The four of you who read this blog may recall that in my last post, I mentioned that I tweaked my hamstring running on snow and ice a month or so ago. In the past weeks, it has oscillated between feeling a bit tight to being to being so painful that I have trouble walking. This was doubly concerning, as not only do I want to break 16 minutes this spring, but I also was supposed to run the Austin Marathon on the 15th of February.
In the week leading up to the marathon, my hamstring was bothering me to the point that I actually emailed the race director to ask if I could defer my entry, because I was sure I would be forced to drop out a few miles in. I was politely informed that the due date for deferrals was past, so my options were to downgrade to the half marathon, lose my registration money and not even start the race, or start it and try to finish.
I had actually decided to downgrade, but I saw Dr. Reinhardt the evening before we flew down for one final active release session. In his words, he “threw everything he had at it,” although I was still sure I would not be able to run the race. Imagine my surprise when the hamstring felt 100% better in the three days leading up to the marathon! My confidence buoyed by my now happy hamstring, I decided to run the full marathon and knock a Boston Qualifying marathon in another state off my list.
The marathon itself went pretty well. I started off very conservatively with an 8:06 first mile and a 23-minute first 5K. For reference, I would need to run 7:03 pace per mile to qualify for Boston with a 3:05. By the third mile, however, I was running 6:50-7:00 pace and feeling very relaxed. A few miles in, I found myself with a pack of runners with a similar game plan as me, and I latched on to them.
There were three women in the group, who were all running the race as a long run building up to an attack on the Olympic Trials standard of 2:43 at the Martian Marathon in Detroit later this year. One of the women, I learned, was the former world record holder for the beer mile, and currently the world record holder for masters women in the beer mile, with a 6:28 clocking to her credit! To compare, my beer mile time is somewhere in the 20-minute to 3-day range. She had also competed in the 2008 Olympic Marathon trials, and lodged an extremely respectable 2:42 there. I was humbled, to say the least!
This gaggle of fun, talented runner peeled off around mile 24, leaving me to fend for myself the last few miles. Despite only “jogging” this marathon, the hills and the fact that I forgot to bring Gu left me feeling very sluggish the final few miles. As I ran the final 400m to the finish line, though, I heard the announcer making a big deal about a woman who had led the entire race, and was just finishing ahead of me. I saw a woman a few seconds ahead of me, but I couldn’t tell what the excitement was. Suddenly, as I approached the finish, I saw a woman on her hands and knees, crawling desperately toward the line. Apparently she had collapsed a short distance from the finish, and had crawled towards it, inch by inch, with medical and race officials surrounding her, but not helping her, as this would disqualify her.
To add insult to injury, the woman I saw ahead of me crossed the finish line just seconds before the woman on the ground was able to drag herself across it, stealing second place. Honestly, though, I don’t think the struggling runner had any clue that she had just given up second place. I don’t think she knew she had even finished at that point. Luckily, she was whisked away to the medical tent, and was healthy enough to give an interview later.
As for me, I finished with a Boston qualifier in my 10th state. I was feeling good enough to run 6 miles the next two days after the race, but my hamstring had tightened up again. It still felt ten times better than it had before the marathon, but still, to be safe, I took three days off. The Saturday after the race was my first test run back; an easy 5-miler with Sackett and Lindsay. It felt good, but unfortunately my hamstring hurt afterward. So, I am erring on the side of caution and taking another few days off. It frustrates me to have to sit on the bench when just a month ago I was crushing 20-mile long runs and feeling amazing, but I know my hamstring would not hold up to speed workouts right now. I’d rather be smart and take the time off now, than try to push through and end up injuring myself to the point where I miss the entire spring racing season.
It has taken me years to get to the point where I am able to assess an injury intellectually and decide to take time off, but I’m still working on it, obviously. In retrospect, I should have taken a full week off as soon as my hamstring acted up, and nipped it in the bud. I personally feel this is one of the hardest and most difficult things to learn as an athlete. It’s easy to push through pain and fool yourself into thinking that you are making yourself stronger, physically as well as mentally, when in reality you are just setting yourself up for an injury. The true test comes in being to take a step back, look at the bigger picture, and suppress your competitive instincts long enough to take a forced break. Training is easy; being smart about your training is difficult.