Over the years, I’ve seen running friends struck with injury and forced to take weeks or months off from running as they slowly heal and get back to running. Fortunately, I’ve been able to run and train mostly uninterrupted for years. Yes, I’ve had my share of struggles with knee pain, low iron levels, periods of over-training, and an occasional twisted ankle from running trails, but overall I’ve been pretty healthy thanks to diligent strength training, hip exercises, rolling, stretching, and periodic adjustments from my physical therapist. I’m pretty proactive, so I like to think I’ve been healthy for good reason.
Enter CIM, the California International Marathon in Sacramento which I ran a month ago on December 7, 2014. After running Boston last April, I spent the summer pretty chill. I took two weeks completely off and then ran recreationally without any speed workouts for a few months. I started doing workouts again in July, ran Hood to Coat in August, and then took time off from running again when I traveled to France for nine days in mid-September. My training plan for the fall was to focus on cross country and race myself back into shape. I had friends training for CIM, so I thought I would do some key workouts with them (mile repeats, Yasso 800s, long runs with 10-12 miles at marathon goal pace) and keep my options open in case I wanted to run the marathon, too.
Being non-committal about running a marathon is my favorite way to train. If I have friends training for a marathon, I can easily jump into their workouts. Workouts double as girl-time, so I actually enjoy them. Not committing allows me to listen to my body, make adjustments along the way so I stay healthy and fresh, and avoid taking myself too seriously. Training stays fun and I don’t put too much pressure on myself. I like flying under the radar, seeing how training goes, and deciding a week or two before if I’m actually going to run it. Training this fall went well, so I toed the California International Marathon line at 7am on December 7.
Circumstances going into the race were perfect. Key workouts had gone beautifully, and I had tapered just right. I was well-rested, well-fueled, fit, and happy. I was running the race with two friends, one of whom I was hoping to run with for most of the race. The weather was perfect (cloudy, mid-50’s), and CIM is a rolling, net downhill, fast course.
My friend and I went out conservatively, ran really smart splits, and were on PR pace throughout the race. We were rolling along and getting little pops of energy from our gels, drafting off of guys and each other from time to time to get little breathers. At one point we literally almost fell over a rooster crossing the road and then could barely breathe from laughing. Did that really just happen? We saw an older guy at two points on the course dancing in a giant pink tutu to Taylor Swift’s Shake It Off. We should have given him a big high-five. I felt like I was saving some energy and was getting excited to try to hammer the last few miles.
Then the unexpected happened. By mile 18, I noticed my right heel was hurting. It gave me a little trouble in the summer, and it had hurt a little bit at the beginning of my runs the Monday and Tuesday before the race, but it went away so quickly I thought it was a non-issue. Going into the race, having my heel bother me was the last thing on my mind. The pain in my heel gradually increased, but I thought that if the pain stayed constant, I’d be able to run through it. However, around mile 21.5, I felt a distinct pull in my heel. I instinctively yelled, “Ahhh!”, and although I tried, I couldn’t run another step. I pulled over, stretched my calves, tried to run again and just couldn’t. I saw my teammate run ahead and she was soon gone. Soon my other teammate passed and asked what was wrong. I had to make a decision. Would I drop out or walk it in? I didn’t think walking was making my foot any worse, so I opted to walk it in. I thought perhaps I could still walk to a Boston qualifier.
Let me tell you, walking it in was miserable, (but I’m glad I did). My foot really hurt. I was freezing. I was dressed to run 6:40 pace, not walk 20:00 pace. I was seriously tempted to ask a cop for his coat. Well-intentioned people kept calling, “Come on, girl, you can do this!” and other “encouraging” remarks, but it was humiliating, especially in the final mile of the race. People thought I had given up. Little did they know they I couldn’t run, and rather than their comments being helpful, they just made me want to cry. I kept telling myself to hold myself together. Come on, Amy, hold it together! Each mile passed at a snail’s pace. Around 2:55 into the race, I imagined my friends were finishing. Soon the hope of walking my way to a Boston qualifier slipped away. I just couldn’t limp fast enough. I pretended I was hiking through the Redwoods with my kids to keep my spirits up. I couldn’t even run the last few meters to cross the finish line at a little run (I finished around 3:45), and then I couldn’t find my friends. When I finally found them, I learned they had both run PR races, which made the day a beautiful success.
The next day, I couldn’t even walk. My foot was swollen and bruised. I used crutches to get around for a couple of days, and then resorted to limping for days after that. I saw my physical therapist, and she determined that my right fibular head was off which is unusual for me. (Perhaps I screwed it up skiing the week before in Breckinridge, Colorado?) My talus was shifted forward and off to the right, and I had sprained ligaments in my heel. As we talked through all the circumstances leading up to the race, we really didn’t know what I could have done differently to prevent it. I probably should have seen her a couple days before the race for a last-minute check for adjustments, but it was just one of those freak accidents.
Now it’s nearly five weeks post-race, and I’m becoming well-acquainted with the cardio equipment at the gym. My first day on the bike I was texting my husband about how much my backside hurt, but my tush has slowly become more accustomed to the saddle, and I’ve progressed to mixing in some elliptical and stair-climbing. I’ve learned I can watch Netflix on my phone (seriously, the discovery of the year), so I’ll watch an episode of a favorite show (43-minutes is a decent cardio session, right?) and then do some weights after to get in a decent workout. I feel like I’m staying fit and strong enough that running won’t be a complete shock when my heel is good to go.
On the bright side, I can tell this forced cross-training is good for me. My right hip and glute are getting stronger in ways that are hard to attain and maintain with lots of running. And at least I’m forced inside the gym during the coldest and darkest time of the year, right?
More than anything, I just miss running on trails and doing workouts with my friends. My heel is slowly healing. I hope to be back to running soon, and I think I will.