Monday, April 28, 2008

Stubbornness Over Common Sense

SARS Returns? No just trying to hold back the cough.

There are days when you wake up and everything feels "right". You know it is going to be a good run, you feel comfortable, rested, and relaxed. Maybe even confident that today is perhaps your day for a PR. You've been resting well, your training has fine-tuned your mental and physical strength, you feel "on". For good measure, "the sun is shining and the weather is sweet, makes you want to move those (running) feet."

Well, most of those things didn't apply to me the morning of the Trail Dawgs Marathon in Delaware this past Saturday. No doubt, the weather was pretty sweet, but the rest of it pertaining to me was a mess. I was just coming off one my worst flu-like illnesses in years, complete with a febrile relapse that didn't abate until Friday morning. I was coughing... a lot. All was not particularly well I would say. And yet I was improving. Friday was a better day. Perhaps just good enough to convince myself that I could start the marathon and drop out after finishing half. That was the plan anyway, hastily made at that moment where I finally was able to get through a day without aching all over. On the positive side, I was well tapered, having only run once in the last ten days. My legs felt pretty good due to that.

Yes, there was no rational reason for me to run the Trail Dawgs marathon on Saturday. I should have stayed home and watched my son's soccer game instead. And yet, I am a long distance runner. I don't have common sense. Instead, there was this strong desire to go up to Delaware with Joel, Mike, and Michael and participate in our first official Rise Up Runners event. I knew the company would be great(it was) and the trails would be beautiful(they were). I also knew that there would not be another marathon for me to run in the near future and having a race to train for is what got me back in shape in the first place after years of drifting along without a regular routine.

And while I am not superstitious, there was this nagging concern that I was stalled indefinitely on marathon 13, which I ran five years ago, and I felt like I needed to move past that number somehow. So with all that in mind, I met the crew outside Valliant's house for the early morning departure in Keene's mothership. It was a decision that in retrospect I am very glad I made.

The trip up there went quickly, and we arrived in plenty of time to get situated. Keene's first of three races, the half marathon, started five minutes before the marathon start, and he mentioned that he'd probably see me catch up to him along the way. I knew there was no chance of this, even on a good day, but I did hope I'd catch a glimpse of him on one of his other races throughout the day. Joel set off down the first meadow to get photos of the marathoners and half marathoners as they were getting started. Mike V. and I saw him again at the half-way point of the marathon, coming back from photographing the creek crossing over three miles away. His race hadn't even started, and he'd already done some serious hiking.

And then, it was time to start the marathon. I lined up right with Mike V. just a foot or two behind the line. It seemed like there were about a hundred full marathon runners which makes for a pretty small marathon field. But add those together with the half marathoners on a mostly single track trail, and it was plenty of people to navigate around over the course. We started and quickly went across a field and down a hill and into the woods. I tried to hold back some, but I couldn't really judge my effort or speed partly because I was finally feeling a bit better and partly because I never can when I have all these other amped up runners taking off around me.

Mike and I ran briefly together for a mile or so, and then I got a little impatient behind some of the half marathoners and started passing them one by one on the side of the trail. This used up energy that clearly I did not have. I believe Mike was a little more polite than I was and probably waited until wider sections of the trail to pass. For that reason, I separated from him and didn't catch sight of him until 3/4 of the first loop was complete.

This was the first marathon I had done that was pretty much all trails. I have done some marathons with sections on trail or unpaved roads, but not all trail like this one, and the experience was moving. The course had a little bit of everything: meadows, hilly single track, wooded grass roads, stream crossings, friendly mountain bikers, mountain bikers with attitude, and fly fisherman. I decided early on that I wouldn't save anything for the second loop, because I doubted there was anything to save anyway. I think I was right on with this assumption because I pretty much had a slow fade the entire run starting from the opening meadow. I felt o.k. at the first stream crossing and enjoying splashing and jumping into the cool waters while others around me tiptoed timidly trying not to get very wet. I am sorry if splashed other people on this first crossing, but come on, this was the highlight of the race for me. Even Keene looked like he had fun plowing through the stream full force.

On the other side, the crowd thinned out a lot, and I ran a good part mostly alone. From that point on, I don't really think I passed anyone else, but was passed rather steadily by others. I was fortunate to strike up some nice conversations with other runners along the way. There was a guy Matt, who seemed pretty young, running four marathons or ultras in a row over a four week period. He seemed to be cruising along effortlessly. Somehow, I stuck it out with him for a good part of the back loop of the first half until the second stream crossing. Then, by some stroke of good luck, I saw Mike catching up to me. This was the highlight of my race, as I enjoyed hearing how he was making out, and it gave me a psychological boost knowing he was kicking along looking good. We staying together until just after the half marathon point, walking some of the bigger hills as we approached the end of the first loop. I was struggling, a lot, when we passed through the first loop and into the second, especially having to see the half marathon finish line right in front of us. Mike made the comment about how nice it would be to finish at a half marathon and feel good the rest of the day, and I muttered something back I don't recall that sort of echoed my theme here about stubbornness and along we plodded.

The second loop is a bit more hazy to me. I ran it mostly alone, and my body and mind were failing me but in a very slow and controlled way. Mike and I started off together, but he gradually pulled slightly ahead so I could barely keep him in sight by the time we arrived at the creek for the third crossing. The water felt wonderful on my sore legs, and by this time it was getting hot so the cool temperature was refreshing as well. On the other side, Mike stopped to fix the laces on his shoes. I shuffled along, afraid to stop, and mentioned that I'd see him when he caught up to me again. Unfortunately, I didn't see him until the finish. But I had my own race to run so I puttered along just trying to break the course into very small sections, and hoping to distract myself with thoughts of aid stations or perhaps a talkative runner or two.

I was getting a little lightheaded at this point, and I could feel my body starting to slow down more and more as I was running out of glycogen. I was trying to eat what I could, but I couldn't stomach too much. I did manage a Cliff bar on the first loop and two packets of these salty gummy sharks that I struggled to swallow. I was excited to find a pop tart piece at the next aid station and an uplifting volunteer to boot. He got me going again, but I quickly crashed on the next big uphill. I ran briefly with an ultrarunner who talked a bit and helped distract me, but he quickly took off after half a mile or so. The rest of the time, I pretty much ran alone. I had several more people pass me, but not nearly as many as I would have guessed. I was walking more and more at this point and not really caring. In a bright, hot meadow, I had a little bit of a visual aura, the kind I get before a migraine, when parts of my visual fields are replaced by zigzag lines. Somehow that didn't bother me since my body hurt so much and I was coughing so hard that a headache wouldn't be so bad at that point. The headache mercifully held off at that point, and my scotomata improved. I walked, then shuffled, walked then shuffled. Somehow I made it back across the final creek crossing to the last three miles of the course.

By the last hill on the second loop, I was hunched over, pushing my hands on my quads and limping along at a snail's pace. I had a few people pass me still, but not as many as I had expected given how slow I was scooting along. Certainly others were finding the heat and the course as challenging as I was. In the end, I stumbled across the finish line in 4:48 or so. It was one of my slowest finish times in a marathon, and it took most of what I had in me to finish. But boy was it nice to finish and to have kicked this illness once and for all. Never mind that my "sprint" (read- slow limping shuffle) to the finish induced a bronchospasmodic cough that lasted for about an hour or so. I had done it, and I knew I would be glad I did it over the next few days.

I caught up with Joel and Michael K. waiting for Mike V. to finish, and caught my breath, took a hit of my inhaler, and drank a few glasses of Coke. Ahh, thank goodness for the stubbornness of the long distance runner. Mike V. made it across the line shortly after I finished, and we all relaxed some, ate burgers and hot dogs, and shared stories about the day.

My cough was so bad I wore a mask home, partly to protect my fellow RUR friends, but more so to rebreathe more humidity to settle my bronchospasm. Thanks to Joel, Mike and Michael for a great race day. Hope we have many more to come!



Michael Valliant said...

The report of a doctor and a writer--with medical terminology thrown over narrative. Brilliant! So glad to see you roll up in the dark to make the race, then even better to run with you, lose sight of you, and have you finish a marathon you partly didn't expect to even show up to. A stellar performance as part of a great RUR day. Can't wait for the next one! I still think the convenience store robbery is a better explanation for the mask... ;)

Runners on Trails said...

Wow! What an awesome detailed report, Landy. Thanks for sharing your miseries and ultimate success of Saturday with us. One cannot look at times off that course and compare them to other races of similar distances.
Reading your recap triggers memories from my own races that day. Running full bore through the woods is a wild thing to do; something extrodinary and a bit liberating, as well. It reminds me of when I would ride a dirt bike on trails as a kid (couldn't get enough of it), or buzzing the creeks in my skiff, or racing through fog in the ocean for 24 hours in 20 knot winds. The focus is so strong, that I know I am passing things I should see. So, when you write about crawling up hills with your hand on your thighs, I feel your pain. It becomes such an internal struggle. With me, every tree in the forest could fall down around me, and I wouldn't notice or care when I'm in that state. Whoa, got carried away there.
Glad you're returning to good health. Thanks for the memory jog.