About three months ago I set a new goal to run my first half marathon race at the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon on October 16th—which I successfully achieved, but not without a few significant challenges along the way! The distance is 21km, which was way more than I had ever run at once. I have to wear knee braces while I run due to a very common knee injury in figure skating called petellofemoral pain syndrome, a condition in which the cartilage under the kneecap is damaged from overuse. I experience a lot of pain in my knees while running, walking down stairs, and sitting with my knees bent for a long period of time. The condition is treatable with a ton of physiotherapy and strengthening exercises.
I started doing more lower body strength and conditioning, which was helping my knees a lot! So much so that I attempted to run a slow 5k one day without my knee braces and felt great (previously I could barely run 1k without feeling massive aching in both knees). I was overjoyed by this experience and decided that I wanted to run the race without the support of braces.
The decision to run brace-free brought the intensity of my training plan down by what felt like a thousand notches. I had to run at an extremely slow pace with very short distances, and incorporate at least three days a week of full recovery (zero workout) plus one “easy workout” day. Which meant I really only had three days of hard training a week. This plan full of recovery time was so difficult for me because I so love to push it when it comes to running – especially now, after I had stopped running completely for a couple of years due to this injury and was back into it and buzzing!
Hard Truth # 1: Goals can and may very well have to be readjusted at anytime.
On every run I did without my knee braces, though, the pain set in at about the 5 or 6km mark. Most of the time I tried to listen to my body and finish the workout in the gym or rest. But as race day came closer, I was still unable to run much past 6km without pain. I pushed myself to 10k, on a day I had scheduled to do 11, while my knees were throbbing. With the race only three short weeks away, I realized the hard truth. I would have to wear my braces for the race. There was just no way I was going to make to the finish line without them.
I had to readjust my goal. This didn’t feel great at first because it didn't match the image I had originally painted in my mind of what I wanted the race to be. I so badly wanted to run in full strength and health. For years I have wanted this and I thought that it was finally happening, but it was just not going to happen yet. I accepted what was and honoured the needs of my body in that moment.
The funny thing is, after I surrendered to what just wasn’t working, I actually felt relieved that I could put this particular goal (of running brace-free) back on the shelf for now. Now, I could jump back into training the way I like it, full-throttle.
Hard Truth # 2: There will always be more challenges to come.
Race day came and I was ready to go. Knee braces on, the 'Map My Run' app set up on my iPhone, and a special music playlist with my most pumping jams to play during the last 7km to help me push to the finish line. Since this would be the first time I run this distance full out, I didn’t think about the fact that my phone only has so much battery. The race started and I set off with a much quicker pace than usual as the adrenaline rushed in. I went with it. Seeing so many other runners around me, and the crowd watching and cheering every step of the way was so energizing!
At the exact moment my most energetic songs were supposed to start kicking in (at 14km), my iPhone died. Of course this wasn’t the worst thing that could happen, but let me just say, those last few kilometers took everything I had in me to finish. With only two km left my pace slowed to what seemed like a crawl. Suddenly people were passing me one after another. I was fading, big time. I kept telling myself “one foot in front of the other, just keep going”. My legs had turned to jello. With only 200 meters left I stopped for a split second, almost overcome by defeat. But I couldn’t let it happen, I was SO close to the finish line! Stronger than my desire to give up was my desire to complete the race that I had trained for. So I pushed and ran—slow but with everything I could muster in that moment, and made it past the finish line.
Hard Truth # 3: It really is more about the journey than the destination.
I did it. I was elated. It was an emotional and physical struggle, which made the completion that much sweeter. It isn’t a very good goal if it’s something that's easy to achieve. It won’t be as savoury and rewarding without having to overcome a few obstacles in order to get there. And if it’s a really good goal, you will have gained as much from the journey as you do from the destination.
During the process of achieving this target I regained a real commitment to regular training and taking care of my body—something I had been inconsistent with since leaving the stage of competitive figure skating over 10 years ago. I learned more about my injury and what it will require for my knees to reclaim full health (more strength and conditioning, patience, trust, and recovery time). I also realized just how different and enlivened I feel when I’m training with a commitment toward a goal.
*Tired and sore after the race!
What are some of the challenges you’ve faced while reaching a goal?
What situations felt at first like defeat then turned out for the best?