Coming off '16, I was tired. Tired of running. Tired of working out. Tired of spending an hour 3 days a week on the stair master only to run slower on race day.
It wasn't that I didn't have the time. I do. More so, my body just wasn't responding to the training any more. More doesn't always equate to better. Some times, like in my case, excess can be too much. Think about buying a dozen Krispy Kreme Donuts. The first one taste awesome by the 10th donut, the question is why did I buy them in the first place.
Adding to my frustration, I did something to my left knee. Running on it hurt. Racing on it hurt more. I remember running the Fire Cracker 5k in July. I finished 3rd and ran 18:20 something. My left knee hurt so bad that even standing on it was uncomfortable.
For those 1st 6 months, I cut back. I cut back on my running. Gone were the mid week long runs and 20+ milers on the weekend. Gone were the two speed sessions during the week. I maxed out at 60 miles a week which made me feel like I wasn't even running. Gone were the hours on the stair master and another hour in the weight room. I moved to only 15 minutes on the stair master and then 30 minutes on a standard weight circuit. Most days, I was in and out of the Y in 60 minutes.
Nothing seemed to be working. My times only got slower and my knee hurt worse.
Times like this make any runner question their desire. How much joy was I getting out of something that hurt to do.
After that July, I really questioned what I was going to do. I had signed up for the Marshall Marathon. However, running just a 5k hurt. Running 26 miles with my left knee hurting, there was no way.
Something had to be done.
First, I revamped my entire approach to stretching both prior to and post workout. The effects were slow at first, but as the days turned in to weeks, and then in to months, I could see some progress.
Second, with my left knee hurting this way, there was no way that I could put in the long runs necessary to run a marathon on the road. So one weekend, I decided to hit to trails at the Whitewater Center. That first run gave me a glimmer of hope. I don't know if it was the change from pounding along on the pavement to hitting the soft dirt. Or may be it was the varying of my stride length that lesson the strain my knee. Whatever it was. The results from that first weekend had me going back week after week to WWC. Some weeks, I would do both Saturday and Sunday runs on their trails. In fact, since July, only two of my long runs have been on the pavement. All others have been on the trails.
Still I lacked confidence. None my races were exceptionally bad, but neither were they awe inspiring. My 5k XC run in August at Myers Park was a struggle. The 15k Trail race at the WWC made me wonder if I was cut for running the trails. Post race at the Wild Vine ½ marathon I was left laying on one of their benches hoping the world would stop spinning from the heat.
Then, a couple of weeks later, I ran the Novant Health 15k. The day was exceptionally cold, and I hung with a group of guys the entire race. For the first time, I felt like I had a solid effort.
A couple of weeks later, I ran the WWC 50k race. This race both excited me and worried me at the same time. Of my few 50ks, never had I ran a race on a trail. All of them had been either on a road, a greenway, or a fire road. Nothing was a true trail. I wanted to test myself on something totally different.
What worried was that this race started at 6 am in October. This meant I would be running the first 90+ minutes in the dark. I fully expected to plant my face against mother earth more than few times. If not face plant, I would at the very least turn an ankle or two or a dozen. Race morning came, and we were getting ready for the start. To my surprise, a familiar face was standing there next to me in the form of Mr. Spada. He and I have raced each other numerous times over the years. Suddenly, I was thinking less about falling, and more about if I could stay with him. Steve's tough as nails.
A few guys take off as we make a parade lap around the WWC before hitting the trails. I fell in behind Steve and crossed my fingers that I could stay with him.
We cruised out the darkness and in to the light with no issues. We both finished the first lap together. Steve made quick work in the transition area and went speeding by me as I scrambled to remove my head lamps and grab a new set of water bottles. Only once we were back on the trails did I close up the distance. He let me by at one point, and for a while, we stay together. May be he was not having a great day because I started putting distance on him. By the time, I finished the second lap, I couldn't see Steve. On the 3rd lap, I kept looking back. I kept expecting him to make a Hail Mary charge to the finish.
I ended up finishing 2nd that day. But more importantly I think it was how it made me feel. I felt strong the entire way. I ran within myself and stayed with my game plan the entire race. I was getting my confidence back.
A week later I ran the Big South 5k, and I ran a 17:47 5k. This again spurred my confidence. Along with it my knee seemed to be healing more and more.
Two weeks later, I stood at the starting line for the Marshall Marathon. I wondered how all of this trail training would translate to a road marathon. My goal was 3 hours. The past two years, I had run 2:55 and 2:58. However, this year, we had some unseasonably warm temperatures to handle. The temperature at the start time was 60 degrees and projected to go up quickly. By 10 AM, the temperatures was in the mid 70s. Over the last several years, pretty much since my Hatfield and McCoy Marathon where the temperature hit 90s degrees, I have not raced well in the heat.
I went out conservatively and fell in with 4 other runners. By mile 1, sweat had beaded up on my temple. My inner voice kept telling me to slow down. Today will be hot. It also told me to drink. Pretty much at every water stop, I was drinking water. Never in all my previous marathons have I drank that much water during the race.
Last year, by the time I hit the 10k mark, I felt my race was on the downhill slide. I was just limping along to the finish. This year, I felt much better and rolled through the ½ way point. I was already eyeing the guy a couple of hundred yards in front of me. My game plan was paying off. I felt strong the entire second half of the race. In fact, on a day where most runners ran much slower second halves. My second half was only 20 seconds slower than my first half. This all translated in to a 2:52 time and 4th place finish overall.
5 days later, I was back out at the WWC running their Shot in the Dark 10k race. I probably didn't need to be running it. My legs were in no shape to do any racing. However, I was running it for an entirely differently reason. I fully realized that I need more experience running the trails at night. There is no way to simulate this during the day.
What was the result? I ran off the trail more times than I care to count that night, but I also learned a lot at the same time.
Of course by now, you might be asking why this fascination with running at night. The answer is a simple one. I want to run a race which has some night time trails miles in it. The race is the WWC fall 50 miler race. They start this race at 5 AM so the runners face more like 150 minutes of running in the dark. Further challenging them, they are have to do it over some trails which are a bit more rugged. We shall see. I have not committed to it yet but I am certainly thinking about it.
Lastly, with all the trail miles that I have put in this year, I couldn't think of a better way to end the year than with one final trail race. 5k races hurt these days. However, 5k races on the trail hurt even more. At the same time, I had a lot of fun in the WWC "We believe in Santa" 5k.
So in '17, I wondered through the first 6 months while finding my footing. Still, I am ending the year feeling good about my training and looking forward to '18.
If you are going to run, injuries and pain part of the game. Here's hoping if you are experiencing either of these, you find your way on the road of recovery in '18.
Best in Running and Happy Holidays,
The Cool Down Runner