Friday, January 28, 2011

January. Dry needling.

As the month of January fades into February I am left with a renewed confidence and positive outlook towards 2011’s training and fast-approaching race season.  I am very grateful for this because December’s exit left me somewhat remiss towards this year’s training cycle, in part to my what-had-become chronic hamstring syndrome issue.  The short and good news is I’ve run every single day during January and with each passing day I feel steadily stronger, tighter, lighter and more fit as a runner.  It is a familiar feeling and most welcomed.
I’ve worked my ass off to get the best of my hamstring issue and now, thanks to positive results during and after this week’s first tempo running in ages, it seems I finally have.  And how exactly did I work my ass off, you might ask, to get the best of a chronic situation?  Well, for starters, think stretching.  Proper stretching.  Loads and loads of stretching.  Twice a day.  Then toss in a little ice, a little heat.  Acupuncture- that also a few times.  Massage- meat grinding massage.  Some yoga.  An experimental visit to a manual ‘muscle manipulator’.  Then a brief and effective dose of prescription anti-inflammatory after an ortho-pod check in to make sure there was nothing serious to worry about, such as a stress fracture.  I followed up all of this with more massage, and more and more stretching.  Finally, this week I experienced what I believe is (and will be) the final icing: Dry Needling.  Scratching your head as to what is dry needling?  Keep reading…
Dry needling is somewhat like acupuncture in that the practitioner, in my case a physical therapist, uses an acupuncture needle (which is extremely small, sharp and long if you’ve never seen one) and with the needle punctures the skin.  That is about where the similarity ends.  Acupuncture, in a nutshell, is the practice of still placing needles at specific locations following body meridian lines with the purpose of stimulating Qi- the body’s natural energy flow- to promote healing and other good things.  Dry needling on the other hand is the practice of “fishing” a needle within myofascial trigger points of sore muscles to draw a response.  The correct response from a sore muscle is a twitch, gyration or movement of some sort.  Basically, the movement response is the muscle un-tightening at the trigger point(s) and release of tension.  It is the craziest damn feeling I have ever encountered in my long history of seeking natural, efficient, proven methods for treating running injuries (muscle tension, mostly).  Not only that, it works.
During my first and only session on Tuesday my hip muscles jerked, my hamstring wiggled and my butt cheek jiggled.  Since then I am more flexible at the hip and have next to zero sciatic symptoms down my hamstring.  It was a momentary event, mildly painful, totally natural and a non-scarring.  Oddly enough as recent as two weeks ago I had never even heard of dry needling.  Now I am not only informed but a believer.  I still have two, possibly three, more sessions likely to go, once per week, and am convinced this is my ticket to 100% hamstring syndrome recovery.   Plus more stretching, of course, especially at the hip.
Thanks to working my recovery ass off, and now the discovery of dry needling, January training resulted in solid base layering after all with the outlook of generous portions yet to come.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Running To Breathe

Breathing is what gives our bodies life.  It is what sustains us in the moment and makes everything else possible.  If life is a blessing our ability to breathe must be, what, a luxury?  I think so.  As an athlete it is easy to take breathing for granted since so many other factors often take precedent.  Namely, getting in our daily runs/volume, focusing on leg turnover and tempo runs, recovering from a injury, making time for stretching, proper nutrition, sleep, etc., etc.  Recently I decided to incorporate yoga into my regimen at least once a week, as a way to give back to my body for the training it allows me, and what is yoga if not the practice of breathing?  My brother-in-law, Colin, is an athletic guy though sometimes held back a bit, physically, due to asthma, an allergic condition affecting his respiration system sometimes resulting in restricted breath.
Sometime last year Colin decided to become a runner.  Not a jogger or someone who lollygags on a treadmill in between socializing at the gym, but a real runner.  And not so he could disappear off on to the trails, meet new friends or lose weight.  Colin’s goal was much simpler: so he could breathe.  Wow.  It is hard not to be humbled by that simple goal when I think about all of the frivolous reasons why I run.  I am definitely lucky as I have no problem breathing.  My VO2 max may not be up there with Lance Armstrong, in fact I have no idea what it is, but I usually have no problem sucking in all of the air my body needs when out on a run- even if that means sometimes throttling my stride to a paltry pace on the lowest of graded hills.  I guess this is all Colin wants- the opportunity for air when he wants it or needs it.  To reach this goal Colin has steadily built up his running base and economy over the past several months and has now set upon a great athletic goal for 2011: to compete in at least one half-marathon per month, all year, on road or trail.  That is pretty great.  He even maintains a blog at to chronicle his journey.
Since I have known Colin for several years I know he has what it takes to be a great runner:  (1) determination and (2) support from those who care about him most.  I like to think that in some small way I helped inspire Colin take on this great physical challenge- to breathe better- since he has seen my progress as a runner take hold over the past few years, though I doubt it.  I say this only because his is an inspiring story in the making.  His social and professional tentacles reach much further than mine and by him going after his own goals the way he is the many people around him will in turn likely become inspired as well, thus passing the torch.
Colin also leads a much more demanding life than do I.  Sure, we both have jobs with characterizing responsibilities but he also has three kids, coaches soccer and crushes several fantasy football leagues simultaneously.  People occasionally tell me, with regards to my running, “I don’t know how you do it” or ask me “how do you have the time”?  To wit I reply: don’t ask me, ask Colin.

Saturday, January 15, 2011


Part of what makes running so enjoyable is the lack of gear required to maximize one’s enjoyment on the trails.  The longer I run the less gear I wish to carry.  In fact, during the warm months I am rarely clothed on a run with anything more than a pair of shoes and shorts.  It feels completely natural and I think it actually helps my running.
Thus far in my career of athletics I remain unsponsored and enjoy my amateur status.  Though I fully admit I will always be an amateur there are a few products in the market which I employ regularly and help with my running.  So, to the parent companies of these fine products I say thank you and can we talk?
The United States Department of the Interior.  These kind folks offer to us our beloved National Parks and Forests, where upon annually I spend infinite hours frolicking.  Definitely, there is no question, without public open space and miles of trails my running would be at a significant deficit compared to where it is today.  As an ultra runner who prefers trails versus roads and who lives smack dab in the middle of a city having legitimate options for trails is vital.  Rock Creek Park in Washington D.C. is a National Park and my go-to for local trailing.  Without Rock Creek Park where would my running be?  Up Shit’s Creek, that’s where.  So, to the D.O.I. I thank thee and ask may I represent you?
Zip Loc.  There are a few things I usually carry on long runs: Gu, s-caps, toilet paper and my house or car key, depending on where I am.  Zip loc offers the perfect holster for such enterprising.  They also make for great race drop bags.  Oh Zip Loc, where would my running be without you?  Call me!
Cottonelle.  Not much to say here, really, because on a long run if you gotta go you either have it or you don’t.  I carry it with me almost always.  I just do.  Cottonelle has saved me on many a run and for that I am indebted.  Cottonelle, you’re the bomb.  Hook me up!
Post it notes.  That’s right: Post it notes.  The first thing I do after each run is record my outing (time, mileage, etc.) on a Post it note.  I'm weird like that.  Post it notes also make for great identification taped on to Zip Loc drop bags.  We're talking synergy here, people.  Without my Post it note products I would be lost.  Thank you, Post it!

Product placement.  Pre-Western States, 2010.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Races and Places in 2011

This year picks right up where last year left off with several races and trips lined up.  First and foremost, though I am back to running, I am still feeling out my piriformis/sciatica hangover from 2010.  Seems I had too much fun on the trails last year.  In reality, I don’t even attribute this injury to running per say.  I have a general sense of what caused it –a fall, wearing improper shoes- but not figuring out what it was early on I am convinced caused the unnecessary unraveling.  Still, in the long run, not a tremendous blow.  Hopefully it will continue as such.  For good measure I scheduled a Tuesday orthopedist appointment to make doubly sure I am good to go, residuum inflammation aside.  And, well, if I am not that will pretty much suck.
Moving on, over to the right you will see I leased real estate from the giant green space and added a tentative 2011 race schedule.  My original hopes last year centered this year’s schedule around returning to Western States- even if through the lottery.  Eventually life got in the way and I never even entered the lottery.  My next thought was to run all of the 100s in Virginia, among a few other races, and that still sounds pretty good.  So that is my plan; the rest is gravy.  The 100 miler in New Zealand in March would be an excellent adventure since I will be there anyway at that time, but definitely tentative at moment because of the aforementioned distress.  To add more complexity to the mix Colorado beckons for a spell again this summer and returning to the Leadville 100 is equally appealing.  Then we have the pending race lotteries for which I am entered: Hardrock and Wasatch.  Running Hardrock would be a dream and Wasatch is my favorite 100.  If fortune smiles on me and I get in- especially in Hardrock- who knows what path I may choose.
All dreams aside, for now I am sticking with the Virginia Slam, or whatever appellation people choose to call it.   It works.  Additionally, my older brother Paul has threatened to run his first 100 at Old Dominion and it would be great to be there (running, too, of course) when he does.  I have long schooled the boy on the beauty and transeunt experience that accompanies the 100 mile.  Hopefully this summer he will see for himself.