When I pause to take mental inventory of my 2011 running and racing experience it would be oh so easy to become discouraged and dismayed. For the second year in a row I spent at least 8 out of the 12 months injured, in pain and trying desperately to recover and feel normal again. After a few good races early in the year, the remaining months have been difficult to say the least. With a stubborn Achilles injury that won't quite heal, I spent most of the year hoping to recover in time for the next big race.
However ... as it turns out ... I am not discouraged or dismayed at all. What has happened through pain, struggle and injury, just like in life itself, is a toughening and an increased pain tolerance that will most likely make me a better runner when I finally get healthy again. I used to feel frustrated with my painful runs but lately I have felt some different emotions: gutsiness, determination, perseverance. These qualities come only through adversity. In running and in life.
Because I thought my body could handle it and because I wanted one last race of the season, I ran the Ventura Turkey Trot yesterday, a 5K. For most (excluding me) it would be considered a fast course as it is fairly flat with wide turns in a figure "8" formation (a fast course for me would have some rolling hills). It can be subject to wind but on our race day wind was not much of a factor. The temperature was also ideal and the humidity was great. All the ingredients were there for a personal record.
Turkey Trots are a lot of fun because families come out to participate and everyone is joyful just to be there. It's great to see such a colorful crowd. Our crowd even included Deena Kastor (pushing a baby stroller) and her husband Andrew. Because there were a couple of hundred more runners than they expected our start was delayed by about 15 minutes. Not a bad thing but it usually frustrates me if we get a late start because my warm up is designed to get me to the line sweaty and breathing hard and I don't like to lose that by having to stand around unexpectedly. But "oh well," what are you going to do.
As I jogged the 2 mile warm up with John and Ricky, I wondered if my lack of speed training would cause extra suffering and prevent me from obtaining my goal of a sub-18 minute finish. While I've been able to ease back into some nice runs, even somewhat tempo, I haven't been able to do speed work in months. To compensate, I have had some hard speed work swims, but nothing really can replace the benefits of a good track session. Yah, so here I was about to do a 5K without speed work. Oh well. We warmed up nicely, stretched while waiting for a porta-potty, and got some strides in.
While pushing the strides, low-and-behold, my lower calf/Achilles tendon became tender and painful on my push-off (the Achilles had generally been less painful here of late so this was discouraging). I felt I could still run and hoped the adrenaline would diminish my notice of it during the race.
Finally our race started and I repeated in my mind as we went out fast, to NOT go too fast in my first mile. What I found with this course is that by contour of the roads, the first mile was faster and the second mile was more of a false flat and was much more difficult. I felt that coming through my first mile in 5:45 (that was my first mile time) might have been a tad too fast. At that point I felt like I could maintain the pace ... until I turned the corner into the second mile. Without even feeling the enormous slow down, I came through the second mile in 6:00 and it felt way too hard. It was somewhere in the midst of that second mile that I began limping to the pain in my leg. The pain I had hoped I wouldn't notice. It was intense and interrupted my normal stride. I spent a lot of mental energy trying to find a way to run that hurt less.
I was hanging with Michelle, who was the front running female, until the beginning of the third mile. It was at this point that I began to wonder if I could or should finish. I was in pain and my awkward stride stole precious energy. I had no way of picking up the pace even though I knew I had to. I saw Michelle and my sub-18 minute finish slip away and I went into a mode of "just get this thing done with." With a painfully slow 6:12 final mile (ugh!) I was fortunate to have not been passed by a lurking female (she finished 9 seconds behind me) and finished the second female overall, first Master, and first in my age group. But ... I walked away from the finish line in a full on limp. A masseuse requested I follow her to her table for some work but I declined. I didn't want anyone touching that tender leg and elected to jog a mile warm down which helped considerably.
It's hard to know how to feel with all that. My final time was 18:27 - not a good time for me as of late but under the circumstances of injury and lack of training, not all that bad. I don't know if I'd say the race was fun, nor will I suggest that it was smart to run injured, but I did it and was glad that it was over. The racing season is over and now I will focus on healing so that next year I can have 12 months of joyful, pain free running, training and racing.
There were some great positives that came out of this race for a few other dear runners: Michelle McToldridge came away the female winner in 18:02. Ricky Ho set a PR of 16:09 and finished 5th overall, and John had a breakthrough race and finished in 18:59. That was 1:07 faster than his last 5K and earned him 2nd in his age-group. Basically, Santa Barbara runners represented well in Ventura. We came away with 1st and 2nd overall female, 5th overall male, 3 first place age group wins and one second place age group win.
Time to rest. Time to heal. Time to aqua-run again. Although I lost 8 months (and counting) of the year to injury, I was still able to run 10 races: Romeo 4 miler, Romeo Couples 2 x 2 relay, Super Bowl 4 miler, Roses en la Playa 5K, Night Moves Swim/Run, Night Moves 5K, Westmonster 5K cross-country race, Santa Barbara Sprint Triathlon, Goleta Education Foundation 4 miler, Ventura Turkey Trot. I missed the Carlsbad 5000, World Masters Track and Field Championships, and Santa Barbara Half Marathon. I'll get those done next year.