Three weeks ago, I ran the Carmel Marathon on Saturday, April 18, 2015. This was my 2nd marathon, and I officially finished in 3:47:08, which was 11:20 faster than my 1st marathon. My 1st try at 26.2 was at the Indianapolis Marathon 6 months ago (read about “The Long Journey to the Finish Line of My 1st Marathon”). During my 1st marathon I had 2 goals: finish the race and do whatever it takes to finish under 4 hours. I accomplished both of these goals despite running the last 11 miles in extreme pain 1st from calf cramps and then from stabbing pain in every muscle in both legs. That day I pushed my body beyond what previously seemed possible, and it took me a long time to recover from the abuse I put myself through that day. My calves and quads were all torn up, and the damage was significant enough that it was a solid month before my legs started to feel normal again. Another runner I know who is a very experienced marathoner told me that this is normal for a 1st marathon and that the recovery gets easier with each marathon. After 2 weeks, I have to agree that my body has recovered much more quickly this time, and I am actually running pretty great now. I ran my fastest road run 5K ever (19:54) just 10 days after the marathon, and I had 2 other similar runs this week as well. My longest run since the marathon is only 10 miles, but on shorter runs I am running faster than ever before and feeling great afterward. I would say that is a sign that my body has been recovering from the Carmel Marathon quite well. While my recovery has been going much better this time, I had eerily similar negative experiences during my taper weeks and on race day, when compared to marathon #1.
ILLNESS & INJURY SETBACKS
Last September I developed a very painful hip injury about 4-5 weeks before the Indianapolis Marathon. I believe it was either IT Band Syndrome or Hip Bursitis, and it really affected my last couple weeks of training and my taper weeks, causing me to skip and alter numerous workouts in hopes that it would not knock me out of the marathon. I was able to recover well enough that it was not a major issue on race day, although this hip problem does still flare up from time to time.
During this marathon training cycle, I did deal with the hip at times, but luckily it did not cause any serious setbacks in my training this time. However, I had numerous other issues arise in the 3 months leading up to the Carmel Marathon.
CAN YOU RUN A MARATHON WITH A BROKEN TAILBONE?
On a Thursday morning in January 2015, about 3 months before the marathon, I took a bad fall on my own frozen driveway when I was rushing to get to my car because Julie Beth was going to be late to preschool. I was wearing my backpack, and my feet literally flew forward up in the air as I fell straight onto my back. My iPad and Macbook were unhurt, and I think my backpack padded my back from a serious back injury. Unfortunately my backpack was not covering my butt, and my tailbone took the full weight of this fall. It hurt bad enough that I nearly blacked out, and I just laid there on the ice for a couple minutes before I forced myself up to get my daughter to school. I immediately knew that I had done something serious, but I just kept hoping that it was just a bad bruise that would feel better after a few days.
I had just recently registered and paid for the Carmel Marathon, and I was just a few weeks into training. I was making great progress at the time (and I hate throwing away money), so I did not stop training despite the nonstop pain in my butt. I never went to a doctor because I read enough online to know that the doctor would not do anything for a broken tailbone since you cannot put a cast on your butt. However, the doctor would give me a very simple treatment plan: STOP RUNNING! I would have been told to stop running for at least 8 weeks, but most likely 12+ weeks to let the tailbone heal.
While my friends know that I post about my best workouts and worst injuries frequently on Facebook and Twitter, I was pretty embarrassed about the broken tailbone. Just as I did not want a doctor trying to convince me that I must quit running for months, I did not want everyone on Facebook trying to convince me to go to the doctor. So I kept this to mostly to myself, but it actually did turn out to be a pretty serious injury. For the next 2+ months, it was extremely painful to sit down, and I had to always shift my body weight to one cheek. It also hurt to lay or sleep on my back.
I spent the next 2 months after this fall running on the treadmill at the Y. Publicly the reason I shifted to all treadmill workouts was because of the single digit and negative temperatures outside, along with the snow and ice on the ground. These reasons are good enough to stay inside on the treadmill, but my reasoning was much more than that. I knew I was running with a broken tailbone, and I knew that I could not afford to slip on ice and fall on it again, not even 1 time, due to the risk of compounding the injury and creating some very serious issues. While I was going against medical/common sense, I was being cautious about it at the same time. The chances of slipping on ice while running on the treadmill were pretty slim. Plus I believe that the good treadmills at the Y have great shock absorption, lessening the pounding impact on not only my tailbone, but also on my right knee and right hip that act up sometimes.
So broken tailbone and all I just kept running. Training picked up, and I was running weekly 17-20 mile long runs, plus at least 2 other double digit runs per week, all on the treadmill at 2% incline. The other regulars at the Y thought I was insane to run on the treadmill for 2.5-3 hours every Friday morning. It also felt a bit awkward eating bananas, chia seed goo, energy chews, fruit smoothies, etc. while running on the treadmill, not to mention the whole duffel bag full of water bottles I went through every long run. Training this way was less than ideal, but I was adapting and finding a way to not let a broken tailbone sideline me till summer. My tailbone would usually feel really funny for about 3 miles, but then it would go numb or something for the rest of the run. Then it would feel funny and awkward walking after hard runs. My self-diagnosis felt pretty justified when the tailbone pain did not change after about 8 weeks. From weeks 8-12, the tailbone slowly started to hurt less and less. Even as I lay in bed writing this, my tailbone still does not feel normal after about 15 weeks. The serious pain has passed, but it still has a level of discomfort.
So to answer my own question… Yes, you can train for and run a marathon with a broken tailbone! However, it is really stupid to do so! I would not recommend that anyone take this risk, and I honestly feel very lucky and blessed that I did not create more problems doing this.
2 BOUTS WITH THE FLU IN 2 WEEKS
After running for 3 weeks with a broken tailbone, I got the flu. I had high fevers and could not get out of bed for a few days. Then after I felt better for a couple days, I ran 11 miles that Saturday. After this run, I stayed up all night finishing lessons for church on Sunday morning because I had barely worked all week. The longer run plus lack of sleep triggered a relapse of the flu that hit me hard Sunday afternoon. The 2nd bout was worst than the 1st, and I was out of work and running most of the next week. Except for that 11-miler and another shorter run, I lost 2 full weeks of training just 2 months before the marathon. The week before I got the flu, I ran 20 miles at 8:10 pace, my fastest 20 miles ever, and since the flu I still have not been able to replicate that pace for that distance. Losing these 2 weeks was a major setback to my training!
THE SILVER LINING
During my 2nd bout with the flu, I lost 10 lbs in just 3 days, as I could not eat or keep anything in my stomach. While I lost 50 lbs during my first few months of running again, my weight loss stopped there. From February 2014 to February 2015, my average weight stayed at a steady 175 lbs. No matter how much or hot little I ate and no matter how many miles I ran, my weight just stayed the same for a solid year. I was determined to get my weight down into at least the 160s, but no matter what I tried, I stayed at 175 lbs. When I lost 10 lbs with the flu, I decided I would keep that weight off. Since then, my new average weight has been a steady 165 lbs. Since I dropped this 10 lbs, I have seen serious gains at every distance from 5K to half-marathon.
However, all my long runs since the flu have felt much more difficult (and slower) than my long runs before the flu. Eventually the weight loss should help bring down my times for 20+ miles, but I think it was just too close to the marathon. The loss of training, endurance and momentum really affected my marathon performance. I still wonder if I could have actually run a faster marathon in February before the flu than I did in April? That really doesn’t matter now, but I do hope that one day I can make it through a marathon training cycle without any major setbacks, just so I can see what I am fully capable of accomplishing!
LEFT ACHILLES TENDON & FOOT INJURIES
As if the flu and the broken tailbone were not enough, 3 weeks before the Carmel Marathon, just as I was starting my taper, I was hit with an injury to my left Achilles Tendon. At the same time, in what must be a related injury, I was having intense pain and nerve sensitivity on the top of my left big toe (and that general area of my foot). My toe was numb until it bumped into something or got stepped on, and when pressure was put on it I got the most intense, crippling pain all through my foot. One time Julie Beth was dancing around and landed on my toe, and I was in tears, rolling on the ground screaming in pain. After talking with my athletic trainer brother-in-law and reading lots of online articles, I’m pretty sure I have achilles tendonitis, but that still does not explain the foot pain. Hopefully that just passes with time.
With achilles tendonitis, it is recommended to ease back on your running mileage and workout intensities. It is also said that you should avoid hills workouts. In my stupidity, I ran a 10-mile hills race 2 weeks before the Carmel Marathon. My wife Jennifer and I both ran, our 1st ever race together, and I ran by far the best 10-miles of my life, finishing with a PR of 1:12:06 (a 7:12/mile pace). This was one of the best runs of my life, and I was fast and strong despite the 7 major hills throughout the course. Unfortunately this was the worst thing I could have done for my Achilles Tendon, and within a few days I could barely walk on it, much less run. The last week before the marathon I stopped running completely and just did short rides on my stationary bike to keep my legs moving.
THE POWER OF PRAYER
Just 3 days before the Carmel Marathon, I could barely walk due to pain in my left Achilles Tendon and foot. I was foam rolling, biking, massaging Penetrex Cream into the injured areas, and popping Ibuprofen like it was candy. There was literally nothing else I could do to make it so that my legs would function properly and without pain, so I took to Facebook and Twitter and asked everyone I knew to pray for me. I believe that many people did pray for my left foot and Achilles because during the marathon, never once did my Achilles Tendon bother me.
The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. (James 5:16, NIV)
MARATHON RACE DAY
After a very long, bumpy training cycle, it is exciting to get to race day and see what you can do. When you run lots of 5K races, you always go into the race knowing that, barring an injury, you will finish the race without walking, without hitting a wall and probably without cramps. You also generally know what you are capable of and approximately how fast you can finish. Sure you might have an extraordinarily great day and run 20 seconds faster than normal if you are a faster runner, or maybe 2-3 minutes faster for someone who has not yet reached a speed plateau. You could also have a bad day and see those numbers go the opposite direction, but generally speaking you can go into a 5K basically knowing what to expect. The marathon is nothing like that. I am not just saying that because I am an unexperienced marathoner with only 2 under my belt, but I have seen it watching and tracking pro runners at Boston and other big races. Uber-talented Ryan Hall has dropped out of multiple marathons the last few years due to cramps or injuries. On the flip-side, Meb Keflezighi (read my review of his book here) had the race of his life at Boston in 2014 when he was 38 years old, an age that is typically past a runner’s prime. He proved that you cannot rely just on speed or talent in the marathon. You cannot use brute force to up your pace to new levels like you can in a sprint. Assuming you have put in the proper training, the marathon is very much about patience, strategy and proper timing (knowing when to speed up or slow down, knowing whether to push the pace on hills or take it easy). Meb is a master of patience and strategy, but a year after his historic win at Boston, he finished in only 8th place (still incredible) after having a rough day physically, including 5 stops to throw up. It is moments like this where you find out what you are really made of, even if you don’t win the race or run a great time. Oftentimes, the marathon is simply about pushing forward and not giving up even when your body feels like it has nothing left. It is as much about mental toughness as it is about physical toughness or conditioning.
In the 2015 Carmel Marathon, similar to my experience in the 2014 Indianapolis Marathon, I found the physical limits of my body, yet somehow had to keep going for several more miles. I know that this is largely due to poor strategy on my part (or lack of strategy on race day). I got carried away with myself on race day again, thinking halfway through the race that maybe I could run some astronomically fast time. I ran too fast from miles 10-17, which cost me big time late in the race when my body was depleted of energy and my muscles overly fatigued.
When I asked my Facebook friends to pray for my Achilles and foot, I should have also asked everyone to pray that I wouldn’t get any cramps! I ran with intentions to break 3:40, and I was on pace to do that at the half (1:48:16) & at 20 miles (2:45:05), but it fell apart thanks to intense leg cramps & spasms, which had me only average 10:00/mile for my last 10K. My right calf & toes cramped at 17, so I took off my shoe, loosened my laces, and massaged/pressed on my calf using my left knee like a firm foam roller. I felt pretty good after that till the left calf spasmed at 20.5. This put me on the ground in pain with a huge knot sticking out of my calf and moving around uncontrollably. A very nice lady pushing a stroller on the sidewalk near the race came over and gave me a banana and a bottle of water. This lifted my spirits enough to get up and start running again, and the potassium helped for a bit. But after that it was run-walk-run as the calf cramps spread to the quads and hamstrings. The temperature raised 20° from 55° to 75° during the race, and the heat was also a factor the last few miles.
I may have hit the wall regardless of my pace earlier in the marathon, but I have to think that I could have held off the wall till closer to the end if I had not pushed the pace so hard during those middle miles of the race. Perhaps one day I will run a marathon with proper pacing and strategy, and maybe I can train past the wall. For now I am pleased with my progress and proud of my finisher’s medal considering all the setbacks I had during the training cycle for the Carmel Marathon.
Lastly, here is one more example of an uplifting moment during the marathon, coming from a friend who is a member of the Club Kokomo Roadrunners with me. He ran the half-marathon at Carmel, finishing more than 2 hours before I finished the marathon. He had stuck around for his age group award and to see some other people finish, and he caught me walking in pain at the 26 mile mark. He had been headed to his car to go home, but instead he hopped back on the road and ran that last 0.20 miles with me, breaking off just before the finish line. He knew I had nothing left, yet he helped me find just a little bit more to at least finish in a slow jog instead of a walk.
MY MILE SPLITS FOR THE 2015 CARMEL MARATHON:
8:44, 8:21, 8:24, 8:22, 8:15, 8:14, 8:10, 8:23, 8:22, 7:58, 8:04, 7:57, 8:05, 7:59, 7:28, 7:58, 8:22, 9:41, 8:07, 8:09, 9:58, 9:11, 10:12, 10:11, 9:47, 10:15, 2:30 (12:30 pace for last 0.20 miles)
PICTURES FROM RACE DAY (CLICK TO ENLARGE)