Supporting the habit

Getting injured was probably the best thing that happened to me as a runner last year. That and failing at my first bid to break 2 hours in a half marathon.

Both those events taught me that setbacks pave the way for comebacks, and the road to self-mastery is long. I have time. It’s okay if I don’t reach my goal today or on the day that I anticipated. If I keep working at it, I’ll get there. It’s like that Chinese proverb: “Be not afraid of growing slowly; be afraid only of standing still.” So seize the moment, yes, but seize it for the opportunity it presents you, which may not be the one you expected. The one you expected will come in time.

My injury (which I’ve learned was triggered by pulling wheeled luggage on a frenzied overseas trip, not running) led me to physical therapy, and physical therapy taught me oodles about the condition of my “running system” – the musculoskeletal network that enables me to run. I learned that my abductors, adductors and glutes are pathetically weak compared my quads, calves and hamstrings. I learned that the abdominal surgery in 1984 is no longer an excuse to tip-toe around my lower abdominals. Not unless I am willing to quit running in the near term, or end up hunchbacked in my 60’s from subjecting my lower back to a couple decades of unnecessary beating.

I was pretty cynical about physical therapy before I experienced it. I was ignorant. I had never been athletic until recently, so I was never in a position to be injured and rehabilitated. All physical therapists do is prescribe exercises, I thought to myself. I wanted a practitioner work her magic on me, not to send me home to do the work.

I recant. I am a PT convert. I adore my therapist, especially. She is smart as whip, stylish as a Mission District diva (how many therapists out there can churn out 15 step-ups wearing skinny jeans and zebra print ballet flats?), and a fellow runner. From our five sessions together came these two pearls of wisdom that will enlighten me forever:

1) An injury to one muscle results from another muscle’s failure to do its job.

2) Do what it takes to support your habit. She literally used those words and it made me chuckle, picturing myself as a crackhead selling all my possessions to “support my habit.” What she meant was: if you run, make the effort to strengthen and balance the muscles and ligaments needed to run safely and successfully. Football players lift weights to get stronger for the game and everyone expects that. Virtually every athlete hits the gym as part of their training. Yet apparently runners are notorious for skipping out on strength conditioning. As though running should come naturally, or the added undertaking would somehow taint the simplicity of the sport. I, however, can’t afford the fairy tale view any longer. My body is neither young nor historically fit.

It’s empowering, actually, to know that the fate of my running lies largely in my hands. I like knowing that I am taking care of my body, that I am getting stronger, that I can mold my body into what it needs to be to accomplish some feat that once seemed out of reach. It is DIY at its finest.  I’m proud to take ownership of me.

Surprise beginning

My much-anticipated second marathon ended in a way I never expected: I didn’t get to run it.

Apparently this is common in the marathon world. Of the seven people I know who signed up for the California International Marathon, only three made it to the start line. Of the four who didn’t, two had too many life demands to squeeze in the training, one had a death in the family, and yours truly got injured.

What triggered this injury is a mystery.  I was on a beach vacation in southern Thailand.  I ran once in four days there.  I did no other exercise.  The day I got home (five days before the marathon), I felt very sore in my left pelvic area.  A day later I could not take a step with or swing my left leg without debilitating pain.  It all radiated from the left side of the pubic bone and just inside my left hip at the oblique muscle.

In the days that followed, I popped some ibuprofen so I could function, visited a chiropractor twice, saw my primary care provider once, and waited as long as I could before deciding yay or nay.  I even consulted the Magic 8 Ball – something I always do in my most desperate hour of unknowing…

Will I get to run on Sunday?  Definitely

Will I suffer during the run?  It is unsure

Will I finish? You are not ready to know that

Encouraged by the 8 Ball’s prophecy and by being to walk pain-free, I set out to do a test run the morning before the race.  Wham!  Ouch!  Tightness all around the left hip joint.  Burning sensation left of my pubic bone every time I pushed off, deep soreness in my left oblique every time I landed.  My Garmin said I was doing a 12-minute mile, and I couldn’t even keep that up for more than half a block.  Up went the white flag of surrender.

I called my buddy Beth who I was going to ride with to Sacramento that afternoon, told her the news.  In typical optimistic Beth fashion, she began brainstorming which upcoming marathon I could aim for, which half marathon we could do together as part of my training.  All good, but I realized the only immediate consolation would be to watch my three friends rock this marathon.  I resolved to drive out the next morning to see them at the finish line.

I arrived to a picture-perfect marathoning day in Sacramento.  Forty-something degrees, dry, no wind, not a cloud in the sky.  I found my way to the 20-mile mark and within 15 minutes saw Beth cruising up.  Wasn’t able to find my two other friends.  I snapped some photos then jumped back in the car and headed for the finish line at the State Capitol.

I positioned myself next to the Mile 26 flag.  I looked at my watch.  The time was 10:53 and here came Beth.  She needed a 3:55 finish to qualify for Boston.  I got so excited I ran up to her (yes, on the course), hooting YOU GOT THIS GIRL!  I ran alongside trying to take a photo then drifted back to the sidewalk, still running to keep up.  Guess what? She crossed the line and the official clock said 3:54-something.  And I felt no pain running.

That’s when I knew the injury chapter was over and I could start running again.  Start training for my second marathon again.  I did not see the do-over chapter coming but I’m ready to roll with it.  The joy lies in the journey, after all.

The highlights from this last journey won’t soon be forgotten:  my newfound love of beet juice, the Wednesday morning 7-mile tempos along the Embarcadero with Superstar Beth, the brutal 18-miler on the Sawyer Camp Trail that our coach and friend Craig orchestrated to make the CIM feel easy by comparison, watching Craig’s “boys” (20-something Adonises from his running group) fly effortlessly back and forth on that trail while we were still going the same direction, the supposed marathon-pace run around Lake Merced in heavy rain when every timing device I had ran out of battery, realizing I could run distances of 15+ miles in my Nike Frees with no problem, wanting so badly to stop running the Nike Half Marathon at 8 miles then pushing on to finish under 2 hours, and, of course, watching Beth nail the Boston-qualifying finish.

Over and out.