Marathon training latest: First injury, then triumph

Before we begin, a quick note:

This will be my last post for 2013.  Like a lot of people, I tend to go into hibernation during the last few weeks of the year, partly because I am all but paralyzed by overconsumption of food and drink, but partly because I am reflecting on the previous year and considering what I would like to accomplish with the upcoming year.  One of the tasks I’ve undertaken as part of this process is to lay out a list of goals for my creative, personal and athletic lives, and to figure out concrete steps I can take to make those goals happen.  This blog figures heavily in those goals. I don’t want to go into details because I’ve found that nothing deflates my excitement for a project like talking about it, but I do hope that 2014 is the year when I can make at least some of those projects happen.  Okay, that’s enough for now.

Now, on to the post…

My training for the Clearwater Marathon had actually being going quite swimmingly up until about two weeks ago.  I was running five times a week, each workout closely following the prescribed distances and paces as outlined in the Hanson Marathon Method.  Ten-mile tempo run?  No problem!  Fifteen miles the day after doing five miles?  Sure, why not?  I was feeling so strong and so fast and was seeing the workouts pay such filthy rich dividends, I even started work on a post about the process of getting faster.

My hubris was repaid tenfold the day after a strength workout, when I busted out six mile repeats and felt glorious the whole time.  I am a running goddess, I thought. I will destroy this marathon.  Sub-four hours, you are mine!  I practically bounced into the house and proudly displayed my Garmin to Brian, who was making his lunch in the kitchen.  “You are a beast!” he said.

The next day I got out of bed and was treated to the singular sensation of feeling as though someone had stabbed me in the left kneecap.  It was a rest day, so I iced my knee and took it easy.  The following day called for a ten-mile tempo run, so I headed out after I came home from work.  I made it all of a quarter-mile from home before the invisible ninja started jabbing an ice pick at my kneecap.  I screamed curses at the sky, then turned around and limped home.

To paraphase Billy Bob Thornton in Primary Colors, “The running gods giveth, and go fuck yourself.”

I didn’t run for another week. The first three days I was in a total funk, angry and frustrated and anxious, all of which I’m sure made me a total delight to be around.  I found solace in Nora Ephron and Samantha Irby, who took my mind off my knee for entire minutes at a time.  Every night I awkwardly strapped an ice bag to my knee and tried not to envision my knee bones grinding each other into piles of calcium dust.  (I’ve developed some crepitus in that knee in the past few months, so I have the sound effects in place to go along with my mental hall o’ horrors.)  I stopped wearing heels, even my sensible office-lady ones from Naturalizer.  I ramped up the swimming, which evidently makes me the only person in the county to do so, as every time I’ve gone to the pool I’ve been the only one there.  I even went so far as to get onto the elliptical.  It was horrible.

But I also didn’t want to aggravate whatever shenanigans were going on inside my poor abused knee joint, especially since I know that’s what runners have a tendency to do, which is run no matter what, even if it means they end up basically stumbling around on a pair of bloody stumps.  And so, I rested.

I couldn’t rest indefinitely, though. I was signed up for the Holiday Halfathon on Dec. 15 and I really wanted to run in it.  So the Thursday before, I put on my running shoes and headed out for what is quite possibly the most tentative two miles I have ever run into my entire life.  It was like I was running barefoot on lightbulbs. Every time I landed on my left leg, I braced myself for the shot of pain.  Sometimes it happened, but mostly it didn’t.  I realized that if I just landed easily – or, in the eternally obnoxious wording of the insert that came with my Newtons, “athletically” – and I didn’t just stomp about or land all cattywhompus on my foot, I could limit the likelihood of experiencing pain.  The upside is that it forced me to be focused and mindful while running, which is always a good thing.

So, with that, I decided I was going to do the Holiday Halfathon.  I figured that if I ended up hurting too much, I’d just run-walk it, but that I was going to do my best to run the whole thing.

I went into the race with the primary goal of setting a new PR of sub-1:43 and a super-sekrit ambitious goal of breaking 1:40.  I’ll break the narrative tension right now to tell you that I achieved neither of these goals, but I do believe that a sub-1:40 half-marathon is in my very near future.

The reason why I did not make my goal had nothing to do with my knee.  Ironic, huh?  Instead, it was all about factors beyond my control.  See, a cold front had swept through the area just before the race, and the weather patterns were such that it seemed as though we might have gotten a substantial tail wind for the race, which would have ruled, right?  But that substantial tail wind turned around just before the start of the race, which is how I found myself running facefirst into 15+ mph winds.

I have actually become pretty good at positive self-talk and so I spent the first four miles saying, “Hey, at least it’s keeping things cool, right?”  My fragile barrier against the elements shattered, though, when I turned to run over a bridge and slammed into a strong gust of wind that knocked me backwards.  I think I may have actually told the wind to go fuck itself.  (The sneaky hate spiral strikes again!)

What made it worse is that I had to leave Brian behind really early in the race.  His legs have not fully healed from Ironman Florida – I guess that deep fatigue really is a killer – and he couldn’t maintain my pace.  It always makes me sad when this happens, but he really wanted me to go after my goal, so I left.

The first half of the race was fairly uneventful aside from the Winds of Doom pushing against my head, but I did make a pretty substantial mistake which may have cost me later.  I didn’t take my energy gel until mile seven, because I wanted to be near a water stop when I did it.  Problem is, by the time I got to mile 7, my legs were starting to feel heavy.  I like to time my nutrition so I never get to that point, because I know I’ll spend at least another mile feeling like I’m running through oatmeal if I get to that point.

And then at about mile eight, I started feeling all of these weird pains in my left leg – everywhere but my knee.  I had a deep ache in my calf, the kind I only get the day after I have one of those calf cramps that wake me up in the middle of the night.  At one point, my IT band, quad, calf, hip and my butt crease all were aching.  I felt like I had no choice but to walk a minute, even though it killed me to do so.  I had made my way past a whole clump of really strong runners, and I wanted to kick myself when every one of them passed me.

At about mile nine, when I was back in the headwinds, I realized there was a man right behind me.  Like, he was running about a foot behind me.  I realized pretty quickly that this dude was drafting off me!  I was tired and sore and my butt crease was aching and I felt like I had a golf ball in my calf, and here’s this guy, stealing all of my hard work! WTF, asshole?  I was inflamed with rage, so I started doing a slight zig-zag to see if I could lose him, but no such luck.  That guy stuck behind me for two full miles, until finally I was like “fuck this shit” and I started running faster just to get him off my ass.

(Brian later pointed out that I could take this as a compliment, that this guy saw me – a tall, solid woman – running at a pace he liked and that he thought I looked strong enough to make the way a bit easier for him. I’ve decided to adopt that perspective instead of just being annoyed by it, although pro tip, don’t draft off someone unless you are willing to do the same for them.)

I am not sure how I did it but I managed to get myself across the finish line at 1:46:56.  This marks the fourth time in a row that I’ve completed a half-marathon in the 1:40s, which tells me this shit ain’t a fluke.  (Am I the only one who does that?  Turns out a previously-unheard of athletic performance and then searches for all the reasons why it was a fluke?  No, just me?)  It’s also why I feel like the sub-1:40 is mine very soon.  If I can run a 1:46 with a wonky knee and with 15+ mph headwinds, who knows what I am capable of with decent conditions?

The other thing that I was really excited about was that this was my first age-group award in this series of half-marathons!  These races draw a lot of really accomplished runners from all around the area, and so to be fourth in my age group – I ended up getting third because the top lady in my AG is a certified stud and she came in third female overall – among all of these amazing runners was just an incredibly exciting feeling.

I’m recovered from the race and back to running, but this time I’m going to take it slowly.  I’m swapping out at least a run a week for some time on the elliptical, and I’m not going to do any more strength work.  I just need to keep myself healthy until January 19 so I can finally achieve this goal of mine that has eluded me for two years.

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Okay, that’s it for 2013.  I hope you all are having a wonderful holiday season, and I’ll see you next year!

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25 responses to “Marathon training latest: First injury, then triumph

  1. Congratulations on your placing! I went for a run last week (first in about 3 months) and my knee started bothering me a few days later. I learnt my lesson! Hope your knee is back to 100% soon and happy holidays!

    • Thanks, and happy holidays to you, too! May you get to spend the rest of the year – and next year too! – picking up heavy things and putting them down. 🙂

  2. My new favourite word cattywhompus, thanks for that. Well done on the race, great result. Inspiring read as always. Have a lovely hibernation!

    • Thanks! Hopefully I’ll get some this season but with the wonky weather we’re having – it’s 80+ degrees outside right now, wtf? – I’m not so sure. (Also, sorry to everyone else for hogging the warmth.)

  3. Congratulations on placing! Injuries have a way of showing us what we’re capable of, I think, so long as we treat them with respect. I really needed to read this after some minor setbacks of my own recently.

    • Thank you! I’m sorry to hear that you’ve been dealing with challenges of your own, and I hope that maybe in the new year they will cease to be challenges for you.

      Your comment made me think of this pair of images I saw somewhere. The first is an illustration of what we think achieving a goal/progress will look like, and it’s just an arrow going straight up and forward, and then the second is what actually happens, and it’s basically a bunch of squiggles and circles. Sounds about right.

  4. Well done on the half and chugging through it with that knee! I always envy people who can run through injuries because while I always get only minor strain/sprain-type things, they hurt even to walk through.

    Re: The running gods…I feel ya on that! They did me in the week after I’d hit my first almost-10k and was feeling chuffed with myself…wonked my foot in my next run, sat out 2.5 weeks before going out yesterday and wonked the other side of the same foot 30 steps in. Grrrr. Looks like it’s going to be a run-less rest of the year.

    Anyways, hope the running gods stay on your side, and all the best for January!

    • Yikes, I’m sorry to hear about the back-to-back injuries. That’s pretty wretched, especially so soon into your comeback run. I hope you can sort out whatever caused that. Do you think it was just bad luck or what?

      For what it’s worth, I’m pretty sure I was healed about 90%. If it had been at all like it was when my knee first started hurting, I wouldn’t have run. It was just too painful.

      • I think it’s prolly my right foot having to pay its dues…when I started running all the wonks were on my left (and it was always like this time…no falls or trip-ups, just unexplainable hurt after runs of varying lengths). I’d thought my right foot was spared since it’s my stronger side, but looks like I might be wrong!

  5. A few comments:
    1. Mystery pain sucks and I’ve got no advice. But you did all the right things!
    2. Just when I’m thinking I nailed it in training, a figurative bus usually hits me. Pride before the fall and all that. Just this week had what I would say was a break thru run in this training period, but within 24 had developed a terrible throat/head ache and flu symptoms. All that work for nothing!!
    3. I once was running well below a PR for a marathon and then hit 20mph headwinds for the last 6. I hate the wind.
    4. Ironman recovery took 10 months for me. I’m not surprised his legs couldn’t keep up.
    5. You will rock this marathon!!!

    • Thank you! I’m relieved to know that I’m not the only one whose breakthroughs are followed by setbacks, although I’m sorry you are sick! That’s awful. I hope you are feeling better soon.

      And also, 20 mph headwinds for the last six miles of a marathon where you were below PR? OUCH. Talk about the running gods messing with you. I hope you were able to make up for that on your next marathon (or maybe your Ironman, omg!)

  6. Loved this post: so funny, brave, smart and accurate. The thing about attributing performance to a series of flukes? Imposter’s Syndrome 🙂

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