Closing the Running/Racing Chapter, Opening Another Door

I have been taking a long hiatus from training for various reasons. The main one really is about taking care of myself for other more important life goals. I have experienced way too many injuries to justify training for a race. It took me a while to realize that backing off did not mean backing out. For the last 6 months, I have struggled with slowing down. It may sound braggy but truthfully, it has been about re-defining who I have came to identity myself – a runner in training.

I accidentally found the love for running almost 2.5 years ago with completing my first 5K with the “Race to the End of Summer”, which took place Labor Day weekend in 2013. I had started training spring of that year. Before that spring, running was probably on the list of “top 5 things I hate”. Subsequently, I completed San Jose’s Rock and Roll Mini Marathon (5 miles). I was hooked, not necessarily the competition (although RnR did open my eyes to ‘Elite Runners’ as they circled back to the starting line just as my corral was being released)

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If there was a climax to my running adventure, it would have been completing San Francisco Rock and Roll Half Marathon in spring of 2014. One Golden Gate Bridge, 13.1 miles, and many many self-talks later, I was in tears to cross that finish line. I had a black toe as my badge of honor to show. I walked proud and prouder into registering for San Jose Fit, almost immediately, to better my time for next half marathon. For one insane second, I contemplated ‘what if I signed up for marathon training?’

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My prize would have been completing Morgan Hill Half Marathon (MHHM) in the fall of 2014 as the end goal training with San Jose Fit. The key was “would have been”. The rigorous training included track workout, which was the first time I was introduced to the ideas of farleck (speed workout). Hm… I should have listened to my body. Again the key words were “should have”. I got so wrapped up in the whole “no pain no gain” and “pushing beyond the limit” was what half marathon was about, right?

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During the six months training for MHHM, my brother-in-law introduced Brazen Racing to me, which was the local running company that organized races in local parks (read: trail running!) Another accidental find of another love – I discovered that running on trails in the nature was so my thing! Less crowds, more nature – what is there NOT to love? I decided for my 10K mark, I would show it with a Brazen medal.

I did not account for the fact that trail running was different, in some ways, more technical as I had to navigate hills and uneven terrains. I learned the “what goes up must come down” law of “running hills” Running up was hard but coming down was even harder! (hello, hip flexor muscles, where have you been all my life?) The lack of hill skills finally did me in on the this 10K race – I ended up straining majority of my quads and spraining my right ankle. I lost the footing, literally, half mile from the finish line. This was probably the biggest mistake – I ran the last 1/2 mile since I was “so close” anyway, right??

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Okay, that was not the biggest mistake. The biggest mistake was not resting. The Brazen race was in July. MHHM was in October. I wanted to continue training. So I did. Why not? I probably took a week off when the ankle was swollen but as soon as I could, I was back running with taping my ankle. I was so proud of myself of managing this little mishap. Then, in August, during one long run, I sprained the same ankle again! (What a surprise…) This was when I started thinking, okay maybe, just maybe, I should, probably, possibly, re-consider this training. Stubborn as stubborn goes, I repeated the same strategy – rest minimally and roughing it out.

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By September, I was not able to push past 10 miles mark on the long run without pain. What was more alarming was the right knee started to feel pain as well. At this point, I was thinking, just one more month and since I was already at 10 miles, I could really just willpower through the last 3.1 miles on actual race day. Totally manageable, totally doable, and totally a bad idea! By chance, I was in LA visiting my newborn niece and saw our family doctor there. He noticed that I was fidgety with my right ankle (note: injured ankle+heels were not a good combination) He decided to check me out with some massage (he’s a Chinese medicine doctor a special gift with sports injury) Within minutes (and few questions of why and what have you been doing?), he gave me the recommendation: “STOP RUNNING, immediately”

The repeated ankle injury never healed properly, which had been causing the calf muscle to overwork and overcompensate. That had in turn affected the stability of the right knee. There were numerous weird muscle nodules on my calf that I had no idea existed. Few painful therapeutic massage were evident that the doctor was right. Interestingly, he checked the left side, which I promptly told him was unnecessary, but ended up in a loud scream as he found similar nodules on the left calf!

Truthfully told, I did not need any doctor to diagnose this. I kind of knew that my body was not in best shape. I supposed having a doctor telling me this was the final breaking point. Some of his words were “irreparable damages” and “long term effects”. I had to really think about what was more important to me. I finally contacted the race director for MHHM to see if I could postpone my race for another year or transfer to another runner. Fortunately, the director was very understanding and told me either way was fine. (Kudos to MHHM, as this was not the common practice)

I finally took the fall 2014 off. Not long after, I was itching to start. I decided I would come back with another Brazen’s 10K in early Spring this year. This time, I chose a totally FLAT course (Coyote Creek) thinking it would be “safe”. I dragged my feet to the finish line. Nope, ankle and knee were still in recovery mode. I was actually happy to cross that finish line.

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After a long conversation with my dad and family doctor, I finally decided that I would continue to run leisurely and not register for any races this year. I loved training for races: it gave me the drive to beat my own record. I loved the feeling of finishing and accomplishing things. But I also learned that I was in the dog chasing its tail spiral. Each race pushed me away from being fully recover. I had to change my perspective: no race NOW, but not never.

Now, sitting at my computer, recovering from a 6-mile hike at Nisene Marks Forest, I’m learning to redefine (yet again) my active lifestyle. I no longer set any goals of how many miles/minutes I run. Some days, I can barely finish 1 mile. Some days, I enjoyed 6-miles hikes. Some days, yoga just felt more right than anything else. And on days like today, I’m loving my other adventure: trying recipes with cooking and baking.

Life is forever evolving. I’m grateful to have the experience of running and training for races. It definitely gave me way more than I had expected. Now onto the adventures…

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