This piece from Cait Chock is a fascinating study of an elite athlete fighting her way back from injuries. Cally Macumber finds herself fit and ready to race for Outdoor season 2017, a first in several years.
We learn from Cally Macumber, but we also identify with her as she cross trains to rebuild her body and make her dream a reality.
Cait Chock has written for RunBlogRun for several years, and we always appreciate her approach to telling the athletes's story.
Cally Macumber: Injury-Free and Soaring a Mile High
By: Cait Chock
Cally Macumber graduated from the University of Kentucky and excitedly signed a professional contract to run with the Hansons-Brooks ODP team, then promptly got injured and spent six months trying to get healthy. When most would have thrown themselves a pity party, Macumber put on her big girl pants, spent countless hours cross training, and was in a committed relationship with her physical therapy routine.
"It was quite the long, tedious process to overcome those niggling injuries," explains Macumber. "After leaving college injured, it took over six months before I felt ready to start training again. But, Macumber had worked her butt off to earn her dream, and she wasn't going to let her first major injury derail it. Six months later, she was healthy enough to run...then it was time to get back into racing shape. She and her coach targeted the Falmouth Road Race as her first official race as a professional athlete, an event that comes with a unique feeling of excited pressure for every newly turned pro.
Macumber's situation came with that excited pressure exponentially quantified. "My very first professional race was a 7-miler through the coastal town of Falmouth, Massachusetts in August of 2015. I was pretty nervous! It was my first pro competition post injury, the longest distance I had ever raced, and the most competitive field I had ever been entered in." Her ability to light-heartedly joke that she contemplated diving into the ocean throughout the race, proves she's able to keep perspective and run her own race instead of getting swept up in someone else's. Everyone needs a starting point.
With the heart and tenacity of a fighter, Macumber gutted out that 7-miler and came into the USA Club Cross Country Championships that December finally feeling herself and ready to compete at the level she'd grown accustomed to. She did exactly that, "After all the injury and doubt, it was the best feeling to come across the line as one of the women who would represent Team USA. The rough moments TRULY make you value the good ones, as they are not always promised."
Flash-forward to 2017 and Macumber has continued to make World Teams. She opened 2017 representing Team USA at the Great Edinburgh Cross Country Challenge on January 7th and is looking confidently at the year ahead, now in the best shape of her life.
For the first time in her career she's spending time up at altitude before gearing up for the outdoor track season. Training in Boulder, Colorado, along with her best friends Hiruni Wijayaratne and Luis Orta, she's also connected with Brad Hudson's team of elite distance runners, The Hudson Elite, and has no shortage of training partners keeping her company on the track and on the trails. "Brad and his group are so great and welcoming."
Macumber is thoroughly enjoying getting to see and experience the new training locale, and while her lungs may not have such a glowing review of Boulder, the runner quips, "I expect to have lungs of steel once I return to sea level."
The Macumber of today, effortlessly blitzing around the track, knocking out 10x600's at an altitude of 5,430ft, would have looked a dream to the Macumber of 2014. Visions of the Macumber of today, once only a dream, is what helped keep her younger self motivated on the elliptical machine and relentlessly tied to the physical therapy office. She forced herself to be patient, the bane of every distance runner, held firm to her trust in the process, and the trust in herself and her own abilities. Going through a prolonged injury is grueling more for the mind than the body, often a separating factor between those who give up and those who overcome to achieve greatness.
Macumber's proven she's of the latter, and the lessons she's taken away having gone through such an ordeal are invaluable. "I would tell any collegiate athlete, or any athlete in general, to listen to their body, speak up if something doesn't feel right, and to shut down running if the injury persists, regardless of what important race is lined up on the schedule. Three days off now may save you weeks or months down the line. Compensation will only lead to more problems... and there will always be other races to look forward to."
The same long-term approach is key to coming back into fitness once you're given the green light to run. "Be patient, don't force fitness, and trust the process. You'll get back to your old form, it will just take some time. Word on the street: rushing things never works out long term. In addition, no matter how much you're dreading physical therapy, stay dedicated to it. Get rid of those injuries...AND make sure they don't come back. Value pre-hab, not rehab!" Macumber also credits the amazing support of her coaches and team as being incredible in helping keep her spirits up through everything.
Invariably, listening to your body, REALLY listening, is a hard lesson all elites eventually have to learn. Macumber did luck out, only so far in that she literally learned that lesson first.
Since then, Macumber's also learned the extra accountability that comes with taking her career to the next level. "In college, you live under the umbrella of collegiate athletics. Your schedule is regimented from the start of the day to the end. As a pro, you have to hold yourself accountable and keep yourself motivated. There may not be anyone to force you to the gym or to do that extra set of strides and/or drills after a hard run...you have to want it!"
She wants it. She puts in the extra time with drills, core work, and weights, and still makes sure to hit that pre-hab. When it comes to race day, Macumber admits sometimes it is a little daunting lining up alongside so many talented women, highly decorated, and record holders among them. But in those times, Macumber stresses it's important to just not "overthink" things and instead, "hang tough, believe in yourself, and believe in what you're doing."
There is no hint of intimidation when you see Macumber step to the line, even at an International event. She is, after all, still living her dream so she reminds herself to never lose that perspective and savor all of these experiences.
While away in Boulder now, typically Macumber's day starts with morning practice at homebase in Michigan. Then it's back to the house she shares with one of her Hansons-Brooks training partners. After the usual eggs and bacon..."mostly bacon," Macumber laughs, she goes into recovery mode which includes ample napping, constant eating, Netflixing, and hanging out with her friends and family. Depending on the day, she'll head to Lifetime Fitness for some core work or another run. The Hansons-Brooks team works on a 9-day training cycle to ensure enough recovery between their two hard workouts and long run.
Macumber has surprised herself in the distances and workouts she's now able to cover, "This program is actually responsible for my longest workout ever: a 3 by 3 mile cut-down." She also finds a progressive long run is at once her least favorite and favorite workout, in that it garners her the most confidence once it's done. "A cut-down long run does a great job of forcing me to push my body longer than I feel possible, leaving me feeling super accomplished post effort!"
When not running while in Boulder, Macumber has been having a blast exploring all the shops and eateries along Pearl Street, noting Cold Stone Creamery as a top favorite, and she jumped at the opportunity to get involved in the shoe drive the Hudson Elite are hosting.
The shoes, which will be donated to young Venezuelan athletes, is a cause that hit Macumber on a more personal level, "I was fortunate enough to compete in the country last year and witnessed first-hand the happiness a pair of shoes can bring to a child living there. Sadly, Venezuela is suffering in an economic crisis with even basic necessities being rationed." You can donate to the cause and read more about the special shoe-drive program Macumber and the Hudson Elite are spear-heading HERE.
Proving she's heartfelt as well as fast, Macumber's eyes are shifted on her promising future to come. Perhaps one of the most exciting opportunities and landmarks to date: Macumber is coming into her first injury-free track season in over three years and her first as a professional athlete! "My biggest goal is simply to get in consistent training and run some PR's on the track this spring." She'll open her season at the Mt. Sac Relays, entered in the 5,000m event. Looking beyond that, having already experienced the remarkable feeling of traveling and racing as part of a Team USA National athlete, and the honor that comes with that, Macumber seeks to continue being a regular on that roster.
Macumber of today is healthy, happy, and lighting the American Distance running scene on fire. Ever more prestigious considering that, at current, the depth and capabilities of said scene are pushing new boundaries and reaching new heights. Macumber is a part of those breaking down barriers, is still young, but undaunted. And, refreshingly modest as she states she's just, "taking things one day at a time!"
Caitlin Chock (caitchock.com) set the then National High School 5k Record (15:52.88) in 2004 and previously ran for Nike. A freelance writer, artist, and comedian, you can see more of her work on her website, Instagram @caitchock, and Twitter @caitlinchock.