There is a lot to learn from getting stuck. There is opportunity for growth in ways that may not be so obvious. For me, just stepping back and asking "What is the point? What is the purpose?" of all this repetition helps me to see what I really need.
I've been running on team, "competing", since I was 9 years old. I took a break from racing in my early adulthood, but returned to racing when cancer made me question my lifestyle and my purpose.
Racing gave me a sense of existence. Published race results really made me feel like I was leaving a literal mark that said "I was here!" Before cancer, I didn't feel like I was leaving my mark anywhere. Racing offered me connectedness to others. Racing made sense to me. I understand racing better than anything else I have ever tried to understand. Cancer taught me I could ensure. But racing taught me about that the limitation I believed about my own ability were. simply are not truth.
And now lately running has been frustrating. I have felt stuck in almost illogical ways. My body isn't responding in the predictable ways it has done for the past 35+ years. I am not new to training.
These words, from this link below spoke to me:
Alright, there’s no way I’m going to get what I want, this is not where I want to go, it’s not happening,” there’s a moment of truth telling, if you’re willing to take it. There’s a moment of potential surrender. You have to give up the goal. You have to give up where you think you want to get to. You have to give up the very conception of the practice that you’re involved in. You have to give up your very definition of it, and what you think you’re doing it for. And in that moment, there’s something real. There’s an authentic reality of yourself in recognizing you’re not getting what you want. This is a dropping down. This is a coming home. And interestingly enough, as soon as you do that, lo and behold, a door opens.
Listen to the entire 12 minutes of the podcast here. https://www.processarts.com/podcasts/process-before-practice/
This week I have rested and then I tested how I felt. I did not make the progress I hoped I would make. My calf is taking so much longer than I expected it should take to heal. My left heel bursa is intermittently agitated with me when I am not working very hard. I have a lot of questions that I am contemplating and I will find my answers in time.
I am happy that by yesterday I felt a turn around. Everything felt better than the day before. This is not the same as being "OK." I am not yet OK but I am better. That is progress.
I did spend time with Strength training. I created some workouts on an app and played around with that. I don't know how I feel about the app yet. Maybe I will keep it after the free trial. Maybe not. I'll figure that out later. I have two more weeks to use it. It makes strength training more interesting for the moment. That is something.
In the mean time, when I can't train, I create art.
Process Art has been helping me find time to process what is going on with me in this moment.
The Principles of Process Art are as follows:
1. Accept that you are not supposed to know what will happen next. Proceed anyway.
2. Give yourself space to think. Listen to your thoughts with genuine and non-judgmental curiosity. Actually sit with them. This is the opposite of all the mindfulness meditation work everyone has been immersed it. Here I we give ourself time to actually think.
3. Respect the process by not criticizing product. Wherever we are in the art is exactly where we are supposed to be. This is not about making "good" art. It is about creating art. In a group setting, participants are asked to NOT complement others. This act of judging the art product, even in a positive way, will extinguish the power of the process. It doesn't matter what you or I think of the final piece. That is not the point.
4. Allow yourself the freedom to follow the energy and not force the direction you go. This means we need to be ok with taking risks and committing to the marks we make on the page. We need to do something and figure it out we go.
5. We need to be ready to dealing with difficulty as we work. This is not about feeling like a kid. This is not childish work. There is a lot of junk that comes up as soon as you realize your art starts to feel like a self-portrait and you don't like what you are seeing. This is where the learning happens for me. Understanding that sometimes what we do doesn't look anything like what we thought we could do or hoped to do ... but there is it anyway. Sometimes things feel bad or wrong or imbalanced or in the wrong place or at the wrong time ... and then what do I do about that? I figure it out as I go. I deal with it. I accept it. I carry on.
5. Unlike other types of art therapy, in Process Art we don't even attempt to interpret the symbolic expression. We are not making art to find meaning in the final product. We are making it to learn from the process.
6. Recognizing completion, a sense of closure, a sense of being ready to move on. This is important. This is not the same as wanting something to go away, as wanting to leave something that is uncomfortable, or being afraid of messing it up something if you continue on. Attempting to achieve a sense of completion is the final "product" of the "process" regardless of what the actual product looks like. Learning what completions feels like is significant.
When not training, I am creating. This process art project is giving me the space to think about my identity as a runner and why I run. Running daily is just as much a "practice" as meditation or art making.
I am ok with not worrying about the product. I have completely stopped worrying about race times, DNS, DNFs, etc... I don't care if my running is "good", I don't care how others will judge me. This shift is what has allowed me to recognize that my "limitations" are simply a result of judgment of the my product of my labor. The same products that once allowed me to feel like I existed, like I was connected to others, like I belonged...
By shifting my focus from running for performance (at least for right now) to running for process I am allowing myself to be free and to figure out where I will go with my running practice. And this shift is allowing me to heal.
This workout the did me it. .15M repeats up an down a 5% grade. The entire horseshoe as .35M. I did 4 repeats on that road. I felt fine while running. I felt like I was holding myself back. But my calf felt otherwise.
The Importance of Strength Training for this Master's Age Runner
It occurred to me today that the reason this is happening to me is because I am not as strong as I used to be. I used to spend a lot of time in the gym during my last training cycle. I loved going to gym. I would be in there for 2.5 hours 3 x week doing full body work. It was empowering. It was a incredibly enjoyable break from the world. It was fast-paced and intense. I tracked everything. I got so very strong from my size. This made me quite resilient. More resilience than I realized.
I used to think the lifting was collateral, adjunctive, just a something extra that I had time for that maybe could help. I didn't realize how necessary strength training was/is for me now. It is now crystal clear to me that at my age lifting is essential for me to be able to tolerate training at all! This is a big of a scary concept for someone who has been running since I was 9. Aging is no joke, but we can mitigate its effects by throwing some mass around a few times per week. I can do that! I can even enjoy it!
I am now convinced that lifting was the reason I was running PR=paced training runs and feeling like I was back on track for a sub-3 in 2020. I ran a 3:03 in Charleston in Jan 2020 after a 3:08 at the NCR at the end of Nov 2019. In Dec 2019 I ran a PR half at 6:38 pace. I felt I was ready to really chase down a new marathon PR by Spring 2020. I was feeling so fit and strong. I was 44 then. I am 45 soon to be 46. I feel like I have the muscle tone of a wet dishrag. This has to change.
So what's the plan? Forget racing for the moment. Focus on lifting. Use what I have at home until I get my booster shot (hopefully I will be one of the first to get the booster as I am due) and then after I am boosted I want to (NEED TO0 get back to the gym 3 times per week. Once I get my strength build, then I can return to marathon training.
I have avoided the gym because of COVID. I thought I could find ways to work on my resistance training at home. But it isn't really working. Clearly. I need to get back in the gym so that is what I will try to do as long as it feels safe for me to do it. (I am vaccinated. My gym is at my hospital. It is a big gym where people can spread out. It is required to maintain hospital-level hygiene standards as it is also used for PT). I feel like it is safe but who really knows. I need to return. If I go and I feel like I am not safe then I may need to buy some gym equipment for my garage. I don't want to have to do that but I will if there is no other safe option.
Here is actual research on the benefits of concurrent strength and endurance training on master's runners .
I had to sit down and have a hard chat with myself.
It was time.
Time to revise the plan, the goals, the finish line.
I don't know why running feels so hard right now but it feel like my body just needs time to adjust.
Resting doesn't seem to help. I know it seems like it should help, but I feel like my pain a result of weakness not overuse. Resting has helped reduce the aches and pain but once I start running again, I am sore. This is because resting doesn't do anything to address the weakness. Not running in pain is the plan. Strength training needs to take a starring role right now. If my focus was on getting prepared to race, I needed to run. If I can't run without pain, how do I train for a race?
The Answer: I don't. It is that simple. I don't.
I highly doubt I will be racing Boston 21. I don't see how I can take a step back, heal up, build strength, then move forward as a runner and be ready for Boston in time. I don't want to feel rushed. Rushed training never works,
The good news for me is that I am already qualified for Boston 2022. I don't need to run 2021. Sure, I wanted to. The opportunity to run Boston in glorious New England fall weather will be a once in a lifetime experience.
But it just wont likely be my experience.
So instead of trying to get those 16-20+M long runs done, I gave myself permission to back up. First I wanted a few short test runs to see how my calf really feels.
First, I went out for a 2 mile walk with some running to assess. Everything felt good.
Then I tried a little longer without walks. I feel "good enough". My right calf is sore, my left bursa is sore but all better than last week.
I was able to run a decent 4M on Saturday but the aftermath of a 9:03 pace was not pleasant. I felt like I had run a marathon. My body is not happy.
I waited until late afternoon. I had hope to get a 12M this weekend. I wan't committed fully. I would listen to my body. I planned two 6 miles loops so I could easily end the run if I was uncomfortable. I didn't need to! I manage to get all 12 but I did take a run/walk approach. That helped. I am ok with Run/Walking until I feel 100% again.
I am in no rush. I have nothing but time, really.
I rested last week so that I could have a chance to return to training safely. All went well until Saturday. It seems like the universe is really testing me during this training cycle. I am watching my fall race goals disintegrate. Sometimes this is how it goes. When the body is struggling, it is time to deal with the issues happening in the moment and not worry about what was supposed to happen weeks from now.
The week actually started off really well. Dave and I did two hill days on Tuesday and Thursdays. It was an amazing workout. We found a hilly loop. It was lovely.
7.25% incline/decline. .
35 miles up and down.
We would climb at moderate intensity and then crush the descent at top speed. It was so much fun. Our descent were averaging 5:30-5:40 pace, top speed 5:24. I am sure that hard work primed me for what happened next but it is hard to predict in the moment which step will be the one that is the straw that breaks you.
I was feeling great on Friday, just a little tired but nothing significant. I meet Alanna for an easy 6M which we accidentally ran as a progression down to 9:00 pace. Not blazing fast, but not our normal easy pace normal. It felt good and I had no reason to believe anything was wrong.
I decided to take it easy on Saturday and save my 20M LR for Sunday. I ran an easy 4M with Sidney and again felt fine. Nothing to suggest any thing was wrong.
Sunday, I finally got out the door in the afternoon for my 20. It felt so nice. I didn't look at my watch for 4 miles. It felt easy. I felt fluid. I wasn't working hard at all. I suspected my pace was about 10:00. When I finally looked at my watch, I was averaging 9:01. I felt so very strong and was excited to just hold my pace until 10M and turn back home. The course I run is slightly more incline on the way out so I knew once I swung back around it would be slightly easier home and if I felt ok, then maybe I could actually negative split this run and come in under 9:00 pace.
My long runs have been horrible this training cycle. I have marathons I planned to run. I told my self on the way out to 10M that if I could manage this 20M LR then I could finally give myself permission to believe that a marathon this fall was realistic. I just wanted 20M at any pace. I didn't need sub-9. I wanted distance not time. But when the pace was peppy my confidence soared. It felt so nice to find flow.
I passed 6M and was holding steady and feeling good until suddenly my right calf spasmed. WTF was that? I paused. Massage it for a second and kept on going. The at 6.5M again it spasmed hard and I felt a popping sensation. WTF? I am running a 9:00 mile. How is this happening?!
6.5M from home. No one around to save me. I don't have Uber on my phone. This was not planned out very well.
Sid is in the air somewhere, ironically flying to Boston. He is headed to Boston while I am watching my dream of racing Boston disappear.
I text Dave. Somehow lately I feel like all I do is complain and annoying complaining seems to help me feel better. That is not the type behavior I want reinforcement for. ugh.
I turn around. I drink the remaining fluid in my bottle and run again. I start easy but I loosen up. I realize that spasms did some damage but I can run. I run back to the park. I get more water. I run home. I have to pause a few times to massage my calf.
I think this happened because I am overcompensating with my right to take some pressure off my left side which has the angry bursa.
I make it back home and stop at 13 miles. I weigh in. I'm 116 lbs! WTF. What is happening. I drank 40 oz on the course. I drank before I left. I carried sports drink this time when I started. I didn't feel like I was that dehydrated. This is a 5lb weight loss. No wonder I cramped! I don't know what is going on lately with my body. I have trained for marathons for about a decade. I never cramp. I usually don't even drink or eat when I train. I made an effort today and it didn't matter.
I didn't run much last week. I contemplated dropping out of everything. I have three races on my calendar, two to use as training runs and then Boston. This bursa has been uncooperative and this week I just felt so frustrated..
I ran 3 miles only from Monday - Thursday, trying to assess if rest would make the bursa quiet. But the more I rested the more it bothered me. Many runners know this irony. We call it "taper madness". With less training, everything hurts more.
I was feeling frustrated by Thursday morning when my bursa was exactly the same or possible more obnoxious than it has been for this entire training cycle. And then I had my revelation... the same revelation I have every single year when training for Boston since 2013... My body is fine, this is all in my head.
(I was at Boston in 2013, I had just left the finish line moments before the bombing. As soon as I got to my car I immediately drove right back in to Boston to search for a friend while the entire city was evacuating, I was truly terrified the entire time because of news reports of multiple bombs (untrue). Once we found him, I drove home to NJ. The entire bombing incident impacted me so now every year since I have anxiety-related responses that don't seem obvious or clearly related to Boston, but they always are. It is like my mind sneak attacks my body and makes me malfunction.)
I actually thought (once again), "This year I will be fine. I will be able to train for Boston without having a stress reaction. It was moved to October. The pattern is different. Fresh start." My husband will try to help me by saying things like "You know it unlikely that something will happen at Boston again, right?" Yes. Rationally I know this. But my anxiety is not surface level. It is a deeply ingrain tangling of anxiety + Boston. It is not logical. It isn't even obvious to me when it is actually happening. It is insidious and quiet. It moves in at the pace of a glacier and slowly builds strength, disrupting my flow, my sleep, my peace, and often any chance I have at success as a runner during this time. My mind keeps my body safe by making sure I can't run anything.
So this is what I believe is the real issue. Mind overtaking body.
But wait? If I actually have a swollen bursa, how is this mental? Well I believe it is a little of both. But I believe the bursa isn't as bad as my mind is making it out to be,
First, this is not the first time in the history of my running that my heel bothered me. It feels no more sore than it has in the past, including back in 2016 when I ran all my best races and again in 2020 when I ran my last 3:03 marathon. In those cases, I worked through it. It was sore. I ran. I lifted. It got better. It just needed time to catch up to the work load. I found that calf raises were key for me on the past to build up my ankle strength.
So why is this different? It is different because in the way dark recess of my mind I am most likely looking for my way out. And the last time I gave myself permission to bail on Boston was when I strained my achilles. I believe I am paying way too much attention to it and making it a much bigger problem in my head that it really is in reality.
I am 45 years old. Body parts are going to be a little creaky and sore. I don't expect a painless experience. Historically, training for marathons has never been painless. Something is alway the weakest link and I figure out how to manage it.
I also think I am inadvertently doing things that are making the bursa mad (maybe self-sabotage?). For example, the flat shoes I wear to work are not serving to help me heal. I noticed this week I was more sore in flat shoes than I was last week when I ran in and worked in sneakers more often. I also think my form has been too slouchy and I need to stand up taller. When I lean too far forward I feel more strain down the back of my legs. So I need to stop doing things that are causing me to aggravate my achilles..
I decided on Friday that I was just going to stop feeding into this issue, I plan to either will it way and go run and be fine or I will end up stopping because I make things worse.
I am willing to assume the risk of increased harm in order to give myself a change to try to power through. I opted for this rather than PT only because I know myself personally and Boston always, always, always gets into my head.
I think it takes a lot of mental strength to look a mental weakness directly in the eye and tell it "you can't hurt me." Every single year I think I will see it coming, but I never ever do until I am sucked in to the darkness. But I do catch myself sliding a little sooner each year. This is the earliest I have stopped my derailment. Maybe I have a chance now?
Wednesday, I decided to test how I felt.
So what happened when I called out my anxiety for what it is and I decided to run this week?
I felt better running and ran better than I have all training cycle. Was it from the rest? I would love to say yes, but my heel felt worse off for resting, not better.
I believe when the body is responding with physical pain (psychosomatic) as a result of a psychological issue, naming the problem and shining a light on it is the best way to erase the darkness.
I am shining my light on this here. Either this helps me and I get thought this or I get worse off for trying. At this point, I would rather DNS races because I tried than DNS them because I sat around doing nothing but waiting for insidious pain to go way.
Friday I decided that my heel was going to be fine. I ran a 1M run + .1M walk recovery to see how that felt. My paces felt great and I really didn't feel like I was any worse off for doing this workout.
I then went out Saturday thinking maybe I'll do 6M and I just started running... no walk breaks planned... Just running. I did stop to rescue two dogs at two separate points in my run, which were short breaks... but this run just went from 6M to 12M with no really work. My last two miles were my fastest and the whole run felt great.
I could walk just fine after too.
The last run of the week was an unevenly 3.2 mile jog with Sidney before I had to rush off to work. I made a point to wear sneakers to work since my revelation that my flat shoes weren't helping.
Now the test will be to see what happens next week. Either I fall apart or my find my flow. Only time will tell!
Shannon McGinn, JD, MS, MA, EDS, NBC-HWC, ATR-BC, LPAT.