When I began training for the Jack & Jill Marathon, I was certain there would be one of three outcomes: I would finish but not PR (maybe); I would PR (probably); I would qualify for Boston (hopefully).
I never once considered a fourth outcome—the one that actually happened—that I would never even make it to the start line.
My training was going so well—better than I ever could have hoped. I was hitting my goal paces, feeling great during speed workouts and long runs, and not having any issues with a much more rigorous training schedule and higher mileage than I’d ever attempted before.
That is, until the end of week 14.
I ended week 13 (one of my peak weeks, with 56 miles of running) feeling awesome and looking forward to the lower mileage of week 14 (just 43 miles). I cranked out a handful of easy runs Monday through Wednesday, then nailed my 9 x 800m speed workout on Thursday. Aiming for 3:30 intervals, I ran them all between 3:21 and 3:29. I felt on top of the world.
Then on Saturday, after an easy 6-mile run, I noticed my hips felt a little tight. We had Hallie and her husband Patrick over for drinks that night, and I asked her about stretches to help relieve the tightness (she’s a personal trainer and fitness instructor). My 12-mile long run on Sunday went fine, but I had the same tight feeling after that one. I started stretching, foam rolling and trying to release my piriformis with a hard ball like crazy.
Week 15 was meant to be my final peak week, ending with my third 20-miler on Sunday. I felt a little off as I began each run that week, but then felt fine after I got warmed up. The hip tightness and a strange feeling of weakness in my left glute plagued me every night. I continued stretching and cursed myself for previously not being more diligent about stretching after every run, and for not doing any hip- or glute-strengthening exercises throughout my training.
We drove up to Whistler, B.C. on Wednesday, the 4th of July. It was a 4.5-hour drive. (I later learned that my injury is exacerbated by long periods of sitting). My run on Thursday did NOT go well, but I thought that was because it was meant to be a tempo run and I accidentally did it on a very hilly trail.
Saturday was supposed to be my final 10-mile run at marathon goal pace (8:00 average). I shook off the weird tight/weak feelings in the first few miles and had a great run nearly on pace for the first four miles or so. The path then turned into rolling hills and I started feeling discomfort in my lower back, just above my left glute. At mile 5, I stopped to stretch. By mile 5.4, I was in a LOT of pain and knew I shouldn’t run another step.
I was five miles away from our condo, so I called Aaron and asked him to come pick me up. It was raining. I waited inside the vestibule of a grocery store and tried stretching some more. When I realized stretching did nothing to help the pain, I started crying. I didn’t want to believe it, but somehow I knew my race was probably over.
I Googled like crazy to try to figure out what my injury was, and anything I found with symptoms similar to mine came with a recommendation to stop running for 4-6 weeks. The marathon was three weeks away. More tears.
We drove home from Whistler that day, and it was the most uncomfortable car ride of my life (other than the car ride to the hospital to give birth, but that was only about 5 minutes long!). This one took 5+ hours, thanks to the looooong line we had to wait in at the border to get back into the U.S. Sitting felt horrible, so I constantly squirmed around trying to find a better position. Putting a small, hard ball under my left glute felt somewhat better, but still not great.
The next few days were quite painful, especially in the mornings. I was super stiff and tight, and even something as simple as getting into the car brought me to the brink of tears. Bending over to pick up Evie was excruciating. Sitting for any longer than 10-15 minutes was uncomfortable, so I ditched my desk at work and took my laptop into the kitchen so I could work standing up at a tall counter. (I did that every day for a month or so until I finally got a standing desk.)
First I went to my chiropractor to see if he could figure out what was wrong with me, but I quickly realized I needed to see a physical therapist. I had my first appointment on July 11, during which the PT diagnosed hypermobility of my left sacroiliac (SI) joint going into anterior rotation, so that when I run and my left leg extends behind me, it forces my pelvis into an anterior rotation beyond the normal limits of the joint.
He recommended no running for 6-8 weeks and weekly physical therapy (along with daily exercises at home) through August, but he also said that since I’d been injured for a short amount of time (one week), there was a chance the issue could resolve in a short amount of time and I’d be able to run soon. Did that mean running a marathon on July 28 was a good idea? I didn’t know for sure, but probably not. I tried to stay positive and keep an open mind. I had come too far in my training to give up just yet.
My glute and lower back felt better every day as I continued my physical therapy. I was wary to even attempt to run until the day I woke up completely pain-free, in fear of ruining the progress I’d made, so I just walked in the evenings or used the elliptical or adaptive motion trainer in my office gym at lunchtime to try to keep up my fitness.
On July 20, my PT had me do a test run on the treadmill, and I ran ¾ of a mile with no pain. I was very hopeful. But then on July 22—the Sunday before the marathon—I attempted a run outside and didn’t even make it two miles before I felt the familiar ache of my SI joint and knew I should stop.
The funny thing was that I stopped my run right at the finish line of the actual marathon course. I looked at the empty trail that would soon be filled with timing mats, spectators and an announcer shouting out the names of finishers and Boston qualifiers. They would all be there—but not for me.
I let go of my dreams for this race knowing that I had given it my all. I gave it my all in training and I gave it my all in attempted recovery. Whether you make it onto the race course or not, that’s all you can do in a marathon. The rest just is what it is.
I’m tearing up as I write this, even though it’s now September and this all happened more than a month ago. I had hoped to be running again by now. I had hoped to be training for a December marathon by now. But it looks like I have to let go of that one, too, and put in more work before I can set another big goal.
My PT cleared me to run a few miles at a time starting in mid-August, and he gave me some cues to correct my running form and hopefully avoid future injuries. But either I’m doing something wrong or it will take time for my body to adjust because I started feeling pain along the inside of both shins that my PT says is posterior tibial tendonitis.
So now my SI joint feels fine, but here’s this new thing holding me back. I’ve added a new exercise to my PT routine to help with it, and tried to run through it a few times, but now I’m just done. I’m taking time off from running, focusing on walking, continuing physical therapy and doing the Bikini Body Guide over again. I’m planning to work with a running coach on my eventual return.
It’s frustrating to still be sidelined, but it doesn’t feel good trying to force my body to do something it apparently doesn’t want to do, either. I’ll stick with what feels good, which—for now—is not running.
I’m fortunate that I’ve been running since 2010 and am only now dealing with injuries, and I’m thankful that they’re not so bad in the grand scheme of things. I believe pain-free running is ahead for me. I just need more time—and more help—to make it happen.
Thanks for following along and for your encouragement. I still like to see other runners out there killing it. It makes me happy, and gives me hope.
Follow along in real time on Instagram @dev.on.running.