It’s been a year. Eight months in, and I’m in a wildly different place than where I thought I’d be. I just looked back on my first post of the year, when I written about my goal or theme for 2017, which was to dig deep and let racing hurt a little. To go beyond my comfort zone. I accomplished that exactly one time, at the Bloomsday 12K in May. My fitness wasn’t where it had been the year before, but I boarded the pain train and managed a new personal best by several seconds. It was the week after that race that things went south. Rather than taking some time to recover and have a “down” week, I plugged away and trained harder, and pretty much immediately strained my hamstring. I should have known better. Hindsight is everything! I got greedy. When things started to go my way, I wanted even more. For the next ten or so weeks after that, I couldn’t run at all without my leg hurting. I had to cancel my trip to Duluth, Minnesota, where I had planned to run Grandma’s Marathon in June. I spent a lot of time worrying about my future goals and how I’d ever accomplish them. I was adamant about maintaining my fitness by cross training, until even pool running aggravated my leg. Right around that time, I listened to an interview with Olympian Kate Grace where she spoke on her experience with injury- that there are only so many hours of pool running you can do before you drive yourself crazy. At some point you just have to let yourself heal. It was like Kate was speaking right to me! I had to let go.
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”
That pretty much sums up the first half of 2017 for me. After around three years of really solid training, I’ve been sidelined twice this year with a hamstring injury. The first time around it was fairly minor and I felt better after a couple weeks off. I even managed to get in shape enough to run a personal best at the Bloomsday 12K in May. The second injury has been much worse as I haven’t run in six weeks as of yesterday! I sought medical attention and have been rehabbing, strengthening, cross training, and resting, but unfortunately this seems to be one of the most stubborn injuries I’ve ever dealt with. I’ve been hesitant to write about it, as I really don’t enjoy writing “gloom and doom” posts, but I’m just going to keep this real.
Within the first few days of this injury, I was really stressed out at the prospect of rehabbing and getting in shape in time for Grandma’s Marathon on June 17th. When it became clear my leg wasn’t going to better anytime soon, the decision was pretty much made for me. The marathon was off. Rather than being upset about it, I felt relieved. I could take the time I needed to get better and not have to scramble to prepare for what would likely be a mediocre race on little training. Here’s what I wrote that day:
I am deliriously happy. It may be heightened emotion, poised to crash down the next time my muscle gives a little twinge, a stinging reminder that things aren’t all as they should be. But for now, I am relieved. I clip away on my fire engine red bike. The sun is warm on my skin. My usual cup of coffee tastes better than usual. I feel present and alive and hopeful.
It really was a wonderful feeling. However, as the weeks went by and my leg continued to sting and twinge, I began to crumple.
From here to there. That is what I miss. To move over the earth, to crest the hill, to discover what’s around the bend. I lunge, crawl, kick, and stretch but I’m grounded. Every so often I give in. I dash up a dune. I get a little dog to chase me. I run hot potato barefoot over the black pavement. If you asked me any other time I’d say I run to train and get the best out of myself. What I’ve realized is that running is the way I experience the world around me.
I wrote that one month ago. I keep telling myself that it will be just another couple weeks, but a couple weeks later it is still the same. A couple weeks from now will have been two months, and I’m still not seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.
There are a few things that have been keeping me going through all of this. My friends, who have all gone through the same thing in one way or another and know exactly what it’s like. Cross training, which will never be the same as running no matter how you frame it, but it makes me feel like I’m doing something. In fact, I signed up for my first bike race a few weeks ago and got to experience the thrill of the chase in another form. I was almost embarrassed at how delighted I felt after crossing the finish line.
Tomorrow I will start my first day as the new assistant coach at Mountainside High School. I got my start running in high school and I can’t wait to hopefully inspire and motivate young men and women that may be being introduced to the sport for the first time. Lastly, I’ve been putting my heart and soul into a new running project that will be announced this week. I’m grateful for what running has given to me, and in turn want to give back to this community which has done so much for me. Stay tuned!
The good: my hamstring that sidelined me last month is totally better! I rehabbed and cross-trained like a pro and followed my doctor’s orders to a T as I gradually introduced running back into my routine over several weeks. I missed out on indoor track, but still have my sights set on some later spring races including the Corvallis Half Marathon and Bloomsday Run.
The bad: my opposite leg is now giving me trouble in a weird way, and I have no idea what’s wrong. It’s a completely foreign feeling. I’m getting it checked out this week. I’m hesitant to write about this at all, because then my imperfect leg is no longer my little secret. If I don’t talk about it it isn’t real! Yeah…
The ugly: my feelings surrounding this new, unknown thing going on with my leg include but are not limited to extreme anxiety (How long will this put me out before it gets better? Will I be able to race this spring or even this year?), hopelessness (How will I ever reach my long term goals if I can’t even reach my short term goals?), a sense of failure (I did this to myself!), and envy of healthy runners (They’re meant to run and you’re not!). It’s a dark and terrible downward spiral.
My first instinct is to stick my head in the sand and pretend nothing is wrong and continue with my training. I ran ten miles of trails earlier today under a glorious, sunny sky with a teammate and all was fine. Actually, all of my runs have been “fine”. I’m not in pain and I’m not hobbling around, but I know my body well enough to know that something isn’t right. My inclination after initial denial is to assume the absolute worst; that I’ve done irreparable damage and I’ll never run again without something going wrong. When facing uncertainty it’s easy to project the most extreme scenarios and believe they’ll come true. Hopefully in a couple days I’ll get some answers, face the facts whatever they may be, and come up with a solid plan for what to do next. Until then, rest and breathe!
Last Friday I met some friends at the local high school track in the wee hours of the morning for a speed workout. It was dark, 40ºF, and midway through it started to rain. The whole ordeal seemed very Oregonian. I haven’t actually looked back on my splits until now, so here’s how it went (you may recognize this as a modified version of the Michigan):
1600m @ 10K – 6:18 / lap rest
1 road mile steady – 6:54 / 100m rest
1200m @ 10K – 4:41 / lap rest
1 road mile steady – 6:42 / 100m rest
800m @ 10K – 3:06 / lap rest
1 road mile steady – 6:43 / 100m rest
400m @ FAO – 76 / DONE
It was a monster workout! There wasn’t pressure to hit a certain pace other than going by a 10K effort for the track portions and an even effort for the road miles. The constant switching gears from “steady” to “race pace” was what made it really tough. Toward the end I could feel my stomach starting to churn, something that often happens in a race situation, but hard to mimic otherwise. So, well done, coach!
January is typically the toughest month of the year for me. Daylight hours are few which affects my mood and productivity. I feel out of sorts from the aftermath of the holiday sugar overload and I feel out of shape because I’m not in any sort of peak training. Every year I know it’s coming and every year it happens, though this year has been one of the better so far. Part of that has not been overwhelming myself with new resolutions then feeling terrible for not accomplishing them. Rather, I’ve been taking everything one day at a time and simply doing my best.
While I haven’t made any specific resolutions for this year, I’m continuing with some themes that resonated with me last year: consistency and grace. Committing to being consistent and outlining specific daily and weekly goals really helped my accountability with training in 2016. I reached my goal of running 2600 miles in the year, an average of 50 miles per week. Leading up to the Chicago Marathon last October, I had this realization that I had been being really hard on myself through my training and had been putting too many expectations on myself and that one day. I felt that instead I needed to be gentle with myself and give myself grace. That became super relevant because I got to a point in the marathon where I wanted to quit because I was hurting badly and falling behind around mile 17. I gave myself permission to stop, collect myself, and run it in to the finish at a sustainable pace rather than bail. I’m more proud of earning that Chicago Marathon medal than any other.
I still want to pick a new theme going into the new year. There’s one thing I’m always afraid of going into a race, and that is to let it hurt! I’m not talking about pushing through an injury, but running through typical race pain. I always try to do the best I can while remaining as comfortable as possible. My reasoning is that I want to save something for the end and avoid burning out. This strategy is okay to an extent, but by not taking any risks I’ve rarely reached a point where I’ve truly found my edge. I can think back to an instance last year when I was in a later stage of a local race and nearly caught up to someone that had always finished leagues ahead of me. I was having a great day and she was likely having a rough day. I began to close the gap between us, but something held me back. I was scared to pass her because I didn’t know if I could do that and maintain my pace to the finish. I also somehow felt I shouldn’t pass her out of respect, like it would be a low blow on someone already having a bad day. I didn’t attempt to pass her, and it’s very likely she would have rallied and beat me anyway, but I’ll never know what would have happened had I tried. I wish I had just gone for it. All that being said, this year my goal is to take bigger risks and let it hurt a little! Perhaps that is a bit counter-intuitive with my grace theme… but I believe it’s possible to have both.
I updated my race schedule with an outline of my first half of the year. I’m kicking off the season next week with some indoor track, repeating some of my favorite races from last year including the Corvallis Half Marathon and Bloomsday 12K, and capping it all off with the historic Grandma’s Marathon in June!
In another news, I recently got to chat with Lindsey Hein on her podcast I’ll Have Another. Lindsey is a marathon runner, running coach, and mom. I remember first learning about her and her incredibly moving story when she graced the cover of Women’s Running Magazine. She was so sweet to chat with and we covered all kinds of topics from my life growing up with music, my first sub-3 marathon, and how running and music intersect in my life. We also talked my experience at the Grammys last year and talents and woes of Mariah Carey, Taylor Swift, and Adele. You can listen to the episode here as well as on iTunes.
Enough typing for now- it’s time to bust out the spikes and hit the (snow covered) track!