The bad news started on Thursday when I visited my sports Doc so that he could hear an odd grinding sound my right knee was making whenever I went up hill or ascended staircases. After an x-ray and some discussion, the diagnosis was osteoarthritis. I don't really have my pain in the knee at all, but have begun to take corrective actions. I'm getting a vegan glucosamine chondroitin (hard to find, I might add). And today I'm going in for the first in a series of three shots of hyaluronic acid into the knee. I have a couple of friends who sell hyaluronic acid through natural products channels, so when my doctor brought it up, I didn't have too many questions about it.
Long-term, I'll be ok to run. The HA shots can be done every six months. Then there is always cortisone (which I would do extremely sparingly). And finally, if necessary some years down the road, they can do minor surgery to smooth over rough edges. So, while not great, it isn't as bad as it could've been.
With that news in the back of my mind, I went with my running buddy, Eric, to crank out the Pilgim Pacer half marathon on Saturday. The weather was cold and blustery. And while I had a lot of warm clothes with me, I figured I'd just warm into the run. So I wore a long sleeve shirt over shorts. The result was that I remained cold, even as I sweated, for the entire portion of the race that I completed (ahhh foreshadowing).
I normally train at 8:45-9 min/mile. Races I usually run about a minute faster. While this works well for me in 10K - 10 mile runs, I have a tendency to get insane calf cramps at race pace when I break the 10 mile barrier. It is an odd situation. I can run 15 miles in training with little water, maybe one gel pack to eat, no salt capsules... and never, ever have a problem. But if I kick out a a slightly faster pace, it doesn;t seem to matter how much electrolyte I put into my body, I get debilitating cramps after 10 miles like clockwork.
And that is what happened at Pilgrim. I had run a really nice race up to about the 9.5 mark. My knee hurt a bit. And to be honest, I slowed the pace a tad and ran as much on the grass next to the pavement as possible. But when I felt the cramps coming on, I knew that the race was over. I figured I'd gladly tear up my knee for a good time, but if that wasn't going to be in the cards (I wanted 1hr 44min or better), it was time to pop. I slowed and jogged for a bit, waiting for Eric (who was running a strong yet sensible race) to catch up. When he did, he graciously slowed and we chatted for a bit as he handed me his car keys so I could get my warm clothes, and I handed him a packet of three Cliff's Shot Blocks (which I had been saving for the last three miles because they are so stinking tasty). And then we took off in separate directions; me to the car to finally get warm, and he on to glory and acclaim.
On the ride home after the event, we discussed our future runs. We both love running and doing the long distances. Both of us feel that the bigger organized races seem to detract from the fun level, and put pressure on the experience. While many people use races as a goal for a distance (ie marathon), he and I don't We regularly knock out big miles on the weekends. What we decided in the car was to pull back and do more of the smaller trail races which have more cameraderie, less pressure, and are easier on the joints (read knees). If we want to do a marathon, or 50K, we can do it through the trails, or just lay out our own and roll through it.
I still plan to do one shorter distance (10K) run in Feb; the Groundhog Run in the caves in KC. It is fast, and I'm thinking my calves have never blown out, even at a much faster pace at that distance. It is a good race to go for a PR. But other than that, I'm going to run for fun, do some trail races and stop pressuring myself on the road race PRs. It is simply too frustrating to be feeling great, and cruising at a good speed, only to have one small part of your body let you down.
If anyone has thoughts on what to do to prevent the weird calf cramps, I'd love to hear it. I don;t think it would alter my plans, but it would be nice to know. Currently, when I have done those, I take an electrolyte drink bottle, 2-3 Cliff shots, a salt cap before and 1-2 more during the race. It strikes me that that should be enough to chill any cramps, but it never is when the pace gets too high.
That's all for now. I'll have more next week on the HA shot.