Friday, December 4, 2015

Post-Marathon Wrap Up from Dr. Larkin: The Pain of Plan B

Going into a marathon, a runner must have multiple plans.  You never know how a race may go.  Plan A is your perfectly run race—feeling good, optimal weather—the race of your dreams.  Personally, I’ve never had Plan A come to fruition.  It’s that unreachable star, that ideal situation for which you strive, but won’t be horribly disappointed if it doesn’t happen.

Plan B through Y are varying finishing time thresholds.  Depending on the runner, this may be a Boston Marathon qualifying time (not me), or it may be a sub-four-hour finish (that’s in there somewhere). 

Plan Z, by the way, is simply to finish.  Walk or crawl, no runner sets out on race day to get scooped off of the course before the finish line.  It happens, but it’s not the goal.

My race was the Monumental Marathon in Indianapolis, and I crushed Plan Z.  I even smacked around Plan C a little bit.  And I knocked on Plan B’s door.  Sadly, though, Plan B had just stepped out to run an errand.  And I missed him.  By seconds.

I have no delusions that I am a competitive runner.  I won’t ever win a race, unless it’s against my six-year-old.  (Lately, my nine-year-old is starting to take a little effort to vanquish.)  Unless I’m running when I’m sixty, my marathon time won’t qualify me for Boston.  And I’m totally fine with that.  I run for the exercise, and I run marathons for the personal accomplishment.

With that preface, I will admit that I am a competitive individual.  A little part of me hurts when I let my kids beat me in checkers.  I can’t turn it off when I run, but I’m not very fast, so I have no choice but to become competitive with myself.

The ultimate goal in every race is to improve.  To better that Personal Record, or PR.  I’m not putting in hours of training over five months to get worse at running a marathon.  So as long as there are smaller numbers on the finish line clock than there were the last time, I’m happy.  Point me to the bananas and the mylar blankets and we’re good.

So far, this hasn’t been a problem.  I’ve gotten faster with every race.  By a pretty wide margin.  Going into Monumental, my goal was simple—to get better.  I had a number in mind (Plan A), but if I didn’t hit it, it wasn’t a big deal.  As long as it was faster than last time.

The conditions were perfect.  It was chilly at the start.  Already an improvement from last year, where heat was an issue later in the race.  I took off slow and steady, sticking to the strategy that had been successful in the past.  After a few miles, I found the groove and picked up the pace.  If all went well, I’d have a nice cushion at the end and could coast in to pick up that PR.

As you’ve probably deduced, all didn’t go well.  Pretty well, but I wouldn’t go so far as “well.”

Because of a couple of visits to the facilities during the race, my cushion was gone and I was struggling to make up time.  I didn’t feel significant pain until about mile 23, which was an improvement from previous races.  Unfortunately, as much as I wanted to pound through it, my grumpy hamstrings made a speed burst at the end of the race a non-option.  As hard as I’d push, they’d push back even harder.

By mile 24, the negotiations began. 

“Okay, just get through this, and you never have to run another marathon again.“

“Don’t quit.  At this point you’d just have to walk all the way in anyway.”

“If I walk for a few steps, will I be able to get my legs moving again?  Better not chance it.“

And then, from the depths of self-doubt and despair, out of nowhere, an angel appeared.  (Not a real one, although I wouldn’t have been surprised at that point as there was very little blood pumping to my brain.  In fact, I think I might have seen fat Elvis pass me about then.)

Remember Rachel, who was previously featured in the “St. Charles Hot Hot War is Hell” run earlier in the training season? Well, she pulled the same magical appearing act.  At mile 25, she sidled up next to me to bring me in.  And it worked.  She pushed the pace to the edge of my limited possibility.  There was no way I could have finished as hard as I did without her steely encouragement.  As the finish line came into view, I overpowered every mutinous muscle cell in my legs to ensure I left nothing on the course.  I looked over to thank Rachel.  And just as was the case in St. Charles, she was gone.  Shifty one, that Rachel.

So I finished the race.  Plan Z: Check!

The immediate post race euphoria at the finish was somewhat lost on me.  I was trying not to pass out, and my legs were stubbornly refusing to bend at the knees.  It was reminiscent of a zombie searching for brains, except that while I probably looked the part, I was really just looking to score a Gatorade and to find a central place to collapse where my family would be able to find me.  My time was not of concern.  At that point.

Of course, my dear wife, the Boston Marathon Finisher, was curious.  When she discovered my quaking body, “What was your time?” was her second question, after a mildly concerned “Are you okay?”  I really didn’t know the answer to either. But I knew I had worked really hard to convince my body to bend in such a way to allow me to sit.  I didn’t care enough to try to figure out how to get back upright to find out my time.

When I finally trudged over to the results tent some minutes later to find out, it was a stomach punch moment.  I had missed improving on my best time.  I had failed Plan B. 

By five seconds.

Do you know how many five-second moments there are in a marathon?  It’s in how you cut the corner on a turn.  It’s in a few steps of walking through a water station.  It’s in stopping to give my kids a well-deserved hug and high five as they held up their homemade signs to cheer along the course.

And in my case, it’s the four minutes I spent in line waiting to use the Porta-Potty.  And it’s the three steps I was behind the guy who beat me to it, then evidently fell asleep in there for a little bit while I danced around outside the door.

That’s all it was.  Three steps and a place in line at the john between success and failure in an agonizing 26.2-mile journey.  Between replying flatly or with a smile when someone asks, “How was your race?”  Between a PR and a “Wait ‘til next year!”

Next year? 

Well, yeah.  I can’t go out like this. 

Anybody got an Immodium?

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