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How to Overcome Training Obstacles: Training for a 21-Mile Race after a Concussion

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How to Overcome Training Obstacles: Training for a 21-Mile Race after a Concussion

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How to Overcome Training Obstacles: Training for a 21-Mile Race after a Concussion

Megan Omli: Welcome to the MetPro Method. I'm your host, Megan Omli. Today I'm joined by our usual host and lead coach, Crystal O'Keefe. Today we are going to mix things up. I'm going to be interviewing Crystal about her Big Sur 21 miler. If you haven't listened to our interview about her returning from injury for this race and her training journey, go check that out first.

Crystal, thanks for being here. This is so fun. So excited to hear this story. I have intentionally waited to ask you 101 questions cause I know I'm just going to be like in awe of all that you accomplished, and so I'm really excited to chat with you and hear how everything went.

Crystal O'Keefe: Oh, pressure. I hope I don't disappoint.

Megan Omli: Not one bit so. Fill me in. Obviously, this was a race that you traveled for, so you arrived, you did your thing, but fill me in, like what was the morning prior to the race, like for you?

Crystal O'Keefe:: So, okay, so if you've ever done Big Sur, anybody out there, if they've ever done Big Sur, you know it's an early call time.

It's one of the earliest races that there is. And because they close Highway one, uh, we were staying at the race finish, which means that we had to get on a bus at 4:15 in the morning. So my morning started at 3:00 AM and I had thought ahead the day before because we were in a hotel and it's always tough to figure out like what your food's going to be when you're in a hotel.

So, what I did was the day before when I ordered room service, I ordered an extra breakfast sandwich. And, um, I had it like really plain. They didn't have a microwave in the room. So that morning when I woke up at three, I had half that sandwich and it was cold. And surprisingly, an egg sandwich tastes amazing, cold for anybody out there who might be curious.

I thought it was going to be terrible. I was bracing myself and I was like, this is delightful. So, we started off good. Uh, however, um, about 30 seconds after I finished my sandwich, I realized that I had forgotten something. Very important. Very, very important. Uh, that would be my sports bra.

Megan Omli: Oh, no. That's the worst.

Crystal O'Keefe: Yes. So, for various reasons, I have a sleep bra that I sleep in, so I could have taken that, but I didn't want to. So luckily, I was running this race with friends. And so, I reached out to my friend Christina Sandifer, who was riding the bus up with me, and she's like, uber prepared for everything.

So, I had a feeling she might have an extra, she had two extras because that's how she rolls. And, uh, so because she's an excellent friend, she came over immediately and, and dropped off the sports bra so I could continue to get ready. And then yes, whew. Exactly and then we continued on our way, which, we lucked out, my husband picked out the hotel, and it ended up being like the spot that we got on the bus for, so that was great.

Megan Omli: Oh, awesome. So, you didn't have to try to get somewhere else?

Crystal O'Keefe: I did not. So, we went over to the bus and we got in line and the bus picked up promptly at 4:15 and we were on our way. Uh, luckily it was still dark, so I couldn't see how bad the route was, but I could feel we were going down a lot of hills.

And, uh, that concerned me. But, uh, yeah, um, it was probably best that I didn't see it. I will be really honest with you. Uh, we got to the start line at-

Megan Omli: Have you ever driven highway one before?

Crystal O'Keefe: No, never. I purposely did not do it before the run because I've seen pictures. I knew it was really hilly and I didn't want to get in my own head about it.

I was already freaked out about this. On Friday when we traveled there, um, I started to get really nervous about the whole thing. Like I was, I had this pit of dread, like just like, oh my God, am I going to be able to do this? Then I woke up Saturday morning and I was ecstatically excited. We went to go see the Red Forest on Saturday, so the race was on Sunday, the Redwoods.

And I was super excited about that. So I really enjoyed my day. Saturday, went to the expo, um, and then I woke up on Sunday and I really didn't have enough sleep to, to be nervous. It was just so little sleep that it was just kind of like, go, go, go from the moment I woke up.

So, uh, yeah, we got to the race line and they had, uh, coffee, which is one of the best things ever at a race. Hot to get that coffee in. And then they did yoga and it started to get cold. I had decided to do a long sleeve shirt and I was very grateful that I had, um, Christina ever prepared, had a Mylar blanket.

So I threw that on. Uh, and she, she was like in a sweatshirt, but she was going to take it off at the race line. This is a thing she does every time she runs a race. And Big Sur donates it. So, they pick up all the discarded clothes and they donate it a lot of races do that. So, it's a good way to get a cheap sweatshirt, something that you don't care a lot about how it looks and you don't mind donating it.

Excellent to take to the start line. So we, uh, we started off and, felt really good except for the fact that the start line was 0.2 away from where the check-in actually was. So that was kind of cruel. Like we were not already walking far enough. You really need to do that, you know, I thought that was kind of mean.

Um, but we got up there and we got going and I was, I did really well. Um, up until about mile eight, I started feeling. Like, I could feel the fatigue in the back of my legs. That was also the beginning of the two-mile climb. So there is a two mile hill and if you're doing it from the very beginning, cause remember we started five miles ahead of everybody who was doing the marathon. And it was like, Really tough. I was still going really uphill.

Megan Omli: That's a good, good trek.

Crystal O'Keefe: Yeah. And we did it at a really good pace. Like we were at like 15 minutes because we were walking, I thought if I had enough energy left, my plan was to do some jogging during the second half, particularly after on the downhills.

So, we got going. We were going. My friend, Dr. Jenn, was filming every couple of miles. You could tell she had lots of energy because she was filming a lot. Uh, that, that definitely waned later on. Um, I was surprised to see there were cows by the sea.

Y'all have cows out there, right by the ocean. That was fascinating, and it was gorgeous. Like one of the most beautiful sites I've ever seen. I felt so. Lucky to be seeing that and be able to like slow down and take it in at my own pace instead of in a car is very-

Megan Omli: Yes. Walking or biking or something. Like that's the best way to see scenery.

Crystal O'Keefe: Absolutely. Yeah, absolutely. Where you can really just stop and take lots of pictures. Um, I was feeling really good when we got to Bixby Bridge, and that was, I believe, built in like 1932 something. And uh, that was really, really cool again, to be able to take pictures of it.

They had a piano player right in the middle of the bridge. He was playing all kinds of hits and, uh, it was really fun. Um, and every few miles they had a different instrument. Uh, sometimes they had violins. There were bagpipes at a different mile marker. Couldn't tell you which one.

The was an accordion, and it reminded me of Weird Al, very random. Uh, and then there were even ponies out there. Somebody had brought like, short little horses that you could come and hug. They were across the road though. Um, yeah, I know. They said like “free pony hugs”, and I totally would've done that.

But they were across the street, and I could not bring myself to cross that yellow line. Still very, very terrified of traffic. And even though it was closed, we were going very slowly. Emergency vehicles would come through the marathoners that were elite runners. They were coming through. Uh, so it was constant traffic over in that lane.
So, it was terrifying for me. So, I was like, I'll stay over here near this line so I can be as far from that as possible. And they were very safe and very careful. It was definitely all about my fear, not anybody else's.

Megan Omli: The rollercoaster of emotions probably.

Crystal O'Keefe: It was, it was such a rollercoaster because we started off and I was like so excited to be there.
I was so happy. And, uh, then it was just like, oh wow, we're on a road. And, and then like when I saw that hill, because you, you go around this corner and you go down before you go up that two mile hill that was, that was like, holy crap. It was filled with fog at that time of the morning, so it just looked like it went on forever.

And so I had talked to Jesse, one of our fellow coaches, on Thursday, and she was like, just don't look up. And I kept thinking of her as I was walking, because I was like just one foot in front of the other. And so, I just kept going. I did notice about mile 10 that I started having a hotspot on my foot.

I got very worried. I had brought some mole skin. But everybody I was with was like, oh, don't put it on. Like wait till it hurts really bad and then put it on. Well, I don't know if that was good advice or not, because it's not like I've done a ton of these. But, uh, I will tell you that by mile 13, it was really painful.

They were in the center of each foot pad on each foot. And the left one I could feel, it's pretty disgusting, but I could feel it squishing and I was like, really concerned about it. So, we stopped at a medic and I just like asked like, is it better for me to put moleskin on? Like, should I do something, should I not?

And they were just like, well, do you really think you're going to be able to finish? And I was like, oh, I am finishing. That is exactly what I said. I was like, that is not up for debate. I did not come here to ask you that. I came here to get help for my feet and he took forever to help me. It was very frustrating because that like slowed down our times so much.

Finally, he just put Band-Aids and Vaseline on. I'm like, I don't know that that was any better than my mole skin. I could have just slapped that on myself and kept going. Lesson learned, don't stop unless you need to. They had a ton of porta potties, and it was three ladies all in our forties and a little older, so we had to stop a lot.

That was fun. And they got progressively more disgusting throughout the route. That was, yeah, that was fun. I'll just leave that to your imagination.

Megan Omli: That maybe was a little bit unexpected or maybe expected.

Crystal O'Keefe: I didn't think I would have to stop that often.

I was surprised I was trying to stay hydrated and it's like this balance, right? Because yes, absolutely. I had my water bottle and I kept stopping for like Nuun and I would stop for an orange and things like that. And I would just like grab it and like, just eat the orange really fast, throw it in, and then I would be like, oh, now I gotta go to the bathroom.

So, I'd have to stop and at the mile 13 really slowed us down and it continued to hurt after that. Like, after that point, every single step was agonizing. And my friend Christina was like, well, you know, you just need to not think about the pain. And I thought about. Let's get in that.

Well, so I thought about something a Peloton instructor has said, and I don't remember which one it was, although I should. And at some point I've heard a Peloton instructor and they said, it only hurts so bad. Like the pain is only going to get so bad and then it's not going to get any worse.

And I was like, I can do this, I can do this. And then, Dr. Jenn was like, you know, getting hit by a car was more painful than what you're experiencing right now. That really helped me to put that in perspective. Especially when I thought about the fact of how bad the road rash had been, for that first week was just so much pain.

And so I was just determined to keep going, so I would just. I just kept putting one step in front of the other. We kept getting slower and slower on our pace, but Christina was watching the time. She was like a hawk on that clock, you know, if we stopped, she was like, Crystal, you keep going. Go, go, go.

Like, we got, we gotta, you don't have time to stop. And then they would run and catch up with me. Uh, they were, they were just really, really good friends. I don't know that I could have finished this race without the support, the moral support of having people there cheering me on and like, we gotta get this, we gotta do this.

Especially if I did not have the public accountability of telling people I was doing this, like I think I would've been like, I'm good. Yeah. This, yeah, this was nice, but I'm good.

Megan Omli: Yes. So was there anything else you had, the blisters were unexpected along the way. Was there anything else that was unexpected?

Crystal O'Keefe: You know, um, the amount of people coming through from the marathon, you know, you forget how quick other people, like, if they're running 10 minutes a mile and we're walking 15 to 17 minutes a mile, that's a huge difference and they catch up with you. But on Big Sur it's different than other routes I've done, and I haven't done that many of these, but.

In this particular race, because the right lane of the highway is closed for, race vehicles, you have to stay in the left lane, which means that all walkers and runners have to be in that left lane. So if you have a bunch of people coming through, um, like a PACE group for example, it's very crowded.

And I was, I was not expecting that in my head, like since we had started, you know, like people would pass us and then that would be it, you know? But no, no, they just kept passing. They kept coming. So that was really unexpected. And the blisters themselves, of course, were unexpected. Um, and, and I think just this inner determination to finish.

I did not, I, it's, it's funny, you know, you hear that all the time where people say you're capable of so much more than you think, but it's moments like that, that you tested and really show you what you're capable of.

Megan Omli: Absolutely. Yeah. That's cool. Okay. So, things you navigated during the race that you hadn't really planned for.

Right. Blisters, you know, the pace, people coming by using the restroom. What else? Anything else?

Crystal O'Keefe: Yeah. Um, I noticed I had been, okay, so I ate that breakfast before I got there, and then at the start line right before we started, I had had like a whole block of chews with caffeine in them. Um, and then, uh, that was kind of it for my food.

And then I was doing, uh, Gu's or oranges every 40 minutes. But I noticed, even though I did not feel hungry, my stomach started growling. It was so weird. Yeah. Um, And so I had to just keep eating and eating and eating, and it felt like I was eating, like I felt like I was eating like every 30 seconds. I didn't, you know, I mean, that's not really what was happening, but that's what it felt like.

Yes, absolutely. Also, uh, the wind. Um, so you, you might appreciate this living in California. Um, the headwinds I had been prepared for, I was expecting that. However, they said this was the worst headwind that they had ever had in the history of the race. And I was like, of course it would be this year. Oh God.

Megan Omli: Yep. We had had that beautiful weather the week before and the storms were blowing in and that gotcha.

Crystal O'Keefe: Yeah, absolutely. 25 miles an hour were the winds that we were fighting against. And at one point when I was going around the corners, it kind of felt like you were just flying right off the mountain.

Because like to push through it was like, It was so intense and I couldn't hear anything. People were right next to me talking. I could not hear them. And uh, you know, I wear an Apple watch and it kept yelling at me. It was like, it's too loud here. It's too loud here.

Megan Omli: I get that every night at bath time with my kids.

Crystal O'Keefe: Oh yeah, I bet you do.

Megan Omli: Yep. Yeah. Okay, so the wind.

Crystal O'Keefe: Yeah, that wind is brutal and it's cold too. Yeah, it's cool. Again, so grateful I had that long sleeve shirt. It was a very last second decision that I went with the long sleeve and I'm so glad I did. Yeah.

Megan Omli: Yeah. That's great. So pre-race, what did you eat? Right? You told us you had half of the egg sandwich, then you had some coffee, it sounds like.

And then you had some chews with caffeine, and then throughout the race, it sounds like you just kind of snacked and listened to your body. Did you have a plan going in on how you were going to fuel?

Crystal O'Keefe: I was hoping to do like a GU packet every 45 minutes. I think that it probably was a little bit less than that because I kept stopping and getting oranges and Nuun.

I would alternate a sip of Nuun and then I would take a big drink of water, um, because I have learned from my own experience, just with longer runs for me, that whenever I have GU and I don't drink a lot of water, my stomach gets very upset. Same thing with Gatorade. My stomach is very sensitive, so I was grateful they had Nuun, because that does not upset my stomach nearly as much.

And I was able to, to continue to drink it, but I just kept doing like a little sip. It was hard to drink and walk, so I would just like to just get a sip and then throw it out, you know? Um, Yeah. Also, I don't know if you know this, you probably do because you live in California, but on that route is Brad Pitt's $40 million house.

Uh, that was pretty cool. Dr. Jenn stopped and got pictures of that because she knew exactly where it was. Neat house. Very neat house. It blends in. That was pretty cool.

Megan Omli: I know it does. It definitely does. Yeah. Yeah. It's pretty cool. Yeah.

Crystal O'Keefe: Yeah. So saw some sights too. I did, yes. It was gorgeous.

Megan Omli: I know. It really is. There's nothing like the California coast, it's really pretty. So, I know that obviously your training and everything for this race was different than you expected, right? Yes. Still going in, you know, you had the goal to finish what you accomplished. Were there any other goals that you had kind of set out that you feel like you accomplished and, were you satisfied with how you did?

Crystal O'Keefe: So, um, originally I had wanted to run this because I wanted to use this to transition from half marathon, which was the longest distance I had ever done to a full marathon. Um, that obviously because of everything else that happened, that changed too. Okay, let's just get through it.

Thenn, my goal became, I wanted to not only get through it, but I wanted to finish. In, in enough time. The cutoff was, was still like, 18.30 per mile. Um, and so, uh, we average like 17.37, like it wasn't that much faster. I, I would've liked to have done some more running throughout, but with the hills, the wind, and my feet hurting the way they did.

I never really, we did a few jogs, and they honestly, they made me run over the finish line. I did not want to, I was like, you people are insane. And they were like, no, it's gonna be a good picture. And I was like, fine. But it was like nails going into the bottom of my feet whenever I did it.

And, uh, although I was really happy to be done, so it felt really good just to be done. But, um, I would say that my goal just became, it was almost like this symbol of just like overcoming the healing process. Getting better. It is what it became, just, just surviving and trying to enjoy it even though it hurt, how it was so similar in some ways to like getting through the healing process that like you had to just keep putting one foot in front of the other even though it hurt. Um, and you know, you can feel sorry for yourself. There's nothing wrong with that. But at the same time, like, what's that going to do? You got to keep going.

And, and so it was, it was very like, A similar path, you know? Mm-hmm. Um, also, this surprised me. You, you asked about emotions earlier. Um, yes, yes. As I crossed the finish line, we high-fived all three of us, and then they each hugged me and they said, we're so glad you're alive. And I just started bawling, like, I have never been emotional at a race and I could not stop crying. Like it was just, it like released this thing in me that I was just like, I did that. That was really hard. And it wasn't just the race, it was the last three months. It all just kind of came out and uh, it felt really good just to be like, okay, that is behind me. You know, like, I did that.

Megan Omli: Oh, that's awesome. That's really great. That's cool. Yes. Good. Well, anything else? Well, actually I do have a question. What about since the race, how has recovery felt? What are you, what have you done to aid in that? Obviously you had some travel back home. Um, you know, have you worked again since?

Fill us in on, on what Post races look like.

Crystal O'Keefe: So we came home that Monday. Um, my blisters were so bad. That was rough because our connecting flight, we only had 40 minutes. And then our flight was 10 minutes late landing, which meant we only had 30 minutes to get from one end to the airport to the other.

So, totally got a wheelchair and uh, this very nice lady literally ran us. Through the airport. She was like sweating when she got there. I felt so bad for her, but she got us to our flight on time. That was very humbling. Uh, I was like, what have I done? I also reached out immediately to my physical therapist to talk about what had happened.
My knee was a little bit sore and we talked a lot about my blisters, why that had happened. Nobody else around me had these blisters and this is not the first time I've had an issue with blisters.

Megan Omli: And you were wearing shoes that you had been training in, I'd assume.

Crystal O'Keefe: Exactly. I had good socks. I had put the body glide on the bottom of my feet. I put it everywhere to make sure that I didn't have any issues and I still did so we talked about that. And, uh, on Friday I went in to meet with him.

So when I first started running, uh, you have to remember, I didn't start running until I was in my late thirties, and I've always had knee issues and I have a little bit of pronation. So, they put me in stability shoes and they also put me in stability, inserts not like custom ones, but the ones you can get for running.

So, I had all that in, and his theory is that my foot had nowhere to go, so basically the back of my foot, you know, it was like super stable and so it couldn't move with the shoe. And so then it was just moving against the shoe and all of the impact was hitting, right at the bottom of my toes.

And so, because of that, and because it was such a long race, and also let's not forget that I didn't get the amount of time out there on the road. Exactly that I would've prior to the if the accident hadn't occurred, so all of those things together he felt like was not good for me.

So, I'm going to be moving to zero drop shoes, uh, and we're going to try that and I'm going to be easing into them like 10 minutes at a time. And then also still in my longer run, still using the shoes I was using before, but not putting the inserts in and doing that longer and longer periods of time to help with my feet getting stronger because he was like, you might've needed that when you first started, but you definitely don't now. Your leg strength has changed. So, I know we always tell people, go get fitted. But I would also say, don't just do the same thing you've done for five years. Continue to get fitted once a year, like get updated because I did not do that aspect of it.

Megan Omli: Yeah. Interesting. That's great. That's a great reminder. Yeah. Yeah. Great reminder.

Crystal O'Keefe: Yeah. And I did my first post-race run today. Uh, so now I'm on a speed training program.
I did a 10 minute warmup run in my new shoes, and then I switched over and did 45 minutes in my other shoes without the inserts. And it felt great. Of course, I didn't do 13 miles, so, you know, 13 miles was fine. It was after that.

Megan Omli: Yeah absolutely. Absolutely. That's awesome. So now it sounds like you're, you're focused on getting faster and speed and on to the next.

Crystal O'Keefe: Exactly. I've gained about 10 pounds since my accident occurred too. So, it's time to get that off and that'll make me run a little bit faster, but also just getting fast again. I was starting to get faster before all this happened, and so I want to get back to where I was before that.

Megan Omli: Very cool. Very cool. Well, it sounds like you are on an amazing road to recovery.

Crystal O'Keefe: I feel very, very fortunate, to have this go very smoothly and I feel very lucky to that it has so.

Megan Omli: Absolutely. Well, anything else you want to share with our listeners?

Crystal O'Keefe: Just don't assume you can't do things even when you're scared of it.

To be perfectly frank, this morning I had a 60 minute run in front of me and I was kind of terrified. My feet hurt, and I didn't really want it to hurt again. So, put a bandaid on there and I was fully prepared that, “Hey, if this isn't feeling good, I'm gonna change gears. I'm gonna hop on the rower instead.”

But it did. And so, don't hold yourself back. At least try before you assume you can't do something.

Megan Omli: Yeah. Absolutely. Absolutely. I love that. Awesome. Well, thank you so much, Crystal. Really appreciate hearing your story. Fun for me and all of our listeners too.

Crystal O'Keefe: Well, I really appreciate the, the time and space to do it, so thank you very much.
Megan Omli: Absolutely. All right, listeners, well that is all for this week. You can find all of the MetPro Method episodes anywhere you get your podcast or at MetPro.co/podcast. Please be sure to follow the show and rate and review that lets other people know what they can expect from the show. You can learn more about the MetPro method at metpro.co.

I'm your host, Megan Omli and Crystal will be back with you and next week. Until then, remember, consistency is key.

Category: The MetPro Method

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