An Exercise in Patience & What I’ve Learned During Recovery

Since I made the decision to not race a marathon this fall, a lot has happened. It’s hard to believe that my leg started to give me problems 7 weeks ago and that I made the final decision to scrap the marathon about 3 weeks ago. (It’s difficult to really know when that decision was made because I flip-flopped on it about a bajillion times.) As runners, we’re used to making substantial progress within a 7-8 week period and it’s difficult to stop myself from thinking about the number of miles I *should* have run in that period of time. It’s not about the miles, it’s about the work. I’ve been able to find a balance between physical therapy, easy running, yoga, and acupuncture that’s working for me. Slowly but surely, I think I’m starting to make progress. As frustrating as it’s been, I’m still glad I stopped to rest when I did.

I’ve never really been sidelined by an injury that lasted more than a few weeks. This has been totally new territory and I’m sure I’ll have to revisit it many times in the future. I’m by no means an expert when it comes to dealing with an injury but I think I have learned a few things over the past 50 days or so that might help someone else and I think they’re worth sharing.

What I’ve learned by “sitting out” so far:

1. You have to make a decision. 

I let myself be in “limbo” and figure out if a marathon was going to happen for about two weeks. And that felt like a week too long at times. One day I’d feel really good and confident that the marathon would happen, while other days, I questioned the decision for several hours of the day. I felt like I was trying to force my body to recover on a deadline just so I could get to the start line. For a good 10 days, I just couldn’t get my mind off of the topic. I knew that I’d feel better by just making a decision. And, to some extent, it didn’t matter which one I made. Either way, I’d have a plan moving forward–either MOVE or REST. As badly as I wanted to race, I couldn’t stop thinking about how I could put myself in a really bad position come winter–in order to train properly for Boston I had to rest.  Getting to a start line at some point this fall would have been great, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I would have been able to reach the finish line. I made the decision so that I could move on (physically, mentally, AND emotionally!) Which brings me to my next point…

2. You have to commit to that decision.

For me, sitting this fall out meant that there wasn’t pressure to perform. I know myself and I know that if I worked through the pain and arrived at the start line feeling less than stellar, I’d regret finishing with a poor time on the finish clock (or not finishing at all). It wouldn’t be rewarding and I’d wonder why I decided to run the 26.2 in the first place.

But just because I decided not to race didn’t mean that I could just go out and run whenever I felt like it and for however long I wanted. I forced myself to take an entire week off of running. (This normally only happens immediately following a marathon—it’s very rare that I run ZERO miles in a 7-day period.) No one told me to stop running. I knew in my gut that it would be good for me. Plus, the moment running becomes more of a hassle and less of a hobby I enjoy, it’s time to park my butt on the couch for a bit. I didn’t want to go out and run and have it feel just “okay”. I took 8 days off running and I’ve been able to slowly and safely build my mileage back up. Making the commitment to REST was necessary. Resting now means that I’ll have the drive and ability to develop a strong base this winter and the strength to commit to a strong cycle before Boston. (At least that’s the hope!)

3. As painful as it may be at times, surrounding yourself with other runners is one of the best things you can do.

This seems counterintuitive. Admittedly, I didn’t think I’d want to be in a running environment as an “injured” runner incapable of truly racing. But spectating the Chicago and Grand Rapids Marathons was therapy for me. To be on the other side of the race meant that I could still be involved and invested in others’ experiences. If I had stayed home to watch movies on my couch all day instead of spectating the races of people I love, I would have felt like a huge guilty slob. We may race on our own but it’s not because we don’t have a running family to support us. I’m glad I’ve been able to spectate several races this fall because I would have missed out on moments that I’ll never forget. Just because I wasn’t racing didn’t mean that the experience wasn’t valuable. You can learn a lot about racing by being a spectator. And yes, I wanted to race soooooooo badly and wished I could have been out there racing my heart out. It wasn’t easy but being around other runners and being part of the race environment helped soften the blow a bit.

4. You have to try a lot of different recovery methods and repeat what works for you.

I wouldn’t even consider this silly quad situation a “major injury”, but I still had to try several recovery methods. A chiropractor released my lower back and hips; a physical therapist relieved some of the pain with the Graston technique, massage, and targeted strength training; a massage therapist helped me align the left and right sides of my body; an x-ray and MRI ruled out the possibility of a stress fracture; and finally, an acupuncturist found the knots and released them within 2 sessions. While physical therapy is important and it’s always going to be one of the first methods I try, I was so surprised how quickly acupuncture released the tension in my left quad. After tweeting about how much it’s helped me, I learned that plenty of other runners have found relief through acupuncture.

The last thing I wanted to do was add another “treatment” or spend more money on trying to figure out what is going on with this quad/hip/adductor. But I’m glad I did. I found more relief in two sessions of acupuncture than any amount of foam rolling or massaging accomplished in 4-5 weeks. It’s nice to know that the next time I start to feel little twinges, I’ll be able to get it treated right away with a method that works for me. You have to find the method that works for you and repeat it as necessary.

5. You have to consult people you love and trust (& ignore those you don’t).

Making  a decision can be difficult on your own, let alone with others’ opinions swirling around in your head. You have to be honest with yoursel fand with people that you think will be helpful and pragmatic. Most of the time, this means finding the people that are more likely to say “no, you shouldn’t race” than “yes, you should race!”. It’s hard to hear someone tell you what you don’t want to hear but you don’t need a “yes man/woman”. You need someone that will be realistic, helpful, and patient to make the decision that’s right for you. I really struggled with this. I felt like I had to make a ton of decisions in the first few weeks. I felt like I was on my own. I wanted someone to tell me what to do. I wanted someone to “fix me”. I wanted to avoid making decisions because I felt like I had to make so many. It was overwhelming. Eventually I reached the point where I trusted myself enough to be patient with recovery and know what was going on in my own body. I’m lucky to have a few people in my life that were willing to listen (to my complaints and frustrations, no less), ask questions, and give me some really helpful advice so that I didn’t feel like I had to listen to anyone and everyone’s advice. Because, let’s face it. That would be super frustrating.

I’m not going to lie. Looking at this weekly training chart is still frustrating and it makes me sad.

2013 GR Training Breakdown

June marked the beginning of a new cycle and I had some big goals that were within reach until 6-7 weeks ago. The next cycle will only be fun if I take what I learned from this experience, make some changes, and keep looking forward.

Spectating all of these fall races has me itching to get out there again. 2013 was a strong year for me despite this setback. I PR’d every distance I raced: 5k, 10k, 13.1 and 26.2.

2014 is going to be a good year. I just know it.

-J

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I Refuse to ‘Park’ It

I Refuse to 'Park' It

Wisdom found at Urban Outfitters somehow seemed really appropriate yesterday. I haven’t run a single mile in 8 days but I’m determined to avoid parking it (aka MY BUTT) on the couch anymore. I don’t know where I’m headed but I know I’ll be stronger for it.

Why I’m Not Racing This Fall

The past 3 weeks have been difficult, both physically and emotionally. It’s been 3.5 weeks since I felt like my body started to tell me “woah there buddy, stop at the red light!”. Up until my long run on September 14th, I hadn’t felt any aches or pains this cycle. I was deliberate in my strength training and stretched muscles that are notoriously tight when training peaks. I felt like I was doing everything right and getting stronger through the cycle.

After that 17-mile long run, I tried to do everything I could to refresh the legs. I didn’t really feel like anything “happened”. Nothing snapped, nothing was broken. My legs just weren’t working. (That’s the only way I can describe it.)  I resolved to take it easy for one week and, as difficult as it was to skip 2 key workouts and my first 20-miler, I knew it would be for the best. Missing out on one week of training wouldn’t make a difference come race day. I saw my chiropractor and had massage work done, along with gentle foam rolling and stretching at home each night. But things didn’t really turn around, as badly as I wanted to convince myself that they were. I had a few very short test runs that week and an elliptical workout that felt fine, but I just knew my left quad wasn’t going to let go.

The next week, a little better. I managed 25 easy miles and my 10-miler actually felt strong. I thought, “alright, we’re not out of the woods yet but we’re almost there!”. Still hoping and dreaming that all my hard work and recovery would pay off, even if it wasn’t the original plan.

2013-09-29 12.37.08-210 miles was a confidence boost, but somewhat of a “fluke”

And then? Last week. My heart wasn’t in it and the disappointment started to set in. On Monday, I did a very easy spin for 45 minutes and felt great. On Tuesday morning, I woke up early to do another test run of 6 easy miles. I didn’t feel comfortable by mile 3 and knew it was over.

Actually, I think my brain knew it was over but my heart wasn’t ready to let the dream die yet.

I sat on my butt and did absolutely nothing on Wednesday and Thursday evening, even though I had another easy run planned for Thursday morning. Thursday just….came & went. Almost every hour, I considered going out for a jog (I was “allowed” to run 7-8 miles that day). I felt like I was in a daze all last week because I didn’t know what to do with myself, but my heart and my body started to agree by Thursday afternoon.

I went to physical therapy and said these words out loud for the first time: “I don’t think I’m going to run a marathon this fall.”

I was surprised how comfortable I was when I said it. It just kind of came out.

There are many reasons why I think this is the right decision for me right now. 

This is a very minor injury. I “can” still run, but don’t want to risk major injury during or after a marathon this fall. Running through pain is a recipe for disaster and I’d rather choose to rest now than be forced to rest for a much longer period of time later on.

I have Boston 2014 to look forward to. I would be angry with myself  if I ran through pain this fall and struggled through the next training cycle. Too many years of racing ahead of me to risk anything right now.

My body is trying to tell me something and I have to listen to it. I ran twice last week. I haven’t run at all this week (self-imposed hiatus!). And honestly, I don’t miss it yet.  That’s a sign that I need to recover and regroup before going into training mode again.

Abby NYC published a post this week about why not racing isn’t the end of the world. It’s like she crawled into my brain and gave me the kick in the ass that I needed.

She’s right:  I’m still in awesome shape. Just because I’m not racing now doesn’t mean that won’t EVER race again. There’s still value in the training I did for the past 18+ weeks.

3 weeks ago, I was thinking: “I wasted months of my life for no reason, I feel like I’m a disappointment, what will people think?, what if I decide to run another race instead?, etc.”. Picture all of the negative aspects of the situation swirling around in my brain and that was my reality for about 10 days. A bit of a mental temper tantrum, if you will. One day, I would confess that the race was still going to happen and the next I’d wonder why I even said that.

I’m happy to say the temper tantrum has come to an end and I’m comfortable with my decision. After staying away from Bikram for over 2 years, I’ve started going to classes again. I have a clear idea of where my weaknesses are and it feels so good to work on them. I’m spinning and doing elliptical workouts just to keep up with cardio. And I’m SLEEPING like a pro (I’ve always been good about my sleep but it seems more restful now). I don’t feel the pressure to fit the workout into my day and, for now, that’s a good thing. I’m excited to rest through this week and work on a really strong base before I start training for Boston again in January.

The marathon isn’t happening for me this fall but that means I get to be a spectating fool for not one, but THREE different marathons within the next few weeks. First up, Chicago this weekend! Next, Grand Rapids (where The Man will run his first half and Hillary and Jeff will race for all the beers). And finally, the Indy Monumental Half and Full at the beginning of November. I bought extra vuvuzelas on Amazon a few weeks ago (I’m prepared, people) and I think I’ll be pretty skilled after spectating for three marathons.

Being on the other side of the race this fall seems refreshing to me now. Hey, 2014! You better watch out! I’m comin’ for ya.

2013-10-07 16.10.26I made a decision. And then this arrived in the mail. Boston 2014 will be an amazing experience.

-J

Trying Different Paths

Trying New Paths

I saw this quote the other day and thought it was perfectly accurate for my “running life” right now. I’m grappling with the decision to either ditch or commit to the marathon at some point this fall.  6 days ago, I wrote that “I’m confident it will happen.” But my left quad is still presenting problems and I feel like I’m trying every kind of ‘path’ to figure out what’s going on. I’ve flip-flopped countless times in the past 2.5 weeks. Should I run the marathon or should I move on?

On one hand, I think “of course I’ll run one! I’ve been training for 4+ months!”. I’ve worked hard and I should get to a start line to finish what I’ve started.

I shouldn’t give up so easily.

I should let go of time goals.

I should run the marathon for FUN.

I should just see what happens.

I should give my leg time to rest (as I’ve been doing) and then celebrate my hard work by racing, regardless of whether or not a PR happens.

I should.

On the other hand, I think “maybe it’s not meant to be?”. Maybe this is just one of those learning experiences that will make 2014 a badass year of racing. My body is trying to tell me something and I have to listen to it.

I shouldn’t suffer through 26.2

I shouldn’t put my leg through stress if it’s feeling this way, weeks out from a goal race.

I shouldn’t take a risk.

I shouldn’t.

The Grand Rapids Marathon is in 17 days. An alternate race that might work is in 30 days. And it’s a race against a recovery clock.

This Sunday will mark 3 weeks of “recovery”. My weekly mileage took a huge plummet after a 17-mile run on September 14th. And the most I’ve run in one week since then is 25 miles. All easy miles, no workouts. In my world, this is just torture. When I’m frustrated about something, I go for a run. And that’s the one thing that I can’t do right now. People say “do the things that you normally don’t have time for when you’re training!” and “have fun!”. I know I should and to some extent, I’m following that advice. But it’s proving to be much easier said than done, folks.

I keep hoping that one day (like…tomorrow?) I will wake up and the nasty little knot will be gone. I’ll be able to run comfortably for more than 10 miles and the marathon will happen and everything will be sunshine and rainbows and the finish line will be glorious and all of my hard work & appropriate recovery will have paid off and that first beer will taste so delicious. Ahhh finish line beer is always delicious, isn’t it?

It’s only been a few weeks, but I’ve tried “lots of different paths”.

I’ve consulted a chiropractor, massage therapist (massage of a lifetime!), and now a physical therapist. Graston relieved some pain and electrode therapy felt funny and weird and awesome all at the same time. One of the most frustrating aspects of all of this is that I don’t even know what the problem is. And no one has an answer because my body is speaking a different language. The only answer that ‘works’ is “you have to rest”. So that’s what I’ve been doing. We’ve ruled out a stress fracture with an MRI (even though it would be an anomaly that I had one in my femur…) and it seems like I just have a tight adductor that just won’t let go. And, at this point, I don’t think any amount of massage is going to encourage it to release. I’m scheduled for physical therapy 2 times a week to strengthen my hips and work on stability muscles. I even had a routine blood test done to see if that would provide an answer (and heyoooo ferritin levels are normal to high!).

I feel like I’m pulling out all the stops, people! I’m taking it as easy as I can and trying to be patient but at some point I have to make a decision. And I don’t want to make that decision a week out from a race. Limbo is tough, y’all. Maybe after trying all of these “different paths”, there’s only one that’s really going to work.

-J