May 3, 2009

How to break your own heart

Alright, let’s get this over with. Flying Pig Marathon 2009 report...

Woke up at 3AM, no problem. Slept surprisingly well. Came downstairs, had breakfast & coffee. Got ready, left the house at 4:30AM. Downtown at 5AM, head to my office where I finalize my preparation. I feel absolutely great. I’m ready. At 5:45AM, we leave to walk down to the start. Arrive at 6:00. Slightest of drizzles, but nothing to concern myself over. Hang out, get loose, listen to the announcements, talk through my strategy one last time. I find that I’m not overly amped up, which I’m pleased about. I’ve historically had a tendency to start too quickly. I don’t feel like I’ll make that same mistake today.

The gun goes, and so do we. First mile is quite slow, as usual. I’m running nice & easy, just letting the first few miles coast by. We go over the first bridge, through the Kentucky section, and back into Cincinnati. Now we swing back into downtown, and I feel great. We go down 7th Street, towards the hills. The 5.5-mile mark arrives, and I’m just a couple of seconds off race pace through that point. So I’m very happy about that, given the start. Now we get to the 3-mile uphill section of the course. I have to run this with my head, not my heart. I ignore all the runners around me. I focus on maintaining a constant effort level, not race pace. When I finally reach the top, I feel wonderful. I’m proud as can be about how I just ran that section. I ran it perfectly! Now I’m oozing with confidence, and we hit some nice, long, downhill stretches.

I see Susan at around mile 11, I couldn’t look any happier, I couldn’t BE any happier, or any more comfortable. I’m eating up these miles and have easily made up any time I might have dropped during the climb.

I reach the halfway point at 1:51:10. I could not have drawn this up any better. The first half is the tough half, and the course is definitely set-up to run a negative split. At this point in the race, I feel like I haven’t even been running. Everything feels fabulous, I’m confident, and most importantly, I’m running very smoothly. Almost effortlessly. I’m thinking, if I am smart, I got 3:38 well within my grasp.

Then disaster strikes, literally out of nowhere. I get no warning, no sign, no sense of discomfort, nothing. One moment, I’m on top of the world, the next, I’m in a world of trouble. Right when I hit the 14-mile mark, BOTH calves start to spasm, at the same time! I was prepared for all kinds of issues. Blisters, sore feet, upset stomach, etc. I was prepared for everything, EXCEPT for an issue that I have never had!!! Not in the 2+ years I’ve been running since my ACL surgery, not ever, that I can remember. Not even one, little spasm. At this point, I panic. I try to run through it for a second, but realize that is not going to happen. So I stop, and quickly start to massage them, to get them to relax. They do after about 10-15 seconds, and I start running again, but slowly, waiting to see what happens. I seem to be better and pick up the pace a little, hoping it was a one-time issue. I doubt that it is, but I’m grasping at straws here, trying to be hopeful. Then after almost a mile, my calves go crazy again. Now I’m really worried. Again, I stop, massage, and start running. But now, I’m unable to go more than about a ¼-mile without having them “go off”. I literally start watching the insides of my calves as I run, and I can see them spasm as I run. Strong, violent spasms. It’s actually a little disturbing to see. I suddenly look like I have huge “dents” in my calves, when they contract. That scares me.

But I’m stubborn, and I run/walk off-and-on through just short of the 18-mile mark. Occasionally, I have to stop, and massage them as best I can. Plus, if there is ANY upslope at all, I can’t run it w/o them locking up. So, I’m forced to walk those parts.

Then it goes from bad, to worse. At 18-miles, my left calf goes absolutely crazy, and completely locks up. I can’t bear ANY weight on it. None. I stop and grimace in agony as I try to stretch it and get it to release. I spend 5-6 minutes doing everything I can to make it relax before it finally does. But I know I’m done running today. The only way I’ll finish is to walk the final 8.2 miles. So I start walking. Slowly.

As I walk, I start experiencing pain in the front of my left hip. No doubt from having such a compromised gait at this point. I make it to the 22-mile mark. But here is where my attempt ended. I can’t even walk due to the hip pain, and my calves continuing to spasm. I get a courtesy vehicle to pick me up and take me to the finish so I can find Susan.

The results website shows me with a final time, but it’s not correct. I’m a DNF. I couldn’t get to the end of the finishing chute from the outside because the only way to get there was to climb an enormous stairway that took you to a catwalk up & over the finishing area. I took 3 steps up, and knew I couldn’t make it. So I had to backtrack and walk back onto the course, then go through the finish, to get to the end of the chute, and find Susan. So my chip actually recorded a time. I’ve e-mailed race officials, and asked them to properly give me a DNF. I didn’t make it, and I don’t think it’s fair to make it look like I did. Since I missed the 25.2-mile checkpoint, I imagine they’ll DQ me once they see it. They tried to give me a finisher’s medal (since they had no idea what happened), but I refused it, and walked right by them, apologizing for seeming so gruff about it.

I can’t even begin to describe my disappointment, my frustration, or my anger over this. I’m not sure I’ve ever been more disappointed in myself as I am today. The days before the race, things were going perfectly. Today, everything started perfectly, the race was going perfectly through the halfway-point, and then it all fell through in a matter of seconds. Now I’m left to deal with everything going on in my head, and try to answer the questions, “Why?” and “How?” No easy task, let me tell you. I think I did everything right. Trained right, ate right, slept right. Everything. Which is why I cannot explain what happened. I honestly have no idea. I thought perhaps I hadn’t had enough electrolyte drink during race week. But when I look back, I feel sure I did. Easily. So now I am at a total loss.

Tomorrow, I plan to call a sports, physical therapist, friend of mine, and talk through what happened. Maybe he’ll have some answers. I hope so. I don’t want to fail again. I won’t be able to take that.

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