Confessions of a recovering runner. Part 1, In which a zombie recalls the past

This weekend is the annual Canadian Derby Marathon in Edmonton. I, incidentally, will not be participating. Last year I had left it to the last moment to sign up, finally giving in to a nagging guilt that kept reminding me how I hadn’t missed this event since I first signed up 5 years earlier. Even though I was injured I ignored all good sense and figured that I could somehow run through the pain. It’s one of my little quirks that once I am able to accomplish something for the first time, I expect that I should always be able to do it; and so sign up I did. Clearly my pride had done me in; and again the following February when I signed up for the Hypothermic Half Marathon, again because I had done it before, ergo, I should be able to do it again. In short, I was a moron.

This time it’s different. This time I am swallowing my pride and admitting to myself that this year I am unable to do it. Instead I am on the road to recovery, as I slowly get back into form. Just this past week I was on an evening run when a particular song shuffled through on my playlist. It was “Zombie” by the Cranberries. It so happens that this was the very song that was playing on my playlist as I dragged myself across the finish line at last summer’s marathon (see Confessions of a reluctant runner. Part 8). A very fitting selection, as it turned out. Not so much in terms of the Irish Problem, which is the song’s original theme and which my running a marathon had absolutely nothing to do with, but rather the title itself. As I came through the last kilometre of the run I must have resembled a zombie; a hobbling, shuffling, smelly, moaning, possibly drooling shell of a human. It was the lowest I have ever been in my time as a runner as I dealt with feelings of shame, disappointment, guilt, anger; a deadly cocktail to be sure. Yet, there was something else inside that carried me through that last kilometre, in fact it had been carrying me for at least 15 km before that, if not more. Indeed there was a horrific sight lurching its way toward the finish line, but I, this particular horror, had taken on not just the physical characteristics, but the single-mindedness of the ghoul. The finish line was my goal and there was nothing that was going to stop me from achieving it. I was transfixed, and my gaze would not be diverted.

As I think about this year’s marathon, I am of course disappointed. It hurts a bit not to be able to run this year, despite all the effort and pain that I willingly endure each time. Yet as I was listening to “Zombie” this past week on my run, and as these memories of last year were playing through my head, I became filled with determination; a determination to rise from the grave of self-pity; a determination to once again set my sight toward the goal; a determination to once again become that zombie who just wouldn’t die and kept advancing…

… only, maybe not so much drooling this time.

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Confessions of a reluctant runner. Part 8 (addendum)

Although I had mentioned the wonderful support from my family, I neglected to pass on the inspiring words of my beautiful, wonderful, loving wife as I left that morning for the marathon.

“Go out there and do your best; and remember, if it starts to hurt – grow a pair.”

Thanks, my love, for those words of encouragement.  I was determined to return, bollocks intact, at all cost.

Confessions of a reluctant runner. Part 8, In which I reflect on this year’s marathon

Once again I have completed the Edmonton Intact Canadian Derby Marathon. It was a scorcher of a day; one filled with many challenges, some brilliant moments, and some not-so-brilliant ones. I won’t bother mentioning my finishing time, because at this point I really don’t care. In fact, astute readers may have already noticed that I have used the term completed, instead of run; this was done intentionally.

As you may or may not know, the months leading up to this marathon were not ideal in terms of training. Most of it had to do with an injury that I sustained back in June. (see Confessions of a reluctant runner. Part 5) Since that time, my running has been at a minimum, with practically no distance training whatsoever. Regardless, I decided to give it a shot anyway, because, well, I’m kind of dim that way.

I arrived at 7:00, half an hour before the start time. I had enjoyed toast with peanut butter for breakfast and had picked up a Red Bull on the way. I did some yoga stretches before I left, to loosen up my hips and stretch out my heals and calves. I also made sure to slip in my arch supports into my runners as I had been using them in another pair of shoes the other day. When I got to the venue, I put my runners on and immediately noticed the supports contacting my arches. I was a little suspicious, but figured that once I got going, everything would work itself out. With ten minutes to start, I rushed to the washroom one last time, as I wanted to prevent a repeat of two years ago where my legs seized up after stopping to take a piss. Right, empty bladder: check; RUN! playlist: check; arch supports: check (hmmm); determination to finish: check; absence of delusions of grandeur: check. Let’s do this!

The first few steps were awkward and a little painful, but I was prepared for that. Of the running that I had been doing, I noticed that it usually took about ten minutes of so for the bottom of my foot to stretch out. I had situated myself between the 4:00:00 group and the 4:15:00 group. I had also donned a 4:05:00 pace band, just for the hell of it. As we made our way downtown, I has feeling pretty good, not optimal, but good. As we started to leave the downtown area, I was noticing that according to my pace band, I was five minutes ahead of pace. Wow. Could I possible keep this up? Steady, Sean, you’re only 7 km into this; but still. At this point I passed one of the highlights of the race; two young ladies holding up a sign that read, “WORST PARADE EVER!” Brilliant!

The next 13 km were pretty much uneventful. I was feeling good, and I was keeping a consistent pace. As the race neared the 20 km mark I was still five minutes ahead of pace. I should mention that this time I had decided two things for this run. One, I would not be running with a pace group; two, I would not be taking walk breaks until absolutely necessary. The first had to do with my experience in the past were running with a pace group was fantastic, until I started top fall behind, and then it just got depressing. The second had to do with thinking that I might just prevent my calf muscles from seizing up if I just plowed through without stopping for walk breaks. Perhaps my strategy was paying off.

Ahead I see it. The 21 km marker. This is where is all unravelled for my last year. (see Confessions of a reluctant runner. Part 6) I immediately check in with my body. Everything seems fine… shit! Was that my left calf? I don’t believe it! No. No, it’s fine. It’s worked itself out. As I pass the halfway marker I’m still five minutes ahead of pace. Wouldn’t it be insane, what with my injury and lack of training, that this would work out to be my personal best? That would be just… ow! What the hell was that? That’s odd, usually it’s my calves that give me problems not my… ow! Quads. It’s fine, I’ll just shorten my stride a bit; it’s fine.

I reach the next marker, and notice that my five minute buffer has been reduce to three. Oh well, I’m still ahead. Seriously, what’s going on with my arches? Every step seems to be digging into them. As I head towards downtown, I pass the young ladies with the funny sign. Look, they’ve changed it. Now it reads, “WHY ARE YOU READING THIS SIGN? YOU SHOULD BE RUNNING!” Ha! That’s funny too… shit! There goes my left calf again.

By the time I pass through downtown, I’m performing a delicate juggling act involving my quads, my calves, and my heel, which has decided that I’ve gone quite far enough and should be reminded of where things really stand. No longer ahead of pace, I am now slipping steadily behind as my legs systematically shut down. I’m still ahead of the 4:15:00 group, though, which is positive. I pass a line of Elvises giving out high fives, which momentarily distract me from my pain, but not for long.

Looking ahead I now see the large sign with two arrows, one each directing the half marathon group home, and the full marathon group onwards on their journey. Oh, hello 4:15:00 group; and good-bye. Shit. Remember how I had intentionally neglected to use the word run at the beginning? This is because by this point I’m down to a stagger as my quads are stiffening, my left arc is assaulted, and I’ve been reduced to only the toes on my right foot as a sharp pain is buried in my heel. Occasionally I try to jog a bit, but then my calves are up to their old tricks again. Bastards. On a personal note, I remember looking at the two arrows and thinking, not that I could veer off and end this torture, but rather, “I guess this is the way I have to go,” as I follow the prescribed direction. Hooray for stubbornness!

The distance markers are coming more and more slowly now, as each couple of kilometres seems to take an eternity. I am effectively walking now, or should I say, I am now, in effect, walking; because the other way might imply that my form of locomotion had some effectiveness to it, which it did not. Strangely, especially for me, I am not all that disappointed. In fact, I find myself constantly steeling myself as I find pockets of determination through the pain and ridiculousness of it all. A couple pass me and ask me if I’m alright. I tell them I’m doing fine and that I’ve resigned myself to plodding along in this feeble manner. They say, “Well, you’re still able to smile, so that’s a good thing.” I hadn’t realized I was smiling; interesting. Hello 4:30:00 group, and good-bye. Sigh.

I should had added “Walking wounded” to my playlist

The next aid station coming up is an emotional one for me. It was at the 30 km mark last year that I broke down as I realized that I would not make my goal. This also marks… oh, hello 5:00:00 group, and good-bye. Shit… anyway this point is for me the worst part of the entire course; what I like to call the Back Six. Besides my experience last summer, I have also ran this section as part of my annual Hypothermic Half Marathon in the winter; it just so happens that the marathon has co-opted this stretch of road as well. This loop, which spans the 31 km mark to the 37 km mark, is for me, a dismal wasteland. At this point in the race the field has thinned considerably, making the run seem even lonelier. As well, because it’s a loop, I get to see the pace groups that have previously passed me come back on their way home. Hello, 4:00:00, 4:15:00, 4:30:00; haven’t seen 5:00:00 come back yet, so there’s that, I guess. This, however, is not yet the worst part. As I approach the aid station at 32 km I’ve made a decision. By this point my feet are in excruciating pain; my left arch has been taking a severe beating while my right, well I’m not even using it at this point as I have been reduced to only my toes on my right. These inserts have to come out. There’s no way I can attempt to quicken my pace, even if it is only a shuffle, with these things in my shoes. I stop and take my shoes off, and yank out the inserts; only to fine another pair of inserts underneath! Oh for fuck’s sake! In my rush to remember to put these things in this morning, I had forgotten that I had put another pair in earlier in the week. I’ve been traveling for 32 km with two sets of arch supports in my shoes. Brilliant. I rip out the old pair of inserts and leave them by the side of the road, replace the newer ones, and trudge on. Stupid.

The stretch of road that runs 33 km to 35 km is grim. I am, for all intents and purposes, alone. I can see someone off in the distance, I don’t perceive anyone behind me. By this time the roads have become live as regular, sane people are getting on with their mornings. There is a column of traffic cones that separate a lone, limping “runner” from the cars driving by. I’m am glad to have my music with me. Even though I usually run alone, there was something about the emptiness, coupled with the pain and limited forward progress that, if it were not for the music, I may just have gone mad. I get to an intersection where I see a lawn chair, but no race steward occupying it. As I round the corner the steward is emerging from his car where he was probably relaxing thinking, “There can’t be many people left to come by.” I’ve turned onto a residential street where, if it were not for the lone group of people halfway down on their front lawn with a sign, I would have not known that I was still on the course.

The 35 km mark has a timing pad on the road to mark our chips. I smile at the steward and playfully hop onto the pad. Ow. Calf. Sigh. I turn another corner and I am now officially on my way back! I see a few more participants ahead of me now; I’m even able to muster enough to power-lurch past a couple. Suddenly I hear a cheerful voice coming up from behind me, “You’re doin’ great!” she calls out as she passes me. I shrug and respond with a half-hearted, “Thanks,” to which she replies, “No, really! Keep going!” I am in awe of her attitude. I commit myself once again to going forward. As I reach the top of the hill round the 36 km mark I pass by my cheery co-racer, Lindy, who is taking a walk break. Not long after she is passing me again, this time announcing her presence by singing along to her music. Outstanding! I once again attempt to jog, but now my groin is in such a state from my awkward movements, that it immediately disagrees with my decision and promptly requests that I piss off.

I meet up with Lindy again at the 37 km aid station and for the rest of the race we trade positions; me maintaining a consistent shuffle, her alternating between a jog and walk, not to mention stopping to chat with the race stewards along the way. As we approach the 40 km mark, we meet up with two ladies who are nearing the end as well. Lindy has run ahead as well as one of the ladies. The other is walking beside me as we approach a race photographer. My companion suggest, “Want to run for the camera?” I tell her that I don’t have any run left in me, but then I immediately change my mind and say, “Oh, what the hell. Let’s do it!” We start running; me tying my best to straighten my posture and mask the pain in my face, her yelling at the photographer, “Hey! We’re running for you! Take a picture!” As soon as we pass the photographer, I immediately slow to a shuffle, trying my best to will away the pain in my groin. Ugh.

41 km. This was the spot last year where I came tumbling to the ground after both my calves seized up. This was the spot last year when I was close to being carted off the field. This was the spot where I was now approaching with stern determination that I would pass through and not stop till I reached the end.

500 m to go. I can see Lindy ahead of me and I decide that I’ve had enough of this limping around. Time to finish strong! I lurch forward into a jog, slowly accelerating to a run. Every muscle in my legs is killing me; my groin shoots regular pulses of pain through my body, my calves threaten at any moment to turn to stone and bring me crashing to the ground. Rounding the last corner I have now caught up with Lindy. My advancement spurs her on and she hits the afterburners. By this point I am actually putting most my weight on my bad foot as my left calf has seized. I know there’s nothing more I can get out of my body, so instead I turn my attention to Lindy and cheer her on as she powers toward the finish line. She crosses just before I do and then turns to me and we embrace. I am filled with emotion as we congratulate each other on finishing. I collect my finisher’s medal and then look around and see my wife waiting for me. I stumble over to her and after hugs and kisses, she helps me over to a bench. I can barely walk, I feel nauseous, and now that I’m sitting, I don’t know if I’ll be able to get up again. My wife tells me she’s proud of me; and she admits that at one point she checked out the medical tent, just in case I had been brought in. I don’t blame her.

This will be my last marathon for a while. I was encouraged by my first one, but have failed to improve on that initial success. As usual, I had absolutely no issues with my cardio, but my legs were just not up to the task. I think I will concentrate on half marathons for the time being, as they seem to be much more within my range. This year’s marathon was extremely tough, though not as emotional as last year’s. Already, though, I can tell that my body has been tortured more this time round. I am proud of the fact I finished, though my placement indicates to me that if I am to try this again some day, I need to take the whole process more seriously. I’ll be taking a break from running for a bit as I recuperate.

I would like to thank the stewards, the aid station attendants, and all the volunteers. Thank you to everyone who came out to cheer us on along the route. Thanks to the homeowners who offered their hoses to refresh us as we passed. Thank you to all the participants; it takes a lot of guts to even sign up for this and I feel honoured to have shared this experience with you. A special thanks to Lindy, my on-again, off-again companion on the last 10 km; your positive attitude and friendliness helped me to find the strength to carry on to the finish. Thank you to the iStore who replaced my iPod after it had died on me; I would not have been able to carry on like I did without my music. Most of all, thank you to my wife and family for supporting me throughout all my runs; this is just something that I need to do, and you lovingly accept that as reason enough.

There’s a fine line between being shit and being the shit. Often I wonder which side I’m on

Confessions of a reluctant runner. Part 7.1, The RUN! Playlist

I’ve done some final tweaking before the big run and I’ve compiled my RUN! playlist. Here are the tracks, in random order. There’s over six hours of music here, that should be enough. Damn it! It had better be enough!

D’you know what I mean – Oasis

All that we perceive – Thievery Corporation

Days go by – Dirty Vegas

Under the influence – Matthew Good Band

Jenny was a friend of mine – The Killers

Us remains impossible – Matthew Good

Mexican dogs – Cold War Kids

Let’s get it on – Matthew Good Band

The game has changed – Daft Punk

Zombie – The Cranberries

Everybody’s fool – Evanescence

Map of the problematique – Muse

Wrong – Depeche Mode

Talk her down – Starsailor

Mercy in you – Depeche Mode

Way to fall – Starsailor

Tranquilize – The Killers

Out of line – The Bravery

Derezzed – Daft Punk

Shoplifters of the world unite – The Smiths

Synthesizer – Electric Six

World in my eyes – The Cure

You Bruise – Death Cab for Cutie

Get down Moses – Joe Strummer

Washed away – Morcheeba

A punch up at a wedding – Radiohead

In our gun – Gomez

At the hundredth meridian – The Tragically Hip

Counterfeit life – Starsailor

Un simple histoire – Thievery Corporation

Bring me to life – Evanescence

I am the man – Philosopher Kings

Bombtrack – Rage Against the Machine

Advertising on police cars – Matthew Good Band

Your cover’s blown – Belle and Sebastian

Take me out (Daft Punk Remix) – Franz Ferdinand

Tron Legacy end titles – Daft Punk

The outernationalist – Thievery Corporation

Going under – Evanescence

Acrobat – U2

Neighbourhood #3 (Power out) – The Arcade Fire

Sledgehammer – Peter Gabriel

Dear Mr. President – Fitz & The Tantrums

Useless – Depeche Mode

Bodyrock – Moby

Dirty Harry – Gorillaz

Cordelia – The Tragically Hip

Policy of truth – Dishwalla

Precious – Depeche Mode

The loneliness of a middle distance runner – Belle and Sebastian

In your room – Depeche Mode

Failing the Rorschach Test – Matthew Good Band

Somebody told me – The Killers

Tie up my hands – Starsailor

Lose yourself – Eminem

Left right – The Chemical Brothers

Reckoner – Radiohead

Digging deep – Jackalope

Patrol (The Chemical Brothers remix) – Charlatans

Disc wars – Daft Punk

Enjoy the ride – Morcheeba

Invasion 1 – Matthew Good Band

Gimme Shelter – The Rolling Stones

Warning shots – Thievery Corporation

Solid ground – Ginger

There’s no other way – Blur

There there – Radiohead

Prime time deliverance – Matthew Good Band

Locked in the trunk of a car – The Tragically Hip

Fly on the windscreen – Depeche Mode

Know your enemy – Rage Against the Machine

The ledge beyond the edge – Morcheeba

Empty’s theme park – Matthew Good

Politik – Coldplay

Alligator pie – Dave Matthews Band

How soon is now? – The Smiths

Until the end of the world – U2

Taking over me – Evanescence

Volcanoes – Matthew Good

Breaking into heaven – The Stone Roses

Galvanize – The Chemical Brothers

End of line – Daft Punk

Love spreads – The Stone Roses

The chemicals between us – Bush

15 steps – Radiohead

There it is. If you were to make your own RUN! playlist, what would it look like?

Confessions of a reluctant runner. Part 7, Recipe for suck-cess

For those in the back, here’s the run down (pun unintentional but appropriate):

Marathon ETA : 6 days

Status of injury : present

Distance training : nil

Status of runner : fecked

Chances of runner reaching a personal best : high improbability

Chances of runner finishing the race : high probability

Chances of runner limping across the finish line : very high probability

Chances of runner arriving via medical cart : possible, but unacceptable

Chances of runner having supportive family at the finish line : 100%