I entered 2009 with nothing but confidence and optimism about my running as I had rounded out 2008 with the fastest marathon of my life (2:43). I was comfortably handling 10 miles/day averaging 6:15-6:30/mile. I was already looking forward to cracking a marathon in the 2:30's (which would require 6:05/mile) later that year.
But, as I often say, you can't take anything for granted. In June, a frighteningly familiar pain reared its ugly head in my left heel. Plantar fasciitis made its presence known. Having endured PF once before in 2006, I knew how bad this could get.
I immediately went on the offensive and sought a myriad of treatments including Active Release Therapy, acupuncture, laser treatment, and even contemplated a ritual exorcism for the demon that had taken up residence in my foot. After several months of treatment, my optimism for a quick recovery began to wane. My hopes for running yet another personal best for the marathon and cracking the 2:30's waned as well.
In late September I found someone who was well acquainted with 'dry needling', a plantar fasciitis treatment that had been quite effective in a study done in Italy. Additionally, this treatment method was cheap ($100 a pop). The treatment was unconventional, somewhat unproven, and markedly painful, but I found myself able to run again on a regular basis a couple weeks after the procedure was performed.
Against all odds, I found myself wondering if running a marathon was still possible. While I had abandoned the idea of running a personal best and finally running a marathon in the 2:30's, there was something inspiring about finding a way to run 26.2 miles despite the months of setbacks I had endured.
I knew my fitness level was still relatively high as I had run 16-17 miles in early October and I had managed to maintain most of my fitness via the painful monotony known only as 'stationary biking'. But, it was late October and my marathon was the first weekend in December. My last long run really needed to be in mid-November. I didn't have much time to work with.
What I undertook the next several weeks in an attempt to 'cram' for a marathon is something I would discourage ANYONE from doing, but sometimes you've got to gamble. Sometimes, you've got to take a risk. It has been taking risks that has enabled me to move my business forward and achieve personal bests. This time around, I just wanted to complete 26.2 miles...as risky as it might have been. Finding a way to pull this off became a mission.
On Nov.1, I completed my first long run of this abbreviated training cycle by logging a relatively slow ten miler on the trails near Phoenix Lake. While this long run was slow, I finished feeling like there was more left in the tank.
The next day I started thinking about other things I could do to help my cause independent of any actual training. I knew I wasn't going to be in the best shape of my life on race day, so I tried to drop a few pounds to make things a bit easier for me. I normally hover around 165 and I wanted to get down to 160 (or less).
I started eating salad for breakfast (yes...I know it's weird!). I also stopped having '3' meals/day and grazed throughout the day focusing on fruits, vegetables, yogurt, eggs, lean forms of protein, and steered clear of all things packaged/processed. I would eventually drop to 159..I haven't weighed this much since high school.
On Nov.8, I hit the road in an attempt to complete 13 miles despite a fairly decent hangover resulting from the previous night's 'Scorpio Birthday Party'. Things didn't go terribly smoothly as I promptly sprained my ankle a couple miles into the run. Once again, I broke the rules I always provide my runners and ran through the pain. By the time I finished, I could barely run...let alone walk. But, I had completed 13 miles and once again felt like I had more left in the tank.
Given that I had only recently gotten back into a space where I felt vaguely comfortable running, I was only logging about 30 minutes of running per day in tandem with 30 minutes of stationary biking/spinning. When I say 'vaguely comfortable', this means my heel was still a bit painful. I wasn't terribly concerned about this pain as I knew it wasn't plantar fasciitis, it was residual pain from the trauma associated with the needling I had done earlier in October.
Nov.15 arrived and the plan was to log 18 miles. The ankle was still a bit swollen, but there was no pain. I wasn't focused on anything other than completing the distance. Despite all the challenges and setbacks, I finished 18 miles in just over 2 hours and managed a 6:47/mile pace.
I now found myself at the crossroads. For all marathons I had run prior to this one, my taper had been '3' weeks. But, I had never entered taper without at least one '20' miler under my belt. When I finished 18 I was tired, but I felt I could have mustered a couple more miles if I had to.
My recovery from the 18 miler was relatively quick and as the week following this run unfolded, I started thinking more and more about compromising the 3 week taper and knocking out a 20 miler. This was more about being mentally prepared than physically. I knew my body could handle 20 or miles, but I needed to prove it to myself.
Less than a week removed from running 18 miles, I hit the road for 20 miles..my last long run before officially entering taper. Once again, there was no thought given to pace. My goal was simply to complete the distance one way or the other. 2:17 later I completed 20 miles. Once again, I felt like I could have pushed on if I had to.
Taper had arrived. Reconciling myself to something less than an attempt at a personal best was tough for me, but given everything I had endured leading up to completing this 20 miler, simply completing the marathon would in some respects be a 'personal best' no matter what the clock said.