Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Rock N Roll San Diego 2011 - Pain is weakness leaving your body

It is 136 days since I left India.

I have done about 800 miles during 19 weeks of training . My OCD driven mind wants me to insert a note which says I didn’t do 4 weeks of training which was scheduled in which I would have done 150 more miles. In fact I ended up doing 700 of those 800 miles in the first 14 weeks. The last 5 weeks were mostly forced rest due to an injury I picked up during my 1st attempt to BQ. But I had been hoping that it would heal before the race and at the minimum, not cause significant distress during the race.

The race was on Sunday and my last run before the race was on Friday and just 2 miles to just shake up the body. Sometime on Friday, the pain surfaced on the right side of my lower back extending to my lower glute muscles and stayed there. And then on Sat, a completely forgettable series of mishaps beginning from my forgetting my mobile phone at the marathon expo spoiled most of my Saturday. By the time I sat down to have my pasta meal on Sat, it was dinner time! But I was not very fazed.

When I got to the starting line at 4:45 am, I was the 1st person in the corral 1, just behind the E corral for elite athletes. And I had done all the right things – light breakfast, warmup followed by stretching.

I started promisingly enough. The first mile went by in 6:30! My heart rate was elevated and usually the first mile is fast. I could feel my butt hurt and consequently the legs tense up even during the first mile but as described earlier it was not unexpected and I was just hoping it would not affect my strides. It didn’t really till mile 17. I had gone by the halfway point in 1:30:14, 30 seconds faster than what I had managed at the Avenue of the Giants (AOTG). I should have detected something was amiss since I felt I was going much faster. Evidently my body was not recording the right reaction to pain emanating from my back while the data was showing my feeling was not in tune with actual performance.

From around mile 15 or so, I began to feel a level of discomfort which continued to increase. While my heart rate didn’t spike, I felt I was running up an incline when it wasn’t really so. That’s when it struck me that my leg turnover had dropped as had the range of motion that I had in the beginning. Clearly, the issue with my lack of exertion had more to do with additional effort rather than speed.

For the next 4 miles, I tried to convince myself that this pain was expected. So I would run through it. After all, there was no running planned for at least 2 months after this race. And even if I went at 7:30 a mile from mile 15, I would still make the finish line in 3:10. I was at mile 14 in 1:37 or so.

But from mile 18, I could feel shooting pain each time I lifted my leg for longer strides. The pain was not as sharp if I did a shuffle. At mile 20, my race was officially over since I got there in 2:23. Even I couldn’t make 3 mins on my target of 2:20 for 20 miles and run the remaining 6.2 miles in 50 min as I had done in AOTG. And those 6.2 miles had come on the back of some solid training. But one could also argue that this race was done on almost 4 weeks of taper! So rest should have given me fresher legs. Whatever the reason, the injury eventually guided the outcome of my race. I have never contemplated pulling out of a race as many times as I did during this one. I did occasionally try and bitch to myself over the race weather. It was warmer (65-70 deg F) at the starting line than it was the finishing line in AOTG (60-65 deg F). But this argument was gibberish. After all I did manage to get a searing fast first half and I wasn’t sweating.

I began walking from mile 21 and then all the way from mile 22. At around the 23 mile mark, I saw one runner by the side of the road who was delirious and was sitting and plucking some plants out of the ground! Another runner was trying to soothe him and then telling him to manage for a few minutes while he fetched water. He did ask several runners passing by but there was none carrying water. Eventually I went to the next medical tent and told them to send medical help. A few minutes later I did see the ambulance going his way. I hope he is fine. That was an unsettling reminder of how lucky I have been in my last two races.

This has neither been my ugliest race nor has it been my most courageous. It falls somewhere along the spectrum ranging from “Oh god, I can’t wait for this run to start” to “F* man, when will this misery end?” In the end the determination to ensure this was not my first DNF won over my new philosophy of pulling out of a race if it doesn’t meet a time target like pros do. After all, this race was supposed to be the icing on my preparation. But I am no pro and this is not the last marathon I will run in my life. Despite myself, after so much reading and training, I know that much. But I don’t see myself running in San Diego in the near future.

I had a major temptation to get all self-sympathetic and ended this post with those oft-misused lines from Hollow Men by TS Eliot, since they did sum up my feelings between mile 17-22, but no, I won’t. I will kick this timing’s butt and run faster some day. There is this awesome line that the US Marines use as a recruiting slogan, “Pain is weakness leaving your body!” Hope my weakness has had its arse kicked. As I write in my book, before my previous race my coach had inspired me with the lines about having respect for the marathon, regardless of performance. He should know. He has done nearly a 100 of them! This was my 14th. If anything, I have more respect for every marathon, regardless of timing. I am a little sad but I won’t die because of this. As I have said earlier in this post, this injury was expected. The only hope against it was to delay it till I could get through most of the miles. That didn’t happen. I know I will run a better & faster race when I recover. Till then bring on the cheese cakes, chips and alcohol. It has been less than 48 hours, but I am consuming calories like there is no tomorrow. Celebrations delayed for a month now are in progress.

Try and sign up for my book now.

Some thanks to those sweet spectators and residents of San Diego whose kids offered fresh cut watermelons and the medical tent which gave me their own fresh fruit which I ate gratefully when hungry. God bless you all. So this is the end of my Mission to qualify for Boston in 2011. If all goes well, in Oct you will hear more about whether the BAA will let me line up in Hopkinton in Apr 2012.

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