This morning I set out to run the Med City Marathon in Rochester, MN. I only ran half of it. I entered this race long before my recent groin injury. Since Rochester is only a 75 mile drive for me, I didn’t have to make any non-refundable travel reservations. I could afford to wait and see how I was feeling before making a final decision about whether to race. I booked a hotel for Saturday night, but I could cancel, if necessary, as late as Saturday.
Last weekend, I was registered for the Ogden Marathon, but it was too early in my recovery. Trying to do that race seemed much too risky, so I cancelled my travel plans. As this race approached, I was feeling much better. I had two physical therapy appointments during the week, and my therapists could see noticeable improvement with each visit. I also noticed a difference. I had a wider range of motion on my stretches, I was walking normally, and I wasn’t noticing any discomfort walking, running or doing any of my stretches.
Even before the injury, I had promised myself that I wouldn’t run hard in this race. At most, I would run just fast enough to break four hours. This didn’t need to be a goal race. Mostly, I wanted to finish another of the many Minnesota marathons. This race is 20 years old, but I’ve never done it.
In the past, I’ve sometimes told myself I would use a race as a training run, only to run it all out. This time, I had no such temptation. Not having done a long training run since my last race on May 3rd, I wanted to get something long under my belt. Mostly, I needed that as a confidence boost. Being injured made me realize how ambitious my summer race schedule is. I didn’t want to mess it up by running too hard.
During the week, I discussed my plans with two different physical therapists. They didn’t see any problem with starting the race, as long as I was willing to stop if I experienced any pain. That’s been my number one rule for running. If I have pain, I’m supposed to stop.
Rochester is known as Med City because it’s home to the Mayo Clinic. The Mayo Clinic is a non-profit medical center that has over 50,000 employees, including 3,800 physicians and scientists. For at least 20 years, it’s been ranked among the best hospitals in the world. Not surprisingly, the Mayo Clinic is a large part of Rochester’s identity.
I drove to Rochester on Saturday and stayed at the downtown Doubletree. Doubletree is just a block from Mayo Civic Center, which was the site of most pre-race and post-race activities. After checking in at Doubletree, I walked over to the civic center to pick up my race packet. Then I had pre-race pizza with a few other Marathon Maniacs at Victoria’s, a nearby Italian restaurant.
I didn’t sleep well last night. I woke up after about an hour and couldn’t get back to sleep. I eventually caught a few short cat naps, but I never slept for very long. When I got up this morning, I was really dragging. Usually I shake that off as soon as I start getting ready for a race. Today I didn’t. It might be because I didn’t feel the same sense of urgency. I wasn’t really looking at this as a race.
I was also sore and stiff. My neck and shoulders were stiff because I was tossing and turning all night. Both of my legs were a little bit sore in my thighs. I think that was from all the stationary bike workouts I’ve been doing. I’m not used to them yet.
The race started at 7:00, but I had to board a bus to the start between 5:20 and 6:20. The buses were loading just around the block from the hotel, so I didn’t have to allow too much time to get there. I got up at 4:50 and was on a bus an hour later.
The overnight low was 60 degrees, which was warmer than I expected. There was about a 50% chance of rain. As usual, that added some guesswork to my decision of what to wear. Since I wasn’t going to run fast, I decided to err on the side of dressing warm.
In the past, my pre-race routine always included getting up early and taking a hot bath to loosen up my legs, so I could do a bunch of static stretches. I still did some stretching, but after getting to the starting area I also did a dynamic warm-up routine that one of my therapists gave me.
The course is point-to-point. It starts in the small town of Byron. The first several miles are rolling hills along country roads. The middle miles go through neighborhoods in Rochester, including a few parks and paved bike paths alongside rivers. The finish is in downtown Rochester, next to the Mayo Civic Center.
We were dropped off at Byron High School. When I got there, I saw tables for race morning packet pickup. When I signed up for this race, I didn’t notice that they had that option. I could have driven down to Rochester this morning. It would have meant getting up much earlier, but in retrospect, I probably would have gotten more sleep. Oh, well.
I didn’t know what pace I would run, but I lined up near the 4:00 pace group. I was going to run whatever pace felt comfortable. It would be nice to break 4:00, but only if I could run that pace without working too hard.
This isn’t a large marathon, but there’s also a half marathon and a relay. We all started together, so there were enough runners to make the first mile a bit congested. After we had enough room to run freely, I discovered that it felt awkward to run with the 4:00 group. The pace was too slow. I haven’t been wearing a watch on my recent training runs, but apparently, I’m running them faster than the pace we were starting. I left the 4:00 group behind and ran a pace that felt more comfortable. After a few miles, I found myself near the 3:45 group.
The early miles were non-stop hills. None of them were steep, but a few were long. In general, I maintained an effort that felt comfortable and didn’t worry if I sped up or slowed down. There was one exceptionally long hill that started around the five mile mark. Running downhill started to feel a bit uncomfortable. I was noticing some tension in some of the muscles of my right leg. It occurred to me that I might be overstriding, and that might put a strain on my recovering groin muscles. I made a conscious effort to shorten my stride.
After about seven miles, the character of the course changed. We left the highway and turned onto a paved bike path. I wondered if that meant we were done with the hilly part of the course. On cue, one of the spectators said, “No more hills. That part is over with.” We were also done running past farms. Now we were on a greenbelt in the outskirts of Rochester.
Around eight miles, I saw a small vehicle going around us on the grass. It was about the size of a golf cart or ATV. I didn’t pay much attention to it, but assumed it was somehow related to the race.
With temperatures around 60 and high humidity, it felt a bit warm. Then it started to rain. It was a light rain. It was just enough to cool us off, but not enough to be uncomfortable.
At nine miles, I started to have a vague sensation of soreness in my right thigh. I assumed the hills in the early miles were beating up my quads a little. Then it occurred to me that I had already run farther than any of my recent training runs. I couldn’t really localize the soreness, but it wasn’t that far from my injured groin. It might be my quadriceps, it might be my hip flexor, or it might be my groin. That concerned me. If I had felt the same sort of soreness in my left leg, I probably wouldn’t have worried about it. After all, I had some soreness in my upper legs before the race even started.
We were leaving the greenbelt behind to run down city streets. At 10 miles, I noticed we were crossing Broadway. I wonder how far we were from the downtown area.
Over the next mile, I realized that the soreness in my right leg might be subtle, but it was also persistent. I tried to notice where I was feeling it. It was hard to tell. Then I decided to reach down with my hand and touch the area that felt sore. I fully expected to reassure myself that it was my quad or my hip flexor. As I touched the center of the soreness, I realized it was on the inside of my thigh. This was groin discomfort. I needed to stop running.
I was just passing the 11 mile mark. I didn’t really have a good exit strategy. I needed to figure out how and where I could get a ride to the finish area. I asked the next volunteer. She had a van, but she was a course marshal and couldn’t leave her post until her shift was over. She said there were some carts going along the course to pick up runners who needed to drop. I asked her if they were operating this early in the race. She said she had already seen one go by. Then I realized that was probably what I saw going by me earlier in the race. For the time being, I kept moving, but I slowed down.
A few friends went by, and we talked about my situation. They all agreed I should drop, but didn’t know where I could get a ride back. One suggested, if nothing else, I could stop at halfway.
We went by an aid station at 12 miles. We were going through a large park, so the only people around were the aid station volunteers. There were several vehicles parked nearby, but everyone I saw was working the aid station.
Finally, a few blocks later, the marathon and half marathon courses separated. I followed the half marathon course, knowing it would bring me to the finish in less than a mile. I continued to slow down, hoping it would minimize whatever damage I was doing by running. I would have walked, but I also wanted to get back to the hotel quickly, so I could begin treating the injury. I was now glad I stayed in a hotel.
The marathon and half marathon both use the same finish line. I didn’t want to confuse the timekeepers by appearing to finish the marathon in 1:57, so I ducked under the ropes and walked around the finish line. I wasn’t a half marathon finisher, since I was registered for the marathon. This turned into a 13.1 mile training run.
I didn’t stay in the finish area any longer than I had to. I just needed to retrieve my gear bag. Walking back to the hotel was uncomfortable. Fortunately, it was only a few blocks. When I got to my room, I emptied my plastic gear bag and headed for the ice machine. I used the bag to make an ice pack. I had a compression wrap with me, so I used that to hold the ice pack against my leg. I iced for 20 minutes. That seemed to help.
After getting cleaned up, I put the compression wrap on my leg for the drive home. When I got home, I used a gel ice pack to ice my leg again.
I’m only a little bit disappointed that I couldn’t finish the race. Mostly, I’m concerned about my leg. I don’t know how much of a setback I suffered. The Comrades Marathon is one week from today. Before today, I was confident I would be 100% recovered. I thought I was 90-95% recovered already. Now I’m not sure where I stand. It will probably be another day before I can access how much this set me back.
I didn’t really think I was taking a big risk by doing this race. I’ve been running every other day. Had I not done the race, today would still have been a running day. My last three runs were 5.25 miles, 7 miles and 8.1 miles. Today, I probably would have run about 10 miles.
I thought I could run as long as I felt good and stop immediately if I didn’t. There were two problems with that. First, distinguishing between normal soreness and injury soreness proved to be more difficult than I anticipated. Second, stopping immediately requires a good exit strategy. I didn’t have one. I should have stopped after nine miles, but I ended up running 13.1.
I wasn’t ready to run 26.2 miles on a course that’s moderately hilly in the first seven. The Comrades Marathon is 54.5 miles, and it’s very hilly. I’m worried.