When a Runner is Not a Runner

Throwback to warm weather running

The past 8 months have been a test of my commitment to running.  I have been off since that mid-July massage, intended to help my muscles, resulted in a hamstring tear that sidelined me for the rest of the summer.  Now there was probably something brewing anyway but the massage tweaked something and I could not run for the rest of the summer.  In September, I made what now seems to be a superhuman rebuild to run Chicago,  only to tear my hamstring days before the marathon.  In mid-December, I was cleared to run again by 3 medical professionals: my sport medicine doctor, my chiropractor and my physiotherapist.  Strength was good and my cardio was fine, but running just didn’t feel right; I had no power.  Sure enough, an MRI at the beginning of January showed that I had less than 50% of the hamstring, a tear that meets the Ischial Tuberosity.  I pulled myself off the road again on January 15th.

It has been another two months since that diagnosis has been made and it is going to be another 6 weeks (April 16th) until I have a PRP (platelet-rich plasma) injection.  Who knows how long my recovery after that will be?  I am guessing that it will be another two months, which will bring me to sometime in June – if I am lucky.   And if that is the case, that means that it will be almost a year since that first injury, the catalyst that sent me into this dark hole that I just can’t find my way out of, a year since I have really, truly run.

During the past two weeks, I have thought a lot about my status as a runner.  Am I?  By definition, a runner is “a person who runs” and that is something that I am not doing.  I think about running all the time; I dream about running again and chasing my dreams; I read about running, talk about running and support people who are running.  But I am not running.

When I finally got my appointment date for the PRP injection, I was thrilled.  But the waiting, the recovery time and the uncertainty of knowing whether I will actually help strengthen the tendon have turned to frustration and fear.  What if it doesn’t work?  What if I won’t be able to run again?  What if????

The what if’s are always going to be there.  But until I have answers, I have to squash them.  I need to focus on the things that I am able to do: keep up my cardio and conditioning: bike, yoga, swim, weights; be a mom, a wife, a dog-mom; coach; love my job.  It should be no surprise that every single one of these things connects me to running.

Today, I am not running.  I am an injured runner.  I am a runner not running.  But until  I am told otherwise, I will continue to dream about running and racing again and focus my fitness towards the goal of pulling on a running skirt and lacing up my shoes again.  I am defined by running and always will be.

Finding Inspiration

Like most runners, I finish a race and I either mark it for my ‘to race’ list next year or I consider it as a ‘maybe’.  With that decision come goals for improvement or goals to adjust my training.  This year, I think it’s safe to say that I don’t have any race goals; any winter or spring goals went out the window when I got my MRI results.  I can only hope that I will be running by summer and can plan for the fall.  But I am still able to work towards improvimg my training.

Since November, I have been consistent on my bike (albeit on my windtrainer) and, for the past three months, I have been hitting just under 400 miles each month.  Tammy the Hamstring is still not ready to plow through an interval workout, but she doesn’t complain about steady cycling.   In the past month, my average speed has increased and most rides are now 50 to 65 minutes.  That’s progress.

I am also seeing improvement at the yoga studio.  In October, just after tearing my tendon, my list of “can not’s” was huge.  As expected, any balance poses were impossible, as were crescent lunges and twists to either side.  Now, almost 5 months later, my balance is 90% there and I can almost  do a crescent lunge.  Each week, it seems, I watch the bar get a little higher.

As a runner, one of my greatest weaknesses is being comfortable.  Building distance and long runs were easy and I could do them week after week.  But changing things up and doing something different, like moving into the trails or adding tempos or intervals to my week, was a huge step out of my comfort zone.  Fortunately, I have fantastic training partners who made it easier for me to put away my hesitations and take me to where I needed to be.

Now, as a runner nor running, I find myself in that same vicious cycle again.  I am comfortable on the windtrainer and at the yoga studio and I am doing everything that I physically can.  But in the past month, I can feel that my metabolism has jumped, leaving me with this unexplainable need to do more.  The pool is calling me.

The issue is I am not a swimmer.  Years ago, living in a Toronto and during my life without kids, I was swimming.  I climbed into the pool 5 times a week: 3 afternoon distance swims and 2 inteval workouts at 6:00 a.m.  I was slow, but my strokes were good and I averaged 5 – 6 miles a week.  Becoming a mom changed all of that, and I haven’t swam a single length in years.  Getting back into the pool scares me.

On Thursday night, I drove up to Glen Eden with my 13 year old who has been teaching himself to snowboard for the past two winters.  He doesn’t want group lessons; he wants to work at his own pace and do what he wants as he feels ready.  This week, I watched him practise his jumps for the second time, proud that he has made this commitment to snowboarding and that he has done it all on his own.   As we drove home that night, he told me how scared he was before he started and, again, I felt proud, proud that he has pushed himself out of his comfort zone.

“You know you’re inspiring me, don’t you?” I asked.

How?” he asked.

“Because you are doing something that scares you.  You get out there, you do it, and you do it well.  You’re helping me realize that it’s going to take work for me to start swimming again, but I’ll be able to do it.  I just need to get back into the water and start.”  That’s when I made the decision to get in the water before the end of the month.

This morning, coincidentally, while going through a pile of papers, I found a quote by Stephen Hawkings that I had copied in the summer.

“And however difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at.  It matters that you don’t just give up.”

For whatever reason, these words spoke to me many months ago and I wanted to make sure that I remembered them.  After finding them this morning, I’m taking it as a sign. Tomorrow, I will get into the pool, I will push myself out of my comfort zone and I will not give up.

 

 

The Pacing Game

You know you’re a runner when you watch the countdown on a microwave, see 3:45, and immediately think “marathon time”.  And you know you’ve raised your 12 year old well when he looks at your playlist and exclaims “Mom, you have enough music to run 3 marathons!”  I’m not planning on running with music when I marathon but I’m pretty impressed that (1) his math was that quick and (2) he knows my marathon goal.

Like most runners, I often wonder about time.  How fast can I run a 5K?  If I run 5 seconds faster per mile/kilometre, how will that change my marathon time?  You want me to run how many repeats?  How much rest do I get?   Am I on pace?   Pacing is the one that is always on top of my mind.

For years, my running friends have called me a human metronome. During a 10K or half-marathon, I can quickly lock into a 7:30 mile pace.  At the end of a run with friends, when the goal is to log miles and chat, we like to guess what our average pace was, and we are usually right within a few seconds.  Even on the track, which I am absolutely no expert at, I can usually guess what my 400 metre repeats are within one or two seconds.

My friend, Monica, and I use to joke about my pacing during a long run: 7:57, 7:58, 8:01, 7:56….my miles were all where they needed to be, surrounding the 8 minute mark – until this year.  Somehow, I have lost all sense of my marathon pace.  Perhaps it has been due to the faster running that I have been doing in general, but that 8 minute mile has become elusive.   For the past few weeks, my long runs have been faster than I want them, which might sound great, but I know I need 8 minute miles so that I don’t blow up at Mile 22 in Chicago.  I also know that I need 8 minute miles when I am running continuously and don’t have a break whenever I hit a traffic light.

photo credit: W. Menczel

This weekend’s heatwave in southern and central Ontario that has given us higher temperatures and humidex levels than I can ever remember.  Yesterday, the thermometer reached 40 degrees (which is 100F); in this part of Ontario, that use to be unheard of.   While many are complaining about the heat, it is exactly what I need right now so that I can get back to the 8 minute mile.

Yesterday, I headed out for my long run at 6:30 with three goals:  10 miles, a half-marathon or anything longer than 15 miles.  With weeks of 18 mile runs behind me, I felt that I could run that distance again – if Mother Nature cooperated and if I paced it properly.  No matter how far I ran, I knew that I had to be slower if I wanted to reach any of the goals.   Well, there is nothing like a heatwave to force the pace down as all of my mile splits were predicitable and well-timed: slow to start, faster miles on the downhills, slower on the ups and into what wind we had.  At Mile 10, I was feeling good; at Mile 13, I was feeling strong; but during Mile 14, on a favorite but challenging uphill, with the sun high, I noticed my heartrate starting to climb and I thought “This is crazy.  I have kids to worry about.”  So I called it a day at 14.1 miles.

Cooling off after 14 miles on a hot, hot day.

When I got home, I was mad at myself as I probably could have run at least one extra mile before “common sense” took over.  Then, I started to think about the pluses: I got out and ran, and I ran more than 13 miles; my pacing was good as I averaged a 7:57 mile;  I didn’t feel drained at the end of my run and had the whole day ahead of me.  As I saw other runners post their 30K runs, I had to keep reminding myself of my positives.

The temperatures this weekend and in the days ahead are extreme but, in terms of pacing, they are exactly what I need.  In the same way that running through the cold and icy winter made me stronger, this hot weather is forcing me to really focus on pacing and find my inner clock again.