The good news is that I’m not still waiting in line to get on the bus to the Start. The bad news is that I ran the race.
Backing up a bit, I stressed my way through Thursday, wondering how my evening 5-miler would go. When you rely on running as your nonprescription SSRI, missing a dose creates a double withdrawl, like a placebo effect on top of a real effect. By 8 pm, enough people had tried to talk me out of running, including a certain precocious 7 year old who lovingly asked me not to hurt myself. So I took the night off, which was a hard decision. To nonrunners and maybe some runners, too, stress over opting out of your second run of the day might be pathological. But not to me. When I skip a session, strange things are afoot at the Circle K.
Friday, I got up at 5 to try a run on the treadmill, but only made it 3 miles before I had to stop. This is a very sucky setup, because you don’t benefit from sleep or a run. It didn’t put me on a good path for the weekend, mentally or physically.
Still, after a lot of ice and prayer, I tried for an easy 3 miles on Saturday morning and was surprised that it felt pretty good. My quad had relaxed a lot, and my calf only ached on and off. Even better, I was full of energy from running so little the past couple days. It was encouraging, and I was ready to run off to the Cape to join the Falmouth circus.
I spent a sleepless Saturday night in Harwich, about 40 minutes from Falmouth. I was anxious about the PR attempt, an uncooperative right leg, and simply getting to the Start on time. Sunday morning brought a hot, humid, deluge of rain, the kind of thing that makes you feel like you could wring out your skin. It was pouring, but the rain didn’t really factor into my nerves. Rain is rain, and running 7 miles in it didn’t make a difference to me, given that I was already worried about being able to run at all.
On the way to Falmouth, I picked up a box of trash bags so I could fashion a chic black plastic poincho. It was a box of 10, and for a minute I tried to figure out how to slap a little omega on it so I could make the most of things and charge $75 for a Lululemon rain “jacket.”
While sitting in traffic, I got more and more anxious, to the point of nausea and prickly hands. When I’m most nervous, my hands get very cold and tingly. I retreated to the facts. In grad school, I spent a lot of time learning how to conduct research interviews on sensitive topics. I had a professor who referred to basic questions when you’re getting uncomfortable as “retreating to the facts.” That’s how I try to disarm race anxiety now.
So I retreated to the facts of racing, the rituals we go through beforehand. I crinkled my number so it wouldn’t be stiff. I pinned and repinned it. I massaged my calf with my thumbs. I assigned pockets to my Gu, iPod, and a credit card. I drank water. I repeated this sequence 10 times. Or more. It took two hours to park the car within 2 miles of the buses. At risk of missing the last bus to the Start, the warm up jog had to happen early and at marathon pace. Also, I needed to pee.
To my surprise, I neither peed my pants nor tore my calf on that run to the bus in the pouring rain. My feet got soaked and the early jog meant I might get more stiff before the race, but I didn’t care because I was running without pain.
At the bus stop, there was a large congress of other runners who’d clearly underestimated the traffic delays and, therefore, I was in no danger of missing a bus. I even had time to use the bathroom, such a treat! While waiting in the queue for the buses, the rain stopped. If you think this is a good thing, you’ve maybe never run a race in the 190% humidity that follows an August storm in New England. My hair was dredlocked and I was breathing through a wet washcloth. Then I got on a schoolbus, which, as you know, feels like a mold lab.
The morning was not off to an auspicious start, but the Falmouth experience is largely about the support of the locals, who are so gracious and kind to the runners. When I got off the bus in Woods Hole, a woman had set up a table in her driveway, offering not just cups of water but iced coffee with flavored syrup. She apologized that the ice was melting. This is a typical Falmouth race experience.
Another typical Falmouth race experience is a zoo of 13,000 people milling around the quaint Woods Hole, waiting for a race that will inevitably start late. I decided that I’d rather risk peeing myself along the way than wait in a porta potty line 200-people deep, but given the delays, I kept turning this choice over in my head. I felt like a 6 year old. “I think I have to go but I think I can hold it but maybe I should go now but I think I’ll wait because I don’t have to go that bad.”
This year, we were told the late start was due to flooding on the course, which required DPW attention so we wouldn’t be swimming midway through. Fair enough. The problem is that once you’re warmed up, standing around for who-knows-how-long messes with your head and your muscles, and of course, your bladder. I cursed myself for not doing my Kegels.
I think the rain delay (and maybe the bathroom line) messed with the singer responsible for the national anthem, too, because she forgot about the broad stripes in favor of “bright stars and bright stars.” I didn’t mind. Singing is a prelude to running, and by 10:10 we were moving forward to the line, and I had 7:10s queued up in my brain for a PR. My B-goal was to beat the guy dressed as a lobster.
Falmouth’s first mile is always a slow start because the roads are narrow and you’ve got 10-13k people trying to get out of Woods Hole. This was my third Falmouth, and I don’t remember having to walk the first 40 seconds of the race last year. I was able to jog after that, but it took a quarter mile to even approximate a running pace, and it was not even close to a race pace. But you just take what the course gives you, and it gave me a 7:45 first mile due to congestion.
I didn’t sweat it. The humidity was doing enough on that front. The air was brutally thick and the hills of the early miles are tough, particularly because you don’t get a breeze off the ocean until later in the race. I don’t run well in heat or humidity, and this felt like running through bisque. In mile two, I managed to drop the pace and logged a 7:14, which felt too hard for that number, but I hadn’t yet given up on the PR.
We ran under an overpass, and the driver of our bus was cheering for us from above. That’s Falmouth. My calf felt okay enough, but my legs felt heavy, and my lungs felt like they belonged to a couch potato. I might have been running a flat, but it felt like going uphill backwards. I grabbed water and downed a Gu, hoping I could surge with some caffeine. Without realizing my pace had slowed, my third mile was a 7:19. And that was it. I don’t know if it was just the heat and humidity, or if it was my imperfect right leg, or if it was my fitness, but doesn’t it always amount to being about your fitness? How well you run is how fit you are, isn’t it?
I knew I couldn’t go faster, and I knew it was impossible to drop my pace enough to offset the slower early miles. My calf had started to tighten somewhat, but mostly I just didn’t have the pace. The pissedoffedness you feel in that moment is a rough feeling, a WASPy low that’s a low nonetheless. The rest of the race became a blur that went by slower and slower, in direct proportion to the crowds getting thicker and thicker. It was like more spectators showed up as my pace crumbled.
In mile 5, my right leg started to bark more loudly, so I decided to jog. And that’s when I changed my perspective. Getting hurt and sidelined for even days would seriously jeopardize my mental health. I didn’t want to destroy my ability to run at all by racing hard for a time that would end up pathetically slow anyway. I decided that I need running too much to bench myself for weeks or months with a sub-par performance. I posted a couple 8:00+ miles as other women flew past me, and the crowds cheered and sprayed us with hoses. My mind vascillated between smart running and bitter running, but my body was only running one way, and that was slow.
I avoided the race photographers and contemplated taking off my number so my time wouldn’t post. That seemed a little too much like a McKayla-is-not-impressed move, so I left it on and jogged my way to the finish. As throngs of runners sprinted past me down the hill to finish strong, I slowed my pace even more. Something in me needed to walk across the line, even if that’s a truly petty response to a debacular race. I slowed to a walk about 3 yards before the mat and walked across. It was the one bratty gift I could give my resentment.
I know it seems like I was a bitter, angry, spoiled bitch, and maybe I was, but even with the disastrous race, I still love the Falmouth experience. It is what it is–masses of people, long lines, slow paces, and a party of running. Because the fact that I could run at all after three days of pain and failure was an achievement, and hopefully I killed my own race before I did real damage.
I thought I needed 2012 to be a PR year, and maybe I’ll still get PRs at the other distances. We can’t control everything, which is a big statement coming from a megalomaniac. I got up this morning to try a recovery run and I hobbled down the street limping. It was a major blow. Running is what I do, and it’s who I am. I headed to the gym for a rare opportunity to use the arc trainer. I know that my need to PR has to be released. I left Falmouth feeling like I don’t even need to race right now. I simply need to run.
I just finished Chrissie Wellington’s memoir this weekend and started reading Dara Torres’s book. There’s a photo in the back of Wellington’s book that shows a boulder painted to read “Be happy in this moment for this moment is your life.” I wanted to drop that boulder on McKayla when I saw her reaction winning silver.
But I identify with her, too, that poten id of bitterness that comes out when we don’t perform. Embracing that sentiment is sometimes such a hard thing to do when you work so hard you feel entitled to an outcome. That’s the curse of training. You have to feel entitled, and then you have to shrug it off when you fall short. Shrug if off and try to be happy for the moment that is your life, be grateful for the ability to simply run. I had that in my head at the end of the race, while I was jogging and trying to be smart about this injury.
So we retreat to the facts, and we revise and resubmit our goals. Another thing you learn in academia is the process of rejection, revision, and resubmission. It’s brutal, but it thickens your skin and produces better work. You make peace with falling short. So that’s the next step, revision. I reallly just want to be able to run.