Sunday, April 15, 2012

Back on (the) Track

            This past Friday marked my first track race in one year! Up until about four weeks ago, I’d been dealing with a knee injury that just wouldn’t go away or show any signs of healing. In late October at the end of my cross country season, I slowly began to get pain behind my kneecap, and one morning my body had finally had enough, and it hurt just to walk around.
            In between October and February, I saw upwards of six different doctors and physical therapists – all of which gave me different opinions about my injury. Some were convinced the problem was rooted in some of the smaller ligaments of the knee, while others were certain I had a high calf strain or lower hamstring strain. The first breakthrough came when I saw the track team’s doctor at the start of the second semester. He identified a muscle imbalance in some of my smaller hip abductor/adductor muscles. His best guess was to do some rehab exercises, and see how the knee responded after my balance had been retained. He predicted from that night in early February that my recovery would take another six weeks or so. He ended up being spot on!
            By spring break, I had built up to running for 35 minutes, and started to sprinkle in a few tempo runs to try to get back into decent shape for outdoor track season. In the NCAA, you’re allowed five years to use four years of athletic eligibility, and my freshman year I redshirted my outdoor track season (or saved my eligibility) so I knew that’d I’d run this outdoor season if I could, and realized that the results might be a bit ugly: trying to race after a five month layoff and only three weeks of buildup running doesn’t point to running a fast time relative to where I’d been in the past where I had months upon months of consistent running and workouts built up to base my fitness off of.
            However, in the few weeks I have been running, the workouts have been encouraging. I’ve only done a few tempo runs and three legitimate track workouts, but each has informed me that working out hard in the pool and the elliptical machines have been worth it! My body responded well to the faster pace running, and a workout of 800m repeats I did about a week ago indicated that I could run about 15:45 for 5k, or maintain 5:05/mi for 3.1 miles.
            When the gun went off Friday night, it was surreal. There was no hope in sight for months, and here I was again, racing, back on the track, one year later. I was just pumped to be running for joy again, running for the Lord, and getting the most talent out of myself that He put in me. I didn’t have a performance goal I was shooting for because I don’t think you can accurately assess your fitness after only running for three weeks. My coach and I talked about a conservative race plan of hanging back early in the race, so I wouldn’t blow up and crawl the last mile or two to the finish line. I figured if I raced smart, I’d be able to run about 15:50 or so, which is a bit off of my personal best (pb) of 15:38.
            Early on in the race, I was surprised how easy things felt! The weather was perfect, and I ran a smart race. I went through the first mile about 10 seconds faster than I expected to in 4:54, but I felt smooth and knew I could maintain this pace for a while longer. I crossed through two miles in 9:55, and this is when I think I knew I could challenge my pb. With 1600m to go (4 laps, or just under a mile), I saw 10:35 on the clock, so I’d need about a 5:00 mile to get a new record, I was up to the challenge. At this point in the race, a lot of guys who went out hard were starting to crash, so I passed probably 5-6 guys in the last mile, which also boosted my confidence. With one lap to go, I knew I was still on pace, and gave that last lap everything I had and crossed the line in 15:34, a 4 second pb!
            When I look back on the race, I just remember how much fun it was! It had been so long since I’d raced, that I almost forgot how good it feels to go out and give your best effort. I’m still not sure why my body was able to run as fast as it did two days ago, but I’m excited for the next month or so! Workouts are going well and some more big races are coming up, so more pbs are on the horizon!
            I would not have been in the position I was Friday night if it wasn’t for the help of many people! Almost everyday leading up to the race, I did rehab exercises with our track trainer Gary, who put me through sometimes up to 90 minutes of core/hip strengthening drills. He believed and saw potential in me, and was willing to invest a boatload of time into getting me better. I was also able to receive treatment at DMU from a Med student named Katie. She helped relieve pressure points in my legs, and saw that I had a really tight IT band. I think loosening that up certainly improved my knee as well. I also had encouragement from lots of friends and family. My first race back, my parents made the trip down from the Twin Cities to watch me run, I heard their support the whole race, which certainly helped propel me to a new pb.
            It’s funny how things work out sometimes. At points over winterbreak and early on in the semester I had to accept the fact that my competitive running career may be over. It’s something I love to do, but I’m thankful that it’s not the lord of my life anymore! God works in cool and mysterious ways, and decided to bring running back when all hope seemed lost. I’m pumped to see what else he has in store for the future. For this track season, the rest of this semester, and life.

With dad, we went to the Waveland Cafe for breakfast yesterday, it was excellent!

My mom!

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