My Achilles' Heel

February 28, 2017

It's been a few weeks, hasn't it?


Over a month ago, I pledged to write a weekly blog post detailing my brief history as a runner and my training leading up to the Boston Marathon. I wanted these posts to convey my passion for running, my love for storytelling and a few bits of humor a casual reader might find interesting.


And then, all of a sudden, I decided to stop.


I stopped because I have a weakness, an Achilles' heel, per se, and I didn't want to invite the world (or the five of you who read this) to see that weakness. 


On January 15, I cruised to the second best half marathon time of my career, running a 1:21:50 in the Arizona Rock N'Roll Half Marathon in Tempe, Arizona. With a 6:15 pace over 13.1 miles, I hit my goal time (between 1:20 and 1:23) and had convinced myself a sub three-hour Boston Marathon was well within reach. 


With my last Boston tuneup complete, my friends and I decided to celebrate, hitting The Grill on Mill for bottomless mimosas after the race.


Though finishing 13.1 miles at my desired pace felt like a great accomplishment, the moment our table ran our restaurant fresh out of orange juice turned out to be the biggest feat of the day.


But I digress.


Two days after the race, I embarked on a brutal nine-mile training run, loaded with half and quarter-mile sprints that tested both my speed and my endurance. 


It turned out, two days after my race was too soon. By the time I walked into my house that evening, my right heel felt like it was held together by a rubber band, and I couldn't take a step without a snapping sound echoing out of my foot. 


Injuries are a part of life in sports, and I've suffered my fair share. A concussion, contusions, sprained ankles, a separated shoulder, biting a hole through my lip, all of that I've dealt with before, and none of it was easy. But this injury felt different. 


Based on my advanced knowledge of how to use the Internet, having three close friends who studied physical therapy in school and some second-hand diagnosis from a friend's doctor, I had developed Achilles' tendinitis. 


So how do you treat Achilles' tendinitis?


You don't.


There are various methods of rest and recovery, some that suggest taking three weeks off, some that suggest taking three months off, and some (ok..all) that left me profoundly depressed. Essentially, there is no easy treatment. You just have to take it easy.


Over the course of a few weeks, I practically backed off of running altogether. Resorting to yoga, evening walks through my neighborhood and light bike sessions at the gym, I felt much more like a 75-year-old man trying to stay socially active through exercise than I did a supposedly elite endurance athlete prepping for the biggest race of his life.


After two weeks of rest, I tried to test things out. On a crisp Sunday morning, I took off for what was supposed to be a light 12-mile run as a way to keep my legs strong but keep the pressure off of my heel. 


Two and a half miles into the run, I felt glorious. Light on my feet and running without feeling the effects from visiting Mill Avenue the night before, I finally felt like Boston was back within my reach.


A few steps later, and we were back to square one. 


All of a sudden, my heel tightened up, burned with pain, and once again, every step felt like a rubber band was stretching back and forth. 


As the citizens of South Phoenix were treated to my profanity-laced tirade, I called my roommate Jake to come pick me up. At this point, the pain in my Achilles' heel was so intense I couldn't even walk.


I honestly might have felt less ashamed if Jake was bailing me out of jail. 


So with 10 weeks to go until the Boston Marathon, I couldn't even run three miles. 


In my head, I'd convinced myself I was ready to shock people. Sub three hours once, sure, I got lucky. Sub three hours in Boston, hell, find me a random country looking for an Olympic marathoner and you've got your newest dual citizen. 


On that ride home with Jake that couldn't have lasted five minutes, though, my mindset changed. 


For too long, I'd convinced myself that running the Boston Marathon was about something bigger, about proving something I couldn't necessarily even prove. But there I was, sprinting Tuesday and Friday evenings, training on an "ELITE" running regimen.


During my training, I was ready to give up beer AND cookies. I was ready to eat chicken and salad for dinner every night. Worst of all, I was ready to sacrifice time with my family and friends to throw myself at this race and this training regimen like I was out there to win.


And while that works for some people, that's not what running is about for me. 


So while my fear of showing weakness still exists and still drives me to some degree, my injury forced me to accept who I am as a runner. I'm lucky enough to have qualified for Boston, but I'm luckier because of the people who are going there to support me.


After nearly a month of resting my heel, I swapped out my elite marathoner running regimen for a novice training program, and this Sunday, I ran 16 pain-free miles. Though I was practically shaking in fear when I walked out the door of my house, I remembered that no one cares whether I come in 100th place or 10,000th place, and that simply having the honor to participate in the world's most prestigious race is a feat in and of itself.


So while giving up beer and cookies might have taken a few minutes off of my eventual finishing time, when I cross the line in Boston on April 17, I'll do so in a much more satisfied place, hopefully with my heel still attached. 


Post Arizona Rock N' Roll Half-Marathon. Pictured: Nate Skotak (left), yours truly (center), Jake Garcia (right).  





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