Things weren’t looking too good for me. I was five miles into a 10 mile loop on a 32 mile race, and my thigh and knee were electric with pain.
Did I just misstep on a rock? No. That limp was my leg giving out under the pain.
I hobbled down a final steep decline, tears in my eyes and Minh by my side, refusing to let me suffer alone. The ache in the hip and along the IT band, I could push through. When the pain wrapped around the bottom of my knee and caused me to see stars across my vision – it was no longer worth it to me to keep going. And the fact that at 5 miles into the 50k I knew I was committing another DNF was destroying my self esteem.
It was the first weekend of December, the race was the Jackson 50/50 – which was actually really well run and seriously challenging, and this was supposed to be my 12th marathon distance of the year. I was supposed to knock this out and be able to relax for a couple of months before training for the 2017 races would start.
It was an epic failure.
I wasn’t recovered from the strain on my legs from the Route 66 Marathon in Tulsa, only two weeks earlier. Nor the 10k I raced four days after Tulsa. Nor the various other runs I did to try and get my legs ready for another distance effort. The IT band was irritated, and it was not going to settle down enough to run.
“You’ve got three more weeks. You’ll get it done.” Minh encouraged me. He even said he’d show up in a race bib to do the effort with me.
I wasn’t feeling as certain. For the last three months now, just standing in line at the airports or going up and down stairs would leave my legs shaking with exhaustion. It was cool, because it was a new sensation. It was unnerving because it was actually happening a lot.
Each day after the DNF took me closer and closer to being nearly finished with this personal challenge of 12 marathons in 2016, and yet, farther and farther from actually getting it done. I took days off. I did PT. I went to massages. Nothing I did seemed to keep the IT from becoming unbearable during a run. Specifically, at 5 or so miles. The pain would start, and there would be no stopping it.
As much as I hated the idea- this final marathon – if it was going to happen – would likely be completed by walking.
My friends were undeterred. And willing. Willing to come out and walk with me wherever I was doing this. Whenever I was ready.
I was not ready. It was December 29th, and I was still not ready to make a marathon attempt to end this challenge. I opted, then, to wait for the last day of the month – of the year – of my opportunity to see a goal through to the end.
I didn’t tell any of my friends when it would be. Or where.
But I didn’t want to put up with the encouragement and positivism they would spout while I was in pain and hating myself. Because my friends get really awkward to be around when they realize that I can’t stand myself and I start sharing my unfiltered opinions of myself. I get mean when I’m suffering. Usually I shut up, but there’s a line where I start to vocalize exactly what I think… of the run, of the day, of myself – and it is never pretty. I wasn’t willing to deal with my friends through that.
December 31st came. I figured I’d end up sleeping in, and then it would be too late to get the distance in, and that would be that.
Instead, I woke at 0730 – and by 0800 I started.
I walked a mile on the treadmill while coffee brewed, to get a feel for the pace of it. And I realized that if I just went like that, it would take 8 hours to do this. And that sounded miserable. So I thought I’d just force myself to run 10 miles at least. That way I’d cut 3 hours out of that time.
I ate breakfast – fussed around the house, yelling at my husband about how much I hated this, and that this sucked so much and wasn’t even for or worth a goddamn thing. And then, having finally located my headphones, stormed out for whatever mileage I could survive running.
It was chilly – made colder by the high-power gusts of wind we had. Storms were rolling in, but I’d be on the treadmill before I had to worry about rain. I chose a direction, put my head down, and started the run. I hoped for ten.
The number of miles I could get before the pain started. I managed five miles before the pain kicked in, and I forced a 6th and final mile before hobbling into the house, stripping out of the running pants and sweatshirt, and then starting the treadmill.
I watched kung fu movies to distract myself, but lets be honest. It was still hours of walking on a treadmill. In moments where the pain in my hip and IT band would ebb, I would think about forcing another couple of running miles… but then I’d remember the pain and realize that it would take just as long to “run” with the pain as it would to just try to keep walking a steady pace.
My husband brought his project (He’s a blacksmith and was doing the final polish on a skinning knife) down to sit and watch movies with me while I suffered. He brought me a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and kept refilling my water bottle. He gave me Advil and put up with my cries of pain as some part of the IT flared angrily at the forced activity.
Did I mention all my treadmill time was essentially up hill? Not yet? Hell. Allow me to elaborate:
Our treadmill is one we got from a friend for free – and it is stuck at a 15% incline….which makes using it a real challenge. I was walking 18 miles uphill. Literally. And though I’m sure I could have kept up a steady 16 min/mile pace on a level treadmill, I was putting in a lot of effort with the incline, and was content with my 17:30 – 19 minute paces.
Every 3 miles I paused the mill and rolled my hip and IT and calf out to try and break up the pain. It was rough. If I had to give this run a theme- it would be foam rollers, gummy bears, and pain killers.
I grumbled loudly at one point – having broken through that “suffering quietly” stage: “I hate this. I hate marathons. I always hate running these. I only ever did this because I had running group friends there, and all I’ve learned this year is that this is a fucking waste of time! I’m not getting shit out of this, I can’t even run with my friends any more because of my job! I can’t coach running! I fucking quit. This is dumb as fuck. I quit running. This fucking shit. It’s not lowering my blood pressure any more, I’m gaining weight anyway, and I have it on pretty much everyone’s authority that I’m not even doing something everyone else can’t do – or do better than. All the reasons I even fucking started running don’t exist anymore!” Maybe grumble is the wrong word. Bitched and cried and pouted might be more correct.
Husband: “You need a pop tart and a salt tablet.” My husband muttered, unfazed from the couch in front of me. He didn’t even pause in his work to look at me. I’m sure that’s how he was able to exist with my pain-filled moping in the same room. Denial. As long as he didn’t see my face he wouldn’t have to live with encouraging this useless abuse.
Me: “Your face needs a pop tart and a salt tablet.”
Me: “Yeah. Give me a fucking pop tart.”
Of course he was right. A little food and I was feeling better mentally, but still in serious pain.
Hours continued to pass – during which, I learned that even walking a marathon requires taking salt tabs regularly (My fingers swelled up so much I had to remove my engagement ring because it was painful to keep on – and that was a trick to get off!). I also now have a serious and unwavering respect for those folks who set out to do marathon distances, but are only able to walk them. If running marathons took me this long from the start, I would have never continued. More power to you brave people who go out and compete like this all the time!
As the day ticked over to 4PM, I had a mile left to go. I was most of the way through my third movie. Outside, the rain had started with a drizzle, but I needed a change. I leashed the dog, and my husband agreed to go with us as we walked the final mile of my final marathon of this whole stupid endeavor.
It was chilly. It was wet. And it was windy.
And then it was over.
It seems fitting that this thing had no finish line.
It had no crowds.
There was no celebration, no free beer, and I didn’t even get to go for a victory post-marathon burger.
Just my dog howling at passing sirens.
Just my husband, who was there for the 18 vertical miles, and final neighborhood mile.
Nothing about this feels like a “win” or the successful completion of a marathon or marathon challenge. I don’t feel like I’ve achieved anything. And today, the first day of 2017, all I have to show for my battle with injuries and keeping up marathon distances for a year are the real aches and pains that remain from pushing through an injury that just needed some more rest to heal.
I’d like to say that I learned so much and I’m so much stronger after all of this… but I’m not. I wasn’t even the one to compare myself to others in all of this in the first place – the others stepped up to show me how pointless and small-minded my challenge was. Like if I really wanted to show how good I was at something, then all of these marathons would’ve been under 4 hours or they would’ve all happened in the same month or some other bullshit. And it’s clear that this can’t mean anything to me because its not even remotely challenge enough for anyone who does run to be impressed by it. I chose this challenge because I wanted a sure-win. Because when I set this goal in August 2015, I needed to be able to complete something. So yeah, its probably not a challenge for someone else who’s doing 100 mile races, has been to Boston, or routinely does marathons back-to-back.
I set the goal of one marathon a month, (which became 12 in 2016 when I needed a full month off running to recover), because I was failing so brilliantly at everything else in my life…I did fail at everything. And I thought if only I could do something to prove that I can achieve a goal – any goal – that was set for me. So I set a goal that was challenging, but wouldn’t break me in half…. and it broke me… It was still too hard a goal for me!
It broke me to run this much. Because it wasn’t just one 26.2 run each month. There were no reliable 4 weeks of recovery and re-prep between each one. There was no simply using one marathon as the long-run to train for the next. The next was always too soon.
It was a marathon on Sunday, followed by 25 miles at the Jackie’s Run the following Friday…. It was two marathons in the same weekend. It was running 26.2 in the heat on a challenging route with a friend on a Thursday, and then doing a 50k the following Saturday. It was 26.2 miles followed a week later by 20 miles to train for the 26.2 miles the following week. It was a trail marathon in the middle of summer with a back injury that prevented much movement. It was constantly trying to shoot for something in the range of 4-4.5 hours, because longer than that was boring, annoying, and made me feel like a failure. It was 20 miles at race pace while coaching, followed that same day with 6 miles of run/walking at the pace of a friend doing a triple ironman – to get my 26.2 for the month. It was getting too injured between each race after July to be able to train for the next one, leading to being injured and needing the time off before the next one. It was trying to run the “challenging” parts of the relay at an even 8 min pace, while feeling too wiped out to keep 9:30s on a normal day, and rolling ankles and feeling generally over trained – just in time to run the next marathon. It was a study in injury recovery and stubbornly running through injuries that would seem impossible to run through right up until the morning of the race – and then a different injury would start. It was mastering the PT to get over one injury, just to have to learn how to heal the next one.
I may have been smart enough to DNF on the last 50k of the year – but it wasn’t because I needed to quit so much as I was ready to quit. There was very little enjoyment in most of this year’s running for me.
Sure, I liked running in new places and doing new races, but I was sick of running alone. And I was alone. The weight of not having at least one person with me on most of these runs sucked the energy from me to a level where I didn’t want to try and make friends for the rest of the races this year. My September race was probably one of the best of this year, and I wouldn’t have enjoyed it, gone as fast during it, or wanted to be there if it weren’t for Minh being there with me. The random 50k I picked up in June was probably most perfect, mostly because Char was with me for most of it, there were friends at the end, and there was no rushed or embarrassed feeling about how I did.
Would I do this many races again? No. Not at all.
Would I sign up for races in the same weekend or week apart again? Hell, that will happen whether I want to or not. I don’t pay attention to race dates! I only care about how many of my friends are going! If I got messaged with “hey, do this race, we have a cabin and all of us are going, it’ll be fun! Road trip!” I’d sign up without ever seeing what the race was about. That’s how I signed up for the 50k I DNF’ed this month… I knew it would be a painfully bad idea when I did it – but I hoped that being with the group would help. It did help, but my body was just too done. Is. Is just too done with it.
“Your body is trying to murder you for all the running you’ve done this year.”
That’s a message I just received from my best friend, encouraging me to just stop for a week.
I figure this is the part of the post where I talk about my 2017 goals.
Honestly. I don’t have any, anymore.
It was supposed to be have fun running and explore and try to get the speed up again so I can get to Boston…. but… I honestly don’t care about all that anymore. I’ll likely never see Boston as a qualified runner. I’m kinda done with the pain from putting a real effort out…. Putting real effort out and not getting anywhere. I’m done with that.
I’ve run 12 marathons this year. What have I gotten from it?
Definitely not my love of running back. That was missing when I came up with this goal. It’s missing today. It wasn’t there yesterday as I speed-walked 18 miles on a treadmill. It wasn’t there as I forced a hobble through mile 6 of running yesterday so I wouldn’t have to spend so much time on the treadmill. It wasn’t there in Tulsa. It wasn’t there during the first five miles of the DNF’ed 50k.
I had it, oddly, as I ran the July trail marathon. My back was shot – I couldn’t bend over to go under the fallen trees on the trail, and my plans for a lovely weekend away with my husband were ruined by other factors. I was alone, staying there alone, and knew no one in that race. My bluetooth headphones were shot before I even started, so I had no music or audio book to distract with. I ran by myself for much of it, in silence and under a complete disconnect from where I was in relation to others. Even though I told myself that I hallucinated most of what I saw on my first loop (I didn’t, but I was out of it enough that I didn’t know where things were), I never felt the need to break into bad and loud singing. I pulled off an age group win, a second-slowest marathon time, and my back felt better by the end.
Everything else was not at that level at all.
But that’s what I want out of my running. To feel good about what I’ve done with myself at the end. To enjoy it. And I just don’t know how to get that back again. I do know that running more mileage is not going to do it though. I guess that’s obvious, but, at least I’ve tested the theory for you all.
Happy New Year. And may you all have happiness in your goals next year.