By Emily Popoff, PT, DPT
Well, dear readers, my current running journey is over. After 12 weeks of training, more early mornings than I care to think about, more mileage then I’ve done since I was playing soccer, and a few injuries to boot, my half-marathon race day came and went. And though it was challenging, both in ways I did and didn’t expect, I’m not sorry that I decided to put myself through this experience.
Race day itself was Super Bowl Sunday, which also happened to be the day immediately after a giant storm in the area absolutely drenched everything. And though it wasn’t raining when the race started, the day was cool (ideal for running) and extremely windy (not so much), with a couple instances of light showers for about 10-15 minutes during the race. A relatively flat course combined with a great running playlist (if I do say so myself) really set me up for an amazing run. But, as we know, not all things in life go according to plan. I found that I was able to pace myself appropriately and everything seemed to be going well, but whether it was an unfamiliar route, fighting the wind, or a combination of factors, I found myself feeling slightly ill and cramping up after mile seven. And because I had previously resolved to not stubbornly push through when objectively I knew it would be bad for me, I took the rest of the course at a combination of jogging and walking.
Now, the unexpected issue hit at mile nine. Like I said, I knew it was in my best interest to alternate some short walking breaks in to my run, but at that ninth mile marker, a huge wave of emotion hit, and suddenly I felt completely disappointed in myself for not jogging all the way through, when I knew I was fit enough to do so. It was rough, I’ll admit, mostly because the PT in me knew that it was the smart thing for my body to alternate my pace and slow it down. But I had put in so much work up to this point to be physically ready for this race that it felt like I was letting myself down. And it was in this moment that I really did feel closer to most of my patients than I had throughout this entire experience. You see, we are all motivated and driven by different things to push ourselves to our own personal limits, but sometimes those limits are not in our best interest. That’s often what puts people on my treatment table and it’s the main reason I’m always teaching others to listen to their bodies and to respect the limits that they are setting. And now here I was, mad and upset that my body was telling me something I didn’t want to hear.
It was hard and took another mile, but I was able to make peace with my limits that day, recognizing that, in other circumstances, I did have the ability to jog the entire race. And as annoying as it was, I kept my run/walk alternating all the way to the final mile, which I was determined to jog in its entirety. And at 2 hours and 34 minutes, I crossed that finish line, got my medal, water, and banana, managed to get to my mom’s car, as she was kind enough to drive my sister-in-law and I, and spent the rest of the afternoon stretching and binging on donuts, chicken wings, nachos, and brisket sandwiches (it was still Super Bowl weekend, after all).
Though I may have been tempted to maintain my previous levels of exercise that coming week, rest and recovery is just as vital in the training regiment as the actual physical work. So that next week was a rest week, a week I took to recover, stretch, get some acupuncture and PT treatment, and overall let my body recover from the stress and strain I had been putting it under. I’d like to say after that week off I was revitalized and ready to resume higher levels of activity, but apparently someone was conspiring to get me some more rest, because I did get sick towards the end of the week, which just forced me to really rest and recuperate my body even more. And to be honest, I’m not upset about that. I don’t know about you, but I will definitely push myself past what may be reasonable at the time, physically, mostly because I’m stubborn. But if it was a cardio workout just walking around my small apartment, I wasn’t going to push it any more.
While I wasn’t exactly ecstatic at the end of the race, and I never experienced what others describe as the “runners high” I was glad that I went through with this run. I found that, even 6 years after my last half-marathon, I could still train and compete in a long run. I found that I still had the ability to push my body physically and that it would respond in kind, as long as I took care of it throughout the process. And I came to peace with the fact that I had to change my plan mid-race and am proud of myself for completing this run. Because going in to it, my goal was to finish the race; not run it the entire way, not set a personal record time, but to finish the race, which I did. Sure, the stubborn, competitive side of me is still chagrined that I didn’t jog the entire way, but the more reasonable side of me realizes that I had the endurance and ability to do so, and sometimes, that knowledge is enough.
So where does that leave me and running? Well, I still don’t like it. And thankfully for me my sister-in-law also doesn’t get the runners high and isn’t chomping at the bit to do another half-marathon any time soon. But there was something about those early mornings, just me, my music, and my running shoes, that provided me an almost meditative state and set me up for a good day. My energy was high throughout training and I just felt better overall. So as much as it galls me to admit it, I think I’ll keep up some (light) running on a regular basis. Nothing crazy, mind you, but about 10 miles a week sounds very doable and appropriate to me. So, until my next crazy idea hits (or I get coerced in to it), I’ll still be that runner on the road, albeit not as early and not as often, but because I enjoy that time to myself. And I really enjoy eating, so I have to counter-balance that in a healthy manner somehow.