Monday, May 16, 2011

Marathon: To Run, To Blow

I thought determination was needed to finish a marathon but maybe not. Maybe just one snotty, ignorant, live-in-the-moment step after another is enough. It worked this time.

Building then Breaking
I laughed a little hysterically on the phone to Jim. "Could you give me the phone number for the clinic, honey?" It was the evening before the marathon. Train and dream, but unplanned stuff happens.

Sue and me before the race.
The marathon decision was made in the dullness and longing of January: a May event. Beautiful. Satisfying. And fun to travel and run with a friend. Snow, ice, darkness be damned, let the training begin.

January through March, I crunched along on ice and salt in YakTrax, tracked through melting muck, vaselined face against wind. Built miles. Then a one-two-three punch.

April long runs: a hip injury during a 16-miler was topped by a 10-day, nasty-ass headcold. This was a setback; I iced, I rested, I biked alongside my training partner for the next two long runs. We were a month from race day and thoughts of changing to the half-marathon started sneaking in.

Then another punch in the planning: six days before the race a second headcold filled my ear canals, stuffed my sinuses, left me dizzy and apathetic. I don't care, I just don't care. Marathon, shmarathon, whatever. Sniff. My congested ears couldn't hear the beeps of my Garmin, but I packed as if I was actually gonna do a marathon. As if.

Sigh heavily here. The day before the race: a urinary tract infection. I was beyond caring. Phone calls from me at the motel to husband, clinic, doctor-on-call produced a prescription from a nearby pharmacy. (Don't get me started on my phobia of taking medication, that's a story of its own.) In my mind it was decided: I was there to enjoy what I could, see pretty gear, admire the crowd, view Green Bay's Lambeau Field. I wasn't there to run a marathon.
The view from the hotel on race morning: windy.

Blow Me Away
It was race day. I was in the bathroom when the apocalyptic radio alarm slammed Sue awake. The howls of the wind had already woken me. That and the force of my bladder (all that water I'd been drinking, ya know). Gusts to 40 miles per hour. But, throw a dog a bone, the sun was peaking through clouds and the predicted rain would miss us.

Sue, my training buddy and race companion, had a good training season. No injuries, good energy. She had been hit with a three-week chest cold but was almost recovered. I knew she would finish this, her first marathon. I blew my nose and drank more water. I was there. I would run as needed.

Double-business Bound
The marathon and half-marathon routes were the same for the first 11.5 miles. This comforted me, I had an out. I would run what I could. I didn't have to make the decision about distance until mile 11.5. It was sort of a "marathon to be or not to be." So, like Hamlet, I put off the question. We ran.

Mile 1: Shuffle, bump, walk. Eight thousand runners. Eight minutes to get to the starting line.
Mile 3: Shin splints!? No way. Aw nuts. I'll never even get five miles.
Mile 5: I feel fine, loose, well. Nice girls from Milwaukee. Cute shirt. Glad I'm wearing these soft gloves, good for blowing my nose into.
Mile 7: I could run all day like this.
Mile 9: Wow, hip's good. This must be the right pace group. I'll finish the half without hurting myself. It would be REALLY smart to quit at 13, right? Smart to not attempt 26.2--'cause there's just no way. I'll decide later.
Mile 11.5: What? I have to DECIDE now?

Marathon or half, marathon or half-- to be or NOT?
A stretch at mile 22.
I could be done in 15 minutes. Or in 2.5 hours. What to do. Will I re-injure that hip and be whacked for weeks? Do I have the stamina despite undertraining, headcold, and UTI? Will I regret stopping--or regret continuing? How could I abandon Sue? What about living NOW, for the moment?

My brain wasn't willing to decide. My legs--on their own--moved me to the right lane, the marathon lane. I was turning away from the half-mary route and toward the full. Two roads had diverged; I took the one that said "26.2."

Mile 14: Stupid, stupid me: wrong choice. My piriformis aches, sciatic nerve, pain to my knee. Stupid me. Turn back, turn back. Do the math. If I turn back now I'll be done in a couple miles. Dig the thumbs into the pain and hope for myofascia release. Keep running.
Mile 15: Can I run 11 miles with my knuckles pressed into my left glute like this? It helps. Try Icy-hot? (Medication phobia be damned.) Let's stretch. Come on, piriformis, relax. I love you, piriformis, feel the love, baby--it's just 11 more miles.
After the marathon, the wind still blasted,
but it couldn't take away my medal!
Mile 16: Is this a tornado or what? Where'd Sue's hat go? Everyone's walking. This headwind. It's faster to walk than run. Butt's better walking. Not too bad. I can walk, I'm good. Ten miles.
Mile 20: Wind. Continuous. Wind to knock the snot out of you. Wind to tie your legs in knots. (Really nice volunteers.) Icy hot. Stretch, walk. Farmer blow, not into the wind.
Mile 22: The route turns. Finally and truly the wind is at our backs. Hip not too bad: stretch, walk, run.
Mile 26: A green, windless lap inside Lambeau Field. Big cameras, enthusiastic cheers, no shame in walking.
Mile 26.2: Finish. We both finish.

The Day After
I'm fine today aside from this headcold; the UTI is well under control. I slept soundly and long. I'm a little stiff, but no pain, no injury, no regret. Lots of disbelief that I finished the full marathon. Maybe it was for friendship, or the t-shirt, or the medal-- the full marathon medal is definitely bigger than the half.

Or maybe it was just being present, knowing it could get better or it could get worse, but that now, in the moment, I was going on.

Friday, May 13, 2011

I'm a Wind Goddess

Remember in Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy how there was this semi-truck driver who attracted rain? He was a rain god and didn't know it. When he was close to home his wife would always bring in the laundry. I've concluded that I'm an athletic event wind goddess; the wind just loves me.

Let me convince you.

Last August, remember that one weekend of tornado warnings and thunderstorms? I was at the Centurion bike ride in Middleton. We sat in an airplane hangar for hours letting the most dangerous blackness blow over. Then we rode in the
rain--and wind.

In September I was in Chicago, for the Big Shoulders 5k lake swim. Sure, you'd expect it to be coolish and breezy. But two-and-a-half foot waves, rain, and--yes--wind? I guess it was real nice the year before.

So October brought another bike ride, this one Tyranena Oktoberfest in Lake Mills. Colorful leaves and bright autumn sun - nope. Sixty-five miles of chill, splattering rain, and wind that made the hair on my legs stand up and lie down.

Coincidence, you say. Do enough events and anyone can rattle off a windy list of bad experiences, you argue? Yes, I did a few other events - there was that Turkey Trot in the cold rain, and a 5k in December in 6 inches of new snow. (I won't count the adventure race in November where the weather was gorgeous but I was just too confused and lost to appreciate it.)

Now it's a new season and the charm hasn't worn off.

Last month was to have my first event of the year: the Vet-Fest half-marathon in Reedsburg. Well, 2011 was the year we skipped spring so I skipped the run. Temps in the 30s, rain, heavy clouds, and 20-mile-an-hour winds.

Now we come to it: Sunday is marathon day. Green Bay. Forecast: temps in the 40s, rain, 20- to 30-mph winds. Am thinking of taking up wind surfing.