Monday, September 5, 2011

Why it's also important NOT to run

This past Labor Day weekend was the Disneyland Half Marathon Weekend, but sadly, and very disappointingly, I had to forego my plans for 13.1 miles of running glory in my first-ever attempt at a long-distance race. My one word for 2011 was "demand," as I was had ambitious plans for this year (quitting my job to start my PhD, plunging into long-distance running, moving 1200 miles from Seattle to Los Angeles, turning 30), and in the process I've had to learn "demanding" of yourself means much more than simply trying to accomplish a whole lot of feats all at one time. It also means paying attention to the demands of your limitations, and realizing when it's time to reassess your goals and revising them to be met at some other time.

By the end of July, I had been making fantastic progress on reaching this half-marathon. My long-distance runs reached 8 miles, keeping me extremely confident in my ability to reach 13.1 in early September. Wade and I traveled to Southern California at the end of July to hunt for an apartment, and spent some time in Disneyland where I spent some time envisioning myself running with the throngs of people through the parks on a quest for that half-marathon finisher's medal. We returned to Seattle having successfully found a place, and I went back to work on my training.

My shorter runs that week went beautifully. In fact, in each of my 30-minute runs, I ran the farthest within that time period I had ever run before. I was looking forward to trying a 9 mile run that Saturday--I was really beginning to enjoy running through West Seattle on a weekly basis.

I started out just fine, but about an hour into the run I began feeling really tired and simply ready for the run to be over with. I mistakenly routed myself up a very steep street, and just did not want to push myself up that hill. I decided I'd walk up the hill and pick up my running at the top, but as I reached the top I could feel the usual aches that come after my long distance runs and realized I would not be able to start back up again. Sadly, this meant I had to walk about three miles to get home, but I just could not get back into it. I figured it was a bad day, I'd rest up for a couple days like normal, and get back on schedule to continue.

A couple days later, I set out on the first of my two shorter 30 minute runs during the week. This one started okay, but perhaps 8 minutes or so into it I felt very sharp pains in my knee (similar to what I felt that Saturday) and I could not run without limping. I had promised myself that if I felt any sort of pain I would stop--so I stopped, walked home, chalked it up to not allowing my legs enough time to heal between runs, and decided to forego my second short run of the week. I figured I'd wait about four days before trying another run to see how it goes. At this point I started to worry that it was something much worse, and that I'd need to see someone about it.

I did Tweet and post on Facebook about my woes, and got some good support and advice from people. I also went back to my marathoning book to reread the chapter on injuries. The best I could determine at that point was I was suffering from runner's knee, brought on by increasing mileage too quickly, but I wanted to see if I waited for the recommended number of days if that would make a difference. Four days later I set out to try to run 4 miles, and sure enough, nearly 15 minutes into the run I started to feel the pain again (albeit much duller than before). That was when I decided I needed to stop for a bit.

I did get an ice pack to help with post-run recovery, but I was faced with a bit of a dilemma. I wanted to see a doctor, yet at this point I was about two weeks from quitting my job and beginning my 1200 mile move down the Pacific coast. With all the other little tasks and activities that had to take place between now and then, wrapping up my job, and the race being literally a week and a half after we arrived in LA, I just didn't think I could squeeze it in. I tried one last time a week later to go for a run, and while I didn't feel any pain, I became very nervous and realized I didn't trust running on my knee without some professional advice and decided not to finish that run. At that point I decided I needed to forego this half-marathon, and as soon as my student health insurance kicked in I would try to see someone at UCLA about what I could do to get back on a training course again and attempt a half-marathon at some other point in the future.

It became a very emotional decision for me. I don't typically set goals for myself that I have to revisit and revise at any point--I (try to) accomplish every task I set out to do within the time frame I give myself to accomplish it. This was a very different kind of goal for me though, and it demonstrated to me how much I needed to learn about my physical abilities and limitations. I had a difficult conversation with my mother where she reminded me how both she and my father stopped any type of running as adults--she on the recommendation of her doctor, he after injuring his knee (around my age) when involved in a lot of races. My biggest fear is that I will get similar advice, that it just isn't in the cards for me, because all of a sudden this has become a personal goal I have begun to care about a great deal.

Wade and I still went to Disneyland over Labor Day weekend, though, which was somewhat difficult for me to face. We had registered for the race, and purchased pins commemorating the race which we had to pick up with our race packets (otherwise we would never get them, and we each spent a little money on those pins). We also signed up for the pre-race dinner which also cost a bit of money that we wanted to take advantage of. So here I was, still trying to figure out how to be okay with foregoing the race, surrounded by people who were all about to take part in this event, many for whom it was not their first, and feeling those same feelings of frustration and disappointment I had felt before. I knew not running was the best decision for me, but in my mind I began thinking, "Well, what about running some and walking some? What about speed-walking through the entire course?" It had been a good six weeks since I had any solid training for this race, and I did not want to be pulled off the course for not being able to complete the race on time, but I kept wondering if there were other ways I could finish.

I became very irritable and grouchy, and had to apologize to Wade several times for snapping back while we were picking up our packets and having dinner at the pre-race party. And I have to say, it was a bit stinging on Sunday to spend time in the parks watching all the people walking around with the finishers' medal around their necks, realizing that for so long (since January, in fact) I had imagined myself with one as well. As I told Wade on Saturday, I didn't want this to be the closest I ever get to finishing that race--and I am scared that it will be. But I know I made the best decision, and I'm sure after I get to speak with someone about it I will be able to sit down, revisit my goal, revise my plan, and get back "on track" all over again.

Number one to me throughout this process is care for myself, which is why I refuse to injure myself over something like this goal. I'm doing this as a way to challenge myself and improve my overall well-being--keeping myself healthy is far more important than making this happen right now, this year. Perhaps I bit off more than I could chew in setting my 2011 goals (which is okay), or perhaps I am learning something new about myself (and the human condition) that will have far greater opportunities for future growth than I can currently expect. So while I stayed off the course this year, look out in the future--I'll be out there, finishing my race, soon enough!

Follow me on Twitter: @BryceEHughes

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