My post-marathon return to running encountered a bit of a curveball earlier this week.
I was trotting on flat ground past boathouse row, 3.5 miles into what I imagined would be perhaps a 7-8 mile run, when I felt a novel tightness creep into my medial knee area just alongside the knee cap. It got a little tighter and a little tighter. I decided to turn around and start heading back, but jogged on through it hoping it would shake out and subside. It didn’t. Half a mile later, I called the run quits and walk-limped the remaining three miles home.
Nothing preempted the pain, no acute incident. I was jogging easily on flat ground. I’ve never had this kind of knee pain before.
Figuring that marathon recovery month would be an asinine time to acquire an injury, I opted to walk home and take a few more days off. I have my erg (rowing machine) here with me so I did some erging on my off days. Erging doesn’t bother the knee, dancing doesn’t bother it, going upstairs doesn’t bother it, and even walking is mostly fine. The only thing that seems to hurt is the pull-back/pushoff motion during running.
I jogged easily today to see if it had subsided and gave up after 20 minutes. Running downhill (even on slight declines) seems to exacerbate the pain. Something about this just feels… unwise to run through.
I keep wondering if it’s a meniscus issue, but a lot of the letsrun people (hey, I’m not the first one to use letsrun as a diagnosis tool) say that squatting down should cause pain. It doesn’t. Nothing seems to cause pain except for running. It doesn’t feel super localized; sometimes I can’t tell if it’s moving around a little or what. Some kind of tendinitis/inflammation issue? Something with the pes anserine (which I had never heard of prior to letsrun…)?
If I have to be injured, three weeks post-PR-marathon at the beginning of winter is the perfect time for it, but… let’s hope it will ultimately be another case of me overreacting. In the meantime, I’ll keep up with the erging and try to address some of the weaknesses (glutes?) that might be instigating the pain. I’m pretty out of shape for rowing, so I really can’t be going at the volume I’m accustomed to, which essentially means I’m going to continue to take it easy with exercise.
Whenever I have a pain that lasts more than a few days, I do start questioning my entire running existence and wondering if I’m doing something bad to my body. Recent posts from Gracie and Roserunner on this matter really struck a chord with me in terms of whether distance running and high mileage are really… worth it in the long term. Should I go back to being a combination athlete? Maybe I should just become a person who is chill and walks and does yoga and stretching and some light casual jogging here and there. (UGH NO NO NONONONONONONO. Maybe when I’m 40 or if I have little kids or something, this approach will be fulfilling. But for right now, I still have the bug: the hunger, the desire to train, improve, compete.)
Anyway, yeah. That’s what’s going on. Otherwise, things are pretty low-key. I’m nearly done with all my work for the semester and of course it’s the ongoing saga of feeling like I generally don’t have my act together in life, but… day by day, right?
My race reports tend to be more on the “inside my head” side and skimpy on the actual details, so I figured, with a week off from running and a strong desire to procrastinate my homework, now is the perfect time to add in a few more of the banal details I never think to share. Also, I want to stretch this post-race happy feeling out for as long as possible.
What I Ate:
- Breakfast: Four pieces of cinnamon-raisin toast with jam at 4:30am, along with green tea.
- Two Clif Shot Bloks at the starting line.
- During the race: 4 raspberry Clif gels — 1 each at miles 5, 10, 15, and 20. It’s rare that I manage to take these with water, but I’ve never had problems taking them straight up. I also drank water at about every other stop. Had a few sips of Gatorade as well, but mostly water.
No more smiling probably means this is the last 10K and I’m spelunking in my inner-focus cave. I certainly don’t look like the kind of girl who has any business mixing it up with the 3-hour mark here, but… books and covers and whatever.
Shoes: Saucony ProGrid Ride. I got these back in July and they have at least 1000 miles on them. I noticed as I was eating my pre-race breakfast that the right shoe has a hole in the pinky toe area. My feet got really beat up and blistered during the race — a lot more so than they have in the past when I’ve raced in Brooks Ghosts. I don’t think I would try to stretch the Sauconys this thin again.
Spandex: Underarmour that I’ve been wearing since my sophomore year in college six years ago. I wore longs because I was concerned about my hamstring acting up, and I figured it would have a better chance of surviving if I didn’t start out with cold leg muscles. Who knows if this theory holds water. I didn’t feel overheated at all.
Shirt: Tech shirt from the 2011 SeaCoast Relay in Juneau! My team won the whole thing that year. I liked knowing I had a piece of Alaska with me along for the ride.
Armwarmers: Constructed from $1 pair of CVS men’s tube socks. (Thank you, Tracy, for this idea.)
Gloves: Also CVS.
Hat: This is my college rowing hat. I run in a brimmed cap in the rain to cut down on the precipitation getting into my face, and I run in a hat in the sun to cut down on the… sun. I guess the only time I don’t wear a hat is if I’m running after dark and it’s not raining.
Ear warmer: One of those REI buff things, I think. I got it as a gift! I hate having cold ears, and ended up wearing it the entire time.
Watch: Timex. I got it in Atlanta in 2009.
I figured I would shed the gloves and arm warmers a few miles in, but I completely forgot about them. I probably would have been fine without them, but I was also fine with them, so here I am looking absurdly overdressed.
**I just reread this “Attire” section and am drooling on the table with boredom. No daily fitness fashion page is forthcoming.
I do not race with a Garmin if there are going to be mile markers along the course. The 2nd & 3rd mile markers were a little off, so I must have averaged something around 6:49 for those miles. I also missed a few of the markers.
Total Time: 3:02:42
So, my last mile was my slowest, and my last 0.2 was at 7:25 pace. Positive split aside, I think I meted out my effort level appropriately and began semi-dying at the correct point. Someday I hope to have the maturity and experience to run a marathon with a much stronger finish and a negative split that still reflects my fitness gains, but when I took it out aggressively in those first couple miles, I knew that this would probably be a positive split race for me — I wanted an honest shot at finding out my current fitness level, and I feel like I achieved this.
My first week post-“peak race.”
I’m following my usual post-marathon recovery schedule: luxuriating in a week completely off from running (and well, anything remotely resembling exercise aside from walking to class/work/the Thanksgiving dinner table). Second week back, I might test things out with a few short easy jogs. It shakes out perfectly that this two-week break happens to coincide with holiday travel and the crush of end-of-semester projects and tests.
Based on my past few marathons, I imagine that by the third week, I’ll be feeling good enough to introduce more regular running into my routine, and by the fourth and fifth weeks, if no aches or pains crop up and if I want to, I’ll likely approach my “normal” volume of 70+ mpw.
I do think that the body can become accustomed to almost anything, so when I see others jumping right back into their typical volume after running marathons, I have to figure… maybe that works for them?
As for me, I don’t race very often, so the races I do sign up for are all important to me. Philly was a big peak marathon, I put in the highest volume and intensity of training I’ve ever done for running, and I’m satisfied with my performance. Those three factors considered, it is indubitably time for a rest.
In fact, I feel like I shouldn’t even think about my next goal races very much yet – I’d rather give myself a month to recover and swing back to normal before picking out any races.
I have been thinking about what event I want to focus on this spring. I liked my pattern last year of training for a goal marathon and then a goal 10K a few months later. I also like the idea of training for the 10K because the time and energy commitment of the 70-80 mpw range feels natural and manageable – whereas those 100+ marathon prep weeks, while also satisfying and enjoyable, are much more of a reach and a stretch for me and seem to require a lot more ancillary maintenance activity (consistent myrtl routine and attention to my hips/lower back/glutes/core). And yeah, I know I maybe don’t have to be running triple digits in order to have a great marathon, but those weeks gave me so much confidence. And let’s be honest, they probably WERE the main reason I had a great marathon.
On Monday, I briefly considered rashly signing up for something small and flat and (if windless) fast like Hyannis or Ocean Drive this spring. I could gun for 2:59 and maybe even win… but I have the feeling this would turn into a case of “too much, too soon.” Right now, as much as I’d like to take a stab at it, I don’t see myself shooting for another marathon PR until next fall. I like the idea of taking a long rebuilding “quiet period” and letting my legs continue to accumulate miles, hopefully with some faster training ( for 8-15K races) peppered in there to provide a different kind of stimulus before I build back into the more gluttonous range I’ve enjoyed chasing in my last two marathon build-ups.
I guess this all serves to underscore the fact that I should wait until after my break/rebuilding period to assess my racing aspirations for the next couple months (and years).
Official results say 3:02:42 for a 6:58/mile average. In anecdotal results, the offending hamstring did not bother me one bit.
On the one hand, I don’t know how I did it.
On the other hand, sure I do.
I flip-flopped between nervous and psyched in the days leading up to the race. I could have predicted a result like this before I got injured, but lately, I wasn’t sure if I’d go out and find it hard to pull 7:25s, or if I’d somehow be seeing sub-7 pace and maybe that would magically feel easy.
After waking up this morning, I realized that more than anything, I was excited to let the day unfold. Let it happen. The miles I ran in training would either come back to reward me or they wouldn’t, and either way, it was going to be an incredible day to run.
Before the start, I met up with one of my training buddies and we jogged down to our corral. I was surprised to almost literally run into the girl who won the small 4th of July road race I did this summer (I came in second). Somehow this serendipitous run-in helped me feel really loose and grounded about how my race would go. Our brief, nervous chat made me feel connected to the mileage foundation I’d built starting all the way back in July.
National anthem, loudspeaker chatter, and then the gun went off and there I was crossing the starting mat hoping idly that I’d done a sufficient job tying my shoes.
My first mile was a 6:42. Oh, man.
I saw that opening split on my watch and thought to myself, Well, I guess it’s gonna be that kind of day.
I had no delusions of holding this pace all through the race, but I wasn’t worried about having a quicker start. I anticipated that if my hamstring held up and allowed me to see where my fitness stood, I was going to positive split this race.
I managed to reign in my pace after an opening 5K that averaged somewhere in the 6:40s. We cruised along through Center City and I high-fived a few little kids and soaked in the (honestly) heartwarming crowd support of strangers who read my name off my bib. I came through the 10k in about 42:22 and said out loud to myself, “a bit ambitious.”
Then the tide of fellow 3:00 to 3:05 hopefuls carried me across the Schuylkill and we came to the sole hilly section of the race between miles ~7 and 10. Many runners screamed by me down the hills in these miles. As they did, I announced to the guy next to me: “Don’t go with them, we’re gonna save our quads.”
SWEATY KID, COURSE EXPERT, ZERO CREDENTIALS.
However, he emitted a noise that sounded like an agreement, and together we remained calm and let everybody fly by us. We later both reeled most of these people back in and passed them after things flattened out.
All too soon, there we were peeling back around the Art Museum and losing our half-marathon friends. My watch caught the half split at 1:3o:22. I felt I was at a similar effort level at the same point during the Louisiana Marathon, where I positive split by about two minutes in the second half. I decided I could hope for a similar result here, which might mean I could squeak under 3:05.
We swung out onto lovely, leafy Kelly Drive where the crowd support all but evaporated, but I was glad because this, this was going to be my stretch. My river. My path. My town. At about mile 14.5 or 15.5, however, I had a fleeting moment of doubt. I saw the mile 24 marker on the opposite side of the course, and experienced a mild, sudden paralysis of WTF ARE YOU DOING WHY DID YOU GO OUT SO FAST STUPID IDIOT YOU ARE GOING TO PERISH.
But it passed. A word popped into my head that I latched onto during those miles: “Nunatak.” It’s a Native Alaskan word for rock outcroppings that aren’t glaciated — they’re more or less the tippy tops of mountains that were (or are) too tall to have been covered in ice. I’m not sure if this is true, but somebody back in Juneau once told me that it means “lonely one,” or maybe that’s a name for one of these particular mountain tops. I had an Aldo Leopold moment and told myself these miles up until the turnaround point for the last 10K would be the nunatak miles. The lonely ones. I could think like a mountain and shoulder the loneliness and it didn’t have to be some big miserable end-of-the-world deal.
Aside from that, I don’t believe I had a single outside thought until about mile 20. It’s as if I shrank back into myself during these miles and fixated on the simple, manageable task of hitting the four minute mark on my watch into each mile split, and then the (sub)-seven minute mark. I plugged methodically onward through the markers and stayed smooth, relaxed.
Soon we were turning around in Manayunk and it was exactly as I envisioned it. Last 10K. The bridges, the St. Joe’s boathouse, the river path, the rowing statue and the grandstands. Sub-7:00s were harder to come by and a few ephemeral whispers of cramps seized my legs, but I kept doing the math in my head and knew I’d have to have a cataclysmic meltdown to be over 3:05. Even as my pace crept upward, it seemed as if the final miles went by far too quickly. I was uncomfortable, but not redlining. I had no desire for a heroic fast finish — probably could not have mustered one if I’d tried — and was mostly a little sad to see the race coming to an end. I took my time getting through the last mile and my reaction to passing the 26th flag was one of wistful disbelief.
I crossed the finish line and the rest of the world roared back into my ears, throngs of runners and spectators, heat sheets crinkling, medals winking in the sun, people talking loudly and limping.
The subsequent hour was spent kneading away charlie horses, drinking several blissful cups of chicken broth, and passing multiple eternities in the changing tent while undergoing basic challenges to my gross motor skills like removing my freezing sweaty sports bra without sending my muscles into painfully exhilarating cascades of cramps. I spent the rest of the day eating and drinking with family and friends, feeling satisfied, grateful, happy and, well… incredulous and sad that it was already over.
Well, we all know there is only one cure for that feeling.
Yes, I’ve entirely given up on crafting interesting post titles.
My hamstring is not perfect, but I feel fine about it. In my past two marathons, I’ve had some kind of nagging worrisome ache crop up in the months leading up to the race, and all was okay once I locked into an honest pace on race day. For the sake of my sanity, I have to assume the same will be the case here.
Sometimes I read about how much people hate tapering, and I just don’t get it. Am I the only one who thinks it’s a great fun to wake up knowing all the work is behind you? I mean, I love running long, but I’ve never felt any kind of itchy burning desire to “do more” during the taper. Bring on the short runs!
Of course, I am looking back at the past few months wishing that I could have… well, not gotten injured. This will be my fourth marathon, and it’s the first time I’ve had a notable training roadblock crop up beforehand. I do feel as if I’ve lost fitness, and I’m certainly not going into this marathon with the race sharpness I’d originally envisioned. It’s not ideal, but it’s okay because the pressure’s off and my expectations are lower. In fact, I really don’t know what to expect. Sub-3:10? Yes, I should be there. If nothing goes horribly awry, I will be under 3:10. The question then becomes, how close to 3:05 can I squeeze?
But crap! Everything can go wrong! What if the ham-hitch comes back in full force and I’m dragging my leg behind me the whole way? Or what if I just wake up feeling sluggish and have one of those every-once-in-a-while bad days? What if I get intimidated by the thousands of other people in my CORRAL at the start and let it mess with my head? What if my 3:11 at Louisiana was an enormous fluke and that course was incomparably easy and I’ve been deluding myself about my ability all along?
Standard pre-race doubts.
Dread and doubt, however, are not my dominant emotions right now. My mind keeps pinging back to something a teammate said to me as we headed down to rowing practice for a time trial a few years ago. I was so nervous about the erg test, and I expected my teammate to respond with a commiserative, “I’m scared, too.” Instead, she said something like, “I’m not nervous. I’m excited to see what I can do.”
That’s how I feel about this race. I’ve built this, I’ve laid the foundation, I’ve done the work, and now I’m intrigued to see if it will land me anywhere special. From November of last year to October of this year, I logged 4217 miles and averaged over 81 mpw. I’ve put in 11 triple-digit weeks since the end of July. I’ve had multiple 7:2x-paced long runs. Maybe I didn’t do enough speed work and maybe my injury derailed some of the big runs I was planning to put in closer to the race, but the miles I ran haven’t disappeared. Maybe I’m not the kind of runner who can peak at 60mpw and still bust out a 3:0x, but I’ve relished the process of getting here, so when I think about what’s going to happen on Sunday, I’m really just… excited.
I’m going to be in a GIANT CROWD. I’m not gonna know wtf to do about throwaway clothes, there will be tons of people and not enough portopotties, and I’ll probably have some last-minute peeing emergency and my heart will be pounding even though it’s just a race, even though it’s just running. So the first few miles will be crowded. I’ll stay cool and settle in, I won’t get carried away, I won’t be stupid. There will be cheering and a few hills and lots and lots of people but I’m going to be relaxed, patient, latent, thanking volunteers while I’ve still got the breath for it. At mile 13, we’ll pull back around the Art Museum and lose the halfers and here come the long and lonely stretches so I’ll stay in my head, lock into this minute, mile by mile, reel ’em in pick ’em off, here’s Girard Ave Bridge, keep rolling, here’s Strawberry Mansion Bridge, this is my turf, this is my river, this is my town now, up to Green Lane in Manayunk turn around and here it is, the last 10K, the bridges again, they’ll be slower to come by so I’ll work, press, stay loose, rolling, rolling, rolling, Mile 25 and Boathouse Row and here it is, the last sweet, dreadful mile and no matter what happens I hope I’m thinking to myself, how damn lucky am I to be out here feeling alive today?
Somehow, it’s already time to taper for the Philadelphia Marathon.
Somehow, I managed to cobble together 110 nearly pain-free miles last week, and somehow, I’m not feeling so terrible about my chances anymore.
The past thirty days have been strange. I went from being in the best (marathon) shape of my life, to thinking I might not be able to run, to completely not caring about the marathon because I was suddenly consumed with fretting over upsetting things I can’t control, to wondering if maybe I can pull off a PR on November 18th after all.
This month I saw the ugly side of nature. The side where you discover cancer has licked out into the internal organs of one of the most important people in your life, and how can this be happening and nothing about it makes sense and neither of you even knows what to say so your eyes brim over and that says it all.
I saw the beautiful side too. I watched the silent fluttering of a saw-whet owl in a mist net and then I held the creature in my hands, looked close enough to see the stealthy fringe on the wings.
Racing seems to exist at this nexus in nature between anguish and joy. There are awful moments and great ones, and you’re always balancing the incredible discomfort of pushing your body as far as it will go with the dreadful primal bliss of finding out just how alive you can be today.
In racing, you can control so much. You can control your preparation, your fueling, your footwear, the comfort of your outfit…
And yet, then there are a whole multitude of factors you don’t necessarily get to have a say in, so you’re there simply to bear witness to the experiment and adapt around setbacks and surprises however you can. You are forced, by virtue of how very uncomfortable you are, to exist in the now, to focus on the moment and work through the distance quarter mile by quarter mile in a manner that’s as honest as you can muster, even though you’re leaving footprints nobody’s going to see.
I… I don’t know.
I know that, in the end, running doesn’t matter at all. It just doesn’t. But it sure is one hell of an escape, one hell of a way to process my thoughts and experience some tiny microcosm of the world. That’s all I want from it, and I’m lucky to get out there every day.
Anyway, enough of this sentimental noise. I just looked up my registration confirmation and discovered there appear to be 33,000 people registered for this race (if you include the halfers). WHAAAAAAT. I mean, I know it’s a big race and all, but that is greater than the population of Juneau. Maybe I’ll be like a horse and construct some blinders for my hat in order to avoid becoming overwhelmed.
PS. Blogger platform blogs, I don’t know what it is, but my computer will not let me comment on your posts anymore. I have tried many ways around this but must finally conclude that I am too techno-deficient to figure it out.
PS again, if I had any sense of timing, I would probably comment on the election or hurricane Sandy, but I have nothing insightful or intelligent to contribute to either of those discussions, so here is a mountain:
The term “slow-motion trainwreck” might be a solid characterization of how my training is progressing right now. I have a vague idea of where this might be going, but I’m not sure how to stop it.
I’ll have days completely free of pain, and then days when that nagging hitch in my hamstring come back and precludes me from running anything under a certain pace without altering my gait significantly. Speed work of any kind appears to be the catalyst.
I was pain-free after falling out of the kayak and cracking my back, until about two weeks later when the ache returned on the very last rep of a 400m workout. I took a day off, whined, complained, did a bunch of physical therapy exercises, and set out on Sunday for what I’d originally foreseen as a 22-mile run but decided would probably be closer to 5-10. Well, I made it through the entire 22 miles, painlessly, at 7:25 pace.
Sure. Next couple days were fine, just some recovery jogs.
Then I set out this morning for a bit of marathon pace work. I warmed up for three miles, did a set of three miles at ~6:58, jogged a mile, and then midway through the second set, the stupid pain popped up again. I backed off immediately and shuffled home.
Where does this leave me?
I can slog through easy miles with no problem, but any time I try to touch sub-7:00 pace, it starts to feel like someone is strumming my lateral hamstring tendon with a glass plectrum.
I’ve got 32 days until I’m supposed to be lining up at the bottom of the Art Museum steps, legs charged with adrenaline, eyes searching the other nervous-happy faces, heart thrumming a bit too fast as I try to get my head around what I’m about to attempt…
Now I just don’t know. I’m not at a point where I can conclusively throw in the towel, and again, I do tend toward the melodramatic where even the teensiest of injuries is concerned, but I’m not so sure how this is going to go anymore.
Maybe I overdid it. Maybe I just asked too much volume of my legs this summer and now it’s catching up. Or maybe this is a quick fix I can remedy with some physical therapy, or more appropriate shoes, or better attention to my stride and footfalls. Who knows. This could either devolve into a nightmare overuse injury, or it might just… go away. (Hey, it’s happened to me before.)
Today, the uncertainty of how to proceed is the tricky part. Once you know how bad things are and have an accurate picture of exactly what you’re dealing with, you can commit to the long period of grinding it out and plowing through it. You can launch the uphill one-day-at-a-time battle of whatever you have to do to navigate it in a way that will prevent you from feeling miserable and hopeless. But right now? In the early stages, you just keep hoping you’ll wake up to discover that whatever was challenging you is either completely manageable or — even better — has miraculously evaporated overnight.