Hello Salty Readers, it’s Garlic – after a long break, I’m finally writing a post! Busy with my career, family and an injury this summer, it’s been easy to let writing fall to the wayside. I’ve still been following along, though, and some of the posts recently (particularly Sage’s lovely post, Catnip’s heartfelt update, and Salty’s honest post) have inspired me to write one of my own.
After a super-tough winter in Boston, trying to keep up my training amidst mountainous snowdrifts and icy roads, spring finally came in late April. With it, my first race of the season: the James Joyce Ramble 10K. This race is locally famous for the historically-attired volunteers who read passages from the works of James Joyce at various points along the challenging 10K course in Dedham, Massachusetts. For the past two years, the course has also been the site of the USATF National 10K Masters Championships, and there were some masters superstars running this year. While registering, I was asked if I wanted to compete in the Championship or citizen’s race.
While flattering to even be considered for a championship, my coach and I decided I should stick to the citizens’ race. The course was hilly – “not a PR course,” according to my coach – and it was still early season. Not to mention that my previous 10K times did not approach those that would be competitive for the championship. Instead, our race plan was to use this race as a stamina run to build endurance for the 5-mile and 5K races I had scheduled for later in the spring.
My training leading up to the race had been going well, in spite of the brutal Boston winter. I had managed to build up my weekly mileage to 40-45 miles per week for the first time in my life, and I could feel the boost to my endurance from the increased mileage. Tempo and interval paces I had struggled with in the past felt manageable; I had a solidity to my running that was new and confidence-inspiring. I felt that finally, after years of being frequently sidelined by injuries, I had figured out how to keep myself healthy so I could train consistently. I prided myself on my ability to navigate around injuries – after all, I had built an entire business around helping others to learn injury risk reduction techniques!
Things came together well on the day of the race. My A-goal was to run 44:00-44:15, which would have just beaten my previous PR of 44:16, accomplished last fall. After feeling great with an opening 6:50 mile I knew I was running well, but I reigned things back to 7:10 pace for the next three miles, fully aware that sustaining 6:50 for the entire 10K would be too difficult at my current level of fitness. I remembered my coach’s advice: my start-line was after mile 4. When I got there, I noticed a man in front of me running strongly and looking like he was picking up speed. I decided to follow. Mile 5 flew by in 6:52, and then we picked it up again for a sixth mile in 6:38. Things were starting to get tough for me at that point, but I resolved to follow my pacer – I will not let him drop me.
With about a quarter mile to go, he started to pull away. The internal war with myself – slow down, slow down, no don’t! – commenced. I could hear how labored my breathing had become. Then, from the sidelines, I heard a male voice: “You’ve got this, stay relaxed.” This kind spectator’s words pulled me out of my downward spiral. Yes! I thought. I dropped my shoulders, took a deep breath, and my stride steadied. I sprinted as the finish line came into view. The clock read 43:32, a 44-second 10K PR and good for 1st place in the women’s masters division for the citizens’ race.
Elated by this unexpected triumph, I was ready to throw myself into spring racing season. The elusive sub-20:00 5K seemed well within reach. But it was not to be. In the week after James Joyce, a sharp pain on the inside of my left knee became more and more debilitating with every run until I was forced to admit I was injured. I couldn’t believe it. I had convinced myself – even promised myself! – I would not let it happen. I would be smart, listen to my body, control every variable I could and I would not get injured. But, lesson learned, there are things you can’t control. And when you take a risk and push hard, sometimes things break down no matter how much you try to bulletproof yourself.
So, there were doctor’s visits. And there was physical therapy. And, a surprise gift, there was an opportunity to learn to swim well. Realizing I would be sidelined from running for several months, my coach and I regrouped and decided to take things to the pool. I went to CitySports and bought two of the snazziest competition swimsuits I could find there. At that first pool session, trying to coordinate the unfamiliar body cues of correct arm motion, chin tuck, breathing technique, I could not even swim 25 yards continuously without stopping to catch my breath. But then, as with all things, with practice it began to get easier. My coach videoed my stroke and showed it to me later. Who is that girl? I thought. She looks like a legitimate swimmer!
As spring turned into summer the injury improved, and eventually it passed. I started running again, more and more as the weeks went by. Some tempo runs, then intervals and sprints worked their way back into my routine, and the knee held up. I began to look forward again. I signed up for a race.
And so, here I am. Hopeful this fall will bring new triumphs. But if it doesn’t, that’s okay – I’m mostly just glad to be back on the roller coaster that is running.
Have you ever developed an injury on the heels of a running breakthrough? How do you cope with the ups and downs of running?