Ever since June, I've been unable to run because of a stubborn, painful problem with plantar fasciitis. No one is interested in the details of other people's foot problems, so I will spare you other than to say that fortunately I was still able to do spin class and elliptical, so I have been doing hard time in the gym since the end of June, haven't gained any weight, and am still in decent cardio shape. The plantar fasciitis has gotten a little bit better in the past few weeks to the point where I'm able to run through it and the pain goes away pretty quickly afterwards. (I'm still doing everything I can to keep it at bay -- stretching religiously, wearing my inserts, rolling my foot on a frozen lacrosse ball three times a day, and wearing that godawful night splint to bed every night. I even changed from my beloved Mizunos to Brooks. Anything to prevent me from being unable to finish my 50 States quest.)
I have been hoping that I would be sufficiently healed by September to do another state. Specifically, I wanted to do the Monument Marathon in Scottsbluff, Nebraska. There are two reasons I want to do that one: one, I read a book about a guy who took a mule-drawn covered wagon from the start of the Oregon Trail to the finish, and he wrote about Scottsbluff and it sounded cool, and two, the scenery is like the Badlands of South Dakota, which is the prettiest country I've ever seen aside from Arizona. I was okay for the 10-mile Detroit run last week -- not as fast as I used to be, and not pain-free, but not in agony either. A good test for my feet showed up right on time -- the RunDetroit 18-mile Course Preview Run for the Detroit Marathon, which happens in October. For $10, you get a supported run that includes Miles 10-26 of the marathon course, and then ends with Miles 1 and 2.
That sounded like a good deal to me. The weather this weekend was hot and muggy and I knew the odds of making myself do a long training run solo were minimal to zero. With a group, though, and with water stops to look forward to every four miles, this might be doable. Plus, I have no idea when I'll ever get to do this marathon because it is the same weekend as about 50% of the marathons I want to do in my remaining 16 states. It won't be till 2019 at the earliest, so I figured I may as well just check out the course now.
This seemed like a fine plan, and then Wednesday happened. Wednesday started with a swim before work. So technically I did not even need to work out after work. But I decided to do an easy three because I ate a cookie at work, or something, and I was obsessing about being over calories. I was just going to run down Rochester Road a short way and then turn around and run back. But as I was running down that stretch between Avon and Hamlin with no sidewalk, where the little singletrack footpath through the grass is, a place I have run dozens of times without incident, I went from cruising along to going down like a horse in a Western who puts its foot into a gopher hole on accident. One second everything was fine, the next second I was marveling at how exquisite the pain was. It really was, blinding and pure. I pulled myself up as fast as I went down because I didn't want any drivers to try to pull over to help in that place where there is nowhere for drivers to pull over. Here's what went through my head: Can't possibly walk back. I'll have to call Will. No, don't call Will, call Uber. Maybe I can walk back, it's only about half a mile. Let me try taking a couple steps. Oh, man, it hurts. No, maybe I can walk on it. If I can walk on it, what about a slow slow jog? Okay, this is doable. What if I just keep going forward instead of back to my car? Seems to be okay. Really, seems to be okay! Whew, seriously thought I broke something there. And I went on to finish the three miles at 8:11 pace in the heat and humidity, and my foot felt fine.
Well, at the end of the run it felt fine. By the time I got home, I was in agony. I iced it for an hour and it puffed up and turned all kinds of colors. It was painful at work the next day, but it's not like I couldn't walk on it. I knew I couldn't have broken it, because I couldn't have run two and a half miles painfree on a busted foot. By the next day, my foot hurt less but my calf on that same leg hurt more. Apparently I had also done something to my calf when I fell. I considered bailing on the 18-mile run but really, really did not want to. By this morning both calf and foot were slightly painful, but no more than slightly. (Although the foot is UGLY. Check it out. BTW, there is no angle at which a foot selfie is flattering.)
The run this morning started at Green Dot Stables on West Lafayette. This is not actually a stable, but a restaurant that looks really, really cool. I would've stayed afterwards if my stomach wasn't churned up from the run, but I definitely want to go back. (I have since googled it and found no trustworthy explanation of the horse theme, but I did find out that it has lots of fancy sliders and is open late. Who wants to go with me? Like, tonight maybe?) I sprayed Bio-freeze on my foot and calf and hoped for the best.
While I waited for the start, I looked at the course map. For some reason, I had thought it was straightforward. Nope, lots of little turns, especially in the first half. We were assured that there were pink arrows everywhere, but I have some experience with trying to follow arrows and I know it is not one of my particular talents. Half of the time I'm looking somewhere else when I pass one, and the other half of the time I'm on the wrong side of the street. I figured I would be able to see people most of the time -- I've been in marathons with fewer runners than this event had -- but I couldn't guarantee it. So I ran to my car, got a pen, and did this:
The run started out going through some residential streets that I had never seen before, but, man, were they ever cute. I wonder how many tucked-away little neighborhoods like those there are in Detroit? Probably hundreds. Then we headed towards downtown on Michigan. We zig-zagged around downtown for a while and then headed out of town on Lafayette towards Indian Village. This was a long stretch, but there was plenty of shade and much better sidewalks than I was expecting. Most places I run in Detroit it's sort of dangerous to raise your eyes from the sidewalk because it seems to jump up and pull you down if you don't keep a close watch. We had to run around a few piles of human shit but, what the hell, it's Sunday morning. Otherwise the run was very nice. Neither foot was hurting and I was running way too fast, about 8:20 pace, but I felt fine and was even able to talk to people.
We turned on Seminole and ran for almost a mile on that road, which has magnificent old trees keeping everything cool and one beautiful old house after another. Then we turned and headed back towards the river again. After the second water stop around Mile 8, the party slowly began to be over. I felt a dull ache in my plantar fasciitis foot (the colorful one was still feeling no pain), and I knew what was coming -- Belle Isle. I love Belle Isle -- sometimes. But I have had my fair share of shitty runs there too. In fact, that's where the plantar fasciitis showed up for real a few months ago. I wasn't looking forward to the bridge and I didn't know exactly where I was going. I knew we weren't looping the whole island but were cutting over somewhere in the middle. The crowd had thinned out by now, and there were as many recreational runners out there as there were runners from my group, and I didn't know who was who, and it would be a lousy place to miss an arrow, is what I'm saying. Also, it was sizzling hot by now, and despite my bragging earlier to two hot guys that I liked the heat (and then proceeding to chick them effortlessly), I was now hot and uncomfortable. I stopped to walk on the bridge. I looked down at the sailboats in the Detroit River and wished I was on one, even though I hate boats and would be violently ill in minutes if I was actually on one. I took off my shirt, which was as wet as if I had dipped it in the river. I debated skipping Belle Isle entirely and walking back to my car, or perhaps calling Uber. But then I told myself, "NO!" The point of this day was not to see if my foot would hurt. I KNEW my foot would hurt. The point was to see if I could persist through the pain and justify registering for Monument! So I kept going.
Belle Isle was pretty much as miserable as I had expected. (I did not, however, miss the arrow telling me where to cut across it.) I shuffled around Belle Isle in a funk, feeling only slightly better as I realized every single other runner I saw out there was also in a funk and shuffling. I was glad it wasn't 95 and humid, but 83 and humid with full sun was still plenty miserable. I remembered seeing the looks of misery on the marathoners' faces as they came off Belle Isle back in October when I was spectating. Belle Isle is beautiful and interesting, so why is it such an energy sucker like 9 times out of 10 that I run it? It is one of the great mysteries of life.
Once off Belle Isle, we headed back downtown. There was a stretch on the riverfront, where three other runners and I all forgot that the riverfront does not stretch seamlessly from Cobo to Belle Isle. There are a few pointless little interruptions where you have to leave the water and go back on the road. We ran into a locked gate and realized we had to backtrack. Only like a block, but that was enough to bring everyone down. We made sad faces and walked the backtrack. Then we were on Atwater for a while. After the last aid station, we turned right on Rivard and headed back up to Larned, where we zig-zagged through town again and ended up on Fort for the last two miles of the run, which are actually the FIRST two miles of the marathon, the part where the marathoners head up to the Ambassador Bridge.
This is, without doubt, the ugliest part of the course, an industrial wasteland much better suited for the start of the course than the finish. I remember last October, standing out here in my winter jacket well before sunrise, waving a sign for John's 3:45 pace group and squinting through snowflakes. Today the weather was the opposite. We sizzled like ants under a magnifying glass as we dragged ourselves up Fort to wherever the last turn was. (16th, or 18th, one of those.)
My time was lousy (2:50, just barely squeaking in under 10:00 pace), and my stomach was a disaster (I will spare you details), and I didn't drink even close to enough water, but I'm still happy with the run. Okay, my time sucked, but it was my first long run since May, and in pretty gross weather. Also, I ran the whole way except for that tiny little bit on the bridge. My foot hurt, but it wasn't debilitating, and I could have run another eight miles if necessary. It seems like this plantar fasciitis is kind of like that annoying tendonitis -- it makes running unpleasant, but not impossible. So I am going to go ahead and register for Monument, and the next thing to do will be to start worrying about my October race. I have been planning for over a year to do the I-35 Challenge, back-to-back Kansas City and Des Moines, but I'm not sure that's going to be doable. As much as it pains me to say it, I may just have to bump that double to next year and do Baltimore this October. (Baltimore is LITERALLY the only marathon worth doing in Maryland. I have looked at all of them and that is my conclusion.) I will wait till Monument and see if running another marathon the day after the first one is even a possibility with my feet in their current condition. (I've done back-to-backs twice, but this foot thing really has the potential to mess with my plans.)
In the meantime, I sort of wish I was doing Detroit. It's got everything I like -- gritty areas, beautiful neighborhoods, lots of downtown, a downtown finish, pretty flat, breaks down into manageable chunks easily, and really gives you a good luck at the city. Well, quest first, pleasure later; the marathon will still be here in 2019.