This is the way the [season] ends,
Not with a bang, but a whimper.
Part of the reason I love the marathon is the way the season builds towards it; the biggest and most important race; the peak waiting for you to summit after a mountain of long runs, tempo workouts, and track intervals. Race day is a celebration, a culmination of months and years of hard work, a big bang to end the season.
But this season won’t end with a bang. No, instead all you’ll hear from me is a whimper, because I’m officially out of the race. I can’t run two steps, let alone 26 miles.
Here’s the story of the most drastic taper ever, from gunning for a PR to settling for a DNS*:
A week and a half ago, I did my last hard workout of the season. I didn’t hit the pace I wanted, but with help from the ever amazing GRC guys, I stuck it out. I didn’t feel anything (except maybe anger at DC’s relentless humidity). No unusual pain.
And with that workout in the books, the taper began. But so did all the trouble.
That night I was more sore than usual, but it was a hard workout, so perhaps that wasn’t so surprising. If anything, the soreness reminded me that a workout at a slower pace than expected in searing humidity is still a tough workout. The next day (Sunday) I went for my normal post-long-run recovery jog. I was tight, but didn’t think twice about it. In fact, by the end, I had put the previous day’s disappointing pace behind me and was back to dreaming of PRs at Grandma’s. But by that evening, I was as sore as I am after a marathon. What was worrisome was that it seemed worse in one leg, my right quad. This might not just be lingering soreness.
I took the next day off. The taper was starting, so the schedule had an easy run anyway. No big deal to skip.
Tuesday I tried to go for a run. I felt okay at first, and made it a few miles. But it gradually got worse, until I gave up and walked home. The Oh-Crap-I-Might-Be-Injured-So-I-Better-Walk Walk is a miserable experience. First of all, it takes forever to walk the few miles you just jogged in seemingly no time. Second, your thoughts are a scattered mess of freaking out, denial, guilt, and berating yourself. Maybe I’m being a baby giving up on this. Maybe I should run again, this walking is taking forever. Maybe I can’t run again. Maybe the marathon is out of the picture. What’s wrong with me? What did I do wrong, when did I cross the line? I remember thinking that I would take it easy again that day so I could recover before a hard track session the next day. But by the time I finally got home, I had come to accept the track session probably wouldn’t happen.
But even over that long walk, I hadn’t yet accepted—or considered beyond that fleeting thought—that the marathon wouldn’t. I emailed my physical therapist and he immediately responded that he could see me if I came in right away. So I headed straight off to see him, without preparing myself for what might be coming. Surely he'll just massage this away.
He listened to my symptoms (incredible soreness in my right quad, just above the knee, pain when running and going up and down stairs) and suspected it was a stress reaction in my femur. (Trouble in the bone might be causing the surrounding muscles to spasm.) But he tried to remain positive; it might not be an issue with the femur, and if it was anything muscular we could rehab it and run the marathon on schedule. I was to take the next two days off from running and get back to him if the soreness didn’t subside.
It didn’t. On Friday I saw another doctor to get a referral for an MRI the following Tuesday. As my constantly fidgety self was strapped into the MRI scanner, hating every claustrophobic minute, my worries started to snowball: what if this was something worse than expected, a full-blown fracture or some other unknown problem? Over the previous week, I had come to accept the serious possibility of missing this marathon. That wouldn’t be the worst thing, so long as I can run the next one. Now I worried about that.
On Wednesday, the MRI results came back: I have a stress reaction in my femur. No marathon, no more PRs this season, no running at all for 4-6 weeks.
It’s bad news, yes, but it's not the worst news. There are always silver linings, so let’s focus on those:
1. It’s a stress reaction, not a fracture. A reaction is the precursor to a fracture (which would mean being on crutches and out for much longer). We caught it in time, and I was smart to walk home those depressing few miles, so let this be a reminder to all you runners: LISTEN TO YOUR BODY. When you’re hurt, you’re hurt. Don’t do any more damage.
2. My doctors have been amazingly helpful and completely understanding of my commitment to running. They didn’t have the knee-jerk reaction of other doctors I’ve had who have said, “Well, you run too much. Stop doing that.” No, they worked with me to get a diagnosis as quickly as possible and are doing whatever they can to get me healthy for the big race next February.
3. It’s going to be hard to let go of the goals I had for this season and the time I wanted to hit before the Trials, but this race was always sort of a freebie; I have my qualifier and that’s all I need. (Thank you, God, for letting me get that out of the way last December!) Now that I’ve done nearly all the work (just that last 26.2 remaining…) it doesn’t feel so free, but I’m reminding myself that I’ll be stronger next season from the months of hard work I put in this season; that won’t just disappear.
4. Obviously getting injured less than three weeks from your marathon is not ideal. Injury is never ideal. But Big Picture, the timing is actually kinda, sorta… good. I was going to take my end of season break anyway, and that would be followed with a few weeks of easy running. That post-season recovery time will now be co-opted as femur recovery time, but it will look pretty similar. I’ll be running in the pool instead of on the ground, but if there was a time to have to take it easy, this is a pretty good one.
5. This is not a silver lining, but a lesson in perspective: the week I realized I might be injured got many orders of magnitude worse when we got the news that our dear teammate, Nina, had died. I can whine about injuries, humidity, or poor races, but in the end I am incredibly lucky to run and luckier still to know the people I’ve met along the way. As I said in my post about Nina, running has given me some of my best friends—for example, friends that understand how terrible injuries are, yet simultaneously make them seem less terrible. This injury isn’t so bad in the grand scheme of things; now the focus is getting healthy for the Trials, so I can bring my two dear running friends, Lauren and Nina, to LA with me.
*DNS = Did Not Start. I’ve been fortunate to have not used that phrase here… until now.