Monday, March 28, 2011

the inches we need (National Half: race report)

I wasn't ready to talk about this on Friday.  


I saw my PT Thursday evening.  Essentially, I was in so much pain on Wednesday because my body was trying to re-un-align itself.  I felt flat and defeated, but asked the million-dollar question anyway: I can't run on Saturday, can I?  I was surprised when she told me to try it.  She said, get up, go to the start, see what happens.  If it gets to the point where I am limping badly or physically unable to go on, then stop.  She said I wouldn't be damaging myself in any permanent or irreversible way by running, but to expect a bit of a set-back.  The hardest thing, she said, would be managing the pain.  And finally, I think I started to see the lesson in this mess.  How strong am I?  How hard and long can I fight?  It was so clear, what I would do.  I would start.  


I know that all of you guys know this, but I've been in a pretty deep hole these past 2 weeks, dealing with this injury and the pain.  I've had some of the darker moments of my life.  Sitting at home and letting the race start without me would have been a crushing blow.  I would have no idea how to move forward from that.  But when I walked out of PT on Thursday evening, I felt light again.  I didn't feel weak and broken, I felt strong.  All I ever know how to do is fight.


I didn't really want to talk about it on Friday because I needed to do this my way.  I fully expected to DNF the race.  I didn't know if I would make it 1 mile, 2 or 3.  I warned my parents and friends that they might go to all this trouble just to be home by 8am.  I didn't know if I'd make it past the start line more than a few steps.  And I didn't care.  Being there, attacking this distance head-on, was so much more what I needed.  I would not hide.


So I did all my pre-race juju Friday night.  I ate dinner at Sweetwater and was in bed early.  I washed my lucky PR underwear, I laid out my race clothes in a little pile, and untied my running shoes.  I put 3 hours of music on my shuffle, because 3 hours was the limit on the Half course.  I did my PT exercises and went to bed.  And when my alarm went off Saturday morning and I climbed out of bed, my back did not hurt.  For the first time in 2 weeks, I was able to walk to the bathroom without pain.  I had no idea why, or what combination of events led to that, but the piercing pain in my SI joint was gone.  My piriformis/sciatic nerve irritation was still there, but I could walk.  I ate my granola bar, I drank my water, I got dressed, and we left.  I'm not going to lie, I was terrified.  I had no idea what to expect, but I was afraid of the pain, that it would be worse than what had happened the past 2 weeks, that I might hurt myself beyond my ability to handle.  Faith, not fear.


I met up with some teammates in the Armory, and took the time again to stretch.  We made a porta-potty stop and then split up to head to our corrals.  I had hoped to meet up with a friend, but we couldn't find each other in our corral, and when the race started, I was alone.  


On Friday I was exchanging motivational videos with some friends running the race, and the poet sent me a link to Al Pacino's speech in "Any Given Sunday."  I listened to it once.  And again.  And maybe 35 more times Friday afternoon.  It was exactly what I needed to hear at exactly the right time.  He says (excerpted), "Life's this game of inches.  One half a step too late or too early and you don't quite make it.  One half second too slow, too fast, and you don't quite catch it.  The inches we need are everywhere around us...We claw with our fingernails for that inch.  Because we know when we add up all those inches, that's gonna make the fucking difference between winning and losing.  Between living and dying."  Inches.  When I crossed the start line, this is what I was listening to, and there were tears running down my face, and I started to run.


Holy hell did it hurt.


The pain in my SI joint came back in just a few steps.  But it was dull achy pain, not horrible stabbing pain.  So I ran a few more steps, and it didn't get worse.  I decided to run the first mile, and I was listening hard to my body, and it didn't get worse some more.  I was so slow and so far behind the starting line that when I hit the 1 mile marker it said 20:xx on the clock, and I didn't care.  I was running this race.  In pain, but running it.  I knew that my parents and some friends would be just past the 3-mile mark, so I decided that all I had to do was get there and then, if the pain was worse or had become unbearable, I would stop there.  3 miles, that's all I had to do.
And when I got there, I waved and they cheered and yelled and I decided to keep going, because it wasn't worse.  It was the same.  I was running slowly and smoothly without a limp.  So I kept running.  
I knew that some of my teammates were going to be cheering somewhere after the 6 mile mark, so I just told myself, "Just get to Cristina.  Just get to Cristina."  If I wanted to, if it had gotten worse, I could stop there.  And when I got there, not only did I want to keep going, but Cristina, like a little running angel, jumped in to run with me up the hill.  Exactly what I needed.  And she talked to me and I'm sure I grunted and snorted back at her and suddenly, we were up the hill and she was gone.  And the sun was shining and my legs were turning over and I was dealing with the pain, it wasn't getting worse, it actually started to feel like it was getting better.


My amazing traveling cheering squad had planned to hop in the metro after they saw me at mile 3 and get out at Columbia Heights and see me between 7-8.  My Garmin flipped out in the Dupont tunnel so I didn't have a good grasp on where I was, but I was barely looking at it anyway.  And at the top of a little hill, I saw the poet on the sidelines and I am sure I got the most ridiculously stupid grin on my face at that moment, because that was the moment when I realized I was going to finish.
So I kept going.  I probably ran 2 miles with the hugest smile on my face.  I didn't care about my time, I wasn't running hard, I was running easy and relaxed and had no desire to go any faster.  There was a point somewhere in the 8-9 mile range where I glanced down at my watch and thought, "Wow, if I turned it up a few notches, I could probably break 2 hours!"  And then I gave myself the biggest mental shake I could.  This day was not about time.  This day was about finishing.


My legs didn't really start to complain until late in mile 11.  I did not run a single step for 2 solid weeks before this race, which is actually not the recommended way to taper for a half marathon.  I swam a few times, but I mostly spent those 2 weeks in bed.  Late in mile 11, my calves and quads started to ache and cramp and seize.  I told myself that I could walk if I wanted to, but that I would get there faster if I ran, and I was actually afraid that if I stopped and walked, I wouldn't be able to start running again.  Then "The War" started playing in my headphones, which is one of my toughing it out, don't quit, 100 miles on a bicycle and still don't stop songs.  Lyrics?  "Believe you want this."  Over and over and over.


So I kept going.  The full marathoners split off and I knew I was close.  I could see the fences, and then we turned a corner and I could see the finish line, and I ran as hard as I could for it.  And then it was over and I could stop and the poet was there and he caught me and it was over.
I immediately took 4 advil and a muscle relaxer.
I took my medal picture and stuffed a few bananas and a bagel down on top of the medicine.  
I went and found my family, then my friends, and we eventually ended up back home.

And how I feel today?  Well, first of all, I'm fine.  I mean, everything is incredibly sore and tight and painful and I can't walk up or down any steps or sit on the toilet or really get off the couch at all, but none of it is alarming pain.  It's the pain of running a race after 2 weeks of laying in bed, plus nursing a lower back injury.  I am not worried about any of the pain I am in right now.  Mentally, I'm in a better place than I've been in since this all started happening.  I feel calm and centered and proud of my damn self.  I ran my own race.  It wasn't the race I thought I was going to run back in December when I signed up, or the race I've been visualizing over the past 3 months, but it's my race and no one could run it for me, I was the one who ran it.  None of the rest matters.  


I'll be sure to take the time to analyze what worked and what didn't in this training cycle and what I'm going to do moving forward, but right now I'm just going to celebrate the fact that I did this.  I'm not sure why I sometimes have to fight so hard for things that come so easily to others, but for whatever reason, this is my journey and I will own it.  And right now I'm standing on top of the mountain, hollering at the top of my lungs, because I did it.  
Life's this game of inches.

54 comments:

  1. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this post and these pictures. You look amazing!

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  2. You are amazing! So happy for you! Great pictures!

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  3. I LOVE this!!! I am so thrilled for you and I started tearing up while reading this post. You put into words all of the emotions, frustrations, and joy that I had when I was returning from an injury.

    I love the photos too - you look so strong!

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  4. Fabulous, wonderful inspiring post! YOU ARE SO HARDCORE!

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  5. Congratulations!!!! You are seriously a rockstar. I am so impressed you ran despite everything going on in your body. Such an inspiration!

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  6. Congrats!!! I haven't run a completely pain free run in two years so I totally hear ya on this. But I'm sure you feel amazing that you did it. Your pics are awesome. Congrats, sad we didn't get to meet!

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  7. The last photo gave me the chills. I love everything about this experience, but especially this revelation: "I'm not sure why I sometimes have to fight so hard for things that come so easily to others, but for whatever reason, this is my journey and I will own it." I identify, and feel that while it's hard to own that feeling (even as an adult, it feels impossibly geeky to have to work SO HARD for stuff like this when other people can play it so cool), our victories are SO much sweeter for our struggles.

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  8. You completely rock. Great work!

    Oh, and who is The War by? Marathon is approaching, need some tunes to inspire!

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  9. Good job girl! You're amazing!

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  10. :)

    :D

    (and I note, I thought I was breathing harder going up the hill than you were -- that's when I knew you were going to be A-OK!)

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  11. This was a great race report. How strong am I? Was a very important question; you had the struggles of pain and still overcame the adversity and Finished!! Super Job!

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  12. So inspiring! Here's to a speedy recovery!

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  13. I'm so happy you made it out there and got through Saturday. You are seriously awesome!!

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  14. Talk about a test of mental and physical strength. I'm so glad you made the decision to run. Totally inspiring. Congrats! And rest up!

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  15. Awesome Katie! It's so good to hear joy in your voice. Glad you went for it!

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  16. I'm so so happy for you!! and I LOVE these pics (I am going to steal one of them for sure!)!

    Any Given Sunday was the movie Tim and I saw on our first date! :) Those inches can turn into years! ;)

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  17. I'm so proud of you and happy for you Katie! Way to go!

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  18. So happy for you. What a great race report, and great pictures too!

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  19. simply amazing. you continue to amaze me every day.

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  20. I'm so glad to hear you are in a better spot mentally. I know this was an important race for you! Love the photos!

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  21. Gee, thanks for making me cry at work.

    I am so incredibly proud of you, my friend. I knew you wanted it, and I had this feeling that mind-over-matter would kick in. I'm so glad it did.

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  22. Those are the best race pics of you ever...you look ecstatic!

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  23. Congratulations, I'm really proud and happy for you! I'm glad I got to see you on the way to the corrals; there was a determination in your voice that you were ready to do this. I tried to find you in your corral, but no luck before I was herded into mine.

    You should come up and do the Baltimore Half Marathon in the Fall. I think it's a bit more scenic, lots of motivation groups throughout, a few more hills and a good party at the end.

    Keep up the faith, and congratulations again :)

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  24. Wow....that was your best post ever. Seriously, I am crying right now reading that (I read it twice :) ). You are the strongest person I know, you did amazing. I love the quote that life is a game of inches - and you are so right. So proud of you, so happy for you, so glad you got to run the race.
    Now, sit back and heal up, you have some SF ass to kick! Love ya! Huggs and puppy kisses!

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  25. Katie, I am so incredibly proud of you and happy for you. You are so incredibly inspiring :). What a wonderful, moving post this was. This race was your time to shine, and you did so brilliantly. And the very last pic you posted really especially touched me :).

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  26. Nice work!!! Pushing through like that when you know you are not 100% is tough. way to stick it out.

    What is it about someone taking a picture during a race that makes us raise our hands? I do it too, but I just don't get it.

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  27. Badass! Congrats on finishing strong. Maybe it's something to do with Sweetwater, because that's where I had my dinner the night before as well! :)

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  28. Best race report I've ever read. Hands down. You're amazing and I loved that you were smiling in every single one of your pictures. To say that you're an inspiration would be an understatement. I'm so proud of you! You absolutely rocked this race and exemplified TRUE athleticism. Enjoy this and relish in it and take this feeling and store it because after that, you can do anything!

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  29. Your next race recap will probably be this glowing redemption race recap but I hope you will revisit this one when times get tough or when life starts throwing you lemons because this recap will remind you how strong you are and how you can take anything that is thrown at you and still come out on the other side a champion. Can't wait to give you a congrats hug in Beantown!

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  30. Katie, courageous Katie, I'm reading this with the BIGGEST smile on my face! Oh I am SO freakin' PROUD of you!!!
    I love your spirit, I admire your strength and I applaud your faith. "...it's my race and no one can run it for me."
    Great analogy to life baby girl. We are all dealt different circumstances and all we can control is how we handle them.
    You are an inspiration woman!

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  31. I'M SO PROUD OF YOU!!!!


    You look so happy in all of the race pics. Clearly you were meant to do this, you rock star.

    You seriously have more determination than anyone else I know. Please lend me some during our boston weekend.

    you are awesome. end of story.

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  32. i feel SO inspired by your will and determination!!!! seriously. chills.

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  33. Ah-mazingness! I am SO SO SO happy for you and proud of your race. You are by far the strongest person I know. Amazing.

    Also, I love that this is the first race where you don't look like death. Just awesome. All around. Amazing. Yay. :)

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  34. I just found your blog today, and I'm so glad I did. I'm running my first half marathon this weekend, and you are such an inspiration! Congrats, great job, and I hope you feel better soon!

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  35. Best race report of the weekend, hands down. You are amazing and inspiring, and I love the smaller goals that helped you reach your bigger one -- crossing the line and defeating that damn pain. Huge congrats!

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  36. I'm in tears... I needed this. I needed to know it all goes on after injury. I'm in the middle of writing about my relay, and how disappointed it made me. Seeing your smiling face helped me along. Thank you.

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  37. You are awesome girl! Great job!

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  38. CONGRATS!!!! so so happy for you - you are superwoman!!!

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  39. WOW. Just wow. Totally teary eyed. You owned it. You owned every single step. Ang guts like yours cant be trained for, bought or stollen. You and you alone believed and just WENT. And I am absolutly in awe.

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  40. I legit just cried at work, you are AMAZING. WOW. I loved the smiles, the determination, the optimism. Congrats on officially kicking fucking ass!

    My favorite line: "I'm not sure why I sometimes have to fight so hard for things that come so easily to others, but for whatever reason, this is my journey and I will own it. And right now I'm standing on top of the mountain, hollering at the top of my lungs, because I did it."

    Hell to the YES

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  41. this is an amazing post. I am so glad you were able to toe the line and even finish the race! great job, lady! This was super inspiring!

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  42. This report kicks so much ass... YOU kick so much ass!!! If you keep kicking ass like this, there won't be any ass left to kick. C'mon! You rock. (so inspired)

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  43. yay pics! I am so so so happy you made it. yay smart PT, smart body, smart you for listening to it all. you totally rock.

    (some of the comments, too, are making me cry. it's a big cryfest here. :))

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  44. Faith not fear. Amazing. You are such an inspiration. On days I'm feeling pained I'll choose not to even train at times and you went out there and kicked butt. Hardcore. You look beautiful in all your glory at the end of the race.

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  45. I'm so freakin' excited for you! I'm new here but wow, what a journey. And what a fantastic finishing time despite your pain. You rocked that race!!

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  46. Well played and well told. I could feel every mile with you. And I am inspired to do better.

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  47. You are tough! Congratulations on a tough race and finishing it.

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  48. A huge congratulations to you for toeing the line and never giving up. You have every right to be proud of yourself, this is what makes you a bad ass athlete. Great job Katie!

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  49. I love the pics!!! And I am so going to use "Faith, not fear" next time I am feeling weary! Seriously, bad ass! Way to go!

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  50. " I ran my own race." That's ALL we can ever do, and you did it with a fierce attitude and strong muscles that were willing to carry you through because you wanted it! I've got goosebumps all over, because this may be one of the best written (insightful) race recaps I've ever read. No qualms or recaps of pace, just a pure flow of thoughts that at some point we have all felt.

    I'm so happy for you, and so glad that you pushed through this! It's just another start, and another fight that you won :)

    P.S. Unrelated, but D saw The Poet & your parents on the Metro - what's even more shocking is that he recognized your hubs! Ha

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  51. I never enjoyed a race as much as I did my "Accidental Ten Miler" when I didn't think I'd finish, just figured I would run a little of it since I was signed up.
    I savored every minute, felt great and the race was way more fun for taking it easy and having zero expectations.
    SO GLAD you were able to get it done, and enjoy simply running. When something is taken away we love it all the more.

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