When I first agreed to run the Chicago Marathon with Saucony 26 Strong and Laura, I was nervous. I was excited, terrified, and practically every emotion in between. There wasn’t any hiding that my training for the Buffalo Half Marathon wasn’t spectacular and I was struggling with longer distance running. Of course, the most obvious thing that was sticking out in my mind was the battle back from recurring posterior tibialis tendonitis.
Could I really handle running 26.2 miles at once? Physically, would my body last beyond two straight hours of pounding? Mentally, was my mind going to clear the way and let me run for four straight hours? The questions still aren’t answered, but the answers are getting a little clearer.
I absolutely hate feeling like my identity is as an injury prone runner. That wasn’t me in middle or high school. I never once had to miss a practice because of any pains or aches. The worst I felt were some shin splints that subsided after a week or two. Despite recovering from my tendonitis, my body still fights back every so often in different ways.
Some people run 60-70 miles per week without a problem, but I’m not one of them (yet). The 10% rule is a reasonable guideline, but in all honesty I don’t think that rule is appropriate for many runners, particularly runners like me. You know, the injured types? If I were to have increased 10% every week once I started thinking about the marathon, even with cutback weeks, I would be upwards of 80 miles per week by now and I certainly couldn’t handle that this quickly!
The past month I’ve been hovering in the low to mid 20 miles per week range, which is low for a half marathon, let alone a full marathon. I knew going into training that my mileage would be on the lower end, but I was confident my consistency would pay off. If I could make it through my long runs unscathed, there would be hope for October 11th. I definitely shouldn’t talk in the past tense, I am confident. Consistency is something I’ve lacked in the past but have maintained since training for this race. I’m seeing small payoffs here and there; I still have 6 weeks until race day. Despite the payoffs, the lingering fear of injury is still there and I’m trying to dance the fine line of mindful and not overly cautious.
My longest run to date was 16 miles a couple weeks ago. It was awful. I had gotten back from vacation at 11pm the night before. I fueled the best I could for traveling in a car all day, tried to get enough sleep, but still didn’t wake up early enough to beat the heat. Mentally, I was done with the run from the moment my feet stepped out of the car. It was hot and humid by 8am when I started, running in a sports bra was already too much clothing, and I ran out of water after about 7 or 8 miles. Without water, there would be no fuel, and without fuel there would be no energy, and the trickle down effect really trickles.
I was stopping every 2-3 miles to stretch, look at my phone, lolly gag, drink water, take fuel… you name it, I procrastinated during my run with it. It took everything in me to not turn around but eventually, I made it to the “out” distance and the only way to be done was to run back. The final 3-4 miles were spent walking and running, trying to mentally convince myself that if I just ran I’d get there sooner, but my mind and body telling me “no”. I bonked. Am I officially marathon training, yet?
After that craptastic run, I vowed to get revenge the following week on my next 16 miler. Everything started better and much more promising. It was 58 degrees at the start and I plotted a 4 mile route to repeat so I could get fuel and water each time I passed my car. Unfortunately I forgot my calf sleeves, so I just hoped the little twinges I sometimes feel in my posterior tibialis would stay away.
I surprised myself with fresh legs despite a track workout two days before with paces a little too fast for what the plan stated. I surprised myself even more by tackling the three hills during my loop feeling better than I ever have on them this training cycle. After my first mile, I easily settled into a groove that felt comfortable and steady. For the first time, my body felt like it was moving forward rather than just kind of bobbing along barely covering any ground. Everything felt great from my brain to my hip and to my feet, in fact, I had to glance at my Garmin and tell myself to slow down! It’s amazing how much quicker your easy pace gets when you take away the heat and humidity.
I remained in the zone for over 11 miles, averaging paces of 9:20 to 9:40, often times seeing 9:0x for chunks of time and it never felt spastic. I noticed my right knee started to get a twinge after about 8 miles, but my zone was strong. Nothing would shake me. Unfortunately all good things must come to an end. At mile 11, the pain became a little stronger as I headed up the third hill of the loop but my mind wasn’t wavering. Almost as instantly as I fell into that runners high, I snapped out of it. My knee hurt. I stopped. There really wasn’t a question of it in my head, I just knew that if something could bring my good mojo to such a screeching halt, it had to be serious. Walking for a quarter mile relieved the stabbing I felt and I ran three quarters of a mile to the car before fueling up one last time. When I started up again, the stabbing was worse and it just didn’t seem worth it to me. I wanted that mileage PR, but not at the expense of an injury.
Despite feeling better after stopping on Saturday, it seemed that the sleeping made everything a little stiff and a little sore with anything a little more than a walk. Sunday came and went without a run. I stared at my RunningAHEAD log for what felt like eons looking at where my week could have been. After such a great 12 miles, I was excited to hit 4 marathon pace miles to close it out and to say I was disappointed was an understatement.
So here I sit toeing that fine line between aches and injury. I took a couple days off from all activity and returned with a great track workout. In retrospect, it probably would have been smarter to ease into 6 easy miles rather than 6 with 4 at a 10k pace, but thankfully post-run I’m feeling good. In fact, I’m feeling better than I did on my rest days. It’s funny how that works, huh?
I have four long runs (two 18 milers, two 20 milers) left to figure out fueling and strategy. While part of me feels like “It’s almost here and I can taste it!”, I still feel like there’s an eternity until that weekend. And as I get closer, I can’t quite tell which achievement I’m going to more proud of — finishing the marathon or finishing the training unscathed.