Clawing your way back

The talented Amanda Sandlin ( made this #atwildwoman portrait for me - I love it.  

The talented Amanda Sandlin ( made this #atwildwoman portrait for me - I love it.  

Clawing your way back

After athletes suffer a significant injury there’s usually a period where we mourn – for races we won’t get to run and lost entry fees, for runs with friends that are often the highlight of our weekend.  We watch our hard earned fitness slowly slip away while clothes begin feeling tighter than we would like.  But at some point along our slide into the abyss, our feet hit solid ground.  And it is time to cautiously stand and take stock:  given my injury, what can I do NOW with my current limitations, to improve my fitness?  To begin again?  

As we climb and fight our way back up the mountain there will be footholds.  The first time our injury is healed enough to pool run.  The first time we get to take off our aircast or ankle brace.  That amazingly awesome first “run” back where we get to take fledgling running steps amidst lots of walking.  We may occasionally take a wrong step, push too hard and find ourselves sliding back down the side of the mountain – or holding on to a rock for dear life.  But even with the setbacks we focus our gaze on the peak and keep pressing forward. 

There’s strength to be found in the journey.  We know that we will emerge from the process as a stronger, wiser athlete than before.  And so we begin to fan the flames of that tiny spark of athletic fire still burning inside of us, and we embrace the long, arduous process of clawing our way back to the top. 


I wrote the above about 4 months ago.  In April I was playing with my kids at a local park when I leapt off a platform to catch my youngest child who was about to fall.  I landed badly and immediately crumpled to the ground.  (Youngest child had not a scratch though!!) After driving myself to urgent care, I learned that I had fractured (completely) my 4th metatarsal.   I spent several weeks on crutches, and three months in a boot before finally graduating to a running shoe with titanium inserts to prevent my foot from flexing while walking around.   Surgery was discussed, fretted about, cried about, and ultimately dismissed in favor of a “wait and see” approach to determine if the slightly displaced fracture would heal enough on its own.  Another two months of no running and I was finally given the green light to begin the long, slow process of rebuilding my running base.  But oh - those first few steps of freedom were glorious. 

If nothing else, the long layoff showed me that running is truly embedded somewhere deep in my soul.  When you are injured it’s natural to question your place in the sport.  I’d find myself wondering: WHY do I keep doing this to myself?  Is it worth another injury and layoff?  Why not just exercise a few times a week like most people and call it good?  But when you see runners in the pouring rain and feel an intense, burning jealousy that you can’t be out there suffering with them, or when you drive past the lonely stretch of road where you do speed work and lung-searing tempos and feel a physical yearning to be out there pushing your limits – that’s the universe speaking loud and clear that YOU AREN’T DONE YET.  Don’t give up, you are meant to be back out there.

It was all I needed to hear.    


I ran my first race post-fracture this past Sunday.  The cold, blustery day couldn’t dampen my spirits as I celebrated the fact that I was standing at a starting line of a RACE.  About to run a 5K on a foot that (several months ago) had been in pieces.  The body is a miraculous thing.  Watchless (thanks to a busted Garmin), I had the simple goal of just to go out and give it a good effort.  When I crossed the line in 20:05 I couldn’t stop the smile that appeared on my face.  I’m not there yet, but I’m heading in the right direction.  I’m climbing back up the mountain – and I’ve got my eyes fixed on the top.    

Memorial Day 5K - Finally breaking 20 minutes!!

IMG_6694It's been a quiet few weeks as I've been doing my best to be a smart runner and dial it back while I rehabbed this hamstring strain.  The good news is that my patience has paid off and I'm back to running pretty consistently now - 52 miles last week.   I'll feel the hamstring on occasion (usually after doing speedier stuff) and I'm still sloooowly easing back into doing any type of true speed work.  I've been going to get ART (Active Release Therapy) and ice + stim on it once a week and that seems to be helping as well. But after feeling pretty good last week and getting the thumbs up from coach to try and bump up the intensity, it was time to put my fitness to the test in a local 5K.   Due to the hot and humid weather (70s at the start with the course in full sun), this race was run based on a combo of pace and HR.   I'd be aiming for a 6:15 pace (faster than tempo, but not true 5K race pace due to the conditions and the hilly nature of this particular course) but also keeping an eye on my HR - trying to get it up as high as possible in the last mile or so of the course to ensure that the effort was there.    So with those parameters in place I headed over to WestCreek at 7am for the Virginia Memorial Day 5K & 12K Run.

Pre-race was pretty uneventful.  I'd woken up, had a banana with almond butter, a LaraBar and some water.   Why no bagel, you ask?  My friend Sage has challenged me to do a Whole30 - 30 days of eating whole foods.  More on that in a later post.   In any case, I ate my food on the way to the race site and got there with plenty of time to pick up my packet, use the restroom and do my 2 mile warm up with strides.

Standing at the start - already sweating

This was the inaugural race and I wasn't quite sure what to expect.  There were 750 runners in the 5K and 12K and we all started at once.   I lined up at the start and looked around - I didn't see any of the usual Richmond speedsters, but wasn't shocked since the race was new and not well advertised.  I was already sweating thanks to the temps and my little warm up.   It felt weird to be standing at the very front, but there were a few fast-looking guys but also some very young children so I figured I was in the right place.

Mile 1: 6:24  The gun went off and we took off down a fairly good incline.  I made a mental note to prepare myself to run back UP that thing at the end.  (start and finish were in the same place)  Even within the first half mile I was having a hard time holding 6:15 on my watch - I knew I didn't want to go out too fast but I was bummed that the pace felt so challenging so early!  The hills and heat were quickly proving that this wouldn't come easy.    Towards the end of this mile I found myself in 3rd place behind two faster guys.

Mile 2: 6:27 Another guy pulled up alongside me at this point and we exchanged a few out-of-breath words about the twists and turns of the course (we were zig zagging all over the place - even went through a small roundabout!).   Somewhere around here I got so frustrated at seeing the slower pace on my watch that I just switched it to heart rate mode and kept an eye on that.  I was already in the 190s (my max seems to be 202 or so) so I knew I was giving it the appropriate effort despite not having the pace to show for it.   I had a few moments of "why did I sign up for this - 5Ks are so hard - oh my goodness this sucks" but then I heard some friends cheering and that boosted my spirits.  I managed to drop the guy that had pulled up next to me so that was encouraging as well.  I told myself to keep pushing.

Mile 3: 6:26, 6:20 (last .1) About a quarter of the way through this mile we went through a hillier section and then hit the 5K/12K split where the 5K folks turn around and the 12K folks went ahead.  I was looking forward to this for two reasons: 1) I could see how far ahead the guys in front of me were when they turned around and 2)  I'd get to turn around and therefore be heading for the finish!   I charged up the hill and prepared to take the turn - but to my surprise the two guys in front of me went straight.  They were doing the 12K!!   I didn't have too much time to think about it as I focused on getting around the turn, but when I looked up, I had a bike escort.  I was suddenly leading the 5K.    I definitely had one of those "oh, crap" moments where I thought to myself, "'s okay.  You'll be okay.  Just don't screw this up".  I was tiring badly and had no idea how close anyone was behind me.  I wanted this to be over.  The bike guy kept far enough ahead that he wasn't talking (which was fine by me since I couldn't manage a word at this point), but folks along the course were cheering even louder once they realized that a women was leading the whole thing.   I tried to listen to hear when the next set of cheers would come (was the person behind me close?!) but eventually just focused on getting my legs to move as fast my body would allow.   Heart rate was through the roof (hovering around 200) and I was willing the finish to appear.  I hadn't looked back at my pace but I was really, really hoping I'd at least manage to break 20 minutes.  (Did I mention I'm terrible at 5Ks?) I finally hit the last hill to the finish and snuck a peek at my watch - 19:xx and counting - Ugh!  You gotta move, Jen!!  Bike guy peeled off and it was me on my own up the hill to the end.  Lots of folks cheering - and shouting "You go, girl!!" - and I was all smiles as I crossed the line in 19:44.   I'd finished and managed a win - my first ever - and even sweeter was the fact that I'd won it outright.  Beat all the girls AND all the boys.

All smiles with a new PR!

Now before you think my head is swelling up a bit too much, let me tell you that I know that this was a local, brand-new race - and that I lucked out in that none of the usual Richmond area speedsters were there.  I would never have won if any of those folks had come out.  And if those two guys ahead of me had been doing the 5K I wouldn't have won either.  So I know this "win" comes with a bit of an asterisk.  But I'm still tickled pink to have won, and to have a shiny new 5K PR that is under 20 minutes!!

My favorite part was getting my medal placed around my neck by three US military veterans and getting to meet them.  The race benefited the Families of the Wounded Fund, which provides financial resources in support of family members/caregivers of military service men and women who have either been wounded in combat operations, or injured as a result of line-of-duty activities.   Standing on the starting line and listening to the national anthem I felt so grateful for the freedom I get to enjoy in this country, and I was happy that the money from the race was going to such a worthy cause.

If you are in the Richmond area, I'd happily recommend this race to you.  The race director did a great job.  There was plenty of parking, the course was clearly marked and there were plenty of course marshals to help guide runners along the way.  It was definitely a challenging course at times with some turns and hills, but all together this was a well-run, well-organized event.

Up next?  It's more base-building training with hopefully a bit more speed as the hamstring gets stronger.  15 weeks until Erie!!

Easing back in....and a Family 5K

First run back!  Slow, and on the treadmill thanks to a freakishly cold early morning! (Could not bear the thought of getting back into tights...AGAIN) This past week was my first foray into running again post-marathon.  I am loosely following the Hanson's post-marathon advice of "two weeks off, two weeks easy" and have really enjoyed having this past week fall into the "easy" camp!  If I wake up and it's pouring rain outside and I don't feel like running, I don't go!  After a season of no excuses and getting it done rain or shine it's nice to have a break from the focused and committed mentality of hard training.  And I've had a wonderful time going for runs with friends and not worrying about getting in a speed session or pushing the pace.  The weather is starting to shape up and we've had some beautiful mornings (like today!) in the upper 40s, low 50s which has made for wonderful running weather.  I'm trying to savor it now before we are catapulted into the brutal heat and humidity that is waiting just around the corner.

I'm back to taking (or teaching) BodyPump three times a week and I've added back in my core work and my PT exercises for hip strength.  Still working on getting around to adding in drills, but plan to add those in once I'm back on an official schedule.   Besides a somewhat over-the-top consumption of Easter candy on Easter (hey - I gave up dessert for Lent!  Don't judge. :)), I'm working on reining in the diet some and getting back to my healthier choices.

The only slight niggle in my return to running has been the return of some foot pain in my left foot.  Running is just fine and doesn't bother me, but my left big toe (or the tendons around it) is killing me when I do lunges in BodyPump with that left foot back.  I'm unable to hyperextend that big toe without some pain.  I'd been dealing with it for two months or so pre-marathon and it's not any worse than it was during that time.  It improved during my two weeks off, but once I added Pump back in and started running it's flared up again.  Not sure quite what it is (flexor tendonitis?  Sesamoid problems? Please please please not a stress fracture...) Podiatrist appointment is schedule for this week so fingers crossed for a diagnosis that allows me to keep running (or at least lets me return to running fairly quickly).

Week in Review

33 miles for the week.  While wearing glasses.  (To all you peeps out there running with glasses on - my hat is off to you!  I'm decidedly NOT loving it.   Having LASIK surgery in a week or so and have to be out of my contacts until then.)

No real workouts to report this week but I did get in a couple of easy runs with friends, a "long" run of 9 miles with my Saturday group, and for something totally fun and different:  I ran a family 5K on Easter!!

The start of the Buggy Bunny Hop 5K

My (crazy but fun) family started this tradition 13 years ago to honor my late Grandfather, whom we called "Buggy".  The Buggy Bunny Hop 5K is staged from my parents house and features 3.1 miles of hilly neighborhood roads with two Egg Stops along the way.   Participants wear bunny ears during the race and have to pick up a jellybean-filled plastic egg at two locations (to prove you've completed that section of the course) and then run back to the start.   It's highly competitive (okay, not really) and there's even a trophy engraved each year with the winner and time of completion!    This year I opted not to race it, but I wanted to use the middle mile as an opportunity for a teeny bit of speed work and pick it up a bit.

Mile 1:  First mile I ran with the family at 7:53, enjoying the sunshine but not so much the WIND.

My mom with my two little ones and my nephew - they were a great water stop team!

Mile 2:  Grabbed the egg from the first cul-de-sac, ate the jellybeans (better than GU!), and picked it up for a 6:24 mile

Mile 3.1 + some:  Grabbed the second egg, then ran a bit and circled back to run it in with my family at around an 8:10 pace.  My two little girls served as the official jellybean/water stop volunteers and we all had a blast.  It was such a fun way to get the whole family involved and (much like a Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving Day) it was a great opportunity to get in a little workout before chowing down on Easter dinner!

Buggy's picture and race trophy! (We even have an awards ceremony afterwards - yup, we're a bit nuts.)

That's it!   It's been fun getting back on the roads, especially with Boston right around the corner!  I am not going this year, but will definitely be watching and I'm happy to be running some with everyone while they get excited for their race.   Hoping that this week will be a repeat of last week with some nice easy running and my usual core work and BodyPump workouts.  Fingers crossed for a good appointment at the Podiatrist - would appreciate any good luck vibes you care to send!

Anyone out there ever have problems with their big toe?  Who's in the taper for Boston?