Yesterday my mom asked me if I'd run another marathon. That's really a question better asked when any sort of movement does not cause intense pain.
I wanted to wait for a bit to blog about the marathon; a little time out after running it meant that the blog could have a bigger outlook than simply, "Everything hurts." Fortunately, that is no longer the case. As of this morning, my neck, my right foot and after a dose of Excedrin Migraine, my head does not hurt. Everything else hurts. So now seems like a better time.
It was eminently worth it, though. For the last half of my training, I wasn't sure finishing was going to happen. About seven weeks ago I ran 20 miles and when I finished thought, "You know, I can do this." The next time I tried to run I made it two miles before my knee started throbbing. It turned out that 20-miler (and all the miles before it) had taken its toll on my IT band, which was inflamed and irritating my right knee, making running more than a few miles extremely painful. Neither my doctor nor physical therapist seemed concerned -- until we kept treating it and nothing happened. Since the beginning of June, the longest I'd run was six miles. I could see the question on my doc's face when I went in for an anti-inflammatory shot last week. How was I going to run 26 miles on a leg that couldn't handle six?
I did it anyway, trying to find a mental place in which I would keep pushing myself through the pain but also recognizing that if I needed to drop out to keep from doing serious damage, that was OK. The first few miles were good. Somewhere about mile 5 I could feel it; at about mile 7 it had a brief and quite painful flare-up but settled back down into a simmering ache.
Four miles later it just started hurting with every step. I was at about mile 11 now; I'd already come so far but had a long way to go. I tried to concentrate on putting my foot down straight, staying on flat parts of the road and not thinking about the pain. I didn't know how long I could keep going if it stayed like this. I begged God for a few more good miles. I could probably do five miles on a bum leg. I wasn't sure about 15.
Then, at about the halfway point, it all started to settle down. The pain was still there, but less acute. Another mile or so in and it was barely hurting at all. I remembered again why I love running and, without the pain to pay attention to, returned to the scenery of Emigration Canyon.
Out of the canyon, about 10 miles to go. I met up with Rachel (sign: "That's not sweat, it's liquid awesome") and still felt good. Running, while sapping so much, provides this adrenaline rush that is unmatched. I was running through not only her neighborhoods but streets I knew from my mission. Even though I had a long way to go, I felt like now there was an end. I could picture the rest of the run.
The miles ticked by. I noticed my knee actually hurt more when I walked, so I avoided that whenever possible, finding some small irony in the fact that my knee pain could turn out to be a blessing if it would keep me going. Along the way, strangers on the side of the road, either neighbors or people there for other runners, cheered me on. Running fans are the best kind. They encourage everyone. Hundreds of people I'll never see again (or barely saw the first time) cheered for me. It's a beautiful thing.
I passed mile 20, marking the farthest distance I'd run prior to this. This is where it's really supposed to get hard, people had told me. I passed Rachel again. Sign:
To my delight, it wasn't too bad. I passed 21 and 22, still feeling energized. One man commented that I still had a spring in my step.
"You're going to do this!" I crowed to myself. "You're going to finish a marathon."
I even thought that it really wasn't too bad and I think I could do another one, especially if I didn't have a gimpy leg.
I made one more turn and realized I hadn't seen a mile marker in a while, even though I had passed 22 long before. I must have missed 23, I thought. Then I saw it.
That was when my brain went from, "yeah, this is all right," to "No. Un-uh. We are done." The streets -- not miles, streets -- ticked slowly by, each one seeming so far away. Three miles seemed insurmountable. I turned again, no longer on attractive neighborhood roads or tree-lined avenues but running past businesses and parking lots in the unrelenting July heat. I passed Rachel (sign: "Go Heidi go!") and mile 24 -- one more mile, I told myself. At mile 25, people had said, you realize you're close to the end and can do it.
Those people either lied or are way tougher than I am. I hit mile 25, drank way too much water, poured more over my head, and started running again. Then walked until my knee hurt. Then started running again, the first few agonizing steps punishing me for the break, but I couldn't keep running. Just 11 minutes, I told myself. Eleven minutes of putting one foot in front of the other and I would be done.
It didn't help. I ran along the parade route for a time and tried to smile as people cheered for me and high-fived a bunch of children, then turned off the route and was still running. By this point I'd almost forgotten what it was like to not be running. Even though I knew I had only half a mile to go, I stopped to walk. I just didn't have it in me.
Until these three girls who I'd been passing and getting passed by for the last four miles ran by. "Come on!" one encouraged. "You're almost there. Run with us."
I did. They chattered, offered water, told me how close I was. About half a dozen times I tried to open my mouth to tell them to keep going, that I needed to go over to the gutter and throw up, that I'd try and catch up later. I didn't, turned the last real corner and tried to smile (it probably would have frightened small children at this point) as the girl I was running with pointed to me and yelled, "First-time marathoner!" to the bystanders, who cheered even harder.
Then we were in Liberty Park. She directed me to turn (she was doing the 10K)* and wished me good luck, and I suddenly found myself 50 yards away from the most beautiful sight I'd ever seen. I even managed to speed up a tiny bit as I pushed my exhausted body toward the finish line.
That was about 26 hours ago. I finished in 4 hours, 24 minutes, 24 seconds, 35 minutes faster than I'd anticipated. (More than two-thirds of the course is downhill. Gravity gets the assist.) I limped into the finisher's chute, looking for Rachel, looking for water, wanting to sit down, unable to stop moving, trying to fill my lungs with air for the first time in hours. Fortunately Rachel found me. We stayed for a little while, I got a short massage (ouch) and then we walked slowly back to her car.
The pain just kept morphing. As my knee settled down, I discovered every other muscle group in my body ached -- my chest, my back, my hips and glutes. The soreness was worse than I expected. I knew mentally it would be bad, but I didn't realize the only way I'd be able to walk was this clumsy duck-waddle. I hadn't thought about the beating my upper body would take and that lying down would be feat of no small proportions. My injury, thank goodness, seemed to settle down, not to pre-race pain, but too much less severe post-race pain. I was afraid that I'd made it a lot worse, but I think I only made it a little worse. Phew.
Anyway, the good news is, I can walk almost normally (minus the slight swaying), I can bend my leg, and I finished a freaking marathon.
The bad news is, if there's a fire in my house tonight, I don't think I can walk quickly enough to get out. And I will have to go down the stairs backwards.
* I thought my finishing partner was doing a different race. In looking at pictures, she and her friends are a few yards behind me.