Sunday, January 1, 2012

Bittersweet Return to Racing

After two years away from racing and one and half year of not being able to run at all because of my knee, I lined up for my first post-surgery road race yesterday, Dec 31, 2011, the Pacers Fairfax 4 miler. I ran together with Evan and Adela from Team Z and we met some other Z'ers out there too.

I really didnt know what to expect and what my body was capable of. Just a few months back I was lying in a hospital bed, unconcious, having my knee surgically repaired from years of abuse. Back then if you had asked me if I would be running by December, let alone racing, I would have laughed in your face.

So at one level I felt incredibly lucky just to be able to run again so soon, but at another my competitive spirit wanted me not only to run but to run fast. In hindsight, this strategy was rigged for failure. I only started running again without a mental block about me knee in mid-November or so, and most of my workouts have been slow endurance building runs. I have been doing some speedwork but thats a huge work in progress.

So it came as no surprise that I didn't run fast. In fact, my average pace of 7:58 for the four miler was slower than my previous marathon pace!

Maybe it was the 8 miles I ran in the morning, maybe it was the hilly course, maybe it was the blisters on my feet that I was nursing, maybe it was the killer strenght circuits I had done the previous day, but then again 7:58 is really slow for a 4 mile race.

Let me provide a little background. I used to be a fast runner, with a respectable 3:10 marathon PR. Back in the day, I was also super fit from hiking and mountaineering and doing crazy debilitation and peak-bagging treks involving thousands of feet of non-stop mountain climbing in unfavorable conditions (see here and here for some examples of what I call fun trips). So, basically I had quads of steel and could hold a high HR threshold for hours.

But years of doing the above and not training systematically led to cartilage damage in my left knee. I stupidly ignored many of the warning signs early on and kept running through the pain and swelling. It caught up to me eventually and stopped me literally dead in my tracks. I was out on a training run in Rock Creek park one day and thats basically when my knee said it had enough. I couldnt even walk. I had to call a friend to come pick me up and bring me home. That was about 2 years ago!

Months of physical therapy, surgery, and post-surgery recovery followed. Prior to stepping on a treadmill in September 2011, I had not run even 50 meters for about 18 months.

Fast forward to present day, I am really glad that I am an eternal optimist. Being able to run and race again pain free is the take-away victory for me from this race. I want to be a fast runner again and I am very competitive, so if anything, this bittersweet return to racing will fuel my drive to train harder and to train my high-end speed more rigorously. I hope to lean on Team Z coaches and teammates for guidance and support along the way!    


  1. Poco a poco, no? I see a return to fast times in your future. The leg strength and cardiovascular fitness you'll get from triathlon training will make you a stronger runner on half the running miles per week and fewer aches and pains. Or at least that's how it's worked out for me! Way to get back out there, Bilal. --Kgo

  2. Si, pero lo quiero rapido! I look forward to feeding off from your inspiration and enthusiasm, Kendra! I'd be delighted to accomplish half of what you managed to do in a year :)