What it was.

A ‘little thing’ has sure made my life miserable for the last 2-3 weeks! You can see it in the photo here.

It was lurking in my running shoe during the BMO Vancouver Marathon. By the time I was done, I had a major soft tissue bruise on my left heel and walking was extremely painful for a number of days. I did have my doctor look at it and pretty much confirm that it WAS a bruise. Recovery is now coming along and just prior to beginning this post, I went for a 2K run/walk, just to see if I could.

What it felt like!!

That little pebble found its way into my shoe, sometime, somehow. I have no idea if it was before or during the marathon. What I do know is that today, before starting out for my run, I was inserting an extra (gel) insole into my shoes just for a wee bit more cushion between me and the road. As I was starting to put the one in my left shoe I felt this hard little bump, right near the back of the heel section. I pulled the shoe’s own insole up and there it was!

Now, had the marathon not been a marathon (shorter race) or had it not been on pavement (it was), or had I run it in far less time (I normally would if I was actually trained), this all might not have happened. OR, I suppose, had I inspected my shoes before the marathon, I might have found that little guy. Well, that may or may not be true since I actually don’t know when it decided to hitch a ride. It may have flipped in there during the marathon, although I can’t imagine when.

Good news is that while my heel is still a bit tender, I think I’m close to the end of this little saga and ready to move on with coaching the Forerunners Learn to Run 5K Clinic and my own training and racing – slowly and carefully, of course.

However, the impact of such a truly, physically small thing caused me to pause and think about how small differences can impact us in a huge number of ways, but since this is a running blog, I will try to keep my comments to things running.

Among the ‘little’ things that can become big might be a whole range of decisions and circumstances.

  • To skip a particular workout (more often a good thing than bad, since missing one workout generally does not lead to ruination of a training block, while doing a hard workout with a borderline injury could end training for a good long while, and maybe your race or performance)
  • In a strong race, to push just a little harder – a few seconds per kilometre or mile might be your BQ time
  • A degree or two of temperature or a few % humidity can make or break a performance
    • And deciding to push in such conditions can make or break you
  • At the pointy end of the field a decision to run for time might cost the win, when you should be racing to win without regard for time (see Boston Marathon 2018, Linden/Kawauchi). OK, so maybe this isn’t small.
  • Arriving at a race with time to spare vs rushing to the start with no time to prepare mentally or physically. The small part being paying attention to leaving home or hotel in good time.
  • Checking your gear to be sure there are no stones in your shoe! OR, that you are dressed properly for the day whether training or racing
  • Paying attention to hydration in a race – that is, NOT skipping water stations on a hot day
  • Paying attention to the condition of your shoes – uneven wear, or breakdown can lead to injury and problems, but wear is subtle and happens little by little over time.

Most of this comes down to mental processes and related decisions that then have a serious and significant influence on physical matters. I would imagine that we have all had times when we were guilty of ignoring or getting on the wrong side of one or more of the above examples. There are probably times too, when we consciously made the right decision and were handsomely rewarded.

I could have included the runner’s number one anthem “I went out too fast.” I could but that is not a small thing because we all KNOW about it and still DO it. The few times I have truly paid attention and executed properly, I have been richly rewarded.

Post-race, sunrise at Reggae Marathon. No winter jackets even if it is December!

I think one of the biggest ‘little’ things is paying attention to the weather/climate and realizing that conditions are seldom static during a race, especially a longer race like a marathon. As anyone who reads this blog knows, one of my favourite events is The Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon & 10K in Negril, JA. I have written extensively about it, so will try to be succinct. It is HOT in Jamaica. That is not really news. However, on race morning everyone starts at 5:15am. It is dark. It is relatively ‘cool’ in Jamaican terms. I have seen it around 21°C, although the last couple of years it has been more like 25 or 26°C. As long as it is dark, the temperature stays down. Sometimes, it might even drop a degree. Humidity varies, but at that time of year (first weekend of December) humidity is relatively low – for Jamaica. For us Canucks from the Great White North (at least the part I come from) those temperatures are already full on SUMMER. You must start, by understanding and respecting that. THEN, when the dawn begins to glow in the sky, followed fairly soon by a blazing tropical sun, temperatures rise several degrees in a very short time. Now, you better really be paying attention. That means watching your pace AND getting hydration and cooling at each and every aid station. (The race does a wonderful job of providing the means, but you still have to do your part.) The difference will be having an amazing experience (although far from your fastest time) or having an awful race that could even wind up at the medical tent. Most people are smart enough to not have that happen, but it sometimes does, usually to the racers who want to score some kind of time or PR.

The same kind of thing happens at races where the weather turns out to be unusual compared to normal. Perhaps you go expecting to run a good time, but then it turns hot or cold despite all your training for ‘normal’. That was why I referenced Desi Linden and Yuki Kawauchi and the 2018 Boston Marathon. They won because they adjusted and ran appropriately for the day. Their times? Dreadfully slow for such a race. Their placing? First.

First Place M70-74 at Mt. Charleston Half Marathon and Age Group Record Holder.

Most of us are recreational runners, certainly most of the people who read this blog. We run for our own satisfaction and to meet our own challenges. That doesn’t mean some of us don’t win our age group from time to time. It doesn’t even mean that some of us don’t plan for and strive to win or at least podium in our age group. Being recreational doesn’t mean you aren’t serious, that you don’t train and plan your racing to do as well as you can. That said, for some of us doing our best still doesn’t produce any hardware and it doesn’t matter anyway. The truth is, that I do from time to time pick me up a podium finish, but that is relatively recent and since I’ve become more Seasoned. The photo shows the swag from Revel Mount Charleston Half Marathon. It was the inaugural race, so winning my age group also meant holding the record, at least until the next year when it was smashed by about 30 minutes. Fun while it lasted, though!

When I could run pretty well, particularly in decent sized races, I would still be closer to mid-pack in my age group than near the pointy end. I don’t kid myself: other people’s attrition is more responsible than my training, for my recent success. I suppose if collecting placement medals really turns your crank, then choosing races wisely can certainly help. You could even call it one of those ‘little’ things (a little race is great for coming first out of one, once you start getting up there in the age groups.)

I am struggling with defining things as ‘small’ because they may sound small initially, but the outcome is so big that when you look back you have to conclude that the ‘small’ thing was actually ‘big’ after all.

Running with daughter Janna at Victoria Marathon (half, actually), while pulling off constant effort, brilliantly.

Something I am thinking about as ‘small’ is running to a constant effort through a race. It sounds simple enough, but having the discipline to do it and the experience to know what it is in the first place, is really important. I mentioned the old ‘went out too fast’ earlier in this post. There is the stupid, caught up in the moment too fast, but there is also the miscalculated too fast. In other words you aren’t too fast according to your plan, but your plan was too fast according to your training. That is generally my ‘little’ mistake. If you can run to constant effort and you get it right to begin with, the chances of having a superb race are very good. I think people know what I mean when I say ‘effort’. Simply put, it means if  you can run comfortably at a certain pace on the flat bits, you try to maintain the feeling of the effort necessary to do that, whether climbing a hill (you will go slower) or running down the other side (you will go a bit faster). Where we get in trouble is when we decide to charge a hill and try to maintain pace regardless of the pain. Equally, scorching down a hill to bank time has its own drawbacks. Accepting that you will slow down going up a hill and will not run as fast as you can going down the other side, will often get  you a more even run and a better final time. I can count my own really, really good races on one hand. They were all done that way. I swear. The best (managed) race I ever ran was my first Vancouver Marathon. Quite possibly, the second best is the one shown in the photo, at Goodlife Fitness Victoria Marathon, where in addition to everything else, I came within seconds of a negative split in a race that was both managed well, and which produced an excellent time (for me, that is).

I have to go back at least 10, maybe 15 years to a June morning when the Scotiabank Half Marathon was being run on one of the hottest days of the year. The course started at UBC, just as it does now. Unlike the current course, we started in a similar location, but headed immediately for Marine Drive and down the hill to Spanish Banks. The result was that instead of being about 10K to the bottom of the UBC hill as it is now, it was more like 5K. I don’t know how many runners there were, but there were a lot. I was running around mid-pack, maybe just a bit ahead of that when we got to the water stop at 5K (I think it was also the first water station). No water. Well, there was water, but the volume of runners overwhelmed the ability of the volunteers to pour and supply. It was HOT (kind of like my description of the Reggae Marathon). I stopped. I waited. Many did not stop, but ran on through.  The second water station wasn’t much better when I got there. I stopped. I waited. I got water. I ran on. Many didn’t. After that we were stringing out and it was OK. However, in those days we ran through Second Beach, Third Beach and around Stanley Park Seawall to Lumberman’s Arch where we finished. While I am guessing a bit, since it was that long ago, I would say if you missed the first two stations, you would have run 10K before getting any water.

Jean spotting for Steve – Scotiabank Half 2011. It was hot that time, too.

As I neared the finish (maybe 1K to go) a chap I kind of knew and had been chatting with at the start was just in front of me, wobbling on his feet and about to go down. I got there just in time to catch him. About then, two young guys who had already finished and were coming back along the route in a bit of a warm-down, asked if I’d finished, to which I said ‘no’. They bade me run on and said they would look after our fallen warrior. I saw him a month or so later and asked how he was and how things turned out. He said: “Oh, I wound up in the hospital, you know! I was really dehydrated and collapsed on the course.”  I told him that was why I was asking, because I was the guy that caught him when he collapsed. He looked at me, thanked me and told me he had no idea as he had truly passed right out.

So, if you think missing a water station is no big thing. Just remember this little tale. It was kind of a big thing to both of us. I finished comfortably. He went to the hospital.

Wear Point Change over time and work with PT. Left is ‘before’, middle is ‘during’ and right is ‘after’.

Coming full circle, in a kind of way, I want to finish by talking about worn shoes. As I already said, most shoes don’t wear out catastrophically in a single run session. No, they crush down, they wear unevenly in key locations such that, as wear continues, it can throw off your form and even cause injuries to knees and hips. I am a particularly unique individual when it comes to shoes and wear. I mentioned my recent encounter with the 27th cousin of the Rock of Gibraltar and at least part of the problem was that because of nerve damage due to a ruptured disk long years ago, I come down hard on that heel and can’t help it. A number of years ago, I began seeing a personal trainer who helped me get a bit more life in my left leg. Because the nerve problem is in my calf, I tend(ed) to drag the left foot. (See the left-most shoe in the photo, marked with red.) It was getting pretty bad. I was tripping quite often and falling. After I had worked with the PT for a time, a lot of that was corrected. I was able to go from scrubbing off the ‘toe-kick’ because I dragged that foot, to having most of the wear on the ball of the foot. See transition to the right-most shoe, marked with green. The most substantial change took place over about six to eight months. I still have a wonky gait but not the trouble I once had. As I said, mine is a special case, but your shoes will wear and if you don’t pay attention and replace them you may well develop some serious problems. The value of really knowing how you wear your shoes and when to replace them is big even if the incremental wear is small within any short period of time. And while it is a whole different subject, it is a good reason why you want to get your shoes from a running store that has staff who know their stuff where it comes to shoes.

I think I am going to stop now. I’m sure anyone who has run much at all, will have their own similar stories about little things; about how the so-called little decisions can be the ones that impact us just as much as a little stone in your shoe during a marathon.


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