Guest Blogger Jeannette Faber on Hamstrings, Hope, and Hawaii

A Quick (ok, not so quick) Note by Leah:

In my experience, I cannot honestly say that misery loves company. I love watching people succeed. Experiencing the success of others, in all of it's various forms, consistently makes me all watery-eyed. I just don't think that "misery loves company" accurately describes what we feel as compassionate, normal human beings. 

What I can say is that it is often comforting to know that others have gone through or are going through similar struggles and have chosen to keep pushing on, whether it be down the same or different path. This is such a confusing juxtaposition of thought to me. When Lauren Fleshman tweeted:

"At some point you have to stop trying to make a comeback and start running towards who you are meant to be next."

I thought "man, that chick really has it right". But secretly deep in my id, ego, subconscious, or whatever I think I really translated her statement as meaning "at some point maybe you should just take some time off, do a lot of yoga, and then make this ridiculous comeback at running and somehow be even faster than you were pre-injury because all of that yoga made you into some sort of zen-warrior". 

Needles to say, I did a lot of yoga that month.

And then came along Ryan Hall's retirement announcement. I remember thinking "good for him!" and being genuinely excited for his new life as a dad, a husband, and a coach without the frustration of being a professional runner who is performing short of his goals. I also remember being a bit sad. Admittedly, I was selfishly sad for myself and not necessarily for Ryan. Why couldn't I just let competitive athletics go and happily pursue other things? Especially when my talent was infinitesimal as compared to others?  Still, I just didn't want to let go, and that somehow made me feel inept and crazy.

(Ryan, if you are reading this, which I am 101% positive that you are not, these thoughts are all on me, not you. I'm truly excited to watch the next step in your life and the wonderful impact that you will inevitably continue to make on the world. Congrats, man.)

For those of you who may know me personally, you also probably know that I dealt with a lot of health issues and injuries in the last 2 years. What you probably don't know is that I eventually became so distraught by my inability to be an athlete that I went to see a counselor. I thought about running and racing all of the time. Thinking of giving it up made me deeply sad and began to seep into other areas of my life.  I just didn't want to give it up. And you know what the counselor told me?

Then don't. 

I admire Lauren Fleshman and her candid decision to lay everything on the line and be ok with what that may bring. I admire Ryan Hall and his ability to step away from his running career with grace and purpose. I also admire Jeannette for taking what she has, ideal or not, and just getting bad-ass with it. 

What I really love about Jeannette Faber (other than she is a genuine, kind, and wickedly smart chick who is a lot of fun) is that she puts on the best armor she has to do the best battle she can on that given day. Jeannette is a fierce competitor and crazy hard worker, but somehow very quiet about it. In fact, I don't think we have ever spoken directly about her drive and passion to run. I just know it's there, and I'm inspired by the idea that we can pursue our own goals relentlessly without broadcasting them, and without things necessarily going our way. And for that very reason, I am ridiculously excited to see her run a gutsy race in LA with the cards she was dealt. Join me in cheering her on! And read below for her thoughts on...

Chronic Hamstring Strains: A Serious Pain in the Ass

In November of 2012 I had a long conversation with friend and fellow runner, Esther Atkins. We both agreed that it would take at least two years of injury and physical struggle to make us give up on running. Not long after that, in January of 2013, I suffered a mild hamstring strain while engaged in 300 meter repeats on the track. Since that day I've suffered four more strains and the leg (including the glute, hip and calf) has never been the same. It is weak, it is almost constantly tight, and many times I have the sensation that my left side must be dragged along to keep up with the rest of my body.

  Rounding the last turn at the 2012 Olympic Trials

Rounding the last turn at the 2012 Olympic Trials

Needless to say this has caused the last three years to be quite a struggle. Throw in a couple stress fractures, consultations with numerous doctors, the employment of any and every type of hamstring treatment suggested or researched on Google, and it's safe to say I am at my wits end with running. I have tried it all: extended time off, active release therapy, strengthening, graston, astym, dry needling, yoga, plyometrics, massage, Epsom salt baths, fish oil supplements, heavy periods of drinking, etc. 

And with the Olympic Trials one week away, where am I now? Well I started to gain some traction with training in December and had completed a couple promising workouts (and by that I mean I started to hope for a 2:40 in LA), then in the first week of January I experienced yet another strain and had to apply the breaks once more. Over the past month my mileage and workouts have been far from what I would hope for in a marathon build up. Without a good long marathon paced workout under my belt it is hard for me to say what will be possible in LA. The stubborn side of me still hopes to run under 2:45. The practical side says I should just try not to be DFL (dead !#$&ing last). 

It scares me to line up in LA knowing my body is not as strong and fit as it has been in the past. For a couple brief moments I have considered not making the trip, but on Saturday I will compete in the Olympic Trials because it is a great honor to be there and I am excited to share the day with others. To miss the opportunity to be a part of this event is a mistake I will not make. Sure, there is a decent chance that by mile 20 I will be on the sidelines with my two terrific sisters, watching the races unfold. But even then I will be happy to be present and a part of the Mutha Effing Olympic Trials! Then on Sunday I will head to Hawaii for a week with two of my fellow competitors and a couple more friends. 

  My two big sisters, Jenny and Julie, will make the trip to LA

My two big sisters, Jenny and Julie, will make the trip to LA

Trying to train and compete with a chronic hamstring issue has been emotionally draining over the past three years. And yet every time I consider stepping away from the sport I am reminded of just how fortunate I have been, even in recent years. Bear with me as I try to spit out a story that guides my perspective. In 2005 I had just stepped away from grad school and serving as an assistant coach at Grand Valley State University. I was waitressing in a restaurant in downtown Grand Rapids, having way too much fun with friends, trying to figure out where I was headed in life and slowly running about 40 miles a week. One day a co-worker told me about a woman he had served who had been in town the previous week for the River Bank Run, which is the host of the U.S. 25K Championship. Matt explained that this woman was extremely sweet and he was in awe of her physical talent. I was too! After he shared the few details of their encounter I figured out that the runner was Jenny Crain, 37 years old and from Wisconsin. Jenny finished third that year. At this time in my life I never expected to compete at a U.S. Championship or Olympic Trials. Fast forward six years and somehow I was at that level. In 2011 I jumped at the chance to compete in the River Bank Run, in the heart of my old stomping grounds, and I finished third. It was the highest I ever placed in a U.S. Championship. (Many will argue that the 25K rarely draws a strong field and I certainly will agree that I benefited from this in 2011.)

  Look for me in this Newton uniform if you are watching the race broadcast

Look for me in this Newton uniform if you are watching the race broadcast

Anyway, back to the perspective. If you are not familiar with Jenny Crain’s story you should know that she was struck by a car in August of 2007 while out on a routine morning run. She survived the accident but sustained multiple injuries, including brain damage. She never ran again. More recently we witnessed this type of tragedy when 28 year old Cameron Bean was hit by a car while running in Chattanooga last September. He died two days later. Maybe it is because I am getting older and feel less invincible, but these stories quickly bring me to tears. No, my hamstring doesn’t work like it should but it still allows me to run, and running is what I long to do. I am not going to focus on how I cannot run like I used to, but rather how I CAN run now. And if I never see another PR on the track or roads then I will still be happy and grateful for all the success that I have had, and all the friends that I've met along the way. 

My experience in LA might be slow and painful, but I am excited for the opportunity to be there among many amazing athletes and wonderful people. (I'm looking at you Team T-Bone, Brett, Tim, Dot, Deena, T-Mac, Bria.... I could go on all day) Besides, when I get lapped by the men I will have quite a view of the race for the Olympic Team! 

The Olympic Marathon Trials will be broadcast by NBC starting at 1pm EST on Saturday, February 13th.