I’ve imagined my “comeback” marathon a number of different ways in my head over the last two years since I raced Boston. Another flat and fast race was usually the focus, with the idea of qualifying and returning to Boston. Since my last post a year ago, I had triumphantly returned to racing, coming within 40s of my 10 miler PR. This mentally got me back in the game. Seeing that despite being a good 10-15 lbs heavier than my previous marathon weight, I was still able to run within striking distance of what I consider one of my better PRs. So I restarted the dreaming process of this return in my head and spent the summer slowly building up the miles, with a focus on the longer endurance side. However, comebacks rarely follow a straight line.
The Road to the Start Line
It was on a random Friday morning in late August, when I woke up at 4:45 am to get in a run before the little ones in the house were stirring, that even my first few steps out of bed felt off. I had a strange soreness on the inside of my left calf/shin. I figured it would loosen up after my warm up, so I did my usual routine, and was ready to start my run. 15 steps in, I could tell the pain was different. After 30s, I stopped dead in my tracks in the pitch black morning and proceeded to do the walk of shame back home. I know my body well enough to decipher good pain from bad and this was unlike other pain I had before. It was very minor (maybe a 2 out of 10) but different, so I gave a call to the Dr that day for an appointment which would be a few days later. I spent the next several days between my appointment searching my symptoms and came to one of two conclusions – it was either shin splints (which oddly enough I’ve never had) or the early onset of a stress fracture (which I’ve also never had). At the Dr., we went through a series of tests which indicated it could likely be an early stress reaction, but the xrays came out clean, so we waited a few weeks before checking again. My next appointment, nearly 3 weeks to the day, showed promise as I passed all the tests I could not complete at the original visit. I got the approval to slowly restart running, so I began with 1:00 run/4:00 walk for 30 minutes and built from there. It wasn’t until 6 weeks later in mid-October that I ran without any walk breaks, shortly followed by one hour of constant running. I wanted to be patient and do it right, not force it and end up back at square one. Most of my workouts were done on the bike during this time to attempt to maintain some fitness, so my first running workout wasn’t until November. Slowly but surely, my running was returning, but I lost much of the running specific fitness I had gained over the summer due to the 2-3 months away from being able to effectively train. In many ways it felt like I was starting over.
I decided to target a late April marathon with the idea of being able to get in 20 weeks of training - longer than what I would typically do, but I needed the extra time to build up safely. Training was going really well - I had been diligent about strength and mobility work, handling the training load without too much fatigue, and although it was difficult not to compare myself to my former marathon times, I was actually running workouts pretty close to where I was before I took my marathon break. It was just as I was entering my peak weeks of training in late March that my hamstring felt a bit tight following a workout that I completed without issue the day before. Playing it safe, I opted for a spin on the bike, rather than my usual run the day after. During the bike and in the 24 hours following, I felt no hamstring tightness and thought I dodged a bullet by being smart. Well that thought came crashing down during my run the next day, when I couldn’t go 30 minutes before pulling the plug due to it feeling progressively worse. I immediately made a PT appointment and we agreed that I managed to suffer a minor hamstring strain. While not significant, you can’t rush the recovery. I spent 10 days not running (but cycling nearly every day), missing 3 key long runs while I was building back up to healthy running. Within 3 weeks of the strain, I was back to adding in some marathon paced running, but only up to 14 miles total with 30 minutes at marathon pace. I knew after the 10 days off and 3 missed key long runs that my goal race was not happening, but still held out hope I’d be able to run one somewhere. I started looking for other races in early May before the weather turns too hot for good and settled on Pittsburgh for a number of reasons, the first of which was far from my initial reason for returning to marathoning. Pittsburgh is a tough course, so my vision of qualifying for Boston again went out the door and it allowed me to focus on my true goal – to race a marathon from start to finish and feel good about the effort. This meant less pressure to ramp my training up too fast, but it gave me the focus of completing the training to handle the tough course. The second reason was because my friend Mark was already signed up, so rather than go to a random race by myself, I thought it would be more fun to have some company. So the rest of my training went well – I managed to get in a 22 miler (all easy) and a 20 miler (with 8 miles near marathon effort), along with a couple of 8-mile marathon paced runs on rolling terrain to simulate the course as much as possible. All good stuff, but mind you, much less marathon-specific work than I’ve typically prepared with prior to a race. I still felt good about my training though, continued with hamstring therapy up until race week, and left for Pittsburgh confident that my body could handle the marathon. What I wasn’t sure of, was how it would handle the Pittsburgh Course.
|Pittsburgh Elevation Profile|
Miles 1-6 – Getting into the grove