My blog about Outruncancer running challenge.
I am surprised (and very thankful) I still have friends and family by my side. I don’t think I’ve been very good at masking my frustration, desperation and negativity of being forced on the bench for four months.
My left foot has troubled me since returning from my Italian marathons, in April. And at today, we are not sure what’s wrong with it and therefore what would make it better. But let’s do few steps back..
At the end of January, right at the peak of my training, the last session of a massive week of 200km (with 2 consecutive half marathons and 3 consecutive marathons in 6 days) I felt a distinct pain at the base of my foot, between the heel and the arch. I blamed the training run I had just completed in which I made the beginners’ mistake of getting caught up with somebody else’s training plan. A very aggressive one, way too fast than what I needed at that stage with unnecessary speed work to end a 20km effort. The pain was very similar to something I had experience before, on the other foot, with the exotic name of plantar fasciitis. I took a couple of days off, massaged, stretched and I thought it would go away. But it didn’t .. it started bothering me more and more. A couple of weeks later, I taped up my foot and completed the treadmill marathon challenge at Goodlife gym as part of our main Outruncancer lead-up event. Throughout that run, my foot was pretty painful and after that I took again few days off and finally went to see a sport doctor. After I explained him that I was leaving in two weeks to go to Italy and run 20 marathons, recommended a cortisone injection to help the inflammation. A couple of weeks later I was in Italy and my foot felt ok, a slight discomfort every now and then but nothing major. I started my marathons and all was good.. until marathon 16, in Trento, when the pain started to come back. At that stage I had no other option than taping my foot and keep running, so I did. I completed my 20 marathons and all was good. The mix of cortisone, adrenaline and determination got me to the finish line. On the way back to Sydney, we stopped a couple of days in Dubai to relax and do some sightseeing. We spent an afternoon on our feet, walking around the city, the shopping malls, the beach.. a normal afternoon as tourists. That killed me. By the evening I was literally limping, the pain on my foot was excruciating, like a blade getting deeper in the flesh at every step. The following day even worse. Back in Sydney I went straight to see my massage therapist, certain that he could sort me out. That didn’t work as this “plantar fasciitis” was not going away. I didn’t run much giving my foot as much rest as possible. I went for 3 sessions of acupuncture and very painful deep massages with a metal stick. I gave up my entry to the North Face 100km race as at that stage even walking was a struggle. I went to see a doctor, had a X-ray and MRI. One doctor said should be plantar fasciitis, I went to another specialist that also said it was a case of PF and that I simply needed another cortison injection. The MRI said there was no sign of “plantar fasciitis” but a cyst was visible. A lump on the base of my foot, started to be noticeable at touch. I tried to get it seen by one of the best foot surgeons in Sydney that referred me to a physician of the same caliber. I went to see him and after getting the MRI scan re-evaluated, concluded I had a tear on the plantar. That made sense and was in line with my pain. He put me on 6 weeks of walk boot and shockwave therapy. In regards to the lump, he said he could have been different things.. better to assess that after the 6 weeks. I wore the walk boot, cancelled my other races: tough bloke challenge, Hunter Valley marathon, Sydney City to Surf 14km, Oxfam 100km . After six weeks I removed the boot, I walked down to the local coffee shop and the pain was back. It got worse and worse by the day despite the massages and exercise the physiotherapist gave me. Four days later I called the physician again, back to square one. Although not as painful as 4 months ago, the pain and the lump are still there. Tomorrow, I am going to have another MRI and ultrasound and I’ll see my physician again on Wednesday. The goal is to workout what that lump is. It could be a few things (a cyst, a fibroma, ledderhose disease, scar tissue,..), each leading to a different tentative treatment. It looks as whatever it is, its going to keep on the bench for a while longer. ..
You can probably understand the frustration.. not only I have not run in forever but after all this downtime and all the money spent in treatments and doctor visits, we are no any closer to know what’s wrong with this damn foot. The scariest thing is that each possible diagnosis doesn’t seem to have a certain cure. And because I can’t help myself, I spend hours and hours reading online of similar cases and this leads to depression.
In the last four months, I came to realize how much I love running. I have been trying to keep myself fit, positive, energetic and entertained with as many sports & activities my foot could physically cope with. I did gym, cycling, few spin classes, rowing, pilates, pool running, swimming and last week I started rock climbing. None of these sports has given me anything near the satisfaction I feel at the end of a short run around the reserve where I live. It is sad to say, but when I drive around I look at every runner I encounter with both envy and curiosity. I wish I was them and I look at the way they run trying to learn something. I talk to my fellow runners and they tell me about their training and their races and, I must admit, it would hurt less if they punched me on the face. I go to the finish line of races to support Lidia or other friends and it feels like a punishment.
I am definitely not taking injury that well!!
BUT.. luckily, there is always a BUT..
In the last few days I also realized that I’m lucky.. there are a lot of people, colleagues, strangers, friends and family members wishing for my recovery. Every day, at least two or three people are genuinely asking me how my foot is doing and if there is any progress. Two days ago in particular, four friends did something that really touched me. They all wear my green Outruncancer t-shirts for the Oxfam 100km trail race in Sydney, (another race I had to pull out from). They didn’t tell me and I only discovered when I saw them coming into the checkpoint. I felt honored they thought of me for the race and, somehow, they got me to participate. By the way, they did a great time of 14:56 mins.. this confirms that my t-shirts make you run faster!!! And I am also lucky to have a person like Lidia by my side. She has endured my constant change of mood and energy levels, my irritability and constant talking about my foot. She has kept me positive and has been very supportive. She is really my lucky star.
And the cross training is not that bad after all.. In the last couple of weeks in particular, I got back into swimming. And I ventured into the ocean. I can now comfortably swim 1.5km in under 30mins. Not a fast time by any standard but definitely a huge improvement for me. I am still pretty uncomfortable at the idea of what may be swimming under me but I’m getting better.. I must be because where I normally go, sharks (small and innocuous) are normal encounters. Less frequently, you see other see creatures like whales and dolphins! I am not kidding.. last week, as we were getting out of the water, 5-6 dolphins came up where we were swimming 5 minutes earlier. Last month, a whale – yes a whale! – emerged at touching distance from the swimming group ! This is Australia!
So, I am not out of trouble yet and it looks like I will have to be patient for a little longer. I hold big hopes for tomorrow’s scans. I need to get some answers and workout a strategy to fight back. One thing is sure, I am not certainly giving up. There are a lot of people wishing me well and I love running too much. I am not going to leave stones unturned, I will do anything I can to come back, stronger and more motivated than before. And then start talking about the next challenge.
A month has passed since my last marathon in Italy and my last post. A lot of people have asked me the “now what?” question and I have not fully figured out the answer yet.
Since coming back to Australia, I worked hard to go back to the “real life”, to a routine and a financial equilibrium. I was actually looking forward to go back to work, eager to tell my “war stories” to friends and colleagues. I received such a warm welcome back, that made me realise once more that I can call Sydney home. The daily walks on the Cremorne Reserve and sight of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge fill my heart, another confirmation that I belong here.
Going from a routine of running a marathon before lunch, travelling for the rest of the afternoon and blogging at night to sitting at the desk for 8 hours a day and spend the rest of the time juggling with the daily tasks, has been (and still is) challenging and very disorienting. A big change, physically and mentally and only now I am starting to fully adapt to the new/old regime. To make the change more difficult, the three days walking and sightseeing in Dubai on my way back from Italy, really stuffed up my injured and inflamed left foot. So as a result, I took almost 3 weeks off from running… or I shall say I did my best.. went for few short runs (8km) despite the pain. I tried cycling, spinning classes and regular gym but they do not cut it for me.. needed to run to keep my sanity! I know it is pretty sad. The foot is now slowly recovering and I’m looking forward to my next challenges ** (read below)!
In the process of re-adaptation, I had lots of time to reflect about what I have achieved and what lays ahead of me. The Outruncancer experience pushed the boundaries of what I thought I could achieve from a personal and physical level. It gave me a real boost of energy and confidence! I now truly believe that with the right dedication I can “do anything”. Again, not because I think I’m special but because I realised that as human being we have this power within and it’s just a matter of finding the right switch to turn it ON. With this new “knowledge” comes responsibility. It’s now my call.. how do I want to shape my life? Now What?
I certainly enjoyed the physical and mental challenge of running 20 marathons in 29 days and to dedicate so much time training for this single event. What I loved the most, was the contact with people, getting others excited and involved with my charity project. And what a feeling discovering to have contributed (at some level) to some people start running or stop smoking or eating healthier. Not to mention the immense satisfaction of raising $$$ for a worthy cause and getting very close to the target – 43000$ at today. These are things I certainly want to keep doing.. in a way or another, under the spotlights or as supporter to others. So, anyone has some idea or crazy project on the go?? J Work wise, I realised it is time for me to gear-up, fully commit and invest on what I’m doing or what I want to do and seek success and full satisfaction. Time to flick that switch to ON again.
Too much seriousness .. don’t worry.. it’s temporary!!J
In regards to my coming challenges, here my next few runs:
19/05/2012 : North Face 100: 100km in the Blue Mountains (Sydney)
30/06/2012 : Tough Bloke Challenge: Obstacle course (Sydney)
22/07/2012 : Hunter Valley Marathon: Marathon in the wineries.. oh yeah!!
24/08/2012 : Oxfam Trailwalker: 100km trailRUN on the Great North Walk
I am really looking forward to next week NF100 regarded as one of the best Ultras in Australia. Given the condition of my foot, it’s likely I won’t see the finish line but I don’t mind too much.. it will be good to run a few kms on that track. But hey.. you never know.. miracles do happen!! J
So it’s all for now, talk to you all soon!
You can say I arrived to the marathon in Milan very well prepared. I’ve been thinking about it for very long time: 28 days, 802km of running and 6000km by car . My plan was to give it all I had left and I certainly did. Not once in the last 12 months of training and races, I got to the end of a run with the same feeling of having squeezed my body to the maximum, to the point I could have not been even a second faster. It’s very rewarding sensation.
For this marathon, I had the pleasure to run with Terence and Luigi. Luigi is one of Beatrice’s work colleagues. Last year I run the Milan half marathon with him, a couple of weeks my mum died. We built a connection right away and I’m very happy we managed to see each other again. He is training for the Edinburgh race, and, for him, this was going to be a training run.
Terence is a dear friend of mine from Sydney. He is my running mentor, I started running with his running group and I look up to him for advices. He is the real deal, having been Australian champion of 100km and just a couple of months ago winner and record breaker at the Antarctic marathon. For the Milan marathon, he offered one his support, renouncing to a time to stay with me from start to end, whatever pace.
On the day, the weather was shit. There is no better technical term to describe it. It had been raining for the whole night and even on the day, it didn’t stop for a second. Before the start we were all wrapped up in bin bags and we kept our long sleeve rain jacket on for half of the race.
As if running a marathon after other nineteen wasn’t enough, I had the brilliant idea to make it interesting and try to run it in crescendo. This means start slow to pick up the pace km after km. My plan was to run:
from start to 10km at 5min/km
from 10km to 20km at 4:40 min/km
from 20km to 30km at 4:20 min/km
from 30km to finish at 4:00 min/km
pretty ambitious I know as it would have meant a 3:08 marathon… but what the heck! Go big or or go home!!
We started off extremely well, all three very comfortable at 5min/km pace. We completed the first 10km in just over 50mins and considering the rubbish conditions, flooded roads and “human traffic” it was already a good achievement.
The second 10km also went very well, we kept the faster pace (4:40) well and still managed to chat without feeling fatigued. We got to the halfway mark dead on time although at that stage the rain had already taken it out of us more than needed.
The second half marathon was going to be very difficult. I knew that from the start. I had not memories to having been faster than 4:40 in long time, and 21km is a long way. Because it was a training run for him, Luigi decided not to push too much and run that 10km at 4:30 instead. So we stayed together up until km 25. Terence and I continued alone from there aiming at a faster 4:20 pace.
My real race started around km 30. Up until then, I had felt okish or I had convinced myself I was. The reality hit me hard as Terence looked back at me and asked how I was feeling and that it was time to change gear again. I assured him I was fine, faking a smile and thumbs up but it wasn’t the case. Everything in my body was aching. The legs felt like they weighted a ton each, my left plantar was screaming at each step. My lungs were burning. Terence must have seen that coming as he started to talk to me and encourage me to keep going. “Come on, you run 830km up until now, 10km is nothing! 40 minutes and it’s over!” If it hadn’t been for him, I would have never managed to keep that fast pace, now under 4:20min/km but still very far from 4min/km. The km passed and I got quieter and quieter, fully focused on not letting go. A million of thoughts came to my mind.. each of those reminding me that my pain was only temporary. The famous 35km wall, hit me hard but as I was considering my options, there was a magical coincidence. One of the spectators saw us coming, removed her jumper and shouted “Me too!! Me too!!” as she showed us her Outruncancer t-shirt. Almost at the same time, a runner sprinted to reach us to say “Hi Luca, congratulations! Sorry, I have to stop I cramped!!”. Talking about well timed support.. these two episodes really cheered me up making me lightheaded.
The rest is story, I kept pushing and pushing. Every km as it was my last. And when I finally reached km41, something took over and I managed to clock my fastest km, at 3:59min/km.. to complete the marathon in 3h:15mins.
At the finish line, my dad, Beatrice and my auntie hugged me from over the fence and I couldn’t hold my tears of joy… I completed what I set up to do. I run one marathon in each of the Italian regions in less than a month.
Meanwhile Lidia was still running her marathon, her second in just a month. She finished with a great 4h:22mins PB. I’m really proud of her, not just for the running achievement but mostly for her determination and beautiful soul. She showed plenty of both during this adventure.
To my great pleasure, Beatrice had organized a brunch in Milan with part of the bill going to charity. Lots of her friends and colleagues were there. Alex, another friend from Sydney now living in London was there with his group of friends. Phil, Enrico, Rainer, Luigi and few others were there. Lunch was great and we ended up staying till late afternoon.
As I write this post, It feels as this happened ages ago. I still haven’t come to fully realized what happened in the last month. For sure, it was a great adventure.
English translation of the Post coming real soon
Italians don’t like number 17 because they say it’s a very unlucky number. Well, there must be some truth as my marathon number 17 in Friuli Venezia Giulia region, has been the toughest so far. At the same time, it may become one of my favorite memories as not only I managed to push through a mental challenge but I had proof once again, of how lucky I am to have a girl like Lidia on my side and so many good friends.
We spent the night before the run at Betta’s place, half hour from Lignano Sabbiadoro. (Betta is our dear friend that joined us in Sicily). We also managed to catch up with another friend, Marco, that lives near by. The night was excellent till Marco broke the news that the forecast for Thursday was not looking good. Lots of rain was expected. We went to bed reasonably early knowing that the following day’s run would have proven more difficult than expected. It’s not that running in the rain is difficult but it is mentally challenging. Lidia and I don’t really have rain gear, we have goretex jacket but that’s about it. The rest of the body is going to get soaked.
We woke up with the sound of the rain.. not really.. Lidia and I were so tired from the previous day that we snoozed the alarm clock a couple of times before finally getting out of the warm bed. But the rain was there, as expected. Not too strong but constant. And the sky was completely covered, sign that the rain was there to stay.
We started the run a bit later than usual, around 8:30. I would run and Betta and Lidia would follow with their bicycles. The chosen route was 2 loops of 21km around Lignano, a town on the Adriatic sea very busy during summer, dead quiet in this period and conditions. After 5km, we were all soaked but while I was “happily” running strong, I could tell that Lidia was suffering. The effort of riding a bicycle at running speed is not enough for your body to warm up. And the cold wind was not helping. Around 12km, I noticed that Lidia had stopped chatting with Betta, she was pretty pale and her lips had started to change color. It took us another 3km to find a bar open in the deserted town. We stopped and I asked Lidia and Betta to wait there for me while I sipped an espresso, changed water bottle and picked up 2 energy gels. There was no point for them to get even more soaked as now the rain was pretty strong. They agree and I left. There is no much to tell about the run, I didn’t really see anything interesting as I kept focus on the job ahead of me trying to maintain a nice rhythm and run tall. Around km 22, I saw Lidia and Betta riding towards me from the opposite direction. They were heading to the campervan as Lidia was soaked and needed to get changed. Despite me repeating that I was ok and that they could stay in the campervan and wait for me, as soon as Lidia got changed, they left on the chase again. Women.. they never listen! I am actually happy they did as I was feeling a bit miserable on my own in the rain!
Meanwhile, Betta parents arrived from Treviso, to support us. They drove 100km, to meet us and escort us for the last 10km of the marathon. They were in the car behind us, with the hazardous lights on making sure that other cars would slow down and not spray us. I am lost of words.. I really appreciate the gesture and that really cheered me up and gave me an energy boost.
Because I was wet and cold, I made the rookie mistake of not drinking enough and I didn’t pay attention to my energy levels. And I paid the mistake in the last 4-5km. My mind was not clear and every step was difficult, I slowed down significantly and I was not really sure if I wanted to drink, eat, stop or what.. Luckily Lidia was there and she talked me through the last few kms.
A good news comes from my plantar/heel. This morning I taped it before the run and it felt much better. Or maybe I was only focused on the cold and the rain.
So I learned a few things today.. the most important of all is that Lidia and Betta are IRON GIRLS !
The stats of the run are:
Food: 2 gel, 1l water
Garmin GPS : http://connect.garmin.com/activity/167024042
Highlights: Seeing Betta’s parents & dog supporting us!
The effect of the cortisone injection is officially gone. This morning I felt every single step like a needle in my plantar and up my calf. I picked up the pace to spend as little time as possible on my legs. But there is no point of me talking about my “pain”, when I am running for a cause like cancer research. People affected by cancer and their family go through a far greater amount of pain, physical and psychological. They do not have a choice. They didn’t ask for it. This is the point where I need to look back at my motivations for running, dig deep and keep going, one step at the time.
It was great to see Anna and meet her boyfriend David and their little son Zeno. Zeno and I only met virtually for now, he gave me a high 5 from inside his mummy’s tummy! This is the first time I felt a baby moving/punching/kicking from someone’s tummy.. something I am sure I’ll remember forever. Anna and David have been the perfect hosts for Lidia and I, exhausted after 3 weeks on the road and from Aosta’s tough day. They made us feel like home, literally. Monday’s session of sofa and documentaries on tv was all we needed!
This morning run was an out and back from Trento centre, on the bicycle path next to the Adige river. I started with Fabio, a guy from Palermo that moved to Trento just last week. He saw one of the million fliers that Anna hung all around Trento and decided to join me for 4km.. what a great effort! For the rest of the run, I was on my own. To be honest, I was happy to be on my own today. I was expecting a hard run and I really needed some time on my own to test and embrace whatever happened. At km 18, Lidia joined me for 6km to keep me company and to test her legs for the Milano marathon coming up on Sunday. I am certainly pushing my body running 20 marathons in 29 days but Lidia is also doing her part, her first 2 marathons in a month and in between God knows how many km driving and cycling! She is a star.
In the first part of the run I noticed that I felt comfortable with a 5:20 pace and that a slightly faster pace meant a shorter touch on ground. So from km 24 onwards, I picked up the pace a bit more to test this theory further I tried to maintain a 5min/km pace and I’m happy that I managed to do it most of the time. If my foot permits, hopefully this is a pace I can keep on Sunday too.
No much rest today as we make our way to Lignano for marathon number 17. That means 4 more runs to go, we are getting close. I just need to keep focus!
Number participants : 3
Food/Hydration: 1 power bar, 1 energy gel, 1.4 liters of water
Garmin GPS: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/166737977
Highlights: Keeping a faster pace and feeling reasonably ok
English translation coming shortly.. sorry guys!
English translation coming soon..
Another wonderful city, great route and company, excellent run.
I was 19 when I visited Viareggio the first and only time. It was during the military service. Understandably, the only thing I did back then was to go to bars trying to hook up with local girls. Between a bar and another I had a glance to the buildings and city layout but with no much interest really. 15 years later, I’m back. I didn’t have a single beer, I’ve run 42km around Viareggio and surrounding and checked out every building. How time changes things!
I found Viareggio a very elegant place. Every hotel, every building, every “bagno” (restaurant/bar with private beach) have particularities that make it interesting and unique. So it was a real pleasure to run here. Especially because the whole run was on bike path, dead straight and flat with no chance of taking wrong turns. As a result, my running pace was uninterrupted and unexpectedly faster than yesterday. I tried very hard not to get carried away in the moment as few times I got close to 5 mins/km, a bit too fast for my end goal. I have to run 20 marathons, not 5, not 12, not 19 but 20. Doesn’t really matter how long it will take me, the important thing is that I run 20. So I need to play it conservative and make sure I don’t do anything stupid.. like going out too fast with so many more marathons to tick off the list.
With the sky promising rain, Lidia and I left this morning with the plan for me to run the marathon and Lidia to follow with her bicycle till km 32 and run with me the last 10km. All went well from the start and my foot didn’t hurt till the last couple of km. We run the whole distance along the promenade from Viareggio to Forte dei Marmi. Can only imagine how busy this place must be during the Viareggio Carnival (very famous in Italy) and summer. It certainly deserves all the success it has.
Kilometers went down well with nothing mayor to report beside that instead of Lidia running the last 10km, we decided for her to leave her bike at 5km to the end. She would run 5km with me faster than her normal pace and than turn around and go back to the bike. The reason for that is that I didn’t want to break my rhythm/pace as Lidia is normally much slower than that. Turns out that Lidia was on a good day today and she did a very fast 10km. So we could have run together and enjoyed the scenery and I could have avoided a 10km bike ride (first 5km sprint!) that, after a marathon, took it out of me.
Anyway, marathon 12 is done, this mark 60% of my challenge. Tomorrow is a rest day, I will try to get in town and be 19 again!
What could I ask more? Well.. we could have been in 50-60 people and raised 5000$.
The stats of the run are:
Participants: 2 (Lidia and I!)
Food: 3 Lidia’s power bar, 1 gel, 1.75l water
Garmin GPS : http://connect.garmin.com/activity/164664469
Highlights: Find the bunga bunga bar!
Low points: None
But I can’t say that is always easy. I’ll give you an idea of our typical day:
5:30am wake up, prepare breakfast, load the bike, another quick look at the map and off we go. Depending on the type of run (if it’s a loop, or A to B) I will follow Luca with my bicycle for the whole distance or part of it and run the last 10-15km. About 4 hours later we are back to the camper van and we have recovery smoothies and green juices to prepare.
A quick shower and it’s time to make lunch. A shot of espresso and we’re on the road again, driving to the next city. It can take anything from three to five hours.
When we finally arrive to the new camping site, we need to take care of few essentials.. re-fill the water tank, charge all the laptops, phones, cameras, gamins, all sorts of gadgets… we’re definitely a high tech couple!
But by now it’s time to start cooking again. Nutrition is crucial for Luca to ensure that he has enough energy for the following day and to speed up recovery. So there’s no fast food or take aways around here. Nutritionally balanced, genuine, gorgeous whole food is what we want.
Finished dinner is then time to upload all the pictures, videos and write a few lines about the day on our blog. Around 10pm we’re both knackered .. with a last bit of energy left, we get our stuff ready for tomorrow. When we start all over again.
Some days I am so tired I loose track of what I’m doing and why. So I look at this note, given to me by my little cousins, Lara and Alessia (8 and 9). It says : “Lidia, Luca have faith, cancer is not invincible!!! Congratulations for the marathons and the reason why you are doing it. We are with you.”
I couldn’t believe how clearly they understood what we are doing and the reasons behind this challenge. They say we can do it, we can get to the end. And we will.
Looking at those funny drawings makes me smile and gives me all the energy and the motivation I need to start another day.