My running story is a bit different than most, basically because it involved many more setbacks than I wish it did….
I started running everyday when I was 14, just for fun. I would do a 2 mile route in my neighborhood after school, and eventually 3 miles, but was too scared to join the cross country team because I had never raced anything longer than a sprint. I did start running the 3200 and 1600 in spring track and learned that I could run a lot farther and faster than I thought. I started the season with a 3200 around 15 minutes and ended it with PRs of 13:05 and 6:09 (for 1600).
There was no way I wasn’t doing cross country at that point, so I joined the team during my junior year as co-captain. That summer, I trained harder than ever and had so much fun! Because our team was small and didn’t meet until later in the summer, I actually ran with our cross-town rival team at their summer practices. This was a great introduction to cross country, since the team had very talented runners who ultimately led the team to a state group title. I had a great season, but always felt like I should have been running faster when I saw how fast the girls I had been training with were racing (low 19s…). I ended the season with a somewhat frustrating 20:07 5k at the sectional meet (I wanted to break 20 all season…). I still managed to snag 3rd at the county meet (said cross-town rival sat out…) and got the last spot on the All-Conference First Team. So that was cool. I liked cross country.
Winter track and spring track were also great – I loved running more and more, and there was never a sleep (or bus ride) as satisfying as one following a new PR. My two big races were a 5k under the lights where I ran 19:31 (…and the results were never published because the winner ran a lap too short due to the official’s error…grr) and my first sub-12 3200 (11:53). At the end of the spring season, I was dealing with some pretty bad shin splints/soleus pain. I attributed it to the dual meet in which I was asked to run the 1600, 800 (hey, I am still proud of my 2:36…), and 3200. But nevertheless, I rested for a couple weeks after the season before beginning to train for my senior year of cross country.
That season was cut short by my first real running injury. After starting the season faster than the year before, I had to drop out of a dual meet (first and only time dropping out) because I felt my left knee go weak. I ended up having a stress reaction near my tibial tuberosity, but I didn’t find that out or know what that meant for another week and a half. For a runner experiencing that degree of debilitating pain for the first time, that was a very stressful, hard, and confusing time! I spent it…in Disney World. My team was scheduled to fly to Orlando the day after that dual meet for the bi-annual Walt Disney World Challenge. I had already paid for it. I obviously couldn’t run. But why would I want to sit in class, injured, without my friends when I could be in Florida, away from the norm, injured, and with my friends? Let me tell you that navigating two airports, a resort, and the parks on crutches is quite the upper body workout. I will probably write a post about this trip because it was ridiculous. So that is all I’ll say here.
I recovered by November 1, and ran winter track without too many issues (by my standards. You’ll see what I mean at some point). I was excited for spring and was finally able to feel ready to run some PRs again. I had big plans of going sub-11:40 and sub-5:30. BUT during the first week of March I developed a stress reaction/fracture/ whateverit’sreallythesamething in my right femoral neck with very minimal warning.
I decided to take a gamble. I would cross train for two weeks, then try to run. If it was a no-go, I wouldn’t have a senior spring track season. If it was a green-light moment, I would give it a try. I would never know unless I tried. Fortunately I ended up saving my season and racing throughout the championship season, right back to my times from winter track. The body was an interesting piece of work, I realized. Next up: college.
A piece of advice for any incoming college freshman runner: do not get a stress fracture in your femur three days before heading to school for preseason. This will make you feel miserable, frustrated, socially inept, and lost. That is all. Freshman year went something like that. While it didn’t keep me out of running for a long time, it was the worst-timed injury ever, and the consequences of being unable to do what I loved in the presence of new teammates and classmates lasted throughout college. Sounds dramatic, I know, but I think it’s true. Sophomore year I had relatively good timing with not getting hurt, and finally felt like an important member of the team, which led to feeling closer to my teammates.
Of course I had two stress fractures that year, one that kept me out the whole spring. Fast-forward to summer before junior year. I decided finally that I needed to switch my volume of training. Something was clearly not working. I may have been able to run 6 days in a row a couple years ago, but for whatever reason, I couldn’t do it and stay healthy now. So I decided to run no more than three days in a row, and supplement with lots of swimming, pool running, and biking. This was able to keep me healthy all summer. However, when I started doing workouts, I noticed my calves were way more tired than they should have been. My whole body, really, but it seemed to manifest itself in my calves. I went into preseason scared to death, because the (new for returning runners, it was 13:00 years prior) 12:45 3200 time trial standard sounded fast for my aching muscles. I just could not go fast, it was weird. We had two chances at the time trial. I ran 12:58 for the first, and it took my calves a few days to recover. While 12-mile long runs at sub-8 pace were walks in the park, that 12:45 3200 was so difficult at the time. My legs would not move any faster the second time around, and I ran 12:51 and was cut from the team. Dubbed “the worst day of my life” at the time (there have only been two of those days so far, thankfully), I was devastated. The team was my social life as well as an integral part of my day, and I didn’t know how to cope without it. Especially knowing that I was in perfectly fine shape and something just felt…off. I got a blood test and discovered I had a low ferritin level, which basically means oxygen storage within red blood cells. I sought advice in another coach who had suggested this might be the problem over the summer, and managed to get my iron up and race unattached that season. I ran into a few issues like two bouts of bronchitis and really long recovery times from the low iron, but I was happy to be improving and racing decent times.
Sometimes, something really good can come from something really bad. For me, not being able to run with the team aside from Sunday long runs was a HUGE deal – a really, really bad deal. I am in love with running. I am not one to start running loops around campus because I got cut from the team. I am one who will still drive to parks, still do hard tempos and intervals, still run 12 miles up mountains on Sundays, and still race. I did all of those things that fall. But the social aspect was still missing, and on one weekday in September, I made one of the best decisions of my life. I drove from campus after class to downtown Princeton, about eleven miles away. It was a day I was feeling particularly crappy, my legs hurt just walking swiftly. I still don’t remember why I initially went to Princeton. Regardless, I walked into Princeton Running Company. I happened to know the guy working at the time…ironically, he landed a job there when he was cut from my team for missing the time trial the year before by one second. I found myself asking if they were hiring, and was told to come back when the manager was in the next day. I said okay, and did exactly that. He told me to come in after class on Friday morning, and expressed a lot of angry sentiment over the fact that I was cut from the team. When I told him I had been injured a lot in the past, he was like, “Oh good! You’ll be great here! I mean, not good you’ve been hurt, but it helps because you can give people advice!” I left feeling optimistic. Maybe all the bad things I’ve gone through in my running career would actually help me, in particular, help me help others.
Working at Princeton Running Company certainly helped fill the void that not being with the team had left. In addition to actually running, it was often the highlight of my week. I was able to help others love running like I did, and also to experience different perspectives on the sport. There was much more to running than racing with a college cross country team, and there was so much left for me to experience in the world of running and racing.
I did miss the team. I did want to come back. So, I started training with them again in the winter and raced a college 3k PR at the conference meet, which met my coach’s standard for my returning to the team. Cool. I trained through to the spring, running great workouts, until I got a random stress fracture in my pelvis. Great.
That was pretty much when I broke down and became determined to figure out why I was not “normal.” It was my first stress fracture with my current training schedule of 30 miles a week…that is not normal. I wanted to run 50 miles a week like everyone else. Or at least 40. Or 30 with no injuries, and even that wasn’t working. I sought out doctors, who ultimately were surprised to find all test results normal. So, I entered the summer before senior year just trying to continue being really careful and working on my form a little more. That summer turned out to me quite a whirlwind of changes, all of them very good. Living on my own in my new off-campus house, working at the store much more, frequently running with friends new and old, first relationship…it was the best summer ever. I ended up being team captain for the River to Sea Relay, which was a blast. I did get a stress fracture in my foot while working at a cross country camp (BAD timing, again), but it got to my head way less than normal because I had commitments to other people than my teammates for once. That helped me mentally so much that season. I still watched meets and attended some practices, but all I was experiencing and the people I had met gave me a lot to think about in terms of what I wanted to do with the rest of my senior year, running-wise.
To shift the focus to just running…since that semester ended too epically bad to write on here, none of my plans worked out. In short, I decided to leave the team to train for as half marathon in the spring, but I basically no longer had the training partners I thought I would have for this endeavor, and my IT band decided to die for seven weeks one day during a 10-miler. I started running again in April. I graduated. The end.
In summer 2012 I trained for my first triathlon, and it went well. I got addicted to tris and promptly got a stress fracture in my hip within days after the commencement of said addiction. I worked at the store full-time and gained even more insight and perspective on the opportunities in running I had before me.
I have been wanting to start this blog FOREVER. Since April, probably, I have been writing posts in my head but I didn’t feel organized enough to “start from the beginning.” Nothing gets accomplished if you don’t start sometimes, somewhere, though! So here we go! I’m excited! Writing was my first love, before running. I’m really excited to be all polygamous and enjoy both equally again. 🙂