The 7 Stages of Grief

Bear with me for a minute here because this post is going to be dramatic.

I KNOW in the grand scheme of the world and life, running is really not all that important and there are people out there dealing with problems and crises far greater than mine. I know that.

But when something you’ve been dreaming about for the better part of a year fails to come together, it really hits like a punch to the gut. I will not be running 26.2 miles on November 19th.

Philadelphia Marathon 2017

The decision to not run Philly was incredibly difficult and really did fall into these 7 stages.

  1. Shock and Denial

When I felt my hamstring give out running RnR Montreal, I was terrified about what it meant for the rest of my training. But in my head, it was still a given that I would run Philly. I texted my coach basically begging for reassurance, asking what this meant in terms of my training. I knew I would have to take some time off, but in my mind, I was already ready to go crazy packing on miles and extra workouts when I was healthy again. My mom even suggested that I could drop down to the half. I flatly told her that come hell or highwater, I was running the marathon.

After the initial rest for the strain, I started testing my leg again with some easy runs. At first, all seemed well. And I was desperate to pronounce myself “pain-free” so that I could resume training again. So at first, I tried to ignore the subtle tightness that had taken over my right hamstring. I could run and it wasn’t really painful – it was just tight and different than my left leg. With each easy run, I hoped that that would be the day where I wouldn’t be able to notice any difference between hamstrings.

2. Pain and Guilt

I literally cursed myself for doing the extra strength training and those stupid hamstring curls where I first tweaked the muscle. I kept running through timelines, trying to think about how Philly could still work. Where would I find the time to complete multiple 16, 18, and 20 mile runs?

3. Anger 

I was angry at myself and anyone/everyone semi-involved in my running. Even though I know in my heart of hearts, that this was a random accident (and that strength training is really not the devil), I wanted to be able to point fingers and direct blame. I really started to realize that even if I made a miraculous recovery, my training had now been interrupted twice (once to back down when the Achilles tendonitis flared up, now for the hamstring), and the chances of me running a strong, break-out performance were seriously dwindling.

4. Depression

I came back from an easy 6 mile run one morning where yet again, the back of my right leg had felt tight. I was supposed to test out some gentle speedwork later that week. And in my heart of hearts, I knew that was not a good idea. And then I opened up Instagram and scrolled through people’s posts about running the Chicago Marathon – the PRs, the BQs, the triumphs and disappointments. And I’ll admit, I started crying.

Sure, I could probably run Philly to complete it and get the medal and the finisher’s T, maybe even PR by a minute or two. But that was never what I wanted.

I wanted the difficult training. I wanted the 18 mile tempo runs where I was nervous going in, unsure whether I’d be able to hit the paces, only to surprise myself. I wanted to string together 45-55 mile weeks, running higher volume than I’d ever trained at before for a marathon. I wanted to feel healthy, be able to run my speedwork, and to go into my marathon with the confidence that I was about to blow my PR out of the water.

Baystate Marathon 2016 Race RecapHappily running my third marathon.

5. The Upward Turn

Just when I was about to throw my phone out the window to escape social media, I came across a post from another runner who had run Chicago, except she hadn’t. It was supposed to be her goal race but when an injury sidelined her long enough to compromise her training, she pushed back her target race to the California International Marathon in December. She ran 17 miles of the Chicago Marathon as a training run, using the energy of the crowds to fuel her running at her goal race pace as a workout. And that’s when I began to think I might have some other options too.

6. Working Through

That day at work, I got advice from some of my coworkers. It felt so good to lay out my situation and goals and get an unbiased, third party perspective on my options. I was basically an emotional wreck at this point. My coworker actually mentioned another local marathon that was held in February every year. I had been thinking that I would need to travel for any winter race I could potentially sign up for, but this gentle reminder showed that there was another way. A way I could salvage my goals and what hard work had already been put in.

As my coworker pointed out, I could probably run Philly – but not to the best of my ability. And if I was to run it, I would have to take time off to recover, which would delay any further chance to run a marathon. And if my main goal is to BQ, than it wasn’t really logical to beat my body up running a marathon where that was very unlikely to happen.

7. Acceptance

So here I am. I literally have been dreaming about Philly since last April when I registered for it on the same day I spectated the Boston Marathon. As I’m sure you’ve seen, it’s been a bitter pill to swallow to accept that I won’t be running 26.2 miles in 2017. The only thing that’s given me hope is that I’ve signed up for another marathon – the Hyannis Marathon in February. I know that the weather on Cape Cod in February will be a total wild card. Last year, it was sunny and almost 60 degrees. In years past, it’s been 20 and sleeting. But, the race was relatively cheap to register for, so if the weather ends up being disastrous, I will once again wait a few months and run a spring marathon. But, I’m feeling hopeful that things might just come together after all of these bumps in the road.

Either way, I’m looking forward to finally letting my hamstring heal (all the way so that this annoying tightness goes away) and getting back into the thick of training. Call me crazy but I still love this marathon stuff.

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4 thoughts on “The 7 Stages of Grief

  1. Marie (mom, the generation who hasn't run in too long!)

    I know I don’t have to tell you I understand how disappointed and heartbroken you feel. But you’re right to play it safe and take the time to heal (unlike me 😗) and hopefully we will both be on the road again soon…🏃🏻‍♀️🏃🏼‍♀️

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  2. Kim K.

    Girl, I know exactly how you are feeling. I was gearing up for a BQ attempt in May and had awesome training runs. In March, after an incredible 20 miler, my hamstring and knee mysteriously started hurting. I did everything I could (PT, dry needling, weekly massages, strength work, ART) but nothing alleviated the pain and I had to stop running for 1.5 months. I still ran that f*cking marathon and it was the hardest race I’ve ever done but maybe my proudest finish. After taking more time off and figuring out my injury and how to fix it, I came back 150% hungrier for that BQ. You are right to have all those feelings; just trust that when you’re healthy, you will come back stronger, mentally and physically, and get that BQ.

    If a BQ at Philly doesn’t happen for me this year, Hyannis is my back up plan.

    You got this Nora. Many hugs and positive thoughts coming your way.

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  3. I totally understand your disclaimer at the beginning of the post about the world and its bigger problems. I try to remind myself of the same thing. However, I know how much of ourselves we put into running (especially marathon training) and I’m sorry that you’re not able to run Philly. I hope you have a great recovery and crush the next marathon you’re able to run.

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