Into every planned marathon enter independent variables. Weather, obviously, and this winter has been rough. Last year's Boston featured beastly hot weather, although the winter leading up to last year's marathon was dry and not even that cold.
Last weekend on the morning of my long run I found a track free of snow and went for it. About 8 x 800, aggressive but reasonable pace. But with each successive circuit, my knee was trying to tell me something. And I, like a lost child in a store, wasn't listening. We joke that the kid doesn't want to admit to being lost, because that would be admitting to a problem and the kid doesn't want to admit there's a problem.
Well, neither did I. A marathon is an investment of time, money, planning, calories, weather, hundreds of training miles, sometimes travel and lodging, and ultimately an entire day between getting to, running, and the long tail of recovering from those last 26 miles on the plan. And, as a charity runner, I have sought (and received!!) the support of my community on behalf of suicide prevention services.
Anything can hop in and derail those plans - weather is a big one, injury another. Sometimes weather moves small things, like a track workout to the hills, or a long run to the next morning, and sometimes it shifts the entire marathon - and the front-loaded preparation - to the following year in hopes of less life-threatening weather. Each situation that comes up presents a complex calculus resulting in a go/no-go decision with far-reaching ramifications.
Like whether to continue running on a sore knee, or how many days to take off; if the knee goes early in the training cycle perhaps it will come back in time to complete training to enable finishing a strong marathon (if nothing else gets in the way). Add in the extensive sponsorship I have received as a runner, and the commitment I made to Samaritans and the John Hancock program. That's a lot of forces at work.
In fact, one of our runners had a knee blow up her marathon, too late in the training cycle to recover, but only mid-way through her fundraising cycle that still must go on. In talking with other Samaritans runners, just about all of us have had the same knee issue; one posits that the snow has altered our gaits and encouraged a tendinitis outbreak.
So last weekend I limped home, got busy with ice, ibuprofen, stretching, foam-rolling, I even got in another damned ice bath (and I have a low tolerance for cold). I took a couple days off, scrubbed the second of the three 20 milers planned, and was able to run a strong 6 and a 10 this weekend, adding back in my bike commuting and continuing with the ice and everything.
I plan to ramp up next weekend for another 20 miler in two weeks, then I taper until 4/15. Phew. It is nice to be able to run strong, even if I have idiot lights on my dashboard flashing. I've been lucky to run without anything to worry about for a long time, and I believe - especially after being able to run strong this weekend - that my confidence in being able to run in a month is not misplaced.
Why did my knee go off? I suspect a combination of running hard in dead sneakers, partially on snow, and missing the overall even conditioning of boot camp for a couple weeks. I got new sneakers and a good stretching plan...and ice baths in winter.