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Tuesday, September 18, 2012

MDI half: a race report and retirement party

You know that moment when something that seemed like a good idea months back is right before you and you question the wisdom of your plan?

This is what race plans have become for me.  I think that I like the idea of myself as a distance runner but the ongoing issue with my right leg and losing some of my distance running mojo have been getting in my way. 

In my opinion, if you are going to run 26 miles (or 13 for that matter) you have to really have a thing about running.  Perhaps you need not love it but the scale must tip into more gratification than consternation. 

I signed up for the Mount Desert Island Half-Marathon sometime last year when the registration opened (it fills quickly).  It is the only half I planned on doing this year and I was counting on my base fitness to carry me through. I knew I couldn't do too many long runs because running over 7 or 8 miles bothers the inside of my right thigh down to into my knee.

I have run 3-4 miles many of the early mornings this summer, mostly because I was limited in exercise choices and you can run in the dark but you can't bike in the dark.  I rarely got the coveted runner's high and mostly had a sense of well there that's done when it was over.  Running has been more a way not to lose my sanity, rather than practiced out of love for the sport.  I attribute some of my rocky relationship to running on the injury and the fact that discomfort/fear of permanent damage takes some of the fun out of it.

As the race approached I considered not doing it.  My friend Mindy said, "You might regret it if you don't but you probably won't regret it if you do."  Good point. 

Ella has had a very difficult transition into school this year and has been very homesick and needing me around.  I considered not going for this reason but in the end she felt okay with it and Sandi spent the whole morning playing with the girls. 

I stood at the starting line thinking well, I certainly don't feel on fire to run 13.1 miles.  I had two friends from the gym, Melissa and Judy, who I met up with and it was nice not to be entirely on my own.  Then I ran into my friend Wendy and her son Adam, who was running his first half marathon.  I was very close to Adam's dad, Bill, who passed away from prostate cancer a few years ago.  It was wonderful to see him looking happy and getting ready to run a race.  (Thanks Wendy for the picture.)


Also at the starting line I ran into Tia, a young woman I had met while running the Sugarloaf Marathon in 2011. She is a sweetheart and we  amicably chatted away the first 6 miles of the race.  I ran alongside her feeling good and grateful to have the distraction while my legs warmed up.  I find that the end of long run is way easier for me than the beginning and that period of time while I search for my stride makes me kinda sorta despise running.  But hanging out with Tia made me literally say at mile 5, "What we are already at mile 5?"

The MDI half is the only half marathon in the country that goes through a national park.  It is a beautiful run through dirt carriage trails, mostly shaded, around Eagle Lake.  It is a stunner of a run. 

My legs were finally warm and ready for the 1 mile climb from mile 7-8.  Tia and I each put our music on and I fell into stride right behind her as we climbed.  When I hit the sight-for-sore-eyes water stop at the top of the hill I began to lengthen my stride for the cruise downhill. My body literally opened, my inner runner emerged, I picked up speed and I felt the run take hold of me.  This would be a good race.

Except that about 30 strides in pain shot up my leg through my knee.  It was a gasping sort of pain that made me shorten and hop a bit, a pain that intends for you to actually stop.  I kept running, hoping to "run it out."   What I experienced for the next many miles was somewhere between dull pain and the seizing pain that takes your breath away and makes you perseverate on the names of knee injuries that require surgery.  The flats were easier than the downhills but at one point the pain was so intense I had to literally stop and try to stretch it out.  I didn't want to walk the 5 miles to the finish. I cursed myself for not taking Ibuprofen before I left as I usually do.  I didn't freak out, but I did start bargaining with my body.

Let's just run to the finish and I won't make you do this again.

You can run 4 more miles, right?  It's only 4 miles.

If you do this I will get you the best iced coffee money can buy.

There are no spectators to speak of on the carriage trails but as we neared the 10 mile mark where the course turns onto paved road, there were some tourists milling around.  I began to ask random strangers for Ibuprofen.  I saw a lady in a group of casual walkers with a purse and my hope soared.  No go.  I hobbled along another minute or two and felt a tap on my arm.  A man said, "Are you the one who needs Ibuprofen?"  YES!  He had run in the opposite direction of their group to give it to me.

Oh stranger of mercy, I do not know you but I thank you.

I'm pretty sure that Ibuprofen carried me through the last 3 miles.  I didn't walk.  As long as you don't consider the near crawling I was doing up the last hill walking.

There is something I am really proud about in this race and it has nothing to do with my running or my time.  As I watched people pull out ahead of me as I slowed to accommodate for the pain, I didn't feel envy or bitterness.  I lost Tia who I'd hoped to stay with and didn't get down on myself.  I really just wanted to run the whole race.  As I saw people around me start to break down, I did what I have always done at the end of a race, the thing that makes me most proud to be a runner among runners:  I began to cheer for and encourage the people around me.  I love to give a whoop out and shout, "Yay! Mile 9!" in a crowd of people that look like they might prefer death over running.  High fives, telling people they look good and encouraging them to run instead of walk distracts me from my own pain and suffering and gets the gritty feel of a race under my fingernails. I love it.

When I crossed the finish line in 2:19 (6 minutes slower than my best time and 5 minutes faster than last year's MDI half when I had been intentionally running slow to preserve my leg) I was proud to be running.  My favorite part of a race is about a half mile from the finish and, knowing this could be my last long race, I milked it for all it was worth.  I was cheering and hooting and carrying on and as I came through the woods into the finish line shoot I felt like, instead of the finish line of a race, I had arrived at a funeral.

A handful of the spectators were clapping mildly and the volunteers were distractedly talking to each other and I had to all but say, "Umm, do I get a medal?"  when I arrived at the actual finish line. There were no water bottles to be found, but giant water jugs you had to pump into a cup yourself at a table with a line 30 people long.  Because no one I knew was there cheering for me (a first) I found myself, sweaty and thirsty, wandering around the crowd. It was the most somber finish line experience I've ever had.

But, being the big girl I am and having prepared for this, I went to the car and got my extra water and my bag and went in to get a shower. I missed my family for sure but it just made me appreciate how supportive they always are of me. 

When I was heading back outside to find Melissa and Judy, I ran into my endocrinologist.  She has been hearing of my running escapades for the past few years and helping me manage the erratic effects on my blood sugars.  This would be the same doctor who called me when I was on the bus leaving for the Trek Across Maine last June and all but told me not to do the 180 mile bike ride because of my elevated thyroid levels. I knew that she ran a little but I had no idea she was a distance runner as she stood before me sweat soaked and medal sporting, I felt that once again, running was the great equalizer.  Fast or slow, doctor or patient, we were both out there for the challenge. 

Time for a quick picture and then home to my girls.

Departing thoughts:

There are few feelings that can beat the humming contentment of hard worked muscles and the sense of accomplishment you possess on the ride home from a hard run.

I think it's pretty damn cool that, despite having only done two 8 mile runs and one 10, that I can still go out and run (hobble) 13.1 miles.

There's a chance my contented ride home pounding the water, and eventually the iced coffee, eating salty tofu jerky (you heard me right) was actually my retirement party.  I think it will be short distance running and long distance biking for these legs.  At least for a while...

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