As a runner and an endurance athlete, I'll be the first to admit that I'm a little bit crazy. The very nature of wanting to cover long distances by foot requires this.
In one way or another, one must believe that they are superhuman or unbreakable in order to confidently run distances greater than a marathon. It takes immense self confidence in order to toe a starting line and know that you are going to be running for the next seven, eight, nine or more hours. One has to know that they are going to experience pain, but that they will not break and will fight through it. The only way to do this is to believe that you are unbreakable.
And then theres the competitive nature to running, and this is universal, from a track runner through the ultra distances. It can be competition with others and the desire to beat those around you, or a competition within yourself. Regardless, it drives us to be obsessive. We stress over missed workouts, over time off, over missing even a day of strenuous activity. Running takes over our lives. Our Facebook feeds become inundated with running conversation, we dream of running, we lose touch with friends that don't run and make friends with new ones that do. Running defines us.
Four months ago, this was me. I was running everything from 5Ks to 50-milers and PRing nearly every weekend. I was registered for races nearly every weekend months in advance. I had plans of trying to run a sub three-hour marathon, a 5K with an average pace in the fives, and also run a 100K race competitively and then a 100-miler the following year. And then 40 some miles into a 50-mile race my knee blew up.
At first I was in denial. I told myself that it must just be minor overuse -- after all, six days earlier I had PR'd at the five-mile distance (a popular NYRR distance). Days later it still hurt, yet I pushed myself to run until I was stopped by shooting pain. I was terrified of losing my fitness; a few days off and surely I would lose my competitive edge. When running hurt I would bike for hours on end and my legs felt like Jell-o and couldn't peddle anymore. Finally I had to admit to myself I wasn't superman.
After a month of this I finally began PT and stopped running, instead doing a bit of cycling and non-impact running in the pool. Within a matter of weeks my knee began feeling better, although still nowhere near 100 percent. I quickly got back in the routine of running every other day as far as I could before the pain set in, and I quickly found myself running a half marathon and then a marathon by myself in the woods. The next day after my solo marathon, my knee once again was swollen and I could barely walk. I was forced to admit it once again: I was not superman. I was breakable.
My first PT session after my solo marathon I told my physical therapist that I had overdone it. She was quick to assure me that I was making progress, my knees and supporting muscles were stronger, and I would bounce back faster this time. While I believed her, I came to realize that I couldn't go on the path I was on. The repetition of pushing myself too hard too fast, and never recovering.
Over the past three months I've had to spend enough nights on the verge of tears in my own pity party because I've had to withdraw from races because I knew that my knee could not tolerate the beating. Knowing that I was breakable, and broken. Here's a list to be exact.
- NYRR Brooklyn Half Marathon
- NYRR Wall Street 5L
- Pineland Farms 50K
- Beach to Beacon 10K
- TARC Summer Classic 50K
- And as of this morning, Javelina Jundred 100K
Running is something I love and there are tons of races and trails that I want to run in my lifetime. I've finally come to recognize that I am breakable, and I am not superman. The only way I will get to accomplish everything that I want to accomplish in my running career is if I break away from the competitive, compulsive nature of being an endurance athlete. What matters more to me than placing in the top of a race is getting to sit around the finish line with a beer and a protein bar and talk to old friends and new friends about our shared experiences out there on the trail behind us. And if it takes me a few extra hours to get to the finish line, as long as there are friends, family, beer and a protein bar... I'm fine with that.
It's now my second weekend in a row without doing a long run, and I haven't run at all (even in the pool) in a week. When my knee tells me its ready, I'll be back. And when I am I hope we can share our experiences at a finish line soon. I've got a lot of races and trails I want to experience, and by breaking away from the competition and the obsession I hope to have many years ahead of me to check them off the list.
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