On June 22nd, I ran 2 miles. They were on a track, and they were very slow. After the run, my adductor was super tight, and I was convinced my femur wasn’t healed. I spent the rest of the day freaking out, devastated that I’d need to take more time off. At that point, I had already taken 9 weeks off. The healing was slow, though I was pain-free for at least 2 weeks prior to my first attempted test run.

Magically, the adductor tightness from that first test run went away, and I ran another slow 2 miles that Wednesday. And then another 2 on Friday. And then 1 on Saturday. Slowly but surely, my mileage started to creep back up: 8 the first week…11 the next week…then 15, 21, 28. And I started doing bike workouts too! As I slowly built up my mileage, I started to believe I was finally on the path to regaining my fitness and overcoming another stress reaction.

On July 24th, I ran my first workout since April. 3 x 8min at marathon pace. The workout was wonderful; it felt so great to turn over my legs again. While I definitely didn’t feel as fit as I was before my injury, I didn’t feel TOO far off. I was admittedly pretty diligent about cross training this time (once the doctor cleared me, 4-weeks in), and I was decently conscious about eating well. And, as I mentioned above, doing interval bike workouts (10x2min…5x5min, then 5x3min…etc.) just before incorporating running workouts into my regimen seemed to power up my legs and lungs too.

But starting up again hasn’t been all rainbows and unicorns. It’s been a scary process where my head is really messed up because every run I’m terrified I’m going to hurt myself again. That or my femur is still almost-broken, and any day now, it’s going to snap. It aches profusely after some workouts yet feels better on recovery days. If I’m running particularly hard for an extended amount of time, I feel my quad buzzing–not necessarily in pain–but I feel it. As the summer has gone on, I’m getting better about believing that I’m okay, but it’s definitely been a process.

The bottom line is this: this stress reaction–the second one in a year–was a huge blow to my fitness, confidence, strength, and ego. In April, after running Boston, thought I was back. I thought I had it all figured out. I was eager to use the summer to get speed back into my legs and lower my marathon PR. I’m hungry for sub-3 and I know I can get there if my body stops breaking down.

So spending this summer as “injury comeback…again” has sucked. It’s given me a lot of perspective when it comes to happiness, health, and recovery. I’ve been attacking workouts differently, yet coming out of them with a renewed sense of confidence–confidence that I’ve been missing since Boston ’14. Nowadays, I have no fear of paces or workouts. If I need to tempo at 6:35, I tempo at 6:35 . If I need to fartlek at 6:05, I fartlek at 6:05. If my 800s need to be sub-3:00, they’re sub-3:00. The pace is insignificant now, because I’m just happy to be running and healthy. I go into workouts knowing what needs to get done…and I do it. If I can’t hit a pace, I can’t hit a pace…and it’s okay. I’ve accepted where I am right now speed and strength-wise. In order to get faster, I know that I need to look forward, put all my injuries from the past 12-months behind me, and commit to starting fresh. I’m getting there.

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New skills acquired this summer: trail running and going SLOW…like 8:30-on-easy-days slow.

So on August 23rd, I had the opportunity to run a 10k in Old Wethersfield, CT. A test race, if you will. I went into the race with very low expectations. After all–how much speed could I have gotten in only 1-month of workouts?

The night before the race, I noticed something different, though. I was not only excited, but I was genuinely feeling confident–a pre-race feeling that had escaped me for over a year. I was looking forward to execute a good, strong run, and see where I was at fitness-wise. I wanted to run hard and have it hurt. I had missed that feeling.

The plan was to go out in 6:50s and chip away at the pace. In my head, I was more or less thinking of running 2 x 6:50, 2 x 6:40s, 2 x 6:30s.

I warmed up with some friends and my legs felt good. The weather was cool but VERY humid–around 90%. By the time we were done with our warmup, I was already dripping in sweat. In true me-fashion, I barely had enough time to change into racing flats, take a quick puff of my inhaler, and make it to the starting line in time.

Miles 1-2: 6:35, 6:33
Well shit. That didn’t go according to plan. But the exciting thing is that 6:30s felt totally effortless. I figured, “ok, as long as you can chill out and get some of these faster miles in the bank, you’ll be able to just cruise later on in the race.”

Miles 3-4: 6:30, 6:25
The theme of this race is, “I can’t believe I’m still running this fast, but I’m just gonna go with it and see what happens and hopefully I don’t crash and burn.”

Again…for miles 3-4, I wanted to be in the 6:40s, but I still felt amazing, so I just held on. Mile 4 was a quick little out-and-back, and I saw all of my teammates, which I think powered me up and made me go faster. I also had just read an article where the Brooks Beast coach, Danny Mackey, was quoted as saying something along the lines of, “if you still have a big kick at the end of a 10k, you probably could’ve gone a little faster in the middle miles.” He also said that most people aren’t conditioned to feel the pain of a 10k to race it properly, so most can actually physically go faster in the middle than they think. With the article fresh on my mind and my legs not screaming at me yet, I figured I could probably keep running at the pace where I was and then hang on for the final 2 miles.

When mile 4 clicked in at 6:25, I said, “shit, I need to slow down just a little bit,” out loud. I knew 6:20s wouldn’t be sustainable, but I did want to keep churning out 6:30s if I could. I reminded myself of a workout I had a few weeks ago–3 x 10min–where I honestly thought I was going to puke the entire time, but I still hit my marks. I knew if I could manage my splits in that workout, I could finish the final 2 miles of this 10k.

Miles 5-6.2: 6:36, 6:37, .28 in 6:36
I was satisfied with a 6:36 mile 5 and told myself to just hang on. Had I gone into this race with higher expectations, I might have tried to push harder and catch up to my training partner, Aimee, who was right ahead of me and in my field of vision. But I was starting to really hurt and I had already exceeded where I thought I was going to be…so I just tried to stay steady and focused on myself.

The final quarter mile is on paved dirt in a park and I found it incredibly hard to grip and have any sort of turnover or kick whatsoever. I was ready for the race to be over, so it was a huge relief to run through the final stretch of grass and through the finish chute.

FINAL 10k: 41:07

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Boom.

I ran through the line and dry heaved my soul along the side of the chute (per usual), and was thankfully left alone by race volunteers. All of my CT teammates had finished within a minute of each other, so I was greeted by a sea of black SoundRUNNER jerseys and high-fives.

My 10k PR prior to this race was a poorly-measured Turkey Trot, which I’ve done 2-years in a row, and both years it’s been just under 6.2 miles on my Garmin. So I’ve deemed this Old Wethersfield 10k as my new PR, especially seeing that my splits were MUCH faster this time around throughout the entire run than they ever have been for the Turkey Trot.

Upon finishing (and after dry heaving), my immediate, overachieving thought was, “dammit, why couldn’t you have broken 41???” But as I’ve been thinking about the race more and more, I’m realizing that the run was a really great achievement. The way I handled this race is reminiscent of my old self, before I even had any injuries. I approached this race ready and confident…I was ready to push hard and really really hurt, even if the result wasn’t a perfect run or PR. The last race I went into feeling confident and ready to push hard and just have a solid run hasn’t been since Boston ’14. Even at this year’s Boston; if I have to be honest, I was totally scared and had built too much pressure up on myself. Don’t get me wrong: I’m still very proud of the way I ran this year at Boston…but it was a very different feeling of accomplishment.

In April (and post-injury #1), I said I was back; but I’m learning that “being back” doesn’t really matter, does it? What’s important is being able to put the past behind you and look ahead with a renewed sense of confidence, preparedness, and grit. I thought I had done that before, but I don’t think I was quite there yet. This summer, I think I’m slowly starting to get to that place…one run at a time.

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