There are days when I wake up and feel great. The pain is still there, my brain is still off… but relatively speaking I feel like I’m on top of the world. There are also days like today. From early on I often know its going to be a rough one. When I got moving first thing this morning, I felt way off. I hoped it would be something I could shrug off. I was wrong.
I’d already adjusted my expectations. Most days, 1:30ish is my general target. It’s a solid workout, but not a backbreaker. If the circumstances are right, I’ll adjust to a quicker target pace. When its bad weather, a hilly course or I’m just not feeling it I have to adapt in the other direction. The weather was nice this morning, and I’ve crushed worse hills. On the other hand, I just wasn’t feeling it. I lined up near the front, just ahead of the 1:45 pace group. I figured I’d go for a 1:40, and if I really struggled could just fall back and run with them. This wasn’t going to be the moderately fast race I’d hoped when the weekend started.
As the hot summer sun started to beat down, the Hotlanta Half Marathon took off from the Coca-Cola museum. Almost immediately we started to climb. Of course, that meant I slowed substantially. I was sure I’d recover after the climb, but today it just wasn’t happening. Between the frequent ups and downs on the course and my general health this morning… yeah… I just needed to finish. Right from the beginning I sensed how off my brain was. Yes, my back was killing me. Yes, my legs were killing me. But that’s only pain. I can handle that. It won’t kill me. The problem today was that my brain was off. As soon as I increased my exertion level, I noticed it: my balance was off. This was a problem. I tuned into it… I wasn’t exactly running easily today. There was a bit of a stumble in my steps. I’m pretty sure I would have failed the ‘walk the line’ DUI test. This did not bode well for the next 12 plus miles. Now, I just hoped I could stay with the 1:45 pace team. That would be acceptable. If not, just finish…
Normally, I pay more attention to the race course. Normally I immerse myself in the run, in the race environment. Today, it took everything I had just to keep myself upright and moving forward. We raced past some downtown Atlanta landmarks, Olympic stadiums and along the beltway trail. For the first half and change, I stayed in proximity of the pace team. At mile 6.5, they break out singing “Whoaaaa we’re half way there! Whoaaaa! Living on a prayer!” Normally I’d be all about that. Today, I just focused on my steps. We hit mile 8 – time for my strong MR8K finish. I picked it up a bit, and quickly regretted it. I’m certainly healthier now than I was two years ago. Although I almost did (multiple times), this time I did not fall. I stumbled, I slowed, but I did not stop. These last four miles were going to be quite rough.
The pace team now well ahead of me, we raced through the most shaded portion of the course: Piedmont Park. I couldn’t exactly enjoy it though. I was battling some serious physical demons. Each mile seemed to take forever. Some days the miles flow by. The race starts and it seems like only five minutes later I’m already at mile ten. Today it seemed like I’d been running for an hour before I hit the next mile marker. Then two more before I hit the next. This sucked.
Now I’m worrying about if the 2:00 pace team will catch me. I didn’t want another 2+ half. It’s frustrating knowing that I’m so much better than this, yet that someone else’s sins are still forcing me to suffer. But damn it! I will not let that negativity define my life. I will defy the odds, and I will live the life I choose to live. Pain won’t stop that. Suffering is a blessing: I’m still alive to experience it! So I keep trudging along. Honestly… I worry that I will fall, that I won’t be able to catch myself with my next stumble. So I run slowly, carefully, focusing solely on that slow forward progress. I see a familiar sight ahead – we run past Georgia Tech’s football stadium. I’d been here for a BC game years back. Despite everything that has happened since then: I’m still alive to make this return trip. I continue plodding forward. It feels like I’ve been running forever, and I’ve still got a bit left to go.
Finally, cresting the top of a hill, I see the finish arch ahead! Finally! But I don’t dare try to kick; I’d probably fall if I did. So I coast through the finish. Yes, todays run had been hell. But I’ve been through hell before and hell ain’t got nothin’ on me! It wasn’t pretty, and my beloved running… well today it wasn’t fun. But I did what I needed to. I’ve said for the past two years that this ordeal will teach me to be perfectly in tune with my body. Today was just another tuneup. If I can get it done when things are tough, I’ll be that much stronger on the brighter days.
I’d looked forward to exploring this course. I’d looked forward to relaxing at the afterparty. Not today… I’ll need to come back for this race again, on a day when my brain is a bit more functional. For today, I spent nearly two hours focusing entirely on self. I made sure every step I took continued my momentum. Little things we take for granted – today they needed all my attention. Now that the run was done, it was time for my most critical activity these past two years. I found a quiet corner of the park and took a nap.