I had all but convinced myself last week that the pain in my right calf, which started the day after the Cottage Lake Tri, was just taper week jitters. Ah, taper week. When each ache is a stress fracture, a torn muscle, a shin splint, a PF horror, an IT band disaster; your nervous tummy is the start of the flu that is rampaging through your office; that rash is the sign of another bout of schistosomiasis that you contracted in Borneo– oh, wait– you’ve never actually been to Borneo. Nor have you been infected by parasitic worms. But it could happen–just days before The Race, your body could conspire against you, derailing your months of training, trading your blood and sweat for a puddle of tears.
So, I resigned myself to the inevitable taper week body reset. I iced, I stretched, I cut short a run. I swam, I iced, I massaged, I sacrificed small animals with cloven hooves at the altar of the goddess of running, Atalanta. I iced some more.
My alarm went off at 3:45 a.m. Saturday morning. The day of the Seattle Rock and Roll Marathon and Half Marathon had dawned. Or it would in about thirty minutes. I slipped out of bed and stood on my right leg. Why hello, Pain. Guess you’re coming along for this ride. My calf felt bruised deep down. I wondered if I’d massaged too hard. I’d actually burned my skin from all the icing. But no, I never considered not running.
That thought didn’t occur to me until around Mile 4. I was counting on the Mile 3 Settle-In, when the body is warm, the rhythm takes over, you stop THINKING about running and just DO the thing — the point at which your body says, “Thanks so much, Brain. I’ll take over from here. See you around Mile 11 when I’m tired – I’ll hand her back off to you then.”
Mile 3 Settle-In? Nope, didn’t happen. It was around Mile 4 that I felt something give way in my right leg, a minute crumpling, as if a small stitch had torn loose. Righty-ho. Nine more miles of this. I’m basically at the Point of No Return.
My Garmin showed me moving at a good clip. At a pace that could propel me to a 2 hr finish if I could keep it up and run a faster negative split. I truly wasn’t aiming for a 2 hr half — I’d given that up in April to spend 2 1/2 glorious weeks in France, where I had dumped my running shoes in a rubbish bin outside Montpellier. But suddenly it was possible. If it wasn’t for the white-hot needle of pain, I could do the unimaginable — a 2 hr half, or better.
Ah, the ego and the body, duking it out right there, inside my calf muscle.
It was a perfect day for a race. Overcast, cool, rain threatening, but nary a drop spilled from the sky. I was alone, one runner among 26,000, but I had started the day in the company of friends, with laughter and bananas, in long Porta-Potty lines. The first wave of runners was set to cross the start line at 7:00. I said my farewell around 6:40, to stand in line one last time for a rank-smelling toilet.
I spent 10 miles thinking about pain. Uphill stretches were a welcome relief but the downhill bits were agony. I analyzed my pain from every possible angle: “Am I doing lasting damage?” “Should I stop and stretch?” “This will probably work itself out, just need to get some endorphins cranking.” “If I fall over, will someone stop to help me?” “Should I have brought my cell phone so Brendan could come get me?” “Oh, wait, those last five steps, I think it’s gone… hey, nope, there it is.”
Mile 7. The road followed Lake Washington, past the green, manicured neighborhoods of Seward Park. Standing just off the road was a long line of men and women, each holding a large American flag and wearing a blue tee-shirt that read: wear blue: run to remember. They stood silently with flag raised to honor a soldier killed in combat. I first saw this group, along this same stretch, at the Seattle Marathon in the fall. And as at that race, I began to hyperventilate as I tried to keep my tears in check. I raised my hand to the sky to express my support, since I couldn’t breathe out to say “Thank you.” Many others from run blue were participating in the race. They are the wives and husbands, fathers, mothers, siblings, friends, and fellow soldiers of those lost in Afghanistan and Iraq. They came together in grief and found release through running.
My pain didn’t lessen after the emotional and heartbreaking Mile 7, but I stopped struggling against it. The adrenalin rush soothed my rawest nerves and I was past the critical halfway point. The rhythm of the mantra in my brain — “Dig Deep” — began to match my breathing.
Mile 9 held that dreadful stretch through the I-90 tunnel, when I lost the satellite feed on my Garmin. I tried to speed up, just to get through the claustrophobic cement enclosure (“What if an earthquake strikes RIGHT NOW?!”); it was like those dreams where you are running flat out, but going nowhere.
Then came Mile 10, when all aches in my body equalized into one mass of hurt, and suddenly my calf wasn’t such a nuisance. My Garmin found the satellite, caught up with my run, and showed me that a 2 hr Half was just beyond my reach. But I picked up my pace anyway, feeling that glorious rush of endorphins that comes with an end in sight. I ran on nothing but the steam of having already run 10 painful miles.
I crossed the finish line at 2:06:50. So close to a goal that wasn’t even my goal. But it sure as hell is now. Sub 2 hr, baby. Seattle Marathon, November 27, 2011.
And yeah, I hurt. It’s not injury-hurt. I went for a long bike ride yesterday and a swim today. Both felt so good — my body stretching, healing, moving through some different paces. I wouldn’t be able to do this if I had a real injury. But my calf is shouting at me, quite distinctly. It’s tired of running. I’m not. Not really. Wish I could get my gear together for an easy 5 in the morning. But I won’t. Not yet.
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