Anne Lacasse: Going Half the Distance But Still A Winner!

When I first reached out to find volunteers for my first-time marathoners book, Knocking Down Walls, Anne Lacasse inspired me. She started running at the age of 50 as a means of controlling her asthma. From her first steps to the goal of a marathon, Anne was amazingly determined….

…Despite a string of injuries that tried to slow her down. Anne eventually revised her goal to a half marathon, which she recently completed in Ottawa. You can read about this experience on her blog, Asthma and the Gift of Running, and read more about her courage in the post below. Congratulations to Anne and thanks for sharing your story – you are a testament to fighting through adversity (and COLD weather) with a smile on your face.

At what age did you start running? What was your motivation?

As a teenager, I used to figure skate and I also did jazz dance…I continued into my early 20’s. Then, at the age of 24 I became a mom for the first time and although I continued to teach figure skating for quite a few years, I didn’t do much in the area of physical activity. That is, until I became sick… I developed severe asthma at the age of 44 and was taking lots of asthma meds. I especially wanted to get off and stay off prednisone. I wanted to increase my lung capacity and hopefully improve my health. So I started running at the age of 50.

What promise did you make to yourself when you were 50?

I promised myself that I would engage in a healthier lifestyle and that I would not let asthma be in charge of me. I actually started walking at the age of 48. I had to start somewhere and one day I heard about the ’60Km in two days’ walk for breast cancer and I knew that it was the perfect motivation for me. I registered the next day and started walking. When I completed that walk, I knew I had to make another move, so I joined a gym where I started training. Cardio was only a small part of my training, but it felt good to go workout regularly. At this point, the idea of running was just a fleeting thought way at the back of my mind, because I really didn’t think I could do that…and I was pretty sure I wouldn’t enjoy it. So I used the elliptical and the bike, sometimes I walked with an incline. I also started yoga, which I enjoyed, because it involved lots of breathing exercises. The idea of running was surfacing more and more often though, until one day, I decided to go for it and I spoke to my trainer. I told her that I’d like to run a 10K in April 2010 (we were in September 2009). To start, I was running 1 or 2 minutes and then walking 1 or 2 minutes for a grand total of 10 or 15 minutes. It was hard and the idea of running a 10K seemed absolutely impossible.

Has running helped your asthma? How do you feel now?

Running has definitely helped my asthma. I eat a healthier diet and I exercise regularly. As I like to say, I’m healthier now, than I was before I developed asthma! I feel strong!

When did you decide that you wanted to run a marathon?

In the back of my mind, there was always this little wisp of a thought that one day it would be cool to run a marathon (sort of a bucket list item). But, since I didn’t run, it seemed  as though that would be impossible. Then, while training for my 10K, I became addicted and registered for a half-marathon clinic in January 2010. I ran my 10K in early May 2010 and at the end of that same month, I ran a half-marathon. All of a sudden, running a marathon actually seemed feasible.

When did you first experience an injury?

After my first half-marathon, I ended up feeling pain in my right knee, so I decided to see a PT. He had me run barefoot, just to check out my form and we discovered that when I didn’t have my shoes on, my form was naturally really good. So, with his support, I changed to racers and worked on my cadence (180 steps per minute). Because I had only been running for about one year, it was easy for me to adapt to this new technique. I quickly became comfortable with this cadence and since I was injured, we took advantage of the fact that I had to increase my mileage very progressively to transition to the new shoes. I am not a fervent advocate of minimalist shoes, but for me, it works.

Tell me a bit more about how cadence and running form helped alleviate injury.

When I first saw the PT, he had me run on the treadmill with my shoes on and he then had me take them off and run on the treadmill without. The difference was quite impressive. I hardly made any noise while running barefoot and I felt really comfortable. He then explained that in order to make it even easier to run smoothly (shoes on or off) I needed to increase my cadence. My cadence tended to be a bit slow, which led to a slight over-extension of the leg and made me more likely to heel strike…especially when I was wearing my shoes. Keeping my cadence at 180 steps per minute (or 3 steps per second) helps me stay over my feet and helps me maintain my form. It really did help and now I do it without even thinking about it. Anytime I check my watch, just to see if I’m on track with my cadence, I’m almost right on. It becomes habit. Actually, when I got pretty comfortable with that cadence, the PT had me run on the treadmill and then he varied the speed to see if I could maintain my cadence regardless of the speed I was going. Although I had never heard of this before, once I knew about it, I then seemed to see articles that mentioned cadence in every running magazine I read. Like I said, it’s not that I’m a fervent barefoot or minimalist advocate…but, running more smoothly (midfoot landing – heel down – push off with big toe) and at a 180/min cadence feels really comfortable for me and it has kept my knee pain at bay.

So did the adjustments keep injuries at bay?

I was doing well and the plan was to run a second half-marathon on September 5th, 2010. However, it was supposed to be a training run, because my goal was to do the marathon in Niagara Falls on October 24th. Well, when I ran that half-marathon, I was feeling really good and I pushed it, the last 5K I was feeling pain in my knee, but I didn’t slow down. Up the long hill I ran and then I flew it in. A PR…and a re-injured knee. Not smart. I could still run, but I had to be cautious and reduce the mileage again. At this point, the marathon was still doable. Then I realized that when I ran on the treadmill without my shoes, my knee felt better. So over two days, I ran 15K barefoot. It was too much…and I was feeling pain on the ball of my left foot, but I continued. I still hadn’t learned my lesson. Once again, I was injured! Then, less than 2 weeks before the marathon, both my foot and my knee were doing well, but it was obvious I would not be running the marathon. I had run a maximum of 10K over the few days leading up to Niagara Falls (and biked a lot) and decided I would switch to the 10K. I felt confident that I could run that distance. But, when I went to switch, the 10K was full and I had to choose between, as the nice man put it, “toughing it out and doing the half, or wimping out and doing the 5K”. I really didn’t want to do the 5K, for various logistic reasons, and so I switched to the half and hoped I’d be okay. Luckily, it actually went really well and I didn’t hurt anywhere. This was such a surprise to me, it made me realize how far I’d come fitness-wise. I couldn’t believe I had just run a half-marathon, with very little training, and that my time was essentially the same as for my first half.

So you tried once again to run a marathon, right?

I then registered for the Ottawa marathon in May 2011 and started the training program for that. Things were going well, until one day, my left foot slipped on ice while running outside and I pulled something in my groin. Back to PT and this time, it really hurt too much to run. Slowly, I got better and started running again, but I had lots of catching up to do if I wanted to do the marathon in May. Things were going along okay, but once again, I may have done too much too soon. One day, I ran 23K, my longest run so far, and felt very mild pain on the outside of my right foot below the fibula. I iced,  I rested and it seemed fine, no lingering pain. The next time I ran, I felt some pain almost right away and after 4K it felt like I was getting electric shocks on my ankle. So I stopped running, dropped a few tears and then went back to PT. At first, this injury was very frustrating because there was no improvement and it sometimes seemed to get worse, although I wasn’t running. I was cycling and doing spinning, but I had to stop that too. Eventually, I figured out that my shoe was rubbing right on the point of injury. Well, I didn’t waste any time. I cut the shoe, ran barefoot on the treadmill (very short sessions), I then changed to lower shoes (I now wear the Mizuno Wave Ronin 3) and it healed very quickly. Once again, I found myself switching to the half marathon without much running over the last weeks leading to race day. This time, my maximum was 14K. Well, I did it, one minute faster than my first half, and no lingering pain. I was really pleased and am now really hoping that it was the last of those silly injuries.

When did you finally decide to throw in the towel in going the 26 mile distance?

Both times, I realized that trying to run a marathon would be “stupid” considering the lack of training. Even going for the half was a bit of a risk, but definitely less so.

What advice would you give others who face injuries and have to re-adjust their goals?

Do not get pulled into feeling you have to be ready for this particular race. Take the time to heal properly, even if that means having to do a different race. I’m quite sure my wish to get back out there as soon as possible and then rushing the program led to compensation injuries (injuries to other parts of the body, because I was compensating for the initial injury).

What are your plans for staying healthy and managing your asthma from here on out?

Running is an important part of my treatment, therefore, it is really important for me to avoid injury and to be able to run for many years. If that means that I can only run half-marathons, then that’s what I’ll do. I am, however, giving the marathon another shot. But, I am taking it less seriously. Of course, I very much respect the distance, but I will respect my body more. I’ve switched to running by time instead of distance, which I find less stressful. I always know how long I’ll be running. I run three times a week, bike at least one day and do a plyo and strenght workout one day. I also have yoga once a week, but that stops for the summer (I’ll try and continue doing sun salutations though). So I cross-train more and run less than I used to. I know that I will be fine, even if I sometimes don’t get all my runs in, or end a run early, or switch things around. I trust my body’s strength and don’t feel so worried about doing everything exactly as it says on some training schedule…but, I do respect the distance.

What advice would you give others who decide to run to conquer illness?

Today is as good a day as any to start making lifestyle changes. Take it one day at a time, one decision at a time. Don’t let one bad day discourage you, there will be many awesome moments. Also, I sometimes find it difficult to overcome the fatigue after a night of allergies or whatever and get out there, but I swear there was never a day I regretted going out for a run. That post-run feeling is unbelievably energizing. There are some things that we have no control over when it comes to illness, so it feels good to know that I am controlling what I can to feel strong and healthy! I’d like to end with this wonderful message that I got from my brother today…it brought tears to my eyes.

“You, you, you. You still aspire of one day completing a Marathon, but in my book you have already accomplished so much more. We are talking here of the postive and disease like contagiousness of just freaking doing it. I know a big part of my running succes I owe to you. I love you so much and i will try to be there for you whenever, love P.

P.S. I don’t know when or where you will cross that 42.2 km line but i want to be there to celebrate with you.”

Melinda Hinson