On Saturday, I completed my very first trail half-marathon. Who-hoo!
Want to know what place I came in?
That’s right. I was the very last person to cross the finish line. I was so late that as soon as I crossed the volunteers quickly tossed me my T-shirt, threw everything in their cars and left as quickly as they could.
So, what happened? Basically, I didn’t pay attention and took a wrong turn. I ran for about a mile before discovering I was running the wrong race. (There was a 5k and a 10k that shared parts of the course.)
And then my foot began to hurt on the uphills. And then my knee began to hurt on the downhills. And then I had to go to the bathroom. And then … basically I “let” a lot of things get in the way.
I began the race pretty upbeat and optimistic, even though I hadn’t been running well leading up to it. My running buddy and I did a grueling 11-12 mile run two weeks prior and that’s when I started feeling a twinge in my knee, something I have never before experienced.
It also took me about three days to recover from the training run. I had forced myself to run a few times since and that’s when my foot started cramping up. Maybe I wasn’t hydrated enough? Maybe I needed a … a banana? Maybe … the thoughts were endless.
A week before the race, I was still feeling pretty run down. Was I getting sick? I tried to rest and get as much “me time” as possible.
The night before the race, I got everything ready, but, since I had run the course several times in training, I didn’t feel it necessary to review the course. Even though they had a last-minute change. I thought I had it figured out. Nor did I feel the need to pay much attention to which course markings I was supposed to follow. Duh. What was I thinking??
On the morning of the race, we got there at 7:30, giving ourselves a full hour to stretch, fret about GUs and gear, and repeatedly empty our bladders. Then, 15 minutes before the race, my buddy and I decided last-minute to dash to the car to get a little extra water and drop off some clothes.
Because of that, we missed most of the pre-race speech by the race director, which I’m sure contained a lot of vital information. In fact, I was so confident I didn’t need to listen that I instead insisted in taking this glamorous picture with my kids and almost missed the start!
There were 50 people in the half-marathon and as soon as it began, most of them took off. Man, were they quick! I would never see them again. And here I thought I would surprise everyone along with myself and come somewhere in the top 20! Way to go, ego.
As soon as I started to run, I felt sluggish, which is normal for me. Except, I kept feeling sluggish.
About a half-mile in I felt a couple of toes in my left foot tingle and go numb. Uh-oh. I knew where this was going. Pretty soon I was slamming down on a cramped foot muscle that had knotted itself on the bottom of my foot, right behind my second and third toes.
In two miles, we came to the “big hill” and an approximately 950-foot climb. I had done it several times before in training. The last couple of times I managed to do it without walking. But today? I just couldn’t summon that energy. I walked more than a few times and tried not to feel discouraged when I kept getting passed.
About two miles later, I came to a part in the course where I should’ve taken a switchback to the right and continued up onto Echo Trail. I knew that’s the way I was supposed to go, but I started to second-guess myself when I saw other runners ahead veer off to the left. What I didn’t know is that I was already getting passed by the 10k runners who were splitting off onto the rest of their course.
Soon, I was speeding down a steep hill in the direction of the start line. Wait. That can’t be right. *gasp* I’m going the wrong way! I turned around to go back. How far had I been running? The hill was so steep all I could do was walk, pushing my thighs down to give them a much-needed assist.
At first, the people I passed just gave me a pitiful look. You’re a moron, I’m sure they thought. Then, people looked at me impressed. “You’re already on your second loop??” “Um, no. I took a wrong turn.” And then they gave me that pitiful look. You’re a moron. And then people just looked shocked. “ARE YOU HURT??” “Um, no. I took a wrong turn.” “Oh, thank goodness!”
Finally, I got back to Echo Trail. As I continued to climb I reflected on my current situation.
a) Why didn’t I stop to question my direction at the switchback?
b) Maybe it was because I secretly wished I was still in bed.
c) Why couldn’t I get into a groove?
d) Maybe it’s because I’m not cut out for running.
I indulged in all that for about 5 minutes and then said, Screw it. I was going to finish this race one way or another, so I might as well scrape together what remained of my dignity and just get ‘er done.
I took a potty break, ate a GU, gulped down some Advil and massaged my foot. I felt a little better, but not really. I wished I had some music to listen to. Listening to music has always helped me tackle hills and some of the other challenges of running. I prefer to listen to songs where I like the music, but can’t understand a word their saying. I occupy myself in trying to figure it out.
I continued on, but my foot cramp came back almost instantly. And now my knee was hurting, especially since I was now picking my way down a steep, rocky hill. What-ev. I kept going. And then … I saw my running buddy coming up the hill toward me!
“What are YOU doing here??” I asked, thinking that maybe she was so worried that she came searching for me. It turns out she took a wrong turn, too. She was frustrated and a little embarrassed. Just like me!
We wished each other luck and continued on our un-merry ways. Even though we weren’t running in the same direction, at least I no longer felt alone.
Eventually, I came to the aid station and saw some other runners who were coming back from the out-and-back to the ranger station. Everyone I saw were people I had imagined I would pass with ease. And here they were giving me the same looks of pity.
I had almost made it to the ranger station when I heard somebody shout out, “Are you Milly?” “Yes!” I said. Was I so late that a search party had been formed? Two people were walking up the hill toward me. “Oh, your husband was looking for you.” Wha?
Apparently, Kevin and Jack had parked themselves at the ranger station turn around and stared up the mountain for about two hours waiting to see me hustle down the hill. Finally, they left. I’m sure Jack was giving Kevin his repetitive, “It’s taking so longer!” complaint. I’m sure Kevin believed I was dead.
I thought the two people were runners — very slow runners — and I entertained myself with the notion that I should, at the very least, be able to pass them and not come in last. I got down to the turnaround, rubbed my foot again and continued back up the hill. I was pleased when I caught up with them.
And then I noticed that they were collecting all of the little yellow ribbons that marked the course. Oh my God, they were the course sweepers! Meaning I should be disqualified for taking so freakin’ long!
I pushed past them as quickly as possible. Occasionally, the wind would carry their voices down the trail toward me. Run away!! Run away!!
On … on … on. More knee pain. At least it was distracting me from my stupid foot. Eventually, I rounded the last few corners and saw Kevin, little Jack, my running buddy and a few bored volunteers. I was pretty happy to be done and had a big grin on my face, almost as if I expected a hero’s welcome.
There was a guy in the midst of putting his massage table away. He reluctantly walked over.
“I’m, uh, giving complimentary massages to all the runners. Did you, uh, want one?” he asked.
“No, that’s OK,” I said. “What I could really use is a beer!” Only Kevin laughed. I looked around, but of course, there were no beers to be had.
I guess I’m used to the finish lines associated with Kevin’s marathons and ultra-marathons. Usually, there’s beer-a-plenty, taco trucks, Jefferson Starship, bells and plenty of whistles. There wasn’t any of that here. Even the boom-box had been turned off.
About an hour after the race, I started feeling really depressed. For no real reason. I’m sure I was just having some sort of weird chemical let down. Like my body was saying, “Oh, thank God, she’s stopped torturing us.”
Later, my buddy told me she had the same reaction, which, again, feels nice to know that I’m not the only one.
However, that’s just one more thing about running that I find somewhat unpalpatable. With running, I often feel like I’m weak, not running right, not wearing the right shoe, not eating or drinking the right thing. Not doing enough hill repeats. Not pushing myself. Giving up too soon. Doing something right one way only to find out that I’m doing something else completely wrong.
Every body twinge is confusing because I don’t know what it means. “Oh, your baby toe hurts because it’s linked to the left knee joint, which is out of whack because you have a weak right hip flexor, which may be caused by a torn left shoulder tendon, which, of course, is directly related to your right ear lobe. So, if you work to strengthen your hearing, then everything else should fall into place.”
I love the feeling I get when I hit my running groove. But I get frustrated when I don’t get to that place every time. I love getting out on the trails, but I still feel like I don’t know what I’m doing. Like I’m stumbling around in the dark and bumping into things. It hurts!
That’s not to say that I’m going to give up. I have the Napa Valley Trail Half-Marathon in March to look forward to! And I’m peppering Kevin with all kinds of questions. “Just what are intervals? And should I be doing them?”
But I am taking some time to sit with myself and let the lessons of this half-marathon soak in. I’m going to focus on all of those little muscles I don’t normally think about. In fact, I found this fancy little video with all kinds of feet-strengthing exercises!
Now doesn’t that look fun! Check out those toenails!
Kevin’s latest thing is to play inspirational videos about ultra-marathons to get him inspired about the two or three 100-mile races he plans this year.
Yesterday, as I lay on the couch nursing my various maladies and feeling sorry for myself, we watched a riveting documentary on the Badwater 135, a, yes, 135-mile race through 120 degree heat from Death Valley to Mount Whitney.
The camera crew nonchalantly featured people throwing up, squirting blister juice everywhere and staring vacantly into the distance before passing out. Many of the runners hobbled along on prosthetics; they had previously lost limbs to land mines or something. And yet they lurched across the finish line.
It really helped put my paltry 13 mile (well, 15 by the time I was through) race into perspective. Ok, not really.