Between the excitement of racing events, these literary interludes tend toward reflective themes. It takes a while for an idea to gel in my head, then a while longer for sufficient time to appear to pen said treatise, and that’s before the motivation wildcard intervenes. The result is that what comes out baked is often not what popped into my head somewhere around mile eight sometime back.
This week’s topic was shaping up around the theme of confidence. Specifically , rebuilding confidence in preparation for the Big Boston Party now a scant three weeks away. About how ludicrous it is that building or rebuilding confidence should be needed, coming off what’s arguably been the best six months of racing in my life, but how, in light of the post-Stu’s slump I’ve been feeling, it is always an issue.
But it didn’t end up that way. Instead it’s about luck. Good fortune. Guardian angels.
At Stu’s, I hammered my time and largely achieved what I set out to do, but was forced to do it the hard way, having fatigued early in the race. By persevering to the end, I pulled that one out of the hat and walked away with a cozy sweatshirt award, but it quickly became clear that I’d also done a little damage. The subsequent weeks have been a bit rough, working through a hamstring pull and the malaise that results from general abuse. All of this made it pretty easy to wonder if I’d peaked too early and blown the timing for a banner Boston. Just to add to my worries, the mercury then proceeded well into the eighties – in March! – suggesting the prospect of a miserably hot Boston, and well, let’s just say that the leading indicators tended toward the bleak side.
But the good news is that my confidence is rising. After weeks of my compulsively checking daily, the BAA finally posted bib numbers and I was pleased to see a second-corral seeding (number 1520 for those planning to follow the fun), a mild lift. A full two weeks after Stu’s, I finally pegged a decent pace on a tempo run, another lift. A set of confidence-inspiring Yasso 800s later in the week helped again; though a struggle, I nailed my target pace through the whole set. And on Saturday, when my GBTC buddy Joe the Plumber came out to sample our local hills for our last long one before the big party, we intentionally held our pace back about twenty seconds per mile compared to the usual hammer-it-out, resulting in a twenty-four-miler that was probably the easiest, breeziest run of that distance I’ve had. Feeling good after nearly three hours out, a big lift. Just what the doctor ordered.
And (****) lucky I didn’t end up at the doctor, or far worse. This is where the story turns sharp left. Really sharp. Razor sharp.
Consider all of the things you have to do to prepare for Boston, or for anything for that matter. All of the training, mileage, speed, nutrition, hydration, even learning to dress for conditions and managing the logistics of getting to the starting line. There are a couple thousand things that can and often do go wrong. Staying healthy is frequently the toughest challenge, balancing training intensity against the limits of your body; add to that avoiding those around you oozing with viruses and certainly not forgetting to watch out for trucks large and small. There’s so much to think about that you’ll never cover it all perfectly. Especially the stuff that jumps out and gets you from left field.
Twenty-two miles into our twenty-four miler, cresting a hill I run frequently and know well, two strides ahead of Joe, and after absolutely ascertaining an absence of automotive apparatus, I turned back to warn him of a steep downhill pitch coming up. He’s nursing a recovering foot injury and needed to be excruciatingly careful about the pounding of the downhill. All set, he’s good, proceed– SMACK! Tree branch to the face, left side, upper cheek and eye.
That which will get you someday will likely come from where you least expect it. You guard against the dangers you expect. You can’t guard against those you didn’t even see coming. Of course one could say that trees are a danger you’d expect, and therefore guard against, but this was a busy narrow street which I run often, configured such that anything hanging over into the street is almost certainly to be clipped off by a truck within an hour. But not this one.
Painful? Significantly. Concern for my eye? Absolutely. But my contact lens was still there, as was my vision, so after a quarter mile of running hand-to-face, I forced a return to normalcy and we finished our odyssey. Only on stopping a couple miles later did Joe alert me to my new bloody make-up job. Hey, I told him, after coming home with the broken nose three years ago, this won’t shock my wife. Leave it to a runner, he joked to her later, to come home bloody and bruised. The pain subsided, and a shower later I had a hard time figuring out where all the blood had come from, seeing no wound larger than a dot. And that is where the word lucky comes into the story.
The next day I set out to return to the scene of the crime with the intent of breaking off said woody offender. It wasn’t hard to find. But what I found was somewhat shocking. It wasn’t just a branch. It was a hawthorn-like branch, only worse. If you’re not familiar with a hawthorn, it’s not what you’d call a user-friendly tree. Its branches are lined with two-inch razor-sharp thorns. This one sported weapons in the three-to-four inch class, spaced every six-to-eight inches. Just gripping the branch to try to break it away resulted in a several highly painful missteps.
This was the thing that had assaulted my face. The tiny dot-sized wound, less than a half-inch from my eyeball, now had a clearly identified source. The shudder I felt at what would have happened had I been a half-inch shorter, or in a slightly different stage of my stride, or given any tiny variation of the scenario, was nothing less than chilling. I doubt the best ophthalmologist would have offered good odds on repairing what those daggers could have done to my eyeball.
It’s easy to say I had the bad luck of running into the branch. That’s the half-empty view. I’ll take the half-full. I was lucky – damn lucky – to run away with my eyesight, as lousy as it is, intact. Somebody was watching over me.
If I can survive that, Boston should be a breeze.