My brothers and I have used the phrase “O’Doyle Rules!” over the last few years to highlight our race strategy (among other things). Didn’t run enough miles, no worries, “O’Doyle Rules!” You’ll be fine. For the most part, this was a nod to our genetics, more their’s than mine, that allowed us to run long, run hard, and run fast with relative ease on relatively few mileage. There was always a dark place, but we preserved and lived to run another day.
But all good things must come to an end. And as you turn from the race bully to the banana peel, there’s a lot of awareness that comes through on the long walk to the bottom of the canyon.
I ended my previous post with the awareness that I was not ready, but with the hope that things would work out anyway. I wrote it on a Saturday morning, with slightly fatigued legs making faces to myself knowing the likely outcome of the next day’s event.
I wish that short cutting training, running fewer miles, not taking care of the maintenance was still an effective training plan to run a marathon. It doesn’t appear to be though. It seems to that, in the last years between road races, life has gotten a little bit more complex, and that when you add complexity to life, it’s harder to cram training into short blocks, because other people, work, and activities are already taking up that space and energy. It turns out in the past I may have been dedicating more time to my craft than I believed by not making time for other things that now consume me.
But look at this picture. Man, you would guess that this guy had a great day right? Beautiful course. Beautiful day. Representing multiple clubs and community all in one. Killin’ it!
But yeah, not so much. My friend Julia recently wrote after a recent “bad” race, “my number one goal was to not say the words, “it just wasn’t my day.” I’ve worked myself into that trap before mid-race, when my mind decides it’s over before my body does…”
I thought of this as I was taking a little warm up jog up the road to warm up and my legs felt heavy. I thought of it as I took off from the start and nothing felt tapered. Two weeks of little running, a week of not drinking (say what!?), all for nothing. Then again at mile 2 when I tried to settle into a pace and that pace wasn’t fast enough. Mile 3 when I felt like it was mile 13. Mile 4 when I finally called it, because I knew it was going to be a long day, and pushing would probably extend it.
It just wasn’t my day.
Fine. But why?
“My body has betrayed me,” I lied to myself I pushed through miles 5 and 6. I hadn’t put in the proper training, but I thought I should at least put in enough to earn my crash and burn. Through the fatigue that I started with I could feel a glow of building on the edge of the lead in my legs that should have been the start of my digging for the day.
I thought back to the day before when I was writing about process. About the work that I had put in and the work that I hadn’t. My bullish attitude about going out hard anyway. I had expected the wheels to fall off eventually, I was pretty sure I hadn’t done enough work to keep the car on the road, but when you live your life a quarter mile at a time, you don’t worry about granny shifting or doubling clutching you just race. #ialmosthadyou
But like Brian Spilner, in this race, I never had my car.
Miles 7 and 8 I continued downhill and made sure to take time to enjoy the canyon. The first half of the race was the good part. Downhill through the Poudre Canyon along the Cache la Poudre River. Cloud cover overhead, I was sad that I couldn’t take advantage of the morning cool temperatures. I push through and slow down a little. Still cruising along, recalculating my day and my expected time of seeing friends. Wondering when the ones behind will catch me. I chatted with a guy also having a bad day and we compared 100 mile goals later in the year.
The flat tire that I came out of the gates with started getting wobbly at mile 10. My feet started getting a little sore from the pounding and the general fatigue in my quads that increase the impact. While the disappointment grew in my mind, I tried to stave it off a little longer appreciating the course and thinking of the things in my life that I prioritized over training. Friends and family who have visited. Progress made in establishing myself at work. Moving into a new home. Appreciating the time and energy each of them took and how they kept my mind occupied even when I was trying to focus on my pace and space during training.
At this point I figured I’d at least try to run a decent half-assed half marathon and then pick up the pieces after that. I crossed the halfway point around 1:40, realizing that even at my slowed pace, that was still a pretty decent effort. I had slowed to about an 8:30/mile pace; about what I had been running on my long runs. My legs felt tired, but by no means done. I figured I could hold on to a slowing pace for a while, get to 20 and then struggle-limp my way down the bike path home to a cold beer.
And then things went from bad to worse. Just after mile 15 the downhill podding on the road took it’s toll and my calf tightened. I slowed to assess the damage and started weighing my options.
Generally speaking in life, I don’t really start paying attention to a string of bad decisions until I surpass the first gate of no return (see: San Gorgonio). I have a history of calf issues and had slightly aggravated it the previous Sunday. I’ve been at this point before, run through it and have had to take extended time off. I’ve been here before and rested it a little and been back in action after a week. This was not a race to risk extended time off.
I stopped and stretched a little, slowed way down, and started a run/walk cycle that I hoped would help loosen it up. Basically if there were people cheering or a photographer present, I ran, if not, I walked. 😉 I kept looking behind me waiting for my friends to catch me. Eventually Troy came up behind and we jogged together for a moment before he strongly pulled away. He was behind his goal time as well, but in good spirits. Soon after I heard a “Yeah NP!” come from behind and Charis was next to me and gone with a cheer and smile.
The voices in my head and the voices in my calf argued until the mile 18 marker when my calf won out and I knew my day was over. I had been chugging water and electrolytes to see if it would help, but it was just creeping tighter. tighter. tighter. and I knew that I was pressing my luck.
So here I am. Mile 18. 8.2 miles to go. 2.5 hours in and if I could hold a 15 minute walking pace 2 hours to go. Fuuuuuuuuck.
As I had been for the past 45 minutes, I thought ahead to mile 20.5 where Kaitlin and my November Project friends had been expecting me for the past 20 minutes. Except now I was thinking of the surge of adrenaline, picking up my pace, and racing towards the finish. I was thinking about a ride.
As I walked along the side of the road, high-fived cheering kids, thanked the volunteers and the cops, I cycled between frustration, peace, and wanting to quit.
I had a lot of bad training runs over the past few months. Runs where I felt like I was walking at the end. I wasn’t though. What I learned that walking during a road race is really slow. It’s also really hard to stay motivated when you just feel like you’re out for a stroll. The worst part to deal with at the time was that I hadn’t hurt my calf enough to really be limping, I didn’t really look tired, I wasn’t sweaty. I was just walking. Along the side of the road. Sometimes with a smile. In the middle of a race. Where everyone else was running by emptying their tanks as they inched towards the finish.
It was approaching 3 hours as I approached the cheer station. The sun had revealed itself from behind the clouds. I spent the last half hour talking to myself, and occasionally cheering on someone still capable of effort while I inched forward two miles. I wasn’t upset, just disappointed. I wasn’t sure if I was going to continue past the aid station, finishing the race didn’t really mean anything to me, I have too many race medals as is, but if this is going to be my last race ever maybe I should just get it, it’s only 9:30am it’s too early to drink anyway, you could go home and do work, but that’s kind of what got you into this mess in the first place, at least I won’t be on the road after this.
There was zero percent of me that thought, I signed up for this, I have to finish it. Zero percent of me felt satisfaction for pushing through the “pain.” Zero percent of me thought that I was accomplishing more than earning my free beer at the end. I was just walking because I was here and I had nothing better to do. That’s some inspiring shit right there.
When I hit the cheer station my personal excitement of walking through a marathon at half my expected speed got to be shared with my friends. yay! First I met Rishabh who tried to pep talk me into the aid station and helped unpack the vulnerability that I had tried for the last 3 hour to pack deep in my soul. Then I saw Kaitlin who had a worried look on her face and was all outfitted to run with me into the finish (double disappointment; no ride home for me, no running for her). Then the rest of the crew with their signs, and high fives, and energy, and excitement. And I had nothing for them, I responded with high-fives, fist pounds, and “thanks for being heres,” but I felt dead inside in terms of race motivation, so I walked on.
Kaitlin didn’t really seem to know what to do at this point. “Do you want to run a little?” No, I can’t. “What’s wrong?” My calf hurts. “Do you want me to carry your bottle?” No. “Do you ever want to run again?” No. I figured this would be good practice for her pacing me at Leadville. Keep the expectations really low.
She went to her phone and checked in with our friends to tell them I was fine and was able to find out that our friend Dan had destroyed his race in CA and won the event by running something like 43 miles in 4.5 hours. He ran farther than all but 8 of the 40,000 people racing around the world that day. Our friend Julia, in the same race, ran a half marathon PR on her way to running 22 miles after feeling injured all week. I tried not to care, but couldn’t help but be proud of them.
She slowly fed me information from other friends who had raced their first half, PR’d this race, ran a great marathon. I was happy to be able to silently celebrate their achievements as I struggled through the failure of my day. It made me appreciate this community in a different way than I have in the past. Being surrounded by so many people kicking ass everyday. All of us struggling to balance friends, family, work, and fitness. Everybody lining up their priorities in a unique way, trying to figure out what works today with what they have in front of them.
I walked on. Appreciating the trees growing along the creek. Planning on quitting running for the summer and getting back to hiking and spending my weekends with my nose in the dirt identifying flowers. I thought about my post race beer and it being the first of many towards become stationary, fat, and happy. I cheered on runners expending their last bits of energy and planned on getting “back” to training and getting myself ready for Leadville.
I finally rounded the final corner and saw the finish line just ahead and Kaitlin asked if I wanted to run towards the finish. Nah, I’m good. Walking got me this far, it can take me the rest of the way. I walked across the line and high-fived some confused looking kids (Why is he walking?)along the way and continued walking towards my cooled down friends. It was nice seeing everyone celebrating, but feeling like I hadn’t really participated in the same event that they had.
The race was humbling for sure. I’ve had bad races. Showed up emotionally and physically exhausted. Fallen on my face, but have always been able to rally a bit and keep moving. I had a lot of time to think about all of the great things happening in my life at the moment. I’m aware of the places where I’ve been putting my energy and more aware of the consequences of my choices. See: last 2200 words. But with the horizon looks a little smoother ahead than the ripples of life behind me I am optimistic that I am going to want to do this right in the near future. Maybe to the right work in this space to reach some goals rather than hope it happens just because my friends train hard.
It took me about 24 hours to go from never running again to exploring Fall marathons.
Welcome to summer.