If you have ever wondered why I have race/training cycle recaps up so quickly, it’s because the easiest way for me to process my emotions is through a keyboard. The reason I have largely stepped back from blogging the past few years is because sitting with and acknowledging the difficult emotions isn’t always fun – or easy. But, those are the emotions that need tending most, and I would like to be better about acknowledging and working through them quickly.
This is going to be a long post.
Maybe the weirdest thing about being at the OTQ level is that your life and training revolve around an arbitrary 4 year period, with the goal to be your very best at the end of those 4 years. If you’re a marathoner, that’s one day out of 4 years, in arguably the most fragile event on the planet. Regardless of whether you have any real shot of making the Olympic team, saying you ran a PR or had a great finish at the Trials can unlock a lot of doors for you.
Yesterday, for me, was a crushing blow in what has felt like a never-ending series of obstacles. Sometimes I wonder if I’m on a strange Japanese game show/reality TV mashup, or if I accidentally sold my soul to the devil a couple years ago for that short period of success in return for what is almost becoming a comedy of errors.
If you are looking for the Trials recap, here it is:
I think this recap should start two weeks before the actual race. For my long run workout that week, I opted for a race in Indianapolis, called the Polar Bear. Here you have the option of racing a 5K, 10K, or both (the start times are 45 minutes apart). Competing in both races sounded like a perfect tune-up workout, and way more fun than a regular workout. The day itself wasn’t the greatest – a windchill of 2* F for the 5K, 9*F for the 10K, and 22 mph winds. I ran 17:33 for the 5K, then came back 25 min later to run 36:44 for the 10K, with both being big wins.
Every single step of the 10K was painful and felt like I had developed a black toenail. Afterward, I took off my shoe and my entire big toe was red and throbbing. I hobbled through my cool down and my shake out later in the day. The next day I attempted a long run, only have to stop after the first few miles to try and release some of the pressure in my toenail. Doing so helped enough that I could at least get in a slow 20 miler.
By Wednesday the pain was unbearable and I was no longer able to wear shoes because my entire foot was so swollen. I went to the CVS Minute Clinic, who diagnosed me with Paronychia and gave me Keflex, with instructions to take 500 mg every 6 hours for 10 days.
My initial reaction was to feel defeated. Antibiotics right before a huge race isn’t exactly the best timing. I was desperate, though, for my foot to feel better. That night, I had a pity party at home.
By the next morning, the swelling had gone down enough that I was able to run 9 miles. I was still uncomfortable, but not nearly as bad as the day before. Friday I had a workout, just 10 miles with the last 3 miles hard, ideally around 5K/10K effort. I was pretty disappointed when what felt like a very hard effort equated to 6:17, 6:17, and 5:56. But, taper can do funny things, I figured.
Later that night, I started feeling really bad – sore throat, congestion, headache, sinus pressure, and fever. The next day I met a friend for a run and powered through, but didn’t exactly feel great (and consumed my weight’s worth of Ricola). The evening was worse. The following day I attempted my last long run, but called it after 3 miles because my heart rate was 150 at 8:30 pace.
I took Monday off in a last ditch effort to feel better. I saw a podiatrist to follow up about my foot because I wasn’t convinced that I needed antibiotics. After examining the photos I had taken throughout the week and examining my foot itself, he determined I had actually had cellulitis and onychia, which an infection underneath the toenail. The sinus infection was just a fun bonus.
cellulitis foot vs my (mostly normal) foot
While I felt better every day, if I am being honest I never felt 100%. Even right now as I type this, I am still very congested and can feel pressure in my head. But, it wasn’t anything I actually thought about beforehand.
For the race itself, I’m very much at a loss for what happened. I don’t have anything (and maybe never well) that I can say definitively was my undoing. My plan was to start the race conservatively, and I wanted to be around 6:10 average. With the ups and downs, I was nearly perfectly on 6:10 pace through 6 or 7 miles. Then things started to feel like they were falling apart.
Between mile 7 and 8 I felt really sorry for myself, then I got a boost heading into the 2nd lap. Somewhere on Peachtree, though, my body just stopped responding.
The weird thing is that my breathing never felt labored and my legs never hurt. I just suddenly had the sensation that I was running in quicksand. People would pass and give me encouraging words and I would try to go with them. At one point, teammate Kelsey Hodges told me to draft off her and I did – for about 400 m – until the quicksand returned.
I stopped at mile 15 and called it a day.
There will always be people who do not understand a DNF, and that’s okay. These are usually the people who have been fortunate enough to never have one. DNFs suck, even when they are for good reasons. I’ve had more in the past 2 years (4 – hamstring injury, mono, feeling extremely burned out, and yesterday) than I have in 21 years of running combined (1 – hip injury).
What I have learned: the faster you’re trying to be, the more likely they are to happen. The higher you climb on that VO2 max pedestal, somehow the more fragile running seems to become. [undertermined: my body may just be rebelling]. But, if you look at the race yesterday, more women in the top 150 DNFd than women in the bottom 150, which tends to be how it goes.
Interestingly, and I’m curious to see how this plays out over the next couple weeks, I think I may be nursing an injury. After dropping yesterday I noticed quite a bit of high hamstring pain. The escalators at our hotel were broken and I really struggled to put weight on my right leg climbing the stairs, which is pretty unusual for how slow I ran.
Today the pain wraps around high hamstring, hip flexor, and groin, and I’m not able to walk with full extension or power. I did not feel significant pain during the race. One thought I have: after my warm up I stepped out of a port a potty and straight into a hole, turning my ankle pretty badly. I walked it off and never felt any pain during the race. Later in the evening I couldn’t figure out why the outside of my shin hurt so badly – until I remembered how I had rolled my ankle. I’m sure the adrenaline of the race masked any immediate pain, but I’m curious if I planted that right leg differently as a result, which could be contributing to the hamstring pain?
My Theory On Yesterday
My body, and my immune system, have been through a lot recently, with no real break. As I was mapping it all out, I became pretty frustrated with myself, and those overseeing my training.
2016 --> February 13th was my 4th marathon in 16 months. I opted for a 1 week break then jumped back into training. I was rewarded with an injury that kept me out for 9 weeks. THIS WAS A BLESSING IN DISGUISE.
Starting June 2016 I decided to race my way back to fitness, which culminated in a pretty good 10 mile race at Twin Cities. I took 1 week off and resumed training.
2017 --> I had great races at Houston, USXC, 15K championships, a 10K road PR, and the US half marathon championships at the end of April. By the time the half champs came around, though, I was feeling very burnt out and over trained. I took 2 weeks off.
I resumed training and jumped back into high mileage pretty quickly, with CIM in mind. At the end of May Dave and I got engaged, and we planned a 200+ person wedding for July 29th OF THAT SAME YEAR. I attempted to train through all of the out of town wedding planning and stress. Ultimately, in October, I had a blood test that showed my extreme fatigue was due to low iron, ferritin, folate, vitamin D, magnesium, and potassium. I took 1 week off.
2018 --> I resumed training in December, with hopes to qualify for the Olympic Trials in May. Something was seriously wrong with my body. Everyone has heard this story at this point: I had a full body rash, I had gained 15 lbs of inflammation, I was constantly fatigued, and I couldn’t recover. My races that Spring weren’t great, and I ultimately dropped out of Pittsburgh with a hamstring injury. I took 1 week off and ran as much as I could while repairing my hamstring. Do not recommend. This was stupid.
Mid 2018 things were getting better. August was when we cleared the mold out of our house and my symptoms went away. My Fall races were really good. I hit my OTQ at Philadelphia and things felt like they were back on track. I took 2 weeks off.
2019 -->I returned to training slowly. So slowly, that I mistook the signs of anemia as lack of fitness when I started running workouts again. I first noticed signs in January, I was diagnosed as anemic in March. I trained through while increasing my iron and ran a good half at Carmel. I dropped out of the 25K six weeks later. During my 1 week off I saw a doctor who told me I either had mono or a mono-like virus that was going around. I SHOULD HAVE RESTED MORE.
Here is my biggest regret: after my 1 week off after the DNF, I took two weeks to build some mileage and then I jumped right back into track and speed workouts. If I could redo anything, I would have taken time to seriously build mileage and look at the big picture, which was that I had 9 months until the Trials and had plenty of time.
I do not feel as though I was overtrained in terms of workout volume/intensity, but I do feel as though I was overtrained in terms of the duration for which I was running high intensity workouts, and my immune system started to rebel.
In August I picked up a GI bug that knocked me out for 5 days. Not surprisingly, I jumped right back in. At this point, I began to notice that every time I got knocked down, it was getting harder to regain momentum.
In November, my body and brain were telling me that enough was enough, and I DNFd at Monumental. I took 1 day off.
2020 --> In January I went to San Diego and ran a terrible race that never felt good. I decided my season was over and I would not run the Trials. I took 1 day off and changed my mind.
4 weeks from the Trials I developed a bad cold. I cut a 22 mile run 15 miles short and called it a day off.
2 weeks from the Trials I developed cellulitis. I skipped a shake out run, cut a run 9 miles short, and took Monday off during race week instead of Thursday.
The course yesterday was one in which you were going to have a tough day if you weren’t firing on all cylinders. I believe my body was tired. I believe my mind was tired. I made it as long as I could go before I could go no farther and was running slower than easy day pace (at the point I dropped out, my heart rate was 186 according to my watch).
I believe I was ready to have an incredible day – if only the race had been two weeks prior. I think my tired immune system just couldn’t handle the final cellulitis/sinus infection/antibiotics blow.
The most disappointing part of yesterday is that I wanted to be there.
In a little less than 4 years, I have only taken 9 intentional weeks off. When things are going well, one can very easily get away with 1 – 2 week breaks between training cycles. However, when your immune system is so clearly screaming at you to rest, the answer isn’t to continually shorten how much time you take off from running.
I have so much more that I was going to write about, but maybe I will save that for another post since I’m already at 2300 words. The biggest question, is what now?
I am going to take a minimum of 3 weeks completely off – no running, no cross training.
During that time I’m going to catch up on other areas in my life, like my businesses. OH! Also! BAnna Camp will be at the end of March, so I have that to look forward to, as well!!
I have no idea what my next goal will be, which feels very weird. I look forward to hearing what the new Trials standard will be. I have a feeling it will be significantly tougher than 2020, which I welcome. Knowing in 2016 that the only way I would make the Trials would require a significant PR was very exciting. While I obviously trained with the intent to PR during the 2020 cycle, there lacked that do-or-die mentality in races knowing that even if I didn’t PR, the OTQ window was significantly slower than my PR and provided a pretty large buffer.
I would love to feel mentally and physically ready to tackle another marathon in the Fall. I am going to wait to make that call, though, until I am certain my immune system has fully healed. The absolute worst thing I could do right now is not give myself enough time off. My body will know when it is time, and I am sure it will tell me!
Until then, you can find me using everything I have learned to be a better coach to my own athletes, prepping for BAnna Camp, and going for morning walks with the dogs instead of morning runs.