I’m facing a quandary today, and although my mind knows the right choice, my heart doesn’t want to follow it. I’m a determined sort of character – once I sink my teeth into something, I’m a bit like a bulldog – I don’t let go. But in this running game – the long running game, not the 10km game I’ve been playing for many years – this quality can get people into big, big trouble.
So here’s the issue: I signed up for the 43km Roller Coaster Race back in November last year, right after completing my first half-marathon. It seemed a good event to pin my training on, given I was planning on the North Face 50km race in Sydney in May. With little knowledge, and a quick trigger finger, I ticked off the 43km two-loop box, instead of the 21km one-loop box. I expected I’d build up slowly and get there in time, as I’ve always done. I’d complete the 28km Two Bays in January, and build up to the 43km Roller Coaster Run in March, culminating with the 50km North Face in Sydney’s Blue Mountains in May.
What complicated this plan was my decision, made two years ago, to pursue barefoot/minimalist running. Before my Vibram Five Fingers, before my lower-heeled Asics Racers, I could only run 8km before searing ITB pain. Minimalist running – running without pain – was a new treat, like a lolly to a toddler.
It became a bit of a game to see how far I could run without pain as I slowly, slowly built up my distance in minimalist shoes. I did my first half-marathon, and my second. I ran the 28km Two Bays Race. Trouble was, I kept swapping shoes, having to move back to high-heeled trail shoes to go the final race distances, as I wasn’t up to those milestones in my minimalist shoes.
I knew somewhere along the line I’d have to make a final switch, drop all the heeled running shoes, drop the cushioning, and be either barefoot or at least minimalist in my race shoes. I succeeded in this just after Christmas, doing my first 10km race in my Vibrams, feeling light as a feather, and happy as a kite (if a kite is, in fact, happy).
And here’s where my plans began to unravel. I needed to train for this 43km race in the Dandenongs, in the hills, on the race course. I joined a group of trail runners and, wanting to go the distance they were running, ran in my minimalist shoes for 21 km, when my longest run to date was 16km. Two weeks later, I ran 24km. I ditched my cushioned shoes a month before I intended to, and, with the introduction of speed training, hurt my foot. I thought at first it was a stress fracture, but thankfully, it has come right again with a few days rest and some help from more experienced long-distance runners.
But it is too late. I simply cannot get up to the distance I need in time to meet this 43km quest. The longest I have run since Two Bays in January is 24km, and I needed to hit 39 km this week to be prepared.
Here’s a snippet from an email from the Race Organisers that arrived in my inbox last week:
I tell myself I could just go out and smash it, push through, do the extra mileage in my old cushioned high-heeled trail shoes and see what happens. And then this voice sounds in my head. Idiot, it says. You’re smarter than that.
So while my heart and soul wants to get out there, wants to complete my first-ever marathon distance race, I simply can’t this time. There is too much to lose to injury, and it is not just a marathon-distance race. It is something far beyond that, once I factor in the hills. And there are too many thrilling but shorter races to be tackled this year. Not to mention my huge goal of the North Face 50km race in May.
As I tell my young son, sometimes life is difficult. We can only look for the best of things sometimes, even in the worst of things. This decision is a hard one, but I will learn from it.
The lesson this time is to go at my own pace, and to listen to my body. This body that offers up tremendous wisdom when I stop running long enough to hear.
So it will be one loop of the Roller Coaster Run for me in three weeks time, rather than two.
Now I am off to build myself a sensible, concrete plan for how to achieve the North Face 50km in May.