Running With The Devil
It is none too often that I can reasonably and factually say that I don’t have something to say, whether it’s inane, meaningless babble purged from the stagnant, dusty recesses of my brain or the lofty, intellectual, Sasquatchian lexicon laden musings of my absurdly nerdy synaptic bundles, but over the last eight weeks I’ve lost me words. I’ve been absolutely flummoxed, staring blankly at the glow of a few lines of text, edited, re-edited, re-written, struck through, and discarded, which gets to be quite taxing on a furry man’s mind. Just the same, I have come to an understanding and whilst the hour may be late for such an epiphany, the timing couldn’t be more perfect.
*Note: Each song coincides with the section below it*
Within a few strides of leaving work for this past Boston Marathon weekend, “Fear is your only God!” blasting in my ear balls, and I could feel all the cylinders fall into place one click at a time. I knew from the moment that I started scheduling this spring racing season last fall that it was going to be ambitious, but I didn’t fear it. I welcomed the challenge with a good plan and a fistful of bravado, but it is one thing to see it on the calendar and another to start living it. As time carried on and everything on that schedule became more real the nerves started to settle in and set-up a nice Hooverville in my stomach, keeping me in persistent knots. The first quarter of 2011 most closely resembled a Sasquatch plate spinner on the Ed Sullivan Show, in perpetual motion, the fur creating a sweet optical illusion of speed, hoping to just be quick enough to keep from breaking any of the plates. Much easier said than done and in the end one plate did fall, the question is which one?
In February, I journeyed far south to a vast foreign land called “Texas”, where I ran the Austin Marathon, which, and it pains me to say this, was a pretty sweet race. In addition to myself, there were a number of Team Sasquatch runners participating in both the half and full marathons and in retrospect this was a race fraught with demons. Each runner was locked up in foot-to-face combat battling the stigma of a bad race, the self-inflicted moniker of “slow”, pushing through an injury, getting their nutrition and its timing down, or finding their love for the sport again. I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced this, but it’s like running with a psychotically possessed version of Peter Pan’s shadow punching, kicking, clawing, and pulling at you, breaking your will, trying to force you to concede. They fought for every stride and every breath and when it was all said and done the day was ours and it was Mojito’clock! I couldn’t be prouder of the effort, tenacity, and mental toughness that was on display over the weekend and to make it even sweeter the majority of the Team members their had never met in person, but the camaraderie was such that you would think they trained with the Tuesday & Thursday Night Torture crew in New York. It was like hanging with the Goonies, just not sure who Sloth would’ve been … probably me though!
Fast forward four weeks and I leave the Right Coast for the self-proclaimed, yet deservedly maligned, “Best” Coast for the LA Marathon. It is while in the City of Angels that I come to realize that even the best-laid plans are not without their flaws. After a lovely and relaxing Friday and Saturday night with my brother and some friends it was time to toe the line once more, but due to a few crossed wires I ended up running the race on my own rather than pacing anyone. I thought to myself in the final moments before the race began, “ok, this will be a solid training run with Boston just up ahead.” Of course that is before all the choirs of Angels decided to cry, weep, piss, spit, raspberry, snot, puke, and crap all over us. Within a mile, not a few, a mile, the rain started coming down lightly and progressively got heavier. That was fine, I can deal with that, but the temperature of the rainwater and the lovely punishing wind gusts that careened through the city streets, like Mr. Freeze in a Maserati and humbled me.
By mile 18 my calf locked up, I was 17 lovely shades of blue and purple, run/walking, then just walking and shivering, and at mile 21 my shoulder angel and devil decided to make an appearance. “It’s only five more miles, you can totally do this, collect your medal, and take a nice eleven and a half hour shower with the water on scorching!” said the prideful devil turning my face and staring me down intently. “What are you going to gain from this run that will help you prep for Boston? A medal? A nice calf injury and hypothermia with a side of upper respiratory infection? What would you tell one of your runners?” queried the exasperated angel backhanding the side of my face. Feeling defeated, but knowing I was making the right decision I flicked the little devil into one of the massive freezing cold puddles and walked off the course. It was the first time I’ve ever DNF’d a race, even though the LA Marathon website has me finishing in 3:45 or something, and the almost shameful feeling that settled in was one that lingered like a storm cloud following Snoopy, zapping him as he tried to escape it.
The week after LA was all about getting that irksome, deafening, prideful little voice to, as my Pappy would say, “stifle thy self.” Tuesday was back to the routine with work, training, and refocusing on the prize, Boston. Each day whipped past and then I found myself sitting at my computer working on training plans on a decent Sunday afternoon passively looking for motivation to even leave my apartment, let alone go for a long, hilly and completely isolated 21-mile run. But, in a flash, there was a nudge and another and one more and as they flashed upon my twitter feed it was time to man up and get my ass in gear. I ate, hydrated, got all my gear together, and marshaled myself to a course that I tell anyone I train, “Do NOT do this alone.” I needed to do it. I needed a real test for my legs that was challenging and done at a pace indicative of my training and aspirations for Boston.
I crossed over the GW Bridge being blown to the side, as per usual, feeling that slight twinge in my calf and just kept going. Once over the bridge it was all about me and my head. I kept thinking to myself, “if your calf goes to hell and you have to walk back this is going to be one long, long day!” But after the first good climb I just focused on the run, enjoying the peace and serenity of the park, the absence of all distractions, and the simplicity of just me and the road. My favorite feature of this course, and why I love it so friggin’ much, is a one mile climb dead in the center of it that can be oh so humbling, but I pushed through it and, like the super running dork that I am, when I cleared the crest I clapped for the effort. Yah, I was a total tool that day, but on that particular day I had to give myself a little credit for sticking with it. I negative split the back half of the course passing the one other runner I saw on the course, but not before sharing my water bottle and endurolytes with him, apparently he was a little unprepared. Having slain the mighty Pallisades Park course I felt ready for the beast that is Boston.
Within the single beat of a hummingbird’s wings it’s time to taper and it just wouldn’t be a normal taper if something weird didn’t happen, right? Whether it’s the lovely aches and pains or those last few training runs that just feel like crap, something always seems to rise to the surface. Well, during the last month of my training I started hitting the pool regularly to give my legs a rest and just keep working my lungs. Two Fridays before the marathon I hit the pool and get 1,000 yards in quick before I erupt at the senior citizen save the manatee float parade that was bobbing its way along the “Fast/Medium” lane. I jump out, head down to the locker room to shower. Just as I get there I stop and take one good deep breath to settle the magma coursing through my veins and when I let that breath out I got into the worst back spasm I have ever experienced in my life, only on my lower left side. The spasm is so violent that I have to pseudo-dash for the bathroom so I can puke my guts out. Why? Who the hell knows, but it was ugly, the discomfort lingering for days, and whatever confidence I had cached was purged to the porcelain Gods that one fine day.
Needless to say I had a hard time shaking all of the detritus from my mind heading into Boston Marathon weekend and what’s worse is that I haven’t been even the slightest bit excited about the race. Yes, I am one of those people that tend not to get excited until the day of, but this was different. I have nerves!! I decided weeks ago to dedicate my race my race to Team Sasquatch member Maddy Hubbard’s 14-year-old son Stone who was recently diagnosed with Type-I Diabetes, something to which I am extremely proud of. The incredible generosity of the Twitterverse is something to marvel at. With the support of more than 50 contributors, my own personal time goals, so many others tracking my time, my back still bothering me, and my boss cranky about me missing work on Monday those aforementioned nerves started feeling like a swarming hoard of sadistic animatronic “It’s a Small World After All” characters holding a concert in my guts.
Before long I’ll be toeing the line and I will know how this story will end, but what I do know regardless is that I will keep fighting and endure.