My race didn’t go quite as planned as you might guess from the self-deprecation in the title. Actually it went very well given that I couldn’t run two steps 24 hours prior to the event. But, still, it’s not what I was envisioning whilst training. The title’s a play on an old birthday challenge video on one of Todd Mei’s challenges where everyone kept referring to Nate Emerson as “the 27th fastest ultra runner in the United States. 27th ain’t bad. Neither is 12th. It’s only bad when you could have gone faster.
so easily could have been 13th
“I’m running better than I have in years.”
Never say things like that. Especially right before a race. It virtually assures something bad will happen. And, sure enough, a couple of days after this utterance I’m pushing my training a little beyond normal (since, ya know, I was running so well and all) and, boom, one step too many. I knew right away what I’d done but didn’t think it was too bad. I’d aggravated an old soleus injury that manifests in the Achilles. I stopped immediately, walked home, and put my calf on ice.
Timing was pretty bad as it was during my last hard session before leaving for Europe, meaning I didn’t have time to see Geoff or Mike at Elite. Where I was heading, rural France, wasn’t going to have anyone to see either so I was on my own. This seemed fine as I know the rehab protocol well and I left optimistic.
hard to complain about lack of hard training in this setting
It improved over my two week race taper but not quite fast enough. Three days prior to the race I landed in Gijon and went straight to the Team USA medical team. After some consideration they decided on a light course of therapy. It was a gamble but given it hurt too bad to be competitive, and perhaps even race, it was worth a shot. A few hours later, as the team paraded down the beach to the opening ceremonies, my Achilles felt as though it had been replaced with a burning iron rod. I listened to the festivities at a hotel bar while icing my calf, figuring that my race was probably over.
But I had two days so I kept trying. Ice, therapy, ice, rest, ice, sleep, ice. Repeat. Miraculously, the day before the race it felt ok, at least to walk. So I put on my shoes and warmed up, going through my series of warm-up drills. A okay. I then ran a little in my Hokas (huge crazy-looking shoes with heaps of padding designed for ultra runners), which went well enough. So I tried my race flats. Step one, yes! Step two, damn!
In a last-ditch effort I went back to the doc (and chiro) for a more aggressive taping job and some meds. He said he’d found heel lifts in a random store (I’d already tried the local sports store) so I bought three different styles. I also picked up some compression socks on his recommendation. I was going to try every possible option to keep my soleus together for what I hoped to be about an hour of hard effort.
In the morning the pain was still there so I added some old school cast-style taping to the new-fangled physio tape I’d been given. I then quaffed down some new meds provided to me my friend Spider, that the team doc told me were now banned. Spider assured me that with a prescription they were legal (he is a doc so I had one) and that he’d been tested at Nationals while taking them, told them he was taking them, and was fine. Plus, I had to medal in order to be tested anyway, the odds of which seemed precisely nil even if I could run pain free given:
I had the wrong bike set-up for the hilly course
there was room for one wheelset so I gambled
I hadn’t been able to do a hard effort in three weeks
I could not warm-up properly since my bike was already in transition and I wasn’t going to waste precious steps before the race
I was running in what would look like clown shoes to the other competitors
admittedly the entire outfit is clown worthy
Then I added more tape outside of my compression sock, stacked two heel lifts inside my shoes, and was ready to square off against the fastest age-group athletes in the world. As the pic shows, I’m pretty confident.
About 400 meters after the gun my “race” was over. I started slow—needing a proper warm-up—and hoped if nothing hurt I could steadily speed up throughout the race. But after a quarter mile or so it already seemed as though I was far too far behind to be competitive. And my calf hurt. A lot.
But I really wanted to finish as long as I wasn’t going to do any lasting damage. My thoughts were that if I made it onto the bike I’d be in there, which I still felt was the case until I had to do the short transition run in bare feet. By the time I’d clipped into my bike I was no longer sure I’d even finish the bike, much less the final run.
As I rode it began to feel better. There was a 5k climb on the bike course and quite a few riders passed on my way up. However, I was able to keep them in sight and at the crest of the climb, with everything seemingly intact, I got to thinking I would finish and decided to race a little bit. On the downhill and subsequent flats I passed everyone who had passed me and quite a few more. For the only time during the race I was actually flying. It felt good, until…
I had just caught some guy coming into the last transition and we started our few hundred meter transition run together. I lost at least 100 meters to him over the course of my barefoot hobble. The last run, however, started oddly fine and in the first half I caught this guy and a couple of others. Then I felt a bad twinge up my calf and spent the last mile or two running slow and worrying about the hot poker someone had rudely shoved inside my calf. I got passed by a couple of Spaniards with nary a reaction but, upon entering the stadium, when I heard a guy closing quickly I managed to summon up a kick feeble enough to fend him off, which I’m pretty sure bummed him out based on the scream he let off when he didn’t catch me by the line.
the more i look at these the more i think that he really deserved to catch me.
I had no idea what place I’d finished and I didn’t care (I only found out when Bruce posted it on Facebook). All I knew was that it wasn’t last and that I’d managed to finish the race, which made me happy. I hobbled out of find Romney, who helped me into the med tent, where I needed to spend some time before starting our actual vacation.
romney properly holidaying
Lying in the tent I asked her—and myself—why I did these races when it’s so much more fun to climb, or ride, or just run through the mountains without a thought of time or speed or placing. I didn’t have an answer and started wondering how much money I could get for my bike in Spain (someone asked to photograph my bike—just the bike) so I wouldn’t have to cart it around. But as people wandered in and out of the tent, all psyched just to be at this event, no matter how injured they were or how they finished, the vibe grew on me. And I started wondering what it would be like to come to Worlds and have a race where everything went perfectly….