Monday, February 21, 2011

Busted for Boston

My coworker stood poised behind me, waiting in just as much anticipation as me. It was 9:00am on October 1, 2010, and I was ready to register for the Boson Marathon. I had qualified in Columbus the previous fall with a time of 3:36:01. It was the only time I had been able to qualify and hadn’t been able to do it since. I was bound and determined to get a spot in Boston because there was a good chance I’d never get the opportunity to do it again. I kept clicking the refresh button on the website wondering why the link wouldn’t activate.

“Oh, good grief,” I said, stifling a small giggle. In big, block-typed letters the website indicated that “Registration will open at 9am on October 18, 2010.” My coworker and I shared a good laugh at my expense and she insisted that I come get her on the 18th when it was actually time for me to register. At 9:00AM on October 18th, I was logged on and ready to register. The race closed in a record eight hours, and lucky for me I was able to get in. I was registered to run the most elite race in the world; I was registered for the Boston Marathon.

Earlier that April, I had tweaked my knee while on a 15-miler. With each step of my left leg, I felt a sharp stab of pain on surface of my knee cap. I was fine, I told myself. I shook it off, figuring it was nothing. I’d been through worse. The Pittsburgh Marathon was only weeks away, which I planned to run with my sister. It would be her third marathon and my fifth. She’d yet to have a successful marathon and needed a cheerleader to help her get her through it, and I’d promised to stay with her through the end. After Columbus in 2009, I’d sustained a stress fracture in my heel and doctor’s orders insisted that I didn’t run for four months. I’d had little time to train for Pittsburgh, but somehow I managed to build up enough mileage that I got in at least one 20-miler, and a few good long runs under my belt before my taper. Knowing that my sister ran a slower pace than me, I knew it wouldn’t be a big deal. It’d just be another training run for me. I was actually using it to prepare for the Seattle Rock ‘N Roll Marathon at the end of June. I was pretty sure I would rock it. If only I could get my knee to stop aching. A faulty “child’s pose” two weeks prior to the Pittsburgh Marathon had exacerbated the issue, causing some fairly serious pain in my left knee. But like most runners, I ignored the pain and assumed it would go away with a little rest, ice, compression, begging, praying, and finally denying its existence. I’d be fine come race day, I kept telling myself. It didn’t really hurt “that bad.”

The rain fell in sheets. A constant downpour drenched us and the other ten thousand runners throughout the entire race. Soaked to the bones, there was not a stich of dry clothing on us, and my feet were literally swimming inside my shoes. Some sources say that it is only sunny approximately 80 days out of the year in the ‘Burgh; it's where the world’s worst weather comes to die. We finally crossed the finish line at 5:03:57. My sister didn’t make her sub-five-hour goal, but she did beat her last two marathons by more than 90 minutes each. It was a success for her in my book. My knee gave me little trouble throughout the run, likely due to the easy 12 minute/mile pace. I figured I’d only need a day or so to recover and then I’d get back to my training for Seattle. I continued to run on schedule, although the ache in my left knee was a constant reminder that maybe I was overdoing it. I knew if I went to my doctor, he’d tell me I wouldn’t be able to run, and I just couldn’t have that. I needed Seattle to be a success, because I needed to make sure that my time in Columbus wasn’t a fluke. I ignored the fact that I could only go down stairs one at a time, leaning on the wall or a handrail. It’s only a little ache, I’d say. It’s fine, just your typical achy runner’s knee. It’s normal, right?

Race day in Seattle turned out to be a fine day. Overcast and chilly. A perfect day for a marathon. I felt good. My knee felt good. Or at least I convinced myself that it did. I met other runners in front of the hotel to catch the shuttle that would take us to the starting line. We all piled into the van, anticipating that we’d be dropped off after a short five minute ride. The starting line was only two miles away. Due to the influx of travellers and road closures, we ended up sitting in traffic. The shuttle driver took a short cut and had gotten us lost. Getting to the starting line late and missing my corral was not how I had planned this day to go. No time to stretch or warm up, since my corral had already started. I jumped in at number 17, 13 corrals behind the one I was seated to start in. It didn’t take long for my evil green monster to take up residence in my thoughts and determine that today wouldn’t be a good day. I believed the nagging voice in my head, allowing my negative thoughts to create my reality.

26.2 miles later, ignoring the dull ache in my knee and the horrific stomach cramps I was experiencing, I crossed the finish line with a time of 3:49:53. Less than four minutes over what I needed to qualify for Boston again. Damn. I tried to convince myself that it was ok, that it was because of the late shuttle, the bathroom break I took when I couldn’t “go” while I watched the time tick by on my Garmin. But still, I felt like a failure, and I was disgusted with myself. Shake it off, I told myself. I still have Chicago, a race I had been aspiring to run for over two years.

“Isn’t that a little excessive?” my friends and family had asked. “You’re crazy,” they said. My reply was always, “We marathoners have to be a little crazy.” I never denied that they were right. Yes, it was excessive. And yes, I am crazy and perhaps a bit arrogant as well. But it was the only thing keeping me sane at the time. My job was going down the toilet, many friends had dropped out sight, and I felt like I had nothing else to keep me going. Running was all I had and I was obsessed.

After the race in Seattle, I finally came to my senses and took time off to recuperate. It was time to go see my favorite orthopedist, although I knew he would yell at me for overdoing it. We’d been through a lot together in only three years: ITB Syndrome in both knees, stress edema, stress fractures, sprained ankles, shin splints and Lord only knows what else. An X-ray indicated absolutely nothing. His poking and prodding didn’t offer much of a solution either. It was a complete conundrum. It was unbearable to walk up or down stairs. Sitting in a moving vehicle was excruciating. But as I lay back on the table, nothing he did could elicit the pain I had been experiencing. I simply couldn’t explain it. Physical therapy seemed to be the only logical answer even if it didn’t come with an explanation. Six weeks of therapy yielded little result. Granted, I was still training for Chicago, but had scaled back my runs to two short and one long per week, resting and icing in between. 10-10-10 was approaching quickly and I was feeling less and less confident. I’d be ok if I could just get over this infuriating, nagging injury. Once I run Chicago, I told myself, I’m taking a break. I needed to be healthy for Boston because there was no way I was giving that up. Chicago came with 80 degree weather, and cloudless skies. Surprisingly, my knee held up during the run, simply because I willed it to, but the rest of me just couldn’t do it. The sun sapped my energy, my legs cramped with Charlie horses in my calves and quads, and the horrific stomach pains returned to greet me with a vengeance at mile 20. It was one of the few races that I simply just wanted to quit. Rookie mistakes cost me; I had gone out too fast and overhydrated. I was done before I even hit the half. Struggling by mile seven, bonking at fourteen, it was another heartbreaking disappointment. Frustration and depression quickly followed. I was failing at something I loved and could be proud of, something I had been so good at in such a short amount of time and it was slipping right through my laces on my Sauconys.

Back at my doctor’s office in Pittsburgh the following week, we had decided that physical therapy was useless and quite possibly making things worse. An MRI indicated a stress fracture across my kneecap, Patellar Tendonitis, and a few other really scary, really big words like Osteoarthritis and Chondromalacia. "No weight-bearing, or lower extremity exercise of any kind for two to three months," he said as he handed me a pair of stainless steel crutches. My heart sank like a brick as I realized what I had just given up.

With Boston only eight weeks away, I am still suffering from knee pain. I have undergone Supartz® injections, the medieval torture of Graston therapy, and I haven’t run in over four months. All this because I ignored a simple, little injury that could have been remedied had I simply had it checked. Instead, my arrogance, denial, and obsession busted me for Boston.


  1. 7 Marathons in 3 years and qualifying for Boston,(while starting from a complete non-running status) is an accomplishment not many can truly say they could EVER acheive. Be proud of what you've accomplished. Be proud of what YOU WILL accomplish. I know when you're healed you will not only beat the previous qualifying time for Boston, but will have a 15 minute cushion for your age group and shove it in the faces of those who frowned upon your abilities. I'm so confident you will AND can be on top again. <3 I'm a believer :-)

  2. Simply amazing. Incredible dedication. Thank you for being so honest for the rest of us runners that might never believe in ourselves. YOU ARE AWESOME.