Building back up or so I thought….
I was slowly returning back to training and my group. Running just wasn’t as easy as I liked. Mentally in my head I knew how to run fast, but I just physically couldn’t. I just kept thinking about how far I had to go as opposed to how far I had come. None-the less I pressed on. I worked up my intervals to 15 min run/1 min walk. Then by that stage I felt pretty confident to run with the group (it was pretty much intervals anyways) and I also had confidence to do continuous runs. My intervals were roughly 6-8 km, so I slowly decided to build up my “long run”. This started with 10k and I built a couple of kilometres on each weekend. Once I had I bit more in my legs, I started to add in an extra “easy run” of 4-6km. So soon enough it wasn’t just day on of running, day off. It was so freeing to let go of the rigors of DWR and spin classes, which I loathed. But found a necessary evil. Within a month or so, I went from 3 to 4, then 4 to 5, then 5 to 6 days of running. I was back in my old routine, feeling a bit of my old self again. Still not as quick as I liked. But I was getting there. I was frustrated that I couldn’t keep up with some of the guys that I could normally keep up with or beat. I guess patience isn’t my virtue. But I try.
I guess you could say things were looking up. On track for Chicago. My coach was off with the Australian junior team for world championships, so he left us with a well experienced coach and marathon runner himself. It was nice to hear that difference perspective and learn a few more things about myself. The other difference was he is such a great runner, he’d run alongside with us. I had set myself a goal of revisiting 10k at Albert Park Lake and my first race since 2015. Our caretaker coach would advise things like adding on extra minutes to long runs, basing it on time not kilometres. Adding in a easy run, but do a bit of marathon pace during. I’m a good student, I do what I’m told. But maybe I shouldn’t have?? Too much too soon perhaps??
I remember when it started. We had a session of 8 x 1km reps. The caretaker coach was running alongside of me. What do you do in general when someone is pushing you to go faster? You generally find that little bit extra and go faster. I did the quickest 1 km rep I had done all year, I was chuffed. But by the end I had fatigued, (well I managed to keep the pace within range), but I pushed my body beyond what I should’ve. I felt a little something near my knee and adductor. At the time I didn’t think too much of it. Then my back was a bit sore. But I kept running. I ran on the Wednesday, Thursday, & Friday. Saturday my hip was sore, I rested as planned. Thought I was feeling ok enough to do my long run and set out for 25 km on the Sunday. I was setting a good pace. But the last 7 km I was in pain, something wasn’t right. I just wanted to get back to the car ASAP. I got back thinking something wasn’t right. But did my usual recovery. That evening I was in pain, I couldn’t lift my left leg without assistance.
The next day I was in excruciating pain. So I went to physio. No good. I rested a couple of days. Went back and I could lift my leg, just but still discomfort. I tried again a jog on Thursday, no good. Kept up with physio. A week later, tried a walk jog. Couldn’t even jog for 30 secs without pain. Something wasn’t right. Bad hip flexor injury?? Finally I went back to see the sports doc. She said I think you have a stress fracture in your femoral neck. My heart sank. Its hard to even describe all the emotions I was going through at that moment. Why didn’t you come see me sooner she said? I guess I just thought it was muscular, I was sick of injury and doctors, I was afraid she might say something like that. So off for an MRI I went…..
Good news, no stress fracture or cracks in bone, but a mild stress reaction of the femoral neck…that’s good right? Should heal up pretty quickly? Trying to be positive here. Well apparently hips take a long time to heal, but I learnt the hard way….AGAIN.
Sometimes I can’t help but think that I my coach wasn’t away, he’d check in on me and tell me to slow down. He’s great like that. This one wasn’t a volume thing it was a speed thing. I was determined….AGAIN….to make it to Chicago. But this didn’t turn out the way I’d like either. This femoral neck took way longer than I thought. I guess it makes sense. You can’t offload it. Every time you sit, you stand, you engage that hip.
Some people say that the challenging moments in your life teach you the most about yourself. That the disappointments you experience make you a stronger person in the long run. 2016 has thrown up its fair share of challenges. In no way would I say that things have gone exactly the way that I had planned or hoped. But the lessons I have learned and the experiences I have had this year have been invaluable. I hope to share a bit of an insight into the highs and lows of an athlete. There is so much more to being an athlete than what you see out on the track….
For 3 weeks I did deep water running (DWR) and spin classes, religiously like it was my job along with some strength work without any weight bearing on my foot. I had to keep my fitness up right?!
I had a good program for DWR so was feeling in touch with fitness. But mentally I was losing it a bit. Could I, would I make it? Nothing replaces running and all this cross training just wasn’t hitting the spot. Just not the same endorphins. 3 weeks later my foot was feeling better but I still felt a little “something”. I went in for my 2nd MRI and eagerly awaited the results upon seeing the sports Doctor. Results…. it actually looked worse!!!! I was in shock….What do you mean it looks worse?!! It feels better…it can’t be. Everything clinically indicated it had improved. The Doc said on that he couldn’t recommend I try for Boston. Back in the moonboot for 6 weeks and come see him again. I just couldn’t accept it, I was going to go crazy. It was like he had wiped his hands of me. I was just so baffled, it didn’t make sense. I’m an intelligent being, I need logic. So off I went for a 2nd opinion.
The 2nd Doc who is now my current Doc, said we don’t pay attention to scans after 3 weeks as the bone is remodelling. This made sense to me at least and while Boston was looking more and more unlikely, I at least had clarity and was also put onto an Alter-G Anti-Gravity Treadmill. This made me a bit more motivated and least I’d feel I was running again, kinda. The monotony of the pool was getting to me. It’s so isolating being away from my training group and the pool is even more lonely.
My first experience of the Alter-G was weird, I started on 30% of my bodyweight, it felt effortless running. Kinda like running on the moon, not that I’ve been there. Guess it makes sense, without the impact and loading of course you aren’t going to be expending as much energy.
I would alternate days on the Alter-G, gradually increasing time, and after a couple of weeks I started to increase the weight bearing also. I was feeling close to running again.
I started off with a 4 min walk & 1 min jog for 20 min every alternate day. Then after I had performed each session twice I would step up to the next level. So next 3 min walk, 2 min run etc. I built up to 3 min jog efforts and decided to return to my running group just so I would see everyone again and I wasn’t too isolate. But the time I was up to 5 min efforts I was covering nearly 1 km. I was probably going to quick in hindsight. I think mentally I treated it like intervals when it was supposed to be easy.
I went back to the Docs, I had to decide on Boston, my coach didn’t think it was a good idea. He said I was young and had plenty of marathons left in me. But I was really struggling to let go. Boston was my dream. The Doc put it to me this way….”You could do it, but there’s a high risk you could do serious damage” (i.e. break my foot). When it was put to me like that I weighed up the pros and cons. I was determined to walk the bloody thing at one stage I just wanted to get it done. But heart was saying you can do it, but my head was saying don’t be stupid. I was going nuts as it was, I didn’t want to be out any longer that I had to.
With a heavy heart, I withdraw from Boston, 3 weeks out. Cancelled my flights and accommodation L. I thought if I can’t do Boston I’ll do Chicago in October as I could get in as a guaranteed runner with my times and give me something to work towards (and use my flights). Thanks to NYC marathon, I had another qualifier to apply for Boston and do in 2017. So I knew it would be there next year which was comforting (I guess my time in NYC wasn’t so bad afterall)….
I came back to Melbourne from Falls Creek fit and determined to continue on with my program. Onward and upwards towards Boston marathon. After Falls I was rather fatigued, but pulled back for a week of training. Although. Training every day and twice a day almost felt normal now. So taking a day off felt strange. I continued on with my program and had done a couple of big weeks with some 32k & 34 k runs plus some weeks of big volume again (140 km)!! Feeling strong and no issues. Travelling along nicely. The following week after a heavy volume week I had pulled back but still had a 36 km run planned. I remember I ran the Wednesday afternoon easy…i didn’t need too. I did my usual Friday run with the group and got caught up, felt great so probably ran much faster than what I should’ve. All of a sudden I felt a bit of soreness on the top of my foot. I didn’t think anything of it. I had felt something similar last year before my half marathon effort and it eventually went away. So I did my easy run Saturday ( I should’ve rested…hindsight is such a great thing). My foot was really sore. Was struggling to walk around. None the less, I rested it for the day and went out for my 36 km run. Foot was sore but bearable. The last few km were a struggle. It was warm, my foot was sore. But I got it done. Tick!! Right?!
The rest of the day I was buggered, and foot was really sore. I rested. Thoughts started popping into my head….something is not right…stress fracture…nah can’t be? I’ve had this before it will go away. Monday, still sore, I try an easy 10km on the grass. Back again on Tuesday its still not right. I go to the GP. We did some bloods. My ferritin was almost non-existent…7!!! So I started taking more iron and had some B12 shots. Doc was reluctant but we got an X-ray. It showed nothing. I continued to run. Then had the weekend off. I tried again the following Tuesday. It still wasn’t right. My coach said I needed to get an MRI and despite the doc saying I didn’t need it I got one.
The result…..stress fracture in my 2nd metatarsal!! You can hear the alarm bells going off right?! I can’t have a stress fracture….I need to do the Boston Marathon. Everything I’ve done was to get me to this event. I went and got the next available appointment with a Sports Physician. I was put straight into a moonboot. All of a sudden my world was crashing down around me. 3 weeks in a moonboot. Deep water running and bike was ok. Then back for a 2nd MRI and see the Doc again. I even went and got a 2nd opinon….Same story. Moonboot!! Could I make it to Boston. 9 weeks out. The odds were against me, but I had to know that I had given my everything to get right before I gave up on it…
When you get a taste they say you want more…after New York, I was determined still to improve my time and I was going to do this at the Boston Marathon. My coach takes a group of athletes away just after Christmas for high altitude training at Falls Creek which is over 1600 m (5300 ft) above sea level. It was my first experience at altitude and first experience away as an “athlete”.
I had always thought I had special physiological properties, but my first experience at altitude was tougher than I anticipated. Suddenly I couldn’t run my usual pace. Coach said not to pay attention to pace but to my heart rate. Initially heart rate and VO2 max dropped from 56 – 51 according to my Garmin. First 6 km was a struggle and my body reacted.
It’s fair to say it was a unique experience. We were away for 12 days. Many of the professional athletes all head to Falls around this time. My coach runs a different schedule to other groups, where we do 3 x 4 day cycles. Tempo/Hills, long reps, easy run – 15 k ish (track athletes did short reps), long run. Repeat cycle. Afternoons were easy run and strides and once a cycle we would also do strength circuit training.
It was pretty much train, eat, sleep, repeat. Tough going covered 300 km of running in 13 days. But loved it none the less. Great to experience the life of a pro athlete.
Up at 7:30 for core, stretching and flexibility. 10am main training session. Followed by recovery in the freezing cold aqueduct and pool. Then eat. Rest or explore. Then at it again around 5pm for another session. Then the whole recovery process starts again to get you ready for the following day.
My first experience of the aqueduct was amusing it was so painfully cold the first few minutes I thought I was going to vomit. But I quickly became accustom to it and was then sitting in there for 20 mins at a time.
For our long runs we’d head out to Langsford Gap, being a marathoner I wanted to do at least 20 km. 10 km out & back right…easy!! Well not so easy, 10 km out and all of a sudden I’m going up mountains, going through creeks (what is this trail running?) ….walking…thinking if I go any further I’ll get lost so I’d turn around. 20 km felt like 40 km in altitude. The longest run I’d manage was 25 km, I did a couple out and back efforts so I wouldn’t get lost, but it was mentally challenging.
Many of the days I’d question myself….why are we doing this again?? Always so sore and fatigued. But I walked away feeling and looking fitter than ever, ready to carry on towards Boston in April.
October 28 2015 I jetted off to NYC, concrete jungle where dreams are made of right? My first time to the USA. I packed fully prepared for the marathon, some food, nutrition recovery etc. The long haul flight I had compression tights and socks. I arrived on the Wednesday night. Me and my friend booked Air BnB. We arrived to a 4th floor apartment with no lifts (rookie error)!
We were staying only a couple of hundred metres from Central Park. I love that place. I did a bit of fartlek on Thursday morning and went off to the Expo. It was massive!! In the days leading up to the marathon, I tried to stay off my feet but still explore the city. And also tried to stick as best as possible to my carb loading plan.
The morning of the marathon I was up at 4am had some toast and jam, got all dressed up then jumped in a cab to head to a bus to take us to Stanton island for the start. The security was full on! And it also sucked as I had to wait around for hours before the race started. We arrived around 7am but didn’t kick off until 9:50am. So I just lay around and tried to rest.
Eventually we were called to our corals. I did a few warm up strides, but felt a bit silly, others weren’t quite as serious but I was determined for a PB.
Its fair to say NYC marathon was not a fun race for me and much tougher than I had expected. The gun was fired and we were off. It was a slow start over the Vernazzo bridge. So many bottle necks so it was hard to get in a good rhythm. I panicked trying to make up for the pace I wanted to be at. I also managed to get a stitch. It lasted for around 12k. So painful but I breathed my way through it and it eventually went away. I was right on track to reach my goal around the halfway mark. But then we hit the Queensborough Bridge around 26km. The incline nearly broke me, but my heavy legs recovered and I tried to keep up. But everytime thinking I was on pace, I’d get hit by another incline, one after the other. By the 32k mark I was hurting, I could feel my goal time slipping away and all of a sudden the 3:30 pacer was in front of me. How could this be? I pushed on and passed, but it hurt I won’t lie. I battled through the last few kilometres of the rolling hills of Central Park to cross the finish line in 3:28:41. My quads were shattered and so was I. To have such a good lead up but get beaten by a hilly course. In hindsight I actually did pretty awesome. I struggled to walk back to my bag and needed assistance. It was difficult walking around the city for the next few days. But absolutely loved my time in NYC.
The opportunity came about to run the NYC Marathon and represent the Jodi Lee Foundation to raise awareness for Bowel Cancer. I thought how fitting given my mother had passed away from Bowel Cancer 2 years prior. So I signed myself up for the 2015 NYC Marathon.
I was still on such a high after my PB efforts at Canberra marathon. They often say after you get a taste you want more. And I did, I wanted to get even faster!! I continued with my training and entered in a few cross country races run by Athletics Victoria in my build up.
First up 15k road race at Ballarat. This was probably just over a month post marathon. This race was tough and I think I got caught up with the more fine tuned athletes and went out way to hard. My legs got lactic about half way through the race so it was tough going from there on. 15K for 1:06. A PB for that distance but I’ve run a quicker pace over 15.5k.
Next up was my first 10K race at Albert Park. It was also the first time that I would race in racing flats. Another tough race. I was out of the blocks flying 4:10/km for the first 5 km. But again legs got heavy at the 6km mark and it was tough going from there. Still I managed a 10K PB 43:12 and a 5K PB while I was at it 20:50.
Training volume had really ramped up for NYC. I was averaging 80-90k per week, and with the guidance of my coach we slotted in a couple of heavy weeks of training load where I did a week double sessions. So got up to 120-130k. It was tough. But I was adapting and feeling fitter than ever.
My last tune up race before the NYC marathon was the Burnley Half Marathon. I was hoping for 1:35 but anything below 1:39 would be a bonus. Again I was out of the blocks quick, but I was feeling good, this time I pulled myself back after a couple of km. I felt great the whole race and smashed my PB by 6 mins. 1:33:41. 4:26 min/km average pace. I was right on track for NYC marathon.
Lactic acid testing, VO2 max, Jack Daniels tables based on my recent results were predicting at least a 3:20 marathon….but marathons are always an unknown….
They say there are these moments where everything just comes together. That you feel great. That you’re in the zone. This happened for me at the Canberra Marathon.
I had a great preparation for training leading into the race. I had even practiced using the sports drink on course during my long runs. A few days before I sat down with the sports dietician and mapped out my carb loading plan and race nutrition plan. Approach for carb loading was a bit different. I even had things I never usually would to load up on carbs but not feel bloated, such as lemonade.
The day before the race, I relaxed out watching my footy team which was a mistake, not only did they lose, but I had a headache. Mental note not to sit in the sun next time. I had my last meal, took a couple of panadols and went to sleep.
The morning of the race arrived and everything just seemed to flow. Even tying my shoelace seemed perfect. I was aiming for a 3:30 marathon, that mean 5 min/km pace, but that I thought was wishful thinking and anything below my previous PB would be good. Just to secure my entry into Boston.
The gun fired and we were off. It’s often a common mistake with marathons, where you are feeling great early on, go out too fast and hit a wall. Well I was feeling great….4:45 pace my watch said. I kept thinking you’re going too quick, slow down, but I felt good and went with it. I alternated my gels every 40 min and made sure I got fluids in early with the course sports drink (this was like money in the bank).
The course was a bit undulating but I kept going feeling pretty great. I remember toing and frowing with another female runner, every time we’d go uphill she’d pass me and I’d pass her on the downhill. I remember getting to around 35km mark thinking after my terrible stitch at my last marathon that the wall was coming, I climbed a little incline and the legs got heavy, thinking for a moment of yep here’s that wall. But it was following by a little decline, no wall…I kept going. At the 40 km mark my little counterpart stopped for a drink, I kept heading for the finish line and crossed in 3:24:02. Smashed my PB by nearly 14 min. I could not believe it! And I felt ok even crossing the line.
My coach rang me after the race, saying I must’ve come top 10. In my head I thought don’t be stupid. He asked “Well did you see a lot of girls in front of you?” I thought for a second. Actually I didn’t. And you know what he was pretty spot on. 11th female overall, 4th in my age category. Life couldn’t get much better I was over the moon. I hope to have another perfect race sometime soon. But its sure that I’ll never forget my so far perfect race in our little country’s capital.
So I had a Boston Qualifying time. So what was next. Get into Boston. I was only 2 min and 4 sec under the qualifying time. I now had belief. But being under qualifying time doesn’t necessarily guarantee entry into the prestigious race. I wanted to ensure I get in now. So I needed to get faster!
I usually trained with a group at the local gym, we always would do a track session on a Monday, some speed work on the oval on a Wednesday. Then a 10-14k run every Friday around the local area (of course there was a long run on the weekend). On our Friday course we’d often run past this little gym, it had a little sign advertising for marathon runners. I was always intrigued. So I decided to go check it out.
I walked in and this man with a thick Polish accent started talking all about training and running. I said I wanted to qualify for the Boston Marathon. But what really captured me was he started drawing graphs, talking about VO2 max etc. Now I have a PhD in chemistry so I know science and the way this man was talking, I could tell he knew what he was talking about. So I could have a real coach with specifically designed programs. Two other things he mentioned. I needed to do more volume I was only running 4 days a week and I needed want to put on too much more muscle.
So two things I had to do to start off with, I had to change my routine and join another group. This was daunting. I had to let go of other sessions I was doing. I went from running 4 days a week to 6 days a week. My body didn’t like this at first. It took some adjusting. Plus the new groups sessions really pushed me. They were similar to what I had done with my other group. But we covered more volume over a session and the reps were generally much more longer. I had to learn the difference between speed work and easy sessions. I quickly learnt I couldn’t back up with one hard session after the next…
I kept up with the new schedule and new training. I was targeting Canberra Marathon to improve my marathon time and BQ time. But 1st up we’d test it out with Run 4 the Kids. I blew myself away. 4:22 pace for 15.5 k. Another PB. Bring on Canberra Marathon…
I came back from Europe, a few croissants & crepes heavier. So I made a deal with myself, embrace all that Europe has to offer and when you come back you’re quitting sugar!! Slowly but surely I got back into routine, but I had a lot to lose and needed to be patient. Keeping up my strength training with my running I decided to sign up for Run Melbourne Half Marathon 2015 and of course I was going to follow that up with my hometown Melbourne Marathon.
A few kilos lighter from Europe, I thought maybe I could break a 1:45 marathon? 5 min pace for 21 km could I do this. Apparently yes I can… another PB. 1:44:40.
Another thing that I came away with after Europe was hearing all about the coveted Boston Marathon, I never really thought it was possible for me to do. Well maybe not for a few years. I understood after my last two marathons, that a few minutes was a big deal. So I set myself the goal to qualify for Boston Marathon over the next couple of years. Why is Boston Marathon so special you ask?? Its the only marathon in the world that you need a qualifying time to run (other than Olympics of course). This qualifying time makes it so prestigious. The mecca for all runners.
My next run was Melbourne Marathon 2014, it was a beautiful morning but it certainly got warm. 18 degrees in the sun after 42 km is tough going. I remember thinking I start off behind my friend to set a pace and then stay at mine. She was off but by the halfway mark I caught up. I remember we ran with each other until the 28 km mark and then I was off. By 37 km I was hurting with the worst stitch, but I pushed through, the last km seemed all uphill. But would you believe…I crossed the line with another PB…smashed it…Sub 3:40 (3:37:56 in fact). It wasn’t until later that I realised I actually had a Boston qualifier. Hang on…maybe I’d be going to Boston much sooner than expected.
I finished the year off with 2 more runs, the City 2 Sea, another PB City to Sea 15km 1hr:08min (15th 30-35) and then I ran another half marathon…smashed my PB again and came 2nd in my age category although I never realised until after I left the race. Susan Women’s Fun Run – Half Marathon. 1hr:39 min, 2nd Place (30-35yr), 13th Overall
What was going on…this was outta control…this was just GREAT!!