BOSTON — Monday’s Boston Marathon wasn’t originally on Sarah Crouch’s 2016 racing schedule, but after suffering an injury setback last December while preparing for February’s U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon, the 120th running of the annual Patriots Day race didn’t seem like a bad backup plan.
“I made the call about eight weeks before the Trials that I was going to have to take a chunk of time off,” said Crouch, who had a badly strained hip flexor that eventually led to pain in her lower abdominals. “It was heartbreaking, but Boston is a hell of a consolation prize.”
The injury was Crouch’s first major one in 12 years of competitive running, but it helped open her eyes to the fact that training and competing at a high level is risky business and can’t be taken for granted. The age-old advice of listening to your body and balancing hard workouts with recovery are lessons that sometimes need to be learned the hard way. In Crouch’s case, she kept training through pain until one day—while on a run, no less—she realized that she needed to take a break and put her Trials plans on hold.
“I’m starting to realize I’m not 18 anymore,” the 26-year-old Crouch said with a laugh at Friday’s pre-race press conference. “I have this habit of treating my body like it’s invincible, and I know it’s not. Things that used to last for a couple days now last for a couple weeks.”
After taking some time off running and spending “thousands of dollars in tears on therapy,” Crouch was able to start training again in earnest earlier this year with an eye toward the starting line in Hopkinton. She tuned up at the NYC Half on March 20 in 1:16:36 but finished feeling a familiar pain in her hip, unsure of if she’d be able to compete in Boston. But after the Big Apple race, Crouch once again hit the therapy hard, made quick progress and got back to training.
“Monday’s going to be a test, but even if there’s some pain, I’m willing to deal with that,” said Crouch, who ran her marathon personal best of 2:32:44 at Chicago in 2014. “I’ve run a couple of major marathons, but Boston is different. Boston is special. There’s something about it, the history and the energy, that’s going to help me tremendously. I know that.”
Crouch, a one-time Boston resident who now lives and trains in Kentucky, where her husband Michael is a coach at Morehead State University, is coached by Pete Rea of ZAP Fitness in Blowing Rock, N.C., where she also lived for a brief period of time. She considers herself a true road racer and has no plans to compete on the track at this summer’s Olympic Trials in Eugene, Ore., so following the disappointment of not being able to compete for a spot on the Olympic marathon team in February, she put all her eggs in the Boston basket. She’s made no secret that finishing as the top American woman on Monday is her chief objective, and after overcoming injury and packing away a handful of 120-mile training weeks—20 miles per week less than she typically puts in during a marathon buildup—Crouch feels confident that she has what it takes to accomplish that goal.
“It really just kind of fit into place perfectly because this is a rare opportunity where I have a legitimate shot at being the top American,” Crouch said. “Which is odd because Neely [Spence Gracey] is sitting right next to me, but I hope she brings her best and I hope my best is better.
“We’ll see how it plays out on Monday but I believe that I’m ready to go.”