25 days until the New York City Marathon.
Just to clarify, that is less than one month until the New York City Marathon! Am I freaking out about running my first marathon? Yes. Am I excited to kick some major tail on Sunday, November 6? Oh, hell yes.
But I haven't really been feeling that type of confidence in the past couple weeks. As you may have noticed, it's been a while since I wrote my last blog post. To be honest, I was avoiding giving an update on my training, because my biggest fear since starting this journey has come true. I didn't want to have to admit that... I'm hurt.
Sorry, I'm being overly dramatic. We can all calm down -- it's actually not that serious and I promise I will make it to the start and finish lines in a few weeks. But I have been dealing with incredibly annoying hip pain and a strained tensor fascia latae (TFL) and iliotibial band (ITB) -- a band of muscles that runs down your hip and outer thigh and apparently makes your legs work (as far as I understand). It's a very common injury in runners and is a direct result from overuse.
While I'm happy to know it's nothing totally debilitating, it has definitely disrupted my training and that has been very frustrating. But like most running-related experiences I've had in the past few months, this situation is teaching me some lessons about what's most important to me and just what I'm made of.
I can't remember exactly when my hip started hurting. All I know is that a few days after my 18-mile run and trip to Chicago, I was having trouble walking. Walking -- not running -- just walking. Let's just say my awkward limp made your grandmother, who had her hip replaced, look spry. I ignored it for a few days, thinking it was just fatigued (it was) and continued to train (including a very hilly 14-miler). Running on it actually felt okay once I was warmed up, so that's why I wasn't too worried. When the pain reached the point where I couldn't walk up a set of stairs properly, though, it was time to surrender.
I remembered what the Team In Training coaches have been saying for months -- listen to your body, don't assume you're invincible and go see a doctor.
But I was nervous for my appointment. Of course, I had already gone online and self-diagnosed my pain, spending the whole day worried that I would hear the worst possible news -- that I wouldn't be able to run the marathon. I guess I've figured out what scares me more than running the New York City Marathon this year -- not running the New York City Marathon this year.
When the doctor told me that I just needed to tone it down a bit and give my TFL/ITB some rest, I was relieved, yet upset. He took one look at my 5'4" 120 lb. frame and bluntly told me I just wasn't strong enough to be doing this to my body. And he's probably right. While I think I'm in great shape, "strong" is not usually a word I use to describe myself.
"You runners are the worst," he said. "You go out there and you hammer away for three hours at a time. But then you don't do anything else."
Alright, buddy. First of all, thank you for referring to me as a runner. That makes me proud. Second of all, yes, it does take a pretty freakin' long time to run some of this mileage, so I'm sorry if we need to do things like go to work after a long morning run or would rather take a nap than do stupid planks and squats. Third of all, he's right (again). Since increasing the distance and amount of time I've been spending on my feet recently, I've been slacking more in the cross-training and strength training departments and this injury could be a direct result from that. My bad.
This well-respected doctor was recommended to me by my older brother Mike's girlfriend Kara's older brother (still following?) Kyle, who is an ER doctor doing a fellowship with this particular sports medicine practice. Kyle immediately made me feel better by telling me that my hip pain will get better with rest but that I should consider skipping one or two long runs.
"I know that sounds scary and you want to stick to your schedule," Kyle said. "But you are probably already prepared for this race."
They recommended seeing a physical therapist, which was fine with me, since that's what my oldest sister Sarah does for a living (and she happily gave me some complimentary PT sessions). But the weekend following my appointment, I was also scheduled to run in my very first half marathon -- The Jersey Shore Half Marathon -- with my running pal Drew and wasn't getting a clear answer about whether I could still do it or not.
I was thinking it might not be the best idea, but I was anxious to get a long race in before November. The doctors said I'd probably be fine, but then warned that there was obviously a risk of injuring myself further. In my head, I was looking at it as a training run and wasn't even planning on "racing" it. If I started hurting, I'd just pull myself out, I thought. It sounded like a good plan, but in the back of my head, I knew there was no way I would ever quit a race. You see, I'm a very stubborn and impatient person -- the type that sees a yellow traffic light and knows that it means you better speed up and get through that intersection. By not telling me "no," I essentially saw it as a green light.
That was, until I heard back from TNT Coach Christine.
"I would strongly recommend NOT doing the race this weekend," she said very clearly. "Being in a race environment may encourage you to push it a little more than your hip is ready for. And if it doesn't go well, having to drop out of a race is not the experience you want to have before your marathon."
There was the red light I needed. (I do try my best to avoid driving through those.) I hadn't really considered the mental mess that a poor decision like that could create, so I slammed on the brakes and I took a weekend off for the first time since the spring. While I was pretty bummed to miss my first half marathon, I heard they didn't even give out medals -- so really, who cares, right?
Since then, I've scaled back, which makes me feel completely lazy, but was assured by Coach Christine that it is fine.
"Being ready for your race is about the accumulation of all your training," she said. "One or two weeks off is not really going to affect it."
So I've tried my best to do everything my team of experts recommended -- waking up early to stretch, doing hip exercises while waiting for the train (well, the one that wouldn't make me look crazy -- it's not like I'm laying down on the gross platform), increasing my cross training by adding in some swimming and spending most evenings at home with ice attached to my hip while catching up on all the new fall TV. (Do people actually like New Girl? I can't decide. What I do know, is that Glee, once again, needs to step it up. Except Brittany. Girl, you crazy.)
Finally able to walk like a normal human being last week, I was able to squeeze in a pretty decent 12-mile run, which made me feel like Emily was getting her groove back. I even celebrated with my first-ever ice bath, which honestly felt pretty good in a cruel, cruel way. (I distracted myself by eating a sandwich in my bathtub, which I highly recommend.)
I guess I've just been waiting to write about all of this until I finally had my "and now it feels better!" moment. But, well, I haven't completely felt that yet. I've had major improvements but it's something that continues to worry me and sometimes bothers me, even on short runs. But I'm totally tuned into my body now, trying to make it strong and realizing that I will do anything to make sure I feel as close to 100 percent on race day as I can, even if that ironically means having to cut back. I'm feeling positive and keeping my fingers crossed that I'll feel up to tackling my biggest milestone yet this weekend -- 20 miles -- the most I'll run before the marathon and exactly the confidence boost I need.
Of course, if this plan doesn't work, there is one thing that I haven't tried yet -- tequila.
Let me explain.
During a long run in Central Park with my AOL teammate Caitlin, we stopped for a quick stretch and water break at Tavern on the Green, the marathon's finish line. (See! I've gotten over that mental fear... for now). Two women nearby were doing the same, came up to us and asked us if we were running New York this year. Yes, we told them and chatted for a little bit about our training.
As we joked about how bad we all must smell (we did), one of the women, a very tiny, yet fit, cool Mom-type reached into her Fuel Belt, pulled out a water bottle of clear liquid and said, "You girls want some tequila?"
Caitlin and I looked at each other and laughed uncomfortably.
"No, really, it's tequila," her friend chimed in. "She uses it on her long runs and has run tons of marathons and it works for her."
I squared right up to this little firecracker, looked her straight in eye and asked her if she was drunk.
lied said "It's true! Tequila is the only alcohol that has medicinal benefits." She said that it keeps her pain-free on the runs. Well, I'll bet it does, lady.
"See you girls at the finish line in November," she said, running off. "I'll bring the tequila!"
I've heard of runners doing salt shots while racing, but despite my intense research on the topic, I can find very little evidence of tequila being an effective training tool. But hey, whatever works for her. Desperate times call for desperate measures. And depending on the day, this TFL/ITB nonsense has me feeling a little desperate.
So if this scaled-back training, stretching, exercises, cross-training and icing doesn't do the trick, you better bring some limes for me on Sunday, November 6 to go with my tequila shots.* Because I'll do whatever it takes to make sure to that start and finish line on race day.
*I am kidding about the tequila shots. Kinda.