I thought I was prepared for everything that could possibly happen in the Prague Marathon. I had worked on my mental toughness. I trained to finish strong. I visualized race day and what I would do if I was running my best. I thought about how I would handle extreme heat or exhaustion. Most importantly, I knew what to do if I experienced bad back pain – the most likely scenario.
What I didn’t prepare for was what actually happened. Around mile 15.5 of the race, I lost feeling in my right leg due to pressure on my nerves somewhere in my back – something that has happened to me many times before, but rarely since I had my back surgery in 2014. At no point had it even crossed my mind that it would happen during the race because it has been many months since I’ve experienced that sensation. So, when the worst case scenario actually happened, I was totally caught off guard.
I went into the race struggling between setting a time goal and wanting to run for fun and enjoy the race. I wanted to challenge myself, but I also wanted to enjoy the experience. I’ve often struggled with setting time goals in the past, largely due to fear of failure and not wanting to disappoint myself too much and give up running entirely. It’s for this reason that I realized that the Prague Marathon wasn’t the race I wanted, but it was probably the race I needed.
Somewhere around mile 18, when I thought for sure all of my time goals were out the window (I decided not to look at my watch at all during the race and let Bobbi handle the pacing), it occurred to me that I actually didn’t really care at all what my finish time was. Even though I was scared and in pain, I still wanted to finish the race knowing that I had not ever given up. If I pushed as much as I could, then I would cross the finish line proud of my effort regardless of what the clock said. That was a revelation for me. I’ve never really felt that way about running before. I always thought I had to run a certain time or not try at all – it was hard to find a middle ground.
Of course, there were lots of points in the race where I wanted to quit. And any time I completely lost control of my leg, I would stop and walk and stretch, of course. But when the nerves and muscles released just a little, I went right back to it – even if it was just a slow jog. For once, my fitness wasn’t really a factor at all. I always felt like I had the energy to run more or run faster, just not the body to do so, if that makes sense. Being hit with something I totally didn’t expect forced me to recalibrate and really find out what I was made of. I’m happy to say that I’m really really proud of both my mental and physical effort. Because I never gave up and I did keep pushing, I managed to hit my B goal and crush my post-surgery PR by 15 minutes, running my 5th fastest marathon ever. Most importantly, I stayed tough when it counted, and that’s a better feeling than any number on a clock would give me.
Ironically, my back never actually hurt during the race. Usually, the impact takes its toll either during or after runs of more than 18 miles and leaves me doubled over in pain. That is the kind of thing I was prepared for, even if it spelled the real end of marathons for me. But that didn’t happen. Even in the days after the race, I didn’t have any impact pain. That’s encouraging, because to me, that says the nerve issue was just bad luck. I have run more than 15.5 miles in training many times this year and never had that happen. I could just have easily woken up with my leg numb and tingling (as has happened before). To me, that says that we went about this training in the right way, and with the right rest, recovery, and eventual return to training, I can do another marathon if I choose to.
The question is – do I want to? I think the answer is probably yes, but I don’t know when. The best part about this training cycle is that it really lit a fire under me. I was excited about running again and actually looked forward to my long runs. That had not been the case for a very long time, so I want to make sure I continue to stay excited about running. For me, that probably doesn’t mean jumping right back into another marathon training cycle – especially not during the dreaded summer months. At this point, I’m planning on taking the summer to work on speed and scale back my long runs a bit in preparation for hopefully a fast early fall half marathon. After that, I might think about doing another marathon in late fall or early winter, once the weather has cooled enough for me to do long runs without collapsing.
So, is the old T-Rex Runner back? Well, maybe. I won’t be running 22 marathons in a year again any time soon, but I do think more marathons are in my future. I also know that I’m capable of pushing myself further and faster than I thought and can do more than I thought I could, even with the very real physical limitations of my back. I don’t know if “real” (aka not just post-surgery) PRs are in my immediate future, but I think I’m going to give it a try. Either way, I’ll be bringing you along for the ride – one drawn out training recap at a time. Thanks for sticking with me!