Sunday, October 17, 2010

OW, Mt. Lemmon, That Hurt!

My mysterious injury has continued to hurt over the past several days. No better, no worse. It's been hurting the least when I don't have shoes on, so maybe I should have gone that route for the marathon. Kidding! (Sort of.)

This morning when I woke up it wasn't too bad, so I figured I had no excuse to not at least attempt the Mt. Lemmon Marathon. I don't know why I even signed up for this thing. Well, yes I do... it's because I told Craig I would. And because somehow, a year ago, it didn't sound too bad, like something just crazy and masochistic enough that it might be fun. Well. It was NOT fun, not unless the most painful "race" of your life can be called "fun".

I have not had any excitement about this race, well, ever, really. I wasn't excited about packet pick-up. I like giant expos, lots of free samples, thousands of runners milling around, travel to a strange city, et cetera, et cetera. It seemed wrong somehow to make packet pick-up just one of my regular Saturday errands, and still more wrong that there were, like, 6 booths set up and my "goodie bag" was stuffed with nothing but advertisements, not even a teeny granola bar or sample packet of powdered Xood, the drink of choice for the MLM and the grossest sports drink in existence, in my opinion. Also, it has always bugged me that so many things involved with Mt. Lemmon have a big yellow lemon on them (and yes, the phrase "squeezing the Lemmon" when used to refer to long, painful rides or runs up Mt. Lemmon ALSO bothers me). Seriously -- Lemon the citrus = L-E-M-O-N. Lemmon the mountain = L-E-M-M-O-N. Doesn't that bother anyone else? (Thought not. It's tough being compulsive about spelling.)

I didn't do any pre-race preparation (number-pinning, logistics planning, the laying-out-of-clothes, etc) until late Saturday night. Not entirely my fault -- Tim and I went to Bratfest, where I downed bratwurst, beans, soda, and 5 pieces of cheesecake, and no, I am not exaggerating. I had no concern at all for how I would feel during the race because I already pretty much knew it would be a bust. I had been toying with the idea of not doing it this whole week, but in the end decided to start because 1) everyone at work was sure I wouldn't, 2) I wanted the medal and the number for my refrigerator door, and 3) I was still harboring some faint hope that the injury was imaginary. After getting everything organized, we stayed up until almost midnight watching episodes of The Office on Hulu.

I woke up at 3:15 to have coffee, make breakfast, and make Tim's breakfast so that getting out of bed at the ungodly hour of 4:15 would be slightly less painful. (He is emphatically NOT a morning person, and I can't believe how lucky I am that he -- willingly! -- not only got up at that hour to drive me to the start line, but then spent his whole day on the mountain. Lucky, lucky me. But I digress.)

The start line was just past Mile 0 at the base of the Catalina Highway. I had been concerned about logistics, and thought that the whole thing sounded like a massive clusterf*ck where many things could go wrong. The start line was surprisingly uneventful. There were more than enough porta-potties; start line access couldn't have been easier, and the race started practically on time. It was much cooler than any of our practice run starts had been, and it was neat to start in the dark. I started at a slow jog with the other WOGgers and felt decent for about a mile... and then my leg started to twinge.

I kept up with Aly and Craig for another mile, and by the end of Mile 2 the twinge had become pain. As in, pretty bad pain. As in, the kind where every step taken at a walk is exquisitely painful and there is no other kind of step OTHER than those taken at a walk, because running or even jogging slowly increases the pain factor so much that it becomes next to impossible.

Somewhere between Mile 2 and Mile 3, I decided to drop. Screw it -- no medal or number or vanity over never having had a DNF was worth this amount of suffering. I hit stop on my Garmin and slowed to a painful trudge as I realized I didn't know HOW to drop. What would I do -- flag down an emergency vehicle? Sit on the guardrail looking forlorn until someone drove by and asked if I needed help? And would they transport me to Windy Point at Mile 13, where Tim was waiting with no way for me to contact him? Or would they just take me to the bottom? Can emergency vehicles just GIVE someone a ride without any paperwork being filled out? I didn't know. My thinking was kind of haphazard at this point but I somehow decided there would be a full aid station at Molino Basin, around Mile 5, and I would make it to Mile 5 and let the people at the imaginary aid station get me a ride up to Windy Point. I started the Garmin again.

The only problem with that was that my damn leg still HURT so bad that every step was painful. It felt like every time I stepped on it it rolled to the outside and stretched whatever tendon or muscle it is that was giving me so much trouble. All of a sudden, I decided my orthotics were to blame. You know, the very expensive ones that have never once felt comfortable. Rational or not, I stopped, took out my left orthotic, and put the shoe back on. It now had no orthotic and, of course, no insole either, and it still hurt but at least now I could walk at a relatively fast walk. (That being about 14:30 pace... but well below the 23:00 pace required to finish.) I knew now I would make it to Molino and decided then that I would make it to Windy Point too. All I had to do was keep walking, one foot in front of the other. I had to AT LEAST get to Windy Point to show Tim I wasn't a quitter. Not that he wouldn't have been supportive either way. He totally would not have thought any less of me if I had dropped out for fear of incurring some permanent injury. But somehow on the way up persisting through this marathon became all mixed up with persevering through life, and relationships, etc, and I just plain didn't want to quit. So what if it took me 6 hours? Or even 7? (So easy to say at Mile 4.)

I DID make it to Windy Point, but was still in pain with every step. I thought the Missoula Marathon hurt, but, pshaw, that was nothing, tendinitis is nothing compared to this mystery leg/tendon/ankle/shin/calf? whatever-it-is ailment that I have right now. (Though by Mile 20, tendinitis, my old friend, had come back too for a repeat visit, along with a nasty blister on the back of my right foot. Luckily all of those things fought it out with each other so that no one injury was allowed to take up too much of my attention. That, along with endorphins, was probably what let me finish.) It was so good to see Tim at Windy Point! He gave me a Clif Bar and a hug, both of which were awesome, and then I told him I didn't want to quit and that I would see him at the finish. I also left my orthotic with him. I'd been carrying it for the past 10 miles and can't wait to see the race pictures of me suffering with that stupid orthotic in my hand. I think I will have to buy one of those pictures as a monument to my suffering. It felt really good to be more than halfway done, but since that first half took me 3 hours and 3 minutes, I figured I would be lucky to break 6 hours even with all the downhill in the second half. Still, I thought it was possible if things didn't get worse.

Things got worse almost immediately afterwards. My leg hurt worse and I wanted to quit, again. I told myself I had to keep walking until the pilot car that Tim was following passed me. (Because there's only one two-lane road to the top of Mt. Lemmon, and one lane of it was closed for the runners, all vehicle traffic going up or down had to wait for the pilot car.) Well, the pilot car didn't pass for another hour, when I was at Mile 17, which was less than 10 miles from the finish. I waved at Tim as he went by, thought about asking him to stop at Palisades, Mile 20, instead of the end, and didn't do it because I knew that if he was at Mile 20 I would want to quit there.

After Mile 21, everything goes downhill. I got there by keeping my eyes fixed on the white line and pretending it was magic and every time my foot touched it I got energy. I convinced myself of this so thoroughly that every time I had to leave the white line to pass another runner, the pain immediately got worse. Also, I began muttering to myself, "I want that f-ing medal" over and over again. I did not want to have put in over 20 miles of painful walking and not get a medal out of it.

Downhill! Most of the other runners around me, all of whom had been walking for a long time, were able to manage a slow jog on the downhill. But for me it was much, much more painful than the uphill. Not only could I not run, I had to slow down my walk even more. There were about 3 miles of downhill, and then I saw the best thing ever -- Chia-Chi, Joan, and Doreen from WOG, parked on the side of the road, waving and cheering. That was great! Chia-Chi ran out offering ice, water, Gatorade, massage, practically everything but a ride to the finish. She dug her fingers into the trouble spot and it felt better, briefly. Then she said she was going to finish the course with me. I protested a little, but not much. I actually managed to jog on the downhill leading to Summerhaven, where the race ended. But before we got to Summerhaven, we had to make a nasty little detour into Ski Valley in order to make 26.2 miles.

This was a horrible, sadistic idea of the course planners. We had to go one mile up the Ski Valley Road, and I mean up and up and UP, before we turned around and jogged the mile back down. It is one of the steepest grades on the whole course. At Mile 24 -- really? After the race was over, someone told me that there was one runner who just didn't make the turn onto the Ski Valley road -- didn't miss it, because there were large numbers of volunteers and spectators pointing the way, but just didn't make it. Didn't feel like it, apparently. Not that I can totally blame that person, as that part of the course just really sucks, but still, if  you're going to run the marathon, you kind of have to do the whole thing. You know? (I expected a mat at the turnaround, to register the timing chip and prove you did it, but there wasn't one.) Thank God for Chia-Chi. We walked to the turnaround and then I managed to jog back down. It was extremely painful, of course, but the fact that I could do it made me think I probably could have done some more jogging on that earlier downhill. I guess we'll never know.

The finish was almost uneventful, except that it was so great to see Tim. I forget my finish time, but it was something like 6:20, which meant he had spent 8 hours (9 by the time we got down) driving me around and waiting for me to finish. It doesn't get any better than that. The medal I had been using as a motivator this whole time was small and looked like something a 4th grader might make out of clay in day camp. Also, the cord it's on is the cheap kind you can buy at a crafts store for like 10 cents for 6 feet. Oh well. The best reward of all was getting to stop moving, and hang out with all the other WOGgers, most of whom did really amazingly well.

I'm immensely proud of marathons like San Diego where I get a new PR, but I think I am even more proud of marathons where I really suffer and finish anyway. I hope there's a race picture of me suffering really, really bad. I will totally buy it.

And I know I will be hurting in a bad way tomorrow, but... Boston registration opens tomorrow! That should alleviate the pain somewhat.

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