From Injured Runner to Marathon Finisher

I’ve neglected this blog in favor of the ease of Instagram, but I want to catch you up on everything that’s happened since last fall. Spoiler alert: I just ran a marathon! And not just any old marathon; I ran a five-minute PR!

I’ll write a full race recap to share all about how I got to the finish line. But first, here’s how I got to the start line.

After I got injured in July 2018, I went to physical therapy once a week through September to correct my SI joint dysfunction and build strength in the surrounding muscles. Then, I began working with a running coach in October to improve my form and slowly begin to run again. And by slowly, I mean sloooowwwwlyyyyy.

My coach gave me strict orders to not do too much, too soon. That meant sticking to an easy mix of running and walking, and keeping my heart rate between 135 and 145 bpm, which was equivalent to about a 12:00 min/mile pace. It was so hard to be patient, but I followed his recommendations!

We met several times through November, working on things like a warmup routine and form drills, and then I took a complete break from coaching and running through the holidays.

However, I stayed active by walking on the treadmill for an hour at a time several days a week. I watched a lot of Scandal. I also started the Bikini Body Guide program (BBG) from the beginning again just before Thanksgiving to get stronger and help keep holiday pounds at bay. It worked on both counts!

On January 1, I felt full of hope for 2019 and ran a symbolic mile around my neighborhood to mark my return to running. I ran it in 9:16, which was definitely too fast for my fitness level, and it made me feel achy in the SI joint area. 😦 I went back to a mix of walking on the treadmill and very slow running/walking outside, and scheduled another package of sessions with my coach.

I was so pleased to see big improvements in my ability to complete my coach’s drills with proper form due to my increased strength (especially core). Thanks, BBG! It made me think, “Huh… there’s really something to this idea of whole-body fitness when it comes to running.” (Duh.)

I continued to follow my coach’s guidelines with easy running/walking, and gradually decreased the amount I walked and increased the amount I ran.

Finally, on February 23, I felt good enough to run a full four miles and completed them in 38:34 (9:38 pace). I wasn’t exactly following coach’s guidelines… but it felt great to me, mentally and physically.

From there, I just kept on running. Three miles one day, five miles another day. By the end of March, I felt solid enough to start training for Jack & Jill’s Downhill Marathon—the same race I’d trained for in 2018, but couldn’t run due to my injury.

My coach wasn’t exactly supportive of my jumping right into marathon training, but I chose a fairly conservative 18-week training plan (Hal Higdon’s Novice 2) and figured I’d take it one run at a time and see how far I could get. Highlights of the plan:

  • Four days of running per week
  • No speed workouts
  • Two rest days per week
  • 1 hour of cross-training per week
  • Peak week of 36 miles
  • Longest run: 20 miles

Compare that to the aggressive plan I followed last year (Hal Higdon’s Advanced 1):

  • Six days of running per week
  • 1 speed workout per week
  • One rest day per week
  • No cross-training
  • Peak week of 58 miles
  • Longest run: three 20-milers

Like night and day!

And, no surprise, I felt so much better following this easier training plan. It was so manageable, and I never felt burned out.

Unlike any other time I’ve trained for a marathon, I actually completed all the runs (except when I skipped the entire first week of the plan since I was so sick with a cold) and cross-trained by riding my bike for an hour every Sunday starting in week six.

I think the cross-training made such a big difference. I ran long on Saturdays, rode easy for 12-13 miles on a local trail on Sundays, and on Mondays my legs felt so much more recovered than if I hadn’t done anything at all.

I also grew to really love my time on the bike! Riding in (mostly) perfect weather in the spring and summer felt like total bliss. It was awesome and freeing to be able to cover so much more distance in an hour on the bike than any hour I’d ever spend running, and I got to see my usual running routes in new ways. I was also able to do a few rides with Aaron when the grandparents were watching Evie, which was super fun for me and probably very slow and boring for him. 🙂

Another thing I did differently: I consistently worked on my core strength with The Dozen workout (recommended by my running coach) and on my hip strength with the routine my physical therapist gave me to do at home. Well, I did all this sporadically for the first several weeks, then really buckled down for the final eight weeks and did core 2x/week and PT 2x/week.

I figured out that I could use my lunch break at work to go down to the (free!) gym in my building and do these strength workouts, then run in the evening. Breaking up the work made it seem less daunting and gave me more free time in the evenings. A typical week looked like this:

  • Monday: midday PT
  • Tuesday: morning core + run (I work from home on Tuesdays)
  • Wednesday: midday PT + evening run
  • Thursday: midday core + evening run
  • Friday: rest
  • Saturday: long run
  • Sunday: bike

I quickly established this routine and never looked back. Hitting the gym added a nice break to my day and made my lunch (eaten afterward at my desk) taste so much better. 🙂

I can’t stress enough what a huge difference this strength work made in my training and in running the marathon itself. In the past, when my long runs got up to 15+ miles, I always remember my lower back and shoulders feeling so tired and sore by the end. This time around, they felt perfectly fine. Sure, my legs were tired, but the rest of my body felt well-supported and strong.

Game = changed.

A few other things that happened during training: when I started the plan, I no longer had time on weekends to meet with my running coach, so I phased out our work together; we last met in April. I learned so much from him—a proper warmup routine, form drills, etc.—but private, in-person coaching is expensive and not something I can afford on an ongoing basis. It’s something I’m certainly open to doing again in the future to continue improving my running.

I also ran a few races! At the end of April, I did the Mt. Si Relay with a team of four other women. We covered 59 miles altogether; my legs were 6.1 mostly flat miles (7:56 average pace) and 6.8 entirely uphill miles (8:27 average pace).

I was thrilled with those paces given that I hadn’t done any speedwork since getting injured. I just ran comfortably hard while listening to podcasts to keep my mind occupied. I was definitely spent by the end of each leg, but I felt strong while running and nothing hurt. It felt amazing to run fast (for me) and not trigger any of the familiar old aches and pains.

Oh, and we WON the women’s open division of the relay with our overall average pace of 7:49! It was a beautiful weather day, and we had a ton of fun to boot.

I also ran the Nordstrom Beat the Bridge 8K in mid-May. I work for Nordstrom, so the event is a big deal in our office every year. The race benefits the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) and every Nordstrom team is tasked with raising a certain amount of money. I volunteered to help lead the marketing team’s efforts this year, and we raised more than $20,000, beating last year’s fundraising! I raised a little over $10,000 of that by asking for donations from friends and family on Facebook, raffling off prize packages on Instagram and selling a whoooole lot of Aaron’s amazing homemade cookies and treats at work over the course of seven weeks. It was fun to be able to make a meaningful contribution to the race this year beyond just running it. Huge thanks to any of you who donated! 🙂

As for the race itself, my only goal was to have fun and hopefully PR, since I was sick (again!) that weekend and spent a lot of energy helping with packet pickup the previous day and the morning of the race.

Luckily, I was able to shave four minutes off my 2017 time for a PR of 40:06 (8:04 pace). I also ran 10 more miles later on to complete the 15 miles I was supposed to do for the day. (This all seemed very normal while I was doing it, but now sounds crazy looking back!?!? I was really terribly sick, but somehow felt better while running!)

I think that about brings us up to speed on everything that’s happened since I last wrote! I documented most of my training on Instagram, so you can always catch up there, as well.

Next up: my recap of Jack & Jill’s Downhill Marathon, aka three hours and 54 minutes of the most fun I’ve ever had while running!!!