???

My legs were not feeling as good as they had the Sunday before but they did not feel all that bad either. A good sign I should think.

Anyway, all of this biking is surely going to help me next month when I attempt to finish my first 100-mile run (Rio del Lago, Sep 23-24).

We shall see.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Running Obsession?

Do I have a running obsession?

Someone read my last post and e-mailed me in private. They wondered if my life lacked balance i.e. was running dominating it too much? Even though I replied that I had ample balance in my life, the question got me thinking.

Running Is Life. Everything Else Is Just Waiting.

How beautifully someone put it long ago. I read it many, many years ago and it stuck in my mind. Whoever wrote that felt like I do. I wake up in the morning and I start to plan when and where I'm going to run. How much. With whom. Even work pressures do not dominate my thoughts like running does.

I wait everday to be free again, to feel my body warm up with every passing step, to feel my breathing settle into an even rhythm, to feel my muscles move fluidly as I power up a hill, to spend an hour alone with my thoughts and my feelings ...

An obsession? Maybe.

Let's examine it some more.

In the early 90s, when I started running really long distances in Muscat, Oman, I used to go for weeks and weeks without rest days. Friends of mine can attest to the fact that I would be unavailable for any kind of activity between 6 pm and 8 pm which is when I would do my daily runs. If I were unable to run that day for some reason (rare but it did happen occasionally), I would be irritable and crochety. I used to schedule life around running.

Obsession? Sure.

These days I am wiser and more "balanced" about my running. If I miss a day or two, I am more rational about the loss of the workout. I realize, and correctly so, that the rest will do me a world of good. I no longer schedule life around running. If there is a run on the cards for that day, I will slot in in when I can.

Obsession? Probably not.

I used to be paranoid about missing a run for fear that I would gain weight. There were days when I would feel tired, from not having recovered enough from prior workouts, but would still head out for the daily 5-8 miles. It's a wonder that I did not have a breakdown between 1993 and 1996.

Obsession? Certainly.

I HAVE gained weight. All of 10 lbs in the past 2 years. Some of it muscle. Some of it fat. So what? I do still look in the mirror and notice only that which is ugly - a small roll of fat around my midriff. So what? I have my running and my biking and my swimming to help me control weight gain but I often neglect to exercise protion control. That should explain the roll of fat. Nobody is perfect. Right?

So am I obsessive about running? Probably not.

Thinking about all of this has made me realize that my current increased involvement with running has to do with new goals and new horizons that have opened up in the past year. Like a child who is taken to a brand new playground, I am fascinated by the new vistas I see spread in front of me. My horizon has expanded from 26.2 miles to almost infinity. There is no limit to how far I want to see or how much I want to travel.

THAT is what has re-energized my running. THAT is my obsession! Running as a means to explore these new lands. Lands here, of course, being synonymous with areas of my mind, my personality and my being that I am discovering like never before. Lands called Determination, Persistence, Commitment, Motivation and Equanimity. Equanimity to accept a DNF with the same feelings as a Successful Finish.

I still read a lot. I still listen to music. I have this new interest called Blogging! I still write poetry. I still compose complex puzzles. I'm happier than ever before.

My life DOES have balance.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Why Do I Run?

The texture of the early morning dew,
Under my naked feet as I traverse
The green meadow that stretches out of view,
Is so sensual, it moves me to verse.
What would I do were I to lose running?
Denied the simple pleasure of motion,
My soul would wither, like a vine ailing
From a pestilence its youth does sicken.
The spirit would droop, the will to live flag,
Days would go by in utter agony;
Long, motionless hours would seem to drag:
Not a fate to wish on an enemy.
So every panting breath I now treasure,
Each step spent running I now hold dear.

I have often thought about this question over the years.

I though I knew the answer 15 years ago when I quit smoking. I took up running only as a means of weight control. For a year I ran the same 2 mile route 4-5 times a week. It was only when I increased the distance to just over 5K that I started feeling the effects of what people refer to as The Runner's High. More about what may be responsible for this feeling here on Scott Dunlap's blog. I was hooked.

These days, after almost 15 years of constant running, I have come to realize that it is more than mere endorphins or anandamide in my brain that compel me to put sole to earth and cover long distances. Here are some thoughts. Would love for you people out there to add your own experiences.

The Horizon & Nature
Running is about using one's own power to achieve something.

All human actions have "horizons". Man's desire to explore resulted in that first pair of feet that went past the edge of the forest or across to the other side of the valley. It is in our questing nature to see what lies over the far line dividing the Sky from the Earth.

Running is as elemental as it gets in our need to take on Nature mano-a-mano. No mechanical aids. No fancy gadgets. Just the strength in our legs, the desire in our hearts and the motivation to fuse those two together.

Master & Commander
Above all else, it is a journey, a voyage of discovery.

Like Columbus, I too set out, at the start of every run, not knowing what gales will batter my spirit or what waves will crash against my frail body. All I leave with are the strength of my body and of my mind. On that journey I will encounter ferocious storms that will sap strength. On that journey I will encounter beautiful islands that will lift my spirits. I am my own Master and Commander. I am a sailing crew of one.

I will come out of the ordeal stronger, both in mind and in body.

Running Is Life
Every tribulation that we take on in life makes us that much stronger. Running symbolizes life for me. Running teaches me how to live life as it should be lived - with enthusiasm, courage and an "always-can-do" attitude.

I used to advise the runners I coached about how running and life are interchangeable. The lessons learned from one are entirely applicable to the other.

Many lessons has running taught me. How tough I am. How frail I am. How beautiful Earth is. How fortunate I am to be able take on Nature and yet be a part of it. How naively confident I am at the start of a 50-miler or a 100K. How proud I am at the end of having conquered yet another summit. How blessed I am that I am part of a larger community that feels like I do.