Like I mentioned in my previous post, the longer I’m out due to injury, the more I’m convinced this will ultimately be a good thing for my running psyche.
Allow me to explain using two races I ran in the last weeks as Exhibits A and B, respectively.
Sunday, Sept 27: Pittsburgh Great Race 10K
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, The Lady and I returned to the city we are still as madly in love with as ever (disclaimer: we really and truly do love Athens and the wonderful people we’ve met; doesn’t mean we don’t still miss Pittsburgh, too) for a wedding: Kim and Scott (go ham)!
It was a beautiful ceremony, and so very Them. It took place at North Park, an exceptionally picturesque park that’s far enough outside the main Pittsburgh area that deer are a regular sighting (also host to such events as the Frigid Five Miler, Spring Thaw, and Just A Short Run). The ceremony itself was intimate–maybe 70 people in attendance–and took place under a pavilion on a day that God Himself was probably proud of: mid-60s, a gentle breeze, low humidity, and barely a cloud in the sky. It was, in every possible way, perfect.
The bride and groom walked themselves in🙂
The Runner Table!
But it just so happened their wedding coincided with the Great Race, Pittsburgh’s annual 10K that has as much personality as the city that hosts it. We couldn’t pass up the chance. Even with my injury, I felt my foot could handle 6.2 miles, and with all the cycling I’d been doing felt confident my cardiovascular system could keep up.
I went into the event knowing I wouldn’t be setting any PRs; in fact, I wasn’t going to try, not even for anything close. The Lady had to use the race as a training event and stick like glue to her goal marathon pace (8:12 min/mi), and I felt like sticking with her would be plenty given my complete lack of running mileage the past month.
So that’s precisely what I did. I soaked in the sights and sounds to a level I rarely ever have at this event (been too busy in previous years gunning for a PR), and all the while felt great. I wasn’t officially pacing for The Lady, but I also had to be careful: I noticed I would keep speeding up to a sub-8 pace without realizing. Come mile 5 and the infamous Boulevard of the Allies climb, The Lady said I was more than welcome to take off if I was feeling good; she would stick to her own pace.
I pushed an 8-minute mile 5 (nothing spectacular), a 6:45 mile 6 (not too shabby!), and a 6:23-pace last quarter-mile before crossing the finish line at 48:41. Definitely not a PR (almost exactly 6 minutes long), but I’d had a blast and felt great the entire time. I was truly on Cloud 9.
Yeah, I was definitely sore the next week: muscles I hadn’t used in almost a month had suddenly been called upon to run a hilly race at a reasonable clip. My lungs, quads, and hamstrings were more than up to the task, but all those little stabilizing muscles had a serious case of WTF M8. Furthermore, my foot was pretty pissed at me the rest of Sunday; while it felt great during the race, it tightened up very quickly afterwards, so I made the decision that I would skip the next weekend’s half marathon in Atlanta and resume healing.
Sunday, Oct 4: Michelob ULTRA 13.1 Atlanta
…at least, that was the plan. Until I recalled that The Lady and I had signed up for the ATL Challenge and had already completed the first of the two required races back in March. I wanted that medal, dammit!
Of course, if it was just the medal, I would have been disappointed but not enough to switch strategies. I noticed that come Monday (24 hours later), my foot was feeling better. As in, better than before I’d run the Great Race. So I started aggressively icing each night after work while making plans for completing the ATL Challenge.
Like the Great Race, I had no plans to attempt a PR. 100 miles of cycling each week, while certainly more than sufficient to maintain a baseline level of cardiovascular fitness, does not for a long-distance PR prepare one. But I was still nonetheless confident my fitness level could carry me through the race standing up.
Come race morning, me and the 7.2 miles I’d run in the last month (Great Race, plus a 1-miler on Sept 4, the only other time I’d run) lined up at the starting line, with the lofty goal of a sub-1:50. The Lady, meanwhile, was using the race as a training tune-up: she had her coach’s blessing to open up the throttles and see what she could do. With that, The Lady took off at the start, while I settled into something that felt comfortable.
A few things I very quickly realized within the first three miles:
- This humidity was going to be a problem: I’d drained 2/3 of my handheld within the first few miles and my body temps were still skyrocketing.
- A sub-1:50 wasn’t going to happen; 8:24 min/mi just didn’t feel comfortable, and I had no intention of feeling uncomfortable within the first few miles of a race that was effectively doubling in one morning my entire running mileage for the last month.
- Holy. Hills. Batman.
Really, that list could be condensed into just the third point (with the side addendum: there were 11 aid stations advertised on the event website, but only 5 on the actual course). The hills were brutal. They were fast elevation changes that zipped up and down, leaving the runners very little on which to build some momentum before shifting yet again.
Michelob ULTRA elevation chart.
…and yet, I felt strong. I felt focused, alert, and in control. I wasn’t breaking any speed records, but I was consistently staying within the 8:30-8:45 range every mile, regardless of terrain; in fact, only mile 3 broke 9 minutes (9:07); the rest were below 9, often solidly so. Helping even more was a steady, misting rain that started around mile 5: it perfectly countered my rising body temperatures and kept them stable through the rest of the race, allowing me to preserve what was left in my handheld water bottle in case of emergency.
I kept cruising, feeling strong, taking the hills at a slow-but-steady pace and chewing up the miles. I high-fived The Lady a few times as we passed each other on out-and-backs, cheering her on. The only hiccup was around mile 9, when I discovered my calves were really hurting but I couldn’t figure out why.
And then it dawned on me: I haven’t been running, so my calves weren’t used to absorbing the shock from my midfoot-to-forefoot strikes, and the Great Race was too short for this problem to surface. Cycling is great for your quads and hamstrings, but doesn’t do a whole lot for your calves. The last couple downhills I had to switch to heel-striking to give my calves and ankles a break, but I made a mental note to start mixing some calf work into my workouts.
I crossed the finish line at 1:53:10, again setting no speed records but nonetheless giving me an immensely satisfying finish, especially considering 1) the humidity, 2) the lack of aid stations, 3) the omg-hills, and 4) my complete lack of running mileage.
Also got my hands on this supaswank challenge medal (in addition to the regular finisher’s medal [not pictured]):
13.1 from the Georgia Half Marathon, and another 13.1 from the Michelob half.
Again, I’d felt great throughout the race. The hills were brutal but I never stopped having fun. The pace was a good workout but it still felt comfortable, giving me a huge psychological boost toward keeping doing what I’m doing while making me all the more antsy to get back to running full-time. My foot was somewhat pissed the rest of the day, but I’m waiting to see if it does the same as before and feels better following the initial 24 hours post-race.
Technically, I’m still injured. My foot definitely still hurts when I walk, some days worse than others. I’m still not going to run on it during the week (dooming myself to miss even more group runs with Fleet Feet and Athens Road Runners), and I’m going to keep hitting the bike as much as I can to maintain my cardio fitness.
But I’m cautiously optimistic that my foot is–slowly–healing. I’m thrilled that I can still race and hit certain milestones. And I’m stoked that I enjoyed those races as much as I did, that I’m chomping at the bit to get back into running form. I miss running. And I like that I miss it.
I needed this break from running, without a doubt. Now I want to do everything I can to get back into it.