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Thursday, December 6, 2012

Doubts and discouragement

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?


  1. I think that it's natural for things to wax and wane in your life. I certainly run less than I did when I lived in New Orleans. I ended up with a pirformis injury after the marathon I ran, then really hurt my knee the following fall. I didn't have buddies who were committed to long distances and it's a lot harder to run in the winter due to icy sidewalks. So I took a step back and did a ton of yoga and hiking and skiing and hill walking on the treadmill in the winter. Then I found some new running buddies and ran three 10K's this summer. So I'm not back to where I was but I have a satisfying fitness life that makes me happy. And I fully expect that I'll eventually get tired of what I'm doing and decided to go back to running long distances eventually. I think it's healthy to mix things up, but you don't have to think about it in black and white. If you need a break, it doesn't mean you have to stop being a runner forever.

  2. Why not try out the concept of a sabbatical? Derives from sabbaticus (latin) or shabbat (Hebrew); meaning rest, ceasing, Sabbath. Take a sabbath from running. Commit to 6 months or so without it. Commit to the concept that it is just 6 months, and you will make no further decisions on running until that time is up. Then you can reassess your mental state and your health. It is enough time for your body to heal up (at least mostly) but not so much that you will "forget" what you love about running. I think you are far too young and far too talented to give up altogether. But if you need to, then it shouldn't be in this state of sadness and disrepair. The decisions should be made with ALL the knowledge about whether your body can heal, and what a break can do for your general well-being, at your fingertips; which I think a rest could well do.

  3. In one of the more recent issues of Runner's World Amby Burfoot wrote an article about being a lifetime runner. How he used to train and run competitively for years but now he is just happy to run and enjoy it.
    I'm kind of in the same situation as you - repeated plantar tears have had me out of running since October with several months of really reduced mileage before that. I'm itching to get back to it, but have a hard time imagining that I'll ever get my speed or distance back. I used to place in my age group in local races and had PR'd in every 5K for a year. In order not to go through this misery again, if I can run again, I'll have to start very slow and short. There's no AG awards in my future, I'm afraid!
    When I read that article, it made me feel better about the big picture and that I can still have years of running enjoyment. I've also started spin classes for cardio and Body Pump for strength training and have come to enjoy them both a lot. I still daydream about running another half marathon and feel really envious when I see other runners, but somehow I feel bummed about it than I used to.

  4. Ah, this makes me so sad and frustrated for you.

    I can't tell you what to do, but I can tell you that if I were in your position (continuous injuries)... I would take a deep breath and shelf it for now. Shelf the three hour marathon. And I'd probably feel a little bit sad, and a little bit relieved... but I'd know I can always come back to it later if I want to. I run because it brings me joy and satisfaction. It's not worth injuring yourself further and doing something that is not as satisfying as it should be, that hurts you, that leaves you frustrated and feeling like you're not able to approach your potential. Could be that all you need is permission to commit to a real 100% no deadlines "break" from running, and find some other rewarding competitive athletic pursuit in the meantime with metrics that you can chase (idk, strength training informed by your injuries/weaknesses, swimming, cycling, anything that may interest you? or something non-athletic entirely?)

    Also I have seen you in REAL LIFE, intimidating fit thin athletic girl, so I know this "heavy" business is noooot true! FWIW I'm 5'9/150ish and I see no reason why that should stop me from running 2:59 someday.

    1. You're so cute! I just meant I'm more stocky/muscular than tall skinny runner. More body builder. And I weigh more than I looked. I was wearing black when you saw me ;-)

  5. Much to say. Wish we could go get coffee or breakfast. Or in your time zone, lunch. Unfortunately, I have to get out of the house here but I hope to be back. Big thoughts here that are worth a good response...but I'll leave you with this: Don't stop. Running is obviously a natural gift for you Gracie. It brings you joy. That's enough reason to keep doing it. Maybe take a're young! Then come back, take the pressure off, but have a plan. You have so much in there much that hasn't been tapped yet. I love to watch you run from inspire me. You've gotten this far off of natural talent and some running. Now, restore that body of yours and gear up for some combining that natural talent with thoughtful work, workouts, and plans for staying injury free and really treating that body so so good. Love to you my speedy, inspirational friend! 2012 is almost horizons ahead.

  6. You could break 3 hours. You most likely don't want to hear the rest of what I have to say, so I'll do my usual and resort to humor and invite you to email me if you want me to rip you a new one ;-)

    Maybe gymnastics is your real calling? After all, you DID win a gold medal in this summer's Ellimpics ;-)

  7. Hugs Gracie! this is hard to read because I know how discouraged you must be to write it. When something you love and enjoy is causing you pain, sadness and frustration - that is just tough. You have so much ambition and passion and drive that I can't imagine you just being "done" completely, but maybe a break for running would be a good thing for now. Have you ever cycled or climbed or done anything else? Maybe there is another sport just waiting for you to discover it. Then again, maybe after a break you will be revived physically and mentally and ready to run again - to chase after PRs or just for pleasure. No matter what you have lots of friends supporting you. :)

  8. I'm sorry you're dealing with all of these injuries and questions and doubts. You have so many good comments already that I don't know if I have anything to add by sympathy. A few thoughts, though...

    I don't think you should put this on training past your ability. I mean, the whole point of training is to get past our current ability. Maybe you pushed too hard too soon, that I don't know, but to me that's a very different issue and one that suggests that you aren't there YET, not that you won't/couldn't get there at all.

    Also, if you give up/put off running and/or your sub-3 marathon goal for now, that doesn't mean losing that opportunity forever. I don't think there has to be an all or nothing decision (unless, of course, that's what you want). Clearly your body needs a break right now, so maybe give it some time, give yourself a break from expectations while you heal, and then regroup when you're healthy.

  9. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    1. All these nice comments and this anonymous dude had to try to sell me porn. Sigh.

  10. I think you need to give you body a little more time off... and maybe see some specialists (not Dr.'s) to help with your issues. Maybe you have I am not sure. But I think you should give your body time to heal, and your mind. Everyone hits a low when injured, it's very normal. Running is hard on the body. And with a non athletic background maybe you need to incorporate more cross training, AND definitely strength training. just some thoughts....

  11. Suck suck sucks. But don't write off running. What everyone else said -- your body clearly won't let you run hard NOW, but you're young, there are many years ahead of you. Hope your running luck changes in a big way soon

  12. Wow this is one of the most loaded posts I've ever read from anyone. Sorry that you have had so many issues recently come up. You seem to enjoy running too much to simply give it up. If you give it up, you will need to find something else to keep fit with - not sure if that would be biking, crossfit, or something else. And besides the fact that you seem to enjoy it, you are insanely talented at it, and you seem to enjoy competing too.

    I know that you have a hip problem, that seems to be the main thing that is causing your issues I think. I know that you have been trying to figure out what is causing it, if you are able to figure it out, I think you will be okay in the long run. And those questions that you posed in the 4th paragraph area all questions that I asked myself last year when I was really injured and questioned whether I would be able to run again.

    Maybe you should just take a breather from running for now, try to figure out your injury issues, and then gradually come back to running.

    Posts like these are why sometimes I get annoyed when people are complaining about running or not excited about a race or what not (if they are healthy) - they should be happy that they are doing a race, and are likely healthy. Because it sucks to be injured. I never know if I'll be able to do a marathon again with my injury issues. Recently I've gotten more symptoms of runners knee on my left knee, I think I didn't do enough strength training or yoga over the summer. So I'm concentrating on doing more yoga now, and stopped running for now. Maybe I'll be out 2-4 weeks, I'm not really sure. Mainly I felt clicking in my left knee sometimes when running, this is something I need to get rid of or else I might not be able to run for my whole life.

    I'm not sure what the future holds for you, though I think it should include running. You enjoy it too much to simply stop.

    When I was injured last summer I wrote some posts about injury woes, these might hit home for you.

  13. It's amazing what a psychological game running is. When we are healthy, we feel like we can run through a wall - literally - and the only limitations are the time in our lives to devote to training. But even the smallest injury can change all of that. I've really enjoyed reading your blog and have gained a lot of knowledge and confidence from the things you write. Even though you're frustrated right now, know that you are an inspiration!

  14. I don't think you need to stop running forever. Maybe just take a sabbatical like others have suggested and truly let your body heal. You have pushed it to its limits in the last year or so, maybe easing back and focusing on other activities will allow it to really heal and you'll be back and stronger than ever! I think you will get back to running, it just might not be as soon as you would like (which I know is very heart breaking and frustrating and I really sympathize with the position you are in).

  15. Take a break. It will do you well physically AND mentally. I was forced into a 5 month break for multiple reasons (plantar fasciitis, surgery, sick, residency, etc.). This past summer. I was convinced my plantar fasciitis would NEVER go away. I started running again this October, and not only was my pf no longer an issue, but I was surprised by how quickly my strength came back. It was rough first couple fo weeks, but within 3-4 weeks, I cut down ~40 seconds/mile on my long runs and in 7 weeks, ran a marathon in my second fastest time yet (out of 13 marathons). I am more motivated than ever now...and this was after being extremely discouraged earlier this summer when NOTHING I was doing was seeming to help. So...long story short, don't be afraid to take a long break (a couple of months). It's not giving up, and you will NOT lose your ability permanently. You will come back healthier and refreshed : )

  16. I'm too late to do anything other than echo the wisdom of previous commenters. My dad's just coming off a 1.5 YEAR break, due to constant injuries and pain. He considered himself "a runner", the entire time and is picking right back up where he left off.
    You ARE young. And, while you probably do tend to know yourself well, this is unknown territory.
    Giving up the sub-3 marathon goal? Maybe.
    Giving up running, altogether? Seems unnecessary. judgement. ever.

  17. Oh Gracie. This was a hard post to read and I'm sure and incredibly painful post to write. You know this is every runners nightmare- facing an injury that makes them question whether to give the sport up all together.

    First of all- don't throw in the towel. You are WAY too talented and gifted to call it quits. How many runners can run a 3:09 and a few weeks later a 3:06? I'll fill you in- NOT MANY!! I still haven't run a 3:06 myself and I can only think of a few who have.

    You are going through a rough patch and it sucks. My rough patch was a year and a half ago with my stress fracture. I had a sacral stress fracture on my pelvic bone and my dr. told me sometimes that area took longer to heal because the bone mass is so large (compared to foot). I could not run for 3 months. One month was just walking . I spent most of last fall running 3-4 days a week. That was how I did most of my Houston Marathon training. I just added in a lot of cross training and made the best of a lower mileage schedule.

    Take some time to rest. When you do start back- make yourself keep the mileage low and alternate rest days so your body has longer to recover between runs. This doesn't mean you'll be following this plan forever- but it will give you time to heal and adapt slowly to increased mileage. It has taken me a year and a half to get up to running 6 days a week and 60-70 mpw. And even now I will cut back a day whenever needed.

    I'm sure you will come back stronger. I used Daily Mile to help me with cross training accountability. Even though I had a few weeks of nothing, once I was able to start cross training I put everything down. Sure I wasn't logging in any running miles but I knew the cross training would help get me back to where I wanted to be.

    You WILL get your sub 3 hour marathon. And you will have an amazing comeback story to tell when you do.

  18. i think you are still meant to run! but that's me. i have a hard time giving up on running (and my overly ambitious goals that are probably wayyyy out of reach).

    there's another runner-blogger (, emily) who seems to break something in her foot/leg once a year. this obviously forces her to take a considerable amount of time off and so far she keeps bouncing back and PRing at all distances, even winning a few ultras i think.

    i guess my only suggestion would be to take more time off from running. try to find some XT that allows you to get your endorphin on without hurting the areas of injury and try to keep as much cardio-fitness as you can. hopefully the legs just need a true period of rest :-/

  19. This is hard and I am sorry you are going through this. My suggestion is to ride this out without making any decisions yet. See what happens, how your body will feel, how your mind will feel. The answer will come to you. I would not be concerned about the time off. I watched you come back this fall and you ran very fast immediately. Sometimes the deep rest makes for really fast running later on. You are very young. You have lots of time for running dreams. But at the same time, it is OK for those dreams to change or be replaced with other dreams. This is your life, your decisions, and you have a lot of potential on MANY fronts, including running. Just sit with this all for a while, the answer will come to you.

  20. Running affects us all differently and with our little quirks, desired distances, and how we train, we really need to throw the averages out. I got faster over time, but with speed came more hurt and more injuries, including requiring a knee operations and a foot operation. I decided that running was more important than speed, although many would have difficulty than that. Having said that, maybe you have reached your running peak - at least your body has and it may be time for something else. Many runners become cyclists and swimmers. Others shorten their distances. And some, like me, stop worrying about time and just enjoy being out there. Only you know the right answer for YOU!