…and with that long run, my 2019 marathon dream is over.
Today was supposed to be my last long run, a final effort, to prove to myself that I could actually do the marathon. The truth, the reality I must face, is that I can’t. Not this year.
I gave it everything I had.
And then some.
Today I had planned to run 18 miles. I have a favorite long run that basically runs from the family beach house in Chadwick Island to the Point Pleasant inlet – and back. When I can run that route, it usually proves to me that I’m marathon ready. In my training, this long run usually takes place in the late summer. This year I planned to do it this weekend as my wife, Laurie, and I prepared the beach house for the autumn and winter months.
To make this run more special, Laurie was going to accompany me on a bicycle. She was going to be my cheering section and motivation. And she was. I have been wanting Laurie to run with me for decades, but she isn’t a runner. Today we began a new activity together, running and riding.
Except, I didn’t run as much (or as far) as I wanted.
We set out in the cool early morning, at about 7:30 a.m. Most of the world down at the beach was quiet. The few people there were sleeping, or so it seemed. The other homes were already in their hibernation states waiting for winter.
I set out, with a brace on my right Achilles (which is how I’ve been running every training run for the last few months). I struggled early and often. Each step sent shock waves through my entire body. I must have stopped to walk three or four times in the first mile. It was that ugly.
Miles Two and Three were not that much better. At one point, I said to Laurie, “It’s just too hard. I can’t do it.” We came very close to turning around, but we didn’t, and I slogged forward. (This was not the way I wanted to run the first time I had my wife on a bike riding along on a training run with me. I wanted to be strong and powerful. I certainly wasn’t either of those things.)
Somehow, I kept finding some inner strength to push forward. The big break came at about mile 3.5 when I made the final last chance decision for this run and my marathon dreams. I took off the brace. I threw caution to the wind and just decided to see if I could run. Run like I used to run – free and easy.
Somehow I started to find a groove. I started running in longer spurts, a quarter of a mile, even a half-mile at a time. I started feeling better – not good, but better. My walking breaks were shorter. At one quick walking break, I asked Laurie, “Why do I do this?” She answered, “Because you’re a warrior.” That helped! A lot!
There was one moment, as we pushed north on Rt. 35 when I was once again ready to pack it in. This just is not who I am as a runner. Laurie said, “Why don’t you just run to the traffic light up there?” So I did, and then I went to the light after that and kept moving ever forward.
My longest spurt without any walking was probably never even a full mile, but I did keep going. Laurie was telling me that I was doing well (I needed all the encouragement I could get) and I started to believe her.
Soon (it really wasn’t that soon) we reached Bay Head, and then Point Pleasant. A while later we were on the Boardwalk pushing north toward the inlet. That was our initial goal – and we were there soon enough.
I always forget quite how far away that point is, but I think it’s nine miles. (It’s actually 8.21 miles from the beach house.) We took a selfie. We were half-way done. I was in a lot of pain, but still believing in myself.
We started to head back, but a few things were heavy on my mind and these caused me some concern.
Let me take a step back…
Last Monday, six days ago, I went for my first physical therapy session for the torn Achilles. The Physical Therapist took a long time examining my feet and legs. She explained what she was doing so I understood everything that was going on. She made comments about my Achilles and said that due to my body build it was only a matter of time before I had problems with the Achilles. She also noticed other problems. The arch in my right foot (the same side as the bad Achilles) has lost its arch. The range of motion that my feet go through is minimal, at best. (I was failing a lot of tests – and here I thought I was Superman.) As the therapist worked, she was also instructing my son, Ethan, who came along to see what physical therapy looks like.
I wish I had known what it was.
I thought PT was a series of exercises that a person went through to regain mobility or whatever. I did not realize that physical therapy was a cruel and horrible method of absolute torture.
For years, I have worked very hard to make sure nothing ever touches my right Achilles. Any bump causes untold pain. Sometimes when I’m sitting in an unfamiliar chair and I swing my leg under me, if the Achilles hits the chair brace under the seat, it makes me want to scream in agony. One reason I have put up with this injury for as long as I have is I have been very diligent about protecting my lower leg. The therapist also noticed how I change my foot angle to reduce the pain in the Achilles.
For years, I have tried to protect that tendon – because it hurts when someone touches it. Always.
The orthopedist touches it, of course, but only for a second. He has a way of grabbing the tendon, watching me jump,and then saying, “Yeah, you’re still not healed.” This is why surgery is a very real option.
My chiropractor manipulates the tendon and uses all sorts of techniques to help it heal. He hurts it, but he does it in a way that doesn’t kill me.
But the physical therapist – oh man! That was a different story. Completely different. She used her hands and some metal tools to scrape, bend, push, hammer, and otherwise torture me. She didn’t do this for a few minutes like the chiropractor, she did this for twenty-five minutes. Ethan told me after, “I’ve never seen you in such pain.” She just kept pounding and pounding and pounding that tendon. For years I had done everything I could to avoid anyone touching it, and here was this person I just met who was not leaving it alone. It was a unique brand of torture.
When she was done, she said to me, “Now rest it.” I asked for how long. She then remembered that I intended to run the marathon. She said, “Oh yeah, rest it after the race.” She then said, “I don’t know how you can run on that thing.” Yeah, it is that bad.
Yes, I am a warrior. “Tough” is my middle name. (Actually my middle name is Russell, but, let’s be honest, that is not a name that screams out “TOUGH!”)
As I ran today, there were periods where the pain was intense. That wasn’t what concerned me. I expect that. I have lived with that for a long time. What I didn’t like, and what is really scaring me, is that there is now more than slight pain in my right knee (a pain I attribute to my modified gait due to the Achilles problem). In fact, the knee is starting to kill. In addition, my Achilles, my LEFT Achilles, is also starting to act up.
Those problems were not supposed to be part of this equation.
Still, I pushed forward.
But, once we hit Mile 12, or so, I realized that the gig was up. I was walking again, far too much. By about Mile 12.5 (I assume), Laurie said, “Want me to ride ahead and get the car?” I reluctantly said, “Yes.”
As Laurie rode away, I resolved to push a bit further. I did ok. There is a spot where the highway divides into two distinct roads, one southbound and one northbound. I pushed to reach that spot at the three-hour mark of the run. I made it. My total effort was a mere 13.6 miles. That’s approximately six hour marathon pace. Horrible.
Soon after I hit that mark, like a minute or so later, I saw a wall, a beautiful waist high wall that invited me to sit down to wait for Laurie to arrive with the car.
So I did. I sat down.
And with that, my 2019 marathon dream was over. Is over.
If I can’t run even 14 miles, there is no way I should be trying to run 26.2.
Oh, don’t get me wrong. I could do it. I could show up on November 3 and slowly cover the distance. But it would be ugly. It would be horrible. I’d have to walk parts of every single mile. I don’t belong there. I’m injured. I’m hobbled. I didn’t put in the training. The New York City Marathon is a place where every runner goes to be a champion. I’d just be a slogger, in pain and misery. I don’t deserve to be there this year.
It is with remorse and regret that I come to this conclusion, but discretion is, indeed, the better part of valor. It’s not worth doing any more damage to the Achilles. It’s certainly not worth injuring other parts of my anatomy. I need to heal, maybe have surgery, and then come back stronger next year.
I gave it everything I had. I pushed and pushed and pushed this body. I’m not 26.2 miles strong, but I proved a few weeks ago that I am 18 miles strong. There is nothing wrong with that. As much as I feel like failure for quitting (for realizing the obvious), I have to be proud of how far and hard I pushed myself. This year, at least, I had nothing more to give.
Fourteen weeks ago, I was still shut down. I hadn’t run at all in more than a month. It was then that I was given the green light by the orthopedist to try to run and walk for a whole ten minutes. I had to build from there. I began to push my body as hard as I could. But progress, because of the injury, was slow. I didn’t have any runs longer than five miles until September. And I ramped up as best as I could from there, but the injury and time were against me.
I feel like a quitter. But, my body has nothing left to give – and I started breaking down in other areas. There comes a time when one’s body just says “Stop!” I’ve been ignoring those signs for far too long.
I am disappointed that I won’t be in New York on November 3. My race is over. But I am proud that I pushed through untold pain and discomfort (some might say agony) to give my best chance to get there.
I’m not giving up the dream of being a marathoner. I’ll be back in NYC in 2020.
2019 just wasn’t meant to be.
I gave it my all. I gave it everything I had.
I stand tall and proud.
(Until tomorrow when I go back to physical therapy and will cower under the torture the therapist puts me through.)