So I fell off the grid again. Surprisingly, a lot has happened.
Since my last post I have had incredibly highs (feeling almost *gasp* normal again, having an amazing 20 miler, winning my first road race) and some significant lows (my first DNF at my goal race – the Chicago Marathon). But all in all, the good far outweighs the bad and I am incredibly thankful to report that for the first time in almost two years I am truly hopeful.
Backtracking a bit to the 20 miler (otherwise known as the day I re-fell in love with running). Naturally, the high mileage weeks in my training cycle always seem to fall during weeks of major life events. This time, it was my sister in-law’s wedding. So the day preceding my *key* 20 miler I was up at 4:30 am (it was an early morning wedding), wearing heels, dancing, and stuffing my face with cupcakes and wine. Essentially, I did everything wrong.
I went into the 20-miler with no expectations. I was fortunate enough that it was local (part of a much larger race), so the morning rush wasn’t too chaotic. I was incredibly nervous standing at the start line. This was my first “race” since 2013 and despite having done the distance a number of times over the summer, the race atmosphere changed things somehow. My strategy was to go out with a pace group that I was reasonably certain I could easily stick with – and treat the run as any other training run. However, as soon as the gun went off and I started running, the race atmosphere got the best of me and I ended up in that euphoric state where somehow the miles seemed effortless and the time on my watch kept clicking far faster than I imagined was possible at this point in my recovery. Part of me was screaming to slow down – that I was being reckless and that I would inevitably crash and burn. However, the other part of me was quick to point out that I was okay. That I couldn’t let fear hold me back. That my body was cooperating and that I would do myself a disservice if I were to do anything but just go with it.
I quickly lost my pace group and caught up to the next one. So I decided to stick with them for a while to get my pace under control. Which worked for a few miles, but somehow around mile 10 I ended up ahead of that group as well.
And so I went. In what I can only describe as a zen-like state, I ran in near silence. Most of the miles I ran without music. Just me and my thoughts. During this time I realized that somewhere along the way I had become afraid to push myself. I had become so used to the pain and frustration associated with the injury that I had forgotten why I loved running in the first place.
My normal oh-so-serious self high-fived the spectators along the course. Enjoyed the scenery. Had fun. And it was my best run – by far- since dealing with this injury. It was the first time in almost 2 years that I felt “normal” again. I became choked up a number of times during the run. Overwhelmed with emotion and gratitude – because I was in shock and disbelief at what my body was finally letting me accomplish. Without pain or hesitation. I crossed the finish line in tears.
Two weeks later, I was fortunate enough to have another great run. I signed up for a local 10k that I thought would be a good “tune up” before the marathon. I had absolutely no intention of racing it. If anything, I thought that I would run it at goal marathon pace. But again, the gun went off and that race magic set in. Again, the watch was clicking mile splits over a minute faster per mile than I expected. I had done zero speed work and was absolutely shocked that my body seemed to be holding up. By mile 4 I was exhausted, but I had hit the turn around point and was passing runners still heading the other way (it was an out and back course). The runners were smiling and congratulating me and telling me that I was the first female. They shouted words of encouragement that kept me going. I ended up finishing as first female and secured my first ever road-race victory.
Of course… with the highs come the lows. Unfortunately, the Chicago Marathon, which was supposed to be my big “come back” race, was one of them.
Even before the race started, it was chaotic. I have run the Chicago Marathon 4 of the last 5 years and never had issues getting to the start line on time. Despite leaving the hotel an hour before the start of the race, we could not get into the corral. So we stood outside, anxious and tossing layers of warm up clothing haphazardly outside the fenced off start line. The national anthem played and we were still standing outside the fence, unable to move. Everyone just kind of looked at each other and joked, “guess we’re starting the race from out here.”
I knew from the very first mile that it wasn’t going to be my day. Nothing was clicking. My body felt out of sync and achy. I hoped that after a few miles I would shake the feeling and fall into a comfortable groove, but no such luck. At the half, I still wasn’t feeling right. Then my hip started aching and I got the familiar shooting pain from my glute and down my right leg. Every step felt forced, despite the fact I was having no trouble with the pace. So I made a decision I never would have made before this whole ordeal started. I stopped running.
My reason was simple. It had taken almost two years to finally start feeling “normal” again. It had taken 20 months of doctor’s visits and tests… PT and chiropractic care. It had only been three weeks of feeling like my old self. I know myself and I know my body. Even 100% healthy and strong, there is usually a 2-month period following a marathon to feel fully recovered. During the course of the last few weeks I finally started seeing my potential again… and it wasn’t something I was willing to throw away to simply finish a race. To prove what – to whom? I knew if I pulled the plug, I could keep myself healthy and strong and finish up 2015 in a good place (maybe even with a second marathon attempt). If I finished the race, that would have been that. It would have been triage mode until winter hit.
The worst part after stopping was waiting for my family to find me. Mile 17 of a race is never a good place to stop. My body was beat and even though I felt like I made the smart choice, my ego was bruised. I hung my head and sat on a bench near the side of the road as 40,000 runners passed. I tried not to make eye contact with anyone. When my family finally arrived, I hightailed it back to the hotel, collected my things, and left. I didn’t want to have to explain myself to anyone. I was full of conflicting emotion -and found myself somewhere between heartbroken and relieved.
A few days removed from the race, I’m still bummed at how it turned out. I was really hoping for that “ah-hah” moment. For some sort of breakthrough that would just wipe the slate clean. But things don’t always go the way we plan. So instead, I am committed to staying healthy, and when the time is right, getting back out there and trying again.