The short version:
I am extremely sorry to say that I have to withdraw from the 2017 TCS NYC Marathon.
The long version:
When your body starts slowing down, it’s a sign that it needs to stop.
Moments after finishing a distant 11th at the hot Olympic Trials in February of 2016, I decided what I wanted to do with my post-Olympic Trials year. Starting with the trials, I wanted to see if I could squeeze 4 competitive marathons into 14 months. Technically I ran 5 – the Trials, Grandma’s, NYC, Charleston (as an aided long run) and Boston, but I also have raced 16 other times since the trials – 7 of those being 15k or longer.
It was an experiment, and on the whole, I would call it very successful. I ran faster with each of the 4 marathons I raced in that period, and I had a lot of great races in between, too. But now that I’ve been in the road racing world for almost a decade, I realize from my own experience as well as learning from others, that almost no “special challenge” comes without a price.
There’s a reason why the veteran pro marathoners opt to run only 2 target marathons per year, even when the lure of racing more frequently would mean exceedingly greater yearly incomes for people at their level. It’s because that’s how things come out in the wash anyway. For me, that means I got 3 hard marathons in 2016, and just 1 in 2017.
The build-up for Boston (the last of my 4 in 14 months) was emotionally and physically draining. And the race itself was a whole ‘nother level of exhausting. And then just days later my coach of the last 4 years, who also guided me to qualify for my first Olympic Trials in 2010 and has been a mentor to me for a total of a 8 years, also announced that he would be leaving coaching in 2018.
It was kind of like the feeling of having a pet diagnosed with a terminal illness – not only is it sad in itself, but it’s also something that almost no one else can really understand. Luckily it wasn’t just me he was leaving, so I did have my fellow Team T-Bone friends to share with. Terry was wonderful about it, too, but nonetheless it was hard.
And like having a pet nearing death, I could have gone one of 2 ways – continue on with what I have for as long as I can, or what I did – quick go find a replacement before it hurts.
I was exceedingly lucky to have all 3 of the potential coaches I contacted get back to me and be willing to help. Steve Magness has been very gracious in picking up the pieces and rolling with the punches these past few months, but in hindsight, just at that very moment I didn’t even really need a coach. I just I needed this guy.
No AirBnB Brooklyn Half 5 weeks after Boston, no NYRR races all summer, no hard workouts, no real training, no big plans for a fall marathon. And in the changing of the guard, there was no David Spade for me. And as a remote coach myself, I completely understand that that’s a very difficult way to start a coach-client relationship.
The signs started in June already when I was running slower in a 10k than I had during the Half in May. And then I traveled a bunch this summer and it all adds up. But this also being my first full summer in South Carolina, I was eager to chalk it up to the climate – heat and humidity like I hadn’t experienced since summers in Richmond almost a decade ago.
By August I was seeing the signs – fatigue and underperformance, but I thought for sure I could find a way to fix it without sacrificing quality training for the sake of NYC. But logically I knew that once the signs have started to show, it’s an uphill battle to try to end them without rest.
And then I got sick – a weird stomach bug after my last workout before the 20k champs. My head knew I wasn’t fully recovered, but my heart still needed a redemption race. And if there is anything I’ve learned about redemption races, it’s to avoid them at all cost! But… hindsight is 20/20.
I raced hard through 10k, and in the 7th mile, I knew I was done. I adjusted my pace and just wanted to run under 6:00 average so that I could still PR. But soon after that, my left calf gave out – which I’ve since learned is a classic sign of low electrolytes and makes sense since I had been sick and clearly wasn’t fully recovered. I debated the whole last 4-5 miles whether or not I should drop out. I didn’t, and we’ll never know how much of a difference it would have made once the damage was already done.
📸 @itsamarython • Fitness isn't a diet or a number on your scale or GPS watch. Fitness is a feeling. And I didn't have that feeling today even though it was almost there. It's a strange experience to run a 2-minute positive split and still almost PR. • Coming off of a rough week featuring a 48hr stomach bug, I was hopeful that the extra recovery would mean that I was fresher and more tapered, but I guess a fever, elevated RHR and dehydration doesn't count as recovery. I thought maybe I could will my way to feeling good running competitively, but I should know better by now. • It's easy to focus on the negatives – the positive split, the massive ball in my left calf that seized up several times over the last 4mi, the fact that I probably wouldn't have placed in the top 10, even if I had had a perfect day. But I'll do my best to zoom out and look at the bigger picture. • I almost PRed. I have 2 months to be at my best for #tcsnycmarathon2017. I ran basically the same time as I did just before the best year of my career. And over 2 minutes faster than my first attempt 6 years ago. • Thank you @jbsportsevents for putting on an awesome event and special thanks to John Tolbert and all of the elite support. . . #fitness #putyourheartintoit #silverlinings #bigpicture #startwhereyouare #focusonyourownmat #perspective #notdoneyet #movingon #skechersperformance #newhavenroadrace #20kchamps
Since then it’s been 2 weeks of battling with the calf – one week of trying to run through it, and one week of trying to defeat it quicker with rest and treatment. Now including being sick before the race, it’s been 3 weeks since I’ve had a solid week of training, and I can’t imagine running 10 miles without gate-changing pain.
Maybe if I were a veteran injured runner, I could know how to safely run through the pain and cross train the rest of the volume. (Trust me, I’ve been channeling my inner Emily Infeld in the pool!) But since I’ve still never missed more than 5 consecutive days of running in almost 14 years, plainly put, I suck at cross training and don’t have enough time to learn in the next 7 weeks.
While I’m terribly disappointed not to be able to run NYC Marathon again this year, logically I know that I have been exceedingly lucky in soooo many ways. I have been so consistent and healthy, but I’ve also asked a lot of my body recently, and that comes at a cost. I know that this reset is necessary and of course I wish I had taken it earlier, but sometimes we simply have to learn from our own mistakes. I am also very lucky to know why it happened and to also have a very solid year of performances to show for it.
Last night after chatting with Steve on the phone and making the decision, Cole sat me down and showed me the silver lining. He reminded me that I’ve been wanting to run a PR for a very long time now, and that this rest is the forest I needed to get through in order to get there. If I had somehow made it through NYC healthy, I would have still needed this rest afterwards, and would have had to wait that much longer for my reward. Maybe now I’ll have an opportunity to take advantage of a fast winter or early spring race instead.
The last time I felt consistently awesome during a marathon build-up was before the Trials. And looking at what I’ve done since then, that makes perfect sense. While they can also be very disheartening, seasons of rest are the times when we can dream the biggest, without regular reminders of our true limitations. I can’t wait to feel even better for my next build-up as soon as my calf heals up and I’m back on my feet.