Thursday, March 24, 2011

Jef talks busy schedules and the gods' treatment of hubris

I remember the Chicago Triathlon last August. I did the triple, which meant a supersprint on Saturday, a sprint first thing Sunday morning and then an Olympic-distance triathlon pretty much right after that. With 8,000 racers, the start-finish-transition area was pretty big. Huge. Enough that the racing seemed easy compared to all the work getting from one race to the next.

I’m actually headed back to Chicago, on a train (sans wireless) right now. Tonight (Thurs, March 24, 6:00) I will be the keynote speaker for the Chicago Triathlon Club’s season kickoff party. 
  • (You’re invited even if you’re not a club member, and apologies for not announcing it sooner. It’s at Buddy Guy’s Legends in the South Loop. $20 to cover the food, and we’ll be selling and signing both Frazz books and Trizophrenia.) More info at at

And finally, I’ve got some time to write. Which, boy, do I owe you. In particular, I owe you the latest news on my
Boston Marathon training:
Or, it’s true what they say about gods and hubris

The run-up to Boston is not as good as it could be. It might even be bad.

 My running shoes have not touched pavement since the end of February. They didn’t touch much pavement in December, January and February, either. There was too much ice and snow and slush in the way, and that seems to be the genesis of the problem. That kind of surface overworks the hip stabilizers after a while, leaving you vulnerable to that one time you slip and catch yourself just wrong and find yourself in some trouble.

Life was great. I was hitting my mileage and my target times with ease and it was getting easier, in spite of rough winter and rougher road-commission budget cuts. And then, just as we were about to get into the marrow of the training program, that one slippery tempo run, the slip, the twinge in the hip flexor tissue.

No biggie. This is what I hired a coach for. And coach Luke’s advice: Sounds like bursitis or tendinitis. That was my guess, and Luke told me what I wanted to hear: As the brilliant exercise physiologist Dr. Tim Noakes says, you can pretty much run through any inflammation that’s not Achilles tendon inflammation without further damaging things. Keep running; it’s up to you how much pain you can tolerate.

I seem to be able to tolerate some pain. I don't say this to brag, but the gods do seem to be treating me as guilty of hubris. The gods do not like hubris.

Let me emphasize Luke is not at fault here. If there’s a guilty party, it’s me, for hearing the parts I wanted to hear a little too enthusiastically while dismissing equally valid advice from others – or even from Luke, had I chosen to listen. So I ran the Mid-Michigan Track Club’s annual Tombstone 10, a punishing, hilly winter test of ten 1-mile laps around the Mt. Hope Cemetery in Lansing. Nailed my splits, faster each lap, and never really got close to my lactate threshold (kind of a runner’s redline), even with the steep hills. And the pain didn’t get worse. Tuesday’s speedwork, same thing. No better, no worse. Thursday tempo, same. Sunday’s 20-miler … oops. I was done running for a while. I was done walking normally for a while.

It was time to consult medical help. The running-savvy chiropractor recommended by the elites of the Hansons/Brooks Distance Project deemed my alignment good, and the x-rays and MRI he ordered confirmed Luke’s and my suspicions: No stress fracture, just lots and lots of fluid, presumably (rather obviously, to senses) inflamed. I followed up with a visit to Dr. Jeff Kovan at Michigan State University Sports Medicine. He is a superb physician and an equally nice guy. He has guided me from train wreck to healthy many times before, and he squeezed me in again during a busy time (he is the MSU basketball team’s physician) to take things from there.

The course of prednisone he prescribed may or may not have helped; it definitely wasn’t any kind of magic bullet. Probably no such magic bullet exists. Patience and focused strengthening would be the correct, if more difficult, approach. So my physical therapist and I are doing all the undignified exercises to shore up those abused and failed stability muscles while the damaged stuff heals. I still can’t run, but I’ve been keeping up with the training program, meting out my efforts based on time and heart rate rather than distance and pace. My heart and lungs work fine. I’m just now starting to walk without a limp. My hip flexors might work by Patriots Day, and if they do, I can will my legs to the finish line from there. Three and a half weeks to go.

It does sound bad, doesn’t it? But maybe not.

It’s not what I had planned for Boston – who races Boston to finish it, anyway? – but once I gave in, lowering my standards turned out to be a lot less painless than, say, that dumb 20-miler. You know, it’s Boston. The very best will be there. And while I had to show a certain degree of competence to be allowed in, I’m still a middling-to-decent runner. It’s not like I’m contending for an age-group podium in any marathon, let alone that one. So what am I going to do: Jeopardize my whole triathlon season to finish in the middle of the same huge pack a little sooner?

No. Qualifying was huge. Starting the race will make it real. Completing it will give me permission to proceed to the merch booths and purchase my official Boston Athletic Association bragwear. And when I show up somewhere in my spiffy Boston Marathon jacket and someone asks me what my time was, well, I’ll just try and steer the conversation to personal bests. I have one that got me to Boston. I’m already aiming to notch a new one in Detroit in October. It should go better. My core will hold my hips together better. And even in Michigan, we don’t get a lot of snow, ice and slush in August and September.


Anonymous said...

Jef-my wonderful husband has qualified 2 times for Boston. The first BQ he justified the expense of traveling to Boston because he had always wanted to qualify for Boston & just wanted to race it once. The second BQ he justified the expense of traveling to Boston because he wanted to run a BQ time at Boston. He is now attempting to BQ again, as the 2BQ race was a disaster. PLEASE take my advice, your BQ counts for 2 years. Go next year when you can run a competive race. Plus, we should be there to watch you race!

Liz H. said...

Squee, I can't believe the Boston Marathon is coming up and you're going to be in it! How exciting is that? (Very!)

I hope the weather cooperates and everything goes smooth for you.

Netagene said...

I've been keeping up with you via Frazz and Jane Plainwell and the kids! I don't run, and because of lack of depth perception, I can trip on level ground. Good luck at Boston!

Joe said...

You qualified that makes you an elite runner. Most people can't even run a marathon. So depending how you look at it. Is Boston a race or a 26.2 victory lap? Joe

Tom said...

Not a continuation of Boston talk, just a thank you for what you do. It brings a smile to lots of faces. Enjoy Tour of Flanders?

Cort the Sport said...

The second-to-last paragraph? I've given myself the same pep talk. It doesn't matter, it still sucks. I too was dreaming of the jacket and the whole experience till a stress fracture followed by drop foot in Jan/Feb leaves me happy to be running even a little. While I'm glad for the pressure of Boston to be off so I can recover out from under SUCKS and you are allowed to be pretty miffed about it and even sulk a bit. Now the real job - getting healthy again!! I hope to see you at Luray!

Jef Mallett said...

You guys are all great -- I'm overwhelmed by the support. Seriously.

Jef Mallett said...

Cort the Sport: I have to say this, and probably in more than just a reply. I have a LOT of #1 favorite triathlons, including of course Luray. But no triathlon I've done has given me so much instant and terrific fellow-racer connection as my weekend in Luray. And it's 500 miles away! I can't make it back there this year, but it's high, high, high on my list for future years. You guys are fantastic.