Flirting with injury

Last May, actually this same week in May, I screwed myself. I’d had a crappy Boston, and I wanted some kind of redemption at Comrades. So 12 days after running Boston, I did a 35-miler on roads. My hip and hamstrings were in pain for the last six miles, but Comrades was worth that pain, I said. If I wanted to race 56 miles, I’d have to deal with some kind of pain, I reasoned. Training through that mileage could only make me stronger. The next few weeks of tapering to get to Comrades healthy did not go well. I raced a 10K and a three-miler in pain, and while I did set PRs in both, I kept pushing through that hip pain, training at speeds I had no business running. After Comrades, I was diagnosed with a labral tear, and I spent a month working my way past that.

So this year. This year was supposed to be different. I was done with ultra road races for a while. Instead, I would take on another challenge. I would run two marathons in six days. I’d done this two years before, and I knew I had trained to run strong. The training season went well! But Boston was hot, so while my training and racing indicated I should be able to run fast there, I bonked a bit in the heat. I got a little redemption in London and was able to run seven minutes faster than at Boston, with no taper and jet lag and even, amazingly, some vomit in the middle. Spring racing season: success. I should have been thrilled with two hard races, a string of PRs at shorter distances, no injuries, a stronger core, blah blah, blah, but was I happy? No.

At the end of four months of some intense training, I should have taken a break. Even a week of absolutely no running would have been understandable. But I had Grandma’s Marathon on my calendar in seven weeks. So on the Wednesday after London, I decided that maybe I had enough juice left to try for another sub-3. Now, why I continue to think I am superhuman and do not need much rest after hard races is a mystery. It’s endorphins and stubbornness and optimism and stupidity all at once, I think. Am I still able to run 6:20 miles right now? Yes. How do I know? Because I did that the week after the marathon. Like an idiot. That landed me at PT last week with the start of some hip pain. Surprise! It wasn’t terrible, but I’m at least smart enough to have a minor ache in that area checked out when it pops up. My therapist said I wasn’t injured, not even close. He said my hip felt better than it had when I’d run Cherry Blossom. So that’s good. But if I was going to put in 80 miles that week (my actual plan!), I certainly would injure myself. “Your engine is much stronger than your chassis right now.” Maybe I should cut that mileage in half. Take a few weeks easier than I’d like. But I had so many fun runs lined up — runs with people I like to chat with, runs that make me so happy. I had fun training to do, and I was able to run fast without pain. But my hip still kinda hurts, just enough to make me pause before I start my runs. It goes away after I warm up, but yes, it’s nagging, and it would turn in to something big if I don’t give it some time to heal. Also, for the last four months, I have been nearly wholly focused on a time goal. I have added 30 to 45 minutes of strength training and preventive PT exercises nearly every day, limited alcohol, been in bed by 9 and up again at 5 every day, added biking, canceled weekend plans, been boring. In pursuit of this goal, I’ve neglected my personal relationships. When I jumped right back in to training on Wednesday, I also hadn’t taken any time to reset personally. I need that.

So here we are. It’s the same week I got injured last year. I would have been heading that way if I’d run the hilly 18-miler I planned to run tomorrow. Instead, this time, I plan to not end up on the start line of the next race, wondering if I’m going to run myself in to the ground. I will not do what I did at Comrades. I will take more time to let my body catch up, and I’ll spend more time being not-just-a-runner. But making that decision is harder than going out for a fun run and feeling great for the rest of the day.

When I told my running buddies that I wouldn’t be able to run this weekend because I need to take care of myself for a bit, they were so, so supportive. That’s because they are amazing, and they know we need to look out for each other. Of course I should listen to my body and take a break, they said. They understood completely. Then I was worried that I’d get crap on Strava for not being amazing and not running my normally high mileage, so I’ve made my activities private until June. I already put enough pressure on myself, and I don’t need more criticism from people I barely know.

To sum up: No, I’m not injured, thankfully, not yet. Yes, I should have gone easier on myself after two marathons like a normal person. Yes, I’m still running and planning to race in May and June. I wanted to write down how I’m feeling now so just maybe after my next hard race I will take that break at the right time.