Train for a marathon.
Reinier told me this when I first toed the line back in 2013. I remember thinking, "I'm good, thanks." But my reluctance did not stop the eventual illumination; as the miles increased, so did my awareness of various strengths and weaknesses. When I read "The Lore of Running," the quote that stood out most was "Running has taught me who I am...and more importantly, who I am not." Thank you, Dr. Noakes. It's true. Stripped bare of comfort, in pain, and exhausted, you will learn a great deal about what makes you tick.
I've learned so much about myself over the last eleven weeks, particularly in the last six days.
This is the blog entry I did not want to write. The one I have been sitting on for over a week. I have not said much on social media because I don't want pity. I don't want anything except to feel better.
I haven't run since last Saturday.
It started out like any other long run; sixteen miles at Red Rock, picking up Johnny on mile 8. Same time, same course, same food. I was on a high from a week earlier, having placed second at a local 5K and set a new PR (21:18) in the process. I conquered my 20-miler the next day. It was the perfect combination of speed plus distance. Those last two miles of the 20 were rough; both quads cramped, very similar to the later miles in a marathon. I needed to experience this and mentally, I practiced my marathon strategy. I was strong. My right adductor was screaming but I simply ran the mile I was in. I finished, rested, ate, and didn't think anything of it.
I ran on Monday as expected; iced my right Achilles that night since the lower leg hurt. Easy run on Tuesday: no problems. On Wednesday, I had 3x2 mile repeats at marathon pace. It was hard. My right adductor, that lanky inner groin muscle that runs the length of the leg, was not happy. Cramped, overused, and downright cranky. Ran on Thursday with dead legs but a happy heart. Took Friday off and totaled my monthly miles: a new high, coming in 226.20. My right leg was still acting up, but as we know, not all pain is significant.
Until it is.
On Saturday, on mile 9, right after Johnny and I met up, I was just telling that we just need to get over the Overlook and we'd be home free. It had been a windy, uphill battle getting through the first 8 and my calf was sore. But the run was going so well - fast even! Only six more to go and my last official long run was in the books. That had been a lot of chatter earlier in the week of taking the last five miles at marathon pace and he was all in. I was, too. Johnny's faster than I am and running with him is so helpful; he was ready to take the lead and I was happy to follow.
Except, just as the words were out of my mouth, something popped in the back of my right calf muscle.
I cried out in pain and we instantly stopped. Was it a cramp? A muscle spasm? I've had many, many running cramps while running and none have ever come on this strongly or with a popping sound. I knew I couldn't finish the run; I couldn't even put weight on the leg. Even if it was just a bad cramp, there was no sense in running another six silly miles with only two weeks before the race. The goal at this point was simply to get to the starting line uninjured.
Johnny gave me a look that I'd only seen once before; it was the same expression Brian wore while I was in labor. Abject terror. The look passed quickly, thankfully, and being the stand-up guy that he is, Johnny gave me a quick hug, assured me it was going to be okay, and sprinted to get his car. I limped behind him. I had gotten about a half mile down the road when two cars pulled over: Mercy and Bree. Hooray! It was like someone had called the cavalry. I explained what happened and Mercy ushered me into her truck. We picked up Johnny, got his car, and he finished his last 5 miles while I sat in my car, icing my leg.
My mind raced. What now?
We all know the answer to that: suck it up, Buttercup. It's time for Little League.
**why is it always about Little League?
But I did just that. Drove the game, limped over to the field. Silently wiped tears from under my sunglasses as I sat on the bleachers with a bag of ice on my leg, one Brian had retrieved from the concession stand. I don't think Scott knew anything had even happened, and that's a good thing.
The advice that came in over the next few days varied from an extreme cramp to a minor calf muscle strain. I watched my leg like a hawk; no bruising, no discoloration. If this was a cramp, this was a Category 5 cramp. By the time I saw Dr. Nick (essentially the village shaman to all of us Las Vegas runners; we are literally putting his children through college at the rate we are going), he did some serious Graston and ART on the calf that colored it purple. Now my leg hurt more from his bruising, making me confused as to what was hurting and where/why it hurt. But honestly, he could have taken a sledge hammer to it, if it meant it would be better by Marathon Monday.
For the rest of the week, I limped around. Bought a monthly package at a local cryotherapy place to do Normatek legs daily (in one word: heaven!) Slept in compression socks to the point I worried I would develop Athlete's foot. Wore a calf sleeve during day hours. Applied arnica. Ice, heat, gentle stretching. Googled ailments incessantly. Determined I had cancer, multiple sclerosis, low calcium AND that I am definitely not a doctor and should stop pretending to be one.
When attempting to run three little miles on Wednesday, I completed them - but not without pain. For the first mile, I rationalized that I was just warming up. Second mile felt okay. Third mile hurt. Going up the tiny ramp at Willows park meant I had to change my stride as well as how my food hit the ground.
These is not a good thing.
But cryotherapy is. It's cold and refreshing and hopefully sending healing vibes to that leg. Plus you get to wear a sweet bathrobe.
I LOVE SWIMMING.
It is so fun! All those years taking swim lessons, being a lifeguard in college, getting SCUBA certified...I forgot how much I love water. Maybe I'll take on a second sport after Boston and grow some gills. Holy relaxation. Gently gliding through the water, practicing all of my strokes and being mindful of my breathing - I was grinning from ear to ear by the time I popped out. Sure, my cap was on crooked and hair was sticking out, but I was a happy camper. I got my heart rate up, felt like I had done a solid workout, AND did not further injure my leg. Score!
I'm scarfing down as many anti-inflammatory foods I can get my hands on, so much so Johnny and Alex have taken to calling it "brujeria" (witchcraft). Call it whatever you want; I believe in my potions. Turmeric, black pepper, chia seeds, garlic, chamomile, blueberries, tart cherry juice. Lots of things that stain your hands. Hey, if Scott Jurek can run - and win - the Hardrock 100 with a broken, uncasted ankle, I can get through 26.2 measly miles, right?
Speaking of eating, one of the hardest things about the taper is not eating yourself out of house and home. Marathon hunger is REAL and it usually hits right when your mileage decreases. My first thought after the injury occurred was losing myself in a bottle or two of wine and perhaps a bag of chips, but I knew it would only serve to complicate matters. There was a rather unfortunate incident involving marshmallows from the Lucky Charm box, but I'm happy to report I caught myself before it got really ugly.
As for Boston, I am running regardless. This is the difference between a sub-4 marathon and a six+ hour marathon - all of which don't matter in the grand scheme of life. Disappointing, yes. A tragedy, no. What is happening in Syria is a tragedy. This is a serious case of first world problem-itis. After coming to terms that I will NOT win the Boston Marthon, life got a bit easier. Just please don't tell Maria, my dry cleaner. (She wants me to win. I love her). Obviously, I am terrified that this issue will flare up during the race - but there is nothing I can do but smile and hobble to the finish. Nobody likes ugly race photos.
I've gone through the whole spectrum of emotion; if you have been one of the people who have held my hand, handed me tissue, or fielded a emotionally charged text over the last six days, thank you. If you are rooting against me, um, well, why are you reading this? Go waste your time doing something else, silly! That's kind of weird.
Maybe this is nothing. Maybe I'm being dramatic. (who, me?) Maybe I'll get to the starting line in Hopkinton and absolutely nothing will hurt. This is BEST case scenario and I hope you are right. I hope more than anything this is nothing more than a minuscule speed bump in my running career, an unexpected curve ball that forced me into an early taper. Besides, this exact issue happened to me before St. George. Exact same scenario - I PR'd in Cedar City, was unable to get through my 20 miler a week later due to severe right calf pain and spent two weeks hobbling around. Interestingly, that calf did just fine during George; we all know now, it was my reproductive system secretly plotting against me. So who knows? There are no guarantees in marathon running. You hope for the best, plan for the worst. Also, pray you don't have terrorist ovaries.
The last two weeks before any marathon are a crazy time; the taper is rarely fun. It's full of aches, pains, worry and lots of Hail Mary's (both the prayer kind and the football analogy). I do want to state clearly: this has been such an incredible training cycle. So many great things happened! I started slow, warmed up, and then really hit my stride. Running truly became fun again. Fantastic mileage, challenging hill work, a 5K PR: all things I am very proud of. I have grown SO much as a person and a runner in the last 10+ weeks. And whatever happens ten days from now, this will always go down as my favorite 10 weeks of training, ever.
But I don't want my finish time to be the defining characteristic to this cycle. The hard work is done, the race is simply icing on an already well-baked (though slightly neurotic) cake.
Plus, it's always darkest before dawn, right?
I'm ready for daybreak.