So, testing limits. This has been about testing limits. That is what I am telling myself. And as someone wiser than me said, you can’t be sure where the limits are until you’ve stepped over them.
Well, apparently, I have. According to my feet, my lower back, and my neck, that is. It has been three days since I last ran. Nearly four. That, for me, is a lifetime. But here’s the sad thing – I am just not missing it yet. I’ve been pushing it too hard for too long. Every aspect of my body has been saying no, too far, too much, and I’ve been trying to turn down the volume on that voice, to not listen, to soldier on.
Part of the troubles have come from experimenting with minimalist running. I have been able to run further than ever before pain-free since I began using Vibrams and Inov-8 shoes. I’ve taken it super-slowly, taken two years to get up to running 10km in these zero-drop shoes. They’ve enabled me to run two half-marathons, and my first 28 km race ever.
And then, because I dangled a mountain marathon in front of myself, and I didn’t know how to run a marathon, I downloaded an App, input some details about myself and started to follow it. To make life simpler, I started running in the minimalist shoes for all my training runs. It is hard to change shoes half-way through a run in the woods, so I didn’t. And things seemed to be going along okay (well, ignoring the achilles, foot, back and neck pain). Well enough, let’s say.
Then I did last Tuesday’s tempo run. It was a 13km run (part of a 60km week), with 10km of it at a pace of 5:03 per kilometre, or less. In my new Inov-8 TrailRoc’s, I flew down that trail, ate it up, skirted around the walkers and the dogs, and ran my heart out. It wasn’t until 11.5km that my foot started hurting. Thinking it was just the usual ache, I ignored it, finished the run, and limped up the stairs to shower. As the next day I was teaching BodyPump, and I never run on that day, I assumed I’d be okay for my usual Thursday Vibram Five Fingers 10km run. And I was – I taught my classes, changed shoes and trotted off down the trail
Except I wasn’t all right. It didn’t hurt when I was running – it felt good.
Later, though, just touching the top of my foot made me wince in pain. I’d booked a run with a new friend for the next morning at 7:30 am, and it killed me to have to cancel. We’d planned 21km up and downhill in the Dandenongs, and I knew he was fast, and that the terrain would be unforgiving. So for the second time in a month, I cancelled a training run that I was seriously looking forward to.
So, is it a stress fracture? Is it tendonitis? I don’t know. I’ve had lots of valuable suggestions from other trail runners, I’ve googled all the possible injuries it can be, I’ve explored preventative exercises to fix it. But I’ve gone, in the end, with the best solution I could find to overuse – UNDERuse (thanks for the idea, invisibleshoes.com)! For three days, I’ve rested, resisted all offers for runs from clients, friends, kids and running groups. I’ve made myself be smart; I’ve thought; ice-bathed my feet; cried a bit; felt sorry for myself; snapped at people; rested.
And today, I do believe I have figured out what is the matter. I have always been a cross-training runner, a runner who runs because I love it. But I love lots of other things too. I’ve done the races that have fit into my training life, rather than trained for a specific race. There were always thing I just couldn’t give up to run more – I love my gym, and my BodyPump, I love cross training with my iPod and my favorite music, riding my bike, doing random high-energy aerobic classes. These things were, in hindsight, supporting, rather than getting in the way of my running. What I really love is being strong enough (and healthy enough) to carry my kids up the stairs to bed when bedtime comes.
Somewhere along this journey to greater distance, I started down the wrong trail, one that does not suit who I am or what my body requires or enjoys. Sure, I will continue to train for races. I will continue to love my trails, and my trail running buddies. But I’m not going to become the crazy lady who just runs all the time, the one who looks tired and drawn in the mirror, the one too exhausted to run around the block with my kids. I’m not going to learn to hate running to be able to run further.
I’m done with all of that. I’m coming back to sanity.
Here’s where I’m happy: 40 to 50 km per week, with my longest run being 20-24 km. That’s already double what I was doing a year ago. That’s enough. I want to be healthy, to run forever – not to run far and fast and burn out and have to hang up my eighty-two pairs of running shoes forever. I want to love my run every time I do it, like I used to.
I am going back on my own trail, the trail that makes me happy, healthy, and strong.
My feet feel better already.