We runners face a multitude of challenges along each of our running journeys- some nutritional, some physical, some mental. Each challenge can be incredibly frustrating- I know.
My running club friend Betsy considers herself to be “injury-prone” and has had her own set of challenges, but she recently set a HUGE PR at the Twin Cities Marathon in 2015. She graciously offered to share her running journey with you all today. Enjoy!
I started running in grad school because it was cheaper than my go-to exercise of swimming. I quickly found I loved it, and I was relatively better at running than swimming.
I raced distances from 5K to 25K, but my body didn’t always hold up. Thanks to various injuries, it took four years after I first tried to train for a marathon before I made it to a starting line (Twin Cities ’08). Even then, despite building up gradually, keeping long runs easy, and following Hal Higdon’s beginner schedule to a T, knee problems had me in physical therapy for the last two and a half months of training. I planned to be a once-and-done marathoner, and the distance was harder than I could have imagined. But when I finished just 5 minutes over a BQ (despite spraining an ankle in mile 4!), I knew I had to try again.
The next year training went better–until I partially tore my right calf just as my taper began. It held up on the big day (Twin Cities ’09), and I was on my way to Boston 2010!
After Boston I said I’d never do another. I had achieved a big goal, and I was totally burned out. Plus, my calf was bothering me again, as was my hamstring.
Then I moved to Chicago. My new friends’ enthusiasm for the Chicago marathon was infectious, and I had to run that race in 2011–with a cold, as it turned out, and after adequate, but not great training, thanks to focusing more on law school than on running.
When I moved to Minneapolis in 2013, I had four marathons under my belt, with finish times between 3:39 and 3:45. I joined the Calhoun Beach Running Club to meet new friends (moving as an adult is hard!) and to take my training up a notch. I was confident I had a faster marathon in me, and I wanted to get back to Boston to re-claim it after the bombings. I followed the club’s training plan for Twin Cities, including speed work and hill repeats, neither of which I’d really done before. My overall mileage wasn’t much higher than on the Higdon plans, and I still kept my easy runs really easy, but the hard days were more intense–and more fun–with the club. I wound up with classic August injuries, though, and couldn’t shake them by race day. I still managed 6-min PR, and was Boston-bound again.
I needed a mental and physical break before giving Boston 2015 my best effort, so I opted out of marathons for a bit. The CBRC added a USATF team to compete with other clubs in a circuit of races, and I had fun running those shorter races and setting big PRs at every distance. I thought I was poised to cruise into Boston, crush the hills, and run the race of my life.
And then the plan derailed.
First came plantar fasciitis. I tried everything: ice, golf ball massage, custom orthotics, rest, stretching, calf-strengthening, acupuncture. Nothing helped. The stabbing, shooting, burning pain stayed with me around the clock from early November 2014 through March 2015, and it lingered off and on for months after that. An orthopedic specialist told me I could keep running if I could tolerate the pain, so I grit my teeth and tried to bear it.
But something else was off: I was pushing as hard as I could, and running a minute or more per mile slower than normal. I was irritable, and I cut runs short and walked back to the club in tears in sub-zero weather. I made an appointment with a sports med doctor who diagnosed me as iron-deficient and also recommended that I supplement B-vitamins. The B-vitamins were no problem, but it took a few tries to find an iron supplement that worked. Once I did, the difference was dramatic. Within a week or two my paces bounced back toward familiar territory, and my moodiness faded.
Oh, and did I mention that in the midst of all that, I developed a stress fracture?
I did a good chunk of my Boston training in the pool, clocking as many as 3 hours at a time: “synthetic long runs,” as one friend dubbed them. As it turned out, the weather on race day was wet with a lot of resistance from a headwind–not all that different from running in a pool! The Boston Marathon is an amazing celebration of community, achievement, and overcoming obstacles, and I was thrilled to be among the runners carrying on the tradition again this year.
After Boston, my plantar fasciitis improved, I could feel the effects of the B-vitamins and iron, and I was feeling stronger than ever from my pool workouts. It was time to chase my goals. By June, I’d run up to 15 pain-free miles, so I registered for Twin Cities again.
Training through injury and illness for Boston shaped how I approached Twin Cities training. I planned my meals carefully to be sure to get the whole nutritional picture every day (hello, kale!).
I kept going to the pool at least twice a week. In the past, other kinds of cross training (biking, even yoga) have left me feeling worn down on my next runs, but after time in the pool I feel strong, fit, and refreshed. And I made sure to sleep. Everything that could encroach on those precious 8 hours a day (job, social life, exercise) is actually much better when I let sleep take priority.
I more or less followed the CBRC training plan again. The main new ingredient for me was marathon-pace workouts during long runs, which really helped my body get used to sustaining my goal effort. I’ve always been disciplined about starting runs slowly and finishing strong, and the structure of aiming for a specific goal pace fits my type-A tendencies well. I also built distance up earlier than the official schedule to allow for cut-back weeks between 20-milers. Planning ahead and resting to stay injury-free meant that I managed four runs of 20 or more miles instead of my usual two. Once or twice I switched up the club schedule to allow extra recovery before or after a hard workout. And I kept running the shorter USATF races with the club when I could, so that I was pushing myself and keeping tabs on where my speed was. I consistently swam twice a week and ran four times a week, topping out at about 50 miles.
Four factors converged to make race day an absolute blast. First, careful nutrition and solid training meant that I toed the starting line in good health. Second, the CBRC ‘s coach, Paul Donnelly, doled out fantastic advice that I committed to memory, including a pace calculator with targets for each mile based on this course’s nuances. Third, the weather was beautiful: temps in the 40s were perfect for runners, and sunny skies made for extra good cheer from the spectators. And fourth, I had support from friends, family, coworkers, and clubmates on the sidelines the whole way. I didn’t go more than a couple miles at a time without hearing my name and seeing a familiar friendly face. For as long as I was in control of my race, I followed Coach Paul’s plan. There’s a point in the marathon (mile 20-22 or so) when not much feels like it’s in my control any more (and honestly, I just want to quit!), and that’s when my training held me up and kept my feet turning over. I smiled the whole way, ran negative splits, and finished with a 12-minute PR: 3:21.
Maybe Boston 2017. I’d love to run a fast-for-me time on that course! Or maybe it’s time to listen to my history of injuries and stick with shorter distances. I don’t know what brought on my iron- and B- deficiencies. It could be that my levels have long been borderline and just became problematic when I really pushed myself, or it could be that things were just off last winter. And I’m not sure why I’m prone to injury in general. It could be those nutritional issues, or that I’m a lot faster to build cardiovascular fitness than muscular strength, or that I just have certain structural imbalances. In any event, I hope running can continue to be fun for decades to come, and that’s much more important to me than another marathon.
Thanks Betsy for sharing your story!
I hope you enjoyed. If you have any questions or comments for Betsy, please leave them here on the post!