That was part of one of the many sayings I can remember my father repeating when I was young: Some days, you get the bull. Some days, the bull gets you.
This weekend the bull got me.
I left for Olathe on Friday, feeling good, and expecting nothing but a good result at the Garmin Half Marathon. And while I knew I wasn’t gonna set any land-speed records, I just ran two half in February, and got through them. The weather was shaping up to my in my sweet spot — cool, and possibly some rain.
What could go wrong?
As I often do, I put a little gastrotourism on the docket for my travels, and Friday’s event was Taco John’s in Odessa. I remember Taco John’s from my time in Nebraska, and when someone at work reminded me that there was one along my path, I knew I needed to stop.
I ordered a simple meal — a couple of tacos and refried beans — and once I had my tray at the table, I dug in. I’d forgotten that TJ’s meat was a little more like a chili, with a mushy consistency. It was really tasty, but the first TJ’s I’d had in at least twenty years reminded me why I prefer Taco Bell in the “fast food gut bomb taco” category.
While I sat and ate, “If I Die Young” by The Band Perry came over the speakers, and as it always does, I was taken back to when I was first diagnosed with cancer. That song was big at the time, and it was so very meaningful to me. At the time, we didn’t know the details of what I had, and what the future would hold. Y’all already know that story, and how it ended, but this was an unusually poignant moment in what was supposed to be a big, positive weekend.
I eventually got checked into the hotel, picked up my packet from the expo, and played the part of a hermit in my room, relaxing, and getting things ready for Saturday.
Early in the morning, the alarm went off, and I began to get ready for the race. Looking at the weather, we were gonna miss the rain, and temps were up just a bit to the high 40s, making this a “shorts” day, instead of running pants. This was shaping up to be a nice morning.
Walking from the hotel to the start/finish line, I chatted with a bunch of folks, and discovered that the race start was delayed by at least fifteen minutes. Apparently, there were a lot of folks still trying to get to the site, and the race committee wanted to let them get in for the race start.
After some nervous waiting, we grouped up, sang the Star Spangled Banner, and with a cannon’s blast, we were off!
I felt really good. The opening of the race was slightly downhill, and I was keeping a nice pace as I started out from near the back of the pack. I was trying to keep on a Galloway-like interval, and for the first mile or so, that went reasonably well. The rolling hills began to get the better of me, and I slowed down, but to consistent, comfortable pace, and expected to be there for the rest of the race.
When I run, I play with the math of my run in my head. Since I’m usually near the back, there’s not too many people with which to chat, so math is my running buddy. At the first water stop (a little over two miles in), I took a look at my watch, and saw that my kilometer splits were off by quite a bit.
I didn’t panic, but I knew that this was shaping up to be another long day — like those in February’s halfs. I trudged on, finding another another water stop around five miles in, and by now, I began to realize I was in trouble. My splits were slowing, and I was feeling some wear and tear.
The aid station at mile five was at the top of a small hill. After a quick break, and a chat with my police escort, I started down the hill, and I could feel something painful in my right knee. I’ve been nursemaiding my left knee for months, but this was new. I tried to keep putting one foot in front of the other, but it was now painfully obvious that this day was not going my way.
My first 5km was pretty average for me; by the time I got to the six mile point, that second 5k was shaping up to be nearly half-again longer than the first. I’d gone just shy of 10km, and was already thirty minutes slower than my worst 10k.
I cried uncle.
I’d been trying to actively compensate for my right knee since that stop at mile five, which was causing pain in my left knee and hips. Given the way my times dropped off so badly after 5km, I was likely already developing a problem then. I don’t know if I could’ve finished, but had I tried that, I’m highly convinced I would’ve injured myself even more, and it just wasn’t worth the risk.
I took a ride in a volunteer vehicle back to the hotel. As it ends up, that was just what I needed. I was really beaten, and the couple inside and I had a lot in common: hams, berners and hockey. It was a nice “keep my mind off it” ride…
Until I handed my bib over to the folks in my rescue ride, sealing my DNF. That was tough.
I went straight to my room, thought over what had just happened, and showered, trying to put it all behind me. As part of this trip, and another leg of my gastrotourism, I’d planned to go to Runza. I wasn’t gonna let this struggle on-course take that away from me!
Runza is based in Nebraska, and the nearest ones are just across the border in western Kansas. Whenever I’m out that direction, I try to stop in, and get one. I had a cheese Runza, and an order of onion rings. I was in heaven. I probably could’ve eaten two, but that would’ve been pushing it, and I didn’t want to add gastronomical distress to my list of maladies on the day.
Back at the hotel, I dozed off and on, watching some TV, and finally went to bed, knowing I’d have an early start today. After an early rise, I zipped across the state — it’s about four hours from Olathe to Da Lou — and am home, and happy to be here.
So were there lessons from the weekend?
Firstly, a big tip of the hat to the folks at Fleet Feet. If you remember my halfs in February, I blistered on the bottom of my left foot quite badly. I talked with them, and they suggested RunGuard, which is basically a beeswax-feeling substance that you smear all over the bottom of your feet. I was skeptical, but it really worked. I had no blistering at all, which is a huge improvement!
I also learned that it’s ok to listen to your body, and stop when it makes sense. A medal is simply not worth doing longer term damage.
I also thought long and hard about the longer distance work I’ve been trying lately. While I had two extraordinary days in February, it’s become pretty obvious that I’m not really quite ready to tackle 20+km with any expectation of success. Not yet, anyway. On any given day, I might make it, or I might not, and I’m not a fan of that. Typically, when I run, I’m racing against me, not against finishing.
And frankly, that’s taking the fun out of it for me. I’ve been so focused on finishing these long races, I’ve forgotten what made this sport so much fun. It’s time to return to my roots, and focus on 5k and 10k distances for a while. I’m hopeful this will help me work out my mechanics, perhaps get a little faster, and begin to enjoy this great sport again.
It’s also been suggested that I should take my bike out. I think this is great advice, and something different for cross-training. The bridge crossing from the Chesterfield Valley to the Katy Trail has been open for over a year, and I haven’t yet taken my Kona across it. With the warmer weather being here, it’s time to return to the Katy, and I can’t think of a better way to do that than to ride there from the Valley.
Needless to say, this will put some big ol’ dents in my running plans for this year. I have three half marathons (one in two weeks) and a triathlon scheduled for this year. At this point, I’d put all that in the “maybe” category.
Normally, I’d guess someone could get pretty down about that change. These were big race events, after all! I prefer to look at it this way. I did some monster things in 2016 and early 2017, and I will again, but it’s time to put the fun back in my running, focus on getting healthy, and work my way back to those kinds of races, with knowledge that I will finish those races when I’m ready to tackle them again, and not have the question of “finishing” in my head.