23 November 2008

Making Something Out of Nothingness

The days drift by like a blur. I’ve been locked in my leg armor for over three weeks. I always imagined that if I couldn’t run, I’d still be out there, helping at races, hanging out, whatever. But being unable to drive, I’m really out of it. If I don’t get a lift to it, or if it doesn’t come to be via email, I don’t know about it. In this state of Nothingness, I’ve been oddly silent for the last two weeks, which I can’t stand, so first a quick update, then I’ll make Something out of Nothing by presenting a marathon tale from a fellow running club member.

As for Mr. Big Toe, I swear I think I might have maybe possibly could it have been? slightly saw him move just a tiny weenie itsy bitsy bit the other night. Or maybe not. It’s hard to tell when he’s moving on his own volition or being dragged along by the peer pressure of his functional brethren. And I don’t want to try too hard, because if that beloved flexor illusive brevis tendon is really healing, I don’t want to screw that up. My date with Mack the Knife is less than two weeks out, so I’m still sticking to the program and hoping for the miraculous cure. If not, we’ll go into that clean, sterile operating room to sew this thing back together in what I’ve taken to calling the Immaculate Connection, an inside joke that’s only funny if you know that my parish is called Immaculate Conception. Yeah, I know, Catholic humor.

Other than the microscopic motion, the most notable event of the last couple weeks was the evening the guy at the next table in the restaurant fell off his chair and landed on my air-casted armored leg. Poor guy almost fell over again in angst, thinking he’d landed on a true cripple. Reality is he got the worse end of the deal. I really didn’t care, but it must hurt him plenty landing on this thing – it’s hard and lumpy! Oh, that and the wounded bat falling on me at church, but that had nothing to do with running, toes, or anything. It was just weird, like life in general lately.

But back to running. When I was training for Wineglass, I figured if it went well and I felt good, I might pop in a second late-fall marathon just for kicks and gins. My target would have been the Manchester City Marathon, as it’s late in the season, close by in New Hampshire, and as a bonus, it’s and hilly and challenging. Well, things didn’t turn out that way for me, but fellow club member Jeff Downin did run Manchester. His is a great story of the Manic Marathoner in all of us, how our mood can gyrate so much within one race, yet no matter our misery, at the finish line we’re looking for more. Here’s his story, and he’s stickin’ to it:

Before Manchester, I had run three marathons and I had completed 29 miles of a 50K. I’d run marathons in 4:40, 4:20, and 4:00, and I was sure that my training had me set both physically and mentally to run 3:40. Running 3:40 was a nice goal, but I was going to be happy with any time, as long as I finished without injury.

We started near the river in downtown Manchester. The course ran downhill for about a mile then started a steady climb for the next four. Mile 5 began a series of hills, and I had to work much harder than planned to maintain my pace. This was going to be a real challenge and it was only mile 5! I had no real trouble keeping pace, but I did not want to spend too much energy because I knew I would deplete my tank in a hurry at this effort level. It was this mile that broke my spirit for the first time. I knew that I would never run my goal of 3:43 if I was already working this hard.

Mile six was quite nice, with about 1/3 mile on a wooded trail through a forest, by a pond, peaceful and invigorating. But after we left the forest, we started right back uphill again, culminating at the top of Derryfield Park, a ski slope with which I was familiar as it is the site of the annual New Hampshire State Cross Country Championships. I’ve been to many races at this park, watching my brother race in high school. It was a nice boost because I knew that it was all downhill from there to the river. I regained my spirit and charged on through, reenergized, hitting the ½ way point in 1:48:30.

We crossed the river before the 14 mile mark and started a long trudge up hill to St. Anselm College. The most aggressive climb was the 19th mile, which was my first mile slower than 9:00. It was a real killer. For the second time my spirit was broken. When I reached the water stop at mile 19 I took a nice slow drink, a short walk, and tried to regain my composure. I recalled that the course was downhill from their – how could it keep going up? – but I was a little foggy on the elevation drawing after almost 3 hours of running. We ran through the college, passing the 20 mile mark. I did OK through the mostly flat campus, but we immediately charged up another hill when we exited the college. I hit mile 21 in 9:47, only my second mile over 9:00, but I was content as I knew I had a little time in the bank. I knew that I was not going to maintain the quick pace I’d set through the early part of the course. And, from my hazy recollection of the elevation drawing, I was certain it was virtually all downhill from here - again, how could it possibly go up any more?

At the 21 mile water stop I took in the moment. I knew that I was in a special place. Only five miles to the finish. I was sore and tired, but encouraged in knowing that the hardest parts of the course were behind me. My watch read 2:59:55. I stood still, waited for the milestone time to show on my watch, and did a quick calculation: 5.2 miles in 43 minutes. “That is pretty fast…5 miles in 45 minutes is 9:00 per mile. I should be able to do it, but, it is going to be some serious work. If it is going to happen, it needs to start now.” I regained my spirit for the second time. My watched looked at me with all of the zeroes that can fit on the screen: 3:00:00.0. I was off!

I stuck with another runner who was moving along at a pretty good clip, working hard. We crested a small hill, only to see what looked like a street luge course in front of us – a VERY steep downhill that went on as far as we could see. My new compatriot and I actually stopped in our tracks and looked, slack-jawed, at what we were about to do. I think I actually said out loud, “Are you kidding me?” A quick glance around showed other runners doing the same thing. Oh well, I knew this was going to hurt, but I had no choice, and I was trying to make time. WOW, that hill hurt!

I was happy with my progress through mile 22, but when my watch chimed the passing of the mile I glanced down to see 10:12. I was tired. I was sore. I had hamstring pain from the hill climbing. I was developing some serious quadriceps pain from the overly anxious downhills. And I’d just pushed through what I thought was a fast mile, only to have it click over in 10:12. For the third time of the day, my spirit was broken.

I started walking anything that was too steep, either up or down. I had pain on my left quad. My hamstrings were burning. I did my best to power through, jogging when I could, walking when I had to, just to finish without injury – the only thing on my mind. Some of the downhills that followed were just as mean. I was cursing the race director and the course designer.

Finally, we crossed the river on a nice footbridge. We ran by the baseball park, then looped around downtown to line up for the finish. I could see the 26 mile mark when I spotted someone I knew. I yelled several times and finally he saw me. We embraced quickly. Those couple moments with him, a familiar face, were all I needed. With 1/3 mile to go, my spirit was lifted again and I sailed toward the finish line, smiling and waving to anyone who was looking. It was a very powerful 300 meters, emotionally.

I crossed the finish line of a marathon for the fourth time in my life in 3:59:33. It was the most challenging course I had run. But I was already plotting my fifth marathon before I left the finish line area.

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