Physical (and Emotional) Therapy

Two months ago when I signed up for the Vermont City Marathon, I scheduled a March checkup with a physical therapist. I was worried about how my knees and joints would be feeling midway through the training process, and even though (knock on wood) I’m still pain and injury free, I kept the appointment.

I introduced myself to the therapist, who looked a little like Tom Hanks at the beginning of Joe Versus the Volcano: pale and fearful of the fluorescent lighting. Proudly, I mentioned that I hadn’t missed any training runs and that none of my parts had snapped or shattered yet. I think I expected him to hand me a trophy, pull an ice cream sundae out of the ice-pack freezer, and tell me to go home and keep kicking butt.

But far from looking pleased, he pointed to the exam table and barked, “Lay down.” I obeyed, and then after a two-second glance at my feet, he said, “Your right leg is over a centimeter longer than your left. You’re not built for running. It’s only a matter of time before you’re injured.”

Then he told me that I’m at risk of overtraining—that is, taking this marathon way too seriously and letting it overshadow other parts of my life. “You have to be careful not to sacrifice your social life for this race. You can skip a few workouts. It’s just not worth an injury.” It kind of felt like being told you can’t be a cheerleader because you were too enthusiastic at tryouts.

With the trainer’s advice in mind, I skipped a run last weekend to go skiing with my boyfriend at Jay Peak. Kurt is a veteran skier and I’m not, so each run took me about 45 minutes of making careful turns from one side of the slope to the other to return to the base of the mountain. At one point I actually sat down and crawled over a mogul so I wouldn’t have to traverse it on skis. Kurt, who looked like he’d rather be divebombing down something rocky, coniferous, and steep, paused to wait at 50-foot intervals and watch me with concern. I gritted my teeth and flashed a cheerful smile. “This is great! I’m so happy!”

Later I described how I really felt. “I hate skiing. I just hate it. I have about the same level of hatred for it as being burned alive. I hate that too.”

“So? Don’t do it,” Kurt said. “Heck, I wouldn’t go running with you even if you begged me to.”

Then I told him what the physical therapist had said about overtraining. Kurt laughed really hard and then said, “It’s not like you’re canceling your plans so you can eat a cup of chicken broth and then run all day. You’re just following a training schedule. You seem healthy and happy. I don’t think you’re overtraining.”

And he’s right. Although I have had to make sacrifices, I knew when I signed up that training wouldn’t be always be easy. I may not be built like a runner, but my plan was never to finish the race in two hours and then get discovered by Olympic talent scouts. I just want to finish. Plenty of body types before me have proved that it’s possible, so why get discouraged by one grumpy PT?

After some discussion, Kurt and I came up with a strategy for me never to having to cancel our plans during training. Whenever I go for a long run, he’ll go skiing or plane-jumping or whatever he likes to do, and then we’ll order a couple of large pizzas and watch an entire season of Star Trek in one sitting.

Mari Zagarins

When Mari isn't running, biking, hiking, or jumping-jacking in and around her home in Montpelier, she is practicing her facial expressions in the mirror and contemplating whether she should learn to swim.