Just three, seemingly innocuous, little letters.
D. N. S.
They could stand for anything you like:
Does Need Sleep.
Don’t Nag, Silly.
Danger: Now Sad…
We could play this game all day! But in running, those three innocuous little letters usually suggest a story, not of overcoming odds and vanquishing fears, but of disappointment and heartache.
Did. Not. Start.
As runners, it’s pretty inevitable that from time to time we’ll enter a race and then not take part, for a variety of reasons. Sometimes we just don’t get the training done, sometimes life throws a spanner in the works, and sometimes, despite everything we do, our bodies work against us with illness or injury. In these situations a decision has to be made: can we carry on with adjusted race goals or do we give it a miss this time? Such a decision needs to be based on many factors, and for me it comes down to the consequences of going ahead with the race. I have to ask myself if racing will result in further time out of running and what value that race holds for me. It can be a hard decision to make, but ultimately no one else can tell you what to do.
And so, a confession: for months now I have been training. When people asked me that standard runner question, “what next? Any races coming up?” I would say something a bit vague about short races over the summer and Paris next spring. I listened with polite interest while people told me I needed a race to aim for and made half-hearted promises to look into various events. But that wasn’t entirely truthful. I pride myself on being a very honest person, indeed I use this blog to share my running and racing experiences as truthfully as I can, however I have been dishonest for months. I apologise for that. I was always going to come clean, but had my reasons for secrecy which I’ll discuss in another post. Still, I was keeping something from all but those who needed to know.
I was training for the 2016 Loch Ness Marathon. There. I’ve said it.
Right now, as I begin this post, that race is happening. Steve is over half way round the course, yet rather than approaching that same point myself, I’m sitting in a coffee shop in Inverness writing a blog post. I did not start. I didn’t even pick up my race pack. I’m fit enough and really wanted to do it, but on Friday evening made the difficult decision to sit this one out.
Training throughout the summer went really well. I’ve been trying out a new approach to my training (more on that to come) and was feeling good. I thought I might have a crack at a new marathon PB or perhaps even that sub-4 hour time I so desperately want. But then something went wrong.
The morning after the Perth 10k I felt a tightness in my left leg. It reminded me a bit of an IT band issue, but I haven’t been troubled with that since I first started running. I put it down to the fatigue of a hard parkrun followed by a 10k race. Throughout that week I worked with Steve to try and resolve the issue, ran an easier-paced parkrun on the Saturday and followed that up with a slow 16 mile run on the Sunday. There was still a slight tightness in the top of my leg, but not enough to make me feel I had to stop running. A few days later and with no real change, I decided it was time to see a physio as I feared a repeat of the strain I had in my quad in early 2015.
My usual physio was away teaching so I got an appointment with his wife instead. I’d never met her before but she was lovely. After conducting all kinds of tests and practically tying my legs in knots, she noted a greater range of motion in my left hip compared to my right. I had noticed this recently too, putting it down to yoga and feeling pleased that the hip which had previously been less mobile was now increasing in flexibility. I thought this was a positive thing, but in this case it seems to be at the heart of my problem.
The physio’s theory is that because I’ve increased the range of movement in my hip, it now has some “laxity” i.e. while it was strong in the range of movement it had, now it’s moving into further extremes that probably haven’t been used in years (if ever!) there’s not enough strength at those extremes to support the impact of running. As a result, my hip has become irritated and I’m feeling the result of that in the area around my hip, glutes and quads (it moves around a bit, further supporting the diagnosis and ruling out any muscle strain or issue like tendinitis or bursitis). It’s a kind of unexpected problem for me to have given that my left hip has historically been “picked on” as lacking mobility, but it does make sense.
To solve the problem, I need to get the discomfort settled down and focus on lots of strengthening exercises. At no time was I told to stop running, but was advised to put a day in between my runs, hence my recent Friday evening runs and volunteering at parkrun. Even as recently as Monday I was told that I could go ahead with my race, but to expect some discomfort later on (nothing unusual there when it comes to running 26.2 miles!).
And so I carried on with the intention to run. I made a list of kit to take, I bought supplies, I continued to keep quiet about my plans (I have outright lied to a number of people in recent weeks when asked directly if I was running Loch Ness. If you’re one of them, I apologise). I ate well, I panicked about a cold and I suffered the level of maranoia that uses up a lot of hand sanitizer, but all for nothing!
On Friday, I headed out for an easy-paced 5k, as recommended by my physio. I anticipated some discomfort but expected my hip to settle down as I continued. I tried to think about the race ahead, what it would feel like to cross the finish line and achieve my goal, but I just couldn’t get my mind off my hip which wasn’t settling as much as I would like.
I just didn’t enjoy the run and the more I thought about it, the more I realised I didn’t want to run while feeling like that. It’s one thing jogging round a bustling city route and enjoying the experience, quite another spending hours in the middle of nowhere feeling discomfort at best, pain at worst. What value would it hold to carry on?
Did I have to prove I could run 26.2 miles? No, I’ve done that 8 times already. I know I can run it.
Did I have to prove I could run 26.2 miles with the odds stacked against me? Nope: been there, done that.
Did I still believe I could get a PB? No, that ship had sailed!
Did I have to complete a “journey” by running a goal race? No, nobody knew I had entered and I could, if I wanted, continue to keep my plans a secret.
Did I want to risk an extended recovery period and being practically immobile come Monday morning? No, I want to be able to run sooner rather than later and prepare my body to run in Paris come April.
So after a great deal of soul-searching I realised that the race held no value for me under these circumstances. Yes, the physio said I COULD run, but weighing up all the possibilities I decided that there were too many risks involved. Could I do it? Yes, I’m sure I could. But should I? That was a totally different proposition and in the end I decided that no, I shouldn’t. I just couldn’t face 4+ hours of discomfort, and for what? A medal and some bragging rights? Not really worth it in the long term.
Which is how I ended up sitting in a coffee shop in Inverness while Steve ran the marathon. That’s right, having decided not to run I still had to travel to Inverness to support Steve! I’d be lying if I said that was my idea of a great weekend, after all there’s nothing tougher than spectating at a race you were supposed to run, but I would never bail out on him.
And unsurprisingly, it’s been a tough weekend. I’ve had to field questions about whether or not I was running, why I wasn’t running and deal with people’s assumptions about how I would be spending this weekend. I’ve been surrounded by runners, visited the expo and stood at the finish line. I had to put my sunglasses on to disguise my tears as my late decision to withdraw meant I was still feeling pretty raw. But I was there to see Steve finish, to feel pride at his achievement and I know in my heart of hearts that I made the right decision. It may not have been easy, but as I’ve written before, the right decision is often the hardest.
This is not the post I expected to write today. I expected to write something a bit more triumphant, featuring a medal and a monster, but it wasn’t to be. I know the Loch Ness Marathon is one I would enjoy and one I could run well, but so far the universe has not seen fit to allow me to take part. Maybe I have unfinished business here, maybe I don’t. What I do know is that there are plenty of marathons out there, that this marathon will continue to be here in the future, and that I WILL reach my goal of a sub-4 hour time. It just wasn’t meant to be today. Right now, I feel a little down, my emotions are raw, but I also have the motivation to resolve the issue with my hip and emerge fighting from this experience.
Until then, tomorrow is another day…
The Running Princess