Marathon training is a grueling grind that ends in a victory lap of 26.2 miles. I wasn't quite sure what to expect when I started my training cycle to run my very first marathon.
I initially signed up to run the Milwaukee Marathon in April 2021, but in February, the race was postponed due to COVID. I decided to switch gears and sign up for the Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon in October 2021; because it’s a race that’s been in place for 40 years, I felt they’d have a better system that would hopefully prevent cancellation.
Training in the summer is hard. Almost every runner I talked to this summer had a hard time (glad it wasn’t just me!). The heat and humidity were just brutal! But I slogged through it. Until August.
They say things happen in 3’s, which I didn’t think was true until it happened to me, right in the heart of my training cycle. August was rough in my household. My 5-year-old twin boys, who were going to summer day camp all summer, started having multiple “close contact” exposures to COVID. We were in and out of quarantine. Then, mid-August, I woke up with a stuffy nose, and while I thought it was just allergies (which I’m prone to that time of year), I got tested for COVID out of an abundance of caution, as I’m a nurse practitioner in a long-term care unit, and I wanted to make sure I wasn’t exposing my patients to harm. Surprise! I tested positive for COVID-19.
Fortunately, I’m vaccinated, so my symptoms were very mild…stuffy nose, and a little run down. I had to re-vamp my training schedule, as of course, that weekend, I was supposed to run 18 miles. Fortunately, I could still run because I was feeling generally OK. The following weekend I got it done…COVID be damned! After that, I thought…September can only get better, right?
On Labor Day, I happened to be walking around at home and ran my left foot into a door jam. My 4th toe immediately swelled and the pain was pretty intense. I thought…could I have seriously just broken my toe? I spoke to an ortho NP (the perks of working in a hospital!) who said it looked like it was probably broken and that I shouldn’t run on it. I told him that wasn’t going to happen, I had a marathon to run in a month. He looked at me like I was a crazy person, but told me in that case I should get an x-ray to make sure I didn’t break the foot, in which case I absolutely shouldn’t be running on it. Good news, the foot wasn’t broken! Bad news, the toe was definitely broken. They told me I shouldn’t run for 3-4 weeks. Well…my marathon was in 3 weeks, and I wasn’t going to not run because of a broken toe. Who needs their 4th toe anyway?
Another delay in training. I had to take a week off completely. Mid-September I ran my 20 miler, which didn’t feel great. I had to shorten my taper time. Every single person I encountered asked if I was insane…except the runners. The runners got me.
What else could happen, you ask? Two weeks before my race, I had to have an ultrasound on my right breast, where they found a suspicious mass. Rewind back to July, when I had my first mammogram. Mind you, I’m only 35, but my grandmother died of breast cancer when she was 38, so I’m starting my screening early. After the initial mammogram, they told me I would have to come back in for another mammogram, because they saw something “irregular”. Not all that uncommon on your first mammogram, because there is no source of comparison to past years. I was supposed to go back in August, but then I had COVID, so it got postponed.
When I went in for my appointment in September, they showed me the mass on the ultrasound, and told me it would have to be biopsied. The earliest they could get me in was the Monday of my marathon week. A breast biopsy feels like you’re getting punched in the breast. They told me no lifting or aerobic activity for 48 hours. Fortunately, I was in the home stretch of my taper at that point, so I could avoid running for that period of time. I got the results two days later: it was a fibroadenoma, which is benign.
On Sunday, October 3, 2021, I did it. Despite a healing toe and sore breast, I ran my very first marathon. Even better, I met my overall goal of finishing sub-5…I clocked in at 4:55. It’s absolutely incredible what our bodies can achieve. I’m so proud of what I accomplished despite what felt like multiple signs from the universe that this wasn’t my time. I’ve thrown my name into the lottery for the Chicago 2022 Marathon…here’s hoping my next marathon training cycle goes more smoothly!