Monday, June 23, 2014

Miami vices

In an almost repeat of last year, I ran as a pacesetter in the Proniño race before jumping on a plane to America, only this time I left a few days in between, rather than a few hours. I was again holding the sub 40' balloon (the first of which, as last year, came un-tethered and floated skyward!). This year, however, I didn't manage to nail the pace quite as well. In fact, if I had been following me trying to break 40 minutes for the first time, I would have been quite upset with me. My fellow pace setter decided against my advice to follow his Garmin watch which, as is customary, cheerfully beeped about 10 seconds before we reached the kilometer markers. On the other hand, I remembered from last year that the markers weren't reliably placed either, so I thought I would go by feel. By halfway I was bang on time, while Antonio was a few seconds ahead of me (in spite of Garmin's optimism). I tend to struggle more going up hills than most but I also tend to fly down them a lot faster. This meant that those following me were tricked into a sluggish pace going up a hill just after the halfway mark, only to be dropped as I went careering off. I found myself running completely alone for the last few kilometers which, for a pacesetter, I think can be classified as a fail. As I caught up with Antonio just after the 9 kilometer mark, he reckoned we were ahead of pace, but I remembered that the 9 kilometer marker was badly placed from last year so I said that I thought we needed to make up time. We soon realized that we were running behind time and so we started to sprint for the line alongside the first female finisher. So as not to spoil her victory, we dropped back and to the side before she broke the tape. In the end we were about 20 seconds slow but there was no-one around to complain and those who had a chance of breaking 40 minutes had done so by staying ahead of us so they didn't care.

This year, my conference was in Miami and my flight left on Tuesday afternoon. To be honest I really didn't feel like going because my youngest son was actually in hospital with a tummy ache that has refused to go away. I hope its nothing serious, but he has been in and out of hospital for the last two weeks and they still haven't come up with an explanation. I'm guessing that its related to the food intolerance he suffered from a few years ago when we put him on a 5 food exclusion diet and then gradually reintroduced gluten, soy, egg, milk and fish, one by one.

I had been desperately trying to pass level 305 in Candy Crush because, as it was the last of an "episode", if I succeeded on the plane, I would have to wait at least until I landed before being able to unlock the next levels. I needn't have worried: not only did I not manage to pass the level on the plane, neither did I during my whole stay nor the flight back, for that matter. (Rest assured, I have since managed though.)

By the time I arrived at my hotel, it was dark and it had started to rain - hopefully that would release some of the pent up humidity in the air. With the time difference, I woke up at around 4 am and watched the finale of the Fargo series while waiting for the sun to rise. As soon as it was light enough, I headed out of the door for a run around the area. My feet were still sore from the sockless run I did wearing my Merrill Trail Gloves ten days before, so I ran (against the podiatrist's better wishes) in my trusty Vibram Five Fingers. I took my GoPro (which solicited a few comments such as "Why does he need a camera for running?") and shot the following video:

At around the 4 minute mark, you see me overtake a girl: after half an hour, I stopped for a rest and she caught me up and turned back at the same point as I did. With the humidity and a quick stop to pee, sip some water and dunk my head in a cold shower, we kept on overtaking each other to the point I was worried she would think I was stalking her. I'm going to have to get used to this weather when we go to Malaysia for our summer holidays. Just as I rarely need to drink any more, I'm convinced there is a large psychological component to my lacklustre performances in hot and humid conditions. Along the route you can see some impressive cars and equally impressive triathlon bikes: not only does Miami host a 70.3 Ironman event, but people have plenty of cash to splash out.

I was surprised that for a relatively pedestrian unfriendly city (without a car, you are nobody) bikes were quite welcome. I was recommended a bike (I should say bicycle) hire shop near the hotel where, looking through the window, I could see I would be able to hire a road bike. Unfortunately, in the same window was a sign saying that it was "currently closed under new ownership". So I walked / ran to Little Havana hoping to see something with a bit of character.

Just as things started to get interesting, I happened upon this bike shop.

I asked if I could rent a bike and was told that, for $30, I could rent one for the day. I said I only needed it for a few hours so he said $25, which I said wasn't much less than $30, so he said, OK, $20 and I said the bike looked a little small for me so we agreed on $15. Then he said he'd need to hang on to my credit card as a guarantee and I said I couldn't really leave it, so he said he'd swipe it for a deposit of $100 which he'd either credit me back or give me back in cash, but it turned out that he didn't have credit card swiping facilities so he just said "you're a tourist, I trust you". The bike he picked out for me turned out to have a D-lock on it for which they didn't have the keys... It proved resistant to the drill...

...but not to the circular saw. I set off on a 32 km ride, taking in Coconut Grove and Crandon Park on Key Biscayne - basically, the continuation of the run I did on the first day.

The bike was very cool but, being a single speed a bit on the heavy side, it was quite a lot of work to get over the bridge of Ridgebaker Causeway.

Complete with shiny new D-lock
There was a point along the route at which the bike path departed from the main road and ducked into a forest. From this point on I didn't see a single soul, which was quite a striking contrast to the hustle and bustle of the city I was leaving behind. It was also much cooler under the canopy of the trees. As if to underline the contrast, a couple of Iguanas about half a meter in length ran out in front of me, followed by a raccoon, some squirrels and the like.

Eventually I came to a beach which was all but deserted. It certainly wasn't the kind of beach I was expecting to find in Miami. I went for a quick swim but was surprised to find that the water was about as warm as I would run a bath.

At this point it started to rain so I headed back to the bike shop. After all the haggling over price, Tony was very relaxed about how long I was out for. When I returned the bike he handed me his business card - handy if I should ever need any plumbing done in the Miami area.

I'm sure Miami must be a lot of fun if either (a) you have a car, (b) you go with friends, (c) you are single or (d) all of the above apply. As I didn't fit into any of these categories, I found it quite a dull city right up to the point I hired the bike.

I had thought that it was a shame to be in America when the World Fooball of the Non-American Kind Cup was going on but with so many latinos around, the atmosphere was electric. You could hear the roars coming from bars at slightly different times, depending on the lag of their network. But, while I was in Miami, not only was Spain knocked out, but so was England, literally in the minute before I was called to my flight back. I'm not sure who to support now: probably Brazil and definitely not Portugal. Maybe Holland winning would somehow vindicate the Spanish being knocked out so convincingly.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Morton's Neuroma, Hallux Valgus / Limitus and Vibram Five Fingers

Finally, I decided to face the music and go and see a podiatrist. I approached this with about as much trepidation as I would a visit to the dentist. As readers of this blog will know, I have been suffering from intermittent sharp pains and numbness in the tips of my toes, particularly when running at moderate speeds. It can't be a coincidence that this has cropped up in the same foot that has a bunion (or hallux valgus if you want to sound fancy) and that suffered a stress fracture in the 3rd metatarsal 5 years ago. As I haven't had any kind of running-related injury since then - and I have been running in "extreme" minimalist shoes (Vibram Five Fingers or Soft Star RunAmocs) exclusively for the last 3 years - I thought that I could safely delete the word "pronation" from my vocabulary, safe in the knowledge that I had managed to strengthen my bones, tendons, ligaments and muscles sufficiently to compensate any imbalance. But, in truth, fear of the word "pronation" and of being told to stop running in minimalist shoes was behind my dread of the podiatrist.

One thing that I cannot deny is that the bunion has not got any better. In fact, it looks like it has probably got worse. I had hoped that strengthening my feet by running in Vibrams might help my toes realign. It certainly didn't help the unfortunate little accident I had last year in which I tripped over a paving stone, painfully jarring my right big toe (I don't count this as a running related injury!). Amazingly, I was able to continue my training with little interruption and go on to get a personal best time in the Seville Marathon. The podiatrist explained that the accident may well have made things worse, but my right foot tended to over-pronate and this can cause the base of the big toe to separate from the rest: I'd always thought that it was more about the top of the big toe touching or overlapping with the others. This over-pronation could also be the cause of my pain and what looks to be a Morton's Neuroma. At one point the podiatrist pressed my foot in a particular way making me shout an expletive (in English) and break into a sweat. Now I really dread going to see the podiatrist! I think I must have shocked him because he kept on apologizing...

A Morton's Neuroma is an inflammation of the nerves that run between the 3rd and 4th toes or - less common but my case - between the 2nd and 3rd toes. Scar tissue starts to build up around the nerve, exacerbating the compression, and it can become so chronic that the nerve may even have to be removed in some extreme cases. By a strange coincidence, my Mum has also been diagnosed with a Morton's Neuroma and is due for an operation to remove some of the scar tissue. The inflammation in my case could be due to excessive pronation (that word again!) leading to the metatarsal bones rubbing against each other and irritating the nerve, or from increased load bearing in that part of my foot, perhaps due to changed bio-mechanics stemming from the bunion.

There are of course many worse things that can happen to you, but this is a bit of a double-whammy for me. On the one hand, this appears to go against my belief in minimalist shoes. The podiatrist was very intelligent and, rather than telling me what to do, he put all the facts on the table and left me to come to the conclusion that perhaps a 42 year old man with a (slightly) deformed foot should run in more supportive shoes and perhaps cut down a bit on the intensity. But I also have to ask myself if now is the time to accept that I can't expect to keep on beating my best times and that I should relax a little and run more for enjoyment than competition: as I said when I left the podiatrist "me estoy haciendo viejo" - I'm getting old.  He is sensibly reserving judgement until we have the results of the MRI, when he will be able to confirm the diagnosis as well as see how the bunion has evolved since the last scan from 5 years ago. One curious thing, though, was that it turns out that I have sesamoids under all my toes, not just the big toes - apparently this is very rare. I was surprised that even my wife spotted this immediately on the scans I showed her.

Anyway, what better way to cheer myself up than to buy some new running shoes? I initially tried running in the shoes I used for the Ironman - some Pumas which are relatively stiff and padded - but they felt too narrow and I'm not sure that they provide any useful support. So I ran down to the shop in Madrid to try on some Merrell Trail Gloves with my youngest son in tow (for whom I bought some cute toe socks to go with his Vibrams). I like the very wide toe box but I could hear the podiatrist saying that they were too flexible and I needed something with more support. I figured that if it comes to having to use orthotics again, I can at least put them in these shoes as they resemble a conventional running shoe. Let's hope it doesn't come to that. It may be the anti-inflammatory pills I have been taking or it may be that the shoes were better padded and allowed the impact to spread over a wider area, but I didn't experience any pain or numbness in my toes. I did, however, do something fairly stupid. As they were called Gloves and felt so comfortable, I decided to run without socks. What was I thinking? After a few kilometers I felt hot spots on the tops of my feet and, looking down, I could see the crimson patches spreading. By the time I got home it looked as though I had stigmata.

UPDATE (18/5/2015): It's now over a year since I first noticed that sharp pain between my toes as if I had a stone in my shoe. Since then, it's more or less disappeared from the right foot only to appear almost the next day in an identical fashion in the left; now it seems to have all but vanished in both feet. (By the way, that rules out the link with the bunion.) If I just happen to land on a sharp stone, then it still feels as though I have trodden on a sharp stone (duh) but, of course, it hurts a lot more than it would otherwise have done.

I've continued with my Merrell Trail Gloves which still give me problems with blisters, especially when they update the "version", meaning that I have to get used to them all over again. At least the Trail Glove 3 seems a bit more sturdy than its predecessor, of which I have already worn out two pairs. I also decided to go for a much bigger size than I strictly need, in order to give my toes ample wiggle room; this doesn't help with the blisters much either but after recently having seen a YouTube video explaining what those mysterious extra holes for lacing are for, I have seen a great improvement there too.

I've also taken my training (and my ambition) down a notch or two, which hasn't been easy to handle. But the biggest change has been a mental one after reading a post on LetsRun from fellow sufferers of Morton's Neuroma. It seems as though many people just "run through the pain" and have continued to do so for years without problems (so I can forget about those scare stories of people having their nerves removed). Although it's probably never a good idea to follow second hand advice from a Doctor's analysis of another patient, one person said that his Doctor had told him that the "pain hurts you, not it" if that makes sense. So it's just something I'll have to keep an eye on but for now I just try to avoid stony trails... and probably my beloved Vibram Five Fingers too for the time being.

Monday, June 2, 2014

VII Carrera Liberty Seguros

I expect this will become the most commented post on my blog as well as one of the most visited, as the spammers seem to pick up on the word "seguros" (insurance) as a good reason to offer unsolicited, unwanted and irrelevant promotions for insurance and other financial products. Oops, I just said "financial products" so that will probably attract even more of the pointless bastards.

After the slightly disappointing taste in my mouth from the Bupa London 10,000, I decided to enter another 10K this weekend, one that I had done a couple of times before (in fact, I ran the very first edition 7 years  ago). As I say, it's worth the entry price just to have the widest roads in the center of town all to yourself (and the other 6,000 runners in this case).

This time I'm not going to go into all the gory details of the race itself, because that wasn't the important thing. The headline is that I ran exactly the same time as I did in London, down to the second: 36:51 - but this course is somewhat more difficult with a steep hill just when your legs are feeling it most. It was also 16 seconds slower than my time over the same course last year (although it was slightly hotter). Anyway, the point is, who cares? I put in my best effort, I felt good about making the most of a sunny Sunday morning and I got to see a few of my friends in the bargain, including Jacobo who went with me on the training camp in Morocco and I was surprised took up to the 8th kilometer to overtake me! There was one small incident of note during the race: I overtook Martín Fiz (ex-World Champion Marathoner). This in itself was no big deal as he was clearly accompanying someone else; no, the point was that I must have cut a little too sharply in front of him because he gave me a little push that was nearly friendly than aggressive in nature, so I apologized.

What made it more special this time was that I had signed up my youngest son, Adrian (9), for a 250m race. What I found especially gratifying - more than his finishing position - was how he took the whole thing with just the right amount of seriousness and determination: not too much and not too little. I think he also found it quite exciting and was very proud of his t-shirt and medal (which only cost €1, by the way!). He's quite keen to do another race, so we will probably take part in the Proniño race in two weeks' time - I will be running as a pacer with the 40' balloon, as I did last year. (Last year I went directly to Boston after the race; this year I am going to Miami, but not immediately after the race this time!).

I've also come up with a rather convoluted theory as to why my foot has recently started to give me problems when I haven't changed my training or my shoes. I have, however, been following the exercises to strengthen and hopefully align my hips, as part of the Functional Movement System. I can certainly attest to the fact that it has helped prevent the build up of lower back pain that was limiting my training for the Half Marathon I did back in March and I might even go so far as to say my posture is beginning to improve. The theory I have is that, as I correct my hips, my back becomes less curved, my head doesn't jut out so far forward and my feet will land more directly under my center of gravity when I am running. All this is good, of course, but this also means I will land less on the outsides of my feet, putting more pressure under the big toe. Perhaps a combination of the damn bunion and the relatively sudden increase of impact forces there have contributed to some nerve damage. I was able to avoid pain during the race by consciously landing on the outsides of my feet but I'm not sure that this is a particularly good idea in the long run (in both senses of the words): it might mean that I am doing something weird like dropping my hip in order to achieve this, that might lead to some related injury, or that I am fighting against the very thing I am trying to correct. A visit to the foot doctor and another FMS session should help clear things up.

This seems like a reasonably positive note on which to close another chapter in my blog (unlike the previous post!), and to make a Blog2Print book out posts over the last year, including my experience in the New York Marathon. Now to enjoy the series of local road races in and around Madrid, before the heat of the summer fully kicks in.