First, the good news: I had a really wonderful 12.5 mile run on March 9! It was a glorious day - I actually got a little bit sunburned on my face because I wasn't quite ready to experience that much sun! The sun was shining, and it was warm enough to run with just one long-sleeved layer (without a scarf!). I was excited to see what my second trial of the Laurel Run Switchbacker would be like.
What it turned out to be was a HUGE icy mess! I had really intended to go up and down the hill twice to get in my 12.5 miles, but it because very apparent about 1 mile in that it was not a terribly wise idea to do this. The mountain road on this part of the hill receives little sun, and so while the roads down in the valley were clear of any traces of snow, there was still snow and - worse - ice covering most of the span of the road the entire 5K up (and down). There was one part of the hill where it was utterly impossible to run, much less walk/shuffle to proceed. ...And why was I doing this?
Well, despite those challenges, it was in fact exilhirating. My favorite part of this hill is how stupid it makes you: you get to the top, and then you run down, and as you're going down you think, "Hm, this isn't so bad after all; I think I'd like to run back up this hill as soon as I get down!" You forget that about a half mile before you thought you were going to keel over and swore you'd wait a long, long time before you approached this challenge again.
Thankfully, I was shaken from my stupor when I fell down on the ice. I knew for sure that as tough as I wanted to prove to myself that I was, it was not worth it to risk serious injury running that hill again. Fortunately, I was not hurt in the fall. When I got to the bottom of the hill, some folks at the finish line gave me great news -- if I took a different fork in the road, there was a different path to run on and the road was clear. I didn't realize until after I did the ~6 miles on this road that it was also a hill (much less challenging than the first 10K), so all in all I ended up accumulating 1,378 feet of elevation gain (and an equal amount of loss) over the course of 12.52 miles and about 2.5 hours. Here's a picture of what I did:
At the time, I was please with my splits, but...well...the story continues...
The Tuesday after this 9x800 I did used the treadmill to do some cadence drills and then run a mile at "race pace." Which, of course, I did faster than I should have...around 9:00/mile (the race-pace aim is 10:30/mile with walking breaks every 3 minutes). I don't know for sure that the hard running did it, but...on Tuesday night my left knee started hurting. It was mild, but it was also concerning enough that I thought I should really take a break. I was also facing some major stress in the Life department, which I think also contributed to tightness in my leg and therefore more knee pain. So I said no to my Thursday morning run. And then proceeded to ice my knee several times a day and try to figure out what was wrong.
I've determined that I've aggravated my iliotibial band. I had suspected this was happening at the end of last year, and it seemed to get better during a period when I wasn't running heavily and was doing some foam rolling at a gym during December. Now, it seems to have come back. And from what I have been reading about it, the most important thing I could have been doing to combat the problem is the one I've been neglecting most often. Probably the culprit isn't from running too fast...nor is it lack of stretching (which...I should probably do more of anyhow) -- no, it seems that putting off strength training is probably the #1 factor (combined, probably, with some more intense hills than my weak muscles could put up with).
This is interesting to me because a couple days after running up the gigantic icy hill my abdominal muscles really hurt. I hadn't done any core strength training that I could connect to the pain, so I settled on the explanation of the run itself giving my abs a workout. From breathing hard, maybe?? I'm not sure, but I was certainly convinced that abdominal strength could have an impact on my running. And now, what I'm learning about the IT band issue suggests that lack of core and butt-muscle strength are the best correlations between runners who get IT band problems compared with those who don't.
Who knew! Well, I now feel slightly more motivated to do the strength training that I had penciled in to my training schedule, and I am forming plans to spend some serious time focusing on developing more strength and mobility once I get through the race in May and take a break from lots of running. The benefits are becoming very clear to me now!
P.S. The good news is that my IT band is feeling much, much better the past couple days (even after a fairly grueling 10-miler on Sunday, which might have not been the world's best idea). I've been rolling it, icing it, and this morning started doing some strengthening exercises. I'm feeling hopeful!