Monday. Oy, long weekend. Let’s start with the good news. I was down 2 pounds on Friday at my WW meeting. So that makes a total of 9 pounds since Jan. 1. It also officially puts me back in the black (or would that be red since it is a loss) of my overall. So now I am at 32 pounds. Whew. Talk about coming off slowly…. But I’m chipping away at it one ounce at a time. I don’t even want to put a number on how much I want to lose by Ironman, I just want to give it all I have and where it comes out, it comes out. It’s not like I’m going to stop trying after Ironman, I have many more goals to achieve and weight-loss comes along with all of them.
I was really tired on Friday. I went for a bike in the morning with Marisol and I felt I was less than zippy. We did a short and easy ride in the park and I just didn’t have much in me. I had to work at keeping up and I wasn’t even doing that. I just felt blah. Friday night I didn’t get to bed as early as I wanted and then I had to go do a time trial on Saturday morning in the pool.
My swim time trial was really bad. I had no oomph and my times were all back to my old pace and I had some 10 minute 400 meters in there. I just wasn’t feeling it. It was the first time ever I have thought during a swim “eh, I could just get out of the pool right now.” Usually I get stronger the longer I go. I really was ready to just say, “not today.” I was disappointed but kept on going. Afterwards in the locker room, I felt my left knee (my “bad knee”) feeling a little wonky. I knew it was starting to slide out of joint which happens once every blue moon. I don’t know what makes it happen, but last August I had discovered by accident that doing the rowing machine somehow puts it back in place. I meant to go to the gym and do ten minutes on the rowing machine but as to-do lists would would have it — I ran out of time.
Right after our swim we were to do a two hour easy bike. Thank God Michelle was willing to go right after the swim because if I had to wait and go later in the day it wouldn’t have happened. We did an easy spin to Nyack where I forced Michelle to stop for “refuelling” at a certain biker pit stop (what happens in Nyack stays in Nyack). Then we rode home, nice and easy but even then I didn’t feel like I had much pip in my zip. I think the distance was 40 miles total. Maybe I shouldn’t have ridden on Friday morning? But that was only 20 miles on Friday and we didn’t push that hard. I shouldn’t have been that tired. But I had to get my bike shipped off for St. A’s and I had no real time for a nap. I was pretty much a walking zombie on Saturday night when I had an early dinner with Charlee and Mo. I knew I was tired because I was having difficulty recalling words and names which is a clear sign of sleep deprivation. I was also worried about the Hook Mountain extravaganza the following morning so I didn’t even bother to get everything set up the night before, I took one Tylenol p.m. (too afraid to take two) and was in bed at 8:15 and I think I was out at 8:20 not to resurface until 4 a.m.
Sunday, the Hook Mountain Extravaganza, or should I say Hook Mountain 1/2 Marathon Disaster of 2007 (I think that’s how they’ll title the movie.) Can I start this story backwards? I finished dead last. Not close to last, not with anybody else, it was at least 10 minutes after the next to last person. I finished 3:05 I think. Disaster. I haven’t looked but I believe that is my worst half marathon to date. I have to look up my time for my very first 1/2 marathon in Alaska for which I wasn’t even trained back in 2005 — I may have done even better on that one. Oh my God, what a freakin’ disaster…. Did I say that already?
Back to the beginning. (Scrolling banner across bottom of the screen — George Washington Bridge 6:15 a.m., April 22nd, 2007).
I picked up my friend AnneChris and drove over the George Washington Bridge. AnneChris had offered to come along for moral support. She’s a really great athlete and can out swim/bike/run me with both feet tied together and she did a spectacular job at Ironman LP 2006. We’ve know each other since April of 2004 when we talked non-stop on a plane ride to St. Anthony’s (she’s a fellow book-lover) and along with a couple others (including my current teammate Michelle) we belong to a group we call the South Harlem Bike Club (founded by another great supporter Donald — who appears later in this movie). AnneChris knew I was nervous about the upcoming expedition and came along for moral support (how nice is that?!?!?) Charlee too was going to be at the race and I knew no matter what I would have two people still waiting there no matter how long it took me. Of course in my heart of hearts I didn’t want them to have to be waiting long at all. I had visions of doing even better than Brooklyn — afterall, I usually feel best after biking…. Yeah well….. That’s what makes a good movie — the twist of fate.
Our assigment was to ride to Rockland reservoir (about 25 miles) carrying our shoes and nutrition supplies in our backpacks. Once there, lock up our bikes and run the Hook Mountain 1/2 marathon (13.1 miles). Then we were to get on our bikes and ride back. I can’t say exactly why I was so nervous about this. It wasn’t as if I couldn’t ride 50 miles on my bike — I can definitely do that. It wasn’t as if I couldn’t do a half marathon — I can defintiely do that. I even felt confident that I could do the two distances together. But for some reason the logistics freaked me out a little. I had to make sure that I got to the start on time and my mode of transportation was me! It is different when you are using your car or a subway to get to the race start. But so many things could happen on the way….
We actually made pretty good time getting to the race start. 1:15 which is not bad considering I had estimated 1:30 minutes. Considering I was riding Sylvia (my old bike) as Tina (my race bike was sitting cosily on a truck on her way to Florida) even better. Even that was faster than Michelle and I had anticipated, it didn’t feel like we were pushing it. (We got a lot of downhills on the way there — which we also got to “enjoy” their opposite on the way back.) But for some reason I was still nervous. I just didn’t feel ready to run a 1/2 marathon. I couldn’t put my finger on it but I just wanted to say “you all go ahead and I’ll just stay right here and take a nap.” But there was a lot of fluster and flurry with the team and everyone was buzzing around so I just tried to stay in the flow. I got my race number, chip and t-shirt. I filled up my camelbak with water (I had put my powdered Infit in it before I left). I had my hat/sunglasses/tiger balm/enervitene. I was all set. Hmmm, something missing, something missing. Couldn’t think what it was.
Just as the race was about to start I suddenly realized, Tylenol!! I had not taken my Tylenol 8 hour before I left this morning. I don’t know if it is a crutch or what but I’ve been taking 2 Tylenol and putting Tiger Balm on my knees before every long run and so far the combo has been keeping me relatively pain free. (Knock on wood). I tried to find Jaime’s bike where she had some Tylenol stored but there were too many bikes and I couldn’t find hers and the race was starting. I took my usual position in the back of the pack and before I knew it, we were off! Okay, just start runing and we’ll sort it out on the road. I have to admit I was really nervous to not have any painkillers in my body. This is going to be run on raw nerves — oy.
I had suspicions that this was not going to be my day as I quickly saw the entire race pack leave me behind. I saw Jaime and Michelle ahead and I knew their plan was to do an 11:30. The fact that I wasn’t keeping up with them made me realize right away that my cadence was off. Okay, just concentrate on your form. Get your posture right, your legs will kick in. Just keep it even and steady. When I saw that I ran the first mile in a 12:34 I knew I was in trouble. I was struggling to maintain that. I was struggling at mile 1. My legs felt like lead. Think little bicycle rotations (from the chirunning book), think 90 rpm (one, two, three, four, one, two, three, four). I was fairly sure it wasn’t working. I was at mile two grinding out a half marathon. I was pretty sure I was in trouble. I wasn’t in pain though. So I just kept concentrating on that. You are not in pain, just keep going, it’ll kick, it’ll kick in. You’ll be passing people at mile 8.
Let’s just say miles 1-5 were a blur of blahness. I was not connected to the race, I was not connected to my body. I had to walk up the very first hill. My legs had nothing, zip, zero, nada. I thought back to my race strategy with the coaches. Optimization. If you need to walk do it where you will optimize your run, not based on time. Well I knew I could walk up the first hill faster than I could run it, so I walked up the hill at mile 3 or 4. This was not good.
Plot thickens. Right after Mile 5, I saw the race frontrunners coming back toward the finish. Oh yeah, I’m screwed, I thought — I wouldn’t want to seen them until mile 7. The third or fourth person I saw was Earl and right behind him was Lauren from our team. They were booking. Well even if I was stinking up the course, good on them. I was getting ready for the infamous “Suicide Hill” that I knew was coming up at about mile 6. As I left the road and entered the park trail, I hit the Hill going down to the river. It was such a sharp degree descent I didn’t know how to control my cadence. I was trying so hard to not jam my legs into the hill. “Use your glutes and hamstrings as your breaks” (something I heard someone say to me). I have absolutely no idea what the heck that means. How do you use your glutes and hamstrings to be your breaks on the downhill? It makes no sense, your feet have to hit the ground and I just went back to what Coach Ramone told me in San Francisco on the steepest down hill, little steps and make your feet hit under your hips. I think that’s what he said, but to be honest I can’t really remember (that might have been what he said about going uphill).
Then it happened. I felt a click in my left hip and then I felt my left knee go out. Oh yeah, it went totally out of joint. Crap. It was totally out. My quads jumped in to try to protect as they always do and they grabbed onto my knee and that was pretty much the end of that hill. I think I descended at a 40 minute mile. I saw a bunch of people walking back up it. I noted that these were the fast runners and they were walking it so I figured I would most definitely be hiking up this hill. (Downhills are much more of a threat to me than uphills.)
As I was just coming off the hill I saw one of my coaches who asked what my heart rate was (we had determined that we would shoot for 140 as my heartrate for this run). I told him it was 135. He told me to try to get it back up to 140 when I hit the flat. Okay, I had a goal, I would try for that. Once I hit the river trail (flat as a board and softer surface), I just tried to concentrate on lifting my feet and not pushing off (chirunning). I tried to straighten my posture and pick up my cadence. It was definitely hotter out than it had been but if I have to be honest, I wasn’t feeling the heat was a problem. It was probably about 70 something but that was was down on my list of discomforts. First was my knee, second was my fatigue and why was my breathing so labored? I was huffing and puffing like I was sprinting. I couldn’t understand why and my heartrate was only at 136.
Then I saw Coach Ross. He seemed all chipper and happy, I just wanted to be left alone in my misery. I was definitely sinking into what I call my Greta Garbor mode — I Vant to be alone…. I didn’t want to have to talk, I didn’t want to have to be nice I didn’t want to have to even pretend that I was doing okay. Let me just suffer in silence. I told him I just wanted to run alone. He said okay, to straighten up my posture. I said okay. He turned around to run the other way. I took about two steps. I tried to take an inhale and my lungs collapsed. It was like they contracted and just stuck together. I couldn’t breath. My entire chest shut down. I had never felt anything like this. I started honking trying to get air. I started to bend over. I fought to not fall to my knees. I was looking for something to hold onto to break my fall. Then Coach Ross was there holding my hand telling me to try to breath but I couldn’t. I was scared. I felt tears start stream down my face. About 4 attempts to breath and then whoosh my lungs let go of their contraction. I had air again. It was the scariest and strangest thing that had ever happened to me.
I know what breathing difficulties usually feel like for me – it usually feels like someone is grabbing the bottom of my lungs and squeezing so I can only breath from the top of my lungs — then they usually open up and I can breath all the way. But this was different — it felt the walls of my lungs were glued together. There was no air getting in anywhere. It was definitely a spasm — some kind of contraction. Caused by stress? Anxiety? Heavy Breathing? Overall Fatigue? I don’t know but I do know I wish it didn’t happen in front of the coach. So I’m figuring it had to have an emotional aspect as well. I was upset that I was not doing so well and I know that sometimes when I get upset I hold my breath (not on purpose). So maybe it was some kind of weird contradiction of my holding my breath and fighting myself to suck in air at the same time. I honestly don’t know. All I can say it was very scary and embarassing and it left as quickly as it came. Coach Ross was begging me to stop and walk and take it easy but I was in my stubborn mule mode, just let me go, I am fine, let me finish this. So I have to think adrenaline was also somehow in play here.
After I left Coach Ross I continued on my way now adding guilt to my mental burden. Why did you have to be so snappy? Why couldn’t you just nod your head and keep your cool? I was busy, that’s why. It was everything I had in my to keep it all together and I didn’t have one ounce of anything extra to be the “good athlete.” No coaching right now. Memories of the New York City Marathon when I totally dissed Coach Christine (who was my favorite coach) came back to haunt me. I can’t talk to you right now. Everyone just get out of my way, I have work to do and the longer we talk about it the longer it is going to take to get this done.
As I ran along the river I tried to give cheery hellos to everyone so nobody would worry. But every fiber of my being was yelling “this sucks!” I told Marisol I had an asthmas attack and not to worry. I saw Michelle and she let me take two puffs off of her inhaler (I will carry my inhaler forever).
Of all things to jump into my mind was a beer. All I wanted was a beer. Why a beer I have no idea. But I wanted a beer. I don’t even drink beer but that’s what I wanted. I was convinced if I had a beer I could keep going. Isn’t that ridiculous? I must look up what vitamins or minerals are in a beer to figure out what was lacking in my system. But then again if someone had heroin handy I might have taken that too.
Of course I wanted it to be over but the idea of just stopping and turning around was just not an option. I think if I have any regret it might be that. Maybe the smarter thing to do would have been to just quit? This wasn’t supposed to be a race, it was supposed to be a workout. Why was I compelled to finish this? There was nothing anybody could have said or done to get me to stop and quit. I’m not sure that is an admirable quality. I’m not sure that was being a smart athlete. I could understand if it had been my “A” race or something. But why did I feel this compulsion to finish? All I could hear inside my brain was “you started this, you are going to finish this.” Right there is the part I feel bad about. Why I couldn’t just say “today is not the day” and turn around and go home? Same thing on that awful 9 miler when I was sick. Why couldn’t I just turn in my race number at the 72nd street turnoff and say I’m not well enough to run this? There is perserverence and then there is stupdity, I’m not so proud of my perserverence yesterday because I think in fact it may have been plain stupidity. That in a nutshell is why I am upset about yesterday. I am not sure I made a smart choice. I let pride get in the way of my bigger plan and that is just stupid. In the end I felt more humiliated about a bad race than I felt pride in perserverence.
But here is something that I will take away from the day. When I was running (can I call that running?) along the river in my agony I tried to control my mind. First I tried to use the mantras that usually help “healthy and strong, healthy and strong.” That only lasted for a few minutes. The one that seemed to work the best was “gentle, gentle.” I was trying to take smaller more gentler steps just keeping a little shuffle going — minimize the pain in my knee. Then I had a moment where I shook hands with the pain. I realized — this is the moment you were seeking. You want to know who you are when you are out on the edge. When you are stretched to your limit. Here it is. This is what it feels like. Here is it, so who are you? What are you made of? This is what you are going to feel on race day in Lake Placid. You are going to be in pain, you are going to snap at everyone. You are not going to feel happy. You are going to see these demons again. I guess I found out that I can fight them and keep going. I found that I can be stronger than the struggle. I will not be defeated no matter how bad I look or feel and the demons will not win. So in the end it really wasn’t about crossing the finish line it was about telling the demons of insecurity, laziness, old age, overweight, has-beendom — you will not defeat me. I guess that in a nutshell is why I couldn’t quit the race. I couldn’t let pain win. It wasn’t about the finish line. It was about beating those demons saying “quit, quit, quit.” I couldn’t let agony and suffering tell me that I had a limit. Because if I stopped now, what would it mean on race day? Would I stop then too? And then ultimately what would that say about who I am?
So the last 40 kazillion miles back to the finish were just pure hell. I was totally running on my right leg. My left leg was shot. But, I will say this, kudos to my right leg because Man o Man is it strong!! It totally took all the burden of the 13.1 miles. I was pretty much limp/wogging all the way in. Somewhere between mile 11 and 12 I saw a familiar jersey coming towards me on a bike. It was my friend Donald. It was nice to see him particularly so he could send a message back to the home front that I was alive and not to worry. That was an additional stress on me, I was so worried that everyone was worried about me. This way he could go back and tell them I was in fact alive and not lying on the side of the road or in a ditch or in the river. It was so great to see Donald — like a scout coming out to find the wounded soldiers.
The last two miles might have been the longest two miles of my life. Usually when I only have two miles to go I can find a little something to get me through. I was in physical, mental and spirtual pain. My biggest goal became to overtake the dog walker lady. I said if nothing else, I will pass that woman walking her two huge dogs. I cracked some joke about letting me take the dogs so they could pull me for awhile. We laughed for a minute about how we could use the dogs to get me home. I had to make the final turnaround and saw her loading the dogs into the car and quipped “a car? all this time you had a car?!?!?” She laughed and said “you’re fine.” I knew I wasn’t really fine but I just had to finish and get this all over. I knew the team was waiting for me, I was hobbling at best. A couple of the cheerleader gals came out to get me and they were very sweet saying I was their favorite runner of the day. They ran to the grass with me where the finish line was. I saw AnneChris and Donald and Julia and Charlee. They were right there, God Bless them. The thing I like about my SHBC pals is they didn’t patronize me. They didn’t make it out like “you did great.” I also liked the fact that my TriLife team were not all standing around waiting for me to come in. They were getting on their bikes and ready to leave. I didn’t want a heroes welcome for that performance. I just wanted to get on my bike and get the heck out of there.
Dennis came up to me (he’s one of my fav supporters) and asked if I was okay and gave me a hug. Then Nathan (my other fav) didn’t say anything and just gave me a hug (probably the best thing to say was nothing). We gathered my stuff and Charlee took my bag so I wouldn’t have to ride back with that on my back (thank God!) I felt bad that I didn’t give a great performance for Charlee. Scott gave us some parting words and Michelle (who waited for me to ride back), Donald, Julia and AnneChris lead me out of Rockland State Helldom and up the hill towards home.
But, wait, there’s more…. (This is the little epilogue part of the movie). We are going up Rockland Hill which is a pretty steep hill but not undoable and I had my triple chain wheel and wasn’t afraid to use it. But I’m feeling a drag, drag, drag on my wheel. Dang, my brakes are rubbing and I didn’t want to stop. Donald is riding behind me and says “your wheel is out of tru, you should get that fixed when you get back.” I’m definitely feeling it and I know I don’t want to keep riding so we stop and look at it. Yep, I broke another spoke. The wheel was totally warped. I sent everyone else ahead because I couldn’t deal with holding everyone up further. The guys at Toga were pretty nice and after some confusion about wheel prices, they replaced my wheel (this was the 4th spoke to go so it was time for a new wheel). But the good news is after the new wheel was put on I felt great on the bike and I had no knee pain while pedalling (my knees like biking) and though I went slowly up the hills I found I was riding just fine on the way back. As if Hook Mountain didn’t happen and it was all just a bad dream… (Don’t you hate those dramas when in the end you find out the main character is not really dead? it was just a dream and nothing really ever happened at all?)
So that’s my Hook Mountain Saga. I still processing what I learned from the event. I wish I was faster, stronger, better. I wish my knee didn’t give out. I wish there were more slow people doing the race. I wish I didn’t stick out like a sore thumb which is humiliating in itself. But I am not deterred from my greater mission which is to complete the Ironman. Like Hook Mountain, I will not quit. I will keep going. No matter what, no matter how ugly, no matter how hard. Because that’s what a hero does. I’m the hero of my own life movie and I have to just remember that what doesn’t kill me will make me stronger.
End scene. Roll Credits.
Cast in Order of Appearance:
- Greta Garbo — Rumble Girl
- Cheering Squad — Charlee, AnneChris, Donald, Julia
- Faithful Teammates — Michell, Marisol, Rob, Jaime, Nathan and Dennis
- Coaches — Scott, Ross, Kim, Earl
“An artist is a creature driven by demons. He doesn’t know why they choose him and he’s usually too busy to wonder why”William Faulkner