Tomorrow I planned to run a 6 hour race at One Day at the Fair. I planned this back in May. I had pre-registering for races. But I did it anyways because I love the 6 hour. It is my best event. I find it to be incredibly hard. I have run more than 43 miles in 6 hours. I had a vision of going after my lifetime PR tomorrow. I ran 38 miles in May unprepared for a great race. I did a lot of good work since May. I really had a chance at great run. It is disappointing to not get there.
This 6 hour was one important goal race on my way to preparing for a great NYC Marathon. I knew I would be primed for a fantastic effort at NYC Marathon if I crushed a 6 hour one month before. I was on track during my training. I was meeting all my checkpoints. I felt like my vision was becoming a reality. Big Cottonwood was my last long run for this. I just needed to recover from that race and taper a bit.
I am an artist.
Running is my medium.
Over the past many months, I have been creating a new masterpiece one step at a time. I have been immersed in a body of endurance work, I was feeling very proud of myself.
With my heart as my chisel (don't do this... it hurts), I chipped away at the giant cement block that encased my dreams. It was shocking for me to watch them actually take shape.
These dreams started off as little whispers of wishes floating around in the back of my mind... but they landed, planted themselves, and grew.
Just two weeks ago, I could almost reach out and touch what I hoped to achieve as an athlete. I felt fit, strong, resilient, healthy.... I was back doing what I love.
My runner-self had returned. But for how long? We shall see.
The body is incredibly resilience.
The body is incredibly fragile.
Nothing is promised.
Nothing is off the table either.
Run out the clock.
There is no way to pursue peak performance without risk of harm. It is a cost/benefit analysis. And the harder we push, the closer we get to big goals, the greater the risk.
I accept this. But accepting risk doesn't inoculate me from feeling great disappointment when I fumble or fail.
My last race report was about running a 3:06:59 at Big Cottonwood. This was a raging success for me. I was ahead of my checkpoint.
I shared how hard Big Cottonwood Marathon is on the body even though it yields fast times. I accepted that risk. I felt good racing. I felt strong. I felt resilient. I was still concerned it would beat me up but by the end I felt like I made it through.
I walked away feeling solid, healthy, and strong. I made it 7 days post-Big Cottonwood without feeling any concern that I was injured. I have come to learn that the first 7 days can offer a false sense of security. I have gotten "randomly" hurt as much as 7 days after a hard race on more than one occasion, but not often. More often I am fine.
By mid-week after this race, I was running again without any aches or pains. I had no lingering concerns. I started registering for races I wanted run for training or as a goals. I planned to take it easy over the weekend. I wan't pushing myself. I planned for an easy 10M LR and to ride my spin bike for cardio.
But prior to going out for my 10 miler, I squatted down to do something, held that position for a few seconds, and then got up. It was not an exercise session. I headed out for my 10M and felt fine... until 5 miles from home. That is what I noticed my glute getting uncomfortable, tight, and bothersome. I suspect that squatting down movement tweaked something. I ran/walked back home not thrilled that something felt very wrong. I hoped a few days of rest would be enough to get me ready for this 6 hours race.
But the next morning I was definitely NOT ok. I tried to no panic. I got used to being healthy. This pain wasn't from anything traumatic. I didn't fall. I wasn't sprinting. The squatting motion was not really even that significant. But something happened to my Piriformis muscle that showed up on the run.
Today is 2 week later. I am still not 100%. I am not training. I had to stop. This timing stinks. I am feeling much better but this is taking a long time for a random problem. It feels like my piriformis muscle irritation somehow aggravated my sciatic nerve. I know the nerve release stretches. I know to not do anything that aggravates it. I can spin without any pain. It is getting better daily. I am over the hump and on the side of recovery now, but I lost two weeks of very crucial NYC Marathon Training. I lost the chance to chase a 6 hour PR that my heart was hoping for.
Dreams can be incredibly fragile.
Dreams can be incredibly resilient.
Nothing is promised.
Nothing is off the table either.
Run out the clock.
My dreams feel like they got doused by a new batch of cement and I can't do anything but sit here and watch it all harden around them. My heart is tired. The work of chipping away all over again is really hard to imagine right now. I chipped away for months, patiently, relentlessly, with meaningful and motivating results... only to suffer a random injury that set back my effort during peak training where time is of the essence.
So what can I do?
I have choices.
(a) I can feel sorry for myself and let this suffocate me... but that is really not useful. Life is short, I don't care to spend it feeling disappointed about what I can't do. Let's be real, I was/am disappointed. I am allowed to be disappointed. But for how long does this feeling get to dominate my emotional tone? I think two weeks has been more than enough. I am ready to move on.
(b) I can pivot. I can make decisions that will help me refocus. Goals are future wishes. There are more whispers of wishes I can work on nuturing. Goals, Dreams... they are never guaranteed. That is what makes them so incredibly special when they manifest.
To squander my time and drain my limited emotional bandwidth festering on the negative isn't my way. I need to recalculate my route, reset my target, revise my plan, and refocus on opportunities around instead of the obstacles in my way.
I believe that we are surrounded by opportunities to feel successful and opportunities to experience hardship at the same time all the time. I believe we become what we focus on.
A few years ago, I re-learned the lesson we all learn as runners: Trying to run through injury doesn't work. The problem with this lesson is it isn't always clear if what we are feeling is an injury. It seems like it should be obvious but it never is.
Sometimes things hurt for no good reason. We learn this lesson too. This is why we run for so long in trouble, when in hindsight we can see that we should have stopped. But we run all the time with little aches and pains that come and go an never cause any problems. We may not even identify them or realize they exist. But periodically one of those random aches or pains sticks around and turns into disappointment.
A few years ago, I tried to train for Boston 2021 with intermittent Achilles pain because Boston was so very important to me at that point in my life. I had qualified for Boston after having a year of sepsis infections. I didn't think I would run again. Then I when I realized I could, I got fit very quickly and ran a 3:03 marathon. I earned my BQ in January 2020 and then Covid shut down racing. When Boston was back on, my 3:03 still was good enough to get me in for October 2021. I really wanted to race Boston in the Fall. As I worked on training again in May 2021, my Achilles didn't want to do it. But it was intermittent post-run bursa swelling and not alway a problem. I called it "a mechanical problem, not an injury." However, over time it became less intermittent and more chronic. I had to DNS Boston 2021... and eventually stopped running to finally give myself a real chance to heal. It took me from Sept 2021 through early 2023 run again. I ran my first marathon post-Achilles injury on April 30, 2023.
It took me years to heal. I can't do that to myself again.
When I had to stop running, I had once again suspected I was done racing. I accepted that. Then I started run/walking again last Fall. I slowly rebuilt my identity as an endurance athlete almost by accident. I felt no pressure to do anything. I was running for health.
Coming back to this sport again has been a gift. It felt like a rebirth. I don't care what they say, sometimes you can return home again. I felt like I was exactly where I belonged. I appreciated every step.
I started to plan for the future.... for the NYC Marathon.. I was able to collect $3000 in generous donation from those who care about me and/or the cause I raised money for. All the fund raised for The Flatwater Foundation will provide free psychotherapy to people with cancer and their families
Over the past few months, I got faster and faster. And one of those little whispers grew into a strong voice that sounded like my own. I started to allow my a dream about running sub-3 in NYC on my 48th birthday take shape. And then I ran a 3:06 at Big Cottonwood with 2 more months to train! I felt like I really had chance at that sub-3 again. I was getting more and hopeful. I felt like I had caught a great wave. I was standing up riding strong... until I squatted down randomly and accidentally fell off my board.
So now I sit here knowing that if I want to race NYC in just over 1 month, I have to train for it, but I also can't power through either like I did trying to train for Boston 2021 that I never got to run.
My piriformis feels better today. I need a few more test runs to be sure I am ok. I don't want to allow NYC to do to me what I allowed Boston to do to me two years ago... to put pressure on me to do more than I can. I don't want to elevate a race to feel more important than my health. Yes it's NYC... but my body can only do what it can do.
Deferring to next year is an option. I don't plan to take that option just yet. I need to see how I feel. I need to go out for long easy run and assess what happens next. Three weeks of down time since my last marathon is not complete detraining. But I know I have definitely lost ground. I can feel it.
This means no 6 hour race this weekend. Definitely not. I am disappointed about that. But that too will pass.
Rather than feel sorry for myself, I am pivoting. No sub-3 in NYC on my Birthday. That one goes back into the cement. It was pretty to look at from a short distance, but it is not for me right now... not at NYC. Maybe later. Maybe never again. Either way it will be ok. I have run sub-3s before.
The key is to focus on what I can do.
I am what I focus on.
Look for the opportunities exist around me.
Listen for whispers.
I am about to jump on my spin bike. I can ride without pain. I rode 140 miles last week without a set back from that .... I'll watch a movie about someone crushing the Boston Marathon while contemplating how to revise my focus in away that allows me to start chipping away again...
Run out the clock chasing dreams. That is how to get to most of this life. We only live once.
Shannon McGinn, JD, MS, MA, EDS, NBC-HWC, ATR-BC, LPAT.