Eight years ago, I qualified for the Boston marathon. I ran the Portland Marathon in 2001 at the age of 26. It was my 5th marathon and I was still new to running. I didn't realize that my qualifying time of 3:37:46 would probably be my fastest EVER! As I was coming down the final stretch of the race and saw the finish line (and clock), I remember telling myself that I would never have to run this fast again to qualify. I just needed to do it once. I pushed myself in and came in 2+ minutes under 3:40. I'm sure I appreciated my accomplishment on some level, but I wonder how I could have really known what I just did. I had only been running marathons a couple of years and I qualified the first time I tried! I have friends who wanted to qualify for years and kept trying race after race with no success. Now granted, I had to train properly and get in really great shape, but to qualify the first time I tried seems impossible to me now.
Fast forward to the present time. (I'll quickly fill you in on the gaps. Ran Boston '02, dealt with first major injury, pulled hamstring in '03 and simply finished NY marathon, 1st child '04, dealt with second and most nagging injury - plantar fasciitis and ran Chicago '05 anyway, ran KC '06 mostly healthy but ran stupid, 2nd child - '07, NY again in '08 with major plantar fasciitis problems, decided to 'semi-retire' from marathons in '09). OK, so we're almost all caught up.
'09 has been an interesting and challenging year for me running-wise. It started off slow since I was still recovering from my plantar problems from NY. I took it easy all last winter and then finally started training for the OKC half-marathon in early February. I got into some new shoes which seemed to help, if not actually 'cured,' my plantar fasciitis. So I'm running pretty good throughout February, but had to deal with a lot of colds and sinus problems. Then, in late February I ran a hard 12 miler in Shawnee Mission park on a bitter cold day. It was hilly and the ground was covered in snow and ice. I came home and could not get warm. While I was in my steamy, hot shower, I decided to stretch all the tightness out of my body. I did my usual IT band stretch and noticed my right hip was super tight. I stretched, and stretched, and stretched, until I couldn't stretch it anymore. It felt soooooo good! But, when I ran again on Tuesday and did some speed work, it was still very tight and sore. I kept stretching it thinking it would go away, but it just got worse the more I ran on it. I've never had tightness that couldn't either be stretched away or massaged out. I can't remember if I saw anyone (chiropractor/massage therapist) before OKC half, but I thought it would be fine.
I started the race and even with my not so great training, I thought I could still shoot for a PR, or at least a close second. That meant I was shooting for a 1:40-1:43. I saw the 1:45 pacers and lined up by them. Sadly, after I couldn't even keep up with them for the first mile, I knew I would have to forgo any fast time that day. My hip wasn't even really bothering me that much, I just couldn't get my legs to turn over that fast. Even still, I kept pushing the pace and tried to get in the upper 1:40 range. By mile 10 or so, my hip started speaking to me. There wasn't much fight left in me and I struggled in at 1:50. Walking around after the race was quite painful. I had to adjust my gait for my very sore hip. I promised when I got home, I would take off a week or so and see somebody if I had to.
A week later, hip was still sore but I tried running on it anyway. It got worse. Took another week off and tried running again.....same thing. By the end of May, I decided I needed professional help. I started seeing a new chiropractor who does the Graston technique. If you've never had it done, let me just warn you now, it's the MOST painful treatment I've ever had and I've seen many deep tissue massage therapists through the years. I would rank it up there with childbirth! The treatments helped tremendously with the pain and tightness. Only problem was, I couldn't run much and it left me with large black and blue bruises on my hip. Because of the tenderness and wanting it to heal fully, I was running once a week at best at a snail's pace. All my summer race plans had to be scrapped. My focus now became to heal my hip so I could run pain free again.
Two months of treatments, very little running, and practically no cross training later, I started training for the KC half marathon. I had signed up to co-pace the 2 hour group with a good friend of mine and I wasn't going to back out of my commitment. I decided that I was going to train smart and do the bare minimum so I could run a 9:09 minute pace comfortably. I started off slow. I figured if at some point my hip started acting up again, I would just have to deal with it. I knew I could run through the pain if I needed to, but would prefer not to. I was going to try to be smart about my training. This basically meant I was starting over from scratch. I felt like a new runner all over again (but this time, much smarter)! I had taken breaks from running during both pregnancies and right after having my babies, but even that comeback was easier than this. I was having to FORCE myself to go slow, slower than I really wanted to and knew I could go. I had to keep reminding myself that I didn't want to feel that pain again and take all those steps backwards. If I had to, I would, but then I knew I would have to take all that time off again after the race to get healed up. I didn't want to go through that again.
I took babysteps and forgot about my speed. I started doing most of my runs by myself. (Anyone who knows me and has ever run with me, knows that this is very hard for me to do. I like to say that I'm not an endurance runner so much as I am an endurance talker. I can talk for hours, so as long as I have running buddies with me, I can run for hours. Not so easy to do by myself). Fortunately, I'm not training for a marathon and can do 10-12 on my own if I have to.
I need to back up the truck a little here. During May, June and July when I was still in just recovery mode, I had a lot of time to think about things, about who I am as a runner. I had always prided myself on being fast and if I went slow, I had a good reason (running with a friend, recovering from a hard race, or tapering for an upcoming race). Now I was forced to not run if I wanted to get better and when I did run, I HAD to go slow. It was very humbling!!!
OK, back to my half marathon training. I kept upping my mileage slowly and not worrying too much about my pace. I started out around 11 minute miles and was happy if I finished my runs in the low 10's. By late August, I was toying around with the mid to high 9's. In mid-September, I did a couple of speed workouts (800 repeats) and ran the Lewis and Clark half-marathon. I used the race to practice my pacing. Although the course was much flatter than KC will be, I needed to know I could run that pace. Several people joined me and they ALL came in under 2 hours. My official finish time was 1:59:10. I was thrilled I was able to hold the pace!
After that, my confidence started coming back. The past few weeks, I've added more speed, more tempo/goal pace runs, and some hills. My legs are feeling it, but my hip is doing all right. It's not perfect. There's still some tightness there, but no soreness and I'm not doing anymore crazy stretching. I'm adding core and upper body strength training, as well as some physical therapy type exercises to strengthen my hip.
This whole process has helped me respect my body and it's limitations. It has helped me appreciate the times I ran injury free. It's given me a new respect for people who run at a slower pace and are happy with their accomplishments. But more than anything, it's given me a new drive to get and to stay healthy. I don't want to run anymore to impress myself or even others. I want to do this for a lifetime if I can. I want to model a healthy lifestyle for my kids and to keep my body in good working condition.
I'm funny in that if I don't have specific running goals, I tend to not do much at all. I'll let myself off the hook on bad weather days or if I'm feeling too tired. All that changes though when I set a goal for myself. I had all but given up on running and definitely didn't think a fast marathon would again be in my near future. I thought, "who has time and energy to really do that and what would be the reason? Haven't I already been there and done that? Did I need to prove that I could do that again?" The answer to all that was a resounding "NO!" Even still, there was something in my head, asking, "What if?" What if I got in really great shape again? What if I changed my bad habits of staying up too late (as evidenced by this blog entry) and not eating and drinking water properly? What if I stopped wishing and started doing? What if...here's the big one...I qualified for Boston when I turn 35? I would get 5 more minutes than before so I wouldn't need to run as fast. My good friend did it last year, could I?
The question remained, but I wasn't quite sure. Not until I finally had a really awesome speed workout, did I even think it might be possible to dream for this. It was shortly after the Lewis and Clark 1/2. I was running with my girlfriends doing 800 repeats on the track. I was shooting for 6 - 3:30's. All but two were under 3:30 and it felt wonderful! I was able to breathe and felt my leg speed coming back. I started to dream right after that!
Now I've decided to go for it. I've started making a laundry list of all the things I need to do if I'm going to make this happen. I understand there are no guarantees and that just by saying I'm going to try for it, doesn't mean it will happen. But, in order for me to even try, I need to follow my list. I'm not going to share it all now, but will at some point.
This is just the beginning for me. I still have the KC 1/2 to run/pace next weekend. Then, it will all really start. I'm hoping this blog will help me stay accountable to follow the rules I've set for myself. I don't expect anyone to read this, but if you do, I welcome your feedback and support. Thanks for reading!