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Racing Again
by Weldon Johnson
May 2, 2003

I must admit I haven't written much about my running on the website in a while, but I guess that's because for much of the last year and a half I've been injured.  But I'm racing a 10k on the track tonight and Stanford, so I felt I had to write something.

It's hard for me to believe that this is my first track race in 22 months.  For although I've had various injuries the last year plus, there was rarely any time in that period when I wasn't running.  My first injury developed in the fall of 2001 (it ended up being an inflamed nerve in my foot, but the symptoms were just like plantar fasciitis so it took a long time to figure out), and I took a month off after the NYC marathon.  However, the foot hurt worse when I started up running again, so obviously time off didn't help so I kept running. The foot thing continued to bother me all through last summer, but I was cured of it at the end of last summer, thanks to podiatrist Dr. Brian Fullem (if any of you are injured and live in the metro NY area or Connecticut area (his office is in Ct), you should definitely think about seeing him as he's a great doctor and a competitive runner himself).

I wasn't sure exactly what I was training for after getting healthy last fall, as I felt it was too late to build for a fall marathon for myself. But the opportunity to escort Paula Radcliffe at the LaSalle Bank Chicago Marathon came up, and it worked out perfectly. I ended up setting a pr in the marathon (which confirmed my confidence I can run a lot faster in the marathon), was happy with my "fall season" and then took 3 weeks off after that.  That break and my other planned break after the NYC Marathon were the only times I took a significant time off from running despite being "injured" for much of the last 20 months.

After missing most of 2002, I was eager to get back to the level I was at in 2001. I was healthy and relatively fresh and starting in December of last year started some of the best training in my life.  Things went real well and although I was mostly doing tempo runs on unmarked courses, by the middle of January, I was in arguable the best shape fitness wise in my life. I was planning on doing the cross country nationals in February, but remembering wondering how I was going to be sharp in June for nationals when it really mattered to run fast as it seemed so long off.

But perhaps I jinxed myself as soon I developed what most runners have, some nagging injuries. (My coach likes to pretend that it all started when I went and ran a super fast tempo run in Phoenix. It was so fast in fact, he started to say perhaps it was "too fast" (ie that I wasn't staying under control), but I know how I felt, and it definitely was under control.  The next day I woke up and ran 1:25 before driving to Tucson to interview David Krummenacker and crew and 3 hours after the 1:25 run, running an hour at 5:45 pace.)  My hamstring started bothering me a week before nationals when I did a short 4k "time trial" effort. I joked afterward that I pulled my hamstring as it felt strange, but it took me two days to realize I did something pretty serious to it as I had trouble jogging.  I took a few days off, but was already planning on going to nationals as my roommate wanted to run it, plus it was in Texas and I could see my coach.

So I did one mini-workout before nationals, and my hamstring definitely felt worse than when I just jogged.  But my coach and I decided that I would just run the nationals like it was a "tempo run" starting off super controlled and trying to move up since I was already there.  Well, I hope I was under control, because I was way, way back at nationals. The course was an absolute mudpit and consisted of 6 2k loops.  By the 2nd loop, I noticed my hamstring getting tighter and it bothered me on the 3rd loop a little more, but I wasn't going to use that as an excuse to drop out.  At the start of the 4th loop, however, I had no choice as I rounded a turn and it felt like someone stabbed me in the back of the leg.

I'm not sure exactly what I did to my hamstring (most likely strained it really bad, although my massage therapist is convinced I had something going on in my hip as well), but it limited my training for the next month.  I couldn't run for almost a week, and then came back with just easy jogging for probably a month.  When I started working out again, my hamstring would bother me a bit and be sore, but it was definitely a lot better. Of course at the same time, the top of my foot started getting swollen when I'd run. I wasn't too worried about it but showed it to my roommate and he and Robert (Rojo) freaked out telling me I had a metatarsal stress fracture (it's funny how my injuries bother Robert more than me, as throughout this I've never lost the confidence I can run a lot faster than I have in the past), but it ended up being some tendonitis in my big toe.  By the first of April, I felt my fitness turning around and was getting healthy again so I set my sights on getting a USATF qualifying time in the 10k at Stanford tonight.

But considering my health the last two years, I'm not too surprised there was another wrench in the plans. Two weeks ago I went to work out and it went terrible (and I rarely have really bad workouts). I tried to workout a few days later before watching the Boston marathon on tv and stopped at the beginning of a tempo run figuring I was tired from travelling home for Easter and would try the next day when I got back to Arizona. The next day I did a tempo run in Arizona.  Needless to say I was pretty shocked when I looked at my watch.  The 12 minute loops I was doing were taking me a minute longer than usual.

I thought I felt fine physically, but my coach was convinced I was anemic. So I got my blood tested. In the meantime, he said if I was anemic it would be best to take 3 days off. Figuring something had to be wrong, and figuring I wouldn't get the blood test back until this Monday, I decided to take the 3 days off.  Of course running is very mental, so the second I took time off, I swear I was really tired, taking naps al the time, etc. But the blood test came back last Friday and everything was fine except for my white blood cells were a little high. So possibly I had some low level virus that was affecting me.

But at this point, I still wanted to run Stanford. Originally, I figured it was the last chance to qualify for USATF unless I run the Harry Jerome meet in Canada which is only 8 or 9 days before nationals. So the plan was to run the "b" race at Stanford, get a qualifier, and then run at least a minute faster at nationals.  Now, however, with everything going on, a qualifier was far from a sure thing (automatic qualification is 28:40 for nationals, with 29:00 the provisional time). But I figure I have nothing to lose by racing.  My pride was never a factor as I realize I'm coming off a serious of setbacks. Even if I don't get a qualifier, I'm at the point now we're I want to get back out there and race again.  Plus, racing now will serve as a great workout that will help me run faster in the future, and the goal still is to run fast in June when it counts.

But before racing, my coach wanted me to do something hard to make sure I was recovered enough from what ever I had. So last Sunday, I was supposed to do 2 miles hard on the track and then some fartlek afterwards.  I felt pretty good through the first mile in 4:32, when I had someone pacing me.  I could see how I could race 10k at that pace back in 2001.  Needless to say however, the 2nd mile was a disaster. I wasn't looking at my watch but knew I was settling more into a tempo run pace (I seem to struggle more now to really go after it in workouts after my layoff -not having done a lot of really hard running). I was pretty shocked when I finished in 9:16 (the 4:44 2nd mile is like 29:40 10k pace) despite "kicking" the last lap.

However, I was still set on doing Stanford. After the workout, my throat hurt and I was sneezing and I realize now most likely I've got some allergies so perhaps that affected me the last mile (wishful thinking).  But I felt pretty decent the first mile, so if I had some sort of virus I felt like I was over it, although maybe I just had allergies all along.

But as I said, I'm also just at the point where I just want to race again. There's something about lacing up the spikes and racing on the track that I really enjoy (and my luck may be finally turning around. I had moved during this past year when I hadn't raced on the track and couldn't find one of my pair of spikes. However, this week I looked again for the spike for the 3rd time and miraculously found it in a crate smashed under a bunch of books). And I'm at the point in my training now where I need a race. When I started training again this winter, I told my coach what I wanted to accomplish on the track (hey I can't reveal everything) and he said, "you need two years of injury free training."  I didn't believe him at the time as my training started to go pretty well, but now I realize it's not an easy road back.  It was reassuring to hear Bob Kennedy, who has accomplished almost more than I dream about in the sport and who is also coming off a layoff about as long as mine, say he's on a two year plan with the emphasis on the Olympics. And Kennedy summed it up pretty well, when he said "The desire to compete never goes away. I run to compete, not because I enjoy training. I want to get back to the level I've been at in the past."

But I also must remember the words of my competitive gambling roommate who shall remain anonymous, which remind me that it won't be an easy road back. A few weeks ago, I could tell my roommates on their run had been talking about what they thought I would run when I raced again.  I joked that I'd kick them out of the house if they were betting against me running fast.  When I got back from doing my stellar 9:16 2 mile on Sunday, and told my roommate about it, he assumed I wasn't doing Stanford. I told him I was.  He seemed shocked and I asked him if he wanted to bet I wouldn't run fast.  He then said, "I'll bet you my truck, you don't run sub 29 minutes".  I'm not a big fan of pickups however, so maybe I'll sell it on ebay.

Weldon Johnson "Wejo" is one of the co-founders of LetsRun.com. He lives and trains full time in Flagstaff, Arizona. His peronal best is 28:10 for 10k. He can be reached here via email.

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