A couple weekends ago, I woke up early, loaded my hydration belt, and headed out for a twenty miler. Even though I prefer shorter races, knowing this was probably my last twenty brought bittersweet feelings. I feel like I’ve accomplished what I wanted to at the marathon distance. It had taken me three attempts to make it to Boston, and I was looking forward to finishing my journey on Boylston Street.
After some horrendous training runs, things were looking up. I felt stronger on my first twenty than I had on some of the fifteen and sixteen milers. I had ran a fairly hilly half marathon in 1:50:37. I felt pretty good about my amended goal of finishing under 4 hours. Four under four. Nothing motivates like a good slogan 🙂
The temperature was supposed to reach the low nineties that day, but it was a crisp fifty-something when I started. I was moving at a steady, comfortable pace, enjoying the fresh air and the antics of the desert birds. I was almost five miles in when I felt a pain in my left calf. I ran for about twenty more steps, stopped to stretch and rub it, and tried again. It still hurt. I knew from experience that continuing to run could turn an irritation into a full-blown injury, so I decided to turn around and walk home.
For someone who’s been at this a while, five miles isn’t that long of a run. It is, however, a fairly long walk. My brain was going haywire. Would my leg heal in time to run the marathon? Would I have to run-walk it? Walk it? What was the cutoff time anyway? Was I asking for serious injury if I even tried? Damn, damn, DAMN! It seemed like any time I started making progress, BOOM, I smashed into some sort of obstacle or injury. Every time someone ran by I wanted to shout, “I’m a runner, too!“
My body had betrayed me. I felt like a broken-down jalopy. One of the reasons I love running is that it makes me feel good about myself. Strong. Capable. Fit. But for the past year and half, running has often reminded me what of what I was no longer able to do. What do you do when your workout makes you feel worse?
It was a rare weekend with nothing on my calendar, so after I got home, I did what your average introvert with a pint of ice cream in the freezer would do: stayed inside, cried a bit, and made a serious dent in my DVR backlog. I also scoured the internet for advice about calf strains. Fortunately, this one wasn’t as painful as my last one and it didn’t hurt to walk. Note: There are two spoonfulls of ice cream left. I’m capable of practicing restraint.
I decided to try everything and the kitchen sink. My boyfriend’s parents brought over some arnica cream and an ice wrap they used on their horses. I used heat treatments. I wore a compression sleeve for a week (even to work). I bought rocking calf stretchers for home and for work. I got massages from Ross and my marathon stick. After a week of not running, I started run-walking. The muscle barked the first couple of times, but the next few were pain free! I continued to teach my cycle and Pump classes, because they didn’t hurt. Maybe, just maybe, I would be able to do this thing.
Monday night, I wanted to see if I could run 5 miles at a 9-minute pace. I was still holding out hope for that sub-4. The first quarter was on target, and then I noticed that I was getting faster. 8:45 pace, then 8:30, 8:15… Nothing crazy – when I’m healthy. I tried slowing down a little after each lap, but ended up accelerating again. After a mile and a half, I felt a twinge. Stop. Walk. I alternated walking and slow jogging for a couple of laps, and called it a night. It didn’t feel awful, but it didn’t feel right, either.
Some people had given me advice not to run at all until the marathon, but I thought running 26.2 miles on an injured leg after three weeks of nothing didn’t sound wise. I was hoping that these test runs would give me some assurance. Maybe I was the foolish one.
Yesterday, my leg felt slightly pulled. It feels better today, but I’m nervous. If I can’t handle 1.5 miles at a moderate pace, how in the hell am I going to run a marathon? If it were any race other than Boston, I’d bow out and pick a race later in the year. But I want this. I earned this entry, and I honestly don’t want to try and qualify again. That unicorn medal will be mine.
So, I am going. I have a new, blue sparkle skirt for the occasion. My boyfriend’s parents will be my dedicated sherpas. I am going to try and run this thing, or at least run-walk it. Still, I can’t help but feel like a fraud. Does a hobbler belong at an event that celebrates excellence?
But Boston is so much more than a race. Today is the two-year anniversary of the day so many people lost their lives and limbs. This is the place where Katherine (registered as K.V.) Switzer kept on running, even though a race official tried to pull her off the course when women weren’t allowed to race. She said, “I knew, if I quit nobody would believe that women had the capacity to run 26 plus miles.” Thousands of women gratefully follow in her footsteps every year.
The city. The history. The crowd support. For 118 years, people have come Boston to test their mettle, and now it’s my turn.
I am humbled. I am proud. I am scared. I am persistent. I am a runner.