Friday, October 31, 2014

How Not To Recover From a Hard Race By Someone Who Should Know Better

I hadn’t even arrived in Philadelphia for the Philly Half last month before I started formulating a plan B. With a less than favorable weather forecast and a calf injury that had sidelined me for most of the week, I was preparing for the possibility that the race might not accurately reflect my training and more importantly make me happy. On that train ride from New York, I shot an email to a contact at Runners World to ask about the Runners World Half Marathon festival in late October. I had wanted to run this race since its inception three years ago and its proximity and affordability made it the best choice.

I was not disappointed. Bethlehem, Pennsylvania is a beautiful town and the race was superbly well-organized. Despite being the biggest running publication in the country, Runners World puts on a race that maintains the feel of a local community event while providing all the important amenities of a major corporate event. The race itself is a challenge. My goal was to run faster than I did at Philly and cross the finish line feeling happy. Jason had come with me and we decided to run 5:25s-5:35s right out of the gate. This pace came easy as we worked with a pack of three other runners through the early miles. Bart Yasso lead us all on the bike. The rolling hills kept the pace honest and when we hit the first big hill at mile six, Jason and I were able to open a large gap on the rest of the field – or so I thought. There were some serious climbs after this point in the race. 15-20mph wind gusts added to the difficulty of the climb. Around mile 8, a monster hill took me by surprise and drained a substantial amount of my energy. A runner who had not been in our early lead pack was able to pass us easily here and he never looked back going on to win the race.

I ended up in fourth place after being passed in the final mile by a runner I should have been able to hang with. Still, I was more content with the race than I was disappointed. Sure, the time was not a personal best and I missed the podium, but I went for it early on a very tough course and unfortunately couldn’t hold on as long as I’d hoped. The effort and the experience were far better than Philly and that was the primary goal.

What I should have done next was shut it down and take some time off.  I had run two half-marathons in a month. Even if Philly was a disaster, it was still the best effort I could give on that day and with the conditions, probably much harder than my finishing time would indicate. That’s not what I did. By Thursday, my legs were still a little heavy but that didn’t stop me from hopping into a workout of ten all-out 200s. Speed is not my strength. Some people say, “you just have to keep working at it.” This is not true. I will never be a sprinter. Ever. And I’m cool with that. So, ten 30 second 200s is a lot to ask from my legs. I knew before the workout was even over that I would pay the price the next day. I underestimated how high that price would be. Friday morning I could hardly walk. I did a five mile run in the park at a pace that was slower than a shuffle. Dog walkers were passing me with ease.

Less running, more football on the couch with the loves of my life. That's a damn good way to spend a down week.
I was glad I have an elevator when I got home from that run. When I got to our 8th floor apartment, Pepper, who had not gone for a run, wanted to play. I took off my shoes and obliged. It started as me throwing her stuffed monkey down our long hallway, but after she brought it back the third time I was too lazy and sore to bend over anymore. So, I resorted to kicking it down the hall. As my foot connected with the monkey me heel left the ground and I suddenly found myself in the air. I braced  for what was coming but the impact was still hard and painful. I landed directly on my tailbone just above the area that was already horribly sore. Pepper thought this was an extension of the game and came over to wrestle as I winced in pain and cursed to hold back the tears. I was down for awhile wondering if I had broken anything. I was able to get back up without any searing pain so I figured I was just going to be dealing with a nasty bruise.

That tailbone pain made up for any hamstring pain that had dissipated on Saturday and I gritted out a slow 45 minutes. At this point, I probably should have cut my losses and bagged plans to run the Poland Spring Marathon Kickoff 5 Miler the next morning. But I didn't. I had another opportunity to pull the plug when I woke up Sunday feeling like someone had hit the back of my legs with a crowbar. I should have crawled back into bed. But I didn't. I won't recap how the race went, but the synopsis is: Not well. When you can't walk comfortably, running 5:20s is not an option. I suffered through the first two miles then cut my losses and survived the final three.

And I haven't run since. I may not be able to take a hint, but I can take three hints. This week has been a great week for a break. Ironically, the week leading up to the New York City Marathon is not at all conducive to any quality running for me. Rather than run a bunch of junk miles on no sleep, I'm running no miles and trying to be as well rested as I can during a fairly intense stretch of time. Today is the first day I've really felt ready to run again. I'm usually itching to get out the door after one day so that's a pretty affirming sign that the mini-break was needed. Sunday, I'll get in some light jogging while watching the biggest marathon in the world run through my city. Monday, the training starts for Cross Country Nationals.