On Saturday I joined the Eastside Runners Club to compete in the Sundodger XC Invitational at Lincoln Park. The men’s open race was an 8K (about 5 miles) with a lot of local community college runners. The whole field went out fast and I threw some elbows to maintain my space and position. Going through the first mile in 5:30 felt good… better than it should have.
Somewhere around 2.5 miles I stepped on something, or took a misstep, and sprained my ankle. When it happened, I screamed and stopped, and quickly made the executive decision to drop out of the race. Those of you who’ve read my blog for a while now might know that this is a recurring theme for me. I hate it.
The answer to my titular question is, of course, no. I know many strong XC runners who are decades older than me. But I think I have to come to terms with some subtle lessons about what I can sustain as a runner at this point in my life. Important lessons from this sprain include, but are not limited to:
- Listen to my body – For over two weeks, I’ve been complaining about foot pain. It didn’t hurt while running, just while flexing it in particular ways (imagine doing calf raises), so I procrastinated every time I thought to call a PT about it. I’m sure that this was a portent about my more catastrophic injury in the race. I should have taken time off and fixed what was wrong before doing a hard race, particularly one that involved running 5 miles on trails with a crowd of (real) athletes a decade my junior.
- Eat and sleep right – I’m embarrassed to admit the number of nights I ate a peanut butter sandwhich for dinner last week, and I’ve been staying up late to satisfy an eerie obsession with work. The days leading up to the race I felt sluggish, sickish, and generally broken. Garbage in, garbage out.
- If I’m not running, don’t race – I’ve been looking forward to XC for so long, and running this race was pretty important to me. So when I ran out of time for regular running in the last two-weeks, having trouble fitting in runs of even a couple miles, I did not reconsider my race schedule, and I should have. That 2.5 mile run the night before the race was not enough to get me back in the game for a hard 5-miler.
- Take a holistic approach to fitness – I’ve always valued a well-rounded approach to exercise… in principle. But when I get busy, I prioritize my activities and make cuts. Maintenance activities like ankle-strengthening drills are the first things to go (haven’t done them for at least a year). Stretching, weight lifting, form drills, strides – they’re all gone the moment I get busy. Usually, the actual running is the part I hold onto the longest. And when the busy time is over, I don’t add the other activities back in. So I’m left with a 100% running regimen, which is fun, but not sustainable. I need to hold myself to not running if I don’t have time for proper warm-up and stretching at the minimum. Even if it means I run less.