Injury or just training pain? My least-favorite running mystery

A new pair of Brooks PureConnect: Hopefully, the fix to my pain

New Brooks PureConnect on top, old on bottom.

Back in the summer, the inside of my right knee got an attitude with me. I babied it with some ice. I stopped tucking it under me and sitting on it funky in my cubicle. I got better about warming up. I chest-bumped it, all “Get with the program, knee! This marathon is happening, like it or not!” It eventually stopped hurting, and I kept on a’runnin’.

Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago. An old sesamoid injury in my left foot began flaring up. By flaring, I mean the bottom of my foot underneath my big toe felt shattered every time I took a step. But that injury is an old friend; familiar.

Then came inside ankle pain right above it. Not familiar.

Was I running in the wrong kind of shoes (the lightweight Brooks PureConnect)? Was this just part of getting my body ready to do something it’s never done before?

I didn’t care about my knee injury as badly because I had time. But when I had to take I-don’t-know-how-many ibuprofen during my 19-mile run that turned into an 18-mile run this past weekend because my foot was shot, with just five weeks to go, I knew I had to figure something out. This was an unknown that could flush all my training for the Dallas Marathon — my first full — down the crapper.

I researched shoes and paid Luke’s Locker in Dallas a visit with the intent to buy a more cushioned shoe. A helpful guy there straightened me out. He said that if I liked running in a light shoe and that it’s only been recently that the pain had begun, it wasn’t the lightness of the shoe. People run marathons and ultras barefoot, after all. And if I gave my body a heavier shoe now, it might be mad at me in a different way.

When I told him I’d been running in my Brooks PureConnects since April, that was it — the foam sole was packed down from use, and that pair was simply done. I walked around in the store in a new pair, and hello, huge difference.

I bought them. Hopefully, that will do the trick. My biggest concern is that I won’t be able run the race because of injury, or that I’ll injure myself on the day-of trying.

I’d gotten really familiar with what I need to run a good half: what clothes to wear in what temperature, what aches I know will go away and what should be minded, how much hydration to carry for what distance.

But, marathon training is a new frontier. That comes with working through a whole new set of unknowns.

How I learned to hydrate every day

Drinking fluids adequately and consistently has been a running game-changer

Not experience. Not a new running bra. Not meth. The reason I’m running better now than I ever have is because I’ve finally learned to hydrate — and like it.

I’ve changed my water-drinking ways, and I’m certain that is what’s fueling my newfound energy during runs. I don’t have numbers or intake formulas (or a clinical certification, FYI), but here’s my water story.

Tasty waters taught me to hydrate

Meet my new best friends.

Hydration hang-up

I have always haaaaaated drinking water. Hate it-hate it. Only when I was well over the line of thirst would I ever actually welcome any water into my mouth. Not just water; drinking anything has always been secondary for me. I could go an entire meal and not sip one drink of anything. If I ever needed to fall asleep, I would simply imagine a glass of water from the faucet. Instant zzz’s.

When training for races, or just willy-nilly running in the Dallas heat, you kind of have to drink water. For past training runs, I’d bring a hand-held bottle or Camelbak of iced tap water, sometimes with a Nuun tablet. I’d drink — during my runs. I passively declared hydrating during a run, and whatever incidental water from fruit, my morning coffee, etc., to be enough. I never gave a second thought to hydration IRL.

Fast forward to this bout of training, for my first marathon. When I started on April 8, I was starting back up after the longest break  that I’d taken in a long time (besides one-off quick runs here and there). More than a year. I really feeling like I was at a deficit, and hot weather was already rearing its head. I felt behind, like a newbie. Maybe it was desperation, but I was ready to reassess my approach and find any sort of edge to help me feel in control of my performance. I didn’t know what that edge was yet, but I was open.

My husband is working on his kinesiology degree, and one day he mentioned a class discussion that I had never thought much about: Hydration around the clock, especially in the preceding days, is one of the most important aspects to a successful run. It just clicked.

Figuring out a solution

I had finally ID’d a big, missing component in my running. But the solution couldn’t be simply “drink more water.” Knowing that I needed to hydrate all day didn’t mean I’d magically like it. But I had to find a way to give this new discipline a chance to take root. To succeed, I was going to have to find a way to like the thing I hated.

You gotta hydrate

This used to be my insides.

I started with asking myself why I disliked water so badly in the first place. It ended up that it was really the taste and feel of tap water that I hated. I like bottled water just fine. Why? The water inside is purified and distilled. It’s got nice mouthfeel. But I’m too cheap to spring for a big dispenser/cooler, and I’m not going to continuously buy a gob of, like, 16 ounce bottles every time I go to the store. I wanted the nice-mouthfeel water, but I didn’t want to pay for it.

It dawned on me that if I boiled a bunch of water on the stove in a pot or tea kettle and let it cool, that might be the same thing. Right? Wouldn’t you know it — it sure was. That basically gave me actual, you know, water. Regular old God-made water. No metal or chemical taste. It felt soft in my mouth, not “rough.” I felt kind of stupid for just then realizing that that’s what boiling water does, but it was a significant revelation for me.

I also have a weird thing about putting hot water (especially just-boiled) into plastic. It just makes me feel like ingesting hot liquid steeped in plastic might make me wake up with three arms one day. But I needed receptacles to hold all this boiled H2O. I went to Home Goods and bought two medium-sized glass pitcher-bottle hybrids. After the water cooled, I poured it into one one of the pitchers. That’s the sealed pitcher I keep on the counter; I don’t like cold water unless I’m hot. This gives me a pitcher of fresh, easily-visible and accessible, room-temperature water.

In the past I had seen on recipes on Pinterest for, say, sticking sprigs of mint in your water, or star anise, or every imaginable combination of fruit, herb and even vegetables. Surely there’s a parody account somewhere that shows how to jazz up your water with twigs, leaves, an entire ham, cocaine. Anyway, the pictures of infused and detox waters were intriguing enough to file away in my brain’s “good to know” section, and now I was in need of that inspiration. I normally dislike lemon in my water — sour water, how delicious — but the pins that suggested pairing lemon and cucumber together always seemed right on. I sliced up a handful of both, put them into the other glass pitcher, and filled it up with the rest of the cooled, boiled water over it.

I had found my personal formula. I actually wanted these waters. The pure, fresh, no-fuss water on the counter and the bottle of chilled, lightly-infused water were the solutions to my hydration problem.

Hydration reformation

I can’t get enough of these waters. Now I just grab a glass of whichever one I’m in the mood for every time I wander into the kitchen. It took finding a way to actually like hydrating well every day to actually do it.

  • Now I like starting my day with a glass of water. In the past, drinking a glass of water in the morning would have been nauseating.
  • I sometimes take a lidded mason jar full of infused water to work. I keep it in the breakroom fridge until I’m ready to drink it.
  • I drink a full glass when I get home from work, then again with dinner, then later before bed.
  • I also splurge on bottles of Vitamin Water Zero (orange and lemonade are my favorite) at the store, especially when they’re 10 for $10. I take one to work almost every day, too.
  • At work, I now fill up my glass two-thirds of the way with cold water cooler water, then add a dash of hot dispenser water to bring it up to room temp.
  • With the infused water: No squeezing of the lemon; just gentle placing. Unless you like sour water; I do not. Sometimes, I’ll just do cucumber. Since that pitcher contains produce, it goes in the fridge. Even though I don’t care for chilled water, normally, my brain makes an exception since there’s actual food sitting in it.
  • I don’t count the number of ounces I intake. I’m tracking calorie intake, mileage — I have enough things to track right now. I just know that I’m drinking way more water during my non-running hours than I used to, especially the day before a run. I don’t worry about drinking too much because I’m confident my fluid intake hasn’t increased that much.
  • I’m a late bloomer. I realized the connection between pre-hydration and performance way back in 2010 — remember when you could write two sentences and call it a blog post? — but it’s just now hooking me.

Results

I only have my anecdotal experience to report. But I can guarantee you, now I only long-run bonk when I’ve hydrated poorly in the previous 24 to 48 hours. I’ve gotten lazy a few days here and there, and I can definitely tell a difference during runs that followed. I’ve gotten to where I can feel it deep in my skin and my muscles that my body isn’t hydrated. I never had anything to compare that feeling with before because I used to always live life in a constant state of lack. Parched was my body’s normal.

Nothing I discovered was earth-shattering. Drinking pure water, room temperature water, drinking infused water — the solutions were simple. But to arrive there, I first had to analyze why I hated doing this one thing that all runners really need to do. Finally beating my hate of water, even with just homemade workarounds, has felt like a minor breakthrough.

The mistakes of a failed North Dallas run

Last Thursday evening’s 12-mile run turned into a 10.73-mile bonk-fest, with my husband picking me up early in the Chip’s Old Fashioned Hamburgers parking lot on Lovers. I partly blame the city of Dallas, but I mostly blame my own amateur-hour mistakes.

I’d love for you to learn from my lack of planning that led up to last week’s super-bad marathon training long run. But first I’m going to rag on North Dallas urban planning first.

Thanks a lot, nice Dallas neighborhood with no sidewalks

Devonshire neighborhood in Dallas

The neighborhood in question.

I previously wrote about how evening runners like myself run into darkness issues as summer gets closer to fall. That happened last Thursday. As I ran through the Devonshire neighborhood off Inwood, I marveled at the beautiful homes and the generally rich milieu. I hadn’t encountered that particular ‘hood before, and I loved it. There was something different about it. I checked my Redfin app to get a gauge on home prices in the area (breaking: they’re slightly out of my price range).

I was enjoying myself. As it grew dark, I was even charmed by how dark as ink everything got. These people don’t believe in street lights. Then, like black magic, sidewalks began to disappear. No light, no sidewalk. Sometimes when it gets dark, I’ll turn my iPhone’s flashlight on to light my way, but I was almost out of battery (I started out with 100%, so battery life is something I need to figure out for the rest of my training).

At least the street was in great condition: level and smooth as butter. I can do this OH MY GOSH WAS THAT A POTHOLE THAT ALMOST SWALLOWED MY ANKLE? 

I approached Northwest Highway and turned east. It was going to be my last stretch. Northwest Highway is a major thoroughfare; since when does Northwest Highway not have sidewalks? If I turned around, I’d have to repeat at least 2 miles, and I was seriously almost out of battery. I had already texted Brian to meet me at a certain spot.

Doctor Who stumbling while running

Me.

While in the dark, jiggity-jogging and high-stepping on the grass and along guardrails, trying not to turn a foot or tear an ACL, that was it: I rammed my foot on a jacked-up bit of concrete sticking out of the ground, and I almost lost my life to eastbound Northwest Highway traffic. I walked until I reached a residential street with a sidewalk, and carefully at that.

Why are there major areas of a large “world class” city that simply don’t accommodate pedestrians? In 2014?

I wasn’t going to make the original destination point at the time I told Brian to pick me up. With the last phone juice I had, I texted him to meet me at Chip’s in 15 minutes. Not only was I in the dark and trying to Lewis-and-Clark my way alongside nighttime traffic, I was seriously, seriously drained.

So besides parts of North Dallas just being a sucky place to run …

My mistakes

Lots:

  • I had spent the night with my parents a couple of days prior. When I get around family, no matter the occasion, I treat it like it’s the holidays and eat like crap. We’re talking Wingstop and ice cream. Bad stuff.
  • I had been good about hydration, which I would name as the No. 1 factor in increased energy for my runs during this bout of training. I have a water “routine” (blog post on that later) that I put on pause last week. I simply didn’t hydrate very well at all. Even though on the run-proper I chugged water, then orange juice, and even though I consumed an adequate amount of energy gel, I could still feel my body not having the deep-down reserve that it needed. Seriously, the closest to hydration I got last week was the water inside the milk inside the ice cream I ate.
  • My husband always reminds me that it’s getting darker sooner. I always say “I know.” But I still started a 12-mile run at 6 p.m., which, for my pace, just isn’t enough time to finish before I’m literally running in pitch.Running adventure
  • I love to run in unfamiliar territory. But that need for adventure during a run can lead to serious inconvenience and, when it’s dark, safety issues. I have to plan the location of my runs better, where I know there will be adequate sidewalks. Soon I’ll have to save the long runs for weekend days, anyway, so that will help.

Keeping yourself safe from both injury and night-cloaked crime is no joke when running the streets as summer gives way to shorter days. Take care out there, and plan well.