Carrie Mack: There Is No Secret
When you ask me about 2019, so far it goes like this:
January - A new year! I ran on a track! In spikes! Things are happening!
February - WTF body, why you gotta test me like this? Also - SO. MUCH. SNOW.
March - It’s fine, everything will be fine. Please let it be fine. I’ll just leave town for a while.
April - RUNNING IS MY FAVORITE. Related: I have new roommates.
If you look back at the last 2 months of my training journal, a bulk of the direction simply says “TBD”. Let me explain.
Wednesday, February 7th:
I had my first ever Michigan workout (a mixture of tempo and interval reps) on the track. It was a beautiful cold, clear, sunny winter day in Bend. The whole crew was there, doing some sort of track work. I went into this workout feeling anxious. It was pretty high volume, and something new. New can be uncomfortable and scary. New can also be fun. I started with a tinge of conservancy, and then settled in to feeling strong and happy as I alternated direction, distance, and speed over the course of several miles. The track was covered in snow, except for lane one. Littlewing was in full force, and track magic allowed for all of us to use that single lane without pause - despite having slightly different workouts. I finished that workout with a big fat smile on my face. I was just starting to think about switching to more marathon specific training and I felt healthy and strong. It was a very satisfying day.
Thursday, February 8th:
The day started with a pretty typical morning recovery run with Littlewing, followed by an afternoon at work. I made it home and marveled at the fact that I could get my afternoon four miler in before darkness swept the neighborhood. More often than not, I start these double runs with our 12-year-old yellow lab, Cosmo. Over the years, he’s dialed back on the amount of running he can handle, but is just as eager to get out the door. These days, he has a one mile loop - and we’ve settled into the routine of taking him on the first mile as a way to ease into a recovery run. I remember patiently waiting for him to sniff a pile of snow on the side of the road just long enough for my mind to wander. I instinctively did a quick mental body scan and confirmed that the outside of my left shin did, in fact, feel very very tight. That seemed weird. Cosmo and I made it back to the house, and I finished that recovery run preoccupied with assessing and confirming that, yep, my leg was tight and sore. Training at this level is constant balance. There are very few guarantees. It requires the mind to be smart, all the while full knowing that improvement doesn’t come without some risk to the body. So that night, I spent extra time on the foam roller, I did some heat treatment after texting my physical therapist. I refused to panic and went to bed with the full intention of showing up ready for my workout the next morning.
Friday, February 9th:
Cold as ever. With Mel and Rebecca out of town for indoor track races, the rest of us met at the track to work out. I had some hills followed by some 300s on the track. My leg was still unbelievably tight. I was lamenting about it before we started, but honestly wasn’t freaked out at all and felt like after the full warm-up I’d be good to go. I was able to do the warm-up, but with my mind in a frantic state wondering why the hell my leg wasn’t right. Collier and I tried to mentally recall if I could remember doing anything to it. Did I step into a hole? Did I slip somehow? What about in the gym? We came up with nothing and I frustratingly headed over to get my hill reps underway. I jogged over to Lauren who was trudging through the snow banks towards the track and told her what was going on. Knowing what she would recommend, but just wanting to hear it from someone other than myself, she wisely suggested shutting it down for the day. She asked some clarifying questions about the pain and tightness and told me to rest. I was actually relieved. I’ll take that as a sign of growth. I spent the rest of that workout in the car with Lauren as we chased Collier back and forth on the road while she crushed some 200s. It was cold and miserable, and as I sat in Lauren’s car in my puff mittens holding a latte I had little envy for missing out on the rest of my workout. Winter was in full force.
The rest of the story goes like this:
Week 1 & 2 post injury:
The next week was full of extra PT where we determined that my L anterior tibialis was very angry. I talked to my coach, Elliott, and we put my training schedule on pause. He didn’t seem overly worried, but was clear that my priority for the next two weeks was to make SMART decisions.No rewards for being a stubborn hero.I took some rest days and did extra physical therapy, extra recovery, extra all the things. I invested myself in all my other non-running pursuits: I got a sourdough bread starter, visited family, went through all the photos at our house and put them in photo albums. This was followed by a week of starts/stops as I tested my leg on the treadmill. Elliott and I reassessed. I was now worried. There wasn’t a clear reason as to why this had happened and after two weeks of doing all the things I wasn’t confident that it was actually healing. I could crosstrain or even get through a regular run early in the day, but the rest of the day my leg would be sore. I’d wake up the next morning pain free, cross train or run, then have soreness again. I went from being disappointed that I’d have to adjust weekly mileage and do some workouts through cross training to wondering if I’d get to test running a single mile on the treadmill by the end of the week. The stages of grief are swift and vast when it comes to running injuries.
Week 3 & 4 post injury:
On February 25th, Bend got a MASSIVE snow storm in town and everything essentially stopped. No access to running outdoors. The gym is closed. The pool is closed. The post office is closed. No one went to work for days. I finally accepted this as a sign from the universe to just stop. I took four full rest days. My mind was tired of going through all the worst case scenarios. My body was clearly not pleased. For those first few days when everyone was stuck indoors, I baked bread, watched movies, and tried to just shut my brain off. I’ll give myself a B- for how I handled this. Despite my best efforts, I reopened the wound of not hitting the OTQ (Olympic Trials Qualifier) at the Chicago Marathon last fall. I picked at the scab that has existed since last October, when I fell 11 seconds short of my goal. The scab that reminds me I have yet to do the thing, and that now the clock is really starting to tick. So, naturally, I pick at it. What if I have to pull out of my spring marathon? What if I’m injured all year? What if I never get to run a marathon again? What if all the resources and support that everyone has invested in me is for nothing? What if I’m just disappointing everyone, most importantly myself? Why did I even think this was a goal worth pursuing?
I was lamenting all this to Elliott over coffee and he pretty abruptly told me he was kinda glad I didn’t qualify in Chicago. He said it would keep me hungry. For those who know me, this rings eerily true. I am, more often than not, actually physically hungry. Travis was there and he kind of chuckled. We talked about how getting the OTQ was obviously on the checklist for 2019. But, the overall journey of testing my limits and exploring running at the elite level to really answer the “what if” question of how fast and competitive I can be is actually what I’m most interested in. I know I can break 2:45 in the marathon distance. I know I’m really disciplined and will do the work (Hi swimming pool! Hi spin bike! Hi ElliptiGO! Hi AlterG!). I know I’m more comfortable racing myself and using that historical data vs. releasing myself to respond to what is happening realtime in a race scenario. I know there is still so much more to discover and that makes me curious and confident that I’m in this journey for the right reasons. After slowly starting to build cross training days, I got to hop on the AlterG. With a goal of getting to the end of the day, then the end of the week without thinking about my leg, I finally felt confident that progress was being made.
Week 5 & 6 post injury:
If you look at my training journal from these weeks, you’ll see that each day includes something like:
“Leg feels great!”
“Leg still feels good!”
“I got to run outside!”
“2nd day running in a row!”
Lauren recently reminded me that the first stop on the injury train is at gratitude station. And I was fully onboard. Every run was a gift. I stopped constantly doing a full body scan to see if things were still okay.
By this point I’d released any emotional attachment I had to being ready to race a spring marathon. It’s not a lack of motivation or commitment, but more a sense of being at peace and ready for whatever ends up happening or not happening with my spring and summer training cycles. I didn’t feel ready to think or talk about new potential race plans, but was open to a multitude of options. I decided that if things keep trending positively, I’d join Littlewing for an altitude stint in Flagstaff at the end of March. The opportunity excited me and I knew that if I kept making smart decisions and soaked up some training at altitude, I could be in a really great spot by the end of April. Plus, this got us all out of the winter snow globe of Bend and into the Arizona desert sunshine.
Week 7 post injury- present:
Last week I added workouts back into my training plan. But don’t be fooled, I’m still in the pool for my double 3-4 days a week. Despite what sometimes feels like a painfully slow buildback, I’m running every day this week as my primary session. I’ll run the Tenacious10. [Ed. note: she did great!] I’m starting to wonder about spring and summer race goals. There is still time. I’m constantly reminded of how fortunate I am to be here in this house in Flagstaff with my Littlewing teammates training and recovering and supporting each other as we all work towards our goals. What even is this life?
I’d like to tell you that this most recent injury finally taught me to be patient. I’d like to tell you that I’ve finally successfully learned to adapt and pivot as needed. I’d like to tell you that listening to my head allows me to deafen the beating of my heart. But, alas, the heart wants what it wants.
My very first order I ever placed from Oiselle (circa 2014?) included a postcard that I still keep on my nightstand, right next to handwritten notes and cards from mentors, teammates, and loved ones that all essentially tell me I am enough. The Oiselle postcard says “There is no secret, keep going.” And that’s exactly what I intend to do. Head up, Wings out.