This indecision’s bugging me (esta indecision me molesta)
– The Clash, punk band and Ragnar relay team
Most runners aren’t very good at dealing with injury. Frankly, I thought I would completely suck at it. But running thousands of miles a year for the better part of two decades forges a certain iron core of mental rigor. Yes, through sheer determination, I have become sedentary.
And my ultra “A” race of the decade, the storied Western States 100, is less than 4 weeks away.
It’s always tease, tease, tease
You’re happy when I’m on my knees
You may think you are good at denial, but you are not.
No one can ignore truth better than a dedicated runner. We are finely tuned to any microscopic change in our machine. And then we promptly ignore it.
Not long after the New Orleans Rock ‘n Roll Marathon, I had this dull awareness of something going on with my right axle. Nothing serious, just a minor annoyance. Like that upstairs toilet that runs for a few seconds at random intervals but doesn’t bother you enough to replace the flapper. When ignoring it didn’t make it go away, I did something truly brilliant and increased my mileage.
The depths of my denial were on full display as I toed the line of the Howard Aslinger 24-Hour Endurance run and ran the first 10 laps
stride-for-stride with Badwater 135 champion and fastest-run-across-the-U.S. record holder, Pete Kostelnick. Elbows were tossed, icy glares exchanged, tangents hotly contested . . . and then Pete blinked, fighting back the realization that this would not be his day. I would take great care to crush only his dreams of glory and not his soul. 3 hours into the 24 hour race I was limping back to my hotel room.
“That pop you felt was your anterior superior acetabular hip labrum tearing,” my doc yawned. He had seen thousands of torn hip labrums in his day. But the stress fracture in the iliac bone made him downright giddy.
Apparently there has only been one other documented case of this rare stress fracture for distance runners in all the annals of medical history. Chest puffed like a big game hunter who had bagged a llamacorn, he pointed to the MRI and proudly eyed his trophy.
I did not share his same level of enthusiasm.
Darling you got to let me know
Should I stay or should I go?
The verdict was handed down on April 8. Sentenced to 6 weeks of absolutely no running (or walking or swimming or anything else for the first two weeks), the realization that I would not be running my 10th Boston Marathon on April 17 hit me harder and faster than the ground following one of my patented Leadville swan dives.
I never really expected to qualify for one Boston much less qualify and run in 10 consecutive Hopkinton-to-Boylston treks. I’m not that good and have to completely bust my ass to meet the minimum BQ standard. But at that penultimate of 9 in a row, there was a sense of accomplishment in attaining #10 for which I earnestly longed. Also, rumor has it that if you qualify for and run 10 Boston Marathons in a row, they wave the cutoff requirement . . . you still have to qualify, but they allow you to register and run even if you miss the cutoff. Having missed that seemingly arbitrary cutoff by 2 seconds for the 2015 race and 1 second for the 2016 race, I was very much interested in learning if this rumor was true or simply urban legend.
Since my Boston jacket had already been embroidered with the 2017 race date (and our hotel room already paid for, and race fee non-refundable, etc., etc.), I decided to make my way to Hopkinton. That was the easy part. Cresting the hill in Hopkinton at the start, you go downhill for 6 of the most smile-inducing miles you will ever run. Defying gravity, I pulled over to the side and disappeared into the crowd 100 yards into the race. It wasn’t the toughest thing I have ever done, but it probably would make top 10 (click HERE for the live FB video at the start of the 2017 Boston Marathon).
Walking back to the bus, I stopped and took the photo you see at the top of this post . . . it’s the only spot along the race route where you can see the start line and the finish line from the same vantage point. And that right there was my 2017 Boston Marathon.
One day it’s fine and next it’s black
Things I have learned by not running:
- Chip and Joanna on HGTV’s Fixer Upper are adorbs.
- If the same story runs on MSNBC and Fox News and CNN and PBS and Breitbart, it just might be true.
- The St. Louis Cardinals starting pitching rotation is underrated.
- With the right fluffy pillow you can stay on a spin bike for more than 10 minutes.
- It’s not that hard to not get up at 4 AM.
- Those singletrack trails we love don’t just magically appear, you probably have a mountain biker to thank.
I have also learned that my body will not just naturally maintain at 182 pounds. You know that bloated, lethargic feeling you get during the taper before a big race? I’ve been wallowing in that stuff for the past 6 weeks.
Last week the doc flashed the green light to start a running program and cautioned me to take it easy. I suspect we have very different definitions of “easy”. It’s been a walk/run mix combined with some quality climbing at a 10-15% grade on Constance, my trusty treadmill. The spin bike I purchased in the depths of my despair (fondly named “The Hell Bitch”) stares forlornly at the bigscreen, secretly hoping my recovery flounders and we will reconcile.
Pacer Dan and I went out for an easy 13 miles on the trails yesterday (doc would be HORRIFIED). My iliac bone seems to be handling the increased workload, but there is still this hazy wisp of a ghostly sensation and I’m not sure if it is in my head or in my hip.
When running a marathon or an ultra, dancing with the red line is what we do. Going too far in a race is the only way to find out how far you can go . . . and if you make a mistake recovery tends to come relatively quickly.
The red line I am searching for so blindly this time will not be as forgiving.
If I go, there will be trouble
And if I stay it will be double
I am in the grips of a mental, physical and moral dilemma.
Should I stay? Yes. Trying to prepare for Western States with less than four weeks to go is like an art history major deciding to become a doctor by nailing the MCATs next month. I place my chances of finishing at roughly 1%, and that’s not false modesty. Aerobic capacity seems OK, but my calves are not prepared for 17,000′ of climb and my quads are not ready for 24,000′ of descent. Why bother when failure is such a likely outcome?
Should I go? Yes. For most of us, getting into Western States requires completion of a qualifying race and getting lucky. It’s not enough to just buckle at Leadville. You have to do that (or a similarly challenging ultra) every year just to earn a slim shot in the WS100 lottery. The past three years my name was not selected. This year it was. There are no guarantees that I will ever have this chance again.
Should I stay? Yes. This year Western States implemented a waitlist system. There are qualified, talented, trained runners ready and fully capable of completing this race and the only thing in their way is me. Why should I deny them a shot at running and finishing when my chances are little more than nil?
Should I go? Yes. There is a good chance I will DNF. I hope I am wrong. But, if things don’t turn out well, it’s only a 90 minute drive from Auburn to Napa Valley.
Should I stay? Yes. My iliac fracture may not be fully healed by the time I make the climb out of Squaw on the morning of June 24. And that labral tear which has been a secondary concern could quickly become a primary concern. If things go sideways with either of these, I’ll be back to the orthopedist listening to a well-deserved “I told you so”.
Should I go? Yes. Western States is the Boston Marathon of ultras. I want to run in the footsteps of Gordy Ainsleigh, Scott Jurek, Ann Trason, Rob Krar, Gunhild Swanson, Tim Twietmeyer and so many others who have made history on this storied course.
Should I stay? Yes. My attempt at a 6th Leadville 100 buckle in August will be special this year since I’ll be running it with my son, Zach, as he makes his first attempt. It would make a lot more sense to pass on WS100 and heal up properly for Pbville.
Should I go? Yes. After my diagnosis, I contacted Craig Thornley, race director for WS100, to see if I might get a deferral until 2018 or at least be able to use all of my lottery entries again for the next go around. Craig was empathetic and quickly responded with a firm no to both requests . . . basically, “sorry, that sucks, now go to the end of the line.” I get it. I have no doubt I am being treated fairly and frankly respect the “suck it up, buttercup” challenge.
At 4:45 AM this coming Saturday, I will be lining up to run in the solo division of the KT82 relay ultra from St. Louis to Hermann along the Katy Trail (once again, my doctor would be horrified). This is the race I won last year (I was the only one running the solo). If I make it to Augusta at Mile 30, Pacer Dan will join me. If I can get in 50 miles with all systems functioning, I’ll make the trip to Squaw. And, if I make the trip to Squaw, I’ll do everything I can to make it to Auburn in under 30 hours.
Lots of “ifs” to navigate and I can see the WS100 waitlist vultures starting to circle . . but I’m not dead yet.
Thanks for your support, wish me luck.
p.s. Thanks to the Incredible Tami for putting up with me through this first major running setback (although I don’t think I’ve been nearly as crabby as she expected).
Come on and let me know (me tienes que decir)
Should I cool it or should I blow? (me debo ir o quedarme)