One runner talks about how she overcame the disappointment of having to sit out the marathon she worked so hard to prepare for.
I watched as my running friends rose at dawn to clock their Saturday long runs. I listened to their tales of aches and pains. I started seeing posters for the marathon go up around the city—in subways, at the park, and everywhere in between. I blocked out memories of the race's rousing start, the agonizing middle, and the triumphant finish. I didn't even care about the medal.
It doesn't matter that I'm not running the marathon this year, I told myself, over and over.
And then the shoes arrived.
As a running writer, I often get fun packages in the mail (fuel! socks!) but when I opened up a box to find a new pair of Brooks Adrenaline GTS, I wanted to cry. Not because they were a size too small—but because this "Gray Lady" edition had the names of New York boroughs and neighborhoods printed all over them. They were made specifically for the New York City Marathon, the race I was sitting out and had to wait an entire year to run. So yeah, maybe I cried a little bit.
Training for a marathon usually takes at least 16 weeks, a long enough time for even the most cautious runner to become injured. Ten weeks into my training, I ran—I should probably say raced—a 10-mile race through a Bronx neighborhood. Before the race that morning I woke up feeling well-rested with fresh legs. Basically, the best I'd felt as a runner in months. Maybe I somehow knew that would be my last great run for a while, because after grabbing a major PR, the ball of my foot started hurting. Then I began limping. Two days later I was seeing an orthopedist who told me to take Aleve and stay off it for a week.
But this mysterious foot injury kept me away from running for an entire month, through all the peak mileage weeks in my training schedule. My goose was cooked, and I knew it, but I still hadn't accepted the truth...until seeing those shoes. There's no way you can run the marathon, one side of my brain would say. Not unless you really want to hurt yourself. And then the devil on my shoulder would say, "You can still do it!"
There was really only one way out of this mess.
Moping sounded like a fantastic way to spend the rest of my training. So I tried it. I lasted three days.
Then I started to think of the positive aspects (yes, there are positive aspects) of being injured. I suddenly had a lot more time on my hands. I was less sore and not constantly starving. My mind had room to consider all sorts of things I had ignored: Maybe I should strength train! Maybe cheering for friends will be fun! Maybe I can do a different race in the spring!
The good news? This is exactly how injured runners should think, says Chris Heuisler, an all-around running guru and National RunWESTIN Concierge for Westin Hotels & Resorts. I called him up for advice on how to deal with my bitter defeat—and did he ever deliver. While New York is the "red carpet marathon," he says, "You're almost doing yourself a disservice by only running New York. There are hundreds of other races to choose from."
His next bit of advice? Swallow your pride. "The last thing you want to do is feel sorry for yourself," says Heuisler. "I would highly encourage a person to still go out there and volunteer, bring your water and gels and make signs. An injured runner, more than most people out there, knows what runners need."
He also pointed out that during marathon training, most people eat whatever calories they can find, and are often under-rested because of early morning runs. Now that I'm hurt, I can try to become better at everything that goes to shambles when I'm running. This means eating clean and sleeping more—and actually joining a gym. Walking into my neighborhood gym to ask about a membership felt like a last resort; an actual defeat. But two weeks later, now I see that this feeling stemmed from unfamiliarity. My running habit was steady and calming. Once I put some group fitness classes on my calendar (and figured out where the locker rooms were) I realized the gym didn't have to be intimidating. In fact, it could be one more tool to make me become a better runner. (After all, strength training and cross training effectively are big factors in making a runner both faster and stronger.)
Still though, after a few weeks of cycling and "ass & abs" classes at the gym, I kept thinking, Of course, I can still run. It would hurt, but isn't gutting through a race part of being a "real runner"?
Uh, no. Heuisler actually cured that thought with a single question: What do the elites do? "You'll never hear an elite runner show up at a race with anything wrong with them," he says. Some people think racing through injury is a badge of honor, but "it's a badge of stupidity," he says, taking care to note that he understands the impulse and stubbornness—people train and pay huge sums of money to participate in these races. But in the end, he says, "Look at the big picture. It's always longevity."
So, I may not be running the NYC Marathon this year, but a lifetime of running? That is something I can look forward to.