In my previous posting ('Injuries as Opportunities'), I mentioned the last marathon I ran in 2005. What I didn't discuss in great detail was what transpired between October of 2005 and now that prevented me from tackling another marathon.
One of the the things I often tell my runners is that even if you're training year round, your season needs 'peaks' and 'valleys'. You train hard for 'x' number of weeks in the hopes of having a great performance on race day and then you dial things back for a few weeks and give your body a break before resuming the next training cycle. At the end of 2005 after running the fastest marathon of my life, I let my enthusiasm get the better of me and just kept running hard. There was never a 'valley' in my training.
In November/December of 2005, I got into a space where I was averaging about 10 miles a day and the pace I was running was close to 6:00/mile the entire way....and this felt EASY. Needless to say, I felt like I was in pretty great shape. Little did I know how close I was to having the wheels come off entirely.
I continued to train even harder in the beginning of 2006 targeting the Kaiser Permanente Half Marathon as my first PR of the year. I was doing some of the most intense tempo and track workouts of my life, but my body wasn't very happy. A few days before the half marathon, I had planned on running two miles at my target pace (5:45) on the track. I couldn't hold back once I got going and ended up running a 10:22. It 'seemed' like I was ready.
Race day arrived and almost from the outset, I could tell things were awry. I managed my target pace for about 5-6 miles, but felt flat/fatigued. Nothing was clicking and there was no second wind to be had. I resigned myself to treating this as a glorified training run. Fortunately, I finished, but it was with no shortage of disappointment and a time well short of a PR.
DESPITE the clear flatness/fatigue and myriad other signs from my body that things were not ok...I kept training. I had signed up for the Country Music Maraton in Nashville and my lackluster performance at Kaiser was acting as a catalyst. A couple months after Kaiser I was logging one of my last long runs in preparation for Nashville and my IT band started to complain in a way it never had before. I could barely finish the run. I would ultimately scratch Nashville from my schedule. But, I never stopped training.
As I entered May of 2006, my body constantly ached and complained. I was in great shape logging tons of miles, speedwork, and tempo, but almost halfway through the year and I had no quality race performances to show for it. The Chicago Marathon loomed on the horizon in October and once more I was using my earlier problems/challenges as motivation for training. Little did I know this was the beginning of the end of any serious running for two years.
The end began in a subtle almost unnoticeable fashion. An insidious ache appeared in my heel. It was something I would feel vaguely at the beginning of a run and at the end of a run. I didn't think much of it and continued to run (sound familiar?). The ache became a bit more intense and every morning I got out of bed, the heel would complain as though a sharp dagger had been roughly inserted. This sharp pain would dissipate somewhat after walking around for a few minutes, but would reappear if I walked (or ran) for any significant period.
Thus began a nearly six month ordeal. One day blended into another as my life became an exercise in pain management. I tried icing. I tried taping my foot. I tried massage. I tried self-massage. I tried the Strausberg sock. I tried heel inserts. I tried orthotics. Plantar fasciitis was something I had never experienced before and it appeared there was nothing I could do to get rid of it.
After agonizing for several weeks, I made the decision to have surgery. The procedure was not terribly well known (radio frequency debridement/ablation), but had a high degree of success (according to what I read), insurance covered it, and the procedure would leave the fascia relatively intact (unlike a plantar fasciotomy).
I had the surgery performed on my birthday in 2006. What better gift to give myself than healthy, pain-free running I figured. It was a brief, outpatient procedure. However, I was on crutches for roughly a week. I progressed to wearing a special cushioned shoe that would minimize impact. This lasted for roughly a week. I was back to at least 'wearing' running shoes in late November, but I was far from being able to run. In the interim, I spent countless hours on a stationary bike catching up on my reading. It was the only thing I could do to maintain my running fitness.
Enter physical therapy. I practically took up residence at Presidio Sports & Medicine as they tried to get me back up and running. Ultrasound, icing, stretching, strengthening, special shoes, custom orthotics, and a gait analysis were all part of the deal. Things 'appeared' to be moving in the right direction, but my heel still bothered me. It was a 'different' level of discomfort/pain which was somewhat encouraging, actually. I could tell it wasn't plantar fasciitis. It was something else. I could run, but I wasn't the same.
This vague heel pain continued into March (and through multiple training programs I managed). Frustrated, I set up an appointment with the doctor who performed the radio frequency debridement and talked at great length about what was going on. He took an x-ray and posed an odd question from the other room, 'Are you having any pain in your shoulders or any other joints?' I'm not a physician, but I knew he was seeing something that just wasn't good.
The doctor suspected a stress fracture in my heel. He saw a shadow which you apparently see when a fracture is heeling. He wanted me to get a MRI to confirm. In short order, his suspicions were confirmed. He gave me a portable ultrasound unit and advised me to use it every day for 4-6 weeks. I diligently used the unit and eventually the pain/discomfort disappeared once and for all.
In June of 2007, I was finally on the road to recovery...or so I thought. I spent about four weeks resuming the kind of training I had been doing previously. I was starting to get my legs back. Several years ago, I had injured my left achilles and ever since then it tends to complain when I run too many hills. An ill fated hill workout left my achilles screaming out in pain. I had barely been running a month and I was already having problems again.
The balance of 2007 was a battle. I could do some running, but the achilles almost always complained. There was virtually zero speedwork and the less miles, the better typically. I found myself in a spot that was all too familiar-icing, ultrasound, massage, self-massage, etc. I explored active release therapy and had some positive results. But, once again I found myself battling something that was seemingly chronic. I took a month off from running and still things weren't feeling the way I wanted them to. This was November of 2007.
As I mentioned in my previous post, I started running in Nike Frees in a desperate bid to see if strengthening my feet/lower legs my help address some of the issues I had faced over the years. Fortunately, I did start to see some improvement at the end of 2007 and continued sticking with what was working into 2008.
Given everything I had dealt with (nearly two years of aggravations/injuries), doing any kind of serious race was not even on my horizon for 2008. I really just wanted to get back into a space where I could run most days (at any pace) and not have my body complain about something. I just focused on strengthening my feet/lower legs, foam rolling every day, and listening to my body. Remarkably, I found myself running more than I had since 2005. My body wasn't complaining and by June of this year, I started to contemplate possibly attempting another marathon.
I hemmed and hawed about this possibility into July until I raced a 5K and posted a time that projected roughly to a marathon slightly faster than what I ran in 2005. I still wasn't sure if I was willing to log the miles and roll the dice again. If I wanted to attempt a marathon in 2008 and run a respectable time, there was only one real option. The California International Marathon on Dec.7.
While I had been running consistently for virtually all of 2008 without incident, I hadn't been doing a lot of running for myself. I hadn't done a lot of running at the pace I needed to in order to run a decent time at CIM. The speedwork would need to be ramped up. The mileage would need to be ramped up. Hence, the RISK of injury needed to be ramped up.
My whole life has effectively been about rolling the dice these past few years. Finally, I came home late one night in August (not too long after helping a handful of my runners conquer their first marathon) and pulled the trigger. I was registered. I booked my hotel. It was official. I was back.
The emotions I've been feeling since I registered have encompassed just about everything. Fear, anxiety, elation, and hope are but a few of them. I don't really know what to expect. I know I still have the heart and the ability to run at a high level. But, is it realistic to go after a PR at CIM? Is it premature? Should I just do it for fun? Should I try to qualify for Boston? Should I try to simply run a few seconds faster than I did in 2005?
The reality is I won't have any clear sense of what I'm capable of until late October or early November. The competitive side of me is hoping that I will be in a position to not just challenge my PR (2:45), but crack the 2:30s. I'd be ecstatic with a 2:39:59. But, on some level I recognize this just may not be feasible right now. While the training cycle I've mapped out for myself is quite challenging, I think my body can handle it. Whether or not it will result in the fastest marathon I've ever run is another question. I know that I won't have any problems pulling the plug on my training if my body starts complaining about things. I've been through too much just to get back to running happy and healthy again to compromise it all for one race.
I'd be lying to you if I said I wasn't scared. I'm terrified. But, the past few years have been all about confronting fears and 'finding a way'. This is no different.
A few years ago during one of Andre Agassi's last tournaments he was interviewed after a particularly challenging match that he managed to win despite being in a losing position for most of the match. The thrust of the reporter's question was 'How did you pull this one off?'
Agassi's response was nothing revelatory, but it was something that spoke to me:
'I don't have the answers, I don't pretend that I do. Just keep fighting and maybe something good happens.'
Sometimes all we can do is just keep fighting. I'm fairly confident something good will happen.