just another mile marker – ringing in the new year

People celebrate the new year in different ways.  For a number of years, I’d done this the more traditional way, involving staying up late with friends and champagne.  Then about seventeen years ago, I participated in a 5k that started at the stroke of midnight.  I love this form of unconventional fun, and had been hoping to find a similar thing since.

first call 2011 1first call 2011 2

photos taken by Takao Suzuki

Several weeks back I ‘d signed up for the Last Chance Marathon in Bellingham, run on New Year’s Eve morning.  I considered trying to double up for the first time, by doing the First Call to Run Marathon the following day as well.  Doing a double had been a long-term goal of mine, and I figured it wouldn’t ever be easier than now.  Both of these events are without easy driving distance of home, and are small and well-regarded.

So the day after running a pretty good race in Bellingham, I found myself heading out to Bothell Landing for First Call.  I felt pretty good, but still had trouble pushing doubt aside.  I’d been uncertain enough that I’d refused to commit out loud.  I’d set my running clothes and fuel out the night before, but made it clear that I might choose to sleep in.  The expression goes that the hardest part of doing a race is getting to the start.  Indeed.

It was cold, as it had been the day before – about 25 or so.  Another long-tights marathon.  I donned my red Eastside Runners shirt, over a warm long sleeved shirt, and wore my cross-country ski gloves for good measure.  We lined up at the start and headed out at eight AM sharp.

The sun was just starting to peek out over the trees, and it was another beautiful day.  As I stretched out during the early miles, I kept reminding myself that cold is a very effective analgesic, and that being out doing this might be sort of similar to sitting in an ice bath nursing my fatigued legs.

Similar to Last Chance, this was a double out and back course.  We ran south on the Sammamish River Trail from Bothell Landing down to northern Redmond, ran back, and then repeated it.  This flat, fast course is actually part of the old Seattle Marathon course.  It’s a good place to cover miles, but can tend to feel a bit monotonous too.  Fortunately, I was out there with some friends.  And given the double out and back, you got to see people several times, even if they were keeping very different paces from you.  And just before I completed the first half, I caught sight of a big bald eagle, perched high in a tree over the river.  I took this as a good omen – remembering that I’d enjoyed seeing another while doing my first marathon, up in Alaska back in 1998.  This helped settle my doubts a bit.  I rounded the first two turnarounds at just under a four-hour pace.

However, as I began the second half reality started to sink in.  I’d suspected my legs would feel tired enough to effect my pace (they did), but hadn’t anticipated how much pain I’d feel in my achilles tendons – both of them!  During mile 14 and 15, I considered dropping out and calling today a half marathon.  My quandary there was figuring out which I’d regret more – running the full (completing the double, and potentially ravaging my achilles), or quitting (missing out on the double, but mitigating the potential damage). 

In retrospect, it probably would have been wiser to quit.  Time will tell whether or not I’ll pay a high price for being determined to finish.  Whether that’s the case or not, it’s also a privilege to dig deep sometimes and see what you can muster from yourself.

I’d settled into a nice visit with my friend Eric as we headed into the final turnaround, just over nineteen and a half miles into the race.  I hung on with Eric for a while, but had to introduce minute-long walk breaks each miles after running about twenty one miles.  I felt fine aerobically, and other than a bit of (understandable) fatigue my legs felt fine.  But the pain in my achilles had continued to get worse.  And starting to run again after each walk break was especially hard.  I actually felt like screaming.

By now, the sun was up and bright, and the temperature had warmed into the high thirties.  There were people out there riding their bikes, families walking together, and some 50k runners heading back the other way to do their final five miles or so.  And I saw another eagle as I ran north along the Sammamish River, with two or three miles to go.

There’s lots I could say about digging deep for that extra something which helped me finish, but it didn’t really feel like that.  It felt more like I’d simply decided to keep moving.  So when I crossed the finish (in just under 4:10), I didn’t kick too hard, and didn’t really even think much about covering two marathons in two days.  It felt more like I’d passed another mile marker in the big scheme of things.

And that’s my hope.  As we pass into another year, I’d like to keep moving along, not to get distracted by doubts, to see some eagles and enjoy the sunshine along the way.  Here’s wishing everyone a very happy new year.

Chart and Graphs for Running Geeks

Time wasn’t a real goal of mine this time around – but the chart tells the story of how I felt.  Not sure it would have been better to start slower this time – chances are the wheels would have come off at about the same time.

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One response to “just another mile marker – ringing in the new year

  • Feisal Visram

    Hello Paul. Enjoyed reading your post and I really bonded with your statement ” As we pass into another year, I’d like to keep moving along, not to get distracted by doubts, to see some eagles and enjoy the sunshine along the way”. The run you did gives this statement a sharp perspective and in particular how you addressed the challenges and choices during the run. In a similar way it applies to how best to address life after an accident; as in my case. Feisal

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