By Stephanie Krikorian, as posted on WSJ.com
Stephanie Krikorian is a contributor to WSJ.com and a patient at Professional Physical Therapy’s Columbus Circle office.
I have to imagine that getting to the starting line of a marathon might be more grueling than the race itself. I’ll know soon enough. Most runners started their tapering this week, but last week likely clocked 40 training miles. I’ve found the past 16 weeks of training time-consuming, occasionally boring, and with all that pavement pounding—injury inducing.
I ran the 18-mile tune-up in Central Park, then the Hamptons Half. At the 9-mile mark during the latter, something in the arch of my foot felt really wrong, pulled almost. I slowed down because it wasn’t a race for me. It was a training run. By last week, it had all caught up with me. My ankle was swollen, my knees hurt, and my hip flexor was tweaked. I’ve been spending a few days a week in physical therapy working out the kinks.
And oddly, nowhere have I more felt the spirit of New York City than in this physical therapy center, where everyone is diligently working to help get you physically race ready. I’m not the only in there working toward a Nov. 3 deadline.
My therapist, Melissa Lam, at Professional Orthopedic and Sports Physical Therapy at Columbus Circle said she’s seen 10 to 12% more marathoners in PT this year than last due to overuse injuries. Overuse is common during training–they’re tiny injuries that occur and increase in severity over time–ankles, IT bands, tendonitis. So, not a broken bone from a fall, but more subtle injuries like swelling, and tiny tears and pulls, that are caused by repeated motion, like running mile after mile, week after week.
It’s not just the number of people that’s different this year. It’s the timing of treatment as well.
“Normally, marathoners come in now, beginning of October. More and more people were starting to come in September and even late August,” she said.
Like me, Melissa said many of her patients were supposed to run their one big race last year. When it was cancelled, they essentially continued training up until now and got hurt earlier. The most common injury she’s seeing: Plantar fasciitis.
Oh yeah, I have that, too. That means my feet hurt.
Mindy Solkin, owner of The Running Center, has seen a lot of injuries this year as well. Substantially more than in previous years. She coaches runners at all levels, for all sorts of races, but usually has 20 doing the New York marathon. Injuries have prevented half of this year’s roster from getting out of the gate at all.
“I’ve had 10 people drop out of the race,” she said. “Either they did too much, too soon, or they weren’t up to par in terms of their own fitness when they signed up.”
But there’s another reason as well, she said. The marathon has increasingly become a “bucket-list item” for throngs of people. She said many are doing far too many big runs in one year suddenly. She teaches people form and how to train properly, but more and more, runners are trying to knock out two and three big races in a year, paying no attention to technique and conditioning.
“They’re not becoming better runners, they’re just becoming crazier,” Coach Mindy said.
Crazy is a conclusion I, too, have reached. I’ve decided people taking this on have to be a little insane, myself included. But welcome to New York City.
Having said that, I’m finally excited about the race, maybe for the first time. I feel ready (ish). I have signed up with The Running Center to complete the final 10 miles of the marathon course on Saturday, then I’ll do nothing above 3 to 5 miles until race day. We got our bib number, start time, and corral color this week. And I’ve already ironed my name on my race-day shirt. In pink and purple glitter. I love glitter. I’m hoping that helps the crowd on the sidelines carry me along.
I’ve also accepted that I am going in under-trained. I did as much training as my body could take and decided it was more important to go into Nov. 3 less trained, but also less injured. I’ll work it all out with Melissa after the race, I’m sure.
Now, this venture turns mental. I can say this much: I’m less terrified than I was last year at this time. Will you be on the sidelines cheering this year?
Follow Stephanie Krikorian on Twitter @StephieKrik