This year has been a very discouraging one on the running front. I developed an injury that is clearly chronic (osteitis pubis) and that will have to be carefully managed ... forever.
I returned to running feeling slow and out of shape. I've been unable to improve my times.
Then I developed not one, but two additional injuries one on top of the other: first a nasty calf strain that feels like sharper shin splints (but along the side); then a mild muscle tear in the opposite leg that originates deep in the hamstring area but affects the back of the knee and hip as well.
Time off hasn't helped yet. My test run after two weeks didn't show much improvement, although the "I can't step on it at all" pain was gone from both legs.
But to say I'm discouraged is an understatement. I'm really considering dropping running altogether. It just seems that lately it only causes me pain, and continual bad performances negate any cheering effect of exercise. If I can get my endorphins without pain and failure with some other form of exercise, why choose running?
This level of frustration just shows how many doubts have crept into my thinking. Will I ever have a pain-free run? Can I run a marathon again, or is that all history? Am I going to be able to run any of the races I registered for this year? Is 3:06 my marathon PR for life? Did I overestimate my fitness and ability?
After last year's improbable improvements, I started to think that I could still get faster. I'd long had reservations about my running: I knew I had a funny gait, an awkward build, a non-athletic history. But when I dropped 20 minutes from my marathon time in a year, I persuaded myself that I could do more than I thought. I half-set an ambitious goal: Run a marathon under three hours.
At first, I thought it was doable. If I dropped 20 minutes last year, couldn't I drop 6 this year? Then, after injury this summer, I thought it was doable - but would require more work to make up fitness. But then my fall training got tougher and less and less productive: and I thought I would push the goal back. Now that I'm totally sidelined, slow, and discouraged, I am wavering on letting that goal go forever. In fact, I'm wavering on letting competing go forever. Even letting running go forever, and just jogging to warm up for other activities. Part of me thinks, "It's only six minutes! Go get this goal no matter the cost!" But the rest of me thinks, "I'm wincing with every step. I'll break my body this way. It is no longer enjoyable for me. Resting for weeks to heal up will make marathon training impossible. Give it up." And I think things like, "You got to this point by training past your ability. Who do you think you are?! Three hour marathon?! You couldn't break four hours until marathon #3! You have bunions! Your knees make funny sounds and you are heavier than any other marathoner out there! You can barely break 20 minutes in a 5k!"
I'm really at a cross-roads. I don't like to quit things, but here I am ready to quit everything about running. What worries me is that when I doubt myself, it's usually with very good reason. It means I shouldn't be attempting what I'm attempting. If I don't think I can run, I'm afraid I might be right. I almost never prove myself wrong. I guess I usually know myself pretty well.
What to do? What to do next? How to graciously fade out of the running world, or graciously creep back in, no longer as a potential age-grouper, but now as the back-of-the-pack occasional jogger? What do my next months of fitness look like?