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Mission Failed

November 9, 2010

A cold front moved through here late last week. It rained much of the day Thursday, putting a damper on our plans to run six easy miles the day before our last long run.

Little G and I talked early that afternoon.

Did you do your six?

No. It was raining. Thundering, actually.

Same here. Figured I’d do it after soccer practice tonight.

They’re saying it’ll still be pouring.


You could do that.

I could.

But I hate the ‘mill, and we both knew the probability of either one of us getting our six in was not real high. She suggested a compromise: we’d cancel the six and do 21 miles instead of 20 to assuage our guilt.

We met at our predetermined spot Friday at 5am, each one of us one mile in. The Boss had agreed to take the animals to school that day, so I had the morning free to run and run. It was dark as we set out, but nice, probably in the mid-60s, and not humid at all. About six miles in we had a light sprinkle–the kind of rain that feels like a stiff wind just blew water off the branches. We frowned and looked up–the forecast had called for clear skies–and then pulled our visors down a little lower and kept going. We swung into the local swimming center, where athletes were deep into their stroke workouts, for our next water stop and a potty break–and realized upon stepping back outside that the temperature had dropped by a few degrees. The promised cold front had arrived.

We spent the next couple of hours wandering the local neighborhoods, always planning when and where we’d hit the next fueling stop, not watching our pace very much, just wanting to finish this last long run feeling good. We wanted to get to our meeting spot–one mile from each of our homes–at mile 20.

By mile 14, my legs were tired. I knew this wasn’t right. At the pace we were running–slow, conversation pace–I should have been able to run all day without fatigue. It wasn’t my heart or my lungs; it was very definitely my legs. My quads felt tired, without fuel. But I had to remind myself that I’d never tried running 20+ miles five days after a half marathon race, and that marathons don’t get run on happy legs. Besides, I wasn’t hurt, just tired. So I kept going. This would have been much more difficult to do if I’d been alone, but with Little G along, conversation flowed easily, and just twenty minutes and a couple miles later, I’d forgotten my exhaustion and was back to my easy-running pace.

Then, mile 18: shin splints. I’ve had them before, but not often, and never late in a long run. The pain wasn’t intense, just present. I logged it somewhere in the portion of my brain that makes note of such things:

Observation: mile 18: shin splints.

And I kept going. I noticed we were going to be about a mile long, that we’d end up at our meeting spot about 21 and a half miles in. Little G laughed. Perfect, she said. We could each run that last mile home at whatever pace was left in our legs and call it a successful last long run. I grimaced a little. “Whatever pace was left in my legs” might be walking.

Observation: mile 20: pain worsening.

If Little G noticed my conversational skills flagging, she made no note of it. She kept up her end of the deal, sharing insights and tidbits as the distance ticked off. But then, at the 21-mile mark, I had to stop. I couldn’t go another step. And I knew that if I even attempted it, I’d be risking real injury, if I hadn’t already.

The word “hairline fracture” hung in the air, and nobody said it out loud.

We both knew it looked bad.

But it didn’t hurt to walk, at least not at first, so I sent Little G on to finish her 22-miler (last mile at 8:40!) and I walked on home.

I’ll confess I had moments of real fear that weekend. I walked to our neighborhood park the next day, a distance of about three blocks, maybe less, and the pain in my shin was back in full force. I iced and Aleve’d, and started thinking through my options.

Most of my training is in the bank; if I do little to no running from now until the race, I might not score my 4:15, but I’ll almost certainly still finish the race.

And if I have to, I’ll drop out of the marathon and run the half at Space Coast. If that’s the worst thing that happens to me this year, it’s still been a pretty good year.

That’s what was going through my head this weekend.

Then I went to put on my shoes on Monday for a test walk. I wanted to test the leg so I had something to tell the doctor when I called. And when I went to put in my shoes, the Nikes I’ve been wearing for all my long runs, I realized I haven’t been wearing the insoles I usually wear for all my runs.

It’s too simple. Isn’t it?

I put the insoles in and set out gingerly for my walk.

It was a coolish day here–a perfectly clear 55 as I set out at 5am. As I hit the half-mile mark I felt no pain, and still no pain as I passed the mile-marker where I usually meet Little G. In the absence of pain and the presence of the unusually cool fall air I felt like breaking out into a gentle jog, but I knew caution was called for. I finished out about three miles, then ran a half-mile home just to test the waters. Pain-free.

Today, I ran the most amazing six miles ever, with Little G.

Not because it’s still deliciously cool out (60 degrees!), or because we were particularly fast (we weren’t). But because, thanks to my failed 22-miler, I have come to appreciate pain-free runs in a new way. I can run six miles. Without stopping. Without pain. And today, that was a true delight. I’m praying God will grant me the wisdom never to take that for granted again.

One Comment leave one →
  1. November 9, 2010 2:51 pm

    Whew! I am glad that it was just the insoles! Your story had me on the edge of my seat – and I am being totally serious! BIG HUGS.

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