Is it possible?
I was pessimistic, in an optimistic kind of way. I held on to the hope that I would feel up to running today but knew it probably wouldn’t work out that well. I hadn’t run in 2 ½ weeks and history tells me that I never have a good run the first day back after being off for injury, illness or race recovery. So I was hoping for the best but expecting the worst, i.e. runners knee symptoms that always pop up, shin tightness I’ve been plagued with for a year now and maybe even the muscle cramps which crept into my last run those 17 days before that finally clued me into the fact that I was sick…real sick. Not just stuffy nose above the shoulder you can run through sick. I had the sweats and unexplainable cramping of my quad muscles only a couple of kilometres into my run which had me turning home with the sinking feeling that I wouldn’t be back anytime soon.
“Maybe a week”, I thought to myself, 7 days of no running and resting would surely have me back on track ‘er trail, missing merely one week of a 14 week plan (which had already been modified from a 16 week plan). Even though the coming week was supposed to culminate with me running my first half marathon, as a training run mind you, I knew I’d have to give the “rest and recovery thing” a good effort or I’d risk letting this illness drag on even longer. I had already taken a half assed approach to getting over whatever it was, with taking 2 days off then trying to run, and taking another 3 days off before trying again and failing miserably. I was only getting much worse and didn’t want to jeopardize my ability to take my place at the starting line at this year’s Run For The Toad 50km on October 5th. So 7 days off it would have to be. I’d probably have to miss the half but hey, if I was back to feeling good by the Saturday I might still be able to get it in and then get on with the next 3 weeks, and what important weeks they were to be.
Two of my biggest running weeks were ahead of me, an 84 km week followed by a 74, a 67 then a taper week before the BIG RACE. Two of those weeks would hold the biggest running totals I have ever done along with some hilly tempos and increasing hill repeats so I was still holding out hope that one OFF week to kick this illness wouldn’t be the end to my successful foray into the world of ultras. Well the week dragged by and I visited my doctor to get her opinion. It isn’t always easy to get in to see her and I luckily already had an appointment lined up to talk to her about my shin. It had been a year since she had diagnosed me with a stress fracture. The diagnosis was the impetus for me to begin hiking and in turn for deciding to back off of 5kms and try to get a good base of slower miles in my legs. For the most part this approach worked out well as it had always seemed that I would begin getting injured (foot, calf, knee) when speed was introduced to my training. Unfortunately though, the shin never seemed to be absolutely happy as it still had this constant omnipresent dull throbbing ache.
So there I was in the doctor’s office and she starts in with, “So I understand your shin is still bothering you”, to which I reply, “Forget about the shin doc, I have bigger problems these days”…or something to that effectJ So it turns out I had a temperature and together with the sweats, muscle cramps and aches she thought I probably had a nasty virus that was going around. She also ordered a round of blood tests to be sure it wasn’t something more chronic like anemia or a hypothyroidism. Well the rest of the week didn’t go well and I ended up skipping the half, and had only enough energy the next week to get up and go back to sleep a few hours later, every day, day after day. I have never felt like that before and all kinds of thoughts entered my head, let’s just say I was worried and not just for my race but my future health as well. I was very glad that I had taken time off to recover though because as it turned out I could have extended this thing a lot longer if I hadn’t headed the warning signs and tried to push through my workouts just to get the miles or time on legs in.
So here I am now, four days out from the race. Having missed 2 ½ key weeks of training I bring you back to my initial question, “Is it possible?” Can I actually run and finish a 50km race this Saturday? Well to fill you in further, the first run back which you’ll remember had me optimistically pessimistic lasted about 15 min before the knee started complaining, so I tried again a couple days later. I got a bit further each day, 40min, 50min then had a 90 min. run this past Sunday. Heading home from Sunday’s run in Gould Lake on the same stretch of trail where I first felt my shin pain last year, I couldn’t help but hope I’d make it back to my car running. I was also trying not to think about the muscle cramps that plagued my runs 3 weeks back that had put a sudden halt to my training and I had some time to reflect on what had made it all go so wrong. Had I pushed the pace on my back to backs? Heck, should I even have been running back to backs? Well I know my first mistake was throwing my coaching/training funds into the monthly expenses pot and going it alone or coachless for the first time in 4(?) years. But I saw it all as a learning experience and one I dove into head first and excitedly so if not with some trepidation.
I had pieced together a training schedule in a way only Dr. Frankenstein might appreciate. A part from this 50km plan I found on the race’s website, a piece from that marathon plan I googled, a tidbit from past plans, a crumb I picked from my former coach’s brain. I think I probably screwed things up when I became so concerned with hitting weekly distance goals that I ran recovery runs for distance and not by how I was feeling and thinking back believe that many of them could have been reduced by half or more. In the past I ran 30, 40, 60min recovery runs but now was doing 13km recoveries which came in around 90 minutes. I even wrote a few times in my journal that it didn’t seem much like a “recovery run”. The week I began to fall apart and get sick I had to take two days off before my hills because I was just too darn tired. I had every intention of making up the days later in the week but my body had other ideas and put a stop to my hill repeats early, then rewarded me with horrible muscle cramps on the way home during which time I fell hard and scraped myself up on the trail. I really think that with the overtraining or overreaching as some like to call it, that I left myself vulnerable to whatever viruses were circulating at the time and I seemed to pick up a nasty one.
What I have learned is that viruses love to attack weakened, damaged cells and I probably had a big share of those due to overstressing my system. So once the virus takes up residency in these dying cells it begins to replicate itself. The more weakened cells you have the more viruses can move in and the longer it can take your immune system to fight them and clear them out. So what may have been a virus that most people can deal with in a week, my compromised system took 3 weeks to take care of. All I can say is thank goodness it is gone and lessoned learned.
An interesting side note for runners is that viruses actually help clear your body of all of those damaged cells we accumulate as a result of breaking down our muscles etc. during workouts. Our body is actually not that good at recognizing what cells have been damaged so the bad ones tend to sit around a long time before being replaced with strong healthy cells. However, viruses like colds and flus can detect those compromised cells quickly and when they do move in the body is alerted to the virus and the damaged cells and begins clearing them both out. Of course a cold or flu virus is pretty easy for our bodies to deal with if we are relatively healthy however sometimes a real nasty one can move in which can lead to one of many diseases. So if you are one to always come down with a cold before a race it is probably due to an accumulation of damaged cells from your training. This of course has me pondering how we can best use this knowledge so as to make sure we are healthy for race day. If I want to avoid a cold, obviously, not over reaching in my training is a no brainer but I might want to consider taking a week off now and again weeks before a race to let those damaged cells clear out of my system before a nasty virus moves in. Or if I can’t avoid the colds altogether, I could at least try to “schedule my colds” for earlier in training rather than later. One way to do this might be extend my training period and perhaps the tapers also. Now that I have a better handle on the damaged cell, virus connection it makes it easy to connect it to other dots such as making sure to boost my immune system with what I put in to my body and to take adequate recovery no matter what the bloody schedule calls for.
As for the race I plan on starting very conservatively. I can only hope to finish at this point. I’ll have a small crew of 2 border collies and my Mom. I am running it as a long run…a very long, long run or perhaps just a good days hike:-) I really hope to be able to run more then I walk. I don't even know if there are cut-offs...let's hope not:-P