Okay, so it’s not as dramatic as the title of this blog post, but if you’re a runner that has endured injury, you understand the sentiment. I have been very fortunate in that I have not had many injuries in the 20 years that I’ve been running. The few I have experienced happened very early on in my running life, when I was a teenager and had a coach, a team, and young cells that healed quickly (speaking relatively here, seriously all you uber-young runners out there, don’t take this for granted). I knew my early 2016 training approach would be risky, but I decided to try it in order to test my body and also to see if I could train for two very different goal races that are only 2 months apart.
Alas, only a little over 2 months into the year my body decides to let me know that I am not super human after all. A week ago I DNF-ed for the very first time, on one of the more challenging trail courses in the area. Now, this 10k was a two-loop race, and the first loop covers the 5k race option. I hit the first two miles fast, at or under 7:30 min/mile, and then things fell apart. This pace is not off for me, per se, especially for the beginning of the course, but my body just didn’t feel right and the work on my legs and my breathing were way more labored than they should have been. After mile 2, my left hamstring seized up, and I literally stopped in my tracks. I tried to stretch a bit and massage it out, all while anxiously watching a line of runners pass by me. Most of them asked how I was, and a couple female runners stopped to make sure I was okay. I urged them to go on, but was overwhelmed trying to figure out what was happening, and trying to hold back the water works. I was stopped in the middle of a climb, and I only made it a few dozen feet before I had to stop again. I resolved to run through to the 5k finish, to see if the race managers would let me “finish” that race (they did, and I am very, very grateful). I knew that last mile had taken me over ten minutes to “run,” and needless to say I was completely demoralized.
Then came the real work. What went wrong? First things first, Ed Shepherd helped me work out the kinks immediately after the race; a lot of tightness, cramping, and knots “popping” (is that the technical term?) in my left hamstring. After a short pity party that lasted a couple days (or maybe longer, I didn’t solicit the husband’s opinion here for a reason), I spent a lot of reflective time looking back at the past month, my stress factors, my training schedule, and tried to piece together what I was doing wrong, and what I was doing right.
- List of Wrongs:
- Flu and cold season. We went through weeks and weeks of being sick in our household, and with the kids sick too, I never got the amount of sleep I really needed to recover.
- Not enough strength & flexibility training. With a busy schedule, and trying to rest from being sick, there just weren’t enough hours in the day.
- Dehydration. I often don’t drink enough water the morning of a race, and this likely contributed to my muscle issues.
- Overreaching. Pushing myself to new heights with average pace and increased mileage led to cumulative fatigue. My body seemed to be tolerating workouts, not absorbing and building on them. There are a ton of resources online, but this one seemed to-the-point.
- Two divergent goals. A fast, mountainous 10k in April and a mountainous 50k in June. Muscle confusion, not in the good way.
- Life stress factors. In addition to the first bullet point, I had been experiencing a number of other stressors in various parts of my life. Most notably, the husband recently began traveling a lot for work again, and was out of town most of the time that we were all sick. This also puts more strain on my training schedule, forcing me to fit in workouts when I could as opposed to when it was optimal.
- Not focusing on the fun and joy.
- List of Rights
- Stopping and listening to my body. It was really hard emotionally and mentally to stop during the race. I’m no stranger to pain that I can (and should) run through, but I immediately knew this didn’t fall under that category.
- Nutrition. One of the first things I do when something goes awry with my running is start talking to other runners, and pour over information online (I have a strong research background, which I like to think allows me to sift through the non-helpful crap online). Nutrition and adequate calorie intake is key to increased training, and I am confident that this is one area that I get right.
- Reviewing my training journal. I pulled out last year’s journal too. Understanding my base, where I’ve been and from where I’ve come are pivotal to wrapping my head around what went wrong.
- Learning not to compare my training to others’ training. Social media is great, and can connect us in such a positive way to our friends, acquaintances and even our sport heroes. But I have to remind myself that we are all on our own unique journey, and that even though my training didn’t seem that intense compared to a lot of people’s, it apparently was for my body and circumstances.
So now what? I’ve taken a recovery week, and feel like I’m on the mend. It’s time to reassess what I want to accomplish this year, and to re-learn how to have fun with this whole running gig. One of the hardest things about this set back is that I realized I just hadn’t been enjoying running the way I used to, and that I desperately need this back. I also need to prioritize strategically scheduling my training runs (no more back to back hard workouts on the weekends). My plan is to focus on key strength and speed workouts once per week (hill work, speed/interval work at the track), and to try to maintain my mileage base for the time being. I will conservatively start to increase my mileage again in April. I don’t yet know what this will mean for the Anthem Star 10k, but I should have a better grasp in the coming weeks. This also puts me a bit off of my ultra training schedule, but my goal is to finish the 50k and to get there healthy. I’ll have plenty more years to get better at that distance, and I want to make sure the experience is fun in the mean time so I’ll actually want to do another in the future!
How have you dealt with injury and/or overtraining, or having to alter/abandon goals midway through the process?