A marathon can be full of surprises, both good and bad. As I began the Rocket City Marathon on a cold December day, I believed I knew how things were going to go. Aiming for a 4:15, I knew it would be challenging and I would grow weary, but I’ve run through fatigue and I was sure I could do so again. I also suspected that an old injury might crop up. Ever since the Flying Monkey Marathon in November, there have been hints that all was not right, but I believed I could run through old injuries as well. I knew what they were, and if I could take the discomfort, I could deal with the injury after the race.
What I wasn’t expecting was something brand new.
I stayed on pace, running mostly 9:20s and 9:30s until mile 21. I was getting tired and my right knee was sending some major discomfort my way due to an overused IT band (that is the band running from your hip to your foot down the outside of your leg). Still, I was hanging in there, paying attention to the pace on my garmin and I believed I could conquer IT band issues and the weariness I was beginning to feel.
I was running with some guys from Scottsboro. One was named Joey and this was his first marathon, meant to be a training run for a later race. Another was named Wayne and he was the most talkative of the group. I was grasping for any diversion and so I jumped into their conversation and decided that if I stuck with them, I’d get my 4:15. They were running slightly under 10 minute miles, and since I had plenty of seconds to play with, I would be on target if I stayed with them.
I saw several friends along the way and this helped more than I can say. Julie and Caroline were at mile 17.9 and I counted down the miles until I got there. I could not wait to see them. I stopped for a brief stretch and said hello, declining the donut half Caroline offered. I also saw Christi Doyle, Holley Gautney, Laura Charette and with each familiar face and each encouraging cheer, I felt bolstered with energy.
As we (my three new buddies and I) continued to run, my pain was getting increasingly worse. I wasn’t sure where it was coming from but it was as if the whole lower half of me was beginning to severely tighten, like a full body cramp. Joey held back with me, talking and offering encouragement, until I finally had to stop for another stretch and he went on.
Around mile 22 I was in agony. I had no idea what was wrong, but the space between my back all the way to my feet hurt so badly I could hardly walk. I stretched, I bent forward, I squatted, I tried to stretch my IT band, nothing made it subside. I finally sat on the side of the road hoping that a brief moment of rest would help. My 9:45 pace dropped swiftly to a 14 minute pace, but I was still on target and if this pain would only subside, I could run again.
Around mile 23 I began to worry. The pain was NOT going away and I had no idea what was wrong. This would be TWO 14 minutes miles and I did not have that much time to play with in order to get my 4:15. Still, anything faster than a 4:21 would give me a personal record, and I was willing to take that.
Half way through mile 23 I asked myself, “is it really less painful to walk?” The answer was no. Everything hurt no matter what I did, so why not run? I started jogging at a 12 minute pace and then at an 11:30. It wasn’t great, but it felt like things were loosening up and soon I was back to the familiar IT band pain. I wanted to cry several times, but crying only constricts airways and I needed those to work for me. I tried looking mean and determined hoping that would make me mean and determined on the inside, but the pain took away any resolve I had in the mean department.
Christi Doyle was standing outside her house around mile 24, and when I saw her face, I wanted to run over there and hug her (and then go inside for some coffee and a bed). She ran around the corner with me, giving encouragement, and then I saw Jason.
I’d wanted to see him so badly, that when I did it was all I could do not to hug him too. He knew something was wrong because by this time I was not going to make any sort of personal record and my running was obviously labored. I tried not to cry once more as I told him about the strange pain I’d experienced earlier.
Having Jason by my side seemed to make everything better. Even though I was weary beyond belief and my right knee didn’t want to bend anymore, it was somehow ok since he was there. He ran to the finish line with me and told me he’d meet me on the other side. The announcer said my name and told the crowd I was the other half of the Jason and Jane Reneau running team, which made me laugh.
I was relieved beyond words to be done…just in time to be revisited by the full body cramp. Jason walked me inside and I made a beeline for the first chair I saw. It was hard to sit still because then the pain just washed over me again and again, but I could hardly walk, everything was so tight! After about 15 minutes of this, Jason made me walk to the medical room. I sat on the floor (which was strangely warm) and a nurse came out and talked with me.
Since I wasn’t feeling numbness or tingling, I was going to be all right. I told her I’d run marathons before but had never experienced anything like this. She herself had run them too and she said sometimes surprises happen. I don’t know if it was the warmth of the floor or the fact that my body realized I was really going to stop, but the pain went away and did not return.
As bad as it had been those last few miles and even though I did not reach the goal I was aiming for, I still view the race as a success. In the past, “bad” marathons usually meant 5 hours or more. I finished in 4 hours and 29 minutes plus change, and I couldn’t be upset about that. I’d pushed through something difficult and that too felt rewarding.
I’m still not sure what happened out there. Jason and I talked about it on the way home and with a marathon in October and another in November with fast 5ks and half marathons in between, it is not so surprising that I couldn’t keep that up for another month. Maybe I didn’t hydrate enough; maybe my body was depleted of something it needed. Whatever the case, I’d rather not experience that again.
This brings me to today - 3 in the morning to be exact. My aching legs woke me up and while nowhere near what I experienced during the race, they were enough to get me out of bed for some ibuprofen, cereal, and reflection. I’m now merely passing the time until I feel it is late enough to make coffee while hopefully not waking Jason.
I wish things had turned out differently, because I’d put so much hope in the day. Still, with all of that trouble at the end, Jason and I managed to come in third in the married couples division, and that is just fun, even if I didn’t contribute much to the placement. And with a brand new year beginning soon, I can’t help but see the possibility for new records in 2009. Lord willing, I will have many more opportunities for a 4:15 and better, just as I will have many opportunities for new surprises (both good and bad) along the way.