When I dropped out of the Napa Valley Marathon last month, it turns out I had Achilles Tendinosis.
For the first time in my (admittedly short) running career, I’ve tried to do all the right things for an injury. I went to the doctor, I followed up in physical therapy, and I’ve obeyed their orders. I’ve managed much more crippling injuries on my own in the past and pretty much found that if I stopped running for 6 weeks or so then everything would be fine, but I know that better runners than me don’t handle things that way (this post by Gary Robbins influenced me here). So if I want to be better, I should try doing what better runners do, right?
I have been waiting to write a “happy success post” about the diagnosis, the therapy, and how quickly I got back on my feet. Well, it has been a month since I stopped training, there’s no sign that they’ll let me run any time soon, and now my foot hurts in places it never hurt before.
They are talking about sending me to a podiatrist for orthotics, telling me I need chunky stability shoes (even though I know my feet and legs feel better after running in vibram five fingers!), and worst of all they are still telling me not to run.
I am doing a bunch of exercises and stretches, but they are starting to seem pointless. If I’m not going to run why should I waste 15 minutes a day staring at the wall stretching my calves? I don’t need much range of motion to sit around the house.
I am starting to think I would have been better off doing things my way.
So this is not a “happy success post”.
Right now I am in the depth of my frustration over this whole episode. The injury wasn’t even that bad — heck I ran a 2:26 half marathon on the thing easily and that was a 3 minute PR — but I am sidelined and looking at a fitness loss that is worse for my year’s race plans than the initial injury was.
Racing another marathon doesn’t look realistic until the fall, so Boston to Big Sur is out for next year. Also, after my not-so-great experience at Napa I am not eager to focus four or five months of training effort on one race. So I’ve pretty much scrapped all of my racing plans and I am reconsidering my long-term goals.
Why am I dong this anyway?
When I started running back in 2008, I wanted to run ultras. In particular I wanted to run the Leadville Trail 100 by the time I was 40 (that’s next year). But I quickly got distracted by speed and decided I wanted to squeeze what I could out of the marathon before moving on to longer races. To be specific, I’ve been aiming to hit a 2:3x marathon and a respectable place in the masters marathon national championships within three to five years.
That is not going to happen if I take six weeks off every spring to recover from an injury.
But it is even less likely to happen if I train so conservatively that nothing could possibly go wrong. Sure I can avoid running injuries if I just don’t run much but that isn’t a solution I accept.
Maybe constant PT, massage, custom equipment, etc. can get me there but I don’t like that solution either. For starters it isn’t obvious to me that all of the time and money is going to have a real benefit. More importantly though, it kills the joy of running for me. I love running because it is such a simple thing. I can just step out the door and go. I don’t need any fancy equipment or facilities. I don’t even need shoes if I don’t want them. I just need me.
That freedom makes the challenges even more exciting. One of my favorite memories is running the last 23 miles of a 50 mile race on an ITBS plagued knee that was so painful I could barely walk.
Was that foolish?
Would I do it again?
Finishing that run felt better than any PR I’ve ever set or race I’ve won. It was a brutal mental struggle and I beat it. If I had a team of people working to optimize my joint health and racing potential it would not have been nearly as much fun. When I look back over my other fond running memories, most of them are comparably foolish or uncomfortable: a 33 mile run in cold pouring rain, a five-hour jaunt from Temple City to Mt. Wilson and back on untrained legs, stumbling over rocky Texas hill country trails on pre-dawn long runs.
No race I’ve run well makes the short list of best memories. The best times seem to come from dramatic overreaching, bad conditions, or some combination of the two. Caution is boring.
So maybe I shouldn’t worry so much about running races well. Maybe I should just go outside, run, and look for adventure. I may not be as fast, but I am sure I will have more fun. I have to remember that the next time I get wrapped up in trying to hit a 35 minute 10K.
What am I going to do about it?
So my PT situation seems like a mistake and a waste of time. But I have gotten something out of it. There is the obvious stay-away-from-doctors lesson, but life with three kids should have taught me the nuances of that one already. No, what this episode has done is make me think about what I really like about running and that has made me shift my priorities.
I am going to rebuild my volume, skip any sort of race-targeted training plans, and look to see what sort of trouble I can get myself in this summer. Lean Horse? Woodstock? Maybe take a crack at Leadville? I’ll see how I’m doing when the time comes.
Whatever I do, you can be sure I’ll still be collecting loads of data and analyzing it to death :)