One morning, I found myself thinking that my A race was in a few short weeks and that a calf pull, strain or injury was not the best timing for me. All of the thoughts of not being prepared, not being able to race at all, time wasted training were all for nothing.
All The Sudden, Things Weren’t Going Well.
I started walking, and considered running, as there were ‘only’ 3 miles left on this trail and I could get it done. When I took my first step to running again the strain reached up and grabbed my brain and said: The A race is in a few short weeks, what are you doing? I stopped and walked back to my car. Uncertain where the the future would take me, but I knew I had to address the situation head on.
This scenario unfolded in December of 2019. It was a Sunday and the day after I had just finished 3rd overall at a 54k trail race. I was on a high note because just one month before I had finished in the Top 10 at a 30k. The training for my shot at a sub-12 hour 100k at Black Canyon in February was going great.
The Training Cycle Was Ideal.
The daily workouts were getting nailed. I was having the training cycle we often dream of. I was giving myself the best chance at going sub-12 at the 100k distance and I could not have been happier. Maybe I was too happy with this training cycle because running hard, if at all, the day after a 54k was just not a smart thing to do. Instead of running, I should have been hiking and for a short distance to help recover and set myself up for the following 6 weeks. After all, my A race was in a few short weeks. I was living on the high of this training cycle.
I put my big confidence pants on and said to myself: I got this. I’ll be careful and I’ll be good to go on race day. Internally, I was distraught. I had picked this race and this goal based on my 12:52 finishing time, in awful conditions, at the Bandera 100k 4 years earlier. This race was going to be the return from my DNF at Ironman Wisconsin and help me gain my confidence to race.
I was not sure how I would get from this calf strain to the starting line. And if I got to the starting line, how would my calf hold-up for 12 hours of racing? I put together a plan that would gradually help me recover and then, let’s see what happens.
My A Race Is In A Few Short Weeks. How Do I Get There?
The first week I totaled 6.37 miles of ‘running’ but had plenty of scraping, stretching, CBD and rest. OK, I got through that first week and while nothing feels great, it also doesn’t feel worse.
The second week I totaled 13.9 miles of running. I was on the treadmill for a large portion of these miles and was just walking at a leisurely pace. I continued to scrap, stretch, apply CBD and ensure that I did not put my calf through any additional trauma.
The third week I got up to 25.5 miles of running. I continued to use the treadmill as my recovery friend. I walked on the treadmill for a total of 8 miles but this time with a weight vest. The calf was feeling stronger and it seemed that everything I had been doing was paying off. I realized then that I would be able to get to the starting line of my A race in a few short weeks.
Is Racing Smart?
The following week was a race. I went to the starting line ready to go, but thought better of it and dropped down in distance. This distance would be more manageable for me but also made me second guess my ability to get to the starting line and race. I got through relatively unscathed. The calf acted up but didn’t show that it was going to quit on me. Progress.
The week after was another race. A 22 miler that was 2 11-mile loops. My calf was feeling strong at this point. I had been continuing the regiment of scrape, stretch and CBD but for race day I applied KT tape to the area. The confidence I had in my ability to race was high. Getting through the 22 miler and finish Top 7 was nice but more importantly the calf held up.
Pacing, Tapering, Then Racing
Heading into the 6th week post-occurrence and was going to be pacing at Rocky Raccoon 100. This meant that I would not be running much until the pacing duties were needed. This helped me recover from the 22 mile race and put me on a path to be ready to race at Black Canyon.
Taper week came and now the questions were flying. Is my calf going to hold up? Has the training I’ve done for the past 7 weeks been enough to get me to a sub-12 hour finish? The questions came in and my confidence felt like an EKG. Up one moment, down the next.
I told myself to give myself a chance. Show up to the starting line. Be confident in the calf. Tell yourself that you can break 12 hours. Know that your nutrition and hydration were well prepared. You’ve done what you can, now it is time to execute.
The gun went off, and so did I. Around the marathon mark I was struggling. I was questioning the ability to reach that sub-12 goal. An adjustment to the amount of hydration I was consuming was made and I got a second wind for the remaining 60k.
The Lessons I Learned
At 11:57 on the elapsed time of the race clock I crossed the finish line. The sub-12 goal was achieved, the calf held up and I learned a valuable lesson. Well, many lessons:
I learned to take the recovery from a race seriously, even in the midst of a fantastic training cycle. We don’t train in a bubble and what you do today can effect you tomorrow.
I learned that not pushing the injury was the best form of recovery. Check your ego at the door and realize that 5 miles in a week with an injury is OK, whereas 25 miles with an injury and not allowing it to heal is not.
I learned that being realistic with yourself and asking yourself questions will be the key to success. Can I run more today? Should I run more today? Is this run worth it? It doesn’t matter what shows up in Garmin or Strava but how I show up to the start line.
As I continue down the road of training and racing, these lessons will be a guiding light for me.