How do you train for a marathon if you can't run?
Funny that you should ask.
Welcome to my roller coaster of optimism and anguish.
After publicly committing to running my first marathon in New York in November, I was cautious but optimistic knowing I'd had a flare-up of an old war wound. That war is my body versus the unrelenting asphalt. It's a grim foe.
But I was much improved, so I showed up at the first Saturday of the training clinic in June deciding I'd simply run slower. After all, I'd triumphed over an angry IT band injury before.
I was excited to be training with friends I knew well from former half-marathon clinics. This was definitely my year to go 26.2 miles.
The clinic leader had us do timed one-mile loops around Beacon Hill Park - from the petting zoo, past the whiff-worthy Beacon Drive In Restaurant, along Dallas Road and back into the park.
Only three times around and my right leg failed me with a familiar pain on the outside of my knee. Belatedly realizing that running on the sloped camber of the road in one direction would aggravate my tender tendon, I tried running in the opposite direction not caring that my clinic mates were yelling at me, trying to correct my apparent confusion. Alas, I eventually had to slow to a walk and it was all I could do to not break down into tears. Damn leg.
From a high to a low in less than 30 minutes.
But like a kid addicted to the thrills of a ride that makes other people shake their heads in bewilderment, I decided to stand in line for more punishment.
My calendar became a log book of physio appointments, exercise sets of clam shells, side-leg raises and quality time with my foam roller.
I started to climb the hill of recovery, even though I had to abandon my first group 'long run' at 8K. Again I fought back the tears at having to watch my pace group head up the road while I walked back to our parked cars.
Run slower, I told myself. I have to run slower. Ice more. Rest more. Cross train more.
Along the way I picked up Jeff Galloway's book Marathon: You Can Do It.
It is the most practical, encouraging book I've read on distance running especially for first-time marathoners.
His program incorporates frequent walk breaks so the body has more stamina, recovery time, and strength for the entire marathon.
As he writes: "As someone who has proudly run for more than four decades, I find it hard sometimes to admit this, but here goes. Our bodies weren't designed to run continuously for long distances, especially distances as long as the marathon."
His program has been a success for people who run three-hour marathons and people in their forties and fifties with no exercise background who have completed a marathon after six month's training.
I became a believer and that optimism helped me up many a hill on that roller coaster.
Training on my own during three weeks of family camping in Washington, Idaho and southern BC, I returned home on the August long weekend, totally stoked that I had worked up to three hours of running (a slow 24K) with walk breaks every eight minutes. I know that sounds like a lot of walk breaks, but Galloway points out, you only lose 15 to 17 seconds time each time.
I was on the top of the roller coaster, oblivous.
Back in Victoria, I excitedly rejoined my pace group, which I hadn't see since my 8-k meltdown, for a 26K long run. They knew I'd be taking more frequent walk breaks than their 19-and-ones and that we'd see each other at the end to bathe our legs in the ocean.
By 14K I was heading down the steep slope of leg pain in disbelief and anger. I walked, ran, hobbled, back to my car - 21.5 K in just over three hours.
Again I reviewed what went wrong. Too fast? Not enough stretching? Icing? Too much foam rolling? Too much sitting at work with resulting tension in my back and hip flexors? Or even worse, too old?
Half-way through the marathon training, I had to start seriously consider whether I could make up the time.
But I wasn't ready to step off the roller coaster.
So I started back up the hill. This time, I learned to get a thrill out of shorter runs.
Last weekend, my group was heading out to the Saanich Peninsula to run 29K and I knew enough to let them go because I didn't want to get stuck somewhere, far from my car, and instead headed to Elk Lake and its impact-friendly dirt trails for two 10K loops.
"I don't know how long I'll be," I shouted to my husband as I optimistically headed out the door, with chocolate milk in my daughter's lunch kit and gels tucked into my fuel belt.
As always, I was excited to start my long run - with a playlist of new music and a handful of podcasts to entertain me and the great outdoors to enjoy. I was climbing that hill.
I never did make it around a single loop of Beaver and Elk Lake before the pain appeared. I startled a squirrel with a choice expletive, short and to the point.
My roller coaster had turned into one of those particularly tortuous structures with a loop-de-loop.
And like an amusement park ride that can excite and scare you, it ultimately lands you back where you started. Where you can safely get off.
This year's ride will not take me to New York. I know that now, as hard as it is to admit.
But I'm not leaving the park until I get my money's worth.
I can see the kids lining up for tickets to the Goodlife Fitness Half Marathon roller coaster in October.
Gotta make a call to my physio and get ready to climb on board.