2020 Ft. Ebey Kettles Marathon

FEBRUARY 22, 2020

The moody start to our Whidbey Island marathon on February 22, 2020

"How's your leg feeling?"

Tessa asked, as we ran along the second mile of the Ft. Ebey Kettles marathon. "The pain is pretty acute" I said in response, as we trotted down the stunning trails of the state park. This did not bode well for me. I had been dealing with tight hamstrings for a good portion of my training, and in the last week, it had turned from an irritation into acute pain. I was feeling pretty down, but tried to keep my head up and make good decisions during the race. We were going at a good pace. The rain had stopped. Yet, I was worried that running a race on a bum hamstring would throw a major wrench in my running, skiing, and climbing plans this spring and summer. "You decided to give the race a go, you knew you were going into it a little injured" I thought to myself, trying to calm the alarms going off in my head.

I was struggling to decide what pain I needed to listen to, and what pain I could ignore. I can deal with pain, and I think if I needed to I could have limped my way through that marathon and still come in on the time limit. But at what cost? I didn't know. And I was so completely unsure how to decide to keep running, or to stop. It was overwhelming. I tried to let my mind wander and not think about my leg for a bit. The trails were just so magical, with large pine trees looming over the valley we were running down in to, and salal bushes bouncing in the breeze.

As we ran in to aid station one, I realized I had not eaten anything since we woke up that morning, three and a half hours ago. Duh. I felt pretty empty, so I quickly grabbed a slice of PB&J, some Rice Krispies treats, and made a mental note next time I race to grab a quick bite before the race starts. We got out of the aid station fast, and speed walked onward as we finished our food.

An equally moody day during one of our training runs at Discovery Park

This race wasn't easy, but our training hadn't been easy either. And we had done it. Eighteen weeks of it! The training alone was something that both of us were immensely proud of going in to the race. Within all of this running, we really had bigger goals with our training. Our reason for running was larger than simply this race. We had goals to run long trails, run around volcanoes that we had climbed so many times before. We wanted to use trail running to get to know places we loved better.

As the trail turned from large pines into singletrack with tall spindle-like branches rising far above our heads, we chatted along about our summer goals. All of the tall alien-like branches towering above us, we felt like kids again. Giggling a bit, I shouted up to Tessa, "It feels like a corn maze!" The narrow, zippy turns took us all around the inland side of the park. So green. So beautiful. Such varied scenery. "I really need to come back here and just run for fun sometime" I thought to myself as I hobbled along with my hamstring still yelling at me. The trail widened and started heading down towards large wooded pines again.

A map of our race. Click on it to view more if you are curious about racing it yourself!

We were going along at a good clip, when all of a sudden *THUD* a root snuck up on Tessa and caught her shoe. She lunged forward and caught herself. "You okay?" I turned and said. "Ugh, yes, I guess so." She replied, clearly frustrated to be caught off guard by the root. Tessa had also been dealing with injuries. Having been a soccer phenom for her childhood thru college, her ankles were now paying the price. She had already tweaked it bad twice during training, and this race tweak was adding up.

My hamstrings were feeling fine on the uphills (maybe because I was using bad form to climb hills), however flat trails felt progressively more awful, and I had to grunt and limp the downhills. On a flat section that I had to stop and walk, I made up my mind. I needed to drop. This race, while awesome and so dang fun, was not my end-goal. What was the point of limping to the finish and potentially ruining spring and summer goals? Once I cleared the welling frustration that was clouding my eyes and throat, I called up to Tessa, "I think I need to drop at the next aid station". We chatted about it, thought of alternatives to simply dropping, but ultimately my hamstring was only going to get worse.

At aid station two, about 10 miles in to the race, I gave Tessa a huge hug, and dropped out of the race. I felt conflicted. Even writing this I feel conflicted. However I still believe it was the right decision. I got a ride back to the start, and hung out at the bluff where I would see Tessa again coming in around mile 12. It was a beautiful day, that had started out rainy but now it was sunny and bright. After not too long, Tessa came around the corner, walking, and sat down on the bench with me instead of continuing forward. "My ankle hurts real bad." She said, "I basically walked those last miles, it just doesn't make sense."

After a bit more conversation, we walked down to the time keepers and told them our bib numbers, telling them we had to drop out. An ending to our eighteen weeks of training that we didn't choose. I was all emotions at once. I didn't know what to say, didn't know what to do, so we sat there and admired the Salish sea and the woods. Our friends and family eventually came and gave us hugs, ultimately celebrating what we had accomplished these past months.

Had we made the right decisions or not? I don't know. Could I have finished the race slowly and not have injured myself further? Possibly. I may never fully know. Did I push myself and my teammate accurately? I thought so. I suppose there is always room for improvement however. So many uncertainties, however I felt happy to have the opportunity to figure out how to deal with these uncertainties, and I felt happy to have a friend to figure it out alongside. We both walked away from the race disappointed, but ultimately looking forward to our runs this spring and summer, and happy to have a new frame of reference for longer runs.

So, what would I have done differently? The biggest downside that I had in my training was that I did not properly strength train. In fact, I hardly strength trained at all. Strength training is not a silver bullet, however it is immensely helpful in injury prevention and it also - get this - helps you get stronger. Which is also a plus that I could have used in my running. Stretching is a controversial topic right now in the world of sports, but I think I could have benefited from a bit of post-run stretching just to calm down my hammies and maybe promote better bloodflow. Whatever I decide to go out and do on future trainings, I am stoked to have the opportunity to try this whole thing again, get stronger, and figure out how to hone my body and mind better in this sport and others.

Curious HOW we trained for a marathon?! Take a look at this article!

Written February 27, 2020 by Madelynn Scherrer