“OK…let’s get this shoe off and see what’s going on in there…”
“You sure that’s a good idea? Can we just wrap my ankle and get me back out there?”
“Absolutely. Now let’s see…”
Off came my shoe. Both of us watched as my ankle began to swell.
“…..wow” was all the attendant could manage to say.
“..ummm…yeah…wow. Now could you tape this thing up, quick?”
“….oh sure. Okie dokie, here we go.”
…and with that the attendant began to wrap my right ankle pretty tight with pre-wrap and athletic tape. This was the first time in over 20 marathons that I actually felt crappy enough to stop into a medical tent for help. As the attendant quickly turned the tape around my foot, I kept muttering the same thing over and over to myself…
“This is about par for the course today. Some days it’s better to sleep in and watch TV.”
“Sorry – what did you say?” responded the attendant – a very nice young man that was eager to help, he tried to make me comfortable on this hot and humid day. His efforts were appreciated and respected…but in vain.
“…nothing. I was just whining like a mule. Thanks for the neat work. I’ll stretch this out and get back on the course”. I needed to finish what I began. I didn’t come this far to fail. I’ve begun 20 marathons before today. I’ve finished what I started all 20 times. I may gotten sick at times – I even lost a tooth once – but I always managed to cross the finish line. It’s never pretty…but they don’t hand out style points along the route. Just grit your teeth and push on – that’s my mindset once the clock starts. At times I think that is REALLY a dumb thought process – but it’s the only one I’ve come up with thus far.
As I sat on the grass under the medical tent slowly stretching my ankle and trying to loosen it up enough to get in motion once more, I thought back on the day’s events up to this point……
I drove from Manhattan up to Rye, New York – about 45 minutes away, across the Tappan Zee Bridge – at around 4:30-5am. I arrived in the Rockland Lake State Park parking lot at about 5:15am, only to find that I was the only car in the lot. There were no street lights, so the parking area was nearly pitch black. I sat in the car, wondering if I was in the right place. Sure enough, within minutes I noticed another up pulling close by. It was a brand new two-door black Porsche. An older gentleman exited the sharp vehicle and walked up to my car door. “Good morning. Do you know where to go to pick up our bibs?” he asked.
“No – I’ve never run this race before. I wasn’t even sure if the race was today, based on the turnout. Why don’t we check out the park – maybe there’s a registration area already set up.”
I got out of the car, grabbed my backpack, and we began walking toward the park itself. I introduced myself to the gentleman, and he mentioned that his name was Gene. He wore a very light white running jacket and carried a small bag which I was sure held the customary necessary marathon day items: dry clothes, a small towel, body glide, etc. When we got the park, we quickly noticed the marathon signs. Everything was clearly marked, so we made our way toward the registration tent.
We picked up our bib numbers, wished each other good luck, and looked for a quiet place to sit and prepare for the 7am start.
The lake itself is a gorgeous area. The marathon would consist of nine laps of the three mile path that runs around the lake. A very flat course, it would be home for the next several hours as I waddled around the asphalt.
Just a few minutes before the start of the race, the field of approximately 500 runners from all over the world (the race’s founder, Sri Chimnoy, was a very spiritual man that found inner peace through running – and he became a leader/guru that many throughout the world looked up to) began to line up for the starting gun. I noticed Gene in the crowd, wished him good luck once more…and then it hit me.
That racing shirt he wore. It was red, white and blue. He was a 50-stater (he’s completed a marathon in all 50 states). Then I saw the back of his shirt where, in gold glitter writing it simply said “X 8”.
My jaw dropped. Literally. I needed both hands to put it back in place without biting my tongue.
Gene completed marathons in all 50 states….8 times. Incredible. I spoke to him very briefly before the race began, and promised myself to catch up with him at some point during the day to hopefully be regaled with tales of his exploits. Before I knew it, the horn sounded and we were off.
The first thing I learned about myself as I began my nine laps was that, as a marathoner, I require a constant change of external stimuli: the scenery needs to change as the miles tick along. If I am required to run the same path, in the same direction, over and over again…I very easily lose focus on my objectives. This happened to me at mile 14.
The second thing I learned about myself piggy-backs off of the first thing: when I lose focus on my objectives during a marathon, I also lose focus on what I am actually doing at the present time. This became evident as the leaders came by me along my left side between miles 14-15. Two bicycles ringing their bells informed us back-of-the-packers that the leaders were coming through. We automatically moved the far right-hand side of the path in order to give them room to pass. As I moved to the right, I failed to pay attention to what I was doing…and my right foot landed on the outer curve of the pavement, turning my ankle something fierce. Fortunately, I caught myself before I fell – but the damage was done.
At first, my right ankle felt tingly – like the pins and needles you get in your arm when you sleep on it the wrong way. That got me worried. I’ve rolled my ankle before. It hurts, I ignore it, and then it doesn’t hurt anymore. This was different, however. It hurt, I tried to ignore it, and it kept hurting more and more. It felt as if The Tool had repelled down from my shoulder, belayed on to my right running shoe, whipped out a tiny hammer and starting pounding away at my ankle like a damn coal miner.
As I tried to keep my momentum going through a weird combination of waddling and hobbling along the right hand side of the path, I could only think of my Freshman Year football coach at Fordham Preparatory School, Mr. Austin. I was new to the game of tackle football, and was quite frankly scared of taking a hard hit. The first time I dropped back to pass in a team practice wearing full pads, I took too long to go through my receiver progressions and WHAM. I got blasted from behind by Ruben, one of our linebackers that REALLY knew how to play defense. It took me a moment to get up, and Mr. Austin walked out onto the field and asked me “Are you hurt or are you injured?” I asked him what the difference was. “If you’re hurt, I’m going to tell you to get your ass up off the dirt and into the huddle. If you’re injured, I’m calling an ambulance.”
I decided that I was hurt that day. I decided I was hurt today as well.
I got myself around the lake to the medical tent, where I decided to have the foot checked out. I have four more marathons to go in 2012, and a “Dopey” Marathon weekend coming up in January, so I cannot afford a real serious injury that crushes my chances of achieving my overall goal. So I arrived at the medical tent and, as I mentioned earlier, he nice attendant taped me up.
I got back out there, but to say I was broken for the day was an understatement. I began a slow jog and mixed in a lot of walking throughout the final 11-12 miles of the marathon. I wish I could say I gritted my teeth and ran the rest of the way. I would have loved to do that. But I wasn’t strong enough. It hurt too darn much and the heat and humidity sapped my energy levels from the outset of the race. It was a rough day – but one that I learned a lot from.
I learned that I need to train myself to be stronger mentally. I need to focus myself internally and pay attention to what’s going on with my body as I run. I now think of this as “running in the moment.” Forget that last crappy mile you ran. Forget all of the other stuff going on that has your head tied up in mental knots. Get out there and run in the moment. Focus on your game plan for the day. Focus on your stride. Your arm swing. Your breathing. In short: dial in to the moment. For me that means no more running whilst listening to AC/DC, Eminem and Rush. Oh crap.
As I grabbed my backpack and headed toward my car, I saw Gene finish. What a cool guy. I did a google search and found this VERY cool article on him – I want to share it with you, because this is one very special man. (http://www.nhregister.com/articles/2012/07/28/sports/doc5014696dd3d99867763186.txt?viewmode=fullstory).
When I got home I tended to my ankle and hoped that the swelling would recede. I prayed for no broken bones. I have worked too hard and come too far to have an ankle injury place this year-long effort in jeopardy.
…as it turns out, I heal pretty quick. My one saving grace, I guess!
Thanks for taking a moment to read my blabbering! Remember – you don’t get today back…so make it count.
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