What I’m not doing tonight is bunking down early in preparation for the starting gun of tomorrow morning’s Boilermaker. Thirty six bucks of registration funds down the tubes. Ah well, I’ve sustained worse, and think of the money I didn’t spend on the trip. More important is what I am doing, which is feeling a glimmer of hope.
It’s distressing to think that the Achilles has been bothering me since March and the hamstring since May. It’s mid-July, fer’ cry-yi-yay, as a former co-worker from Wisconsin used to say. It’s not hard to get mildly depressed about the longevity of these woes. It’s not hard for you, dear reader, to get tired of hearing about them. After all, things could be a lot worse. There are far tougher battles to fight, as some in my family have unfortunately found (and admirably challenged) in recent months. But in my own little corner of the running world, that’s my reality, so I’m stickin’ to it.
It’s easy to speak the idealistic adage that you should plan your training to assure you’re running in ten years rather than worrying about running in ten days or ten weeks, but it’s harder to actually stick to that approach. For starters, there’s no definition of what it means to plan for ten years out. I’ve struggled with the question of how long to knock off to heal these injuries for some time. At some point, though, knocking off starts to really mean not running, and how long does that have to last until you are, well, not running. Restarting from scratch is not a recipe for long-term motivation and attachment to the sport, either. After all, I could assure that things aren’t injured or worn out for running ten years out by not running for nine and a half. But I might also be forty pounds heavier and closer to dead that way.
I took a couple of breaks over the last few months, and each time on return found they weren’t long enough. Still hurting. So, how long? Who’s to say that a month off would fix anything? Two? Six? Who’s to say I wouldn’t re-injure via non-running activities? The bottom line seems to be that without a certain diagnosis with a known time-to-heal, I settled on the recipe of sticking to it, but at a low level of intensity, rebuilding strength in the injured bits while avoiding re-injury.
It might be paying off. From my dark cloud there have emerged a few rays of hope.
Tuesday night we didn’t race. That is to say, we – fourteen members of my club – turned out at a local fiftyish person 5K race tossed by a neighboring club. But we’d all agreed via email that we weren’t racing, since the thermometer had surpassed one hundred degrees that afternoon, and still hovered in the low nineties by the 7 PM race time. For me, nursing the hammy, not racing was the only option, but something my head doesn’t naturally adhere to. To convince myself, I refused to step up to the front line. I refused to really pay attention to my surroundings, and I wasn’t really ready when they said go.
I’m not a fan of 5Ks. Simply too fast, they’re a sprint, they hurt. So I just ran a decent clip, didn’t push into the 5K pain zone, didn’t push the hammy, didn’t push anything. Funny thing was, neither did anyone else for the most part; it appeared our agreement not to race pretty much held. I ran one of my slower 5Ks on record, which was just fine with me, and what made me happiest was perfectly even splits to and from the turnaround. There was no fade, no build, no kick, no race, just a solid run at a pace that, while slow for a 5K race for me, was the fastest mileage I’ve run since the Groton Road Race in April. The heat didn’t really bother me, and I felt comfortable at six and a half minute pace, an immense relief after a month of high sevens and the feeling that I’d forgotten how to hold a decent clip. And most importantly, it didn’t hurt the injured bits.
Emboldened, I stretched out the distance Thursday, then picked up the pace on a normal training run Friday, and the hammy appears to be holding. Even the Achilles, while still irritated, seems less so. Then today I tried out a pair of New Balance 1225s, a radical shift for this Asics loyalist, and like magic, even the Achilles felt no irritation. Coincidence? Maybe. But whatever it was, I felt good enough to crank the return trip on our Saturday morning club run out & back 10K at a put-a-smile-on-your-face, I’m not worried about the hammy pace, despite the drenching high humidity.
There are still trees in this forest between me and the open skies of joy and happiness. There’s still a lump on the Achilles. There’s still work to be done. But this week reminds me that it’s simply not worth getting down over this kind of stuff. It too will pass. Joy and happiness will return.