My Dad used to tell me that one of the greatest moments of triumph for an athlete is when they stop thinking that they can achieve something and start knowing it.
It is that way when you cross your first marathon finish line or come out of the water after your first open water swim in the triathlon. You start that morning thinking and hoping that you can do something, but until you reach that line on the street or pull yourself back vertical coming out of the water – everything else is just prelude.
But once you “know” it – you become much more dangerous. You can run and race with much greater abandon. Until that point you automatically approach things with great reserve. You hold back ever so slightly just to “make sure” you haven’t bitten off more than you can chew.
Unsure of how hard things are really going to get. Not quite certain if you have what it takes to make it.
I’m going to have three such moments on May 17th at Ironman Texas wondering if I can indeed swim 2.4 miles in open water combat with 2,500 other athletes. Whether I can manage my pace and nutrition to complete a 112-mile bike leg. Then finally of course, can I run a marathon after that 7 hour warm-up?
I’m sure my nerves are going to be working overtime on race day, especially treading water waiting for the Cannon to fire – but for now, I’m not too worried about it. I’m going to put in the work, swim my workouts, ride my rides and execute my runs to put myself in position to race my first Ironman. Yes finishing will be the only real goal on May 17th – but I do want to “race” the distance to the best of my talents, fitness and abilities – whatever they are on race day coming out of our training cycle.
This morning however I had the breakthrough run that I have been hoping to have for the past few weeks as I returned to running from our ankle/Achilles injury training for the Big Cottonwood Marathon (run this past Saturday ironically).
I had been gradually ramping up my mileage, firmly in the don’t do anything stupid phase of recovery. I had been careful not to run on back to back days. Not increasing any run more than 1 mile longer than the previous one – and running nothing faster than 6:45 pace.
Taking all of those precautions is the only way I know how to return to running safely from injury without risking a set-back and more time on the shelf.
The only downside to that approach is that it keeps that small doubt in the back of your mind day after day after day wondering if you are “really” better. Am I over the injury? Can you run hard without restriction or repercussion?
This period of time lasts days, weeks and sometimes even a month or more when finally it will happen. I will lace up and go for a run and when I finish I will think to myself that I did not think about my injury one time during the workout.
Not a single twinge, negative thought or step where I analyzed my footstrike to determine if things were normal. I just run free and easy and at the end of the trail or road as I glide to a stop it happens. I “know” that I’m whole again.
Today was thankfully that day.
I stretched my workout out to 8 miles with the goal of gradually increasing my effort each mile to finish under 1 hour. If I can knock out an 8-mile run in summer temperatures at 7:30 pace (60 minutes) – I know that I am relatively fit. I might not be ready to eat lightning and crap thunder. But I am back to a decent baseline where I can build from there.
Today’s run started innocently enough with a warm-up mile at 7:41. I saw my friend Ed on his way to work who gave me a quick honk of his horn and then I started to gradually ramp things up.
7:27, 7:26, 7:21, 7:11, 7:16, 6:53.
I was working a little bit over the last mile after grinding out an uphill 7:16 during mile 7. The equivalent of 7:00 min./mile effort up the 3/4 mile long climb.
I saw my pace hovering right at Marathon Goal Pace as I closed out the run, hit my watch and finished in 58:42.
Then as I cooled down I thought for the first time that I did not have even a hint of soreness or restriction on my left side. In fact, with sweat pouring off of me on the 78 degree morning, I felt pretty darn good.
In a word I felt “normal”. The first time I could say that since July 24th when I stepped off of the track during my workout almost 2 months ago. And normal at this point is pretty darn exciting. 8 months from now we can worry about being in the best shape of our life for Iron Man Texas. But right now I’ll take it.
It’s nice to know that we’re back.
Run on people.