Thursday, December 4, 2014

Out On A Limb

"Don’t be too timid and squeamish about your actions. All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better." ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
On November 23rd my seven week experiment ended on the streets of Philly, and so now comes some much needed self-reflection and self-assessment. Did I journey to some place interesting? I don't know. Did I shimmy a bit farther out on the limb, reaching for the fruit - maybe, a bit. Right now, it feels like I may have crawled out a bit too far, cracking the branch, threatening to send me crashing to the ground.
"Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant." ~  Robert Louis Stevenson
What may be risky for one person may be just be the same-old-same-old for someone else. And what may be risky for you now, may not be so risky in the future if you test those uncharted waters. We do learn about ourselves when we take risks and do something a little scary, maybe even a lot scary. After my little personal (since this is always personal) experiment, I'm left assessing the outcome.

Did I get my fingers around that coveted piece of fruit? And what fruit was I really reaching for? As it turns out, I might have grasped a piece of fruit I could not see until I crawled out on that branch...

Oct. 4th: St. George Marathon - 3:46:36  Masters PR and a solid BQ - But, not what I was aiming for.
Oct. 18th: Des Plaines River Trail 50 miler - 9:15  2nd AG
Nov. 23rd: Philadelphia Marathon... ?

Five days after running Des Plaines I was hit with a flu that just would not quit. I have not been sick at all in a couple years, so I tried to deny that this was happening. But the painful, lung searing, hacking continued for the entire time leading up to Philly. "Eh" I told myself. "Who cares. This one is just for fun. I've done my races. My season could be done now." And that's true. I had a good run at Des Plaines, which really is one of the high points of my running year. I may not have run brilliantly and it wasn't easy, but I did something that I didn't know I could do, and that mattered more than I expected it to matter. St. George went pretty well, and I can't complain too much, but I want to because I had higher hopes for that one, even if I did manage to salvage it and come away with a decent race. Still...it wasn't quite what I wanted - the weather and my body did not entirely cooperate with my intentions.

And that thorn of desire sticks in my mind as I fly off to run Philly...

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Saturday: I get to Philly late in the afternoon, driving from NJ with Dawn and Christine...check-in to the hotel. Get to the expo. In and out fast...Walk to the hotel alone, in the dark, through a gentle drizzle. I try to settle in. My roommate is out with her running club for dinner so I have some much needed quiet time. I eat my rice, tofu, veggies - Bonus: There's a microwave. It feels almost decadent to eat hot food. I watch totally lame TV. I chat with Sandra on FB. She asks me what my plan is. I don't want to worry her if things go all off the rails so I try to be noncommittal while giving her some glimpse into what I may be thinking. And, I think about why I'm here, in this Holiday Inn, 18 floors up, in Philadelphia, 1600 miles from home.

I think about why I'm here.

Why AM I here? Well, I signed up, for one thing. And that's pretty much why I'm here. I've wanted to run Philly, though truth be told I was on the rebound when I registered, freshly rejected by NY even though I was in the time qualifying lottery. I felt burned then. A lover scorned. So. Screw you NYRR. I'm gonna run Philly. I was one of the first 1000 to register and got the sweet deal. But now...now...now...why am I really here.

Could I somehow pull a rabbit out of the hat and do here what I wanted to do in St. George? The weather is looking pretty perfect. The course is fairly fast. Will my lungs and sinuses cooperate? Are my legs and heart recovered from the 50 miler? So many questions. Who knows how they will respond to something new. And so, I chew over my options and my food, and I ponder...

...What risks am I willing to take?

The next morning we have about 1.4 miles to walk through the dark to the start corrals. As we make our way through the bustling pre-marathon city, all I'm really thinking about is checking into my Southwest flight at exactly 6:05 a.m. We get to the start area and the porto-potty lines are epic. Now. I've run a few big city marathons: NYC, Chicago x 2, Boston x 2, and I have NEVER seen such long lines. I move farther along. I find some with slightly shorter lines but they are moving at a glacial pace. I still have to drop my gear at the UPS trucks. I haven't found any water, anywhere (damn I should have brought some) so I slowly suck on my pre-race gel hoping some saliva will help with digestion. This is not going well. I wait and wait and wait. I suck on my gel. A guys asks if I have another. Nope. I have one for mile 13 and I sorta need that. So I give him a bar from my gear bag. I have about 5 minutes to check my bag and get to my corral. Runners are starting to get aggressive about the potties, and as I jump into one I get bellowing at with "Hey Hey Hey"s from a line of runners who need to learn about sharing...and being nice...and taking turns! Blech. This isn't starting out well.

And then I run to the UPS trucks, drop my bag and trot off to the corrals. I enter into the 'Black' corral just ahead of mine and make my way back. I see bibs from corrals way way farther back. Hmmmm. Ok. I get into my corral: green. (Later I will note that I should have stayed in Black!).

The national Anthem is sung and the gun fires. The first corrals are off.

Standing in the corral I cast my eyes around looking for any familiar faces. I know they're out there, but I can't see them. I stand there wondering what exactly I'm feeling. Ennui, maybe? Apprehension? Nothingness? I don't know really. I have my splits written in sharpie on my arm, as always, and they are for the risky option. We walk to the mat. Go...

The first 8 miles is a congested cluster of runners running all different paces. Both the marathon and half marathon go off together and stay together until the 13 mile point. The narrow city roads, a super twisty course and the crowds of runners running all sorts of paces, make for a tedious challenge. Mile one: a woman goes down to the pavement hard in front of me. I jump around her almost going down myself. She bounces right back up and runs, seemingly unscathed. The roads are full of pot-holes and wavy asphalt like I've never seen before. Add to this the fact that aid stations at this point are only on one side of the road and you get a total cluster F#$k.  People are running in large groups across the entire road. I jump up on the sidewalk repeatedly to get around runners.

But, I'm doing what I can do. After the half splits off and away I breathe a little sigh of relief as the marathoners set off past the Art museum down toward the Schuylkill River. I'm running along, taking stock of how I'm feeling, and suddenly feel two hands grab both shoulders. Then a foot catches my right foot on the side throwing me off balance. I turn around wondering if it's someone I know. A man, towering over me, peers down at me. All I see is his red shirt and hat. I do not know him.

"What the F&%K!!!" I yell at him. 
"You cut me off!" He yells down at me in return.
"I did NOT! I'm running in a straight line!"
And then he drops back. I run on. 
Another man runs over to me. "Are you okay?" 
I'm fighting back the tears welling up in my throat. "Yes. I'm just a little upset. That sucked." 
"I saw the whole thing. What a jerk." 
We then start chatting about how this race sort of sucks. We talk about Chicago. NYCM. Boston. I really just want to stop at this point. I'm so bloody done with the whole thing. But I press on.  I'm still about on pace for my 'A' goal and I feel pretty okay. Not great, but okay.

Then the shit hits the fan. At some point, somewhere in mile 16, something weird begins to happen to my right leg. At first I wonder if it's from being stepped on by the red-shirted-menace a couple miles earlier. Then I wonder if I'm bonking - it's been so long since I've bonked that I can't really remember what it feels like - but it's only happening in part of one leg. The rest of me feels fine. As I run on, the side of my knee starts to tighten up - importantly, my right side is my 'good' side. I have had NO issues with my right side in years!!! Aaarrgggg. The tightness starts spreading down to my ankle and up to my hip. My leg feels like a cement peg-leg with a giant charley-horse overtaking one side of it. I can't really use it. I throw it forward, ahead of me, and push over it like a crutch. It hurts so much with every step and I know if this continues this will be my first DNF ever - and how the hell does one get back to the start when they drop? Because we are basically running an out and back for the whole second half of the race, we are always running against the traffic, so to speak. Sections of the road are highly cambered and I begin wondering if that's it. I try to move to the middle of the road, weaving in and out of the cones, in an attempt to find more level ground.

My pace drops by 45 seconds per mile for miles 17 and 18. I see Esther as we do a short off-shoot out and back. She looks strong. I am happy about that. I've been looking for her since the start. At least I know where she is. By mile 19 I'm still sort of running, and the tightness hasn't gotten worse, but it's holding steady. I know I'm running strangely because I can feel my big toe slamming against the front of my shoe. This has never ever happened before. Shortly after the last turnaround, I see Esther again. "Catch up with me." I call out as we high-five each other.

And so goes the rest of the race. It is a painful push with all I have. Each mile I take as it comes. My pace picks up again out of the shear will to get this the hell over with. But I just can't seem to get back to where I was before the wheels came off - and I am giving it everything, everything, I have. 

I cross the mat in 3:49:13.

I turn back to look for Esther. I see her coming down the hill for the finish. She crosses. She has a new 20 minute PR and a 10+ minute BQ. She is glowing. I hug her and congratulate her. 

All I want now is a beer. Maybe three. Esther has me covered! :) 

And then I make my way back to NJ that afternoon...Up at 3 a.m. the next morning to fly back to Colorado via Chicago. I am bleary, screaming tired. I'm a wreck.

And...I'm a little depressed...and relieved. 

I'm depressed because Philly didn't go so well. I'm bummed that I didn't really like the race. I have rarely not liked a race. Is it me or the race? I think it's me. I'm pretty dang sure that it's me. I'm relieved that I'm done with this little experiment. I'm relieved that I didn't do half bad with any of it. But I'm depressed because: A) It ended on a sourish note, and B) One of my main desires remained out of reach. I always tell runners that we tend to focus on the negative and forget, or downplay the positive. I am guilty of that now. 

I accomplished a lot, for ME, in seven weeks even when dealing with illness and exhaustion: physical, mental, emotional. This was a very personal journey and I succeeded. I decided to do something and I did it. So, now I think about it all and pick it apart - and ask, why do I feel it ended badly? Answer: Because Philly really sucked. Why did Philly suck? Answer: Because I didn't run the time I wanted and it hurt a whole hell of a lot. Okay. Well. What were you willing to RISK when you wrote those splits on your arm before bed Saturday night? Answer: Oh. Now you're going to call me on this??? Not fair. (Stomps feet)

Well, I guess I was willing to risk having the whole thing blow up in my face. It would have been much safer to just run Philly nice and easy, take in the city, have a pleasant romp on a beautiful day. But that's NOT what I decided to do. I decided to take a risk and try to run. So, 'them's the breaks', as my dad always used to say. I risked failing. I failed. So what? What I didn't fail at was taking the risk. It would have been easier to say; Look. You've been sick for 4 weeks straight. You are tired from a marathon and a 50 miler - just have fun for cricky sake. But the fact is, I made my decision - and that decision was: See how you feel. Have the splits you want. Go for it. And if it all goes to hell, well, then deal. And that's exactly what I did.

And now there are new seeds planted, asleep beneath the soil of my spirit, just waiting to reach forth, up into the sunlight...
"If we listened to our intellect, we’d never have a love affair. We’d never have a friendship. We’d never go into business because we’d be too cynical. Well, that’s nonsense. You’ve got to jump off cliffs all the time and build your wings on the way down." ~ Annie Dillard

1 comment:

  1. The Steamboat Marathon in 2013 was a nightmare for me Caolan. I ran a half PR at the half, but the wheels came off soon later in the most painful way. I have good reason to hate that course. Any downhill course really on pavement. But I can't hate Steamboat. Those first 13 miles were the most beautiful I've ever run. Through mountain hamlets. Past countless one room school houses. What I hate is how I ran. I've stopped blaming the course.

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