Monday, November 21, 2011
Meet Me Halfway
On Sunday I finished my second half-marathon. It was bittersweet as the anticipation of the race (race days feel like Christmas to me) was coupled with a fear that I was setting myself up for a possible injury. I had signed up for the race back in the summer before experiencing several set-backs to my training. I needed to take antibiotics in September for an infection, which left me weak and in bed for ten days. I was instructed to change my food plan to a low-carb diet and reluctantly re-introduced meats. I hated my new diet as it left me further weakened; I lost a bit of weight, which for my frame was a big deal. I subsequently stopped exercising because I couldn't increase my calorie intake to accommodate running. My energy was nonexistent and running became the furthest thing from my mind. But I couldn't completely rule out the race.
I managed to get a couple runs in that included an 8-miler about a month before the race. Given that I hadn't really trained for 8 miles and finished fine, I figured doing a half marathon wasn't that unreachable. And in the days leading up to the race I cheated a bit on my diet and added some lentils and beans for extra carbohydrates. It would have been impossible to run without proper glycogen stores. I learned this during one of my longer training runs where my muscles completely cramped at mile 6 and I had to walk home. A week before the race, and still recovering from fatigue, I had images in my head of someone having to scrape me up off the pavement. But the carb-loading over the weekend paid off and my energy increased quickly. I decided on race day that I would go for it and run. In the back of my mind I still wondered if I was doing the right thing.
My friend Robert gave me tremendous support, running the first two miles with me and surprising me at different mile markers. I only started to struggle during mile nine. It's amazing what crowds, fun signs (Zombies Are Behind You, Run!, My Mom Runs Faster Than Your Mom, On a scale of 1 to 10, You're a 13.1), and high-fives from kids can do to keep runners energized. For not having run much lately, I was impressed by getting to mile 9 and feeling great. And then painful side stitches, presumably from the gu energy gel, and severe cramping in my one calf set in. There were two moments where the pain almost forced me to stop. My pace slowed. I was gearing up for the final stretch and felt it would be silly to stop after everything I had done. "Why walk? I'll get to the finish quicker if I run" I thought. I kept thanking my body for giving me this experience and believed that it would sustain me to the finish. It was like I was bargaining with it. "Please get me to the end. I just want to finish. I promise to be nicer to you in the future."
The crowds at the finish line were amazing and I had never before experienced such energy at the end of a race. I usually feel as if my shoes are filled with lead and typically struggle to cross but my body just wanted the race to be over. It gave me a much-needed jolt to finish quicker. I was proud of finishing given the circumstances of my health and diet in recent months. But I wondered if I had done more harm than good to my body by running yesterday. While I've given up many things (mostly food related) for the health of my body, on race day I put love of racing before it. Maybe the cramps would have happened regardless of my training. Who knows? Runners suffer injuries even when training properly.
After the race I decided to put those worries out of my mind and celebrate with friends; I vowed to train better in the future knowing that this experience was informative and will make me stronger. But Sunday evening my worries resurfaced and my heart broke to hear that two runners, one half marathoner and one marathon participant, died at and near the finish line. I wondered what was going on in their minds during their journey: their anticipation, their hopes of finishing, the signs they might have enjoyed seeing on the course, the high fives they gave, the family members they saw or visualized cheering them on, their highs and lows, and if they were wishing away warning signs to stop, bargaining with their bodies, as so many runners do, to get them to them to their destination.