Ultramarathon Series – Part Two

Part Two – Training recommences, injuries and all!

The week after I hurt my ankle I had to allow some time for recovery without losing too much of the cardiovascular fitness I had so far gained. In order to do so, I took a few days off from running and chose instead to exercise on a stationary bicycle. I also decided to pay a visit to Dr. Hamid’s chiropractic clinic in the hopes that he might be able to correct any misalignment problems that might have been causing my reoccurring leg injuries. After assessing my swollen ankle and treating me with a few minor adjustments, Dr. Hamid felt confident that I could resume my training within a few days, provided I apply both ice and heat packs to reduce the swelling. I ran my next set of long runs several days later with my ankle still strapped in a brace, and by the following weekend I was able to lose the brace altogether.

The first weekend in February called for a 3 hour run on Saturday, followed by a 3.5 hour run on Sunday. I was registered to run a half marathon on the Sunday however, and so to modify my training and still reap the benefits of two back-to-back long runs, I decided to run 4 hours on Friday, rest on Saturday, and race on Sunday. Andrea and I ran the 4 hours together on Friday, and not without having to take frequent snack breaks and walk the occasional hill. Saturday was a complete day of rest and by Sunday I was feeling ready to run again, although apprehensive at the same time. For some reason I always suffer from pre-race jitters and self-doubt; not doubt that I can run and finish the race but doubt that I have the ability to run as well as I would like, or as well as others expect me to run. On some occasions I live up to my own expectations, but more often than not I end up surprising myself.
The Nago Half Marathon was one of those races where I ended up surprising myself; I not only shaved four minutes off my PR, but I also finished three minutes ahead of my goal time,  placed 6th in my age division, and 2nd in the foreign female division. Having just completed a 4 hour long run two days prior, I was not expecting to run as well as I did.

Before the Nago Half Marathon – Anna came up to support me and run some trails while I raced

The next weekend was a tapering weekend with shorter long runs of 2 hours on Saturday and 2.5 hours on Sunday. We needed the rest because the weekend after that was going to require fresh legs and a lot of conserved energy. We had a 5 hour run scheduled for Friday, followed by the Okinawa Marathon on Sunday. Call us crazy, but we decided a few days before the marathon that rather than run the race as if we were on a training run, we would try instead to run it in under 3:45; this would be a Boston qualifying time for all three of us.

Friday’s 5 hour run completely exhausted me and left me feeling unsure about our goal for Sunday’s race, and by Sunday I felt even less confident. It was raining the morning of the marathon, and I felt tired, cold and depressed as we made our way on the shuttle bus to the starting point. Anna and Andrea helped to alleviate some of my nervous energy however, when the three of us fell into fits of laughter after taking goofy-looking pictures of ourselves on the bus. Our silly antics significantly brightened my mood, and then Anna said something that took root in my mind, “You know girls, the faster you run, the sooner you’ll be done.”

Goofing around in the back-row seats of the shuttle bus

I’m not sure if Anna’s words are responsible for what happened that day, but all three of us girls made our Boston qualifying time, finishing in consecutive 3:34 and 3:36 times (Anna crossed the finish line first, with Andrea and I right behind her crossing the line at the same time). We were the 2nd, 3rd  and 4th foreign females to finish and I later found out that I placed 2nd in the 40 to 49 year old female division, consequently earning an additional medal.  I was of course elated at the outcome of our race performance, but once again shocked and surprised. It was difficult to comprehend what we had just done given how mentally and physically exhausted we had felt before the race. 

Feeling tired but thrilled with our results

While the marathon was undoubtedly a great victory for us, it came at a cost. For me, the cost came in the form of more swelling, this time around my left ankle and up into the calf area. My right calf and hamstring had started hurting at around mile 13 of the marathon, so to take the weight off my right side I began to lean more on my left side. I suspect that was probably the cause of my latest injury, and while I am not certain of that, the fact remained that I was facing yet another injury and the ultra was now just four weeks away. I also had another huge training weekend ahead of me; a 5 hour run scheduled for Friday, followed by a 4 hour run on Saturday.

Andrea and I struggled on our next 5 hour run, barely making it back to our cars, and the next morning Anna and I only managed to run for 3 hours while Andrea stopped after just a couple of hours due to lower back pain. We were all beat up and tired by this stage in our training, and a few weeks of tapering was what we were all in need of and more than ready to embrace. Several of my runs over the next couple of weeks showed just how fatigued I really was, as my breathing felt very labored and on one of my runs I had to stop after just 2 miles when I almost fainted.
The final week before we left for New Zealand arrived with even more setbacks. Anna was studying for an IT exam which required intensive study time, Andrea’s husband had left on a sudden deployment a few weeks earlier leaving her to adapt to a new and busier routine as a single parent, and I was tied up with a friend visiting from New Zealand followed by a couple of days away with my husband who was getting ready to leave on a two month work assignment. Finding time to run during this period was impossible for all three of us, but we each resigned ourselves to believing that a few missed runs wouldn’t undo all of our hard work.

As race day drew nearer, and my nerves were a constant reminder of the enormous challenge we were about to undertake, I was able to take comfort in the words of the race director who spoke to us at our pre-race orientation. He reminded us all that while it was indeed a race for many of us, it was also a race that would take us along some of the most beautiful and scenic trails in the world and we should enjoy every moment of it. His words were simple yet profound, and it suddenly dawned on me that race day wasn’t a day to fear, but a day to look forward to.

Part three to follow next week…..

This week’s ultratraining tip:
Set aside some extra funds to go towards recuperative and injury-prevention treatments such as deep-tissue massage, acupuncture, and chiropratic adjustments. Training for an ultramarathon takes an incredible toll on the body and extra care and attention to tired muscles and joints is mandatory if you want to stay injury-free and recover quickly from training runs. Some self-care techniques you can do yourself at home include taking ice baths after long runs, using a foam roller or tennis ball to massage tender spots, and using ice and heat pads to help reduce inflammation.

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