Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Don't tell my therapist

Either of my therapists, actually.  They'd both be angry with me because I have broken the rules both mentally and physically.  Rules were made to be broken.  This very attitude is why I have a great deal of difficulty as a parent.  Let's not dwell on that right now, please. 

Thursday last week I told my physical therapist, let's call him Dale, that I have been wanting to do this one particular 5K on April 7th.  That date is two weeks from now.  Dale told me, in no uncertain terms, "That is an attainable goal".  These words did not have that, "Go for it this Sunday, why don't you" ring to them.  I knew he wouldn't agree that participating in the world's largest 8K was a good idea.

So I went and did it anyway.

I registered for the BOA Shamrock Shuffle when registration opened.  This race was my first ever 8K in 2011 and is the race that helped me propel to greater distances throughout the year.  My last 8K was at Thanksgiving, where I PR'd, and I had hoped to really kill it in the Shuffle.  My hip had other ideas, as we all know.

In the days leading up to the race, I'd come to terms with the fact that I would most likely have my first DNF.  I pushed that thought out of my mind as best I could, keeping it sort of at the edge of my reality, making it more of a thought than a reality, and I never really let it sink in.  Maybe it was the onset of Summer Shandy season that kept it from sinking in, who knows.  Regardless, I didn't let it get me down.

I went to the expo on Saturday and collected my and a friend's packet, snarfed down free samples of all kinds of sports food and drink, bought some arm warmers, and hung with some friends.  I relished in the atmosphere of fellow runners, running gear, and race promoters trying to fill my calendar.  As I walked around the expo, I realized I was where I belonged, and I'd missed running more than I thought.  Sunday couldn't come soon enough.

Dear gear; O how I have missed thee!
 Carpool plans were in place, my alarm was set, and Saturday night I finalized my game plan and laid out my things.  December was my last race, but it was a 5K about 15 minutes from my house.  No need to gear check, I parked about 20 steps from the start line.  This time I was going into the city, had to do a gear check, and needed to pack for all four seasons because the weather along the Lake changes  as quickly as Apple updates the iPad.

My friends and I loaded up and got to the city without any trouble, and made our way to the gear check tent.  I reviewed my plan, and reassured my friends that I was not going to injure myself, I would listen to my body, and I would not run the entire race.  Here was the strategy:

Get through the pack.  Stay out of the way.  Don't push.
Mini goals - 1 mile, then 1.5 miles, then 2 if I get that far.  STOP at two miles.  STOP.
If I got to mile 2, I would walk to the 4th mile marker, wait for a teammate and run him in to the finish.

That was the plan.  Not a bad plan.  I would get a start and finish time, but no 5K time, so my time would not be 'official'.  It would be recorded, but wouldn't count for anything.  I was OK with that.  And if I didn't make 1 mile or more, I was OK with that, too.  After all, I wasn't supposed to be there in the first place.

We waited in our start corral for about 30 minutes.  Thank goodness the weather was perfect.  And I had my arm warmers.  Really, they made a difference.  I was able to reassure my girlfriend that she should go at her pace, not try to hang with me, as I anticipated being sluggish, at best.  Two months off your running feet is a long time.  She agreed, and it was nice to have the time to just catch up and talk and relax a little before the starting gun.

Finally, we were off!  My legs were fine.  My hip was fine.  It was still a little like learning how to walk all over again, though.  My lungs begged for mercy.  My iPod cranked out upbeat music encouraging me not to slack off.  My feet and legs rejoiced as they took me through the starting pack, enjoying the energy that filled the air.  There is nothing like the energy at the start of the Shamrock Shuffle, or any race in downtown Chicago, for that matter.

I did my best, focused on form, kept my feet from getting out in front of me and kept myself from pounding the ground, trying to sweep the street below me instead.  It's quite the wonderful feeling to run with hips that are in line, and legs that are the same length.  Who'd have thunk?  The hardest part was letting people pass me.  My mind needed the most work in this race.  My body was doing its job, I had to keep my mind in line with my body and not force my body to to do more than was possible.

I pushed through the first mile, figuring I'd stop at the one mile marker.  It was a hard mile.  I kept thinking, "This is really hard!  People do this all the time?".  Oh ya, I'm one of those people.  Before I got hurt, 5 miles was a casual run and I could almost do it in my sleep.  Yikes.

After the first mile, I focused on taking it a little slower so I didn't tire too fast, but also so that I didn't push my legs too hard on their first outing on pavement in exactly two months.  Yes, this race fell on my two month injuryversary.  Not that I was keeping track or anything.  Knowing if I kept the pace of my first mile I'd regret, I dialed back a bit.  The thought of stopping was becoming more and more present, and I wanted to shove it aside.  I was successful and managed to pull out a full two miles before hopping up to the sidewalk and removing myself from the field.  I stretched and walked it off a bit, and I felt greatThis is why I run.  This feeling is why I run.  This energy is why I run.  It all came rushing back to me as I walked.  The dread and misery of that first half mile was gone, and the endorphins were rushing through me, reminding me what a wonderful feeling it is to push yourself and accomplish things you thought, at one time, you never could.

I tried to calculate whether I had time to find my young teammate at mile 4.  The 4th mile was a mere half block from the mile 2 marker, but I would have to cross the throngs of runners who were rushing past me.  There is no break in traffic in a race like this.  It's Frogger on crack.  You'll never get a straight shot across, your best hope is to get caught up in the stream, and make your way over.  It took me a few minutes, but finally I just jumped in, making sure not to cut anyone off and not get in anyone's way.  I found a pocket and jumped in, making my way over to the other side of the street before jumping out of the rush again.  Whew, I did it!  Mile 4, here I come.

Starting up after you've stopped, especially when you were in that zone when you cut out, can be really hard.  It's harder to stop and restart, than to start in the first place.  I tried to judge where my teammate would be and how long I'd wait 'til I saw him, but there's really no telling.  I hoped for the best, keeping an Eagle Eye out for him, really hoping to see him.  I would estimate it was about 5-7 minutes before he appeared, sweaty and tired, but it was him.  At the tender age of 8, this kid is awesome.  Yes, he's 8, and I got the opportunity to run him in.  Mind you, this is the kid who kicks my ass on hill repeats and reminds me of this fact each time I see him.  Being injured, and knowing there was a bridge to cross before the finish, I knew he'd beat me to the line again.  He did.  Let's not dwell on that, either, please.

I let him pass me up on the bridge, knowing that my injury occurred doing hills and pushing uphill wasn't going to get me any awards, or help me get to the finish any faster.  Turning the corner, I could still see him, and I knew others were at the finish watching for him, so I kept mind on my own form and stride, and got myself across the line.  For the first time ever, I didn't sprint to the line, didn't look at the clock.  This was not as hard to do as I thought it would be.  I'd overcome the mental blocks in the first mile, getting to the finish turned out to be easy.

I crossed the finish line seconds behind my teammate, and didn't feel a rush of 'finish energy', but also didn't feel any disappointment.  Most importantly, I felt no pain!!  My hip felt great and my mind was free!  I finished my first race of the season!  Well, sort of.  {snicker, snicker, snort, snort}

I walked back to the gear check, met up with my friends and teammates, and got lots of supportive words and encouragement, which made me feel even better.  I'd done something I didn't was going to be possible two months ago. And my therapist probably wouldn't be all that upset.  I hope.

With perfect weather, cold beer flowing, and friends all around, the rest of the day was a relaxed celebration of the opening of race season.  I felt part of it, I felt like I was where I belong, and realized that this is a sport I truly love and rely on.  What a great way to start the season.

I have an official start and finish time, which is lightning fast for me, but, I know the caveat and that's all that matters for me.  I raced my first race as an official member of the team, my first race post-injury, and I am still walking.

My quads and hamstrings are singing a different tune.  I'm not sure they were on board with this whole plan from the beginning.  My legs are sore.  I can't lie.  My hip, though, is showing no signs of discomfort or anger at my return to the road.