Changing Course

I haven’t gotten a chance to blog recently because, well, I haven’t gotten a chance to run. If you have followed my training for the Minneapolis Marathon, you’ll know that I’ve been dealing with some sort of mysterious injury and it literally will not go away. I don’t know what it is, but it’s on my left side and my knee sometimes hurts but lately the pain is manifested in my lower calf right around near my ankle on the inside of my leg. My IT band feels tight as well and sometimes I’ll get a twinge in my lower back. So my guess is that it’s a lot of things, and I’m running through the regimen of strength-training and balance work to get right again, but it won’t be long before I consult a physical therapist.

Here are my theories on what is causing my injury:

  • I bought the wrong pair of running shoes. I had my stride reassessed (last time I had that happen was 2010 when I actually still had arches). The running store clerk said about my flat feet, “Well, I’ve seen worse.” OUCH– that means my feet are very, very flat. I was told my shoes are giving me enough support, but perhaps a new insole with arch supports would help matters. Hopefully….
  • I am not walking as much in Nebraska as I was in DC. In Washington, I lived half a mile from the Metro station so that was at least one mile of walking per day. Some times, I would walk to the gym…another 0.75 miles one way. Twice a week, I walked to the grocery store– another mile one way and a mile back with a 30-pound load of groceries. The walk from Union Station to Capitol Hill in the morning was half a mile and the evening walk to the Orange Line at Capitol South was another half mile. Not to mention climbing stairs when the Metro escalators were broken and doing all of that while carrying a purse stocked with my lunch and a gym bag. Per day, I’m guessing, I would walk up to 3 miles…on top of running. Here in Nebraska, the only walking I really do is to my car and back. This is a habit I am trying to force myself back into but it’s clear: living in a walk-able city with public transportation is clearly healthier than living a sedentary lifestyle with a car.
  • I had a membership to a gym in DC that had yoga and Body Pump classes. In order to save money to move back to DC as soon as possible, I decided to forgo the expense of a gym membership to the local YMCA and just use the stuffy gym at my apartment complex with its crappy treadmills, TV wars, and one spin bike that frankly, I don’t know how the hell to use. However, this can’t happen anymore. I signed up yesterday for a membership so I will be going back to a steady schedule of yoga and Body Pump classes as well as exploring the wide world of spinning and swimming laps. My gym is 2 miles from my house and I will be FORCING myself to walk there every day…or run lightly if I am doing a cardio class and have no gym bag with me.
  • I have a standing desk. I am not going back on my endorsement of the “sitting is the new smoking” public health campaign. However, standing in a crappy pair of plastic ballet flats that I purchased 2 years ago at Payless with $7 Dr. Scholl’s orthotics in them is not a good idea. I am one of those weird women who isn’t shoe-obsessed. Frankly, my idea of shoe shopping is, “Which shoe is going to be timeless, inexpensive, and chic?” Once I find it, more than likely I am not going to replace it until I am Flinstone-ing my way through life in them. I know I need a more supportive pair of shoes to stand in.

Regardless of what my injury right now is or what is causing it, this training season has been unusually demoralizing and difficult. Literally from day one of this 18-week training plan, every run I’ve had has been on legs that feel tight and heavy. I used to be able to put out paces that are in the 8:30-9:30 neighborhood and now, paces in the neighborhood of 10:30-12:00 feel hard to me. Despite incorporating more strength-training into my daily regimen, I have gotten slower. And while I know that it’s not about the pace with running and that it is more about the joy of running itself, I can’t lie that those pace times feel incredibly demeaning for me. I have been running for years and not that long ago, I was churning out some of the best paces I had ever run in my life. I cut 29 minutes off of a marathon personal record just over a year ago and I finally was running paces that made me feel like a serious runner during a half-marathon. I came through a lot of personal adversity since last year and running got me through all of it. The drama is still not over and now, on top of it, running has up and left me and I can’t understand why.

All of that said, my next half-marathon is in a week and a half and I have no idea what kind of race it will be. I’m sure I will finish, but how badly is this going to go exactly? I haven’t had a long run in over a month. My weekly miles dropped from the mid-40’s to, well I don’t even know what I’m running right now. My last 13-miler was hideous and that was nearly 7 weeks ago. So really, I have gone from hoping to get back under the 2-hour ceiling (my last half-marathon finish was in 2:04) to, “Just finish the damn race.” That’s not healthy.

It’s clear that I need a break from training. My heart is not in it– my heart is back in DC and I am very homesick for it. My mental energy is consumed by rough days at a job that I am not passionate about. I have a lot going on right now, and I can’t be the runner I want to be for Minneapolis.

I have decided to drop to the half-marathon. Am I disappointed? Yeah.  I am. I love the marathon. This is who I am— I am a marathoner. And part of me wants to shake myself and scream, “Do you know what this means!?!? Do you really want to go all the way up to Minneapolis to run 13.1 miles when you should be running 26.2?” Well, no. I would rather run all 26.2, but I have to be real about where I am at with running right now and understand that running a marathon when I am in no way trained to run a marathon is not a smart idea. I could injure myself even more.

And I can’t lie that I really do need a break right now! Every time I try to convince myself to recommit, I just can’t bear the thought of another long run when I am not running my best. Running is not joyful to me right now, and I get joy in seeing myself running paces I never thought I could run. Running 10:30 paces and telling myself lies that “this is an easy-pace run” is not working. I have run better— running faster paces has felt easy to me, too, and I know that I am capable of better.

Most importantly, I just registered for the 2014 Chicago Marathon. This was precisely the lilt that I needed. Chicago feels like the big leagues to me. Chicago makes me feel like I earned my spot. There’s no way in hell that I am going to just blow off the Chicago Marathon– it’s a legendary race. Right now, it feels like I am running Boston. Don’t laugh at that— Boston is a race on its own, but Chicago is major. It’s a bucket list race. But training for Chicago starts literally the week following Minneapolis, and I utterly can’t bear the thought of jumping from one training season to another, especially when this new training season has a Chicago Marathon finisher medal at the end of it.  This will be a knock-down, drag-out, everything on the line training season for me because I want that race bad enough. I want to feel like I am in the  big leagues when I run that race. I want the whole experience…not just another medal on my wall. 

2014, I can tell, will be a lighter racing year than 2013 was, and I am deciding that I will be okay with that. The Lincoln Half-Marathon on May 4th will be my 8th half-marathon. A month later, I will run my 9th half-marathon. In July, I’m returning to Brownville, Nebraska for my 10th half-marathon. I may possibly run the Omaha Half-Marathon in September, which will be my 11th half-marathon. The Chicago Marathon will be my 5th full marathon, and perhaps, if I am in a good place when I finish that race, I will run my 6th marathon in Las Vegas at the “Strip at Night” marathon in December (another bucket list race). All of these are good things.

More than I want races, I want to be the runner I know I am capable of being again. That is going to take some time to learn not to take things so seriously, to discipline myself to do the ancillary things that come with running (core work, balance work, resting, eating right, getting enough sleep), and stop myself from over-thinking my running. I know I can do it. I know I can go the distance.

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