Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Running for Your Life-Part 7

When I run it is always a great relief to get to the half-way point. I am a fairly avid runner. I have completed three marathons and numerous ten to thirteen mile races. To the non-runner this may sound quite impressive. The idea of running 26.2 miles sounds, not only impossible, but perhaps even absurd. Most people imagine doing a marathon as the ultimate self punishment. And while that is true to some degree, it is also hard for a runner to convey to a non-runner the sheer euphoria and finishing the distance.

In my first marathon, several years ago, I was utterly unprepared for the emotions that accompanied the run. I am not an overly emotional person, so I was surprised that over the last four miles or so I was near an emotional meltdown.

The meltdown was nearest the surface every time the thought of finishing the race came to mind. The race had been quite easy for fourteen or fifteen miles. I had had a brief energy low around mile ten but that was taken care of with a couple of energy gels. But as far as hardship or pain, nothing much happened until around mile sixteen. At that point, I began to have some discomfort in my knee. Or was it my hip? Or the side of my leg? I couldn’t quite tell. The pain moved around from spot to spot. Then blisters formed on my toes and I forgot about the pain in my knee for a mile or two.

Around mile seventeen, my running partner helped me out by begging off a few aspirins from another runner. I think that helped some, at least mentally. But after a couple of more miles, it became clear to me that something was wrong and it was not going to get better. The pain in my knee, or my hip, or my leg, really all of the above, began to get worse. I was still able to run but my gate was beginning to suffer a bit and this just exacerbated the problem. By mile twenty-one I was beginning to have some serious trouble. My right leg was not working too well. Although I probably was not swinging it around to move it forward, that is what it felt like.

You runners have probably diagnosed my problem. It was illiotibial band syndrome (ITBS) and it was fairly severe. I was getting tired and my leg was not working. I needed to stop at aid stations, briefly, to get a drink but stopping was a problem. Actually, stopping wasn’t so bad. It was getting going again. It hurt. A lot. But once I got going, I could keep my leg swinging and keep my feet moving forward.

At mile twenty-two, I had a decision to make. My faithful running partner was being held back because of me. He was fairly fresh and feeling good. I was not in bad shape, as far as wind, or exhaustion but the leg was continuing to deteriorate. If I encouraged him to go on, maybe I wouldn’t finish. But if I held him back, he would not finish the way he had trained. He was reluctant to go. He wanted to stay and help me along but I insisted and he left me at mile twenty-two.

After running that far, you may think that four measly miles is a cinch. However, as many of you know, the thing that makes a marathon a marathon are those last few miles. Up to twenty, it is the realm of many men. After twenty, it gets interesting. The last few miles can be brutal, especially if you have an injury, or pain. I had both.

No comments: