12 days to the marathon. I remember when it was 12 weeks to the marathon! These past four months have been a rollercoaster, life has presented ups and downs after ups and downs, and it has drastically changed since September. I'm not sure if I would have gotten through all of it without the constant training schedule that was successful up until a month ago. The early mornings, the early nights, and the miles of running in between have had me run further than I ever have before, but I still feel that I've come up short in preparing for this long run ahead.
The First Three Months
Training began in September, during our trip to Kauai, and it was then when I could barely get three miles out on the treadmill in the incredibly hot and humid conditions on the island. My first long run was five miles on Saturday when we returned home. I had to really psych myself up to get through it. Then came six, and then eight. Now I do eight before going to work in the morning, then I could barely imagine finishing eight miles on a Saturday morning.
October was tough. Marci was going through a lot in her life and we spent many hours on the phone talking and trying to find the motivation to keep running while heartache was weighing her down. But we kept running.
November came and early one morning I found a stray dog on my regular path. He was sickly, injured, and obviously lost for a while. I am a true animal lover at heart and after some persuasion, I was able to bring him home in hopes of finding his owner. After many trips to local shelters who couldn't help me, we decided to foster him while we tried to find him a home. We brought him in to our vet, got him on the mend, and eventually contacted a relative of his original owner. They didn't want him anymore and relinquished him to us. As much as I loved having him around, Bailey is our pup and we're a one dog family, so I spent many more hours researching rescues that could take him in. Over and over again I received rejection emails, but eventually, the amazing Family Dog Rescue in San Francisco said they would take him into their program. So we fostered our new friend Mylo into December while he awaited his permanent foster home. The stress of finding this new dog a home was intense and while I tried to focus on running, it was hard to get through many of those miles worrying about him, worrying about Bailey who was so good about having a new dog in the house, worrying about Tom being stranded alone at home for hours upon hours keeping an eye on the new dog. I felt guilty about always being away, but I kept running. Tom never made me feel bad about being gone, and encouraged me to keep running through all the stress.
So I stuck to my plan, I made all my runs, and I felt incredibly prepared for our half marathon, until four days before the run when I landed funny on my calf and had to stop and walk. I had incredibly intense pain in my calf, but I felt like I HAD to run the half marathon. So I stretched and iced and took ibuprofen and prayed to the running gods. Luckily it helped and while I still had pain in my calf two miles into the half marathon, I finished with a PR and felt great about continuing on with the training.
The 14 Mile Slump
I needed a break after the half marathon, but I didn't know it at first. My plan was to run 14 miles on the Saturday after the race, but I was incredibly intimidated by the distance and was psyching myself out. I just wanted to get through with it and on with my training, so I started the next Saturday out with a strong will and ready mind, but I managed to face plant myself on the cement sidewalk about five miles in, and thus ended my 14 mile attempt. No problem, I was going to give myself a break, and start up again the next weekend.
The next Saturday was my second attempt at 14 miles. I took a new route and felt unstoppable for the first half of the run. My pace was good, I felt great, and my mind was clear - I was going to do this! Then, about ten miles in my right knee started throbbing. In the past five years of running, the past four half marathons, and one triathlon, I've never, ever experienced knee pain. It came out of nowhere and suddenly I was hobbling. I didn't understand what was happening so I pushed on to 12 miles until I physically couldn't run any more. That also has never happened before. I've always managed to push myself through a run, I've never experienced pain so intense I HAD to stop. So I walked another two miles to 14 and felt completely overwhelmed by what was happening.
I called Marci in a panic on my drive home from the run. I was a little hysterical and kept saying, "I can't do this! I'm a failure!" over and over again until Marci calmed me down. We thought I should just take another break, the full week off, cross train instead, ice, ibuprofen, and rest, and take the next weekend off as well. Marci had gone through knee problems in our early years of running so I knew she knew best.
Heartache Comes in Many Forms
While resting the following weekend, I received a text from my childhood best friend in Milwaukee telling me her youngest brother had unexpectedly passed away. I needed to go back and see her, so I immediately booked a flight back home for the following week. The tragedy of the event took all my motivation out of me, running seemed so pointless right then and there. But I kept running. I got three short runs in before I left and had two days off after that. While back in Milwaukee I decided to attempt my 16 mile run. I had rested, iced, and ibuprofened so I hoped I had healed in time.
The 16 miles started off fine, I was a little tired, the weather was very cold, but I kept going. I was feeling good until my eight mile turnaround point when my knee started shooting in pain again. I didn't understand why this was happening. It hurt to run on, but I could walk on it without any pain. So I ran and walked until ten miles when I just shut down. I started crying and although I didn't want to call Marci because I wasn't sure if I was going to be able to speak, I did. I immediately started sobbing as soon as she answered and she listened to me moan and groan. When I was done, so incredibly frustrated about my fruitless attempts, Marci started to tell me her heartaches - she had just lost her job and her marriage and all motivation to keep training for the marathon. We had both hit rock bottom at the same time.
I am so thankful I have Marci. Together we talked ourselves through the mess we were both in, and decided to give ourselves a break from marathon training and to let go of the stress of finishing in a fast time. The goal of the marathon immediately changed directions. It is no longer to prove to ourselves that we can finish an endurance event in a speedy time, it is no longer to run every single mile, and it is no longer to prove to other people what we can do. Now the run is about perseverance. The run is about finishing what we started, about the pursuit of accomplishment, and to run it together and cross that finish line with our heads held high knowing we didn't quit when times got tough.
I've been watching and rewatching Diana Nyad's TED Talk: Never, Ever Give Up, and I've also recently finished reading her book: Find A Way. Diana Nyad is a huge inspiration to me, and I try to channel her perseverance every time I want to quit.
After returning back to California I went to see a sports doctor in hopes that he could help me figure out what was wrong with my knee. After a quick 15 minute exam he pretty much told me I had been overtraining and didn't have enough pre-marathon training miles under my belt before I started my program in September. Excuse me? My five years of running, four half marathons, and a triathlon wasn't enough of a base? What about all the great couch to marathon programs? What about all the beginner runners that complete a marathon within their first year of running? I was livid. I left his office even more frustrated, but more focused. I am not one to be told I cannot do something. His doubt in me only fueled my determination to keep running. And so I did. Never, ever give up.
A few days later I again attempted my 16 mile run, and guess what, I did it. Without any knee pain. I did, however, adjust my plan. I am no longer running for speed, I am running to finish. I've dropped my pace way down to 12 minute miles, and I have planned walk breaks every 6, 5, 4, 3, and 2 miles (run 6 miles = walk 1 mile, run 5 miles = walk 1 mile, etc). The plan was super successful and I finished my 16 miler strong. Never, ever give up.
Last weekend I went out for 18 miles at my 12 minute mile pace and my walk breaks, but unfortunately my knee pain came back about ten miles in. So I ran walked for another seven, and called it quits at 17 miles. I really don't know what to do anymore, I'm continuing with rest, ice, ibuprofen, and cross training (and KT Tape and Biofreeze), and all I can do now is never, ever give up.
This weekend is the elusive 20 miles. Will I finish it? I have no idea. Will my knee start to hurt again at eight miles? Ten miles? I have no idea. I've learned a lot about myself while training for this marathon over the past four months - I've learned to let go of a lot of things, and to hold on to others. I've learned that it doesn't matter what other people do, think, or say about me - all that matters is what I do, think, or say about me. And to never, ever give up.