This was never going to be a race.
When my fellow ponies asked Sonja if we could do this - a half marathon in our backyard - she said yes but cackled evilly while letting us know that we'd be running it on tired legs, and I vaguely recall a threat of getting on our bikes instead of going out to brunch afterwards (these are our grumpy faces).
The theme of the past month, for me, has been a generally manageable kind of tired. I started to notice it in the weeks before Yasi came out to visit - I'm feeling worn out from the work, yes, but I also feel like I am absorbing it well. No particular workout or day had really dumped me into a big hole. Rather it was just day after day of steady and continuous loading. As the days went on, I started to wonder when it would come - the CRRAAAAAAACCKKKKK as I fell off the ledge (foreshadowing here) into exhausted psychosis.
So for this sucker, there was no taper or rest or anything leading up to this, it was simply a supported long run dropped in the middle of a steady training block. The day before, we rode out and up to Carter Lake - the first time for me - and my legs felt pleasantly ripped by the time I crawled in bed.
I woke up with the Darth Vadar voice that I associate specifically with the cycling variety of exhausted, and there was a noticeable strain in my cheerful race morning persona. It was nice to only have to drive twenty minutes to the race, and all the general pre-race happenings went quite smoothly. Sonja showed up and sent us all out to warm-up, and when we jogged back to her, she stripped us of our electronics (WHAT?!) and dumped us on the line.
Her parting shot was something along the lines of, "this should feel like the last 13 miles of the IM marathon," and boy oh boy, was she right.
When we had chatted a few days earlier, before she stole our data-capturing machines, the plan was run at MAF. Running at MAF lately has been a fight to get my HR up, and I was not looking forward to a frustrating day of hauling ass to only see 135 HR. So I wasn't that unhappy to be without my watch, but as soon as we started running, I knew it was going to be a rough. My legs weren't sore, exactly, it was more that my system felt completely beat to hell.
Mo and I ran together for the first mile or so and then she dropped me on one of the first long uphills and I never saw her again. I remember seeing the mile markers for miles two and three, and then it started to get really ugly. There was no "start slow finish fast," there was no "increase the effort at this point," there was no race strategy of any sort, there was simply tuck in and hang on and get to the finish line as fast as you can.
For me, the best way I can cope with the pain is by blocking out everything I can. In ironman that meant pulling my visor down over my eyes so I couldn't see anything but the shoes of the person in front of me, emptying my mind and focusing on nothing but how to keep moving forward. That's what this felt like. That's the darkness I was in.
After the turn-around, I managed to catch up to two women who were running together fairly easily and chatting about their neighbors, their kids, someone driving too fast down their street, I don't even know what else. I jumped on the train behind them and let their voices wash over me while I stared at the pink shoes one was wearing. For miles, I ran like this. Up hills down hills (my God so many hills) into the wind with the wind. Not looking at anything or moving any part of my body more than I needed to, eyes locked on a pair of feet.
At some point I heard the poet's voice yelling and I chucked my water bottle in his direction, and Sonja ran next to me for a few seconds and said something about swinging my arms. I walked for about five seconds twice to get gels down - the second one I really only think I took for the walk break, not for the calories - and I stopped to pee somewhere because I felt like I was bursting, but those are really the only details I can pick out of the day.
I feel like I should have more words, eloquent meaningful words, for how much this hurt - but I don't. I only know that it was horrible, and I let it be, and I didn't step away or distract myself from it. I didn't dive in the bushes and take a nap, I didn't let myself walk (other than for water), I kept the pressure on as hard as I could, which was probably not very hard. I hung on until it was finally over. It's a lesson that I need to learn, how to not back down from pain, and knowing that is probably part of what got me through.
As soon as I crossed the finish line, the poet was there, and I burst into tears.
Ugly, holy shit that hurt, can't move another step, horrified sobbing. Complete emotional let-down (gross).
It only lasted for a few minutes, thankfully, and then we proceeded to food and pants and cheering for my training buddy that won her AG and then brunch and puppy and napping. But that was the crack. I spent the rest of the day in bed, I got a solid night of sleep, and I woke up Monday feeling empty. Irritable. I spent the day crying at everything and throwing my goggles at the fence after 500 yards and hiding in my office with the door closed so I wouldn't get fired for showing up and acting like a complete lunatic. Tuesday was better, although still a touch insane, and this morning I woke up and people have stopped telling me that I look like shit. But my well is deeper now, that I know for sure. This is how it gets deeper, this is how I break through, this is the work that needs to be done for me, this year. And I know that when I'm in the final miles of the marathon in July, I'll remember this day, and I'll be able to dig deeper, to run a little faster, and to hang onto the pain just a little bit longer.