On Sunday, I ran Harrisburg Marathon for the second year in a row, my third marathon. I love this race. It’s so easy to get in and out of – no traffic, its fairly local, and the races are cheap. This course is mostly flat, with just a few minor hills. I would highly recommend this one. The Harrisburg YMCA also offers a half, 5k, mile, & 10 miler at various other times of the year, and they are all fantastic races that share a lot of the same roads.
Well, race week did not go well for me. I somehow had a flare up in my left IT band, leaving my knee sore and stiff and aggravating my plantar fasciitis as my knee was pulled out of alignment. I had a sprain in the fascia near the heel after my half in September, and it was healed and just fine before race week but in the days prior it started hurting a little as a result of the IT band problem. Then, on Saturday afternoon I left a meeting feeling a little tired with a bit of a scratchy throat and cough. I arrived home and was informed both of my kids came down with a really bad case croup with fevers. This is every mother runners worst nightmare the day before a major race. I was terrified I’d be up all night with sick kids or wake up really sick race morning. Thankfully, everyone was breathing fine and slept decent – except me obviously because I can never sleep before races. So the day before the race went horribly. I struggled to focus on my race and nutrition because my kids needed me, and I was concerned for them. I think you can see how great of a start this race was off to.
So race morning I wake up feeling about the same as the day before. Tired and like hadn’t slept, and about the same level of sore throat but definitely tolerable. “Yes! I thought. I feel ok!” My cough was not good, and I have asthma so that was certainly a little scary for me as cold weather and exercise are both triggers for me.
The weather was about as good as it can get for a marathon. Only it was really COLD. 28 at the start only getting up to about 34 when i crossed the finish line, partly cloudy and no wind at all! My problem with that level of cold though is that its so hard to dress for! Plus this was the first cold spell of the season and I wasn’t well acclimated to it. I’m a shorts runner even in the cold, I hate when the backs of my knees get hot and sweaty so running tights drive me absolutely nuts. I decided on 2 layers of long sleeve tech shirts – one of them a full zip. I was cold at the start but warmed up nicely after a few miles, and then at a certain point I stopped sweating and start getting cold again – and by that point my clothes were sweaty from being warm. So that was a struggle, I was sweaty and absolutely frozen by mile 18 or so.
Now, on to the details. I had time goals in mind for this race. I worked really hard all year long, towards a 3:30 marathon. As I moved into taper and prepared my race strategy though, I felt like 3:35 was more likely for me since I missed a couple of the big long runs, and I planned to run the race as consistently as possible in the 8:00-8:05 range. Anyone who has raced a marathon with the goal of improving on their previous time knows that it can be a little difficult to nail down what the right pace for you to run actually is when you’re having a breakthrough year like i am. I needed to go into the race with an open and flexible mind that my planned pace could need to be adjusted in either direction while running. Sometimes you run a little faster than expected, and sometimes you realize that your planned pace doesn’t actually feel good and you need to slow down. For me, I got into it and realized after mile 4 that I was feeling much more comfortable at 7:55. I felt great. I felt fluid. So I’m running with the 3:30 pace group at this point, and feeling confident about how its going. Then at mile 6 the pacer had to stop to go to the bathroom and said he’d catch back up to us. I started running a little faster unintentionally, and ended up getting out in front of the rest of the group without realizing how far away i was. So then when the pacer caught up to them, I was out of earshot and had no idea and was left wondering what the heck happened to him. I didn’t want to slow down my pace much to let them catch me because then speeding back up to stay with them might not feel so good. Predicament. So I just decided to go with it and remain steady where I was. I was feeling great, not tired, legs felt good. At this point I think i was about 30 seconds ahead of the group.
My knee didn’t hurt at all at the halfway mark, which was super exciting because on my 3 mi shakeout run 2 days prior it hurt the whole way and with the very first steps. Anyway, so I made it halfway in 1:44, less than a minute ahead of my anticipated time. As I said I wasn’t certain of the right pace for me, so this was all fine and within range.
So we start making our way on the straight away out of town, about mile 16, and I start feeling my left foot feeling a little irritated. Uh oh. So I kept my pace steady and said I’d check in again at 17. So 17 comes and it feels a little worse. 18 comes and it starts pulling with every step. 19 comes and the right foot and ankle starts hurting and my pace slows as my mind is getting overwhelmed by what’s happening. 20 comes and my left foot is hurting bad enough that its really worrying me. I kept thinking “this is not happening, this is not happening! I’m running the last quarter of the race I always dreamed I could run!” but it was in fact, happening. One of my mantras was “I didn’t come this far, to ONLY come this far!” And it helped me tremendously. So mile 21 comes and I decided that it was probably in my best interest to slow it down and walk to try to get the fascia to stretch out so as not to risk a total tear in the fascia. I couldn’t tell if it was cramping or the minor tear that plagued me back in September. I knew I still had 5.2 miles to go (at least 50 more of the hardest minutes on my feet according to my current fatigue level) and I had to make the least risky, wisest choice that would let me cross the finish line without tearing my foot in two. I am proud of myself for making the decision to walk/run and reign my pace in. I think it shows my maturity in this sport, and how much I have grown. I wanted to choose longevity in racing instead of instant gratification. And the first order of business is dismantling my kamikaze mindset of getting it done on race day no matter the cost. I don’t want to get forced into more long spans of time off to recover. That’s a price I am no longer willing to pay.
But nonetheless, I was crushed. I was living out the race I worked so hard for, that I trained for, I had a BQ in my hands and all I had to do was get to the finish as fast as I could. But, I had to willingly let it all go.
I suffered a moderately serious tear in my hamstring as the result of slipping around on icy roads during my first marathon in April of ’16 that then became chronic and even caused my glute tendon to become detached. I kept pushing too far re-injuring it and I am still dealing with the ramifications to continue finishing that race on it. Sunday’s marathon was hamstring and glute/sacral pain free for the first time in many months so that injury was very fresh in my mind. I was NOT about to let another potentially severe injury get worse by continuing to push it too far.
Plantar fasciitis can be very difficult to overcome and has plagued me since I was a child, and the more serious tears often require surgery in a distance runner like me. SURGERY. And along with it an insurmountable amount of pain and recovery time. I have 2 crazy kids. I don’t get recovery time.
Miles 22 through the finish were pure hell. Both my IT bands were so tight that my knees felt like they were going to crack. And in all my distraction over the passed few miles, I wasn’t drinking enough of my Tailwind. Right on cue after I slowed and started to walk, my right hamstring started to cramp up, followed shortly after by the left. and I mean LOCKED UP. I couldn’t even stretch my legs out at all.
So more of the same agony came through for the last remaining miles as I smashed into the wall from lack of fuel, until something wonderful happened. I made it to mile 25 – the hardest mile of the entire race for a whole variety of reasons. In this race there is a hill right at 25.1, as we move up about 40 feet in elevation from the river path up to street level. Doesn’t sound like much, but after 25 miles of flat, it gets pretty ugly. Obviously, its also the last full mile of the race so even without the horribly placed hill, it always feels like the absolute longest, most torturous mile of your whole entire life. I walked the hill the whole way because honestly none of it even mattered anymore, and I came upon a man who had his own pacer and personal motivator and I started running to catch them with very ounce of strength I had left. I mean this lady was pumped, yelling and counting. She was awesome. And everyone knew this guy! Everyone he passed shouted his name and said almost there! It was nuts. I was like, “Man who is this guy!” I later found out he was a local guy. So anyway, as I said this pacer was the best. I was like “alrighty I’m staying right behind her because shes my favorite guardian angel and she’s going to help me get through this too.” She was counting his steps and then when he hit her prescribed number of steps she would say things like That’s awesome, you did it! Now lets do 30 more! She reminded us (yes, us, she knew I was there) how much work we did, how proud we’ll be at the finish etc. This woman was such a fantastic motivator that with about .3 of a mile to go and 2 turns, I passed them. As I passed, I said to the man “She is amazing!!” and he barely mustered the strength to say “Yeah she is!” I ran full tilt to the finish at a 6:23 pace, as I heard the crowds beckoning me onward.
I made it. I finished it and seemingly didn’t tear my fascia any worse than what it clearly already was coming in to it. That’s a major win in my book, because it could have ended so SO MUCH worse.
My chiropractor is going to be SO proud of me for putting myself first haha. He’s always saying that us runners (he’s a marathoner too) have such an inability to see the importance of putting your body first even if it means passing up achieving your goals, as well as a very high pain tolerance, and that’s why our injuries go from minor to major so often. This just goes to show how far I have come, and how much I have grown as an athlete. I chose to be flexible, and put my body first, and let go of the dream come true experience I had in tucked away in my pocket in order to preserve my longevity in this sport because I knew that if I worked for this again, I could have it.
I gave up the good, in order to have the great later on. If that isn’t some amazing self-discipline, self-restraint, and self-respect, I don’t know what is. That may look like quitting to some of you, but I can assure you that is not what happened. I fought as hard as I could while I ran and walked intervals from 22 on. I never stopped moving forward. I think I lost about 9 minutes on my time. Granted, I would have lost some of those minutes anyway because of the inevitable slowdown that always comes somewhere after 20 miles whether you’re hurt or not. And judging by the fatigue I felt in my legs, it would have been a rough slugfest fight to the finish anyway.
I finished with a 3:42:56 PR for 26.2miles on my garmin/strava and 3:44:06 for the official 26.38 timed miles of the race. A 12+ minute personal best time for the marathon distance.
It’s bittersweet. I am so proud of myself, because no matter how it ended this was the breakthrough race that I wanted. I worked so hard for that 3:42. The first 3/4 of the race went perfectly. Which tells me that there is more work that can be done here, and that is exciting. The fitness was there for me to meet my goal this time (which ultimately was a BQ), and I had it at my disposal. My flexibility in my time gave me the chance to show what I’m made of. I ran straight in to the face of fear and came out blazing on the other side. I’m just going to have to try again once I can get healthy, and once I actually want to go for it again.
Whenever that even is. My husband threw his head back and had a good laugh when I told him I thought I might be done with marathons even despite the obvious ability I have there. At least for a long while, and maybe not even next year at all.
Truthfully, I didn’t enjoy the training that much this time around. After my PR in the half marathon in September, I struggled to stay motivated once i decided to go for the full. I was excited for the full, because I really wanted to know what was in there. And now that I know, only a small part of me wants to pursue more marathons. But I think I’m going to need a long, LONG time away from long distance. Bonus perk is that with this race I did qualify for guaranteed entry into the Chicago Marathon. But the registration window closes at the end of the month and I’m just not sure if I’m committed to that next year or not.
This training cycle was far from perfect, but was certainly the best I’ve ever had. I had SO MANY little injuries trip me up. My feet grew randomly, which I later found out was because I have a bunion in both feet, the deformity that makes your big toe grow way out of whack. My ankles were in bad shape at one point too, still not sure what it even was. I had Achilles tendonitis in my right ankle during peak month. And obviously I had plantar fasciitis, and my hamstring and sacral/glute problem that just doesn’t want to leave me alone. Then the IT band problem very late in taper. For each of those things I would cross train or just not run. But I think in total I probably only missed maybe 6 runs without any substitute for cross training and most of that was because of the foot issues after the half.
Long story short, distance training just doesn’t seem to agree with me. I am so incredibly injury prone, and I just don’t know how much of a future I have in long distance. When I think about running, and what makes me feel REALLY excited, that’s the half marathon. I think it’s a better fit for me, and I’m SUPER excited to see what I can do in the half. I have a good amount of speed and a significant amount of strength in my legs. But I only have SOME endurance, endurance is certainly not my strong suit. I know I can change that with better training, but only if I can get injured less. But I’m just not sure I want to keep going down this road. I love having fun, I love running, and I LOVE racing! I don’t love marathons completely. I like them, but I love short and middle distance racing so much more, maybe thats because it just comes more naturally to me.
In any case, my recovery is going very well. My feet are still pretty wonky, and my hamstrings are feeling good. My quads not so much. Pro tip: go down the steps backwards for the first 3 days. I’m starting to set up 2018’s schedule and I’m already itching to run and train for all the fun spring races. I think i just need to let the year unfold and see what happens. Unless God changes my mind on Chicago by the end of the month… Guess we’ll see…