This summer I was into my very first month of marathon specific training for NYCM ’11 when I felt something “off” in my right hamstrings. A lot of people think that the most successful athletes are the ones that run fast or have a handle on their nutrition, but truth be told the really lucky athletes are those that are able to avoid injury.
I’ve had this particular injury several times over the years, always in the same leg. It’s connected to my biomechanics but I have no idea how to avoid it or when it will come on. What I do know is that when it happens I have to back off running. It was August so I had plenty of training time left before marathon day. But the weeks and then months passed and that pinpoint right at the top of my hamstrings hurt. Not worse and not better, but I still felt it. So I swam and I biked and I practiced yoga every day. I added in a little running, no more than 10 kilometres/6 miles at a time because whenever I went beyond that I felt like my running style started warping. I didn’t want to add another injury upon injury. I tried buying new running shoes and I went to my Osteopath, all to no avail.
At the beginning of October I knew I had missed that window of training opportunity for running, but I made sure that I kept up my muscle mass and aerobic conditioning with long bike rides and a little running added on the end. In a last ditch effort I ran a 15km workout a week before the marathon just to feel it out. The hamstrings seemed stable but not completely recovered, but I saw the very smallest light at the end of the tunnel. I still had a week to make my decision. During those seven days I kept going back and forth with questions in my mind… If I didn’t go to the starting line in Staten Island, what would I do? If I went to cheer all the runners as they made their way through Central Park, how would I feel? How many more times would I have the chance to participate in the New York City Marathon?
I decided that I’d go to the start. I’d begin the race and monitor how I felt along the course. If my injury acted up or felt like I was going to do myself harm, I could pull out with no regrets. If anything, I would have a nice walk through the Five Boroughs.
That said, I’ve never pulled out of a race in my life. Ever. Whatever I start, I finish. So in the corner of my mind I knew I’d make it to the finish line, I just had no idea how my body would do on zero marathon specific training. I didn’t care about the time; it was just about enjoying the moment. I wanted to make sure that I soaked in every sensation, every emotion, because that’s the real reason I love to run.
The bus let us off on the other side of Verrazzo bridge at 6.30 a.m. I know some people don’t like that long wait until the start, but I actually don’t mind it at all. My hotel roomate Claudia and I set up “camp” right in the middle of Fort Wadsworth, sort of a crossways between the bathrooms, the food court, music stage and the starting lines. It was perfect. We got coffee and sat and had a breakfast of bagels and jam. I kept jumping up to say hello to people I knew and wishing everybody a wonderful run.
I hit the restrooms about six times, not because I needed to go all the time but because I wanted to make sure that I didn’t need to stop on the route. NYCM is notorious for having long bathroom lines on the course. I could accept extra finish time for walking but no way did I want to add minutes on my finish time by waiting in line for a toilet! They called the second wave to line up and all of the sudden I was on the bridge waiting for the start. I was excited. This was going to be my 33rd marathon and it was a beautiful, sunny, warm day in New York City. Despite my gimpy leg, I was ready to run.