Sunday, September 23, 2007

Can't Run Away Forever

In October of 2004 I ran the Marine Corps Marathon, and in November, I ran a Thanksgiving day 5k that would be my last race. It also turned out to be one of the last times I ran. From marathon to nothing in about one month. I can look back now with regret and understanding, but mostly regret.

I guess the story starts a lot earlier than that. I served four years in the military from 1996 to 2000. They made me run there and I garnered nothing but disgust for it. When I left the service I thought I would never run again and rejoiced in it. Then came the cushy desk job and the extra weight. Living a very active live style I didn't realize how easy it had been for me to gain weight. Weight is a sneaky thing though. You don't put it all on at once. It comes a little at a time until you wake up one day and your really heavy. You try to eat better, but that is only moderately successful. By the fall of 2002, I had decided to change.

That fall had many changes in store for me. I had decided to quit my cushy desk job and return to school. I picked out some running clothes and really crappy running shoes for my wife to get me for my birthday. I started running again. This was torturous and monotonous at first. I started out on the indoor track at the Middle Tennessee State University Recreation Center. It was six laps per mile and I would go in on Tuesday and Thursday evenings after a late class and do twelve laps. Of course I couldn't complete them at first but I soon found myself able to do them slowly and then at a fair speed. As the weather cooled down, I moved outside. I don't know if it was the cold air, the wind, or the hills, but running outside was completely different. I was set back a little but continued to improve.

In February 2003 I went to the campus employment office to find some part time work. To my surprise I found a running store in the listings. I applied and, again to my surprise, was hired. Working at a running store will do wonders for your running. All the employees ran and the store had organized fun runs. I immediately had people to run with and set dates and times to run with them. Up until this point I had only run a few race with very limited success. I had set PRs (personal records) at both, but hadn't really met anyone or made any friends. As an employee at a running store, the people you meet at races are customers and you get to see first hand how your advice and customer service has helped. It is very rewarding.

Fast forward to spring of 2003. My running has greatly improved. Everyone I know is running marathons. On a whim, I sign up for the lottery for the Marine Corps Marathon. In my life to that point I had won a cake (in a cake walk) and a gift certificate. Wouldn't you know that I won the Marine Corps Marathon Lottery. It was time to start training, and training I did. Still working at a running store, I had access to any and all information and expertise that I needed. I knew how far, how often, and if their were any groups doing a training run of that distance. I had a training schedule in hand tailored to me and all the support I could have ever wanted.

During my first twenty miler, I felt me legs tighten up on my in the last mile or so. In my second twenty miler, I had severe knee pain that stopped me at about mile 17. I had Iliotibial Band Syndrome. I had two weeks until the marathon and I almost completely stopped running to give myself the best chance of being able to run it. I mean, I had plain tickets, hotel reservations, and I had trained the entire summer for it. I tried all the stretches, I tried the bands, and I tried frozen golf balls. I was determined to get my IT band back in performance shape before the race.

Race day; seventeen thousand runners line up at the starting line. I line up with them. I had made the fatal mistake of arriving in DC two days early and doing site seeing in the interim. I am packed like a sardine in the midst of other runners who are planning on finishing in 4:30 hours. There is no sweat yet, just an electrical charge of excitement that surpasses anything I have felt at a 5,10, or 15k. I can't even see the starting line. It isn't that I am too crowded, but that it is too far away. The gun to start the race fires and I don't move for five minutes.

Once we get moving, I feel great. I am in the moment. I am keeping my pace. At ten miles, it happens. It feels like someone has stabbed me in the knee. I look down and of course there is no knife. My IT band is throbbing. I power through. I keep running I see my wife at twelve miles and she graciously rubs my down my leg for me. I get back up and keep running. By mile fifteen I can't bear it anymore and I have to stop and walk for a prolonged period of time

For anyone that hasn't had IT band syndrome, the most frustrating thing is that it doesn't hurt to walk on it. Stairs and hills hurt but normal walking is fine. In everyday training this is bad enough, but in a Marathon it is multiplied exponentially. You know that you trained for it. You know that friends and family are following your progress. You know they just saw a huge drop in your time form checkpoint to checkpoint. You can look at your perfectly synced specialty running watch and see your goal time slip away. You are walking and you are not tire and you are not in pain. I think frustrating only slightly scratches the surface.

I finish in 5:38 an hour and eight minutes slower than my secondary goal. The only goal that I achieved was to finish the race. I should have been happy. I should have felt a sense of accomplishment. I didn't. I felt betrayed by my body. Well, at least by one knee. The rest of my body was a well oiled machine. And, as funny as it may sound, I was embarrassed by my time. To be honest, I still am. Yes, as much as my knee was hurt, my pride was hurt worse.

Of course, I took time off after the race. I dropped my distance way down, but it wasn't helping. I was now getting pain at about a mile. I entered the Thanksgiving race immediately after the marathon thinking I would be healed. The Thanksgiving race was as bad as the marathon. I couldn't keep my eye off of my watch or the pain from my knee. I finished in 26:46, ashamed. I attempted to run several times over the next six months. Every time with a continuation of pain. Sometimes I would just feel the pain for now reason. Very quickly I had got out of the habit of running.

Now, four years later. I have put the weight back on, maybe more. I am back in a cushy desk job, my blood pressure is up, and my energy level is down. I have no physical relief to stress and my shame in self image is by far overshadowing that of running a 5:38 marathon. I don't have friends that run anymore or a fancy running watch. I still have all of my running clothes even if they do fit a bit tighter. Luckily, I have a pair of brand new running shoes with only a few miles on them that have been doing nothing but collecting dust for the past few years.

This morning, I went out for a two mile run. I was surprised at my muscle memory. My legs still knew my pace, but they were screaming at me to bring it down very quickly. My heart and lungs were making that call to slow down come across in stereo. I was disappointed in myself again. Not in how slow I was going or that I had to stop and walk a lot, but because of what I had let myself become. I don't know if I will ever run another marathon. I don't even know if I will ever run another race. I do know that I need running. I need it to stay in shape both mentally and physically. I need it to feel good about myself again.

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Phil Davis said...

As you know, running is very hard on the body. As you get older it gets worse. I could tell you of numerous things that don't work the way they used to on me... but that is another story:) This is one reason I like the Martial Arts, I can tailor the work outs to suit my bodies current state of being. I have been able to work out even during periods with a bad back, bad knees, and a bad ankle (not all at once thankfully). Have you considered cycling? To me cycling gives you many of the benefits of running but with less wear and tear on the body.

Budd said...

I think a lot of my problems came from increasing mileage so fast. Also doing more mileage than is necessary for fitness.