A few weeks ago the idea of running another marathon anytime in the near future seemed improbable, if not impossible. Ever since I ran my 2nd marathon at the 2015 Carmel Marathon (Indiana) nearly 6 months ago in April, my running life has been a bit of a roller-coaster ride. The weeks following the marathon were full of PR’s at shorter races, but when I moved from Indiana to Alabama in June my running took a nosedive. From daily 100+º heat indexes (and the accompanying humidity and dehydration) when I was running at 4:30 pm, to the adjustment from the endless Indiana flatlands to the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, every single mile was difficult all summer. My distances plummeted, and my pace slowed to what often felt like a crawl.
I spent July attempting to rebuild my endurance in these conditions, deciding that no matter how slow I had to run and how many walk-breaks I had to take, I was going to build things back up so I could spend the Fall training for the Memphis St. Jude Marathon on December 5. I went about things the wrong way, attempting a run streak which came to a screeching halt at 41 consecutive days when an injury to my left Achilles tendon left me limping the last quarter mile of a 10K run. I had ignored a growing pain in my left calf and Achilles for over a week before it all came crashing down on August 1.
Injured, I took a 12 day break from running, and I spent much of August walking and riding my stationary bike. My longest run all month was on August 27. It was a dreadfully slow 7-mile run that nearly killed our dog Lucy, who had become my new walking/running partner. At 7 miles she keeled over in the heat, unable to move another inch, and she was heaving with her heart pounding out of her chest. I carried her half a mile home, and it was an hour before she was able to stand up and walk around the house again. The way this run ended was a perfect representation of my running life in Alabama.
I had understandably decided in August that running a marathon in December just was not going to happen. Nothing was going right, and I just saw no way that I could put in the proper mileage to prepare for a fall marathon. There was not enough time, so I accepted the situation and just went about my business of taking things easy and carefully recovering from my Achilles injury. This is when I changed the way I run.
RUNNING ON GRASS
After 2 years of running on roads and sidewalks I started running on grass as much as possible. The reason was simple: my Achilles tendon hurt less when I ran on grass than it did on pavement. I did this all throughout September. I kept slow running with Lucy at least 1-2 times/week. I kept riding my stationary bike. I slowly increased my total mileage by combining walking and running. For example, rather than running 7 miles and calling it quits, I would run 7 and walk 3 to get a 10-mile workout. By walking many of my miles I was able to start doing multiple double-digit workouts per week again, and by keeping most of my miles on grass, I was able to increase mileage without aggravating my Achilles tendon.
After awhile I was finally able to do my 1st speed workout in months, and 2 days later on September 19 I ran a 5K race and won, my 1st official racing victory since high school. I was shocked at the speed I found that day after running so slowly all summer, and while it was nowhere near my fastest time, it gave my running a huge boost psychologically. For the 1st time in months I felt like I was on a path back to running normalcy.
MY ENDURANCE IS RETURNING
A week after the 5K race I pressed myself to run a fast 10K workout, and once again, while it was nowhere near my fastest 10K times, I ran 6.2 miles faster than I had since I moved to Alabama. I ran fast and felt great, and after walking what was intended to be a 1 mile cool-down, I still felt so great that I ran another 10K. That 13.6 total mile workout was the furthest I had gone since my Achilles injury, and I while the overall time was not fast (since I walked a mile), I was shocked at how easy it was to run that far. After this workout I started wondering if it was possible to still run a December marathon on a short training cycle, so I put my body to the test the following week.
Three days later I ran 14.1 miles, which was my longest run since moving to Alabama. After this workout I sought advice from a very experienced marathoner who runs several per year (and who is an incredibly fast masters runner). I told him I was considering running the Rocket City Marathon in Huntsville, AL on December 12, which was only 10 weeks away. Because of other traveling plans I dropped the idea of running the Memphis St. Jude Marathon. Plus the Rocket City Marathon would give me 1 extra week of training, however 10 weeks is still not very long when it comes to marathon training, especially if you want to taper.
The experienced marathoner told me if I can avoid aggravating my Achilles injury there is no reason I cannot go from a 14-mile long run to a full-marathon in about 8 weeks, with a 2 week taper before the race. He said that because I have run 2 marathons in the past year, the fitness was there, even if my mileage has been down for awhile, and it would come back to me much more quickly than it did when I trained for my 1st marathon last year.
That was 1 week ago, and today I went out for my long run, planning to up the distance from the 14 miles I ran last week. The goal was 15 miles, with the hope of maybe stretching it out to 16 miles if I felt good. I ended up running 17.15 miles, and while I could tell my leg muscles were on the verge of cramping the last 2 miles, my legs have felt remarkably fresh the rest of the day. I have been thinking and praying for the past 10 days about whether running this marathon is the right thing. I think today is a pretty good confirmation that it is.
My times are still very slow compared to where they were a few months ago, but it feels great to be upping my long run distances again. After a long, miserable summer of running and the Achilles tendon injury, I have no idea how I just ran 17 miles this morning. I know it is still a long way from 17 to 26.2, but with a few more long runs I now believe that it is possible again. I surely intend to find out, with God’s help, if I can get there. Just 2 weeks ago I did not think a run this long was within reach right now, but God is good and often carries us beyond our perceived limitations when we ask and let Him work! Now I think it is time to sign-up for marathon #3 and continue training hard for the next 2 months.