Cape cod Trail Race – My first full marathon

It’s 12:30 p.m. Time to pack up the laptop. I just finished my poster presentation at the SPL25 symposium, spending the last 2 hours talking about Intraoperative Imaging in Neurosurgery. I was blessed to be doing what I love. I walk out and head past the Harvard Medical School building to enter my workstation at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Dam! I forgot to get a pair of jeans. I guess I’ll have to head to the pre race dinner in formals. I rushed to the bus station to catch my ride to Falmouth in Cape Cod.

I was nervous as hell. This was going to be my first 26 mile distance and my first trail race. No really, My first. I’d never run trails in training and the longest I’d run was 17 miles. To top that off the last couple of weeks I’d squeezed in a solitary 10 mile run. This was going to be painful.

I arrived a little past 6 to the dinner site. There were a ton of vegan options available. Oven baked potatoes (perfectly seasoned!) , pasta. We even got to hear from the legendary Geoff Smith, two time winner of the Boston Marathon ( marathon PB of 2:09:08 and PB for a mile at 3:55!). Not a bad evening. I sat next to a delightful old couple. Mind you, they seemed fitter then me. They were bikers, working on converting an old rail road into a bike path.  Dam I wish I’m that active when I’m at that age.

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“Man imposes his own limitations, don’t set any” –Anthony Bailey. Geoff Smith(left), two time winner of Boston marathon.

Bib collected. Check. Lets head back to the hotel. After settling in, it was time for another checklist. Hydration bottle. Check . Gels and Lara bars. Check. Clothes and shoes. Check. ‘Eat and Run’ on the audible app. Check. I normally hate to wear headphones during my runs. I like the peace and quiet. Just me and my thoughts. Running was a time to meditate. But I knew, I’d need some extra help tomorrow. As one of the chapter titles reads, ‘Pain only hurts’! Bring it on.

Morning of the race. Jitters! “I’m not ready for this” I thought to myself. Why am I doing this. ‘Sometimes you just do things’ as Scott Jurek’s father always said to him. Pre-race stretching and off I went. No time for doubts.

I wanted to get there early, to cheer on the runners in the other distance categories, who would be starting earlier then the full marathon group. I know how much running a race can mean to someone and hopefully a few cheers lets them know how awesome they are for doing this.

5,4,3,2,1. We’re off. The course starts in an open field. A 1.4 mile loop and we’re back to the start point. Now we take a different course and start the 10 k loops. We’re heading towards the trees. It’s rather windy, which was a greater incentive to head for the covers. Hop over an unused rail track and into the ‘Jungle’. The first climb came. I’d read Emilie Forsberg once comment it’s better to walk the slopes than run it. The time you save running a hill is not much as you slow down. The energy you save walking is immense.

Now the trail narrowed to a one man path. Jumping over roots, boulders, running sudden downhills. Moving left, moving right. It felt exhilarating. There was primal pleasure in running a trail. A sense of freedom from the menial tasks of civilized life(As exciting as it is being in a Neurosurgical OR, it felt menial today). This was my first true trail run. I’d tried to mimic the feeling; running on the unpavemented parts near the Charles and around Fenway in Boston. This was nothing like that.   I was trying to avoid falling, my mind focused on calculating every step I took. Then, SMACK! I tripped. I got up almost as soon as fell. No time to stop. It wasn’t that bad. Should I check the wound? Maybe later. I knew I had to make up ground early on, as I would inevitably slow down towards the latter part of the race. Passing the aid stations and the medical camp. No need to stop right now. Back to the start. Loop 2. It helped knowing the course now. I knew what to expect. A couple of runners passed me by. I passed a few. It was nice seeing people now and then. A few words exchanged encouraging each other to keep moving forward. Then you’re back in solitude. Loop 3, let’s go.

“I’m one of those people that you have to keep your eye on or i’ll wander off into the woods and forget to come back” ― Jack White. At the starting point of the race(left) and somewhere in the woods at mile 22 ish, I think(Right)

A big shout out to the organizers and volunteers. They were always greeting you with a smile and words of encouragement. The aid stations were well stocked and the pre race dinner and breakfast had a ton of vegan options to. They really made it a fantastic experience

I quickly grabbed a few slices of oranges at an aid station, and in a hurry I missed a trail marker. A km later I realized I was off the trail, when I noticed some horses in a stable. That’s new. Turn back. ughhh!!! The trail was actually very well marked, but somehow I missed it.  (does the extra km make me an ultrarunner now!)

Loop 4 was slow, it involved a lot of walking and running. I finally see the finish, I start running fast.  Gotta finish strong. DONE!

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“At mile 20, I thought I was dead. At mile 22, I wished I was dead. At mile 24, I knew I was dead. At mile 26.2, I realized I had become too tough to kill.” – Unknown. Me after completing the race. Did not think i’d be smiling or standing even!

In summary it’s a fairly flat course. There are a couple of steep incline’s but all of them pretty short. A good chunk of the course is on single trails, so having trail etiquette is important. Ask to pass runners, and let runners pass. It’s just polite.

Did I have this life changing experience running a full marathon? Maybe not. I’m glad at the progress I’ve made in a year and a half since I decided to go for a 10 km walk running for a whole minute somewhere in between. Trail running has got me excited though. I’m itching to give it a go again. I’m gonna try to head to the Middlesex Fells reservation this weekend, which is close to Medford. My journey back to the motel was accompanied by the same uber driver, who had dropped me to the race site. A war veteran he was a delightful man, who gave me a bottle of Gatorade and entertained me with some nice stories. I was promised a nice history lesson about America the next time I was in Falmouth. I’ll definitely be back. I hope to do the 50 K next year.

All in all, a super weekend. What were you upto?

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That four letter word

 

I finally feel back to normal after my frustrating bout with Iliotibial band syndrome (ITBS). The ease with which I manged to complete yesterdays 10 mile run makes the half marathon distance a  routine training run, which is a good thing given I have my first full marathon coming up in less than a month. Having never gone over the 17 mile mark, I’m planning one 20 mile run, hoping that should get me over the finish line (most likely with a lot of hurt).

I thought I’d try to discuss briefly how I dealt with ITBS (an injury I suffered late last year while running a half marathon) and how it’s opened me up to a whole new world of training.

What is ITBS?

Iliotibial band syndrome  is an overuse injury. It typically affects the outside of the knee. Classical symptoms include a very tender palpable point along the lateral aspect of the knee. After the acute phase of the injury, athletes complain of pain that typically starts midway into their run, with little to no pain at rest or on walking.

Why does it happen?

As mentioned it is an overuse injury that typically flares when one increases running mileage. It’s occurs because of constant compression of a pad of fat located under the IT band near the knee.

One of the leading causes of this problem are weak hips muscles. This is seen in people with a crossover running style

Bretta Riches does a fantastic job of  explaining the mechanics that goes into causing ITB. This is definitely worth a read!

What did I do?

  1. The first thing I did was get my knee evaluated from an expert. Because the pain was so bad and with my background in medicine I was fearing something more awful.
  2. One thing that I learned from this whole episode is to seriously weigh in the benefits of running through pain. If it’s a training run, it’s best to stop when there’s discomfort. If you stop at the first signs of ITBS without pushing that area into a full blown inflammation, your recovery time would drastically shorten to a few days or a week. Once the inflammatory stage sets in, trust me, the road to recovery is a long one.
    ( I by no means am suggesting not to push yourself beyond your limits, that’s what distance running is truly about. There is a fine line between discomfort related to fatigue and discomfort due to an injury. Experience really teaches you the difference.)
  3. Patience. It’s a tough word to hear. But from my experience it’s the only thing that really helps the recovery. It took me a good part of 2 and a half months to finally get over this injury. I have friends who’ve been suffering for close to a year. Although they have been constantly seeking treatment, it does prove to be a rather stubborn injury to get over.
  4. Stretching – That’s the most common advice I got for treating the injury. It does certainly help. I religiously stretched out my lower leg muscles twice a day for almost a month with extra emphasis to the ITB and even today make sure to stretch as regularly as possible.
    Here are some stretches for the ITB – Stretch1 Stretch2 Stretch3 
  5. Foam Rolling – This was one of the most painful things I have ever tried. Foam rolling your IT band out hurts a lot. It does get easier and less painful with time. While some people do argue foam rolling isn’t very effective ( Link found here), which to great extent does make sense, it does feel good after a long run (after you overcome the initial pain of-course). If it’s not causing harm, I don’t see anything wrong in doing it.
  6. Pain  and anti inflammatory medication – I never really took anti inflammatory medication for this except for the first few days after the acute pain had set in. This included 400 mg of ibuprofen once a day for about 4 days ( please consult your doctor before taking an anti-inflammatory. These medications can be harmful to the kidneys and if you’ve never taken them you could even be allergic to them) .
  7. Hip Strengthening – I think this is one of the best methods to prevent future flare ups of the same problem. There are some very simple exercises you can do to strengthen  your hips. The video can be found here 
  8. Gait modification – I do certainly believe having a forefoot gait is the most efficient and safest way to run long term. I was primarily a heel striker but have started incorporating forefoot running into my daily running routine. In order to do that you would have to avoid heavily cushioned shoes with a big heel to toe drop. Also make sure to ease into it, starting with a few minutes of your run and then eventually increasing the time. Forefoot running initially can give rise to achilles tendonitits which I did have an issue with. To avoid this I keep adding a few minutes of forefoot running and then transition back to my natural gait. The goal should be to have the toes touch the ground first with a minimal period of contact for the heels with the floor towards the end of a step. A good video to look at can be found here and here. If not just for ITBS, I think forefoot strikes still are the way to go to have a more efficient and faster run.
  9. While I was taking a step back from from running I did come to the realization that while my conditioning was allowing me to run longer, my body wasn’t ready for it. Simply running more does not solve the problem. Cross training is a very important part of being a better runner. I’ve started working on core strengthening and other exercises to make sure every part of my body is ready for the increased mileage. This should  definitely prevent the recurring injuries I get while running longer distance   (remember small imbalances or weakness in your muscles don’t pop up when your running a smaller mileage.) I use an app called freeletics which has a custom built coach to guide you through exercises that use your own bodyweight. Some exercises I do are push ups, sit ups, burpees, pull ups, mountain climbers and squats. The list just goes on. I wanted something I could easily do at home rather than have to visit a gym every time.
    Lesson learned – To be a good runner, I need to improve my overall fitness not just from the waist below.

 

I hope this article helps you in some way if your suffering from this dreaded four letter word. There’s nothing more frustrating than an injury. The key is patience and correcting all your muscle weakness. If you’ve had a similar injury I’d love to hear your experience in the comments section below. Until next time. Happy Running!

 

Another Vegan Running Blog!!!

I thought of changing things up a bit.  Maybe make this a more productive blog!! You can catch some of my earlier posts, although i’m hoping to go down a different route with future posts. So here it goes, presenting to you, THE KALE RUNNER!!!

Who am I? 

I am an aspiring ultrarunner, vegan blogger, newbie doctor (Yes, the one that pays better, although I hope to get a PhD someday), and neuroscience researcher! I’m originally from Mumbai recently relocated to Boston; flipping through brains, hoping to make my way into a neurosurgical residency program eventually.

What’s this blog about?

Chronicling my amateur attempts at becoming an ultrarunner (marathoner first. Hopefully soon!), information on a vegan lifestyle, and maybe something brain.

Why running?

Let’s back track a little. I’ve been an obese kid, a fat teenager and a very obese adult. Rewind August, 2014. Hitting a low point in life, health wise and personally, I though it’d be a good idea to start running. I’d always been fascinated with the idea. I came across a post on facebook from someone about the Tahoe 200. A Two hundred mile trail race seemed bizarre. A marathon seemed ridiculous enough. Actively seeking motivation, I headed to the nearest book store looking for a guru. There, shinning back at me was ‘Dare to Run’ by Amit Sheth. It was a signed copy too. I remember going out that evening for a walk and completing a run for a full minute. Now 5 half marathons later, considerably lighter and training for my first marathon, I thought I’d start writing this.

Why Vegan?

It was a video about the egg industry that got me thinking about animal farming. Up until, having grown up a vegetarian, I hadn’t really given any thought to the idea that my food choices may be causing a great deal of suffering. Then there came environmental impacts and health benefits. I read ‘Eat and Run’ by Scott Jurek, heard talks by Peter Singer, watched Forks over Knives and Cowspiracy. I’ll elaborate in detail in future blog posts.

Currently, I’m training for my first full marathon. I’m planning on writing a few posts on how I got here and a few posts on what my training aims to be like.

Like any sensible person who gives advice, I must add,

“The contents of this website such as text, graphics, images, and other material contained on the website (“Content”) are for informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice; the Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.  Always seek the advice of a physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website” .

Wait. I am a doctor. STILL always consult YOUR doctor. You are NOT my patient.

I’m experimenting with a Whole foods plant based diet ( In addition to being vegan, I try to cook most times without oil, sugar and salt. Really it’s not that tough and it’s a whole lot tastier) courtesy some great tips from some amazing people I’ve met in Boston and ofcourse having purchased the Instantpot, which makes cooking so much easier!

Next post – Dealing with that four letter word every runner hates. Stay tuned.

 

Not quite Ultramarathon Man!

Sadly, running seems to have taken a lesser priority in my life these days. That’s not to say I don’t run. 3-4 times a week, leisure runs, with no bearing on pace or the type of running(intervals, tempo…blah blah) is not classified as serious training. The only marathons I’m running are the ones involving my books. Even that like running, seems largely a mental game. Both require a certain discipline and endurance and repeated questions to oneself “why are you doing this?”. With the studying I can safely say “this will fill your bank accounts for all the destination marathons you have planned in the future”. Score! That’s motivation enough to ace this exam.

This exam hasn’t been the only reason my mileage has dropped. The God dam sun is to blame too. See the Mumbai heat is killing me. It’s hard enough to get by the day in this weather, can you imagine the internal protests my body has when i’m moving with a heart rate close to 150 bpm.

When you start getting good at something you start getting a little cocky. Not the wisest thing to do. But running seems to bring me crashing down every time I get carried away. Humbling experience, if you may.

In the marathon world, I’m still a novice. Having taken up running late last year, my focus has largely been on distance. I mean speed or different terrains, hardly cross your mind when your still learning to run long distance.  So when I completed my 3rd half marathon I was feeling pretty confident. 21km!!! pffft I could run that any given day. I’ll do it today, i’d boast. Then came the Kundalika river marathon. BAM!!! This race shattered all the overconfidence I seemed to have gathered. See previously all the training and races I’ve done were pretty much flat tracks. Who knew inclines could take the wind out of you. Lesson learnt I said. I still have improving to do.

But take away the inclines and I was still pretty proud of my progress. With all the weight loss and endurance I’d gathered in the last few months, who wouldn’t be right! So what, I’ll conquer them hills eventually. Little did I know there were other challenges waiting. That’s when there was another BAM!!! The Sun seemed to smile sadistically. See quietly, I was already dreaming of the Badwater Ultramarathon. How tough could it be? Tough, sure, but give it a couple of years and I should be ready. It being summer and the heat killing me, it seemed like a nice place to start. So I set out for a run. I felt like a 15 km run that particular day, something I had grown very confident of in the comfortable so called ‘winter’ months of Mumbai.   4 kms in and I was begging to stop. I carried on till 6. Bad day. We all have them. 2 days later, same result. After a week of practice I’m getting to 10 kms. One more hill to climb. That reminds me of what Mandela said:

“After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.”

The Ladakh marathon is what I plan to attempt next. With my exam finishing in early June. It should give me just enough time to build up some endurance to have a fighting chance. With plans to go the United States later this year to pursue the excruciatingly long training required to be Surgeon, I know if I don’t attempt Ladakh now, I wont for a few years. What’s the worst that could happen, a DNF (Alright, alright, I know for most of you runners that’s as good as a death sentence). But then again, I’ll still have an exciting trip to tell the grandkids about.

With my ego firmly crushed and any thoughts of venturing to Death Valley hidden in a dark corner of my brain, I realize how much I still have to gain. That’s not to say I’ve given up on Badwater or being an ultramarathoner, I’ve just realized how much hard work is left to do. Maybe, just maybe I’ll run on the Sun. (click on the link if you’ve never heard about the Badwater ultramarathon)