When I didn’t qualify for Boston at my last marathon at the end of May I wanted to capitalize on my fitness and find another Boston qualifying marathon not too far out so I wouldn’t have to start from scratch. After taking two full weeks off due to being sick and recovering, I dove headfirst back into training with only seven full weeks to train for the Eugene Marathon at the end of July. Initially I assumed my biggest challenge would be training through the hot Arizona summer; I never considered an injury might sideline me. My thought was that because I’m fit and strong hitting it hard wouldn’t be a problem. So my first day back was five miles of speedwork followed the next day by a short but hard run, followed by a medium effort run and ending the week with a 15 mile long run on Friday and 26 mile bike ride on Saturday. Let’s just say that by Sunday my knee was screaming at me. It was stiff and sore and hurt to bend. Basically I did too much, went too hard, and ran too far all too soon after taking that much time off. Anyone that’s been running for any length of time (I’ve only been running 30+ years!) knows you should gradually increase your effort and distance, not just go balls out like I did. After icing and resting Sunday I thought I could just push past the discomfort and did some exercises Monday morning and attempted to take the dog on a brisk walk only to be in so much pain I had to turn around and limp home. I took the rest of the week off from running, getting more panicked as each day passed knowing the window to get any long runs in before the marathon was quickly closing. That’s when my wonderful husband stepped in.
Not an athlete by any means, my husband is extremely intelligent, thought provoking and methodical. He’s also my biggest supporter and seeing the panic rise in my demeanor as the week went on he took time out of his busy day to sit with me and devise a plan that will hopefully work to get me to the marathon starting line. He reminded me that I was actually more fit when I participated in my half ironman than my last marathon and feels it’s because I did so much more cross training then than now. So we took my marathon schedule and replaced a lot of the running with much more swimming and cycling, keeping two shorter runs and making my long run day a swim/bike/run day with my longest run being only 13 miles. The idea being that I’ll do up to four hours of constant cardio without so much pounding on my injured knee and therefore I’ll have the fitness level to complete the marathon.
Having this new plan gave me much relief…at least it was an alternative to not running the marathon at all. So with my new revised schedule in hand and my knee feeling much better after ten days off from running, I was anxious to get out and do a little run this past Monday to see how my knee would do. I started off slowly uphill to meet my running friend Sue at the college track. Although it was a speedwork day on my schedule, my plan was to just run slightly faster around the track and to not push it. Maybe it was the excitement of feeling no pain or the fact I took ten days off but the next thing I knew I was flying around the track at a sub 7:00 minute pace at what felt like an easy effort! Granted I was only doing 400’s so I took a 200 meter recovery jog in between each one but still I was just thrilled to be able to run that fast and with no pain. Sue also killed it running her first three sets at a 7:30 pace! It was a great morning!
Then the day wore on and my knee started to stiffen up. I iced it, took ibuprofen and it was just getting worse and worse. By evening I couldn’t bend it at all and I was almost in tears getting into bed. That night I woke up several times from the throbbing pain around my knee. My swim partner Wendy came to pick me up Tuesday morning for our lake swim which was supposed to be followed by a 2 hour bike ride according to my new schedule but as I hobbled out to her car I knew there would be no biking that day as I could not bend my knee at all. Fortunately in the lake you don’t have any walls to kick off of but even stopping to stand was painful. At this point I figured I was done. There would be no marathon in my future.
I spent the day alternating a heating pad and ice pack on my knee. Tuesday night was again restless and even the pressure of my knee resting on top of my leg while lying on my side hurt. However, I felt a bit hopeful when I got up Wednesday morning and wasn’t in as much pain. My new plan called for two hours at the pool followed by a 10k so I nixed the run and just swam. I was grateful to have Wendy meet me at the pool for an hour of it. I broke it up into 500 meter sets; the first three sets I was pushing hard which also meant pushing off the wall and with every push there was pain. By the start of the fourth set I quit pushing off the wall, it was just too painful. It is a very awkward feeling to start swimming from a standing, or floating, position and it also adds seconds to each length but I didn’t care at that point. I ended up finishing with 3300 meters in just under an hour and half – my longest swim ever!
Which brings me to today; my knee is still a little stiff but with a fraction of the pain I was feeling Monday. It’s very encouraging to see the progress in just a few days. Granted I’ve had to once again revise my training schedule. Not only did I not get to do any of the biking or running I had planned, I have now cut out running altogether going forward and will just swim and bike to the marathon start line! I only have four weeks to go and I just don’t want to risk getting any more injured before then. So tomorrow is another two hour pool swim (oh, I did another 30 minute lake swim this morning too) and I plan on a 25 mile group bike ride Saturday barring it doesn’t aggravate my knee any. If all that goes well then I’ll pick up my cycling in place of running for the next few weeks.
I am all about swim, bike and running – after all, I do love triathlon! However, to not run at all before a marathon is just something I never even fathomed and I have no idea how it’s going to turn out for me. It may be my best marathon yet or I could be calling for a ride from the nearest Starbucks around mile 13 if I make it that far. We’ll just have to wait and see!
Have you ever run a marathon without running during training? I would love to read your comments and suggestions below!