OK, so all my training, the running and the biking and the treadmill workouts, were for this race, the Cotton Row Run. The 10K started at 7 am. I know me and there is no way I'm going to be on the starting line of any race at 7 am. To be honest, I wouldn't be at the church for my own wedding at 7 am. I am not a morning person and I know this about myself. Thus, I do not commit to running a race that starts at 7 am. I used to run the Cotton Row 10K back in The Day when it started at 8 am and was the only event, but once they added the 5K they apparently felt obliged to shove the 10K back an hour to 7 am and then start the 5K at 9 am, giving the 10K runners enough time to finish their race and get the heck out of the way for the next one.
So, my running was doing great up until about a month ago. I ran the fastest 5K time I had done in a number of years, but while on a treadmill which enabled me to time it exactly. Still, it was faster than I've been lately. After that, though, I had bad knee pains and was forced to begin biking in order to let my knee recover. When I was able to return to running, I was outside on the pavement. And I was really, really slow. Or at least that's how it felt. I didn't have a clock in front of me to tell me exactly how fast I was going like I do on a treadmill. But it sure felt slow.
For a month straight I did everything in my power to dodge knee injuries and calf injuries and any other injuries that tried to spring up and sabotage my training, all while finding ways to continue to train without stopping.
And then I decided to fartlek. And because I hadn't sprinted in awhile I suppose my calves weren't really ready for it. They felt extremely tight afterwards and I even stopped my workout just to make sure I didn't reinjure either calf.
Last year I had badly injured my left calf while training for this same race. It took forever to get back to a point where I could run again, and even then I had to be VERY careful not to run too fast or I'd reinjure it. This left me running races at a pace that wasn't at all competitive, but was the fastest I could go without blowing my calf again. I ran 2 races that way and it wasn't fun. My times were shameful, but I couldn't do much about it.
So fartleking made my calves tighten up badly. But they weren't injured. My arches in my feet and my calves were both sore for a solid week after. I biked a lot. I ran carefully. Less than a week before my race, I did a slow and careful run, then went home and stretched.
It was while stretching my calves after cautious run that my left calf said, "oh hey, did you feel that? Yeah, I'm hurt again. Booya!" Yep, my left calf hit me with a distinctive needle-like pain of an injury not while I was running, but while I was home carefully stretching my tight calf muscles after a run. It was just a brief pain, but a distinctly familiar one. And it was 4 days before my race.
I should have iced it right away. But I didn't. I walked around the house carefully feeling out my calf and didn't think it was too bad. It was just a little sore. Maybe I was OK? Just to be sure, I tore the house apart searching for my protective calf sleeves. I knew where they SHOULD be, but when I looked they weren't there. I found the package that they came in, but they were empty. I shouted to no one in particular, "WHY DID I KEEP THE PACKAGE IF I WASN'T GOING TO PUT THE SLEEVES BACK IN THEM?!" And then I resumed my frantic search.
It wasn't until late Friday night, as I was packing for the trip to Huntsville, that I finally found my calf sleeves. I'm ashamed to admit that they were both buried under some crap I'd left in the floor of the bedroom since this time last year, just after the Cotton Row Run 2012. I came home and apparently put my bag of Cotton Row swag in the floor over against the wall, with the calf sleeves inside, and then laid something else on top of the bag and forgotten it.
Saturday came and off to Huntsville I went. I spent 2 days taking it easy and meeting with friends. Then came Memorial Day on Monday and it was race day at last!
9 am Monday morning, there I was standing in a massive crowd of runners. A team of black people all dressed in identical pink uniforms lined up behind me. They kept taking pictures and I couldn't help but notice that I was unintentionally photobombing every single one because I was taller than they were and they had chosen to line up for their photos with me standing right behind them. Hey, not my fault. And anyway, those pictures are probably the only photographic evidence that I was even there.
OK, 10 minutes of blah blah blah while we all stood there, hopping up and down, stretching, flexing, trying desperately to keep our muscles loose and warmed up while one person after another took the microphone and talked or sang or blew a trumpet. And then finally - BANG! The starting gun went off and the race started. There were so many people lined up ahead of me that it took a little bit before I was able to move forward and eventually jog across the starting line and begin the race.
Mile 1 - there was a woman reading off the 1 mile time - 9:27. I didn't feel like I was running very fast, but 9:27 was faster than I expected. Yes, I KNOW that a 9 minute and 27 second first mile is not at all fast by any definition of fast. But it was faster than I felt I was going. So far so good. But I really needed a water station. I didn't get enough water before lining up for the start. My throat was dry and I was really feeling it.
Mile 2 - somewhere along the way I hit a water station. I should have guzzled that whole cup of water, but its hard to swallow a cup filled with water while running and I didn't want to stop just to drink it. So I took a few sips to make my throat feel better and then tossed the cup. I nearly hit someone. "Sorry dude." The skies had been overcast all morning and the 10K race was run under nice cool conditions. Lucky people. But the sun came out in full force just in time for the start of the 5K and I was feeling it. I felt myself slow down considerably for mile 2. I was afraid I was barely moving, but I kept going. At the end of mile 2 someone with a stop watch read out a time of 21 minutes. OK, I had slowed way too much, but overall I was still on track. After last year's worst ever time of nearly 34 minutes I just wanted to get back to my old bad times of under 30 for a 5K. That was my only goal for this year's race. I would run the last mile faster like I usually do and I'd make up that extra time. Everything was fine.
Mile 3 - just after I crossed over the mile 2 point my left calf said "BAM! I'm outta here." OK, to be fair, my left calf had been steadily complaining to me the entire race. During mile 1 it wasn't so bad. Plus I was distracted with the task of getting my pace established, dodging people who oddly chose to walk right in the middle of the road and block runners, and trying not to fall over children who run up in front of you only to suddenly stop and then randomly begin running again. The pain was there, but very faint. During mile 2 it was worse and I was focusing all my attention on trying not to reinjure it. That was part of the reason I slowed down during mile 2. And now, with 1.1 mile left to go, my calf decided it was done with this race and wasn't going to finish with the rest of me.
Just like last year, I began to limp badly. Just like last year, I wasn't sure if I was going to have to stop and walk or even move to the curb and sit down. Just like last year, I kept limping along trying desperately to work out some of the pain and make my calf loosen up enough to let me finish this race. My limping was pretty extreme. But after limping for what seemed like an eternity I finally managed to loosen my calf up enough to force myself into a normal stride. I couldn't do anything about my speed. I couldn't afford to speed up. So I just focused on my form and my stride. I tried to run with perfect form, and when that didn't hurt too badly then I slowly began to think about extending my stride a little bit. It was the only way I could make up some time and pick up speed. I couldn't afford to go up on my toes at all, so lengthening my stride was all I could do, just so long as my calf didn't bail on me again.
The last mile of the Cotton Row 5K is annoying, because there is a long stretch that creates the illusion of being the final straightaway. You can see well down the street, and somehow it appears that the end is within sight. But it isn't. It's just a 90 degree right turn down a short street and then another 90 degree left turn onto another street. And THAT street is the final straightaway. And THAT final straightaway is also an illusion, because you can see a big American flag hanging from a metal beam that marks the starting line where we all began. Most races that double back on themselves start and finish at the same point, on the same line. But not this race.
A lot of runners start to speed up on the first false straightaway, only to realize their mistake and almost stop altogether and walk. Others don't fall for the first false straightaway, but turn onto the last stretch and, because they can SEE what appears to be the finish line, they start to give it all they've got. It is a LONG way down that final straightaway before you even reach the original starting line, the false finish. A long, long way. Most people have a 100 meter sprint left in them at the end of a long race. Few people have a 400 meter sprint in them, and even fewer have longer than that. This last stretch of road is well over 400 meters long. The people still running in this race by the time I reach it are not the sort of people who have a 400+ meter sprint in them after running over 2 miles already. Even in my heyday, back when I was running 5Ks in 18 minutes or less, I would speed up a lot for the last mile, but I didn't have a 400-800 meter sprint in me. Those people who turn down the last straightaway and break into a sprint at the sight of the distant starting line die well before the finish, often reduced to walking and losing everything they'd hoped to gain from their sprint.
My calf was not doing well, but it wasn't as bad as it had been earlier when I first pulled up limping. My lengthened strides were working out alright for me. The extreme limping had taken a lot out of me, though, and I didn't have much sprint left in me. I strided down the long, agonizing straightaway until I crossed under the original starting line banner and then I stretched out my stride and gave it all I could with my gimpy calf and my other leg totally worn out from doing all the work while I limped so badly. I looked desperately for the time clock at the finish line as I crossed it. It was there, but it appeared to be turned off. I couldn't see a time at all.
All I had wanted for this year's run was to get back under the horribly embarrassing 30 minute mark. Last year, with absolutely everything going against me, I had the worst run of my entire life, nearly hitting 34 minutes. This year I felt sure I hadn't done as bad as that, but I was afraid that my injury had sabotaged my hopes of getting back under 30. In fact, I was sure of it. Even so, I still wanted to know just what time I had run. Surely it had to be better than last year.
There is a computer chip in our race numbers and it records our time for us. This enables the race coordinators to print out and post times almost immediately. Even so, to me it felt like I waited forever for them to finally post my time. I limped over to the white sheets of computer paper taped to the wall of the Civic Center and made me way through the crowd of runners all searching the pages for their times. It took awhile, but I finally found mine
Ah hell. That limping along easily ate up a minute of my time. It slowed me down so badly. If not for that I'd have made my goal. There was no doubt. So now I have this recurring calf injury to deal with. Two years in a row it has affected my races. It concerns me that it is back a full year later, the exact same injury. I don't want to have to be worrying about this next year when I run this race again. I want to be free to focus on my pace and give it all I've got. I'd like to be able to focus on getting well under the 30 minute mark and start moving to the lower end of the 20s again. But instead I have this to deal with.
I can't help wondering, if only I hadn't run the sprints so close to the race, after not having run sprints for such a very long time, if this wouldn't have happened at all. I don't think running sprints is a bad thing. I think I need to do more of it. I just think my muscles weren't ready for it because I hadn't been doing it consistently and hadn't done it at all in quite a long time. Perhaps, once I have this healed again, I can try to include sprints once a week in my regular workouts and strengthen my weak muscles enough that when this race comes around again next year I won't have to worry about this particular injury again? That would sure be nice. It seems like its been a very long time since I was last able to run a race without any injuries to worry about along the way.