Training for our first marathon has peaked at Week 19, which had us running 20 miles yet again. The training so far has been a whirlwind of fun, laughter, friendship, pain and mental struggle. The Struggle Buster Trio of Stephanie, Anita and Tricia (that’s me) are feeling the effects of all this training. It is certainly tiring to train for a full marathon to run 26.2 miles. But we are pushing through. The past few weeks have been particularly grueling with racing half marathons and very long distance training runs. It has been pushing us further than we have gone before. Find out how things went for us this week.
Recap of Week 15
We last left off at Week 15, that saw my run buddies run their first full 20-mile training run. They were exhausted after they finished, but they did it. Me? My legs started cramping at mile 13. I pushed through to mile 15, but when my back started to give me grief, I decided to call it quits for the morning. I finished the last 5 miles that evening to complete the 20 miles. It was actually a fabulous sunset run.
And that is exactly why week 19’s twenty mile training run was so very important to me. I had not yet completed a continuous 20-mile run. The previous two were split runs for me. Physically an acceptable way to train, I am told, but mentally I need to do one. This was my last chance to push through and mentally prepare for a full marathon. I wanted to do this. I needed to do this to prove to myself that I can.
We are now 4 weeks to running the Metronic Twin Cities Marathon on October 6, 2019.
But first let me back up a couple of weeks. You will need a little bit of reference for how hard these 20 miles were for us. Of course, 20 miles is likely never easy for anyone. It is far. But it is especially not easy to run when you are injured.
Week 16 was the Kakabeka Falls Legion Half Marathon Juno Challenge Race. This was a very hilly 5 mile race followed by 13.1 miles the next morning. I won’t go into full details here, as I wrote about this already, but let me just tell you that Anita injured her calf muscles during that race. She was in such pain during the weeks that followed. She couldn’t do the prescribed training runs during those weeks. Anita saw her physiotherapist and was trying to heal. She wanted to recover in time to do the next major training run, which was Week 19. Her physiotherapist has her doing a 40-minute warm up routine now, which adds to the demand on her time and body in training for her first marathon.
Why are we doing this?
The sheer amount of time for training is definitely daunting. All 3 of us are feeling the draining effects of it all. We are out there for hours upon hours, slogging through all our training runs. It has made me question my sanity. It has made me wonder repeatedly why the heck I want to run this full marathon.
I was reading the introduction to Matt Fitzgerald’s book “How Bad Do You Want It?” yesterday and I found my answer.
Sure, it was just a race, but sports are not really separate from life, nor is the athlete distinct from the person. In mastering my fear of suffering in races, I acquired a greater level of respect for myself, a sense of inner strength that has helped me tackle other challenges, both inside and outside sports.– Matt Fitzgerald in How Bad Do You Want It? –
This seemed to nicely sum up the reason for all the pain, agony, time commitment and expense that we are going through training for this marathon. It is not only about finishing the race. Running this marathon is about achieving something that we never thought possible. It is about overcoming struggles and about not letting obstacles stand in our way. These concepts spill over into everyday life. It builds confidence and puts the words “I can conquer” into our heads. This is the reason we do this.
But, I digress…. Back to my story…
Week 17 was another tough half marathon race. Stephanie and I ran in the Xterra Sleeping Giant 21 km trail ran that was actually 22.3 km long. This race is not for those unprepared. It lives up to the Xterra tradition of being extreme terrain. Hills upon hills add to the rigorous trails of this seemingly endless half marathon. But we did it. And did it quite well, I might add. I achieved my goal of running it in under 3 hours. Stephanie, as expected, came in ahead of me by several minutes. I asked her what she thought afterwards.
That was the toughest half marathon I have ever done!– Stephane after running the Xterra Sleeping Giant 21 km Trail Run –
Many people have echoed that sentiment.
Week 18 saw my husband and I out in the small Northern Ontario town of Dryden to run another half marathon race, called We Run This City. This is where my story gets unfortunately more interesting.
Camping in Blue Lake Provincial Park
We stayed 30 minutes west of town in the absolutely gorgeous Blue Lake Provincial Park. My family loves this park. We have visited it many times before and coming back felt like home. It has miles of white sandy beach and crystal-clear lake waters. With the race coming up we didn’t do any hikes. But the hikes here are awesome and a lot of fun. It truly is a great family vacation spot.
Early Race Day Morning
Staying in the park was great, but it did mean we had a 30-minute drive into town on race day morning. My alarm went off very early on Sunday morning. I had not slept well the night before, because of the very loud booming of rain and wind that echoed continuously on our trailer roof. There was nothing pitter-patter about the rain that night. Those relaxation sound compositions that promise gentle rains falling softly on a tent canvas while the soothing winds rustle the trees in the solitude of wilderness are a flat out lie!
I was tired
My body was tired from all the running and racing we have been doing the previous month. My mind was tired from lack of sleep. I seriously considered turning off my alarm clock, rolling over, pretending to sleep in and miss the race start.
I suggested this, only partially joking, to my husband, as he was rubbing the sleep from his eyes. But he said that we were here now, we may as well go run. He was right. Besides he had his title to defend. He won this same race last year. I sucked it up and stopped my whining to support him.
We are here now, we may as well go run!– David Prince –
We were not expecting delays
So, we went. We left our campsite about 40 minutes before race check-in. That was plenty of time to get our timing chips and finish getting ready. So, I didn’t pin my race bib or put on my compression socks. It was still raining, and I thought wearing flip-flops in bare feet was the smarter option. I wanted my socks and running shoes to stay dry for as long as possible.
Road construction on the way back to town had other plans for us. We didn’t arrive at the start area until about 15 minutes before the race was to start. I still had a lot to do before I lined up to race. It was still raining.
We were late and rushed
I grabbed the towel from the back seat and proceeded to dry my legs and put on my socks in the front seat of our car. Have you ever tried to put on compression socks? It is so much fun (sarcasm) to wrestle with these tight tubes of fabric. It must have been hilarious to watch me trying to get these things onto wet legs in the front seat. I managed to figure out the best position for this onerous task: I put my leg up on the dash and was able to wiggle the fabric up my toes, feet, then legs as I stretched my leg up towards the roof of the car. I impressed myself with my sudden, newly discovered flexibility. Finally, I had to do some re-adjustments to get the wrinkles out as the fabric stuck to my damp skin.
The socks that broke this runner’s back
After successfully maneuvering my socks into position, I had less than 8 minutes to do all of the other prep work needed before the race. I still did not have my timing chip. I quickly jumped out of the car.
That’s when I felt it! It reverberated from my lower back down my legs to my toes. Not pain, per se, but a definite discomfort that I knew would become painful later. I have felt this before. I just pinched a nerve in my lower back. Damn it!
I was mad now. If I could still walk, then I could still run. I was going to run this half marathon. They could carry me off the course in a stretcher if I couldn’t finish.
I managed to check everything off my pre-race to-do list and make it to the start line with a couple of minutes to spare.
We ran that race
After an ironic delayed start, we were off running in the cold and rain.
I actually had an enjoyable run that morning. My back held out as I ran with my friend, Steve. It was his birthday. We chatted the entire 2 ½ hours along the route. We finished strong. I didn’t require that stretcher after all. But, I knew that my lower back would seek its revenge in the days that followed.
My back was not forgiving
I was right. I was in so much pain the next few days. Packing up our campsite and sitting in the car to drive the 5.5 hours back home didn’t help either.
I was able to see my chiropractor several times that week, luckily. I was determined to run our 20 mile training run the next weekend. This was my last chance to prove to myself that I can, indeed, run a full marathon. I needed to do this.
My injury was not an excuse
My chiropractor told me that my injury was no reason not to run. I breathed several sighs of relief. He said that too many times people use back pain as an excuse not to do anything but sit around. Okay… not his exact words. I am paraphrasing. He did tell me that movement, such as walking and running, were good for the type of back injury I had sustained. Sitting was the absolute worse thing I could do.
So, I didn’t sit. I walked and ran slowly. I laid down on the floor with my feet up on a chair like he showed me. Because I couldn’t sit at my computer, I took a break from blogging.
The pain subsided and my back improved.
I could still run
I saw my chiropractor on the Friday before our long training run. He gave me the go for running 20 miles on Sunday. However, he warned me that I would be feeling tired because of what my back had been through. I was still healing. He repeated this again before I left his office. I took the hint. Go slowly and cautiously!
Anita was also recovering from injury
In the meantime, Anita was going through her own form of torture to get her calves in shape for the run. She had seen her physiotherapist who did an almost unbearable amount of painful poking, prodding, pulling and pushing. All kinds of P-words were happening. Anita threw in some F-words just for fun too. But she too was given the all clear to run 20 miles on Sunday. She was all taped up and ready to run.
Sunday was Run Day
The three of us Struggle Busters met at 8:30 am on Sunday morning. The name that Anita had given our training trio of run buddies is very appropriate, more so now than ever.
We were all very quiet as we set out to run our 20 miles that morning. All three of us were feeling the effects of accumulative fatigue from healing, training and racing. Although Stephanie wasn’t injured, she was still plenty tired.
The route was flat with one hill
The route we were running was purposely flat. There was only one hill. That hill came at about 3 miles into the run. It wasn’t particularly steep. We have run taller and longer hills than this one. But it was a hill to be respected, none-the-less. As I ran up it, I could feel the pull in my lower back. So, this is why my chiropractor said no hills! I don’t like taking anti-inflammatory medications on a run, but I was worried. We still had another 17 miles to go. I reluctantly took one Advil tablet.
Anita’s injury was getting the better of her
A little over halfway through the run, Anita started to feel pain in her calves again. She had to walk, but it was evident that she didn’t want to. Frustrated, she wanted to keep running. She tried to keep going after her short walk.
But after a few more miles, Anita was just too sore. The pain she was experiencing wasn’t worth it for a training run. She started walking again. She gave Stephanie instructions on where her car keys were, what she wanted in her coffee and that she would text if she needed to be picked up. Anita appeared to be done at a little over 15 miles in.
And then there were two
Stephanie and I kept running. My back was holding out after that Advil that I took. I felt capable of finishing this run, but Anita’s struggle was playing with my mind. Tired and feeling the need to rest, I wanted to walk too.
But the very next thought in my brain was to keep going. You need to finish this. Prove to yourself that you can do this.
And so the arguments in my head played on. Walk. Run. Walk. Run. Walk. Run. My thoughts kept going back and forth. The side of my brain that said to keep running seemed to be winning, so far. I kept running. Stephanie was just ahead of me. I kept her in my sights and I just kept following her lead. If she was running, so would I.
And then there were three
At about 17 miles in, I heard foot strikes behind me. It was Anita! She was catching up to us. Amazing! I was so impressed, yet worried for her at the same time. Was her stubbornness, that mirrored my own, going to injure her even more? To catch us, she had to have been pushing the pace. But here she was. My next thought was that if she could do THAT, I could certainly finish my 20 miles slowly. I was exhausted and sore, but this gave me hope.
Too close to home
At 18 miles we entered the streets of my home neighborhood. Something odd happened to me then. I am not completely sure it was purely physical. I think there was likely a bigger psychological component to it. My back started to spasm. It was on the opposite side of my injury. I slogged out about another ½ mile or so. The spasm became progressively tighter and more sore. I had to walk. I walked for about 2 – 3 minutes and my back muscles relaxed and felt better. But that was the start of my mental decline. I had just given myself permission to walk outside of our 10:1 routine.
I watched as Stephanie and Anita pulled ahead of me. And then I started running again.
Stephanie was a machine! (A robot, perhaps?)
Stephanie was in pure automation mode. She was tired too and just running on autopilot. Her legs were just doing what they had been doing for the last 3 ½ hours; moving her forward. She wasn’t talking. Focusing straight ahead, she seemed to not really be conscious of anything but finishing. I think she was empty of energy, but full of determination at this point. She still looked strong, but after running with her all these weeks, I could tell that she barely had anything left.
I was struggling
The arguments in my brain got louder. My thoughts kept drifting to the fact that my house and very comfortable bed were just minutes away from where I was now. The streets I run almost every day, now seemed endless.
And then I heard my brain say screw it! Suddenly, I was walking.
No! Keep running, it screamed. And I was running again.
The two sides of my brain continued to argue. But, the difference this time was that my body was actually following the arguments. Run. Walk. Run. Walk. Run. These weren’t just words in my head now. My legs were actually doing this.
With the curves and twists in the streets, I couldn’t see Stephanie and Anita anymore. I was struggling to find something to focus on to distract me. My house and my bed were calling out to me. I walked again. Wanting this to be over sooner than later, I ran again. Then I walked some more. I had no excuse for this. My back spasm didn’t return. I simply let myself do this.
Running to finish
But, when I rounded that last corner and I could now see the end of the street in front of me, I started running. Focusing on the stop sign at the intersection, I continued to run. Out of pure stubbornness, I finished my 20 miles running. It was done.
Finishing that very long run, the longest run I have done yet, was rather anticlimactic. I was too tired to celebrate. I just wanted to go home and wallow in soreness and misery. But I did have a faint sense of satisfaction of getting it done. And, I was certainly proud of my running-mates for getting it done too.
We’ve got this! (I think?)
Having completed our last 20-mile training run, I am satisfied that we can attempt to run this marathon. It seemed impossible when we started training; 26.2 miles seemed so daunting in the beginning. But now, I think, maybe we really can do this. We shall see. Four weeks to go! Now we taper, thankfully.
One final thing that I learned from Week 19’s long run: this marathon is going to hurt! But, on this run, I think I eased a bit of my fear of suffering, as Matt Fitzgerald calls it.
Follow more of our training here at Pink Ribbon Runner in the 2019 Marathon Challenge archives.