Or: So. That happened.
Yeah. That didn’t go the way I had planned. But as Helmuth von Moltke the Elder used to say:
No plan survives contact with the enemy.
And boy howdy, mine certainly did not. In spite of training, in spite of adequate sleep, in spite of adequate fueling, in spite of adequate hydration/electrolytes… I bonked. Spectacularly.
Yes, Anji, I hear you say. We know that bit already. But what happened?
My right leg blew out. Complete mechanical failure, if I were a sports car or starship. Did I mention spectacularly? So badly, that at the end, I was pretty sure I’d done some epic damage to my knee.
Yes, again, but what happened?! I hear you say.
Y’know, it was a gorgeous day to run. Too warm, even at the start, but gorgeous. Beautiful sunrise. 58 degrees F at the starting line. I was stretched, I was hydrated, I wasn’t tired, to be honest, I felt the best I’ve ever felt, better than I felt before my last two marathons. We headed out together and from the first mile, things were… weird.
No water station at Mile 1, so I ended up running without a break for two miles. This doesn’t sound like a big deal, except that in training, I had trained to walk for the few feet to drink water/Gatorade at every mile, and then got back going. I didn’t till Mile 2, not thinking it was any big deal. I was possibly wrong.
Shortly after that, while I was still trying to stay with my pace group, my right leg started to feel a bit funny. Not bad, but not good. I slowed down a bit, it went away, and I went back to pace.
What’s funny, is that everybody watching my chip times at home on their computers knew something bad had happened as the day progressed, because my pace time started to tank. It was glaringly obvious from the data they were seeing.
Like I said, I was trying to stay with the pace group I had chosen, but I could feel that it was too fast for me. I let them go, but I think the damage had already been done at that point. However:
I FUCKING RAN UP BUNKER HILL THIS YEAR. It was slow, BUT I FUCKING DID IT. Which also probably boned me, but whatever.
Anyway, around Mile 8, the leg started cramping and didn’t ever stop. By Mile 16, the knee started to fail, but was still holding me up. It was also at this point that I knew I wasn’t going to make it in any good time. To say that I was disappointed is an enormous understatement. To say I was angry, also understatement. It felt like my body had decided to betray me when I needed it most and I couldn’t believe that it was failing to show up when the need was demanded.
Just as I was about to just scream with frustration, this huge Monarch butterfly comes out of nowhere…
Circles my entire body twice… Only mine… No one else’s…
And flies off.
And I burst into tears, because if that wasn’t the Universe going, baby, it’s okay, just go, I don’t know what is. I couldn’t sustain it, because it was all I could do to keep my head in the game and my mouth and sinuses were too dry to do anything but choke on the tears, but the anger and frustration disappeared to be replaced by resolve. At this point, I fell back on the mental part of my training. My mantras for the next ten miles would be:
Finishing is winning.
I am doing great.
I will get there when I get there.
But it got worse.
By Mile 22, the knee was threatening to collapse. So I stopped to stretch and suddenly thought, “What would Kobe do?” Yes, I literally thought, what would Kobe Bryant do. My husband is a Laker uber-fan and over the years I have watched Kobe play through injuries that were unbelievable. One story in particular was in my memory. How he blew out a knee during a game.
Was asked by his coach, “Where are you at? 80%?”
“No,” said Kobe.
“No. 20%. But it’s okay. I can change my game.”
I can change my game.
And that’s what I hear, “Kobe would fucking change his game and finish.”
So I did. Changed my running pattern to the Ranger shuffle (which weirdly did not hurt). For those who are going, “Ranger shuffle?”, the Ranger shuffle is this weird long distance march cadence/slow jog, slower than a person can walk, that Special Forces do. Hugely efficient body movement, can go for miles and miles. Not fast. But relentless and gets the job done. Also known as the Airborne/SEAL/Marine Recon shuffle.
Good thing too, because walking was agony. But I could force march like it didn’t matter and till the cows came home.
It got me to the finish line. Egregious time. Unofficial finish time was 7:11:51, slower than my first year of 7:05 and some change. Way over 81 degrees F at the finish line. A knee that wanted to go out from under me if I took my attention off it for an instant. But fucking whatever.
Here’s the thing. At no point did I put my head down, and believe me, I wanted to, more than once. I smiled (or tried to) for every MarathonFoto photographer I saw. The anger and disappointment would rise up and I would counter with my mantras. I remembered my early training, where my training book said, don’t be that guy. Do not let the desire for a good time keep your eye off the ball and goal, the only one that matters, which is to just fucking finish.
And here’s the other thing. NO ONE finished in good time.
We were all walking or slow jogging/doing the shuffle by Mile 16. I have never seen that many people walking the marathon in my life. People kept dropping out to rest or stretch or just sit in the shade. Tons of folks dropping out from heat exhaustion. People with their heads down and looks of utter defeat on their face and more than once, I nearly stopped and said, “It’s okay, baby. You are out here. That’s the win. Do not let this make you feel bad. You are still a champion.” And I made sure to tell myself the same. Even with my leg failing, I was still passing people.
It was UGLY.
But I was out there. It was a win. I still ran my own damn race. And so did everyone else.
And it turned out to be the hottest LA Marathon in a decade. Finishing that one? Really is and was a fucking championship moment.
I drove myself home, which was dumb and a mistake and I’ll never do that again. Too tired and too mentally not there at that point, but got home in one piece. Fell asleep on the couch before dinner arrived. Dragged myself to bed early after watching Cosmos and crying through most of the episode. (Long time readers will know why.) And vowed that in the morning, I would find out what the fuck had gone wrong with my damn leg.
And oh man.
Did that shut up the last of the disappointment and anger.
Turns out, muscle cramps are the leading cause of race failure/poor performance in seasoned marathoners. Seasoned marathoners. I have graduated to problems only veteran marathoners have. Even now, the science doesn’t fully explain or know why it happens, just that it happens. What little science they’ve been able to put together says it’s directly related to one set of muscles not being strong enough to carry the full load of demand, so the others compensate, in this case, my right quadricep was not strong enough and failed. My hamstring and calf went to handle the load, fatigued out and…
Which is why stopping every mile for the last four miles and stretching, got me to the end, since static stretching is the only cure for cramps, and why it felt like the knee itself was what was gone, because 161 pounds of body plus momentum force multiplier was hitting the joint with inadequate support with every heel strike. TL;DR version: no fucking bueno.
So why did my quad fail? In my case, I think it points directly to the lack of adequate training in November/December. Basically, for my type of cramps (the ones I experienced), they see a correlation between over-developed hamstrings and under-developed quads. The cure is more lunges, and leg lifts. I also think I started out the gate too fast. They think that contributes too. I also need more speed training and WAY more hills. I did not do enough.
So. Yes. Monday morning was all about post-race analysis and planning for next year, BECAUSE MOTHERFUCKER IS GOING DOWN NEXT YEAR.
shrieks at course
And this is why running is good for me. I don’t have to make any apologies for my aggressive nature or my need to dominate. I face only me in this contest. And no matter what happens… I win. That’s pretty damn epic.
That’s what happened.
You’re all going to think I’m crazy (and I am), but I’m going to start training this year during the summer and I’m going to make the temp cut off be 95/100 degrees F. If I can run in that, a) NOTHING WILL STOP ME and b) Kona/Arizona Iron Man won’t kill me. I will defeat/dominate this.
But here’s the coda. The marathon also had a layer of sorrow this year. There were fewer crowds. No Biofreeze stations. Fewer bands. The chilling effect of the Boston Marathon bombing last year was really apparent and sad. People were afraid. Security was huge.
Except here’s where my chosen tribe of crazy running people restores my faith in humanity. Were enrollments down for the marathon?
The race was sold out.
Marathoners give no fucks. We were out there for Boston. And the typhoon. And Hurricane Sandy. For Fukushima. And every charity known to man. For clean water. For literacy. For schools. Everyone was out there running for someone else, not just themselves, or so it seemed. When runners fell, others picked them up. If a runner went to sit down and they were alone, another runner or one of the few spectators was immediately there to check on them, long before medical personnel.
No one was alone.
I joke that I run every year with 24,000 of my closest friends, even though they are, by and large, total strangers. Because… they are. Rich, poor, student, teacher, old, young, big, small, we all start in the morning and we run.
We run together.
And every year, we demonstrate in absolute concrete physical fact, the indomitable will and deep goodness of humanity that resides in every single one of our chests if we but let it out.
Phiedippedes would be proud.