Richmond Marathon Training: Getting My Feet Under Me

Hello, training blogging, my old friend.

I don't even know where to start with this one, primarily because I don't think I want to share my Richmond training the way I have historically shared my training: with daily workout recaps, weekly stats, etc. While the data nerd in me really wants to scratch that itch, it can rest assured knowing that I have all of that information stored in Garmin, Smashrun, my training spreadsheet, etc. There is truly no need to rehash it here, as I'm not sure how interesting it would be, and I'm not sure it's good for me anyway. I've gone through a lot of growth in my training this year - a lot of progress, some setbacks, some mental clarity, sometimes of more confusion than ever - and as much as I want to try to write it all down, to qualify it and to quantify it, I'm not sure that I can. And even if I could, I'm not sure that I should. 

But because I haven't really recorded or documented anything beyond the basics, I have arrived here, at week 14 of marathon training - nearly to the end of yet another training cycle - wondering where the weeks have gone. Isn't that the way it always goes though? That's a real question, not a rhetorical one, because I really don't remember the answer. I have some form of training amnesia where every training cycle I forget everything about the last one, which is part of the reason I have kept detailed training logs for so long. It helps me to be able to look back and remember the high points and the low points, to remind myself what feelings are normal and happen every single time. I just didn’t feel like doing that this time, and I have no regrets about that choice, but it does make it more difficult to look back and form a nice narrative of exactly how things have gone.

So let’s start from the beginning, or at least what I can remember of it.

I stopped working with my coach on literally the first day of this training cycle, which wasn't altogether unexpected but was still an...interesting way to start a new training cycle. It was a mutual decision and, honestly, a bit of a relief, as it gave me the freedom and the flexibility to map out a training plan that I could truly care and be excited about (not that I wasn't excited about my coach's training plan, but there's something about having a personal stake in my training that really motivates me). 

The first six weeks of training went just fine - not great, not bad, just fine. I focused on running more intuitively, running how I wanted when I wanted, rather than 100% according to plan. As a former strict canned plan follower this was a departure from my past marathon training, but I liked it. I felt like I had lots of freedom to enjoy life without the marathon taking over (maybe even too much freedom) and my runs, while not spectacular, we’re decent enough to keep me going day after day. There was truly nothing noteworthy to report. 

Things changed somewhere around week 7. That was the week Mollie Tibbetts’s body was found. Mollie was a complete stranger, years and states apart from me, but her disappearance while on a run in rural Iowa in mid-July shook me. I followed her case for a month, and I knew it wasn’t a question of how it would end, it was a question of when. I thought I’d feel some type of strange morbid relief when her body was finally found, hoping to confirm my wishful thinking that it had been an accident, a hit-and-run - tragic, absolutely, but not sinister. When her body was found the news quickly emerged that a suspect was in custody, a suspect who had followed, harassed, and attacked her. The fact that Mollie spent her last moments on this earth living out my biggest fear and worst nightmare was devastating. 

I have never grieved for a complete stranger like I grieved for Mollie. I sobbed at random intervals, I was nauseous, I was on edge. Paranoid is my default state when I run, but not enough to make me do 100% of the things I can do to stay safe 100% of the time. I run alone, I run in the dark, I run with headphones, I let my mind wander and stop paying attention to my surroundings. After Mollie died my paranoia hit an all time high, and my running suffered. Around that same time the morning light during my before-work running window had all but vanished, so I stopped running in the morning. I stopped caring about tempo paces or intervals. I had a run they day after her body was found that I couldn’t even bring myself to finish. 

I wish I could say that I was at least in a good physical place despite not being in a good mental place, but that’s not true either. Around that same time I started feeling some pain in my right thigh. Note that I have had nearly every injury you can think of on my left side, but until now, my right side had stayed perfectly intact. I cautiously hobbled through runs at an easy pace, but a week later the pain had returned bad enough that I took one searing step of a planned 5-miler before calling it off. I had a half marathon scheduled 3 days later and although I drove to packet pickup the day before with almost no intention of being able to run 13 miles the next day, I made it though with copious massage, ibuprofen, and KT tape (and my slowest half marathon time in 4.5 years). 


And that’s more or less how the last 8 weeks have gone. I’ve thrown out any semblance of speedwork, approach every run cautiously, and have been solidly in rehab mode since late August. My pain has been slowly decreasing overall, but it ebbs and flows and moves all around, from my hamstring to my knee to my piriformis to my hip flexors back and forth a bunch of times. At times it’s made running an impossibility, but mostly it’s just irritating. I’ve skipped my two longest long runs (an 18-miler and a 20-miler) and missed an entire week of running (although that was for a random foot thing on my left side that luckily went away with rest). I’ve missed over 65 miles of training, pretty important miles when training should have been really ramping up. 

On the bright side, since this crap started I have made it through two half marathons (the second one much hillier than the first flat one, yet 6 minutes faster!) and a few 16-17 milers. I know that all is not lost, but my training certainly hasn’t been ideal and has been far less than I’ve ever trained for a marathon before. I never had a clear picture of how I wanted this training cycle to go or what I wanted from Richmond, but if I had, this would not be it.


Now, a more reasonable person might have seen the writing on the wall, but not me. Maybe it would make more sense to drop to the half or not do this race at all - and believe me, I have shuffled through both options several times - but as long as I think I can get through the race without significant pain or damage, I’m going to do it. I’ve been seeing a sports massage therapist I really like and trust, I’m seeing a PT I also really like and trust next week, and I feel like I’m in good hands. The pain is like a 2 on a scale from 1 to 10, so I don’t feel like I’m doing further damage, it’s just annoying that it’s there at all. 

But I feel like I can manage it, and that’s all I’m really interested in doing at this point. I ran a big PR last year that I’m still happy with, and don’t think I was in any position to even come close to that this year (injury or not), so nothing lost there. I plan on taking some time off from marathoning after IM Lake Placid next year, so if I scrapped Richmond I don’t even know what my next opportunity would be. At this point I’m just looking forward to getting through another 26.2 miles, running through a pretty city and enjoying some hopefully nice weather (something I think will be easy to appreciate considering it has been summer for what has felt like 14 years straight). I know those sound like things injured people say to make themselves feel better, but they’re true! And I don’t totally consider myself injured as much as just not capable of running to my full potential right now. But that was true well before this injury started, so no big change in the grand scheme of things. 

Plus! I do have one original intention for this race that still holds: I’m using it as a training run for my first ultra! I guess that gives me another thing to post about...

3 comments :

  1. I so enjoy reading about your prep for races - the ups and downs, the successes and hurdles. I love it all. You got this!

    PS. the Mollie Tibbetts story affected me from countries away so I understand.

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  2. Oh man, what a ride! I hope you are able to get through Richmond pain-free! Sorry to hear you've had a rocky summer of running but I'm glad to hear you have some new chapters on the horizon to look forward to! Onward!

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  3. Um, yes, I would say that definitely gives you something else to post about!! You're doing an ultra?! Wow! That's awesome! I want to hear all about it! I will admit that I thought about an ultra as something attainable for the first time ever on Sunday when I hit 40K and was all, "But now I don't have any more 5Ks to look forward to... :( " Although I'm not sure I *really* wanted to run another 6.2 miles beyond that, as opposed to another 2K :P

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