Thursday, January 5, 2012

Sometimes rest is best

Nothing helps you appreciate a healthy lifestyle more than not being able to do it.  That is where I am at right now, and I am not talking about the shin injury that has lead to some time off of running and driven me to the elliptical.

No, I am talking about feeling puny, down and out, under the weather - in other words, I am not feeling so well.  So, instead of doing my scheduled elliptical workout yesterday, I came home and napped.  In fact, I slept most of yesterday off and on - as much as a four-year-old running around will allow - and went to bed at 7 p.m.  All told I ate one banana and a small portion of white rice and drank some apple juice.  Waking up after almost twelve hours of sleep, I felt well enough to eat a somewhat normal breakfast and enjoy a cup of coffee (at least the headache is receding now), but I am still not 100 percent.  Bummer.

Hopefully by tomorrow things will be back to the new normal and I can do the elliptical again.  In the meantime, this has reminded me of an experience I had earlier this year that I wrote about for a local running club's newsletter.  I always wanted an excuse to post it here, and this is as good of one as I am likely to get.  The story below is also why you will not catch me trying to exercise through sickness when the symptoms are below the neck.  Happy running - or resting!

So, you think you had a bad run?

Misery might like company, but this is the story of how I ran alone at two half marathons.

Let me start this by saying that I have never been a great runner. I joined our local running club the evening John “The Penguin” Bingham spoke to the club, because in his talk I found someone with whom I could identify. Here was a back-of-the-packer who was happy with his status and telling me it was okay to be slow. I joined the club and have found great support. I accepted my mid-to-back-of-the-pack status and have even considered myself a champion of us slower folks. But even with all that, there are limits, and I am still trying to wrap my brain around the series of events that led to my toughest race experiences thus far.

As a bit of background, towards the end of last year after coming off of a bout of runner's knee, I was feeling pretty good about my running. So, when the time came to sign up for what has become my family's annual trip to a regional half marathon in a scenic area nearby, I naturally signed up. When my husband decided he had to do the a 50 mile trail race a week after that and I found out that they were having an inaugural trail half marathon, I naturally signed up for that, too. Two half marathons one week apart is nothing to many runners, to be sure, but for me this was a big deal.

I was very excited about the back-to-back goal I had set for myself and was doing pretty well. I had a training plan in place. My runs were feeling pretty good. I was on a roll. And then the hip issue started. The diagnosis: femoral acetabular impingement, or – as I understood it – something was pinching and pulling in the hip joint when the muscles tightened up with exercise. This is something that apparently is becoming more commonly seen in athletic (yeah!), middle-aged (boo!) women. So, after several months in physical therapy (during which I continued a modified running program), devotion to the PT hip strengthening exercises and stretches I received, and several weeks of rest, I resumed buildup to my goal races – albeit with a Galloway-like run/walk approach.

As Goal Race #1 drew near, I knew I would be slow. Why? Well, because I was never fast to begin with and now I was doing a very conservative run/walk with a 3:1 ratio. Despite this, I was pleased at how improved my hip was – almost no soreness after long runs – and how even my grumpy knee wasn't peeping. With high hopes and happy thoughts I looked forward to my challenge. Then I got sick.

The day before Race #1, I woke up feeling not so hot. I slept for most of that morning, made it up to our hotel and then proceeded to lay in bed all afternoon and evening with fever, chills and body aches. The disappointment was overwhelming. It's not like I do these types of races all the time. I knew I was going to miss out on something fun.

The day of the race dawned and I woke up feeling exhausted and in need of a day of sleep. However, there were no chills, no aches, and no fever. So, after talking to my very logical, engineer husband, who advised me that this would be an emotional decision and don't think of it logically, I laced up my running shoes and headed to the start.

If you have never toed the start line to a race after a day of fever, etc., then it's probably hard to imagine what that running feels like. Those first steps were excruciating. Everything hurt. It felt like I had already hit the wall, and I was just starting. I had a number of “exit strategies” from the course planned. So, in starting out, I told myself I only had to get to mile 2. By mile 2, though, I was starting to loosen up in spite of everything and suddenly mile 6 (exit #2) wasn't looking so impossible. Well, once at mile 6, I was actually feeling well enough to adjust my run/walk from 3:1 to 5:1. By mile 10 (my final possible exit), it seemed silly not to finish. I did finish in about 2:42 – my slowest Half to date, but I finished and I felt great. I had a whole new respect for the mental game of running an event. Of course, that's about when the relapse began.

I spent the next week exhausted. In addition to just plain being tired, I had nasal sinus congestion, caught a stomach bug, and generally was not up to snuff. Despite all that, I, of course, decided to attempt to complete my goal. So, I lined up at the starting line of Race #2 seven days after the first. (When you are traveling with someone doing a 50-mile race two hours from home, what else is there to do? It all made perfect sense at the time.)

The trail half marathon didn't go quite so well. While I had thought 2:42 was slow for me, this race was even tougher and – suffice it to say – the PR I set was of the kind you typically don't want to see. I started out with a 5:1 run:walk ratio and did fairly well with that. However, at about mile 5, I knew I was hitting my collective wall. The course loops around twice on a very hilly Nordic ski trail, so heading through the start/finish area at mile 6 or so, I treated the halfway point as my personal intermission. I got some food, hit the comfort station, and even walked to my car for another water bottle, all while thinking how nice it would be to just call it a day. In the end, though, I headed out for my second loop. The loss of momentum, motivation, or maybe just muscle memory took its toll, and I ended up walking (strolling?) almost the entire second half of the course, and if it hadn't been so beautiful, I would have been tempted to quit altogether. It's hard to explain the need to sleep while running, but if I could have curled up on the trail without alarming fellow runners (50Kers at this point; the half marathoners had long ago left me in the dust), I would have. But, I finished. And, for me, that is something.

So, lessons learned? I suppose there are several. Top on the list is there is a reason why they say not to run when you have symptoms below the neck. Was it stupid to run these events while sick? Probably. Would I do it again? Maybe. Was it worth it? Absolutely. I wouldn't willingly give up either race experience. Both races were great destination events. But even without that, I discovered new depths to what I personally can tolerate, and I think I'll be better equipped in future races because of what I experienced. 


  1. I didn't know it until about mid race, but at the Richmond Marathon 2011 I had a pretty serious virus. I can't even begin to explain... it was... yeah. weeks later I still felt puny. Anyway, there's a link on my side bar, if you're curious.

    AND I also wrote about the experience for a local running magazine... it just published a few days ago. It's nice we have that in common though...

  2. LOL - I would rather have the 4:21 race finish in common. It's my hope to finish a race in 4:20. It seems it should be possible, but I haven't pulled it off yet. Of course, my marathoning "career" is young. So, there is still hope. :)

    Running while sick sucks. I know the nausea feeling, too. Towards the end of Pikes Peak (Moving Mountains post - top of the popular list still), I ate a Gu that sat on my stomach like a rock until the end of the race. I honestly thought I was going to throw up, but at the same time I honestly didn't care. Lack of oxygen will do that to a person.

    Anyway, here's to happy, healthy running! :) Looking forward to more of it eventually.