I'm up in Vermont, a place I find myself often on Memorial Day weekend due to the popular Vermont City Marathon... but I've never actually been a participant in the Marathon Event. Today I ran the bike path (the finish for the last 5ish miles of the marathon) for the first time ever and had a lot of thoughts about last year that I wanted to get down somewhere.
I trained harder than I've ever trained in my life for this marathon last year. Almost every single thing went perfectly in training up until the very very last week.... and I was left picking up (another) marathon number that would never be worn.
I want to explain what I mean when I say "harder than I've ever trained". I didn't do 100 mile weeks, I didn't do double session runs, I didn't do my long runs at an incredibly blistering pace... It was a cumulative type of "hard work"... a small and consistent amount of work across a really really long period of time. I still feel jaded and slightly heartbroken about the whole thing, but it's probably all worked out for the best... and I can explain my logic behind that later. This post is about the journey and sheer discipline I had to the Vermont City Marathon post surgery and postpartum... I never made it to my destination, but lots was learned on the journey that I'll be ready for when baby number 2 arrives!
I had an unknown "phantom" injury which eventual lead to a knee operation at 23 weeks pregnant. I was 100% committed to getting this injury resolved in order to compete at the Boston Marathon 2015. I was willing to pay whatever money and drive whatever distance to see whatever specialist I could to get this injury "fixed"... I got a diagnosis and set a date for surgery in November giving me barely enough time to get fit for Boston. During pre-operation tests I found out I was pregnant. After a year of searching for answers for my knee, thousands and thousands of dollars, countless specialists... nothing mattered. I was sidelined. I couldn't have surgery. Matt and I were NOT trying (quite the opposite actually... you're looking at one of those people in the 1% on the back of the trojan...) I was freaking out.
I had knee surgery pregnant. While many people have criticized me for this, it wasn't a selfish maneuver just so that I could run. I was in a very dark place. I was very depressed about not being able to run. My whole identity has been shaped around running and I've been without it (at this point) for well over a year. I was circling the drain. Pregnancy definitely helped me feel more optimistic about my life, but I was scared about postpartum depression, I worried if I'd ever have the chance to get the surgery once I had a baby (ain't no mom got time for weeks of crutches)... and then again I'd worry about being a horrible mother to my child because I was lacking a coping mechanism for everyday stress... just letting it compound was never going to be good, but I also couldn't do any other cardio activities without pain. I couldn't swim, hike, rock climb, yoga was even hard... I couldn't do really anything without having to stop from swelling and pain. In addition to those worries, there were also completely practical concerns. I could barely walk downstairs at my normal weight... I lived on the third floor... how was I going to get up and down stairs 9 months pregnant? How was I going to squat and pick up a newborn baby.... or a toddler?! I depended on my hands to stand up since my knee was so unstable and so painful.... I had to put aside the Naysayers and trust that this was the best thing for, yes, myself... but in turn my baby! The doctors said it was safe, I had my reasonings... so I went through with it. #worthit
Ever try to do stability drills 9 months pregnant? I have. PT twice a week until the baby was born and then more PT after. The injury took so long to diagnose that I ended up with an even bigger imbalance from the constant compensation. Lots and lots of work! Most of the post-operation/pre-baby work was done to avoid getting more scar tissue, but there was a lot of other work I couldn't do because I wasn't able to tilt my hips and use my glutes in the same way I would if I wasn't pregnant... so I had to put some exercises on hold.
PRE MARATHON TRAINING TRAINING: I took about 8 weeks to get clearance to workout from the OBGYN, and then another solid month and a half before I got clearance to run by the PT. My imbalances were pretty severe upon fatigue. I haven't been running for nearly 2 years at this point... Where do I begin? ... I began with 5 minute runs. Yes... 5 MINUTES! Every other day for a while... Some of my runs were 5 minutes running 5 minutes walking, 5 minutes running.... and eventually that turned into 5 minutes easy running, 5 minutes hard, 5 minutes easy. When I say hard, I'm talking a huge pat on the back for anything sub 8:00 pace for only 5 minutes. In that first month (November, an entire year after the original surgery date) I ran a total of 46.6 miles. This is where my starting point was. I was 34 days into running when I signed up for the Vermont City Marathon and I was averaging 10 miles a week. I ran a 5k to get a time for a starting point. 22:21. My slowest 5k ever (until recently haha!). I was over 50 days into running before I got to 20 miles per week. 50 days!!! So for those of you just trying to start out and pushing yourselves too hard don't worry! Although I didn't break 3 hours when I planned, I did run a 1:25:40 half marathon at 6 months postpartum... and it took me over 50 Days to reach a 20 mile week. I"m 7 months pregnant and doing more than that. It's not about the mileage all the time.
THE BEGINNING OF MARATHON TRAINING: My husband coached me, and the big question was always "How do we build gradually and quickly at the same time" If I went too quick I'd get hurt, but I only had 7 months total to get in PR shape for a marathon after surgery and a baby, and many of those months had already passed. My monthly mileage built from that 46 to 93 and then to 144.... and then it plummeted. We made a mistake. I was still well over my "normal" training weight as I put on weight from both pregnancy and the 2 year hiatus from injury. I never concerned myself with weight.... I was concerned with performance, the weight would come off in time. I kept it in mind when I ate, but didn't look at a scale. I judged my "weight" on my efficiency and how I felt running. HOWEVER, my shins couldn't handle it the extra pounds. The ONE thing my PT told me to do that I didn't (because it seemed silly) was jump rope. It now made sense. He wanted me to jump rope so my body could acclimate to the weight but in a controlled way. I emailed my PT for some suggestions and couldn't afford to take any days off that were not absolutely necessary. Remember, I wasn't trying to just run a marathon, I was trying to break 3, I was trying to PR.. and at this point in time I was projected to be in the mid 3:30's. My PT suggested cross training and soft surfaces. I began to do ONLY runs in the grass and on the soft trail. I did 8 mile runs circling grass fields... I also switched workouts to hills to be able to increase heart rate etc. without the same level of impact. I walked the downhills. I used the eliptical, my least favorite thing in the world. My February miles were 85 total... I was behind schedule to get in sub 3 hour shape. At this point everyone else was just starting their marathon training for Vermont, so I did take comfort knowing that even with the days off I still wasn't "technically" in the window where I would normally begin marathon training. I made an early enough mistake that I could recover from it in time... but I still had a lot of obstacles ahead of me.
BREASTFEEDING AND TRAINING:
In the beginning, I was only doing short runs, so it was pretty easy to fit in a run around Raea's nursing schedule. It got a bit more difficult when I started getting my mileage back up. A lot of people are asking about training and breastfeeding. This was probably the hardest part and the most underestimated. Raea was tiny (5th percentile), so I was worried that somehow I wasn't feeding her enough... now in hindsight she just doesn't eat that much at a time... but because I was oversupplied and my kid never over ate, if I had a long run I would feed her and then pump so that I wouldn't be painfully engorged by the end of the run. My husband was also training for a marathon (he ended up running a 2:39, his goal was sub 2:40) I'd do all this while he was on his long run.
Did the hormones slow me down? The short answer is no but part of that is because I wasn't just running. The hormones released from breastfeeding make you more elastic and loose. You can lose some of that snap or quick turn over from it... so to compensate I did a crap load of speed workouts and an even bigger crap load of drills. Drills drills drills.Every Friday I had Agility Drills and Strides at the end of an easy run. Drills were things like high knees, butt kicks, bounding, skips, a million different hopping type of agility things. On Tuesdays or Wednesdays (whatever day I didn't do speed) I did stability drills. These were all more balancing, core, strength. A lot of bosu ball stuff. These were my favorite because I did them with Raea! On Mondays I did really really slow trail runs to keep my ankles, shins and lower legs strong. I running on the undulating terrain kept those smaller shin muscles working hard. I also did yoga on Mondays at home. So these were all part of my "easy" days so on the other days I was running fast. I was basically doing things to improve speed every day of the week (except Sunday Long Runs) even when I wasn't actually doing speed work. That's the great benefit of drills, they help your speed without destroying your body.
How did I keep up with Calories? I'm lucky enough to be married to a Nutrition Counselor. My husband graduated from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, so I was pretty good. Each day I'd wake up to feed Raea. I'd pump on the opposite side that I fed her on because again I was over supplied and she'd never take the second boob, so I'd be in lots of pain by the time I even got to work. I found that I got more milk pumping if I was also feeding and I was constantly worried that my oversupply would run out once I got to real marathon training, so I needed to stock up and keep everything flowing! I was always in a hurry out the door so breakfast was probably my worst meal as I ate it in the car. I had usually a peanut butter bagel (I miss peanut butter) and half a green smoothie. It was a strange thing because I needed to lose weight but also keep the caloric intake high. The biggest difference I made was eating lunch twice. The second thing I did was change the type of lunch I normally have. Lunch is always my biggest meal. Normally I would do leftovers from the night before (mostly out of laziness), but this stopped. Every day I pumped at 11:30-11:45 during my students lunch/recess, and then ate my actual lunch while nursing Raea (my parents house is next door to the school, so I'd get to see her!) from 1:00-1:30 when a large portion of my students had specials (art, music, gym). I did not take a prep because of the extra feeding. At 11:30 I would eat a basic spinach salad and it was mostly just greens, a few veggies, cheese, and crutons. Then at 1:00 I would have a veggie sandwich with apple, cheese, more greens, cucumbers, peppers, and occasionally a tempeh or veggie "meat". I made sure to have some dense yogurt (I never get low fat and always the whole milk), and I'd put nuts and granola in it (I'm now allergic to nuts... so, that's not going to happen anymore) I'd have the second half of my green smoothie that I had for breakfast, and usually a banana or an orange. I ran at 3:30/4:00 every day so I didn't want to eat anything that would be too heavy. For dinner we mixed it up but a lot of rice and beans and quinoa with tofu, tempeh. Or pasta with the soy crumbles. I never turned down dessert.
When did I stop breastfeeding? My first breastfeeding goal was to make it to 6 months. Then to a year, then after that I just decided to wean when it felt right for Raea. She was a breast milk addict so the day I got a positive test for pregnancy was pretty much when I stopped. I thought it'd take the whole 9 months to wean, but I said no once and she had no interest in me anymore. I still lactated for the next two months so I had to manually express occasionally just to relieve the pressure. I actually got an infection from the sports bras and the engorgement but This wasn't until well after Vermont so I wont get into that anymore. I could probably write an entire blogpost on training and breastfeeding, but these are to address some of the questions I've received. If I think of anything else I'll do a followup. I"m sure I'll be learning even more when October comes around.
LACK OF SLEEP:
Truthfully, this wasn't a real issue for me. I had Raea sleeping in 6 hour stretches by the time she was 2-3 months when I was only running 10 miles a week. I have lived off of 6 hours of sleep for a long time. Often she'd wake up at 4am and I'd take her in bed with me, nurse her on my side, and fall back to sleep. NOT ADVISED by doctors and hospitals and all that other stuff, but I was very aware of where she was, I knew she was safe, I wasn't worried about it. She was already capable of pushing blankets away and rolling over at 3 months and by 4am I was only lightly sleeping. So for months I just had her in my bed for the last two hours. Breastfeeding was the hardest and yet easiest thing because I got way more sleep because of it (albeit very poor sleep, it was better than the alternative) Tonight is Raea's first night in a toddler bed, I really buckled down with sleep once I cut night time/4am feedings completely (around 6 months when she started solids). I modify behavior for a living and feel like I applied all the theories I've ever read to sleep and came up with a really great way of making going to bed positive instead of "crying it out". I'm hoping it works for baby number 2 and for the toddler bed! If not, I know that I would put my bodies needs before training. Some days I'd probably train through a tired phase, but I'd most likely trade some easy days for some extra sleep. Sleep is where your muscles repair!
I kept track of everything on strava, and I had a print out of my entire schedule. We'd print a new one if I needed to make adjustments. I religiously came home and put a big "X" over each day. After February everything went perfect. In March I ran 192 miles, and in April I ran 261. Ramping up the mileage would not have been possible without all the additional work I have already mentioned. That buildup from March through to the taper looked like this weekly: 24.6, 29.6, 39.5, 50.6, 49.1 55.9, 60.5, 64.4, 64.9, 65.0, Then I started coming back down very gradually. I was 190 days of running when I pulled my calf, and just about a week out from the marathon. During the whole training cycle I had massages, I went to the chiropractor, I took ice baths... all in ADDITION TO the drills. At some point in peak training I did ease off on the drills because I was really, really tired.
Hardest workout? There was no ONE workout that stands out as the hardest. It was a cumulation of workouts that got hard. The most mentally difficult phase was in the first phase where every single Saturday it seemed I had a two mile tempo. At this point in time I still wasn't in great shape, so I would get really nervous that I wouldn't get faster as the weeks went on... I would also have a really hard time not getting discouraged that two miles was SO hard!
Here is my progression:
I would say the hardest was when we started combining the tempo runs with track workouts. Track workouts in themselves are not hard for me. I have spent years mastering the perfect pacing on the track, and I've run intervals much faster than you'll ever need for a marathon... so the track didn't stress me out... but the fatigue that would set in from the tempo run right before would make getting up to interval speed difficult. I think these were the most important workouts I did.
Workout I enjoyed the most:
Easy "Ryan Hall" runs in the trails. A common mistake runners make is not using recovery runs to recover. I did not make that mistake. I ran really slow in the trails almost every Monday. While no cardiovascular gains were made, I was able to use the softer terrain to recover and build stability.
What I would do Differently: Other than the glaring error I made at the very very end of the training cycle (coming up next) I would do more hills during long runs or the day after long runs on tired legs. I did most of my long runs on flatter terrain as the course I was training for is flat. However, I did one long run from my house because there were baby showers and other things I needed to get to, and that's when I realized my knee was still unstable when it gets fatigued, and this concerned me. It wasn't the ultimate demise of all this hard work, but it was the first time since February that I felt like we left something out, and it was too late to make it up... I just was glad Vermont City isn't hilly...
WHAT WENT WRONG:
I was within the 10 day forecast of the race and still going strong. Temps were rising and we were creating a new plan. I had run a 1:25 half with the first 6 miles at marathon pace... so a HUGE negative split...Using the VDOT calculator (religiously) I was projected at sub 3 hours across the board with all the workouts and now a race. I had ONE marathon pace workout left and I was WIPED OUT Physically and Mentally. We had done a lot of driving the day before and at work I just didn't feel right. I felt extremely bad. So Matt told me to cut the marathon pace run in half if I didn't feel good (from 8 miles to 4) or to do it the following day. My schedule with a babysitter the next day was not good, so I just said "fuck it... I haven't missed a single thing... I'm not missing today!"... I had to stop at a crosswalk during the marathon pace run (that felt really easy even though it was in the 90's and no shade)... and when I started up again I got a cramp in my calf and that was it. The cramp was most likely caused from dehydration. I felt behind on hydration all day from being in an old unairconditioned school. I had a meeting on the second floor the last hour of the day basically in a giant closet with no windows. I knew I didn't feel right, but I was stubborn. I let my obsession with the training plan take over what I knew was right for my body. Stopping at the cross walk and then suddenly starting was all it took for the cramp to become a more serious injury. I knew it was over. Everyone else tried to convince me the calf would heal if I stayed off it for 10 days... and that I wouldn't notice in the race, but I know my body and I know once I have a calf pull I'm out for 2-3 weeks minimum.... and I only had 10 days. Of course I got dry needling, massage, chiropractic care, active release therapy, graston... The works in! I attempted running the Thursday before the marathon and I couldn't make it 400m. Just like that, 190 days of training was all for nothing. It took two months to heal because I tried to run a marathon a month later just to get a BQ in... (made it to 18.6 before a DNF)... but there was no coming back from this.
BLESSING IN DISGUISE:
I have literally never been so heartbroken. It would be impossible to include all the sacrifices (I should note: I sacrificed a lot, but It wasn't like I missed my baby's first 10 months of life... I breastfed, which basically means I can never be away from her for too long. Other than running she was with me for all of it!), you could never understand the work of art a Sunday Morning was and how Matthew and I made it possible for both of us to be in great marathon shape at the same time with a newborn. My mother was a huge help, his mother was a huge help, sneakerama (where he worked) was a huge help SO many people helped us... and even though I didn't get to run, I still felt all that love and support. As it turned out the Vermont City Marathon got SO HOT that they deemed it unsafe and shut it down... so if you were slower than 3:45 you didn't get a finishing time... and if you were faster than that, you still had a slow day. It was really, really hot! I would have most likely ran in the 3:05-3:10 range based on other competitors I knew there.... I would have done something stupid like try and break 3 hours and totally blown up. The biggsest blessing is that NOW I'm having a baby! If I had run this marathon I would have run Boston 2017 and I'd just now be thinking about another child. I would never want to change the circumstances I'm in. I'm so grateful for the little baby I have growing inside me! This also may workout for the best. Since I now have my sights (long term) set on the Olympic Trials, I have more time. I was going to run Boston 2017, have another baby and try to do the OTQ in two training cycles. Now I'll have more than that! There's always a plan!
Welcome to my blog! I blogged my entire pregnancy in 2017 and I had high hopes for where I could take my running after baby number 2, but my body had other plans. At some point I got too discouraged to write and recently realized that it is essential for my personal growth and development to keep putting feelings into coherent(ish) thoughts. I still hope to run sub 2:45 in the marathon one day, but for now I’m trying to focus on the process and I’m learning to enjoy it. You can come along for the ride, apologies in advance for grammatical incorrectness!