Monday, April 16, 2012

Heat, Hills and Hurt: Reflections on the St. Louis Marathon and Life

The St. Louis Marathon was my sixth and arguable my most difficult race.  Not my slowest or fastest but the most hot, hilly and hurtful.  Running is not new to me.  Many miles have been logged, I have more shoes than my wife, I know the terminology, I  subscribe to two running magazines and have a slew of others in my favorites web site list.  I was hoping for a PR (personal record to those in the know).  My training was intense and purposeful, my diet was pretty good;  I still need some tweaking in that area.  My mental approach to the race was, I felt, very good: relaxed, strategic-steady pace, cut the tangents, run my race.

The temperature at the start of the race was 70 degrees.  I had trained in temps around 40-50.  The difference of 20-30 degrees was of great concern to me. I realized, however,  there are some elements I can control, my training, diet, etc..., but there are some I cannot control: the weather and the course.  Starting out it was hot and ending it was hot.  A strong wind came up at several times and while I am usually not a fan of a headwind, I was thankful this time.  The cooling effect was much appreciated.

I had downloaded a map of the course and studied it in detail.  I could tell you we would turn left, then right, right, left and right with a slight incline at mile 5 and so on.  There were more turns at the beginning of the course.  I didn't realize the length of the hills on the second half of the course.  I saw the elevation chart but the hills didn't look all that challenging.  And in retrospect they weren't all that daunting.  I've ran hills, trained on hills, ran hill repeats.  I was ready for them, or so I thought.  Typically, a runner bemoans an uphill and is thankful for a downhill.  Not in my case for this past race.  I was happy for the uphill and cringing on the downhills.  Sometimes the things that we do not enjoy are actually better for us than the easier circumstances we seek.

My split time at the half marathon point was 1:59:12.  My PR for a half is 1:58:00.  I was in great shape at the halfway point: on target for a marathon PR of less than 4 hours, my pace was consistent, breathing and muscles were not being pushed hard at all.  Then mile 15 happened.  In one moment, my hopes of a faster time were dashed.  In one moment my body cried out to me.  In one moment I had to consider quitting the race.  And that my friends is something I am loathe to do!  I had trained hard, I had traveled halfway across the country, I had studied nutrition and strategy, my mental state was right where I wanted it to be.  Quitting a race for me is not an option, but I had to consider it.  At mile 15, my IT band, or so I think (I'm going to a doctor later this week) snapped.  The pain was sharp and intense.  Every time my left leg impacted the ground, a pain rushed up and down my leg.  My IT band had given me troubles over the past month and a half and I thought I had taken proper care of it.  Apparently not.  I had joked with friends that all I needed was for the leg to make it to mile 20 and I could hop from there.  I didn't realize the event would happen with 11.2 miles to go (yes, that .2 is important).  I slowed my pace from an 8:45 minute mile to an 11:30 and essentially ran up the hills and walked down them. I stopped and stood at one point.  When I started up, I cried out in pain and in tears.  This was mile 20.  Mile 21 found a medic on a bike following me for about a half mile.  I quit crying.  I came around a corner and a volunteer told me you can see the finish line.  There it was.  Glorious. Completion. Finish line!  I ran faster, ran harder, ran with purpose.  I crossed the line in pain, but I crossed. I could barely move, the pain was intense. When they placed the medal around my neck, I almost fell over.  I made my way to the rest tent and sat down, drank some water and expressed thanks that I was done.

Our lives can be hot.  We may find ourselves in circumstances in which we are not prepared for, but just wait, the Father of all Good things, will send a breeze to cool you.  The wind may appear at first, to be a curse, but in it He provides a blessing.

Our lives can be hilly.  We may have studied the map but nothing compares to running the course.  And, in the end, the up-hills may provide more comfort and benefit than the down-hills.

Our lives can be hurtful. Injuries are often an indication of something deeper.  I can google and self diagnose all day long, but in the end, I need a doctor to examine my leg and maybe send me to a specialist for further evaluation.  If you're hurt, ask what else is going on?  What is it that is causing the Hurt?  Oh, and don't google it, seek the counsel of an expert.

In the end, the race was run and I received the medal.  This marathon wasn't the prettiest but it was completed and sometimes, in the face of heat, hills and hurt, that is the true accomplishment.
Keep Running!