With only twenty-one days remaining until I toe the starting line at next month’s Austin Marathon, I am finishing up my training cycle, getting ready to start my taper, and feeling the usual pre-race jitters starting to creep their way in. I’ve had a great training cycle overall, thanks in large part to much cooler temperatures than we had last summer. I’ve also made a concrete effort to include a proper warm-up and cool-down with every run, and have added some much needed speed workouts.
However, I’ve also had a few setbacks during the last two months, including the usual chronic knee pain, sharp ankle pain that appeared out of nowhere and forced me to take a couple of days off, and, most recently, swelling in my left knee, which has also appeared out of nowhere over the last several days. The chronic knee pain is an annoyance more than anything and has plagued me for the last seven years. I had surgery on that knee in 2007 and have since then become better at listening to the pain signals and stopping when I feel them. Unfortunately, this meant cutting some workouts short, including cutting what was supposed to be a 19-mile run two weeks ago in half. The ankle pain disappeared almost as quickly as it appeared (knock on wood), and has not been a problem this week. The swelling in my knee, however, is another story. It doesn’t hurt quite like the chronic knee pain, but it is sore and feels as though my knee is filling up with water, limiting my range of motion to the point where a 9:15 mile feels like an 8:00 effort. I don’t like it. I don’t like it at all.
I ran 20 miles this morning, finishing the week with 62.4 miles and my highest mileage training week that I can remember. My knee started to swell within the first three miles. I felt like a cartoon character trying to run on a slippery floor and not getting any traction. I stopped running, screamed out my frustration in the form of a few choice words (luckily no one was around… though I was so upset that I don’t think I would have cared much if anyone had heard me), and started crying, while M. consoled me. I’ve worked so hard, I said. Why is this happening? I asked. It’s not fair, I whined. I need these miles today. I won’t be ready if I don’t get my long run in. I can’t cut another long run short. M. listened and offered his support. He, too, was struggling this morning, having been nursing a tight Achilles tendon for the last several weeks. It got so bad that after having to cut a few long runs short, he decided to switch to the half marathon for next month.
After a few more minutes of me whining and him listening, he suggested we walk back to our car. We started walking, and then, thinking of how the world would end if I cut my long run, I suggested that maybe we try running, just at a slower pace. We began again, and my knee started to feel better. When we arrived back at the car, we stopped for a drink and a snack, and M. decided it best that he call it quits for the day so that he could preserve his Achilles, while I decided to give the next six-mile loop a try. Within the first mile, the pain and swelling in my knee were completely gone. Bizarre? Definitely. But I didn’t care. I felt better. No pain = plenty of gain in my world. I ended up completing the loop, then ran it a second time, with two extra miles tacked on to the end. Twenty miles.
It’s extremely rare, at least in my experience, to go through a training cycle without any setbacks. My hope is that the ones I’ve had are relatively minor ones, and that all of my hard work will come together on race day. I had a chance to test my training a couple of weeks ago at a local 10K. I finished in 46:37, my fastest 10K time since college. M. did quite well also, cutting more than ten minutes from his previous 10K time. We were both ecstatic! We left the finish area in search of food for our hungry bellies after cooling down from the race. I learned later that night while looking up the race results online that I had placed third in my age group (that NEVER happens), and 17th woman overall, out of 1136. It was a great day, and a huge confidence boost for me going into this marathon. Swelling in my knee, on the other hand, is not.
With this training cycle coming to a close, it’s time to start trusting my training (something I’ve never been good at) and visualizing my day. The last time I ran the Austin Marathon, in 2006, I arrived in town on a beautiful, sunny, 60-degree day. The temperature dropped 30 degrees overnight and we were greeted with sleet and wind on race morning. This time, I am prepared for that. I am prepared to struggle on the hills on the course, as there is not a single hill in Matamoros or Brownsville on which to train. I am prepared for knee pain. I am now even prepared for knee swelling. I know what my goal pace feels like. I know I need to start slowly and warm up before I settle into my goal pace, or my knee will not cooperate. I am possibly the most prepared I’ve ever been for a marathon. (At the very least, I am in the best shape I’ve ever been in in any January in my life.)
So why am I so nervous?
Thank you for reading!