Yesterday I ran at the NCAA Division I Cross Country South Central Regional Championship meet. That mouthful translates to “The meet where you try to qualify for nationals.”
Last year at this race I ran a big PR and placed fourth, qualifying for nationals as an individual. It was a great day, one of those few races where you feel like you raced to full potential.
This year I came in 38th place, 90 seconds behind my time from last year. Obviously this wasn’t how senior year of cross country was supposed to happen. But since plantar’s struck 10 weeks ago, the season’s course was re-directed.
In August I’d been experiencing some low-level pain in the arch of my left foot. I was more concerned about a calf cramp I got on a long run, so I ignored the arch. But about a mile into our first race, the home meet in Waco on Sep. 1, I felt like my arch was on fire. It was my first time in spikes since May, and the grass surface of the course was packed and hard thanks to an epic Texas drought – two factors that caused the pain to flare up. I thought about pulling out, but I was in the lead and figured I could make it the next 1.5 miles to finish.
From that point on, the entire focus of every thought I had about running (and a lot of general life thoughts) were centered around that stupid foot.
“How will this easy run affect my foot? Should I cross train instead?”
“I hope I can race without my foot hurting.”
“I should sit back on this long run. No sense in causing more harm to the foot.”
“I wish the worship at church wasn’t so long; this is starting to hurt my foot.”
So after that first flare up, when I could barely walk the next day, we started treatment. The Baylor athletic trainers kicked into high gear. Ice, massage, ultrasound, taping (many, many configurations), rest, orthotics, strict athletic-shoes-only wardrobe, stretching, strengthening – we did it all!
The bottom line? I didn’t miss many workouts, but instead of easy runs I cross trained (swimming or pool running, usually). Long runs were scaled back a couple miles and in intensity. I averaged 35 miles a week this fall, a solid 20 less than I averaged last year.
Practices were just survival mode: running with as much pain as I could handle. Coaches and trainers pushed me a lot further than I thought I could go – they were right a lot of the time.
Every race, I felt out of shape and had disappointing finishes.
The lowest point in everything was after a race at Notre Dame on the last weekend in September. We’d spent the night after in Chicago, and planned to do long run from our downtown hotel, next to the lake. My foot hurt like hell from the race, and my effort at long run merely produced a compensation injury in my ankle.
Back at the hotel lobby, talking to my coach, I started crying. I ended up having to take 10 days off from running.
By the time we realized it was affecting my performance so badly, it was too late to redshirt. Besides, I was still in the scoring top five and could contribute to the team.
Plantar fasciitis is like the purgatory of running injuries. You’re not totally sidelined, but your body and mind aren’t free to do what they need to do train well.
That’s the bare bones reason of why I finished this season so disappointingly. Sorry to end this post on a sour note, but I did have some positives and lessons learned this season that are helping me move forward. Stay tuned.