Disaster struck. My 3rd marathon went to hell. Okay, maybe that is a little dramatic, but anyone who has trained hard for an endurance event would understand.
Let me to a quick recap of the weeks leading up to the marathon for anyone who forgot, starting with my 18 mile training run:
- Everything was great; the flawless weather, lack of aches and pains, and I had an insane amount of energy and endurance (despite my doctor finding out that I again had an extreme vitamin deficiency).
- Two weeks later I had my 20 mile training run. I was confident, the weather was decent, and I had gotten enough sleep, but for some reason the run was bad from the start. My body was just not having it. By mile 3 or 4 I had a deep pain in my right groin area. I chalked it up to a hip flexor tightness, and continued on. My coach suggested I get it looked at just in case. By the end of the run I had felt destroyed. I was in tears, limping, and exhausted. I told myself I was going to give my body a two week break from running (other than my 5k race) to let it catch up and heal.
When I ran my 5k (in uniform to support a FA friend with cancer) two weeks later, I had no pain at all while on the course, but immediately after felt the same familiar groin area pain radiate. I emailed my other coach who is also a physical therapist (and helped me with an injury during my very first marathon three years ago). She responded almost immediately with, “You really need to get that checked out. Not to freak you out, but that sounds like it could be a tear or stress fracture. You should really go to the doctor ASAP and get cleared.” I was flying a lot that week, and I wasn’t sure how to make time. Every time I got home from flying my pain was even worse. Sitting on the jump seat was extremely painful, and all of the bending and squatting in the galley was beginning to be too much to take. I was now starting to get worried about my marathon fate. Normal tightness and soreness from a marathon training typically goes away with rest and stretching, but this was different.
Sunday morning came faster than I thought. I met up with my team, took pictures, shared excitement, and listened to some great speeches from a few of my favorite coaches. During one of the speeches, the coaches handed out pennies to all of our team participants, the significance being that the pennies were to be carried with us on the course as a reminder of who we are running for; a friend, family member, teammate, etc, who is battling cancer, has beat it, or has lost the fight. When the course began to get rough, we were to squeeze that penny to find some hidden energy and motivation to pull us through to the end. When we finally believed we could do it, and no longer needed it, we were to drop in on the course- leaving a piece of us behind; to leave our mark on the amazing day, and our incredible training journey. Then, in the future, someone may find it, and look to it as a symbol of “good luck”–not even knowing how much energy, love, and determination that the penny truly carries.
I held onto that damn penny in the palm of my right hand. While waiting for the race to start in the crowd of 40,000+ runners, I was feeling 50% excited, and 50% terrified that I would not be able to finish. The race started, and the 1.7 million spectators filled the air with cheers, screams, and cowbells down every single street in the city of Chicago. The first 6 miles, I felt no pain. I felt strong, and my energy was high. I was laughing at signs that read “Smile if you are not wearing any underwear,” and “All toenails go to Heaven”. Before I knew it, I really started to sweat, and the penny caused my hand to turn a little green. I refused to let it go, like it held some sort of magic power. By mile 10, I had a dull throbbing pain, and like a switch, at mile 14 I knew I was in big trouble. The dull throbbing pain had become very intense. My running form was compromised, and I started to lose faith in myself. I squeezed that penny, and in my head reviewed all the names of people I was running for. I gave my poor training partner the very clear, “YES! Please go ahead. I PROMISE it’s okay.,” speech because I knew she didn’t want to leave me but she was feeling much better than I was. After a few “Are you SURE?/YES I’m SURE!“ exchanges she disappeared into the crowd. Now I was alone.
By mile 18, I was trying so hard to keep up with any run/walk ratio I could manage. The pain was so bad, and my breathing was off. I started to panic to the point that I actually almost blacked out. I started walking. And crying. After walking about 3 more miles at an average of 16 minutes per mile, I ran into a spectator friend who told me everything was going to be okay. I cried even more. A few miles later, I heard someone from behind yell my name. “HEY! The voice inside your head that says you can’t is a BIG FAT LIAR, remember?!” It was my friend Becky who was also running the race. We laughed. She walked with me for a few minutes, and I cried and said was “never going to run another [*?%!$*%] full marathon. EVER.” She laughed at me, which I translated as “Mmmhmm… liar.” I laughed too, and we parted ways. Before I knew it, I was on the very last stretch of the race. I saw the final curve in the road and knew there was the “hill” around the other corner. This “hill” is barely even a true incline, but after running/walking an entirely flat 26.2 mile course ANY hill feels like a mountain. I started to psych myself out. When I reached the end of that street, I saw the sign- 800 METERS. I really started to cry. I also began to pick up my awful attempt at a jog, and started uphill. I closed my eyes for a second, and in my head, a flash; I heard my mom and dad yelling “Go Jack! Go team!” I turned to see my running partner, and we exchanged glances before we parted ways, Becky’s voice echoing once again “BIG FAT liar!” And then there was the thought of my coach talking about… the penny. I opened my eyes. I was at the top of the hill. Strangers were yelling “Jackie, You’ve got this.” The runner next to me was panting hard, the runner in front of me was pumping his fist in the air. I heard myself out loud say, “Oh my god. I actually did it. Again,” and released the penny from my hand. It rolled across the course almost in slow motion, and when I looked up I saw the finish line in the distance. I was a 3rd time marathon finisher.
The Day After
….A third time marathoner with a third time injury. The next morning I called our athletic sponsor to get a free injury screening. The physical therapist asked me a few questions and then asked me to do a few movements to assess my type of injury. She immediately set me up with an appointment to see an orthopedic sports doctor who specializes in hips. I met with him the next day, and he suspected a minor tear or fracture of my hip.
[At the time of writing] I am currently waiting for MRI approval from my insurance and will know more by next week. I am crossing my fingers that it is nothing serious, and I will not be forced back into a boot like 2011, or even worse, crutches! Hopefully, I will have a positive update. If not, it looks like I will once again have to get creative with fitness until I am cleared again….Don’t you just love injury déjà vu? Either way, I made it!