Bad injuries and bad timing

I’ve mentioned previously that running a PR for any given race is always a bit of a roll of the dice. Everything has to go right: you’re peaking at the right time, you haven’t overtrained, you’re relaxed with a healthy dose of nerves, you eat right, you sleep right, the weather cooperates…the list goes on and on. When you’re running 300 out of 365 days a year, there is plenty of opportunity for things to go wrong. And it’s inevitable that they do; it just tends to go wrong on not Race Day.

But there’s the occasional breakdown on race day. And the occasional injury that requires one to sacrifice race day for the sake of future race days.

As I’m learning–for the second time with the same bloody race, no less–that is one tough pill to swallow.

March and April of this were easily two of my most phenomenally productive training months. I went from still fighting off the vestiges of last November’s Philly Marathon to my fastest tempo run ever, culminating in a 10K PR.

Speed improvement was huge.
Speed improvement was huge.

Remember back in February, when things weren’t going too well? And how, after a solid month of concerted cross-training, yoga, stretching, and relaxation, March proved to be a month of explosive comebacks? April continued that trend: where March saw me regain the ground I had lost, I broke new ground in April, posting some of my fastest runs to date, as well as a 10K PR literally the day after running 15 miles.

April 11, 2013 tempo run.
April 11, 2013 tempo run.


April 16, 2013 speed work. Dedicated to Boston.
April 16, 2013 speed work. Dedicated to Boston.


I'll take it!
April 21, 2013 Burgh 10K.

Right as I was peaking, my IT band decided it’d had enough.

April 26, 2013 tempo run,
April 26, 2013 tempo run.

I couldn’t finish this run; my IT band seized. It came on rather suddenly. Only 6 days ago during our 15-mile long run, I’d noticed it felt a little sore afterwards. It nagged a little bit for the Burgh 10K but (obviously) largely behaved itself. But as that week wore on, it only got worse. For this tempo run, I was shooting for 6 miles at a flat 7:00 pace: slower, in fact, than the PR I’d just set! But still the fastest tempo run I’d ever done.

During the run, I actually felt like I was cruising. Like I could push even faster if I wanted to. But the stabbing pain from my knee kept my mind from settling in as it had during the Burgh 10K, kept me from relaxing and enjoying the thrill of pushing my body’s limits. Hills hurt in a very bad way, and starting again after getting caught at a red light elicited very sharp breathing. When it became clear the pain was only getting worse, I called it quits.

That turned out to be a fateful decision: I attempted only two more runs after that, both ending prematurely when the pain got so bad I would risk serious injury if I didn’t stop immediately.

So for the second time in three years, I was sidelined for the Pittsburgh half marathon due to injury. The Lady wrote up an excellent race report, as he had an amazing race, smashing her previous PR that she set only 6 weeks previous. I was honored to be able to cheer her on again, but at the same time I was aching to be in the thick of things.

It is truly an exercise in humility to know you’re there, that everything went right, and you could have set that crazy PR you were aiming for, except something cropped up that you couldn’t control. In a way, it’s easier than missing a PR because of a bad day, like my Philadelphia Marathon, because it was either stay sidelined or risk a much, much longer offseason. There are fewer “what ifs” this way. But the knowledge that I was ready is still a potent, gnawing thought.

Two years ago, when I missed the Pittsburgh half due to a strained ligament in my foot, I was certainly disappointed. But as it was only the second half-marathon I’d ever trained for–and I’d only been in the routine of training for races for about 10 months–it didn’t hit me as hard as it did this time. I’ve been running–and actually considered myself a runner–for nearly three years now. It’s become part of who I am. And when an injury sidelines me, I don’t feel good about it. The same thing would happen whenever I’d suffer a similar injury in baseball; luckily I never had a football injury that kept me from playing in a game.

Being injured sucks. But it keeps one humble and in touch with one’s own limitations. I’m still proud of what I’ve accomplished in this training cycle, coming back from a very discouraging first marathon encased in stress and bad associations. I know I can come back from this too; it will require a similar level of dedication to fixing the problem, and patience with myself as I recuperate.

Reach goal for Air Force in September: sub-1:35! 😀