I suppose it’s well past time for an update! And brace yourselves, because this update isn’t all sunshine and rainbows and personal bests. Nope, it’s Westeros-style winters, injuries, and ok, there was a personal best in there. Things aren’t always completely horrible.
As 2013 drew to a close, I felt great. I’d had a great year, setting personal bests at nearly every distance I had raced. I thought I had this running thing figured out and I couldn’t wait to start the next training block. The plan was to race the Shamrock Marathon in Virginia Beach in March. And then winter hit me pretty damn hard. My training block quickly turned into a series of adjustments and improvisations as bad weather did its best to thwart our plans. At just about every other Sunday workout we faced snow-covered roads or temperatures in the -30s. We postponed long runs and shifted some workouts onto the indoor track or the treadmill. Nevertheless, there were some short windows of decent weather and with my flexible schedule, I managed to squeeze in some good workouts and long runs. My stubbornness was an asset here; no matter how awful the weather was and how much I complained, I didn’t miss any mileage. And when the weather cooperated and I was actually able to do a workout or long run, everything went very well. Though my marathon build was far from ideal, I was confident that if I kept my goal time in the conservative range, I could still have a good race in Virginia Beach.
About ten days out from the marathon, I woke up in the morning and noticed that my left foot was a bit sore. I wasn’t worried; my feet get sore during heavy training and this wasn’t any worse. It felt fine on my morning run, so I carried on with my day. That afternoon it started bothering me again and got worse until it seized up completely. It felt like a really painful foot cramp that I couldn’t walk on, much less run. I wore an aircast, rested up, and waited a few days. While my foot did calm down, there was no way I was going to run 42k on it. It was a very easy decision to pull out of the race. In the meantime, however, my physio was concerned that I had a stress fracture or stress reaction, so I stayed in the aircast and faced several weeks off of running. It was the longest break I had taken from running since university. It sucked. I spent a lot of time on the bike trainer but I was still pretty miserable. Eventually I learned some perspective when I heard about and talked to some runners who were in the midst of much longer breaks from running due to injury. Four to six weeks was nothing. I was lucky.
Four weeks and one day after my foot started hurting, I received the results of my bone scan. No stress fracture. I went for a short run the next day. My legs felt awful and my gait was awkward, but there was no pain in my foot. I spent the next week feeling horribly sore, since my legs weren’t used to running at all. On the bright side, I was building up mileage quickly without any other adverse effects. At the beginning of week two I tried my first workout and it was rough: less than 6k of intervals at slower than half-marathon pace. At that point I was prepared to have a track season in which I didn’t set any personal bests. I was disappointed, but nevertheless ready to put in the work despite the prospect of not seeing the times I wanted this season.
There were a lot of frustrating moments during my little comeback. When I was upset, I often thought back to a workout I did in February. It was a 32k run with the last 5k hard. It was cold, I was tired, my legs felt trashed with all of the mileage I was doing, and the course was hilly and unforgiving. After 15k, I felt awful and I started feeling sorry for myself. The negative thoughts started and I started thinking that all of the above circumstances were great reasons to bail on this workout. At some point I had an epiphany and realized that running hard on tired legs is what marathon training is all about. I told myself that yes, I was tired, but that didn’t matter, because I was still going to hammer like hell once I hit the 27k mark. It wouldn’t be pretty but I had no good reason why I couldn’t do it. A few kilometers later, Steve handed me a bottle and asked me how I was doing. I shouted back, “I was feeling sorry for myself, so I gave myself a stern talking-to. I’m good now.” He loved it. I finished the workout, and it wasn’t pretty, but I got the work done and achieved the desired result. There are always reasons to feel sorry for yourself, but it’s more productive to stop doing that and focus on what you can do with what you have. As I started running and doing workouts again, I simply focused on being the best I could on the day. I was sore and running slow times, so I tried to focus on working hard and letting the fitness come on its own.
To my surprise, this didn’t take as long as I feared it would. My first workout wasn’t very encouraging, but I told myself that workout would be the worst I felt and the slowest I would run. A few days later I paced some teammates at a 5k road race, running 17:40 and feeling a bit better. My next workout was an improvement; I managed 6k of intervals again, but this time it was at my 10k PB pace. After that workout, progress came quickly. I was very surprised at how rapidly my fitness came back. After a few rough workouts, I was doing full sessions on the track around PB pace. My training has been very consistent since joining London Runner four years ago, so I had a great base. The fitness was already there, I just needed to get my legs used to running again.
By the time the first meet of the Runners’ Choice London Distance Series rolled around on May 4th, I was ready to do a rust-buster race. My teammate Matt Suda paced the front of the women’s field at 3:15 per kilometer, which I thought I could handle. To be honest, I was just guessing and I didn’t really know what to expect. The pace felt a little harder than I would normally like it to feel in the first half of a 5000m race and I let the pack gap me a bit before the 3k mark. I managed to rally in the last 2k, holding my pace pretty well and moving up in the field to finish in 16:17.36. It was week four of my comeback, so running within six seconds of my personal best was very encouraging.
With my first track race out of the way, it was time to focus on the real goal: the Ontario 10,000m Championships two weeks later. Workouts went well and I felt confident that I could run a personal best in the 10,000m on May 18th. Once again, Matt would be the hired pacer for my section. He was perfect, knocking off 80-second laps like it was his job. Which it was. Matt is awesome, thanks Matt! I stuck with Matt until he pulled off at the 8k mark, running 3:20 kilometers like clockwork. In the last five laps I managed to squeeze the pace down a bit to negative split and finish in 33:14.91. It felt awesome to run a 26-second personal best after everything that had happened in the past few months.
After that race, I think I can safely declare that my comeback is over and I can carry on with business as usual. I’ve had some rough patches this year, but I think the lesson in this is to stay positive and simply do the best you can given the circumstances.
Well, I suppose I’ve rambled enough for today. Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for updates as I do some “speed work” in the 5000m.