On a recent Saturday, I went out for my long run as usual. Up at dark o’clock, spilling out the door into the predawn hours, my headlamp creating a moving puddle of light. Everything seemed perfect.
Let me back up for just a second. I am in the process of training for the North Face Endurance 50 Mile Championship in December. My training schedule has three long runs of at least six hours. Last year, training for the same race, I went over that six-hour mark twice. When race day came, I was ready to run all day.
The Saturday in question was meant to be 5+ hours, winding through the hills of my hometown of Oakland and into Berkeley. But just one hour into the run, before the sun had even peeked over the hills, I could see there was going to be a problem.
Actually, two problems:
Problem Number One: I was flat. No energy. Dead legs.
Problem Number Two: There was a niggling little something blooming in my left calf.
At that one hour mark, I arrived at a parking lot/trailhead with a real bathroom and a drinking fountain. I love this point in the run as it feels like a last touchstone with the “civilized world” before I go plunging into the “wild.”
Unfortunately, on that day, all I wanted to do was go home, climb back into bed, and forget about running. If I was not in the midst of training for my biggest race of the year, I may very well have done that. But I knew that I needed “time in the saddle” so I took a long drink, munched a quick snack, hit the loo, took another long drink, and continued on down the trail.
After another thirty minutes, my energy had improved, but the calf issue had grown considerably worse. It was a full on pain. I took a walk break. I looked at my watch. Clearly the 5+ hour run was not going to happen.
Time to reassess.
Balancing the need to train with the STRONG desire to avoid injury, I decided to power hike until the two-hour mark and then turn around. I was angry. I was worried. Would this blow up my training? Had I done something serious to my leg? Should I just turn around now? My mind raced with scenarios.
In total, I ran/hiked for four and a half hours. I trudged back to the trailhead, my head hung low, no bounce in my step. Unlocking the door after arriving home, I was dejected, disappointed, worried, and not feeling any of the usual triumph that I feel after a “good” long run.
But was it a failure?
I had pushed through a difficult situation when I felt fatigued and low on energy.
That’s a win!
I dialed back the intensity when I sensed a potential injury in the making.
That’s a win!
Will this setback affect my 50 miler? Maybe. Less training means less fitness, but the difference will likely be minimal (I hope).
Could I have pushed through? Gone the full distance?
But what if I had forced myself to run under those circumstances? What if I risked injury just to match the scribbles on my training schedule?
I may have missed my goal race completely due to a serious injury. That would have been far more devastating than missing a time goal in a training run.
I may have to dial back my expectations a little come December 5th, but I still have time to train hard. I feel confident that I will arrive at the start healthy, motivated, and ready to tackle all 50 of those rugged, hilly, steep, muddy miles!
Run on, Sisters and Brothers!