When I started running a little over a year ago, I was doing it by myself as a way to get some exercise and lose weight. Fast forward a year and running has become a passion for me. However, that can be both a blessing and a curse.
Exactly one year ago this past Saturday, I ran in my first race since eighth grade when I competed in the 2010 Knox Community Hospital 4-mile fundraiser race. Surprisingly (to me at least), I fared pretty well both overall and in my age group and that started what would be a nice run of races over the remainder of 2010 and into 2011 in which I found myself competing very well against the field overall and especially in my age group.
As someone who was at best a marginal high school athlete and an intramural participant in college, I would be lying if I didn't admit that I enjoyed my new-found athletic success as a runner. No, I wasn't going to be chasing down any Kenyan runners anytime soon or hoping to keep up with my Twitter pal Olympic hurdler Lolo Jones, but at 39 years of age and having dropped 30 pounds I was knocking at the door to potentially making a run at qualifying for the 2012 Boston Marathon based on my times in training runs and half marathon races.
So, I signed up for the Erie (Pa.) Marathon to take place on September 18 and began to really push myself. The miles piled up and thanks to some vigorous speedwork days the pace kept getting faster. I kept going and going and going. At one point, I ran 77 days in a row and began to feel almost invincible.
Then, it hit me...the injury bug. What has turned out to be a case of really bad shin splints hurt so bad that it has sidelined me for pretty much the entire month of August after only missing 19 days all year in the first seven months. It was so bad that I finally went to a doctor - Dr. Darrin Bright, the medical director of several of the races that I run and an expert in running injuries - and also had an MRI done.
First, I don't say any of this to have you feel sorry for me. Sure, it's been a bummer not to be able to run, especially with some cooler mornings after the heat we had in June and July. Sure, I miss seeing my running buddies each morning and chatting with them on the run. Sure, I would like the dull pain in my right leg to disappear.
What this injury and time off from running has done for me, though, has been to help me to re-evaluate my focus. I took for granted the ability to run pain-free and the ability to run at a fairly good pace. Over the past two months especially, I had focused so hard on qualifying for Boston that a lot of time I forgot to enjoy myself along the way. After all, running isn't a job...it's a sport!
Because I was waiting for the results of the MRI and the ensuing diagnosis, I decided that it would not be smart to run in this year's KCH 4-mile event this past weekend. The race director was gracious enough to transfer my entry to my 6-year-old daughter, Kylie, and she excitedly waited for race day to come along with her 10-year-old sister, Ashley, as they both prepared to run their longest race yet. The plan was for me to walk the course and keep Kylie within my site.
Race morning came and after I helped set up the course I found out that they had given me a bib and entry into the race so I could walk the whole thing with Kylie without being a race bandit. I don't think any of my running buddies thought I would actually go through with just walking the whole thing - especially after hearing numerous times from people at the beginning of the race "Hey, looks like I'm gonna beat Dave Parsons in this race" as people ran past me.
But, I stuck to my plan and I did walk the whole thing. Meanwhile, Kylie was doing great! She ran a lot at the start of the race and before we knew it we had passed the first mile, then the second mile, and then the turnaround on the pretty much out-and-back course.
As we were started back over the second half, we had a mishap. Kylie stumbled alongside the road and scraped her knee and hand up as she fell. I was afraid at that point that I was going to have to carry her the rest of the way back. However, when I asked her if she needed me to carry her to the finish, she dried the two crocodile tears that had formed on her cheeks and told me "that would be cheating, Dad!" Before I knew it, she was back on her feet and ready to complete the race.
We passed the third mile and then the 5K mark which equalled the most she had ever done in three previous races. As we neared the finish line, she set her sights on trying to catch a couple people we knew who had walked the race. She summoned whatever energy she had left and sprinted to the finish and closed the tenth of a mile gap and then crossed the finish line just ahead of them while all the spectators cheered for her. I had both goosebumps and tears watching her finish strong and the smile on her exhausted face afterwards showed that it was all worth it. At that moment, I was glad that I hadn't been able to run so that I was able to witness her entire race first-hand. It's a memory that I will always cherish. I was also really proud of Ashley, who finished in just under 40 minutes to beat over half the field.
On Monday, I went back to see Dr. Bright to find out the results of my MRI. He gave me the good news that I did not have a stress fracture - just really bad shin splints. He gave me a rehab plan and told me that I could run as much as I could tolerate and should start slowly as I get back to running. So, today, I showed up for my first run in over a week and took it easy just to get a run in. My leg was nowhere near 100 percent, but it was better than the last time I had run. I'll keep taking it easy and just do as much as my body tells me it can do.
While I am looking forward to getting back to pain-free running and training for my upcoming races, I am thankful for the reminder not to take any of this for granted. I am also extremely thankful for the prayers, words of encouragement, well wishes, and messages from my friends and family. The running community is such a wonderfully supportive group!