Last week was sobering. Work was hell. I’m still riding the emotional waves of living a life on pause and some days are much harder to get through than others. I have an injury that feels like one I had back in 2012 where my hip adducters, glutes, and IT band had basically frozen into a state of immobility that benched me from running the 2012 Des Moines Marathon and threatened my training for the 2013 Goofy Challenge. I don’t take it as a coincidence that my dead leg feeling has not worn off for weeks, that running speeds I used to run with total ease are hard as hell now. Going through physical therapy eventually led me to run at faster speeds than I ever had run before, but with my next race now in less than a month, it wasn’t the time to be benched.
Monday: Core and hip work, yoga, arms. Sunday’s tempo run fooled me into thinking I would be okay running 6 easy miles today. It was windy yet AGAIN so I hopped on the treadmill, but after literally running only 0.10 miles, my knee and calf were sending shooting pains back and forth and I realized I was running with a gimp– just like I did before I had to get physical therapy. I jumped right off the treadmill and immediately did my physical therapy exercises that were once prescribed to me. No fooling around. I rolled and stretched for over an hour.
Tuesday: 6.5 easy pace miles at 10:41. Another awful day at the office. Not just “can’t seem to get it right today” awful– supremely shitty awful. Certifiably throw-my-hands-in-the-air, done-fighting-this, why-bother terrible. The kind of day I would normally skip a run to get lost on a job application on my couch, but after having had several days of really terrible work days, I decided I was not going to let this one get to me. My work does not define me. Yes, I am on a quest for the ultimate job where, even if it is not a dream and it comes with hardships, at least I’ll be doing what I love and one for which my skills actually translate better than where I am, but this job is not my life. It is a blip. And I am not going to let a blip defeat who I am. To me, it is JUST a JOB. The bridge to something greater. Nothing more. So I laced up my old pair of neutral running shoes, thinking that quite possibly my new pair of stability running shoes are the problem, and headed to the gym where I glided through 6 easy-pace miles with scarcely any knee or calf problems. Thank GOD. Maybe my new shoes were the problem, maybe they were not. Whatever it is and all of that aside, those 70 minutes I spent on the treadmill were the defining victorious minutes of my entire day.
Wednesday: 25 minutes of spin, 5 minutes of 90-pound leg presses. Besides the obvious reason, injuries really suck. They throw you into a period of uncertainty and vulnerability. I’m not used to leaving work and not knowing what to do about running. Getting out there has always been my obvious post-work, de-stressing evening happy hour activity, and the last few days have been full of “not sure if I’m going to run” because I’m not sure if I CAN run. In addition, I am questioning EVERYTHING right now in trying to find the solution to the problems. Is it because I have a standing desk at work? Am I not doing enough hip and core work? Is it my running shoes or possibly my every day patent black flats that I know are falling to pieces and that I have to replace but wear with Dr. Scholl’s orthotics for support? Is it because I’m not walking as much as I was when I lived in Washington? It’s an ongoing search for the answer and being able to run a blissful 6 miles one day and be in total pain the next day is confusing as hell. So, I got on the treadmill last night and started walking what felt like a promising brisk walk to warm up. After hitting a quarter of a mile, I started running at a very slow 5mph, 12:00 pace. It felt like there was a knife stabbing my inner left knee but I decided to try pushing past it and, a quarter mile later, edged up the speed to 5.5mph or 10:54. My knee started hurting more, but what was also frightening was that I felt like I was running with a gimp. A quarter mile later and nothing had resolved itself, so I decided to play it safe and opt for the bike again. Honestly, I hate the spin bike. Hate it. I really don’t like any kind of exercise that requires me to move a machine, but I had to suck it up and keep my fitness level high because now I was down another 6-mile run. I ended the 25 minutes of intolerable hill repeats with 5 minutes on the leg press machine. Later that night, over a pint of ice cream, I thought to myself that I felt totally lost without that wrecked, tired, but ecstatic feeling that a long hard run gives me. I swear, I’m going to figure this out.
Thursday: 6 easy-pace miles at 10:41. Lately, I have been running on both the treadmill and in my old neutral running shoes as a way to a) escape the 20-30 mph wind and freezing slushy snow of winter’s rebellious submission to early spring and b) pinpoint the source of my knee and calf pain. I have a suspicion that my recent $12 stability running shoe steal was actually not a smart move (which is fine– I need a pair of cross-trainers anyway, I guess) and, with 7.5 weeks until my fifth full marathon and my first 15-mile long run this weekend and four weeks until my next half-marathon, I was in no mood to fool around. I walked a brisk half mile to warm up and gingerly started running an easy 5.5-mile pace. Okay, okay, it felt odd but I wasn’t getting the sharp, stabbing pains from the past couple of runs and pretty soon, I went down to a 10:41 pace— which was actually pushing my aerobic threshold for an easy-pace run, but I had decided to can speed work for the week and take it easy in order to get the miles in for the week, so I felt ready to push it. Soon, I was well on my way to a 6-miler. I felt some sharp stabbing pains around mile 3 and instantly freaked out that I was committing the mortal sin of injury recovery and pushing it too hard and too fast, but I tried to straighten up my core and focus on the power coming from my arms and core and not my legs and that weirdly made the pain stop. For the rest of the run, I was running tall with my head up, core tight, and arms striding quickly. And I got off the treadmill with very little knee pain. I was ecstatic. Run and done!
Friday: 5 easy-pace miles at 11:08 pace. As I’ve mentioned here, running on the brink of injury is discombobulating. I don’t know if I am pushing it. I don’t know if I’m being too easy on myself. I don’t really know what’s causing it yet- all I know is the inside of my left knee has a sharp pain and my calf is strained and now I have shin splints because I am running on my older pair of shoes that are well past their prime, but I’m disinclined to spend money on a new pair of shoes if that’s not what the problem is– I don’t KNOW what the problem is. I’ve only been able to run every other day. In between, I try to strength-train and cross-train as well as stretch and roll. On top of all of that, putting out times that for me— seriously, for me, not in general— are slower than when I first started running are incredibly demoralizing. How am I supposed to believe that running consistently no faster than a 10:00 pace is going to get me a 4:15 marathon time? After almost deciding to can this run, I laced up and went for an easy pace 5- mile run. It wasn’t the most amazing run ever. I’ve had better. At some points, though, I was bored. Shuffling along at a slow pace was annoying and yes, I could have upped the ante and run faster, but I was nervous about exacerbating an injury. Or something. I don’t even know.
Saturday: Rest. It’s going to be hard to write a summary about the next two posts because, for some reason, I checked out. After putting off my run for hours, I dragged myself off the couch and went to the gym. I detested the idea of wasting a perfectly gorgeous spring day indoors on a moving belt, but I almost didn’t care either. But, when I got to the gym, I became even more annoyed with what I saw: nearly every treadmill was full. Including the one closest to the TV, but instead of being taken by a runner or walker, someone had parked his stuff on the treadmill while he was in the back of the gym lifting weights. The unspoken rule at this gym is that whoever is on the treadmill closest to the TV gets to say what is playing on the TV. And someone who wasn’t even watching the TV had decided that we were all going to watch ESPN. I was beyond irritated. The treadmill next door was broken and, even if it wasn’t, said annoying treadmill-parker/TV hog was one of those creepy guys who leers. I mean, you don’t CATCH him leering, but there’s just a sketchy creepiness about him. There was no way I was going to endure that for 10 miles. The treadmill next to that was being used by an incline-walker, the empty treadmill next to her was sandwiched by another incline walker and the final of the two treadmills that I could choose from was being used by an elderly incline walker. I set my stuff down and started with a warm-up walk. Half a mile later, I reluctantly increased the speed to 5.5 and immediately, my slow lurching run was ridden with knee pain. I tried to move forward and run, but a quarter mile later, I was just…..well, frankly, I was done. Over it. Annoyed as all hell and bored, I tried to do as the Romans do and incline walk for the same of doing SOMETHING, but incline-walking when you’re a runner is ultimately defeating and I leaped off the treadmill, swooped my gym bag over my arm, and left. I think the belt was still moving as the door of the gym shut behind me. That was that. I got out to my car and sat defeated for a few minutes, trying to talk myself into driving to a trail to run, but sitting in my sun-warmed car made me drowsy. I went home, deciding that maybe I would feel better with a nap. After a nap, I woke up and decided that I would take today off because I really needed 15 miles more than I needed 10. It’s the end of the 9th week of training and I’ve only run up to 13 miles– 13 slow, pathetic-paced miles of self-loathing. Yeah, I needed to rest.
Sunday: Rest. You guessed it. I went to bed, determined to wake up early to run before I could talk myself out of it, but I was seriously thirsty. I don’t understand how people can run in the mornings— aren’t you all dehydrated!?! I’m seriously dehydrated after hours of sleeping, so running on top of that is literally confusing to me. So, I sat down with some cereal and coffee and a Nalgene of water and decided that noon would be my go-time. Noon came and went. Okay, 1:00 is go-time. 1:00 came and went. So and so forth until I decided that I would go for an evening run at 5:00. But 5:00 came and went. I decided not to run my 15 miles. I actively made that decision not to go. Why? Because I’m annoyed as all hell with running. With injury. With running miles slower than I am used to, than what I know I am capable of running. I just don’t want to do it anymore. I literally had no mental or emotional energy to care about this run. I gave it up. I knew I was going to regret doing it; that it might have handed me a setback in my quest for 4:15 in seven weeks, that I was going to have to work harder to make up for it, but I just…..didn’t care. I mean, I do. Part of me cares. But the majority of me is exhausted from trying. From trying at a job I loathe, from moving forward with my life while I’m living in a place I was forced to move to out of circumstance, from being someone in a life I know I don’t belong in, from feeling like none of this should bother me when it does. I hate living a slow life in Nebraska, I hate running slow on the trail. I hate having goals that don’t manifest, I hate feeling powerless to change my circumstances or heal my injury. I hate trying and failing— it makes me feel foolish. I hate that all of my issues outside of running impact my running.
My stepmother was a runner once. A very good runner. She ran cross-country in college. She gave me my first pair of running shoes and I used to think she was crazy for going for a run every night when I would visit her and my dad as a child. After I called her to vent about the issues I’d been having at work and ask for her advice on how to handle a situation I had never experienced before, somewhere in the conversation, after hearing all the stress I was under, she advised me to go for a run because it would alleviate stress and because I was much more than my current job; that I would be a runner for a longer time than I would be with this company. So, I did and it made me feel much better. And she mentioned, in the course of giving her advice, that if I wasn’t enjoying running, then I was taking it too seriously and I needed to give myself a break.
I know she is right. And right now, I am not enjoying running. I’m caught up in a vicious cycle here: my job affects my emotional and mental state which makes me less apt to run, but I do anyways because I feel like having a lot of mental and emotional stress to burn off should fuel me into running my usual paces of 8:30-9:30 averages, but when I run no faster than average 10:30 paces, I get angry with myself because I think I can’t do it and I get angry with the universe because I feel like there is just no balance in my life here. Okay, so I’m unhappy at work. Why can’t I be an awesome runner despite that? Why do I have to have an emotionally void job and have trouble with running at the same time? And why does it all have to be in a place where I don’t want to live? Why am I here– what on earth is my purpose for being here!?! Six months after leaving the city of my dreams, I still don’t know, and it’s making me insane with anger over what I gave up. Because I have no idea what I gained.
Mental and emotional energy is just as important as physical energy in running. I’ve always known this. What I don’t know is how to stop caring and just run.