Good Life 5k race recap and why getting injured may have been one of the best things that could have happened to me…

 

17 weeks. 119 days. That’s how long I went without toeing the line of a single race. Anyone who knows me as a runner – knows that’s a darn long time. I can still remember the twinge that took me over the edge. The moment I knew something was wrong. January 11th. I was finishing up the cool down of an otherwise good pre-dawn treadmill workout. I had decided to bring it inside due to the dark and cold temps. Out of no where, I felt a sudden pain behind my right knee. I tried to run through it as many of us mistakenly do. But this pain was too much. I shook it off – no worries I thought – I was done with the workout and it’d probably go away later. I finished up my morning routine – but the pain continued to linger.

Flash forward 3 weeks. This had been the longest I had been down and out and to be honest, it was depressing. I had a sprained hamstring and, per my MD, very weak hips and a somewhat severe case of pelvic tilt. A video gait analysis confirmed everything the MD said and then some. I run funny (which I know) and had been getting away with it for years. But it finally caught up with me.

I cried. I cried a lot. And I got even more depressed. I watched countless running friends prep for, race and PR big races while I could barely run a mile without pain. I was jealous. I had to block running posts and updates from my news feed. It was that bad. I had a lot of pity parties. Why me? You see – the last year and a half – I’ve struggled to stay healthy. I get to about the 2 week out point from a big goal race – and I get injured. I made every excuse in the book prior to those races. But now – I didn’t have a goal race. I had to face this thing once and for all. I could not continue this cycle.

After a couple rude awakening talks with my mom and boyfriend (who both deserve a gold medal for putting up with me during that time) I woke up one day and asked myself would it be so bad if I couldn’t race again. No, it wouldn’t. I realized that both running and racing had started to feel like something I had to do rather than wanted to do. And in that moment I knew that I had burned myself out. I actually had started to dread racing. I hated workouts. I despised long runs.

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Strength training has made a big difference

This injury allowed me to reevaluate what I was doing. It was time to work on why I felt inclined to push myself the way I have for the last few years. And it was time to re-develop my love for running while knowing that it does not define who I am. That I run because I get to. That when I’m healthy, I’m actually kind of good at it. And because I love it–the way it makes me feel alive, provides me with a break from stress (and shouldn’t add stress) and because I love the community. This injury would not break me. And even if I couldn’t race again – I needed to fall back in love with running.

So I started slow. I went to see an AWESOME physical therapist twice a week for 10 weeks who just gets it (have an issue? go see Bethany Ure at NovaCare in Park Ridge!). She didn’t tell me to stop running once – but she gave me parameters. I slowly started to creep up my mileage. Once I could run without pain for a couple of weeks, I decided to give back to the community and started pacing runners in the Chicago Endurance Sports (CES) spring training program. I stopped looking at my watch for paces and times. That and getting back to some of the basics (new shoes, extra strength training and a real focus on post-run recovery) resulted in a re-found joy in running and the process.

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Following my first pain-free run

About 2 months after the injury, I felt like I was ready to test the waters again. I started doing some light workouts and started working with my coach, Dan Walters (DWRunning) again. At the start of the year I had set some big goals. We reevaluated those and have set our sites on a late spring/early summer 1/2 marathon and a full marathon in the fall. This will be the first year in a while I will only run 1 marathon. And I’m quite happy with that. The new primary goal – find joy in the process and stay injury free. I could already tell that my head was in a better place as I actually started to look forward to workouts and long runs again.

 

Once I had successfully completed a couple of speed workouts with no lingering pain – and actually feeling stronger than ever – I decided it was time to sign up for a race. I was nervous. What if I embarrass myself? What will people say if I’m super slow? “What if, Allison?” Dan asked. “It’s your race. Run your race.”

He’s right (as he usually is). It’s my race and it doesn’t matter what anyone else runs, says or does. If I show up, put in my best effort and finish strong – there is nothing to be upset about. If I let my nerves get to me, focus on others, and run poorly – then I only have myself to blame. I decided on the Good Life 5k a local race that I’ve always wanted to do and one that brings a lot of the Chicago running community out to race.

The day before the race I decided to run with the CES folks for their 12-mile training run. Not my best pre-race decision. But this wasn’t my goal race either. Rather it was a race to get me over my fear of racing. To remind me this was something I love to do. I spent the day before pretty relaxed. Made dinner at home and tried to go to bed early.

I slept pretty soundly and woke before my alarm. I got up and made my typical pre-race meal before heading to Oak Park with my boyfriend for the race. It was a perfect day. A bit chilly but by the time of the race it was in the upper 50s, sunny and clear. I did my warm up – 2 easy miles and a couple of 100m strides and walked around. I ran into a few people I knew and said hello. I was beyond nervous though. My hands were shaking and my stomach was all over the place. I texted my coach who encouraged me to embrace the nerves. Use them to my advantage. I took a deep breath, kissed my boyfriend and found my way to the starting line.

Unlike most races – this one was separated by gender. The woman’s race first followed by the men an hour later. I wasn’t sure how I would feel about this but as it turns out – it was great for this race since the streets are pretty narrow and it allowed the pack to thin out relatively quickly.

Even though my coach suggested lining up farther back than I was usually do, a few running friends coaxed me into the front starting area. This could have spelled disaster for me as it was a very competitive group that showed up to race that day. I recalled my race plan – to go out smooth and controlled but not guns-a-blazing – and for once I listened. The gun went off and I settled quickly in to a slightly too fast pace – but one that felt good in the moment.

The Good Life Race
Crossing the finish line – trying not to collapse

The race itself is a blur – as it often is when I run 5ks (or any race for that matter). I made it through the first mile in about 6 minutes and change. I knew I needed to slow my roll as this was not a pace I had seen myself run in months. I settled into a more reasonable (but far from comfortable) 6:20 pace and started to employ my coach’s recommended strategy of picking runners to catch to take my mind off of the pain. A girl about 100m in front of me became the target. And I passed her at about the 2 mi mark. But after her, there was no one for a while. I tried to just push forward but it felt like the wheels might come off. And then a running friend who was spectating saw me and started cheering me on (thanks Dave!). He told me to pick up my feet and just keep going. Sounds pretty obvious – but in that moment it gave me something to focus on and that is exactly what I did.

That last 1/2 mile I clocked a sub 6 minute pace. I crossed the finish line and almost collapsed. I had tried not to set a time goal for this race. But deep down I knew I wanted to break the 20 minute mark. And I did. 19:40. Good enough for 15th female and 4th in my age group. Not my best but far from my worst. I was happy. But more importantly I was over my fear of racing and I had had fun!

Over celebratory omelets, pancakes and coffee, I reviewed the race with my boyfriend and realized the fire had been lit. I wanted more. But mostly – I want to feel like I did crossing that finish line. Strong. Fast. Joyful. 18077278_10100822044343378_7375491155167137691_o

So I’m ready for what’s next. And I’ve learned so many lessons. To never take this sport for granted. To take time for the little things because they really do make a difference. To listen to my body when it needs a break. To always run with joy in my heart. And that I am lucky – I get to run. I don’t have to – I get to (thank you Stephanie Bruce for sharing your inspiring story – which I just so happened to hear the day before my race!).

And special thanks to my love, Andrew — your support and motivation through all this has truly helped me more than you know. I couldn’t have gotten through this without you and I am so lucky to have you in my life.

Unfinished Business: 2016 California International Marathon Recap

To recap this race, I have to take you back a few months. Back to the completion of my 12th marathon (Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, MN) – which I unfortunately didn’t recap (likely because I wanted to forget the experience as soon as it was over). That day was one of the hottest, most miserable races of my life (second only to 2012 Boston). Following that race I was disappointed. Disappointed that I had had an amazing training block and the only thing stopping me from getting that PR was the weather. I was crushed and the first thing I did following the race was turn my focus to the next one. Unfortunately, as can be expected, going head first from one training block into another block without taking any rest, and then being thrown a bunch of life curve balls – well it didn’t exactly lead to ideal conditions to PR less than 6 months later.

Reality Bites

I don’t want to make excuses. God knows I have them for this race. The bottom line – and it’s hard to face – is I could have worked harder, trained better, been more disciplined. But sometimes life gets in the way and we have to take a deep breath and slow down.

I spent the summer attending four weddings (and unfortunately, like the movie, a funeral), traveling, moving across town and starting a new job. And attempting to fit running in when I could. By the time October rolled around I was burned out. Like really burned out. So bad that the one thing I could count on to bring me joy, help me destress and work out any problems no longer brought that. It became a burden. Another thing on my to-do list. And I grew to wonder if I’d ever find that joy again.

Burn Out

I began to dread every workout and long run and found even easy days felt like a hassle. I started to count down the days until race day. I just wanted a break. I didn’t know how to shake my mood – just that I had to keep pushing forward.

Once I started my new job and got into more of a regular day-to-day routine, the joy of running slowly creeped back. It was gradual. But day after day, minute by minute, I started to enjoy running again. Some of it I can attribute to the cooler temps of fall. And some was inspired by watching my teammates crush the Chicago Marathon. A lot was watching my coach nail his marathon debut. But ultimately, what helped the most, was changing my attitude. I would do the best I could do in each run. It might not always feel good – but I would give it my best and I would be realistic going into this marathon. Unfortunately with less than a month to go, it was too late to hope that my fitness would catch up.

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The final long run

Two weekends before the marathon, I did my last long hard effort at Busse Woods. A slightly rolling trail in the northern suburbs of Chicago. It went about as good as it could go for me. 15 miles at marathon effort with a long warm up and cool down for a total of 20 miles for the day. I felt great – maybe this could go well. I treated myself to a mani/pedi and enjoyed a rest day. Two days later I woke up early for an easy 6-mile run. I was actually looking forward to it and really liked my changing attitude. Unfortunately, less than 2 miles into the run, shooting pain from my hip down to my foot caused me to cut the run short and walk home in excruciating pain (and tears). I contacted my sports chiropractor who graciously fit me in. After 30 minutes with him, I felt better – but nowhere near able to run a mile let alone 26.2 in less than two weeks. I was crushed. I talked to Dan, my coach, and he reminded me the power of the mind. Staying positive and doing everything I can to rehab my back/butt issue, was the only way I was going to get to that finish line.

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At the finish line of the Turkey Trot with my Uber Fan

 

Thanksgiving came and went and thanks to a very supportive boyfriend and his family, I hobbled my way through a Turkey trot and a couple treadmill runs. Gradually the pain started to subside and I was able to get my last week of workouts and easy runs in. I actually felt good and even nailed my last tempo run prior to the race.

Race Weekend

Heading into race weekend, I was full of nervous excitement. I enjoyed my shakeout run with my uber fan (boyfriend) followed by a quick stop at the expo and team lunch. We went back to the hotel after lunch and really enjoyed the rest of our lazy Saturday in California. Our team dinner came with more words of encouragement from our fearless leader and an early bed time.

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Pre-Race at the Expo

I awoke race day rested. For once. Typically sleep is hard to come by the night before any race – but especially a marathon. I was thrilled. I showered, at my pre-race meal and was off to the bus with my team. We enjoyed the quiet bus ride to the start. The race is a point to point race – from Folsom, CA to downtown Sacramento. We made our way to the port-o-potties. Let me tell you – these race directors are clearly runners. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that many in one place before.

 

We started our dynamic warm ups and tried to stay warm. Conditions were absolutely perfect for running – upper 30s to low 40s at the start and anticipated mid to upper 50s at the finish with barely a cloud in the sky. I decided I should use the bathroom one more time and realized I might not have enough time. Thankfully I did but had to sprint to the bag check – which was the likes of a mosh pit – then up to the front of the start line.

Let’s Do This! #TeamNoHeadLamp

I planned to start right behind the 3 hour group and attempt to negative split – go out in the 6:55-7 min/mile range then try to cut that down at the half mark. The anthem was sung, I lost my throw away shirt and we were off. The whole first 6 miles feels like a blur. I felt beyond amazing. My legs felt strong and I was keeping the pace in the easy range – well at least for the 2 miles. Then miles 3 and 4 I dropped closer to 6:40. I knew I couldn’t maintain that and slowed my roll. 5-10 continued in the 6:55-7min range and I was feeling great. I saw my coach and uber fan and smiled away.

Somewhere in between miles 4 and 6 I noticed a blind runner with a couple guides running about my pace. They were engaged in a pretty entertaining conversation so I latched on to them to take my mind off the race a bit. As we jogged along, I laughed along with their jokes and was inspired by this runner and his guide. Come to find out the guide was Scott Jurek! Pretty cool to say I ran about 10 miles with the Eat & Run author.

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Around mile 17

Half Way Still Means Another Half To Go

 

As I neared the half way point, one thing that started to catch up with me were the rolling hills. Going into the race, we knew it would be net downhill and a fast course – but that there would be a few hills. Well that was no joke. While the uphills weren’t too steep, the downhills started to just destroy my quads. And my legs started to feel it. I started to get into my head after mile 15 and it was all I could do to get through each mile. I had to break up the race into 2 mile increments. It’s amazing the mind games you play with yourself during a marathon. At 18, my butt/back started to remind me of the pain I was in a couple weeks prior. I really struggled through 22. At one point trying to cover up my watch – and even considering taking it off and giving it to my coach. Just before mile 20, I saw my uber fan and this time instead of a big smile, I told him ‘no pictures allowed’ and did my best not to cry.

As we made our way into the city, I realized – regardless of the time – I would finish this race. I would be ok. I started to recall the pre-race motivational text our fearless leader and coach shared with us – something about how Rob Krar runs his ultras without a headlamp — ensuring he finishes before dark. There was no turning back. If Rob Krar can run without a headlamp, I would finish this race. I didn’t need a headlamp. And I would finish with a reasonable time AND without stopping. I started to feel strong again and pick up the pace. I started to pick people to pass – and I did. I turned the corner and saw the finish line, my uber fan waiting for me, and I sprint to the finish – and almost collapsed in the arms of the volunteers handing out medals. I was so happy to be done running. I embraced my boyfriend (uber fan) and we made our way to the bag check. At this point, my legs felt like complete crap. I couldn’t control the muscle spasms and had to sit down. I started to cry as my boyfriend handed me my bag. His first time watching one of my marathons – I cannot begin to tell you how thankful I am and was in that moment to have him with me. His support – and encouragement – all those early mornings and moments when I know I was a lot to handle – well he deserves a gold medal. Needless to say – we both enjoyed that post race beer and celebration of a tough couple of months leading up to this race.

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Finish line smiles (and free beers!)

Gratitude

 

While it wasn’t my best race — it was so hard fought and one of the most humbling experiences I’ve had in a long time. I’m fired up for 2017. I left a lot of unfinished business out there on the roads this year. And now that my life is in a great place, I can’t wait to see what the future holds. But first – I’m taking a couple weeks off – enjoying some R&R – so I can start the New Year fresh and in the right mindset.

It’s amazing what the human body is capable of. Special thanks to all the support, well wishes and encouragement I received from friends, family, my coach/teammates at DWRunning and especially my uber (and super) fans. You are what helped me get to that finish line with a smile on my face. Here’s to a New Year with new goals, dreams and aspirations!

3 Marathons, 3 Cities, 3 Life-Changing Experiences

As I hinted at in my last post, it’s been a bit of a roller coaster of a year. Between saying goodbye to new and old friends, moving across the country – twice – and discovering the ins and outs of 2 new cities, it’s hard to believe I found time to train and run 3 marathons. I never set out to accomplish this when I ran my first marathon in NYC last November. I just thought “we’ll see how this goes.”

My last marathon, Rochester, NY, was the one that made me feel most humbled. I opted to run this back in the late spring, feeling I needed to do something that reassured me as a runner especially after the hardest, hottest run of my life in Boston. I also wanted to do something where friends and family could easily come watch if they wanted. Rochester it was. Leading up to the marathon, I felt strong – I was training with some of the best runners in Austin, TX and it was starting to pay off. Maybe I really could kick this marathon’s butt. Who knew that life might get in the way.

When I got the job offer in Chicago, I moved without looking back. I knew starting a new job in a new city might impact my training. Limited to only a few weeknight runs and mostly long runs on the weekend, my training definitely took a hit. I didn’t know if Rochester was such a good idea. I opted to go through with it anyway and I’m so glad I did.

Trying to warm up at the starting line for the Rochester marathon.

While there were many high and low lights of this race – as with any – here are a few that I’d like to share:

  • Family support – this was the first race where my family was able to come out and support me – at multiple points along the race. Thanks to those that did as you gave me the extra incentive I needed to finish strong.
  • Perfect conditions – with a very early start and not a cloud in the sky – the brisk morning turned into a perfect fall day – everything was aligned for a great run.
  • Cramps will still appear – at mile 18, just after seeing my mom, I got a stomach cramp. I pushed out the flashbacks of Boston in my mind and dug it out – and it worked!
  • Bathroom breaks are necessary – but you might pay for it later. Never before had I ever taken a bathroom break during a race – but this time there was no ignoring it. Unfortunately, those 2 minutes would have qualified me for the Boston marathon.
  • Finish strong with a smile on your face. Despite how I may have felt, the finish line was like the icing on the cake – I smiled big, finished strong and got to hear my name announced over the loud-speaker. It was a great feeling.

All in all, Rochester was a race to remember. I celebrated my victory at home with friends and family and two of my favorite Rochester foods – cookie cake from Wegmans and breakfast pizza from Clawsons. Later that afternoon I learned the best news – I actually placed first female in my age group!
So what have I learned in the last year – 3 marathons, 3 cities and 3 completely crazy, different experiences? Don’t let the hiccups in life or training trip you up. You can achieve your goals with a little hard work and strong dedication. Don’t second guess yourself – you are stronger than you realize. And that family is my biggest support system and will stand by me and my decisions – no matter what they are.

Until next time – whether it’s another marathon or something bigger – I’m looking forward to a couple of months off from training. Cheers!