18 October 2014

The Maybe Marathon

At eight tomorrow morning I might be running a marathon. No, scratch that, I probably will be running a marathon. But it’s four in the afternoon the day before, and I’m still not sure. To most who’ve run a marathon, who know the training build-up, the inescapable anticipation leading to the starting gun, such a laissez-faire attitude might come across as, well, rather strange. Trust me, I’m not that far removed from reality, it’s rather strange to me, too.

This wasn’t the plan. The plan was improved training, improving health, readiness for a fall race. The plan was to better my seeding time for Boston 2015, and in the process, land a decent qualifier for Boston 2016. The plan was for a real marathon. Then along came last weekend.

I’m used to things hurting. I’m old, I run, that’s just the way it goes. But there’s hurting, and there’s hurting. And the circumstances under which that hurting arrives have a lot to do with how I, or anyone else for that matter, deal with said hurting. For the past few months, when people greet me and ask how I’m doing, my answer has been pretty straightforward, “Stuff hurts.” It’s not a complaint so much as an honest answer. I’m not going to tell you that all is rosy, when in reality, stuff hurts. But as I’ve written before, I’m not going to stop doing what I do just because of that.

But a week ago this morning, it was different. The lower right leg – the one that’s been on the edge of a calf / Achilles strain for weeks (no, not the left one, that Achilles is finally feeling mostly better; yes, the other one…it’s always something!) suddenly erupted in pain. Not the, “oh, I strained / pulled / ripped / otherwise abused it” pain, but hot, radiating, hugely aching pain, out of nowhere. And it did it while I was doing absolutely nothing. No, not running, not even walking, but instead it came while driving on a ten minute ride to meet the gang for our Saturday morning social run. Out of the blue.

I did what any red-blooded runner would do, and tried to run it off. After all, this wasn’t anything that felt like a running injury, nor was it anything that seemed to impede motion, other than due to its alarming pain. And it wasn’t anything that seemed to intensify – or abate – when confronted with some gentle jogging. Over the next couple days, in between hits of Vitamin I, it came and went, radiating backward into the calf, forward through the bone, upward, downward. Its very centrality – after all, what is in the center of your leg, but… lit the warning bulb on the dashboard of my brain, recalling last fall’s bout with the blood clots, Clot! Clot! Clot!

Boy crying wolf? Maybe. But if boy doesn’t cry wolf and it is, in fact, a wolf (sorry, I know wolves are unfairly characterized as evil when in reality, they’re glorious creatures), boy is in deep trouble. And the logic of the explaining the excruciating extremity was otherwise stumped. Muscle strain? Too strong a pain. Tear? Wrong kind of pain. Stress fracture? Coming on while doing nothing? Broken leg? I’d likely fall down. What’s left? Alien disease? Can’t be, no warning from Donald Trump. The word clot kept coming into the limelight, though unlike last year’s post-surgical adventure, I could conceive of no logical reason for another one to appear. Unless, God forbid, it was my fate to have become susceptible to them.

These are the thought processes that scare the willies out of us. Sometimes it’s better to stay ignorant. Fat, dumb, and happy. Of course, that probably translates to a much shorter life.

As it was, being a quasi-holiday, and being as my own Lady Doc wasn’t on call for the long weekend and I wasn’t thrilled with who was, it wasn’t till Tuesday that action became practical. Wait a minute, you say, you’re worried about a life-threatening condition and you waited till Tuesday? Well, it went away, sort of. Then came back, but went away again. And so on. It was highly worrying, but still in the leg, not near the lungs. And besides, I did call off the seventeen-mile trail run and summit climb I’d planned in the Whites with Dearest Daughter the Younger. Wasn’t that alone indicative of the severity here? (And wasn’t that alone an indication that the word ‘taper’ has a strange meaning in my vocabulary?)

On Tuesday, by which time it had largely vanished as fast as it had come on, a simple blood test confirmed it wasn’t a clot, and there was great rejoicing. But the mystery remains as to exactly what it was.

Back on the road on Thursday, I felt exactly how a forced three-and-a-half-day break typically makes me feel: stiff, clumsy, and out-of-sorts. It’s not how I like to spend taper week. And the same old strain in that same mysterious leg reappeared, but I know what that’s all about. So with only a few days of re-loosening-up under my belt, I’m looking at Bay State in the morning. But hey, at least I’m rested, right?

Beating my Boston time for a better qualifier is likely an impossibility. Scratch goal number one. But gaining a qualifying time, even if not a terribly strong one, for 2016? Even in my abused state, that likely isn’t too tall an order. Goal number two, still on the table…if nothing breaks en-route. And given how I’ve gotten here, that’s not a sure bet.

It’s a calculated risk. I’ll set the alarm clock and decide sometime before eight tomorrow morning.

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