From Marathon Win to Mileage Zero

Three months ago, I missed an opportunity to write about a perhaps once-in-a-lifetime achievement: I won a marathon. The so-called win needs context: It was a low-key race on a bucolic canal towpath in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, where a time of 2:58:02 was fast enough to come in first female in a small field of about 300 runners. I could have written about my anxieties an hour before the start (which sneakers should I wear?), the strong first half and collapse in the last two miles (wooden legs).

Winner's prizes: a man, a dog and a plaque.
Winner’s prizes: a man, a dog and a plaque.

But the winner’s plaque is now tucked in the basement with old bib numbers. The winter has arrived, a new year has started, and with it training for Boston Marathon 2015. And with it came an injury. The medical term is periostitis. The vernacular term is advanced stage of shin splits (stage 2, out of 5, which is the stress fracture, the sports doctor says). Whatever the appellation, the reality is the same. With about two months left before the race, my weekly mileage has dropped zero.
I’ve been foolish enough in the past to run through pain and injure myself further. I won’t pretend I’ve become wiser with age: I have no doubt I would have run through this pain if I’d been able to. But my cunning body seems to know better and added weird weakness in various odd spots of the leg, from ankle to calf, that truly prevents me from running. (I tried.)

The Boston Marathon has been a special race ever since my first in 2008. It has become even more so after the 2013 bombings, which I heard from the safety of my hotel room. I was determined to return in 2014, and I did, getting teary when I saw the finish line for the first time since the killings. This year is set to be a family affair. My parents, in their late 60s, have decided to run their last marathon in Boston, a grand finale in the city that hosts the world’s oldest — and best-known — annual marathon. I was dreaming of making them proud with another marathon under 3 hours, if not a personal record.

In just a week, I drastically scaled back my ambitions. I went from nagging pain and tightness in the calf, to poor performance in a 5K Saturday race to “I can’t even jog with my slow-running dog” on Sunday.  I’m contemplating my first-ever Boston Marathon as a spectator.

For now I am training — if you can still call it that — solely on a stationary bike and elliptical machine. In lieu of a planned 16 to 18-miler Monday, I spent two hours on my bike in the basement (You should expect a blog post on bike seat soreness fairly soon). Tonight, it’s an hour on the elliptical. I ramped up core exercises and stretching, and I shall see if, with the help of physiotherapy, I can go back to actual running. How cruel that I’m forced to follow advice I love to dispense to others while failing to follow it myself: less can be better when it comes to training.

I feel like a violinist who prepares for a Four Seasons concert by playing piano. It can’t be right. If I sound calm and rational about it all, I’m not. All the pent-up energy I don’t spend on long runs and other speed sessions is up in my brain. I’m boiling inside.

Marathon training: a stationary bike? Really?
Marathon training tool: a stationary bike? Really?

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