Late last week I had my last physical therapy appointment (knock wood) for the psoas injury that’s been plaguing my right hip since January. Over the past few months, I’ve only been able to exercise minimally and had several weeks of total rest. Mostly I’ve been walking (lovely), with a few turns at the elliptical machine (horridly boring), and a few pull-buoy-assisted swims (praying for death).
I missed running. Three weeks ago my physical therapist gave me the go-ahead to try some short run intervals during my walks — about a minute at a time — and to build from there gradually. I would check in with her three weeks after that to see how I was doing. When I went back for the check-in, we found out that my hips were still in alignment (great), my right side was still stiffer than my left (not great but expected), though the joint had some better mobility (good), and I was cleared to go (fan-fucking-tastic).
This was convenient, see, because I had a 5K race on the schedule for Saturday morning. I was ready. I had some new shoes I’d just been fitted for (Brooks Ravennas!) and had gotten some tips on keeping my form in alignment better. I knew I could cover the distance doing short run/walk intervals, and had built up to running 3-4 minutes at a time. Most of all, though, I was happy to have the clearance from my physical therapist. If she’d found that I’d gotten myself out of alignment or had worsened my situation at all, I would’ve had to bail on the race.
Being injured and unable to run has not been fun for me. Running is my best stress reliever and my favorite form of cardio, and I was pretty darned stressed out for a while there and felt like I had no recourse (ahem, lying cheating dirtbag ex, cough cough).
More than that, there is the element of ego. I like being able to describe myself as a runner. An injured runner? A runner who doesn’t or can’t run? Not quite as satisfying, you know? Oh sure, I’m a runner. A runner who has to stop and walk every three minutes.
But at least I’m now a runner who gets to participate in organized races again! Becky and I signed up for the local “Finish on the 50” 5K race, along with our friend Heather who was doing the 10K. They also had a 1-mile “fun run” as part of the event. It was pretty funny to me to see how many people would pay to register for a fun “run” just for the chance to walk a mile and finish on the 50-yard line of Jordan-Hare stadium. If you aren’t from the south, allow me to tell you that college football is, well, important here.
We met up near the start of the race at Toomer’s Corner (you may have heard about our oak trees) and milled around getting ready. As we split up so Heather could line up for the 10K start, we exchanged our good-luck wishes. “DOMINATE!” I told her, which, incidentally, she did, coming in first-place female in the 10K with a sub-40-minute time. Heather is a full-on running badass.
She chuckled, looked at me, and said, “You don’t do anything stupid.” I laughed, but I had to take the advice to heart. It would be so easy for me to do something stupid. Race-day adrenaline gets pumping through my system and I say, “HOT DAMN I’m feeling GREAT! I think I’m going to rip off a bunch of 8:00 miles and get myself a shiny new PR! And a newly re-injured hip!” I would so totally do something like that. Luckily I had two forms of backup: I had Becky to run with me for as long as we could stay together, and she had agreed to do run/walk intervals. To that end, I also had my Garmin watch set up with an interval workout programmed in so I’d be running about 0.4 miles and walking about 0.1 miles a total of six times. I would only know my distance remaining in that interval — no time, total distance, or pace information would display. I figured if I couldn’t see a slow pace on the screen, I wouldn’t feel like I had to speed up.
So Becky and I hung together for about the first half of the race. I accidentally got going too fast during the second interval, and the third interval involved a massive hill and we got separated. I hadn’t known how fast we were going, but the first three intervals were about 9:30, 8:30, and 10:00 pace (flat, downhill, uphill). This was significantly faster than my recent neighborhood run paces, but I felt completely normal.
After Becky and I split up, I just tried to truck along by myself, walking and running according to the relentless beeps of my watch, and not doing anything stupid.
It’s tough, though: the first time we had to take a walking break, about 0.4 miles into the 5K race, I muttered to Becky that this was the moment when I felt like a gigantic asshole. I mean, who stops to walk not even half a mile in to a three-mile race? Of course we both had our ear buds in, so I had to repeat myself at a shout, broadcasting to the entire group around us that “RIGHT NOW, WALKING, IS THE TIME WHEN I FEEL LIKE A TOTAL ASSHOLE.” Ai yi yi.
It is hard to let go of my ego at a time like this. People shouldn’t be passing me, I think. Just as soon as my watch beeps for me to run again, I’ll show them all righty! I will pass back every person who passed me! And I did, almost. I passed a lot of people in every run interval. And I had no idea how fast I was running. The last three run intervals were 8:57, 8:47, and 9:00. That’s a normal 10K race pace for me — not quite what I’d try to run in a 5K race if I were totally healthy, but not far off. Much faster than I’d planned to run. The walking intervals at about 14:00-15:00 pace made my average just over 10:00 for the distance, bringing me to the finish line at 30:43. I placed 34 out of 109 women in my age group; 217 out of 603 over all.
It’s funny, I haven’t seen a 5K time over 30 minutes in years, but to me it felt blazing fast on Saturday! I had expected something more like 34:00. I was immediately worried: had I gone and done something stupid? How was my hip feeling? It hadn’t bothered me during the race, but that’s the thing: it almost never hurts during the run, only afterward. I was worried about how I’d feel the next day.
Well, I’m writing this over 24 hours after the race and I’m feeling fine. I can tell the muscles in that area are fatigued, but that is sometimes the case after a workout these days. The right hip and quads just feel the fatigue more. Nothing is burning or throbbing or twitching, so I think I escaped unscathed. Success!
Being able to participate in a race again felt wonderful over all — even in spite of the moments when I had to slow to a walk while everyone around me continued running. I still got to feel the exhilaration of the start line, the satisfaction of the finish line, and the thrill of running with a crowd of hundreds of other like-minded people all coming together to do their individual sport.
My game plan for the future is to continue building back my running, using intervals and very short distances until I am able to run 2-3 miles without stopping, then I can cautiously resume a more normal schedule. Stretches, Jane-Fonda-style leg lifts, bridges, and planks will be here to stay. And now, to choose my next race.