After missing my sub-3:00 goal in the Dallas marathon when I know I was in sub-3:00 shape, I identified what I thought went wrong. Some of it was out of my control (weather and not the fastest course), and some of it was my fault (not eating enough race morning, peaking at 55 mpw for fear of injury). After running a 1:26 half marathon that felt easy 6 days after the Dallas marathon on a course with probably 100 turns, I felt confident about taking an abbreviated rest period followed by an abbreviated marathon build up. I was salivating for that sub-3:00 and I wasn’t willing to wait.
I chose the Phoenix marathon on February 27 for my next race. The course was supposed to be about 4 minutes faster than Dallas, so I reasoned that even if I had a so-so day like in Dallas, I would still go sub-3:00. But I also wasn’t leaving anything up to chance – plus, why not try to go way under 3:00 with an opportunity to run such a fast course.
On December 28 (2 weeks after Dallas), my build-up to Phoenix commenced. The training schedule was hard, but I was up for the challenge. I planned more mileage and intensity, and more cross training to add second workouts without adding too much mileage to risk injury. I hit the workouts. In the first week I ran a 10-mile tempo at 6:25 average pace – starting around 6:35 and finishing around 6:10. I also ran one of my favorite speed workouts faster than I ever had: 2 mile, 1.5 mile, 1 mile, 0.5 mile in 12:11 (6:07, 6:04), 8:55 (6:00, 2:55), 5:52, 2:50 on the road with rolling hills around my house. I was tired but the training was doable; and I felt it was sustainable for 6 more weeks. I was so hungry for that 2:5X.
Around January 3, I got sick. My daughter had a nagging virus that her pediatrician said could hang on for 6-8 weeks, and since she’d had it for several weeks already I thought I was out of the woods and wouldn’t catch it. I guess my immune system wasn’t as powerful as usual with coming off of Dallas and resuming hard training, and I caught it. I started wheezing, along with a sore throat and fatigue. I was able to train through it for the most part; I believe you can train through about any illness, although that doesn’t mean you should (see lessons learned at the end of this blog!)!
On January 19, we had an ice storm followed by a snow storm. I ran outside the morning of January 19 before the winter weather came in, but after my typical 20-minute commute home took 2.5 hours that evening, I knew that January 20 would have to be a treadmill day. I avoid the treadmill as much as I can, but choose it above no run. So on January 20, I ran my easy 8 miles on the hamster-mill Except I alternated easy pace (7:30) with goal marathon pace (6:50) every half mile (at 1% incline) so I didn’t die of boredom. Still an easy workout, but not as easy as prescribed.
Then on January 21 I was finally feeling 100% from my illness, so I was excited to get back to harder workouts! The roads were still treacherous, so my 6 x 1200 m. workout became 6 x 0.75 mile at 1% incline on the treadmill (with 0.25 mile recoveries). I ran the 1200’s between 5:52-5:56 pace, and this was a solid workout with under 2:00 recoveries. It was also 10 miles total. January 22 was a non-running day, and I did a HIIT bootcamp class and some easy cross-training (my typical Friday routine).
On January 23 (Saturday) the roads were good again and I had a 20-mile long run on tap! I was pumped for the run and also had a great training partner, Missy, scheduled to run with. We cranked off the miles around 7:20 pace on rolling hills and all was going smoothly. I felt wonderful not to be sick anymore (I had run 17 miles the Saturday before with Missy while I was wheezing and feeling weak)! Around mile 14, my right calf started feeling tight. I kept running, hoping it would loosen up, but it got progressively more painful. Miles 14-15 slowed to around 7:30 pace. Around mile 16 I stopped to stretch, which didn’t help. I really wanted to finish the 20, and figured I could do anything for 4 more miles, and also that I could do my usual recovery tricks (ice bath, foam roller, stretching, compression socks – not in that order!) and my leg would be fine. I had never had any issues with that area on my leg before. PLUS, it was 20 degrees out! I knew if I stopped running I would freeze. My pace slowed to 7:45ish.
By mile 17.5, I knew something was wrong. I told Missy I was going to stop at 18. I made it to 18 at 8:00 pace and stopped and walked. I hated not finishing a key long run, but by that point I couldn’t run without a limp – and I never run while limping. Missy ran ahead to get her car (parked at 20) to come back for me, but it was sure a cold walk waiting for her. My calf area hurt some while walking, but not severely. The cold walk was also sure a stressful one, as I debated the possibilities. And I was correct about freezing once I stopped running – I was so terribly cold. I debated taking off my sweaty sports bra to help, but my hands were too cold to even try that. I was thankful I didn’t have to walk the full 2 miles as I would have if I had been alone.
I limped around the rest of the day, despite doing a lot of stretching, foam rolling, icing, elevating, and compressing (no ice bath because I was far too cold for that after walking while waiting for Missy!). I was still disillusioned enough to think that maybe I would wake up on Sunday and be fine. I instead woke up on Sunday barely able to walk. I limped to my workout room and tried the elliptical, which was just as painful as walking. I then tried the bike, which I would ride seated okay (but if I got out of the saddle my leg screamed).
Initially, my goal was to still run Phoenix so I worked with an ART therapist hoping to rehab quickly. He diagnosed me with a strain in my posterior tibial tendon. He said it was likely because I abruptly ran hard and double digits on the treadmill when I wasn’t used to treadmill running. He is a runner himself, and also told me that he chooses skipping a run over running on the treadmill because of the injury risk since it makes you run differently, and that he had several injured runners come in after the ice storm we had.
The ART treatments helped, but walking normally was out of the question, so even trying a run wasn’t going to happen. At 1 week off, I was still hopefully about Phoenix. After 2 weeks off and still limping around, I was getting doubtful. I also put on a walking boot I had from a previous injury, as I thought that walking around at work was hampering healing. The walking boot sped up healing and I wish I would have put it on from day 1 (I also wish I had stopped at mile 14 of that long run, but you know what they say about hindsight!). At 3 weeks off, I officially pulled out of Phoenix.
Initially I could only bike seated, swim (but not push off the walls very hard when turning), aquajog, and do some strength training. I have cross-trained religiously though; and my weekly duration is more than the duration I would have spent running. Gradually I progressed to being able to do more activities, in this order:
1. Arc trainer
2. Stairmill (going up stairs didn’t hurt at all even when walking on flat ground did, although going down stairs was a beast!)
3. Stand up on the bike
5. Alter-G treadmill running at 50% body weight
6. HIIT bootcamp (this includes a lot of jump moves, and running in place)
7. Alter-G treadmill running at 70% body weight
At 5.5 weeks out, I am almost back to running outside; in fact, I am going to try tomorrow. I tried on February 28, because after being able to run in place, jump, and run on the Alter-G I thought I was ready, but I couldn’t run without a limp. Something about the forward propelling motion at 100% body weight I guess.
So the Phoenix marathon happened before I could run again. I kept searching for upsides of missing it: It was hot. I was sick again (this is a whole other blog, but I just can’t kick this illness, although it cycles). We saved a lot of money not going. Clearly, I wasn’t meant to run it this year. On February 27, the morning of Phoenix, I did a solid 2 hour cross-training workout and then took my daughter to the Discovery Center, a local hands-on children’s science museum. On the drive home, it suddenly hit me: I should have been in Phoenix that day. I should have just finished a sub-3:00 marathon. My eyes welled up with tears behind my sunglasses, but I kept my composure as I drove us home.
It’s only running, and it’s only a race (I missed 2 other races that were less important as well). I am thankful I’ve been able to cross-train, and I am thankful that I am healing and will heal 100%. I am thankful I should have a chance to run marathons in the fall and to run Phoenix in 2017. When our plans don’t work out, it’s because God has better ones. I 100% believe that, and it’s exactly what I thought after Dallas, but I also think it’s okay to be disappointed while having this faith.
I learned. I learned to not jump on the treadmill for hard and long miles abruptly. I’ve done it in the past and gotten away with it. I learned not to push too hard running when sick. I didn’t recover as well from my workouts when I was sick, and I believe that contributed to this. I learned patience – perhaps it’s been forced patience, but patience with running (or anything) isn’t my strong suit, so I am looking at this as an exercise in patience. I am going to be patient with my comeback. I am not expecting anything great race-wise until fall, so I can come back safely and slowly. I am not giving up on my 2016 goals of a sub-3:00 marathon and a sub-38:00 10K, and I hope I haven’t lost all of my fitness, but 5.5 weeks off is a long time.
That didn’t work out, but something else will.