Archives for October 2017

Popping my Marathon Cherry

It’s now been three weeks since I ran the Chicago marathon and added “marathon finisher” to my list of running accomplishments. I have four black toenails, my sunburn is gone and I can walk again with ease. I’m not going to sit here and talk about how easy running a marathon can be if you just put your mind to it because that would be lying. Rather, I wanted to give an honest reflection of what this race was like for me, running this race with a terrible cold and a bum knee, equal parts magical and miserable.

When thinking about running a marathon, I urge you to really think about it. If you’re hungry for it, really hungry for it, getting to that start line (and hopefully the finish!) is possible but you have to be prepared for more work than you probably imagined. Half-assing a marathon is honestly just not really an option. I KNEW this would be hard as running has never come easily to me, I just didn’t realize how hard it truly would be. In the past I have been able to train for a half marathon running 2, maybe 3 days week, but this was a whole other beast, and what a beast it was.

I have been wanting to run a full marathon for a few years now, and even though I was dealing with a lot of pain while running on and off over the last year, I was finally hungry enough to put in the work to get there. In the spring, my running was going well, but still, something wasn’t quite working right. A year prior, I had felt strong, confident and was getting quicker, but this year, no matter how much I ran and how hard I worked, running only seemed to be getting more difficult. At the end of June, I finally sought treatment for the pain I had been feeling in my hip and glutes and started working with the amazing Brittany Moran at the Runner’s Academy. Britt was an essential part of my training this summer and helped me work on my gait, the (literal) pain I kept getting in my butt and hip and then my eventual knee pain. She was a lifesaver and I wouldn’t have made it through this without her! However, I can’t help but kick myself that I didn’t seek help sooner- like a year ago, as soon as I had felt pain. I can’t help but wonder if I had actually been treating my pain when it actually began I may be telling a different story about my first marathon.

With Britt’s help, I started to feel better as the summer and my training progressed. I was finally feeling stronger again, was starting to feel a bit faster, and was getting more and more excited about running a full! With increased mileage came more time spent running and less time for other activities- including strength training, something that has always been a part of my life, but I was feeling pretty good. At the beginning of August, it all started to come together. I had two back-to-back weekends of really, really great long runs. They honestly were the first amazing, “easy” and comfortable runs of the training cycle. I hadn’t had a long run like this in OVER a year and had really been struggling with anything over 14k up until this point. I think I ran 26k one week and 28k the next and I felt like I could have kept going on both of those days. Unfortunately, they were also the only and the last great runs of my entire training cycle. My 30k long run the week after was the toughest run and slowest I had ever done…and when I went to do 32k the week after, I could only make it to 27k at which point my husband literally forced me to stop because I was in so much pain from my knee, which had come out of nowhere. I couldn’t bend my left knee if my life depended on it.

The rest of my training was rocky. I wanted to rest and recover but also wanted to get the miles in. I eased back a little bit, trying to heal whatever was going on. But…I’m also incredibly stubborn. My knee wasn’t bothering me that much on short runs, anything under 15k seemed okay, and I had some really great track workouts and easy shorter runs, so I trekked on…

I made it to my peak week where I attempted a 33km run. Looking back, I’m not actually sure how I made it through this because as much as I tried to deny it to myself and to others, it was incredibly painful. I stopped and walked more times than I’d like to admit, and each time I stopped to walk my knee seized and I couldn’t bend it. At one point I lay on the grass on the side of Cherry Street for a good 5 minutes trying to stretch and make my knee work and shutting out the thoughts of “maybe you shouldn’t do this”. It took me over 4 hours and I was dead by the end. And yet, as hard as it was, getting to 33km somehow gave me the confidence to get to that start line.

It was finally time to taper, which also really didn’t go as planned, and the next week I only made it to 14k out of the 25 I had planned when I decided to stop, fearing I would hurt myself more. That week, I still had some great shorter runs, but on my last long run I only made it 5k before the pain was too much. I couldn’t even run a 6:30/km pace and as my group ran ahead of me and I cried alone on MGT I allowed myself to think, for the first time, that maybe I shouldn’t even try to run Chicago if I was in this much pain. I cried pretty much all day and had a full-blown pity party, thinking things like “I’ve wasted 4 months of my life for nothing” (dramatic, I know…)

When I thought about everything I had given to this training cycle, I couldn’t bear the thought of not even trying. I had given up weekends sleeping in, nights out, patio beers, hours of my time each week to meal planning and prep. Not to mention, I had paid the hefty entry fee, booked an air bnb and finally found that motivation I needed to run a marathon. NOT running just didn’t seem like an option. Hubs was also injured and actually hadn’t even run for about three weeks at this point, but he also (stupidly) was like “ya, may as well give it a shot!” As that last week went on, I became delusional with optimism. The mind is incredibly powerful and this positive thinking is truly what made me not only attempt the marathon but get to the finish.

For whatever reason, I thought giving myself a lot of rest that last week would somehow be a miracle cure and I could get out there and run a marathon in 5 hours. I really, really held on to this, which in retrospect, I think may have even been a bit ambitious for my first marathon even if I hadn’t even been in pain given that I’m not really a fast runner. And yet I knew that I had to let go of any goals I had set for myself- mainly the goal that most first-timers have- to beat Oprah. My ONLY goal now was to finish and enjoy the experience. I was going to run a marathon damnit, and I was going to do it with a smile on my face.

Around this time, work was becoming increasingly stressful. I wasn’t sleeping well, I wasn’t feeling great mentally and then about 5 days out from Chicago, the perfect storm for disaster began brewing. As luck would have it, I was taken out by a nasty cold. I did everything in my power to fight it; garlic and lemon shots, oregano oil, etc. BUT I didn’t do the thing I really needed the most…sleep.

AND YET, I still made it to Chicago, a smile on my face, ready to run a marathon. I toed the start line on October 8th feeling giddy with joy- I was finally going to become a marathoner! And….I did. But not without feeling like I had been to war and back. It’s true what they say…nothing can really prepare you for what the first marathon is really going to be like.

I LOVE Chicago, and even though all I wanted to do when we got there was explore, I knew better and was still feeling rough from my cold. We went to the expo and the buzz was so exciting. After that we made our way back to our air bnb (with a stop at whole foods, duh) and had our usual pre-long run dinner, did some light stretching and rolling and headed to bed around 9:00pm.

In the morning, we woke up at about 4:00am, ate our usual pre-run breakfast we had practiced all summer, got dressed, wrote our mantras on ourselves and made our way to the start. It was a gorgeous morning but it was also apparent that it was going to get HOT as the afternoon approached. Before I knew it, the first corrals were off and I was warming up.

When I started, I felt great. I wasn’t in any pain, I was relaxed, I was happy, I was enjoying the crowd and taking it all in. I was running slow AF, but figured if I could continue on this way I would finish in just over 5 hours. In my head it all made sense. I had done all the training, done all the prep, taken a week off to heal my knee and I had a plan. The crowd was unreal, the weather was still nice and the route was never boring. I had some pretty awful stitches (NO idea why) during that first 10k as we made our way through Lincoln Park but managed to get through them without any breaks. Around 15k it started to get really warm, but I was still feeling okay. At about 18k I started to feel stiff but knew I could continue on like this as long as my knee pain didn’t appear. Of course, it did. I made it to the halfway mark in what would be my slowest half marathon time ever and continued to push until I truly couldn’t anymore. I knew once I walked it was probably game over but the pain simply became too much to run. For the first time, I slowed to a walk and tried stretching and doing some A skips and hip hikes but nothing seemed to help. I don’t know why I thought this wouldn’t happen. I was really taking my mental game seriously and thought I could push through anything if I just stayed positive, but even with the right mind set, it was now apparent that no thinking could will away my pain.

For the first time in the race I allowed myself a moment of sadness but that was it, a moment. I hobbled along in a zombie like motion and pulled out my phone. I had approximately 25 messages from friends and family who were tracking me and wishing me good luck. It really inspired me to not give up and enjoy the rest of the race, even if it was at a walk. Now….I don’t know if this is obvious or not, but walking like 11-12 miles, well, that’s A LOT of walking. I now have so much respect for people who power walk marathons or run at a pace that gets them to the finish in 6+ hours because that is an insane amount of time on your feet pushing to meet a time goal. HOLY, I did not know what I was in for.

For the next 2-3 miles I was able to do slow walk/run intervals, but eventually every time I tried to attempt my sad little run, I had pain like knives. Walking it was, though you can’t even really call it walking. It was more of a power shuffle, with one leg not bending, kind of dragging behind. It actually started to feel normal after a while and I would almost forget about it until people would come up and ask me if I was okay, I even had a few medics ask me if I needed help. Around this time a few super kind people were coming up to me and chatting. I met a woman who told me all about how much her periformis was hurting her but she was determined to finish. I met a man who was running the same pace that I shuffled and we stuck together for about 2 miles. He was running his 10th consecutive Chicago Marathon and was planning to retire from running after. He said he was too old to run anymore and I told him all about Ed Whitlock to which he said maybe he has a few more marathons in him after all. I also met a woman who was just NOT having it. She was doing a combo power walk/run but would not stop complaining. I tried so hard to bring up her spirits and say how amazing it was that she was already so far but every word that came out of her mouth was a complaint. Eventually I gave up knowing that if I stuck with her it would bring me down and I wouldn’t finish and took off to get ahead.

I’ll be honest, at this point, I was really struggling to not engage with the thought of not finishing. I was beginning to realize how inefficient my shuffle really was and how long it was really taking. I started calculating in my head and I had to keep it up if I wanted to finish under the 6:30 cut off and be an official finisher. While I was not really out of breath and didn’t have a very high heartrate, the heat was getting to me. My strange gait was giving me blisters in places I had never felt, my hips and lower back hurt in a way I had never felt and my lips and face were feeling so sunburned. I won’t lie, it was really, really uncomfortable.

As I made my way back up Michigan Avenue in that final stretch I really had to dig in to that mental grit and also feed off of those around me. The runners were not as dense anymore, and yet there were still SO many spectators cheering us on like we were the front of the pack. The volunteers were so enthusiastic, pouring water all over us, encouraging us to continue and they never stopped smiling. I had people run by me and pat me on the back with encouragement and I had strangers cheering “Toronto! You got this!” (I was wearing my NRC Toronto singlet).

I also started to pay attention to the runners around me. I saw two friends encouraging each other every step of the way. I saw a daughter pulling her mom along, a dad helping his son, a whole family running together (they had shirts that said “Mom”, “Dad”, “Son” and “Daughter) and what must have been someone’s entire extended family cheering from the sidelines. I actually cried when their family member reached them because they were cheering so hard and she stopped to hug every single one of them. THIS, all of this, was what this race had really started to be about to me. No longer was it about chasing down some tough personal goal. It only became about how running has the power to take people places they never thought, but realizing that even though it’s an individual sport, it’s nearly impossible to do these things alone.

I thought about all the people at home I had trained with all summer. The runners who joined me on additional loops after our long runs, the NRC coaches and pacers who encouraged me, my colleagues who always asked about my training and my friends who stopped making fun of me when they were met with another “I’m sorry I can’t, I have to run….” These thoughts carried me to the end. When I saw the “one mile to go sign” I cried again. I attempted to run, I wish I had a video of what that looked like haha. I was in so much pain but it didn’t matter. I remember I was worried about tripping over the time mat at the finish because I couldn’t pick up my left leg. I gave it my all, and then I crossed the finish line! I did it, I finished a marathon! I couldn’t believe it. So many people around me were crying but all I could think about was taking my shoes off. I had a pint of beer thrown in my hand, food, ice packs, and all I wanted to do was sit down, which I did the second I got my bag from bag check. Watching the rest of the runners come and get their bags was pretty hilarious, knowing that I had looked the same, walking at a snails pace with a blank stare on my face like “what did I just put myself through”. Shortly after, my husband (he also finished!) found me and we very very very slowly made our way to get food and head back to where we were staying.

I was lucky to meet up with some old camp friends that night even though the only thing I wanted to do was sleep. I had never ever felt so exhausted and sore in my life. I was so sore it made me restless and I couldn’t sleep. Getting out of bed the next morning may have been more difficult then the race itself, no joke! The day after, we had a bit of time to explore and we ended up walking a lot which actually helped a lot, even though we were basically moving in slow motion the entire day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you get the chance, definitely run Chicago! Even though it was not the race I had planned when I signed up, I still wouldn’t change the experience for the world. Truly a great race for a first-timer like me, especially a struggling one!

So, three weeks later as I reflect on all of this and it all feels like a bit of a dream what did I learn from running my first marathon?

  1. Mental strength goes a long way. I would not have finished this race if I didn’t have a good attitude. 100% not a doubt in my mind that if I had given into negative thoughts I would have a big fat DNF next to my name right now.
  2. It really is all about the journey and training. A race is ONE day. A marathon training cycle is 4-5 months. The real accomplishment, regardless of the outcome of a race is making it through a training cycle. It took me a while to see this. but I have become a better person and runner because of everything I experienced this summer. I never thought I’d be bouncing out of bed on Saturday mornings to go run 20k+ runs FOR FUN and running up to 70Km a week. Sometimes I still can’t believe I have become that person. I mean, not all that long ago my only goal when running was making it to the next light post.
  3. If you’re in pain, don’t ignore it. Duh. Get help right away. Rest right away. Don’t continue running like all is fine for a few months and THEN get help. Tackle it before it becomes a real issue.
  4. There is power in letting go of all expectations. As a type A person this is really difficult for me. Once I decided that it wouldn’t be a failure if I had to walk to finish I reminded myself that sometimes life doesn’t go as planned, and that’s okay. There is power in accepting and learning that not meeting an expectation isn’t a failure. Sometimes you just have to take in the experience for what it is. I’m so happy I was able to do this and just be with it and not beat myself up over it.
  5. Stretching, strength and gait work are what can really make you a better runner. Do not neglect these areas.
  6. Stress is a killer. Sleep, proper diet and having the tools to not let stress control you can have a profound impact on your physical health and performance!
  7. You have to respect the distance. Running a great half marathon in no way prepares you for running a full marathon. It’s really not as simple as 21.1km + 21.1km = 42.2km.
  8. Back of the pack runners- you are all my HEROES. I am incredibly hard on myself and I also happen to run with a group of incredibly talented and speedy runners. I have been a back of the packer at NRC for almost 3 years, and I’m okay with this. While I sometimes have a hard time taking myself seriously as a runner because of this, Chicago reminded me that there are so many other people out there who run at my pace and plenty who run slower than I do. To all you sexy pace runners out there,  I commend you so much. I was lucky to spend a lot of time with these people in Chicago, and they are my true inspiration- why, you make ask? Because they continue on and push through hours and hours of work. Like 6+ hours of straight running. I mean…come on. It’s amazing that I saw so many running for that long and doing it with a smile. No doubt that we have to celebrate the athletes at the front for their incredible efforts, but these people, these are the ones we need to remember to celebrate. Running for 6+ hours is no joke and the amount of effort, hard work and determination put in by those who it will never feel natural or easy to was something I was lucky to witness and is something I will never ever forget.

So what’s next for me?

  1. Rest and recovery. I’ve pretty much made it out of the rest part of this, but it’s nice to take a mental rest and refresh. It’s nice to move when I want to and not when I have to because of my training plan. I’ve done a bit of cycling, yoga and gone on one small run without pain (yay!). Baby steps. I’m super determined to continue to work on building the muscles and do the rehab that I need to keep myself from getting injured again before I start to increase my mileage and begin to build again in the winter.
  2. Mindfulness-based Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (MCBT): This goes back to the stress point above. I let stress impact me more than I sometimes realize. I need to do a better job when it comes to preventative mental health and mental fitness. As a friend once said “I do all of this great preventative stuff for my physical health so why wouldn’t I do it for my mental health?” Pretty amped to start this program now that I have a bit more time.
  3. I want to chase down a half marathon goal in the late spring that I’ve been thinking about for a while. Breaking two hours has always felt impossible to me but if I can run/shuffle a marathon, I’m willing to put it all out there now and chase this goal too.
  4. And then…another marathon…duh. People keep asking me if I’m done running now. Say what?!? Running is such a big part of who I have become. No, I’m not done running. And stupidly (or not) this whole thing has made me even hungrier to do it again and do it right. Hubs and I have talked about running the New York Marathon next year or maybe Berlin. I honestly am already itching to get to it and can’t wait to actually RUN a whole marathon next time around.

Finisher!