Training these days has handed me a lot of frustrations. I’ve been trying to be patient with what feels like “bad” pace times for me. I’ve been trying to just accept where I am right now with running. They say comparison is the thief of joy, but comparing yourself to yourself is highway robbery. I look back through all of the photos I took of my Garmin watch after long, successful runs and realized I was so hard on myself. One 16-miler, I ran with an average pace of 10:10 and lamented that my time was horrible despite having only gotten 4 hours of sleep and running in the jungle humidity of DC summers. Another 5-miler, I ran with an average pace of 8:56 and said it was not a great run. One of my most memorably strong runs was a 7-miler in 16 degrees last November at an average 8:46 pace and I did say I felt strong after that run, but I hadn’t been running “well” for a few days beforehand and the tone of my post was that I felt entitled to that strong run because I’d had a string of “bad runs” before that one. Those runs were within the last year and now I’d give anything to run paces like that. Something has changed with my running just as I was finally starting to see results in getting faster. These days, I can barely hold a 10:00 pace. I don’t get it. What changed so quickly!?
Most of the time, posts like this get slower runners up in arms at me about saying 10:00 paces are bad, and I’m here to say forthright that they are not bad paces. Not at all. I’m only talking about me and my desires as a runner to get faster. It’s human nature to want to improve and this sudden digression from a path of consistent improvement is frustrating to me. My theories about it abound, but I’ve tried hard to just accept the fact that something is keeping me from running like that right now and that I should just be grateful that I can run at all. I try to just ignore the level of defeat I feel with that acceptance and still try to put as much effort as I can into each run, knowing that I will get back there again soon.
But just as I was having a few successful runs at a mile above sea level on a trip to visit my dad and stepmom in Colorado, injury and life creeped up on me again. Injuries are ALWAYS at the forefront of my mind because I had to get PT to loosen up tight muscles and had to forgo the 2012 Des Moines Marathon as a result. I had to stop training for the 2014 Minneapolis Marathon because of tight muscles that gave me dead legs and 13:00 paces on mid-mileage training runs. This is a constant problem for me as a runner and one of my greatest fears and frustrations that all the yoga, walking, and core work will leave me injured and defeated and waking up on a morning of a race that I should be running but instead watching Sunday talkies with coffee. So I always air on the side of caution when I think I am on the injury threshold again.
Last week, I met a perfect storm.
On Wednesday, my brother and I left Colorado at 9AM and drove the 8 hours back to Omaha. I laced up for a run that evening, but being in the car for hours left me feeling tight, even after stretching and some moving around my apartment packing and cleaning. I decided to rest and try again tomorrow, not wanting to push it and get injured. Thursday, I had made plans with friends that evening, my car wouldn’t start, and the day had climbed to a surly 90-degrees with sun. I had slept so hard from all the heavy lifting that I missed my window to run early. After lamenting to my sister that I should call off my evening plans to get the 7-miler I had planned done, she reminded me that I was moving back to DC soon and that I needed to get my car fixed and spend time with the people I loved first and foremost to training and that it was okay: life happens to marathoners, too. On Friday, the packing and moving continued. I went to a yoga class to try and loosen up. It helped some, but I was famished. I was planning on a 14-miler with my sister the next morning, so I reasoned that I should just rest away the muscle soreness and stiffness so I can prepare for a great run tomorrow.
Saturday morning, I met my sister at 6AM. Running with Lauriel helped me identify some shortcomings that I have as a runner. Admittedly, the long training runs that come with marathon training will probably be one of the biggest reasons I would see myself quitting over. Running long runs alone sometimes get routine and monotonous, but ultimately they present numerous opportunities for self-doubt. I don’t know why I always get nervous about running double-digit runs when I have run 26.2 miles four times by now, but they always scare me. Running with Lauriel made me realize that perhaps I need to find a long-run training buddy not only for the company and encouragement but because, even if I don’t let self-doubt talk me into quitting altogether, I still often let it talk me into running slower. Our average pace was close to what I needed to run to get at least a 4:30 finish in Chicago this October. We even ran a few splits under 10:00 per mile and, even though I mentally checked out in the last two miles thanks to a completely uphill for two miles route, Lauriel made me realize that I don’t give myself enough credit. Perhaps training alone is my greatest impediment to the success I envision for myself.
Saturday morning’s 14-miler was a success, but almost immediately when I was done, I was limping badly. Even Lauriel noticed it and insisted that I stay to stretch out some more. The injury I was feeling was the same overly-tight muscles and misalignment that kept me from training well for Minneapolis and ultimately tanked my participation in that race, only it was sudden onset pain and tightness and on my right side. Later that day, I rolled and stretched and iced until my leg was tender to the touch. Even my younger sister Leah rolled out a massive knot in my calf with a rolling pin. It didn’t loosen up at all and I spent the entire rest of the weekend limping.
Sunday was moving day and I was limping like an invalid. Imagine having to carry heavy boxes and furniture on a gimp leg. Running was off the table for Sunday and I prayed and stretched and prayed some more that whatever this was, I would be free of it to resume training next week.
Monday came and with it, a lingering limp. Early that morning, I checked out of my apartment in Lincoln and decided I would try for a run that evening. But I fell into an exhausted two-hour nap and woke up to my mom’s homemade macaroni an cheese dish, my favorite that she had made special for me since I was leaving. Going for a run made me feel guilty for placing family underneath training. I remembered that I needed to be a daughter first in the days before I moved.
Tuesday morning was a splendid morning for a run and, even though I was still feeling a tightness in my leg and still limping, I admittedly put my run off until that evening. I hate morning running, but I should have gotten it done. Instead, I helped my mom take our family cat to the vet, packed my car, took it in for an oil change, and had BBQ with my mom and sisters for dinner. Even though I didn’t get my run in that morning like I should have, I realized that my limp calmed down when I stretched my hips more and even as I was still limping when I walked, running might not have been successful. I don’t know– I’m not a doctor and I don’t know what is causing this ailment or how to fix it. So I stretch it and roll it and walk on it.
Wednesday and Thursday, I was driving to DC. I woke up Wednesday morning at 4:30 to run but decided I needed to sleep more than I needed to run given that I would be driving alone all day. When I got to Indianapolis, I realized I had selected a hotel in what I felt by the characters in the hotel parking lot and lobby was in a questionable part of town. In addition, 12 hours on the road made me dizzy and nauseous. The extra two hours I spent stopping at rest areas to shake out my legs and walk. Thursday morning came after an insomnia-ridden night plagued with weird, unfamiliar hotel smells and nerves about the people in the hotel I had seen earlier breaking into my car and stealing my belongings. I got to DC another 12 hours later.
Friday, I spent all day moving into my new apartment. Since my new landlord didn’t tell me that I needed to reserve the loading dock to move my things in, I had to make numerous trips back and forth to my car for armloads instead of carrying the heavy boxes in my car upstairs in only a handful of trips on a dolly.
As I write this, it’s been a week since my last run. I hate that and I am frustrated with myself for not getting it done on top of moving. Even with an injury, I want to tell myself that all the lifting, moving, and walking while carrying heavy items is for something. I want to remind myself that even runners experience life and that hurdles can come up anytime in the 16-18 weeks of formal marathon training, but I feel like I have just experienced a major setback in my goals for Chicago.
So I am behind on training. I’m just going to deal with it. I’m going to allow a couple of days to get back into it and start next week at the level I should be at. I’ll have to let go of the expectation that my paces “should” be lower under the circumstances that I have some catching up to do. But I am back in a city where walking is commonplace and I will just have to work harder and commit to waking up early to run so that my training isn’t plagued by any new job commitments.
Just like I am learning to deal with the present circumstances of where I am as a runner right now and try to stop comparing myself to myself in the past, I will need to approach the rest of my training with the acceptance of my present circumstances, too. Ultimately, my goal for Chicago is to run a race I can proud of and have fun with and not to run an unrealistic race that might burn me out or injure me. Chicago fits into a larger context of my endurance sports lifestyle– it is not the last race I will ever run. And I’m grateful that I will be able to run it. That’s all I am trying to focus on.