In the Fall of 2013, I made the decision to focus on a marathon. I’ve run all sorts of distances and find it difficult to identify one which I prefer, but I knew that marathon training would get me in shape for a healthy calendar of Spring and Summer ultras.
I documented my fears here, and worked on some alternative training methods here, but generally went at the only way I knew how: Run a lot, run fast, keep the weight down, stay healthy, don’t get hurt.
My brilliant plan was going pretty well mid-late December, I made it through the holidays without losing too much fitness, and I was very comfortable keeping a 6:50 pace on my runs while pushing the kiddos in the stroller. This is going to work! I’m going sub 3 baby!
My target race was Surf City Marathon on March 2. Not being a marathoner (I’ve only done 3 road marathons), my goal was 2:55, and I knew that it was a flat and fast course in Southern California that pretty much assured great weather.
My wife was sick the entire month of Dec and most of January, and my 4yo daughter is in preschool, which, to those without kids, pretty much means that she always has a runny nose, which always puts me at risk of catching whatever she’s got.
But I avoided all of that. Whew! No sickness.
Now all I had to do was finish off a good tempo run a week before the race, taper, and execute. We’d planned a trip down to San Diego the day after the race (first overnight trip for my wife and I in 4 years!), and it was essentially going to be a victory lap for a lot of work on our part (she’d trained for the half marathon.)
One week prior to the race, I put in my final hard run. Fourteen miles, starting around 7 min/mile, then dropping down to 6:20s gradually. I felt awesome, was doing some serious thinking in my head, and though 2:55 was probably too ambitious, 2:57 was definitely within reach if I executed well.
Those thoughts invariably shifted into what type of races I could use that fitness for. How would it translate to the 125 miler I’m doing in early March? What type of pace could I keep at a moderately hilly 50k the same month? Could I keep improving and redeem myself at Lake Sonoma, after a particularly disastrous race there in 2013?
This is going to be awesome.
Then my calf blew up.
I didn’t step on anything, didn’t change my pace, and I hadn’t switched shoes or anything. All of a sudden, I had an acute pain in the center portion of my lower calf, that forced me to hobble back home. Well, shit. Now I’ve got to figure out if this is a pre-race niggle, or is it something substantial that I have to be careful with? I tried running on it, but any time I put weight on the calf, my leg would buckle. Dammit! I’ve never had a calf injury, but know from friends that they can be serious and take a long time to heal.
OK, focus and relax. I’ll take it easy and won’t do anything on it for six days, it’ll be rested and healed, and I can still run the marathon. Right? Right?
I spend those six days rolling, massaging, begging, and pleading with the running gods to heal my stupid calf. I was still limping on it on Wednesday before the race, and admitted to my wife that I was scared to run on it. I’d had to chase my son across the yard, and putting any pressure on the leg at all hurt like hell.
By Saturday before the race, I’d told her that my chances of finishing were less than 50%, but was still hoping that it was just my head. I tried my best to convince myself that after the gun went off everything would be fine.
We dropped the kids off, got to the race (20k runners…holy cow!), and I did a little warm up jog to the start. Still pain. Not like it was on Monday, but ouch…Definitely not runnable.
At the start, I connected with Rod Bien, who was down from Bend to race, and I relaxed a bit…another trail guy amid all the fluorescent, fake boobs, and damn Michelob Lite signs. Rod asked what my goal was, I told him my situation, and he said he was going for 2:45. We wished each other luck, the gun went off, and I took off.
Realistically, I made it about 50 yards before I was forced to stop. Starting towards the front of the pack, I looked back to see if stopping would be an issue, and my expensive glasses flew off my head, only to get trampled by those behind me.
OK, that sucked.
Now I needed to stop (my leg was buckled under me), but the start was in a huge chute, and it was impossible to just “pull over” to the side with a whole bunch of fast runners behind me. I kept hobbling and limping forward, only to jump up on a fence and escape to safety.
I limped around for a few hours, tried to get a massage at the Expo (hell no), asked the Facebook community if running 100 yards of a marathon counts as a DNF or DNS (still don’t know the answer), and watched Rod finish a few seconds below his target. Sonofabitch.
The vacation still happened. I limped around San Diego, tried rolling it out more, avoided long walks, and was now getting scared that I’d actually done something that would require a professional. I also knew that I had a big calendar in Spring and did not want to miss out on more races.
When I got home, I spoke with a few people, and everyone recommended I go see someone. Massage therapist, Physical Therapist, a sports doc…someone. I’ve got a tough schedule and put off the recommendations for awhile, though I did promise myself I wouldn’t run one step for an entire month. That seemed long, but I knew that if I came back too early, I’d be sacrificing my entire season–possibly year–for my inability to take things slow.
OK, so I won’t be running, and since it’s my calf, I won’t be riding my bike, in-line skating, or snow shoeing either. Ugh.
So what’s left? Great! This’ll be a perfect time to focus on my core! I can spend an hour a day and work on my lower back and front. I hadn’t yet officially backed out of Razorback, and (totally denial here) I’ll need core strength to run 125 miles, right?
Except I didn’t do one sit up. Not one plank. Not one anything. I did nothing for a month, except roll the calf and shovel more food and beer into my mouth. I got fat and justified part of by considering it “healing”…which was only partially true.
I also didn’t see a doc. I’m with the kids all day, we don’t have a babysitter, and my wife is gone from 7am-7pm, Mon-Fri. There’s simply no time to go see someone without taking the kids with me, I’ve been there, and am not doing that again. In the past, I’ve seen PTs or MDs. We’ve got great insurance, I have a good doc (who’s an endurance cyclist and runner), and I generally follow the protocol, but I just couldn’t make it happen this time.
The calf started to feel better, and for a time, I toyed with the idea of actually starting Razorback, then thought clearly, called the RD, and withdrew my name. I had to let this heal, and since I don’t have the ability to do things half way, it had to be no running or all running. “Taking it easy” is not something I’m capable of. Besides, I’m not a total idiot. Running that far on a bum calf is just plain reckless.
So last Tuesday I went out for a run! Two and a half miles of some jogging, some walking, and I had no pain. Not a bit. Those 2.5 miles took me over 28 minutes, but hey, it felt OK. Now I need to focus on not jumping back into it too fast and screwing everything up again.
Since then, I’ve run a few more times, and ran 3.5 miles today at a moderate pace (sub 8) with
the stroller, and really do believe I’m OK. Woefully out of shape, but there’s zero remaining pain in my calf, and for that, I couldn’t be happier. I’m back running, thankful for every single step, and am coming out of the dark tunnel that has been my recovery.
Two more pieces of the puzzle remain: One, I need to take this slow and not force anything too hard or too fast. If I do, I’ll end up right back on the DL. I’m sure of it. And two, I’ve gained fourteen pounds! Fourteen pounds in less than a month! Time to get on a strict diet and get back to my racing weight! Yikes!
So what did I learn?
- Sometimes pre-race niggles are real. I still don’t know what it was, but I was limping around like a fool for weeks because of it.
- Rest works. I never saw a doc and never got a professional opinion on what went wrong, but dedicated inactivity (and apparently plenty of unused calories!) played a major role in helping me get better.
- Marathon training sucks. Yeah, it’s fun to get fast, but that much pounding on pavement is something I’d like to avoid in the future. I’ll still keep running the bike path, but will be taking more days off and mixing in a lot more trail in an attempt to finally get the formula right.
- Gaining fourteen pounds that quickly will prevent me from doing too much too fast, and I hope to be running well by the end of this month.
Have you experienced similar downtime? Did it help you heal?