Only When Chased — Twenty Weeks from Twenty Weeks — Enter the Professor — #onlywhenchased
When we fear for our lives, our safety, our possessions, our desires, we run to comfort. The comfort of an old blanket movie, conversation with a friend. An old book, article something we read, something we wrote. Going back to George Plimpton and Hunter S. Thompson as inspiration has provided the fuel for opening the laptop and writing something I wasn’t sure I actually wanted to write about. Failure. With an elapsed 40 weeks into the #onlywhenchased experiment (that’s 30 weeks of moving time — but more on that later), and without going too deep into spoilers, we are now staring the ugly specter of failure right in the face. There are 3.5 weeks left to train for this monster task that is a full marathon. What once seemed like an infinite supply of time and space to make something magic happen, has dwindled into a crash course in brain surgery, that has “train-wreck”, “dumpster fire”, “hold my beer” written all over it.
However, the lessons of both Plimpton and Thompson loom large over this endeavor. Coming at it from their unique angles, it was Plimpton’s goal to understand the game from the inside, and Thompson’s goal to burrow his way to the heart of the desire that fueled the American Dream. Neither would accept the outcome as a failure if the journey had been cranked as loud and large as it could go. In their eyes, no story deserves a “happy” ending. Just an ending that is commensurate with the journey. And so, we go!
“No sympathy for the devil; keep that in mind. Buy the ticket, take the ride…and if it occasionally gets a little heavier than what you had in mind, well…maybe chalk it off to forced conscious expansion. Tune in, freak out, get beaten.” — HST
The 15-Mile Fail
Toward the end of the first twenty weeks of running, I had gathered a lot of miles, a lot of pain, and a lot of frustration, but not a lot of progress. I had resigned myself to the fact that I must be doing something wrong. It is truly a fool’s errand to trust the internet something that should be learned from someone who listens to you. I had learned this in my experience with my cycling coaches. They would prescribe workouts, and provide advice, but were always accountable to what I had to say when they asked, “How did it go?”. If I had followed the plan and failed, we would get to the why of the failure quickly, retool, try again. Having bought books, watched videos, and listened to podcasts (these are nice things don’t get me wrong), I realized that when the songs those things were singing were out of tune with real-life execution, there was no one to discuss the result with that could help dissect the issue and provide a strong correction moving forward. This is the value of a coach, and it should not be underestimated if improvement is a critical path item in your journey. And so, for running — I was quickly able to find one through someone close to me. Someone that knew me, that had cycled with me, and who was excited that I was now running.
Enter Chris Armen. His lifetime passion has been running. He has run every conceivable format of racing that is available to the modern runner. Certified by the Road Runners Club of America — this was the voice of reason that I needed to put my program on track — if I was serious. (And he’s an all-around good guy too, so there is that). We reconnected and figured out a short call on Zoom and I was ready to dive in almost immediately. Chris had looked at what I had been doing and offered me some good advice to get started. Having looked at my 15-mile fail, he remarked that “you don’t run three hours without water — what were you thinking”. My answer that “I thought the gels would be enough”, I think made him realize that this would be a tougher job than he may have signed up for. Clearly, my “gonzo” approach to running was going to need some structure, and some discipline around some of the areas that I had been taking for granted.
Naturally, as I have written in this space before, I thought that just upping the mileage a little more each week, would eventually yield the speed and the endurance needed to outlast any arguments from my body on race day. The pain and suffering experienced in the late hours of April 16th, 2021, clearly contradicted that view — and so we would be on to something new, setting a reasonable goal, and then altering it as we went. I didn’t have a “need for speed”, what I had was a “need for feedback”, something only a good coach would provide with the right lens. Looking back, the 12:33 pace of my longest ever run, doesn’t look so bad. By mid-July, I would have been happy to have it.
Building Up — 24 Weeks to Go
On the morning of April 26, almost exactly 6 months before the GFNY Florida Marathon Sebring — my target event, we began with a simple workout, and I was introduced to a new running concept. Strides. We had no preconceived notion about pace, except that it would be roughly 45 minutes of relaxed running, capped off by 3–4 sets of strides. Strides are short one-minute or so intervals that focus on quick feet, without breaking into a full sprint, but extending your running motion a little further than at the relaxed pace and then taking a one-minute rest interval before doing the next one. Strides were to become a regular, first-run-o-the-week feature, that would allow me to feel a little faster, a little nimbler, and generally cap the first run off each week with a little confidence. I may have taken the confidence as an intangible, but we tracked them as laps so that we could discuss how they felt and see how the pace differed from the relaxed run.
Working in the early stages, Chris was devising a plan to understand my capabilities to develop an idea of what he was working with. The Monday workout was a pleasant surprise with a faster than usual pace for the distance, and no real pain or stiffness post-run. He then threw a familiar phrase at me from my cycling life, and that’s when I knew where we were heading with his gap analysis. The TT — or Time Trial — the race against the clock would be turned now from what was a part of my cycling that I was working hard at developing a few years ago, into a running test to see what my potential would be when put to my limits for a defined distance. The distance, in this case, is 5 kilometers. I had not broken 30 minutes for 5 kilometers in…well…ever. Knowing I would be traveling, Chris asked me to find a flat course with no intersections or interruptions to bang out the effort. And so, it was time to bang it out — ten-minute warm-up, lap counter, HIT IT! At first, I ran in an almost panicked state. As if I was literally being chased (see what I did there?). About a mile in, I started to cool it off thinking that I was going to blow up, and so I tried to slow myself down without compromising the overall result. I decided the best thing to do at this point was to let go and not worry about or watch the clock until the clock told me it was time to stop. When the time finally came, I was not only pleasantly surprised, I was blown away. With a 9:18 average pace, I never thought I would be able to run that fast, that far, and live to talk about it. With no smell of burning toast in the air, I checked my heart rate and saw that things were settling down to relaxed levels and began the slower pace back to the hotel to unpack it.
We didn’t run another long run until the following week. The May 9 run was intended to be a 1:30 minute affair without too much attention to hastening the pace. Somehow, I got it all wrong in looking at projected mileage and ran the mileage as fast as I could. I was missing the point. As Chris looked into Training Peaks to see how I did, he pointed this fact out. We were working on building up time. Not working to see if I could finish my homework faster today than yesterday. While the pace was encouraging it was also a miss on the assignment to keep up the run at a steady pace for 90 minutes. I promised on our next call to make the fifteen minutes up on my next run, but once again, the point of things had gone right over my head.
An Introduction to the Track
Now with 22 weeks to go, it was time for Chris to introduce speed work. This was a familiar concept from my cycling training. Intervals for specific times, at a hard intensity, to build your aerobic engine, increase cadence, and start to get faster. Without it, things change much more incrementally (or so it would seem). I had not ever done any kind of speed interval for running, and so I was terrified of failing to meet the assignment. The markings on the track, the athletes that are training on the track, and just getting the guts to start are all incredibly intimidating the first time. Everyone is watching. You won’t be running away from these people; you will run toward them. And then away, and then back around, and then away…and so on. And while you think you look like you know what you’re doing, you suddenly realize that you look like what you are. A middle-aged man, running more with a sense of panic than purpose, as if being chased by a pack of wild pigs that are suddenly more interested in chasing someone else, or each other, and haven’t gotten around to telling you that they aren’t chasing you anymore. You are running from an invisible pursuer that you are pretty sure is going to catch you.
The first set of 800s (that’s four times, 800-meter intervals with 2 minutes rest) were not done on a track. Being away from home I measured out the most track-like object I could in a place that is never truly flat. I managed to equate .25 miles with 800 meters in my head and circled a church and school for the next 40 minutes and miscounted my laps. It was a good attempt. The next set took place on an actual track. Without remembering anything that Chris had instructed me on how the lines were drawn, which lane to use, and how to space the intervals, I went for it in the only free lane. The local high school football team was doing their agility training on one side of the track, and so it was a challenge to find my way around it as I tried to complete the set. No sooner than I had figured it out, it was time to up the ante to 1200s and finally 1600s.
The thing about intervals is that they make you doubt yourself. That you can hold on at a given pace for a given distance — even if you know you have done it before. (Like in the 5km TT). Suddenly you are on the track and you are gasping for air, and saying “three more around”, “two more around”, “one moooohre aroooound”, and then you are just saying “line, come on, line, line” until the line is crossed and you can begin your “that’s the way I wanted that to look” cool-guy walk back to the start line for another set.
I began to text friends that knew what I was up to, have been there before, and I would give them that “in the know” nod in my message “yeah, I got the 1200s tomorrow so it’s early to bed for me”. They text back “ah 1200s — good times”. It was at this time, that I realized, for better or for worse, I was a runner. For something that started as a self-triple-dog-dare — the Great Magnet was pulling me ever deeper into a world I previously associated with pain and suffering, was now evolving into a set of highlight-reel moments in my endurance athletics. I was even enjoying it. Enjoying the learning and enjoying the process.
“My mind hates my body, my body hates my soul, I close my eyes and fight, inside my own black hole!” — Henry Rollins — The Bars, Black Flag 1984
The Thrills and Hills of June — Twenty Weeks to Go
There is, in many a decisive downfall, a flash of brilliance that directly precedes it. This may be a flash of light, an explosion that resembles fireworks, or the Aurora Borealis more than it does ordinance or explosive chemicals. A brilliant flash of lightning precedes a blackout. For me, this was the month of June. I have always felt that June was the shortest month of the year. It just goes by so quickly, seemingly faster than any other 30-day month on the calendar. There is no logic to it. It just always flies by. This would be no exception. It started with the workouts. The workouts were happing with a frightening sense of discipline. While I was long-haul preparing for the marathon, I was simultaneously managing a busy training calendar for cycling. Before the marathon, I would have to navigate a half-marathon as a “test race”, travel to France, race the not inconsequential GFNY La Vaujany — a leg-breaking race over bucket-list alpine mountain passes that would truly test my resolve, and would cap the Summer in September with GFNY Santa Fe — no shrinking violet in the world of climbing on a bike. This was a packed calendar. My fitness scores were the highest they have ever been as I started the half-marathon to beat the lucky 2:18 I had done in the Brooklyn Half-Marathon in 2009.
We arrived in Philadelphia just in time on Friday evening to pick up the race packet and have a nice meal. On race day morning, I kitted up and did some early kilometer to mile translations, and with my watch set to tell me every kilometer about how I was doing, I started the run. For the first time in my endurance sport career, I managed to keep my effort in check out of the gate and let the pace come to me as I warmed up. With 3-kilometers of 21 down, I started to feel good and was now banking time with sub 6:00 minute kilometers. For each one I did below 6:26 it was time in the bank toward making the PR.
Halfway through the race, the course took a turn through trails, grass, and up ravines. I made the smart decision to not try to rush through this and treat it with a little bit of respect rather than have it take me down altogether. I was burning some of my banked time, but if I made it through here without injury it would allow me to regain that time on the way back. Knowing I would face some small rollers, I prepped myself mentally to make as much time on the flats. I was learning, I was strategizing. I was walking through water stations, making sure that I was staying hydrated. Using my gels, as well as the water, I was making time. I could see the record happening. At the ten-mile mark, I patted myself on the back. I had seen the marker at mile 3 and decided that I would acknowledge the achievement of those 7 miles when I passed 10 on the way back. This was happening. Five kilometers to the finish, you can do this. I managed my effort but kept an eye on the pace. It was flat from here. Bank a little more time, but don’t blow up. Treat yourself to a gel. Take the water. Make the smart moves.
The video taken at the finish by my best gal shows me powering past someone who was slowing down in their last mile. So many of the runners that had passed me on the way out were limping home in these last three miles, and somehow, I had managed to not be that guy this time. (I almost always am). Medal, bathroom, back in the car for Dad’s birthday. But it was a fabulous and happy ride home. Coming in at 2:15 I couldn’t believe how well I did. It was a proud moment that would only live for a week or so, soon to be outdone in the French Alpes. Three days later, I would start packing for GFNY La Vaujany.
It was a tall order to pay equal attention to intense cycling preparation and running preparation at the same time. There is always a clear winner in a fight like this and running was pretty much taking it. My one big preparation ride for La Vaujany was a hot and humid climb fest in the Catskills. With impossible grades, and nowhere to stop to refill water/food, I soon found myself in an impossible situation on the final climb back toward the town of Roscoe. I had picked the more difficult of the two climbs back (shorter, but steeper), and was in full bonk by the time I reached the top. This would not stand in the Alpes. I would have to do better, plan better. Fill those jersey pockets with every hack I could think of to keep myself on the road for what I anticipated would be an epic fight within myself. Even as I got to France, waiting for some mechanical work on my bike, I got my runs in. I won’t go into it in depth here — that is for another story — but the day of the La Vaujany race was truly epic — the fight within myself did not disappoint.
Coming in a “fast-follow” and scant 4.5 hours behind the winner, I was dead last in the race. But it didn’t matter. I finished something that day that was more challenging and took more resolve to stay upright and work for the prize than I have ever done. With nearly 12,000 feet / 3800 meters of climbing, this was the most climbing I had ever done at once. It was relentless. The descents were technical and almost as challenging as the climbs, while the climbs just felt like they would never end. A somewhat unique situation, having a support vehicle following me from my second assault on Alpe d’Huez back to the climb into the village of Vaujany, I had promised that I would do that pat on the back for myself as I rolled through one of the final towns on the lower half of the Col du Sabot en route to the finish. From there I knew it was only another 25 minutes, and despite the pain and suffering, there was a light rain that was cooling me off and making me feel like I didn’t need to rush. I had this. The biggest achievement in my cycling career was within reach and I knew I was going to pedal across that finish line.
With the thunderstorms, the timing equipment was taken down, and the timekeeping was transferred to the official race keeper’s wristwatch. As I crossed, she looked at the race director and shouted “eight-forty-one” now my official time for the race. I was medaled, fed, congratulated, and even celebrated for sticking with it. It was a truly amazing moment, and it will never be duplicated.
I returned home on the 24th of June. Immediately, I was back to running that Thursday, riding, and running that weekend. My coaches had given me recovery assignments, but I guess that I didn’t treat them as such. I worked my way through the end of June with some business travel, dental hassles, and as much workout consistency as I could muster. But I was tired.
The Agony of July — Sixteen Weeks to Go
July started innocently enough, and as you would expect in New York City. Hot, humid. By all accounts my body was thinking recovery, while my mind and soul were still thinking “build build build — we are running out of time”. With just over 16 weeks to go July 4th would be a big one. A two-hour run to get back into range for working back to half-marathon distance, and then soon to what would be my longest distance (probably by September), then starting the taper the way a traditional marathon plan would. Today, July 4th, it was just a two-hour, marathon pace run. Nice and easy. But my mind and soul were in charge of the pace. Not my body. My body would have been happy with 11:30 or even 12:00 minute miles. And so too, would my coach. And so too, would I, had I kept that pace when I had completed the run. For the first 90 minutes, I felt like a champion. A spring in my step, this marathon was going to run itself. I was counting chickens. Jesus, at this pace, I bet I can do under 4.5 hours. Wow-what if I can be on the podium for my age group. I stopped an hour in to get water at the car. I was suddenly starting to not feel as good. Things were stiffening. Starting up again hurt. There were muscles I wasn’t aware I had that were suddenly begging for mercy. For the last nine kilometers, the pace had been sub-11 miles. For the next three, it would be close to 12. Something was happening, and I was too dumb to put a stop to it.
I watched my watch without lowering my wrist as I ran the last two minutes of the two hours. I had done 11 miles, nearly 18 kilometers. It was, on paper, a great run. But it wasn’t the run I was supposed to have. I was at tempo nearly the entire time, raising my pace for no reason at all other than I felt good. When I got out of the car at home, I could barely walk. Something was wrong. I tried to stay off it for the next day and informed Chris. We wanted to understand how bad it was, so we agreed on a 20-minute run to see how it felt was in order. I survived the 20-minute run but with a ton of residual pain. This was not going away on its own. We gave it another day and tried to push it to 25 minutes. The pain during the last 10 minutes of the run was excruciating. From my groin to my throat, it felt like the pain was now sending signals upward — STOP DUMBASS — YOU ARE MAKING IT WORSE. I limped home and tried to stretch my legs. Each time I stretched the muscles immediately spasmed sending me into a crazed dance to try and rid myself of the cramps.
Oh, how the mighty have fallen. From the summit of the Col du Sarenne to hobbling around my living room with a cane. With every meal, I could hear myself getting fatter. Trying to get on the bike to keep up my aerobic capacity made me feel like I had been kicked repeatedly in the nether region. I would stop, try again. No good would come from it. The only option was rest, and so I sat and watched as my all-time high fitness numbers plummeted back to where I had by that time convinced myself that I probably belonged.
And so, you wonder. With all that free time, you could have written this while you were sitting. Maybe so but ask yourself how much you relish telling the tale as it’s happening. It was for real the stages of grief. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.
· Denial — this is NOT happening. It’s not a real thing it’s just a pull, couple of Ibuprofen and I will be right back at it.
· Anger — I can’t believe this close to it, and after all the work that I have put in, that I am going to fail here, now, while I was doing well.
· Bargaining — I will just do the marathon and take a longer time to do it, I will be able to up the ante on my training, and this will be fine, I will trade a longer time for a finish.
· Depression — I see people running and even though I can ride again, I am unbelievably depressed about not being able to run without fear of pain. This is endless, when will it be over.
· Acceptance — this is not going away. (Chris helped me get to this by convincing me to see an orthopedic surgeon, to come out with a prescription for physical therapy. We needed a pro physio on the team to help make this happen).
On July 26, I started physical therapy with Dr. Richard Melville. I had picked him for his athletic experience, and he was right in the neighborhood. I knew I would need someone that knew what I was going through. The physical therapy program started with a diagnosis of a grade 1 adductor strain of the right leg. In laymen’s terms, a pulled groin. But man was it painful. As Dr. Melville worked through his diagnosis, he provided me with some information on exactly where I was at. The leg, the adductor, was in complete spasm. The massage treatments were painful but always helped to make the walk home feel right. I had noticed that I had begun walking with a strange gait because of the pain, and so the adductor wasn’t the only thing that was causing trouble. When combined with an arthritic hip flexor, and quads and hamstrings that were “unbelievably short” (the docs term), the entire ecosystem had failed. According to the doc, when you have weaknesses that you put under extreme fatigue — the adductor will always expose them. This rang true as it was always my adductors that would cramp on big climbs, meaning that I had not developed my glutes, hamstrings, quads, and calves to the point that they worked together as an ecosystem. This was making my hip flexibility brutally insufficient, likely shortening my stride, and creating the types of problems I was now trying to rehabilitate.
The major lesson of physical therapy (which continues even now as I write this), was flexibility. Dr. Melville was frank with me. “You have plenty of cardio in your life — more cardio than most people. But at your age, you want to make sure that your body continues to be able to do what you want to do. You need strength and flexibility for that. You need to be consistently working on both strength and flexibility to make it all work.” With that in mind (and I had tried several strength programs), I tried a program I had heard of on the Science of Sport podcast called Dynamic Cyclist. As I explored the program and signed up for a trial, I wrote in and asked what they had for runners. “Dynamic Runner is free with your purchase of Dynamic Cyclist”. Seriously? I gave it a try and found it helpful. 15–40 minutes a day (the long tail on strength days), and introduction to the use of foam roller, the stick, and other tools to get the entire ecosystem stretched and flexible consistently. I began to see it as an advantage. After every workout where I may have been a little sore or tight, running the stretching routines helped me to feel better. Before my short runs, the 5–8 minute warmups helped me keep in control in the early going of the run. The strength program is mostly body weight-based and takes only about 25 minutes three days a week. Still, it was more than I had been doing in this area, and I was recruiting new muscles for the fight.
Finally, on August 17, I was able to make my first run back. A whopping 22 minutes just to see how it would feel. It didn’t feel great. The adductor was sore. But according to Dr. Melville, the muscle was no longer in spasm. My hip flexor pain was accentuated, and as I found myself in Savannah, Georgia on a trip to help my daughter move into her new apartment, I decided to do the 30-minute test run that we had been discussing. All the while since late July, I had been back on the bike, and the bike was feeling good again. I was nowhere near my speed or capability and so I accepted that this was a recovery period, and let it slide as much as I could. But the bike was relevant to the run. Biking, it seemed, always made the adductor and the hip flexor feel better. So while my bike training was still very important to me, it was now also a tool in getting my running legs back.
10 minutes into my 30-minute test the hip flexor was crying. The adductor was sore. I was slowing. I then saw several runners in Forsythe Park with beautiful, extended strides. I remembered my strides from before I got hurt. I thought of Chris explaining — “quick feet”. I tried to do a slow methodical stride for a few seconds. The day before my short 25-minute run had fallen apart. I felt my gait and step were all wrong, and it was painful. It made me extremely anxious to think about trying to run again. As I went through the motion of my stride thinking about the gait issue, I realized that this felt better. There was less or no pain in the steps I was now taking. I had been favoring one leg or the other as I went trying to avoid pain, and instead, I was causing it.
All energy flows according to the whims of the Great Magnet. What a fool I was to ignore him. — HST
End of August and September — Twelve Weeks to Go
Chris and I were beginning to strategize. How to know what to do on race day. At mile marker 13.1 what would my decision be? Continue through the kite and convince me I can make it another 13 miles no matter how painful? Finish standing up and strong for the half-marathon victory lap around the track in Sebring. (Probably not that’s a long-ass victory lap). Would it even feel like a victory? Would it feel like I settled and failed? A “shit-quit” as they say. The objective was to finish the marathon. It was gradually disintegrating, but there was still hope. The Great Magnet was speaking, but I wasn’t listening. In my mind, it was still possible. We would just continue to hit the long runs a little more often so that we could get the work in that we needed. With a 10-kilometer race on the calendar as a speed test for the end of August, we decided to let that pass and continue to work slowly up from 1:00 hours, to 1:10 hours, to 1:15 hours, to 1:30 hours (if you are feeling good). It was working. The pace was starting to slowly come back to something reasonable and feeling like I could run was beginning to reemerge. Winding into September, GFNY Santa Fe was on the horizon, but I was determined to keep the running ramp-up going, all the while cycling according to plan, and treating the two training plans as a single entity. Because, why not? I was starting to believe that I could become a multi-sport athlete, and so what’s the point of believing it if you are not doing it.
By the end of August, it was a mixed bag. Runs that went poorly and runs that went well. There was a distinct pattern. Run in the daylight — do well. Run in the dark — get what you deserve. For whatever reason, in the dark the pace would slow, the pain would go up, and the stride would change to accommodate running without reinjuring myself. Into September it was coming back. I was up to 1:45 and doing well. My first two-hour run was scheduled while I was traveling in the week leading up to GFNY Santa Fe. I planned. This would be daylight, I would get up early, and do it before the workday started. As I set out fresh out of a coaching call with Chris, everything was going well. I was heading into the Fremont area of Seattle and had just tracked at a reasonable pace the same ground I did my 5 km TT on. It was time to head uphill to the drawbridge. Runners and commuting cyclists everywhere, I was dodging the traffic, looking at the route on my phone, and as I was finally confident where my next turn was it jumped up and bit me. Hard.
A lip in the curb took me down face-first, and although I was able to keep my head from going down, I was now bleeding from my left leg, and I could see the swelling starting. This was not good. A cyclist and another runner helped me up. I hadn’t hit my head, so I felt whatever happened could be dealt with. This was a small setback. I put my phone back in my pocket and started to run again. But it was a no-go. I knew I had to regroup. It was a long walk of shame back to the hotel to clean myself up and explain to myself what had just happened. I cleaned my wounds and went to work hobbled. I was flying to Santa Fe the next day and terrified that I had put everything I had planned in jeopardy.
I got on the bike to test myself that night, and rode an easy spin for an hour, and did some stretching. It felt like I would be ok. But this was a warning shot. What would it be like in Santa Fe if I couldn’t go? Would I settle for the medium (no small feat on its own), or would I be able to get up the mountain? Would I be able to ride at all? I took Wednesday off to meditate on it and prepare for a long day of work and travel. I arrived in Santa Fe around midnight. The next morning, I slept late, got up, put my bike together, and finally got out to try again on the run. The combination of heat, altitude and residual pain was keeping me honest with a slow and steady pace. I was able to manage a 96-minute run without too much trouble but navigating crazy pavement changes, and the paranoia that comes with being a recent fall victim. I felt like death, microwaved on low for 30 minutes, and left to stand.
The next day we got out for the GFNY group ride. Somehow, I felt great. I don’t know if it was an adjustment, acclimation, a good night’s sleep, or what. It was a short, fun, social ride. A fun couple of hours on the bike with great people. Like any GFNY event, reconnecting with old friends, and making new friends was the standard operating procedure. At the bike shop, I was talking to one of the mechanics about how tough my run felt. He told me he was surprised I was able to walk today given everything involved.
The GFNY Santa Fe story is a story all its own. So, I won’t shortchange it here. To summarize, we went out hard, worked hard through some brutal headwinds, and then met the climb to Ski Santa Fe. I was noticeably slower than the last time I did this race. But somehow, many of my peers were as well. The wind, the fast start, took it out of many of us, as we made our way up the long climb. But we had a great finish, and overall — an amazing experience.
Back to Seattle, on Wednesday it would be time to try again on the two-hour run. Jet lag, race fatigue, whatever we want to call it. Maybe not one thing, but all the things rolled up, plus an early meeting on Wednesday prevented me from getting out early to do the run. I would have to do it before sunset. My logic being, if I start while the sun is up, it’s still a daytime run. And for the first 90 minutes, it felt that way. I made my way past the location of the fall extending both middle fingers at the lip in the sidewalk. Over the bridge, through Fremont, on toward Ballard. Up and over the Ballard Bridge into Interbay. Then the stairs, lots of stairs up and down the bridge, under the main road, then up and over the main road, back on to the sidewalks of Interbay as darkness was falling. Seattle has a nighttime charm all its own, that lends itself to keeping a good eye on your surroundings, and so I was trying to stay vigilant as I ran down this busy road with somehow deserted sidewalks. I stayed disciplined with water and calorie intake and supporting my running basics to the best of my ability. Uphill and back into downtown, I navigated the traffic lights, crossings, and mapped a mental path back to the hotel. The distance and timing would work out perfectly. Frampton — my savior from my 15-mile disaster run came on the playlist. I had this. I rounded the corner onto 6th Avenue to start the easy-peasy bit back to the hotel. I would do stretching, then eat dinner, then maybe a spin on the stationary bike to loosen up, then a shower, then TV and sleep. This was a good day.
As happens with people who love a thing too much it destroys them. Oscar Wilde said ‘You destroy the thing that you love. It is the other way around. What you love destroys you.’ — George Plimpton
It was sudden. I knew my head had hit, and I could feel the liquid. I was wearing a white long sleeve cycling jersey, so it was easy to figure out that I was bleeding fast from my head. I didn’t lose consciousness and kept saying out loud “ok ok, it’s ok, ok ok, you’re up, you’re ok, you’re ok”. The blood was too much, and I didn’t know where it was coming from. I called 911. They asked me to figure out what the directional corner of the intersection I said I was at that I was on. It took a second, “Northeast”. They asked if I had something to put on the wound to help stem the bleeding. My capellini went immediately to the wound and was now soaked with blood and sweat. The paramedics arrived quickly. It looked to them as if the bleeding had stopped but the wound would require stitches. I had reopened the wounds on my left leg and created new ones. I had a serious black eye in progress. With a wink and a nudge, they advised me to get myself to the hospital for stitches. Probably saved me thousands of dollars on a less-than-a-mile glorified cab ride. It was 1:54 into the two-hour run. 9.3 miles. I had been tracking to a successful run but now everything was in question. I made my way to the hotel, grabbed my insurance card, and cabbed it to the ER. With 25 stitches and a CT scan later, I was cleared to go.
I’m going back to New York City; I do believe I’ve had enough! — Bob Dylan
Back in New York now, I know the marathon will have to wait. It’s half-marathon or bust to finish the season. With the potential of a November marathon out there, I will lick my wounds as advised, rest, and get back at it with a new plan. No happy ending here per se. But an ending that is commensurate with having the journey cranked as loud and large as it can go!