Thursday, July 21, 2011

Recovery binge

How does one recover from an 80-mile, 28-hour, pain-soaked mountain running odyssey? I woke up early Monday so stiff that I had to summon my last remnants of courage just to roll out of bed. I spent a fair portion of the morning lurking near my overturned luggage, stockpiling motivation and energy just to haul my laundry downstairs and clean out my race gear. I spent the afternoon muddling — no, flailing — through a sleep-deprived fog in a futile bid to try to get some work done. On Tuesday, I was slightly more productive until I tried to ride over to Google to meet Beat. My still-swollen feet throbbed in my bike shoes and my right IT band was stiff and painful, to the point where I opted to pedal most of the last six miles home with my left leg only. On Wednesday, I dozed off for a morning nap that dragged on until 1 p.m., and by the time I emerged from 11-plus hours of sleep, I could almost walk with a normal stride again.

When I woke up on Thursday, I felt the strangest sensation. It was so familiar, so invigorating — like I was strong again, not just searching for courage; like I had actual energy, not just a caffeine headache; like I was really excited about the upcoming day. I just had to go outside, just had to, in any way I could. I grabbed my road bike. I promised myself I would take it easy. I vowed to turn around at any hint of IT band pain. The afternoon sun was hot and vaguely draining, but it felt so good to feel the wind on my sweat-streaked face, to breathe thick, moist air, and work up a solid effort doing something that didn't hurt like hell. Yay for bikes! Yay for recovery! I somehow ended up at the 3,000-feet high point on Skyline Drive for 29 miles and 3,600 feet of climbing. Not a bad recovery ride.

I returned home just as Beat was contemplating an evening recovery ride of his own. My blistered feet and oversensitive toes couldn't handle another minute in my bike shoes, but I agreed to join him on any bike that had platform pedals. We ended up on our snow bikes, Pugsley and the Fatback, grinding the fat wheels up Montebello Road for the sheer fun of it. We were going to turn around after an hour, but I hinted that a hundred more feet of climbing would net me 5,000 feet on the day. The evening was so nice, and the ridge so enticing that we overshot my goal for 16 miles and 2,150 feet of climbing, for a total of 45 miles and 5,750 feet of climbing on the day. It feels fantastic to not be a stiff, sleep-deprived robot once again.

I didn't have any IT band pain at all, interestingly enough. And although I wasn't pushing any high levels of intensity, I didn't even feel especially fatigued afterward, thanks to four days of rest. Bikes on pavement are nearly impact free, and after the beating my body took on Saturday, riding feels nearly as relaxed as rest. I'm not sure when I'll try running again, but I admit the thought of it still terrifies me.

As for my "hurty foot" problem, it does seem the pain has mostly abated. I can still feel a vague soreness on the bottom of my feet when I walk on hard surfaces, almost as though the bottoms of my feet are slightly bruised. But there doesn't seem to be any tissue damage or any hint of plantar faciitis. I've gathered many theories about my foot pain since my race ended. My mom mentioned that she had a similar issue a decade ago, and her doctor sent her to physical therapy for excessively tight hamstrings, which solved her problem. My friend Harry speculates that because my entire running career encompasses all of 10 months, the first five of which I spent running almost exclusively on soft snow and the next five on my heavily cushioned shoes (Hoka One Ones), that my feet just haven't had a chance to toughen up yet. My friend Steve also thinks I need to just run more. My friend Robin, a distance skier and hiker in Anchorage, recommended Tuf Foot to help thicken my skin. Other friends think a trip to the podiatrist and possible orthotics or physical therapy are a good idea. My boyfriend Beat thinks I should just HTFU. (I kid, I kid.)

I'm inclined to believe that a combination of most or all of these could help. I do think many if not most ultrarunners started the sport with a decent base of running, including shorter trail distances, road running and marathons, so they probably never had to cope with completely "new" feet in quite the same way. It's similar to the way I secretly roll my eyes when people not accustomed to riding bicycles start complaining that their butts hurt after five miles. I just can't relate to their pain at all, because it's been so long since I had "new" sit bones.

Either way, now that the foot pain has abated, I find myself fantasizing about going for a hundred again, like signing up the the Bear 100 in September, which for many obvious reasons would be completely idiotic. I really should focus on staying healthy, getting to the root of my body issues and building my running base before I swing frantically at goals that are still quite likely beyond my physical capabilities. But bikes have this way of making me feel invincible.


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  2. I think Kyle sums it up so well, and I've been reading for a while and still feel the same. It's like I can't imagine being able to do the things you can, but getting out and having my own mini-adventures and pushing my smaller boundaries often seems like a good idea after reading about your grand adventures.

    In my own small way though, I understand the relief of *not* aching so badly every movement is pleasure / pain and wanting to go move in the fresh air for the joy of it.

  3. Glad to read your feeling better Jill.

  4. Jill you continue to amaze me with your zest for life. Not only do you push yourself to the limit, but you allow us a free ride, via your talent with the written word and awesome panoramas captured through the lens. Thank you again for sharing.
    Having dropped my camera while rock hopping at the beach, I now have to purchase another and wondered what you use?

  5. Just read the 1st two chapters of Be Brave Be Strong and bought the book, better than the blog and that's a good read.

    Thanks for sharing

  6. Jill, As an avid British reader I have followed you across a number of your Endurance rides / runs. I thought though that you may be interested to read of a Brit who is currently running across the USofA all 3100 miles and hoping to complete his run in 100days. His blog address is Keep up your great efforts all the best Bantam Paul

  7. Jill,

    I'm assuming you've heard of this guy?

    I could easily see you doing that. Alaska Jill - I think it's in your blood - and I can tell you miss it.


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