This Sunday I will put myself through a magical 13.1 miles as I run the Disneyland Half Marathon. I am excited for this run because it’s also a bit of a vacation trip for me, but I am a little nervous about it as well. I have never gone into a race with so little prep on top of being injured a little bit.
I say a little bit because I have healed a good amount, but I am far from one hundred percent. Of course, being a lifelong athlete has taught me that no one who trains as much as they should is ever really one hundred percent when they compete. There are two categories for the one hundred percent rule of health. The first is the average person’s one hundred percent, which means they feel good, nothing aches, everything works as it should, and when they want to do something they should be able to get it done with little or no problem. Then there is the athlete’s one hundred percent, which is completely different. When a fully trained athlete says they are one hundred percent and ready to go, they mean they are able to push through any nagging pains or injuries they developed through training, that it won’t be easy but would have been worse a couple of weeks ago, they’ve put in all the work they can so they are ready no matter what, and to finish it off; nothing’s poking out of the skin so I’m as good as I’ll ever be.
I fall into that second category for this race with the exception of having trained enough. Nearly two months ago I was doing some wind sprints, and on the last one of the day, as I was slowing down, I felt a sharp pain in my left heel. I tried to walk it off thinking that maybe I just let my heel hit the ground too hard, but the pain never went away. In fact it became steadily worse over the course of a week, and I soon found myself unable to put any weight on it at all. X-rays and speculation showed that I had a heel spur, which is not really something I could deal with properly. When you have an event on the horizon, and an injury comes up, you find yourself in a dilemma. You ask yourself if sitting out is an option, and if it isn’t then you begin to debate about whether or not the injury will force you to. I believe in most cases a heel spur should force you to sit out, but I won’t.
The Disneyland Half finishes off a yearlong quest for me. It completes Disney’s Coast-to-Coast Challenge of running races at both parks in a single year. It also proves that I have made it through the dark times of my knee injury. I had given up and believed I would never run again, yet here I am about to complete my third half marathon this year if I can cross the finish line on Sunday. If I cross that line then I know I am a runner again. Okay, maybe I already know that at this point, but I have had this date circled on my calendar for over a year now, and if I don’t get to complete this quest then I fear I’ll be missing something great so I have every intention of making it.
I can mostly ignore the pain in my heel, but it is definitely still there. I have implemented a specialized healing program, and by that I mean I made it up, that has worked better than expected. I have kept my foot in a boot for the majority of the time that I am at home, at night I sleep in plantar fasciitis braces to keep my feet stretched out, and I wear racing flats when I am running or working to keep my heel cushioned when I walk. I have seen some really good results from this process so far but not a full recovery so I’m going into this race not nearly one hundred percent on any scale out there.
My longest training run for this race is six miles in my racing flats, but that run coupled with the others I’ve run in them have told me I’m not sure they’ll work for the real thing. It’s hard to keep my form in them even though they are pretty thin soled, and when I let my form get out of line then I start to suffer from all kinds of issues. My knee hurts, ankles ache, my back tightens up, and running just isn’t fun. I recently tested my Bikilas, and I ran a nice three miles in them with almost zero issues so I’m planning on giving them the green light for the race. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that this is not a mistake, but I feel more natural and comfortable in them than the flats, and I figure that I want those feelings over potential pain protection.
So that’s the plan. I’ve never gone into a race this banged up and with this much doubt, but I’m going to do it. I figure it is similar to breaking my toe the day before the Disney World Marathon in January except I’ve had two months to consider this run instead of the eighteen or so hours I had in Orlando. I made it through that, and I believe I’ll make it through this, just not the way I had planned it. I will be taking my minimal training, busted heel, and a lot of enthusiasm to the starting line.
The race itself should be a lot of fun. The course winds through Disneyland, parts of Anaheim, and across the outfield of Angel Stadium, where if I’m lucky I’ll see myself on the Jumbotron. I’m hoping all of that atmosphere and excitement allows me to forget about the injury and just enjoy the day, but even if it doesn’t I know crossing the finish line will take care of anything that I go through during those thirteen miles.
A coach once told me I think too much and that track is easy. “Just run fast and turn left,” is what he always told me. I always took it as evidence that he wasn’t a good coach and wasn’t trying to help me get better, and maybe that was the case, but as I get older I see some truth in that line he always fed me. I won’t overthink this run, because I’ve pretty much already done that. Instead I’ll line up and then put one foot in front of the other until I’ve done that for a full 13.1 miles, thinking of nothing but the finish line and maybe enjoying the stuff in between. It is a magical place after all.