By Alix Shutello
On Saturday morning I eagerly toed the line of the Gulf Beach Half Marathon in Milford, CT. I knew I’d finish the race, and while I wanted to run the marathon in a sub 2-hour time, I knew that on this day, it would not be a reality.
Last year I developed some sort of pinched-nerve issue in my back. I took a few months off after having some issues in the Marine Corps Marathon and started training in the winter. I had a great first half of the year. Training went well, I felt well, and in my first trail 10K of the season, I ran well, finishing top 4 in my age group.
But in speed work out after the race, I felt a pull during my last 100-meter sprint. After that, things changed.
Running became taxing. I don’t know if I injured my back during that last sprint but the symptoms of numbness down my right leg were not prevalent at this time so I kept running when I felt good, but kept the mileage low – and I mean low – less than 20 miles per week. I supplemented running with swim and bike workouts. I kept pavement running to a minimum, and when my body felt great, I’d try a long run or tempo workout. Some runs went well, but others, like a 10-miler I ran through the streets of Vienna, VA, in July, turned into a frustratingly painful 9 miler, walking, and tears. My back wasn’t having it. My legs hurt, and I took two weeks off.
I kept trying over the summer to repair the damage. I kept the mileage low, and started training on trails. I didn’t race; I kept things low key, and decided to drop a Ragnar Relay and the Marine Corps Marathon just a couple of weeks ago from my list of races. I stuck to training for the Gulf Beach half.
Two weeks before the race I ran 11.5 miles with my training partner. Despite having an issue with some dehydration and getting a little chilly toward the end of the run, my legs and back felt fine. The week before the race however, a 4.7 mile run was torture. I was fine until about 3 miles, and by the end of the run I had to slow up. Pain and some other issues were causing me to drop back.
I’ve been to a orthopedist who hasn’t diagnosed me with anything yet. There is nothing muscular going on, but there is some thinning of the lining that encases the nerves in my spine. My rule of thumb was run when I felt well but keep cycling and swimming.
I assumed I’d feel some pain during the race but was prepared to power through it. Soon after the gun went off, however, reality hit, and I was not ready for the mental and physical fight I was about to endure. Within a half mile I was feeling pain, and by the halfway point, my form was gone. Pain was shooting down my right leg, and my left foot was experiencing numbness. On top of that my music wasn’t working for me. It was just such a mess, yet everything else was so amazing. My stomach felt great, I had a lot of energy and the course – gosh, one of the prettiest out there. I just couldn’t move my legs well.
In the event that this happened, which it did, unfortunately, I had a race plan. The plan, should I feel pain, was to walk through the water stops, walk when I needed to, and go for a 2:10 – yes, a time 14 minutes slower than my PR. Keeping my eye on this goal helped me through. I wanted a great race as the day was ideal for it – it just wasn’t going to be my day. I resorted myself to finish and finish as best I could.
It’s funny though. When you line up for race, you are there to run as fast as you can not trot along in excruciating pain. However, despite all my issues I was running and enjoying life despite my grumpiness and frustration – I was so optimistic yet so disappointed during the run. I fell back early on and was trying not to freak out. I got hopeful when I started catching up to the crowd I had settled in with but some of them pulled forward (and that just messes with you).
After I while I decided I needed to get real, stick to my plan and keep moving. This was not going to be an epic race for me. This was going to be an adventure, and when I ran the last 10th of a mile across the sand, tears welled up in my eyes. I was hurting like I could not imagine. When I finished, however, I was bummed, but the message my body was sending me was loud a clear – I need to keep visiting the doctor until we learn what’s wrong. This means I need to chill.
Good news was, I finished in about a 2:08:53 – so considering a walked and jogged a lot this is not a time to be ashamed of. I just know it’s time to repair this back issue and come back next year strong!