Beauty in the Breakdown

14

In 14 races, I ran my worst marathon this past week. It was wicked hard, but it was also an amazing learning experience. They say you can’t enjoy the good runs unless you know what it is like to have a bad run. Well, now I can appreciate the good runs more.

In this race, I learned what I like and don’t like in a race. I learned how to push myself way beyond my comfort zone. I learned to rely on my training. If I had not been adequately trained and prepared for the challenges I faced, then the outcome would have been a lot worse that what occurred.

As far as the race itself, this is what it taught me: I do not like small races. With only 3,000 runners, this was my smallest marathon ever. I usually do the large city races with 30,000-40,000 runners. In such a small race as the one I just did, there is not a lot of crowd support, and medical care is so stretched out that it’s scary. I am used to the big cities where thousands of people line the streets screaming each and every mile unless I’m running on a bridge. I am used to having a medical professional within eyesight for the entire 26.2 miles. The positives in running a small race and learning this, is that I was able to prove to myself that I can make it without those amenities. I was able to push through and finish the race without an iPod, without cheering crowds lining the streets, and without the constant presence of medical support. I can run a marathon without those amenities. Do I want to run a marathon without those amenities? No, I don’t.

I sustained an injury to the TFL (tensor fasciae latae) muscle in my hip somewhere between miles 18-22. If I had been on a course in a much larger city, medical professionals would have noticed the injury sooner and pulled me off the course. I would have been a DNF (did not finish). Instead, I pushed on to make the finish line. First, I did not understand exactly what was wrong or was happening, and second, I am one of those stubborn runners who push on just to get the medal.

I am fortunate in that I was adequately trained to be able to handle this injury in such a way that it will eventually heal and I am expected to make a full recovery. However, sustaining the injury has led me to a second reason why this was my worst race ever.

The course description was not accurate. Most course descriptions are not accurate. I have run marathons described as flat that were in fact gently rolling hills. I have run marathons described as gently rolling hills that were in fact downhill. While most race descriptions are not entirely accurate, they are usually pretty close to truth. This particular course was described as downhill, so I trained for a downhill race. What it was, in fact, was a hilly race. They were not gently rolling hills. They were not rolling hills. These were hills. There was a huge discrepancy in the description and elevation maps compared to reality. Sure, there were many course changes prior to the event, that required re-certification and new measurement, but there was a gross discrepancy in what was described and how I spent 5 months training.

After my injury, the medical personnel confirmed that the injury would have been much worse if I did not have the muscle tone that I have. I trained for a downhill course, and that was what I was prepared to run. A course that was extremely hilly put more pressure on my body that it could handle; I was not prepared for hills. HILLS. They were not rolling, nor were they gentle. I have run hill races before. I have done fine on hills courses, when that is what I have trained to run.

This race also taught me that the 2015 training season was my best training season ever. I was very well prepared to run a marathon. At my 18 mile split, prior to injury, I was on track to set a PR and within minutes of a potential BQ. At the end, it all fell apart due to injury and ended up being my slowest marathon time by over an hour. The important part was that I was able to finish and was not a DNF.

I have learned to do better research when looking into races to run. I usually try to choose established races so that kinks like this have already been worked out. This marathon was the 20th anniversary – I figure 5+ years to be my barometer for “established.” However, due to the drastic course changes that occurred in the weeks right before the race, the course I experienced was way different than the one for which I trained.

I will definitely be making changes and improvements to my training for 2016 to be able to strengthen the muscle currently injured. Right now, I am thankful that the surrounding muscles are strong enough to be able to support the one that literally took one for the team.

I am so thankful for every single day that I get to run. I can’t wait to heal and to come off the injury list to be able to run again. This race and this injury have taught me that I am so blessed to have been able to participate in 14 races so far. While I am looking forward to many more, I need to be able to continue to run smart.

I can’t believe that it took me 14 races to learn that I do not like small town venues. You grow through pain. You also learn so much about yourself once you go beyond your comfort zone. While this was my most challenging race in 14, I feel like I have learned so much about myself that is only going to improve my race decisions, training, and preparation for the future.

There is beauty in the breakdown. Without this experience, I would not have learned what I was capable of doing, or how adequate my training is, or what I don’t like. Sometimes knowing what you don’t like in life is as valuable as knowing what you do like.

I have been very fortunate in my running career thus far in that my good runs and races have way outnumbered my bad runs and races. This is pretty much only the second time in 14 races that I am saying, “I will never run that one again.” For the record, the other race I have said that about is due to logistics of the host city surrounding the race, not the course or race itself. This is the first time in which I loved the host city, but loathe the race.

I have learned so much through this negative experience than I have through my positive ones. The beauty in the breakdown is being able to take this knowledge to ensure that my race schedule for 2016 is amazing.

I’ll be on the injury list for the rest of the 2015 season, but I’m looking forward to the 2016 running season as being stronger, faster, and better. That’s the beauty of the breakdown.

Ottawa 2008 – #TBT to medal # 2

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In early 2008, I broke both arms at the same time. I have had 10 broken bones total in my life. While this was not the most debilitating injury of my life (I have spent almost a year in a wheelchair), it was certainly an injury from which I learned the most.

My left arm was in a cast from my fingers to my elbow. There were three broken bones in my dominant arm. My right arm just had a broken elbow, and healed faster than the left. When the event first happened, I was in shock. I did not realize anything was broken. I actually got in my car and drove to work. As I was driving, I realized my left arm hurt. Then I realized my right arm hurt. When I got to work, it was fairly certain not only to me but to everyone around me, that they were both broken and I needed medical care. So came the casts.

I had plans to run Ottawa in May 2008. I was just coming off my first race in the fall of 2007. Ottawa would become my second medal.

The first few weeks after my injuries were the most challenging. The pain pills did absolutely nothing, so I stopped taking them. It was very challenging and uncomfortable to sleep at night with two broken arms, so I mostly slept during the day after spending nights crying alone to myself in pain. I could not feed or dress myself. I had to have someone help me every day. It took about 2 to 3 weeks before my fingers could wiggle enough on one hand for me to be able to pull off my own sock.

It was at this point in my life, that you quickly learn who is there for you – and who is not. I went without being bathed for quite awhile because I could not do it myself and no one would assist me. I did find someone to wash my hair in a sink, but had to pay for the service. I had to pay people to help prepare my meals, take me to orthopedic appointments, and clean my house. It was hard.

The doctors overseeing my care knew that I was scheduled to run in Ottawa in the spring. As it was winter, I usually start my planning inside on the treadmill and then move outdoors. Due to my injuries, I was forced indoors. The initial start of my training was delayed by about a month due to my injuries. I was still determined to train for and run the race.

I had numerous conversations with my medical team about training. They were concerned about me running – the bounce, and the pressure that would be put on my bones trying to heal. They regulated how fast I could go on the treadmill. One week they would say my speed could not go above 3.0. The next week they said I could not go above 3.5. It was a constant discussion, struggle, and compromise as I wanted to go faster, and they were concerned about rattling healing bones. The only thing I could think was, “at least it’s not my legs. It’s just my arms. I don’t need my arms to run.”

Running with casts on, even on the treadmill was a challenge in itself. I was weighted down. I was off-balance. Trying to stay on the treadmill without falling off and injuring myself worse or additionally was challenging enough.

I went through my entire training plan for my second race with two casts on.

My recovery really came down to the wire. My right elbow healed before my left arm, but I am left-handed. Towards the end, I could use my right hand, but it was awkward. You try using your weaker side for 3 weeks and see how you do.

Finally, my casts were sawed off and gone on a Tuesday. The race was 5 days later, that following Sunday. I still faced physical therapy for my arms, and was not fully recovered. When the cast came off my left arm particularly, I had a lot of atrophy. I still to this day have not regained full use of my dominant hand due to some nerve damage. I do not have all of my strength back. I have had to intentionally work very diligently to try to “even out” my left and right sides so that my strength is not lop-sided.

On a Sunday at the end of May 2008, I ran in Ottawa, and earned medal # 2. I ran with the Canadian National Army. I may have just has casts sawed off 5 days, prior, but by the second race, I had already caught the bug. I was a runner, and continuously trying to push myself, even coming off an injury.

The race itself was quite challenging. The weather conditions were reminiscent of Chicago 2007 – the year that lives in infamy as every runner’s nightmare when the temperatures hit unprecedented highs, runners died or were hospitalized, and the race was canceled in the middle of the race. The same thing happened that following spring in Ottawa. There were unprecedented and unplanned for highs that made the race that more difficult. The race organizers actually ran out of water and had to water us down with garden hoses not only the last few miles, but also in the runners only area after crossing the finish line. Luckily, the spectators were smart lifesavers. Many of the children had super soaker water guns they were spraying us with and some amazing spectators brought buckets of sponges in water. Running with sponges was a godsend in that race.

What I did not realize at the time I ran Ottawa or even immediately after, was that not only was I able to run Ottawa and obtain my second medal after a challenging injury, but I also ran a Boston qualifying time. Boston qualifying times are only good for two years. I had gotten an email saying that my time was only good for one more year, and that was the first I had heard or realized how well I ran.

I later went on to earn my Boston Athletic Association medal in 2010.

Ottawa taught me very early on in my running career that if you have your heart set on something, you could literally overcome almost anything to accomplish it. This is a lesson that has always stayed with me, and contributed to some other weird and off-the-wall feats in which I have engaged over the years since that race. Ottawa was the race that proved to me that marathon runners really are made in the training, not just one day when you race. It was the race that taught me that what happens in the middle is when you learn the most about yourself. It taught me that start lines are just as important as finish lines.

Your first race shows you that you are able to do the impossible. Only about 1% of the population will ever run a marathon. It is in subsequent races that you learn so much more – about who you are as a person, and what runners and spectators as a community are really all about.

Since overcoming two broken arms to run Ottawa, I have also overcome a knee injury that almost put an end to my running career, I have ran while fighting lymphoma, I have ran while dealing with multiple food allergies, I have ran through death, undergrad, grad school, falling in love, and happy tears. I have overcome so much through my running that Ottawa was really just the beginning.

Today, on Rewind Real Slow, we #TBT to medal # 2.

Whether it’s your first race or your 20th, each race and every runner has a story. Find yours.