Boring for everyone else; exciting and terrifying for me. After being cleared to run right before Christmas 2010, I tentatively start my return, running once every 2-3 days for short periods of time while continuing to pool-run like crazy. By the end of the month, I’ve worked up to 5 miles continuous, which is a thrill.
I continue my return, carefully building. I’m still mostly pool-running, but start to add in longer and longer runs, and then my first track workout. Shortly thereafter, I do the “By George 5K” as a tempo – it’s possibly the worst conditions I’ve ever raced in – on an exposed peninsula with steady winds of 25 MPH, and frequent gusts to 50.
Still building up mileage, and carefully transitioning from pool-running to land. I do my first track intervals workout, and then my first real race back later that week – the “St. Patricks Day8K.” I run the first half mile of the race at the same pace I did my 800m repeats a few days before, and you can guess where the story goes from there… A good lesson, though I detest the fact that it’s not the first time I’ve learned it.
As I ramp up, allergies and breathing issues start to plague me more and more – my coach tells me to start using my inhaler again, and it does help significantly. My digestive system, always a bit tender, is also protesting more as the mileage increases.
I run the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler – always one of my favorite races -- on April 3. I’m thrilled just to be able to start; when I broke my foot in November, the projected timetable was such that I’d likely only be fit enough to do the 5K. But, even though I’m not at full fitness, I’m capable of racing 10 miles. I’m better about going out controlled, and manage 69:39. It’s about 90 seconds off of my PR, but I’m happy just to have broken 70 minutes, which was my realistic goal for the race.
The pollen’s still killing me, and the stomach issues are getting worse. I try an evening 5K on April 15, and it ain't fun. Massive stomach cramps hit me, and the race is a struggle – I finish only because I absolutely refuse to drop out of a 20-ish minute race due to stomach pain. I’m sick for several days afterwards, and end up visiting my GI doctor, who orders tests that are a bit TMI to be discussed in detail here. Verdict – besides the dairy, chocolate, and wheat products that I eliminated last year, I should also try eliminating ALL gluten products, oatmeal, and dried fruit.
(I’ll skip to the punch-line – best thing I ever did. Even several months later, I continue to feel better and better each week).
About this time, I also start adding in swimming breathing drills to address my sharply limited lung capacity issues (on my first swim, I can’t make it three strokes on one breath). Beth provides me some suggestions, and I start to play a game – seeing how many gentle strokes I can take on one breath. Over the rest of the year, this becomes one of my standard cross-training workouts. I don’t swim hard, but instead take 20 minutes (using a pull buoy) of swimming once or twice a week – eventually building up to 13 strokes per breath. Similar to the dietary shift, this seems to result in a huge improvement in my running; if nothing else, I’m no longer gasping every stride during tempo.
[In non-running mis-adventures, a water pipe bursts in my condo, resulting in thousands of dollars of damage. Fun times.]
I run the Broad Street 10 Miler on May 1, and crash and burn (69:27 on an assisted course). I think it’s due to the warm temperatures and bright sunshine; coach thinks it’s due to overdoing my training and failing to taper correctly. I agree to cut back on my training and also to taper more.
A week or two later, I decide to try a bit of barefoot running on the track infield post-workout – just 3 minutes. Bad idea – I end up with plantar fasciitis, and skip my planned 10K race (Capital Hill Classic – I *always* register, and then I *always* miss it – it’s a tradition). Pool-run for a few days, then back to work.
I run the Komen Race for the Cure in the same conditions as Broad Street, and have a better performance – 20:11. Still not close to my PRs, but I’m improving (and my PRs are all from 45 degrees or colder anyway).
I also try my first track race – doing a mile at an all-comers meet. I have absolutely no idea what to expect, and pace it hilariously poorly (lesson: when you like to kick from 200m in a 5K race, why would you kick from 400m in a mile race?). I run 5:48.66, which at least is well under 6 minutes. But I’m really excited about the possibility of running much faster with better pacing; and also thrilled that the heat and humidity doesn’t seem to affect me much for these shorter races at all.
I get a running gait evaluation done in June as well, and get some helpful feedback that informs my injury prevention routine.
|Face of pain - July 4th|
I try to do another track race in July, but it’s cancelled at the last minute, due to excessive heat. *sigh*
In the last week of July, I develop a blister on my right toe – it’s a bit painful, but the skin doesn’t break, so I’m not too worried about it.
A day or two later, it starts to really hurt, and I start to feel really tired.
Long story short, it's a cellulitis infection. Antibiotics and no exercise in a shoe for a few days.
When my foot’s healed up enough for a shoe, I try a Sunday long run – it’s the only long run that I’ve ever struggled on and had to battle just to finish (I am later educated that if I’m ever struggling that much, I need to just cut the run short).
Still on antibiotics, and my runs are a nightmare, with each one a bit tougher than the last,. I have to stop a workout after the first repeat – I just can’t breathe. Research my antibiotic (Bactrim) and…side effects include shortness of breath, especially for people with asthma. Call my doctor, and she agrees I can go off of it early. A few days later, I start feeling better.
Still naively optimistic, I take a shot at the Leesburg 10K (temp 71, DP 70). And crash and burn again, this time effectively dropping out (I walked for a while, then finished the race at a run, and so technically got a time). I want to blame the heat, but I’m also thinking that maybe I’m just a wimp and a headcase, who can’t dig deep when it counts. It takes me about a week to recover from the race.
Oh, in August we also had a hurricane and an earthquake.
And, with the fall comes the return of my allergies. Desperate, I research different remedies, and decide to give quercetin a shot (I’m already on Allegra, Singulair, and use a neti pot several times a day). And, whadya know. Miracle supplement.
I also get a consult with a nutritionist – my coach thinks that I’m not hydrating or getting enough carbs. I’m also inclined to do it, as I know my diet’s really restricted between my migraine and my GI issues – I want to make sure I’m not neglecting something.
Carefully log my food for 5 days, send it in, and…whadya know -- I’m actually really good. In fact, I’m one of the few people who gets almost all the nutrients they need in their normal diet – due to the fact that I don’t eat processed foods, and eat a ton of fruits and veggies. I do need more carbs, so we work out ways to add those. I also get to eliminate my daily multi-vitamin – there’s no need for it (I do keep my calcium supplements).
In mid-September, I run the Philadelphia Half-Marathon in what are excellent conditions. Despite great weather and a very fast course, I run way below what I am capable of, again due to blowing up near the finish (1:31:19 – most unsatisfying PR ever). I try to blame bad hydration at first, but the truth is that I’m becoming an excuse maker and a head case who can’t seem to run through her finish lines. I’m furious with myself, and resolve to try even harder, and to never ever voice another excuse. I also get a sports psychologist.
So, take a shot at another race – the Run for the Parks 10K. I run this solely with the goal of running hard through the finish line no matter what. And I do, but it’s an underperformance and still poorly paced (first mile 6:20, last mile 6:52 on a perfectly flat course). I’m just…I don’t know. I win my age group and the time ain’t horrible (41:25 on a course that deviated from the certified course), but I’m still not happy. Oh well, I have the Army 10 Miler the next week – that’s another chance.
And then, I get sick. Real sick. I decide that Army’s just going to be a fun run. A friend of mine at this time also suggests that I may be just trying too hard in my races. Rather than running a race with the goal of leaving it all out on the course, I should try racing with the goal of finishing with something in the tank.
At the same time, my sports psychologist is noting to me that everyone’s got an optimal level of arousal for competitions – about 7 on a scale of 1-10, where 1 is not caring whatsoever and staying in bed; 10 is as amped as it gets. Most people tend to naturally be somewhere below 6-7, and need things like splits, fellow racers, etc, to get them motivated up to the right level.
My personality, alas, is a bit too driven, and I’m already naturally at 7 (or more likely above it). Tell me that I need to give it all and be tough, and I go to 10. Which is great, if races were won by those who tried the hardest. But they’re not -- those people usually implode (remember that Pre finished fourth in the Olympics). They’re won by the fastest.
With all this in mind, Army becomes an experiment (this is easier because I’m still sick, and have every excuse not to race it all out). I fix my Garmin screen so I can’t see splits, and run the race solely with the intention of NEVER straining. I hand slap, wave, tell jokes, cheer on teammates. I get teased at the 9 mile mark because I’m supposed to be working harder and not able to chat. Whatever. I’m experimenting.
And, I finish in 69:09 – my best 10 miler this year, despite not working at all, completely failing to warm-up, and being sick. Most interesting – my last mile split (on a mile with a hill) is faster than my current 5K pr pace.
So, I start playing. I still wear my Garmin, but I no longer look at pace or distance while running, whether it be easy, workout, or race. I also start approaching all my workouts and races with the goal of laughing, chatting, and more or less blowing off the whole thing. Anything to get myself to relax down to that mental place of optimal performance. And it’s working.
I run the Marine Corps 10K in 41:45. It looks slow on paper, but I’m thrilled – conditions were icy and horrible, and I actually consider it one of my best races of the year (everyone was substantially off of their PRs). I’m getting excited for the Richmond Half, but also trying to be careful to practice a relaxed, carefree attitude.
November 2 is the one year anniversary of my broken foot, and I’m thrilled with the past year. And looking forward to Richmond. And then my life falls apart the week of Richmond.
First Pepco sends a power surge through my condo while changing a meter, destroying my tankless hot water heater (which ends up costing over a thousand dollars to replace, plus 14 days no hot water). Just as I’m dealing with that fiasco, work explodes. In my job, I sometimes have to deal with major crises that can require near 24 hour coverage for up to several days at a time – usually these happen 2-4 times a year. Unbelievably, two of them happen on Monday and Wednesday mornings. I get very little sleep, and am horribly stressed – not optimal for a taper. And it’s looking very unlikely that both will settle to the point where I’ll be able to take Friday off to drive to Richmond in time to grab my bib. I’m still hopeful I can run if I can just get there late Friday night, so I make arrangements for a friend to grab my bib.
Then this all is put in perspective, as it becomes more and more clear that my significant other has coronary artery disease severe enough to require medical intervention. The work crises are actually quieting down, but I’m pretty much resolved that I can’t abandon Brian to run the race.
After tons of reassurances that he’ll be fine and that he doesn’t need my constant eye (and that he’ll feel horrible if I miss the race), I decide to give it a shot after all.
Did I mention that I’m also feeling sick, no doubt due to weakened immune system from lack of sleep and stress? I feel better Friday, when I drive down, but late Friday night I feel horrendous – massive headache, chills, dizziness. I wake up race morning just about resolved to skip the race and head home, but then run it out of sheer stubbornness. It’ll be my worst race ever, but still a chance to practice good mental habits. And I didn’t abandon Brian and drive all the way down here for nothing.
Run the race. Again, I’m watchless, smiling a lot, chatting with other runners. I’m running my slowest half ever, but oh well. There’s hills, but I don’t care about them slowing me – heck, I’m already slow, so I just back off some more and chill out, while enjoying the sights.
And then my coach tells me at the 12.5 mile marker that I’m about to break 90.
Final time: 1:29:37 – major PR on a course that’s slower than Philly, and the age group win.
PRs are great, but I’m still horrendously stressed. The Monday after Richmond, Brian goes in for a stent, and we learn instead that he’s ridiculously close to a heart attack, and needs bypass surgery. The next few weeks I’m at the ICU once to twice a day (jobs where you telecommute are awesome things). I no longer have to work at not caring about my running – it’s no longer my focus, just my escape – my few minutes where I can forget about my worries.
Brian has his surgery the Monday before Thanksgiving, in what’s one of the longest days of my life. As it becomes clear that he came through well, and is recovering well, a weight starts to lift.
On Thanksgiving, I do the So Others Might Eat Turkey Trot 5K. Again, I run it without watch feedback, and with the goal of having fun and not running all out. And I PR (19:30). I’m giddy, and not just from the PR, but also from the fact that Brian’s doing so well.
Things continue to go well. As Brian gets better and better, I start to worry less about him, which means I start worrying about running more. Once again I have to work at NOT thinking or caring about my runs or races – something that will always be a challenge for me.
I do the Hot Chocolate “15K” race, and enjoy the heck out of what is the worst organized race/disaster I’ve ever experienced. Because I’m enjoying it so much, I end up running very well. I could write another few paragraphs here, but I’ve already said it all in my race report (2159 page views as of today -- go ahead, click. Y'know you want to).
A week later, I do the Jingle All the Way 8K. Despite a) the pressures of knowing that I’m running well and b) my shoes coming untied halfway through, I set a major 8K PR (31:52). It’s also a nice bookend to the year, as the course is the same one that I ran in March as my first race back, and blew up in.
I’m getting there. I just need to keep being patient, keep relaxing, keep backing off. It’s truly hard to take it easy, but I’m trying.
In the last week of the year, I get a minor shin splint on my left leg due to cranking my left shoe too tight. I don’t feel it at all when I run (only when I flex the foot upwards against resistance), but my coach advises strongly that I “not run a single step” for several days.
And, I comply. If nothing else, it’s good practice at relaxing and not overdoing and not worrying. And that skill, more than any tempo or weekly mileage count or cross-training routine is what I really need in order to make it to the next level.
Most other people do a long litany of goals for the upcoming year….PR this, PR that, run this many miles, etc. I’ll stick with a) avoiding injury and b) having fun and not worrying. Those seem to have worked well for me this year.