The Twilight 5K start in 2014. Photo by Mirror Lake Photography, Highlands, NC.
Printed with permission from Running Journal magazine. To view magazine Click here.
Forced Change, Light at End of Tunnel
By Mary Margaret McEachern
You might have noticed I had no column in last month’s edition of the Journal. I was graciously granted a short sabbatical from writing about running because, frankly, I was completely disgusted with the thought of running!
Yes, I am injured again! I am having to fight the feeling that running has dealt me yet another unfair blow. Through the fall and early winter, my right heel felt tight and inflamed at the Achilles insertion point. Being a forefoot striker with extremely high-arched, rigid feet and having a history of Achilles issues including two bone spur surgeries and one complete rupture, my feet and heels are quite vulnerable.
After consulting with my doctor and starting physical therapy, and since I was able to run relatively normally (the heel would loosen up while running and then tighten again after rest), I chose to train through the “injury” rather than take down time.
Well, it turned out that was an idiotic idea; when I was training in late December in Linville, NC, I noticed a pain all over the bottom of my left foot, which I passed off as mere tightness but which progressively worsened to the point of rendering even walking without a limp virtually impossible.
After I arrived home in the “flatlands”, I continued to train and ignore the pain, thinking it was probably “just” plantar fasciitis and therefore no big deal. Plus, there was no way I was going to miss the opportunity to repeat my overall masters placing at the Charleston Half Marathon in January. As the pain worsened, I had more therapy and even a cortisone shot (yeeouch!!!) in my foot three days before the big race. The doc assured me that I should be just fine to run.
As race day arrived, I was cautiously optimistic as the pain had subsided, although I knew that placing – and running under 1:40 – might not happen since I had missed several training sessions leading up to the event. I therefore decided to race “just for fun.” Well, there was no fun to be had that day.
About a mile into the race, I was in excruciating pain. Still thinking it must be a nasty case of plantar fasciitis, I reasoned that if I kept going, it would loosen and I would be able to salvage some semblance of my day. Well, that just didn’t happen, and I wound up skipping and hopping on one leg for the entire 13.1 miles! After finishing, I didn’t know whether to be more embarrassed by my agonizingly slow time or the fact that I was stupid enough to press on when I was in that much pain. I mean good grief! I have degrees in economics, physics and mathematics as well as a law degree. I have run for over 35 years of my life. Will I never ever LEARN?!?
Needless to say, after that race, my coach and I agreed to shut down my training, take time off, and cancel plans to run the 50K I had scheduled for early April. That ultra was to be my first, and I had planned to chronicle my experience training for it in my spring Journal articles. When my plans were derailed and I was again faced not with peaceful, wooded trails but instead doctors, x-rays, MRI’s, and “da Boot,” I panicked and could not fathom the idea of even thinking about running, let alone writing about it!
Despite my terrible luck with injuries, I have never contemplated hanging up my running shoes for good, but I have seriously considered just that over the past several weeks. The foot is much better, but my coach says no running until mid-April. With that much time off, I will be starting from square one after fighting for the past six years to regain my fitness after the last devastating injury. The strength work, cross training and starvation (to keep from gaining weight) are getting old, and I am not confident that these efforts will preserve my running fitness.
So, needless to say, I’ve been experiencing a bit of a crisis the past couple of months. In the meantime, however, I’ve heard from folks who read my last article about numbers of races. That article discusses the possibility that the sport cannot support so many races and, as a result, some high quality events with rich histories are being eliminated. One such casualty is the Maggie Valley Moonlight 8K about which I wrote in that article.
Then, almost like a messenger of hope encouraging me to not give up, I was contacted by Derek Taylor, race director for the Twilight 5K in Highlands, North Carolina. I had not heard of the event, but given my love for the mountains and the fact that this race sounds quite similar to Maggie Valley, I determined this to be a must-do, and a reason not to give up on my running yet!
This year’s event takes place at 6 p.m. on August 20, and starts and finishes at the Kelsey-Hutchinson Founders Park. Runners are treated to a unique course dubbed the “Patty Cake”; while I am told the course is the flattest one could encounter in the mountains, it sounds challenging. At 4,118 feet, it’s a bit higher than Maggie Valley, so come prepared! The setting could not be more picturesque; Highlands is well-known for its beauty and serenity. The race is family-friendly, with no entry fee for kids under 5 and a reduced entry fee for those aged 5-10. The course is stroller and walker-friendly. There is ample parking and the post-race party in the refreshingly cool Highlands air sounds like a blast!
Proceeds from the Twilight 5K have funded new gym and swimming equipment for the Highlands Recreation Department and a new running track for the Highlands School. The race, with its unique features and cool running conditions, hopes to attract at least 350 runners in 2016 with an ultimate goal of at least 500 runners – over half the town’s permanent population – in future years. The course is USATF certified and runners will be chip-timed. Unique awards will be presented to top three overall, masters, and grand masters and in 5-year age groups. Other perks include T-shirts, glow sticks for kids, a “finisher beer” from a local brewery, and live music among other things. So, all you other runners disappointed at the loss of Maggie Valley, come give this race a try; it sounds like a winner! Check it out at www.highlandstwilight5K.com.
My messenger of hope could not have come at a better time! Now I am inspired to run again, and can hardly wait for the go-ahead to begin training so I can experience and write more about this great sounding race, and maybe even take home one of those terrific trophies! Until next time, happy running, stay smart, and if injured or ill, by all means don’t lose hope!
(Mary Margaret can be reached at email@example.com.)