Lap 17 on a nondescript 1.015 mile loop in the dead of night circumnavigating a 24 hour hamsterfest that is the Howard Aslinger Endurance Run.
A lap that should trigger nothing more than the muscle memory of having done this hundreds of times before. Except for a blinding flash of pain in my right axle as an overpronating footfall meets asphalt.
“I need to walk for a bit.” Steve and John seemed happy to take a break, knowing this is an ultra and not one of those sub-4 marathon sprints.
Walk it off.
300 miles in January to build a strong base may be a little overdoing it, but it’s not outside my comfort zone. Muscle soreness is a reliable and candid friend. If we don’t have words a few months prior to the race season then I haven’t done a good job of maintaining our relationship. Lately, though, an insidious interloper has been crashing our tête-à-tête. Dr. Google confirms hip bursitis, stress fracture, labral tear, piriformis, restless hip syndrome, Hoka Cliftons and/or acne.
Limping off the course less than four hours in, I take a nap and drive home. As I write, the race is not yet done. I am.
It’s been longer than I can remember since the last injury that took me down so hard and for so long. I know. Suck it up buttercup. This one feels different. They all do. But with this one comes something that I didn’t quite expect.
A firefighter in full gear honoring her brothers and sisters. A mom, pretty in pink, and her son in Batman attire churning the course to butter. A 61-year old battling cancer and winning. A 74-year-old concert pianist playing the pavement like Chopin’s ballades. My best buddy setting a distance and positive-attitude PR. And a race director’s emotional tribute reminding us of why we are really here.
One more step and I am pulled into a vortex of undeserved grace. A wife and family who don’t judge (and often enable) my running jones. So many memories of how the adventures and misadventures of Boston and Leadville and Grandma’s and Chicago and Dipsea and Froid and New Orleans and Augusta and Hope Pass and Wendy’s have taught, enriched and connected us. You see, putting a bib number has never been just about personal challenge. The results of those electrolyte-drenched efforts may be gratifying in the moment, but only truly satisfying when shared.
I am a lucky man.
Since self-prescribed denial does not appear to be working, this week I seek the medicinal arts. They will conjure whatever they will conjure and, over time, my running will resume and my probably-last-run-ever will be archived with all those that have come before. But particular memories, those with no gravity but with much weight, will stubbornly protest dismissal.
Sometimes the temporary setbacks feel permanent. And there’s a chance that one day they may be. In the meantime, I’ll take a moment to wade in the blessings bestowed. Too many to count, but not too many to remember and treasure.
P.S. Not much of a race recap with only 20 miles, but I did get to spend the first 10 laps running and talking with Pete Kostelnick who broke the record for fastest time running across the U.S. last November . . . he averaged over 60 miles per day! Josh Finger from Philadelphia finished first with 125 miles and local runner and great guy, Ron Golan, finished with 101. Laura Range knocked out 86 and her son, Logan, ran an inspiring 50K. And the ever-solid Susan Mogley Schenberg finished with 84.11 miles. In other news, Dan Turpin set a PR of 62.6 miles . . . I should be pacing him instead of the other way around. And congrats to Javier Cendejas for coming close to the 50-mile mark at the young age of 74 and to John Legens with 42 in the 12-hour race for his first (and maybe last!) ultra. All my heroes.
P.S.S. My 10th Boston Marathon in a row is coming up in four weeks . . . I will crawl on my belly like a reptile to the finish if I have to. Thanks for the well wishes and happy trails to you!