Don’t sweat the small things. And just about everything is a small thing. At least that’s my take on it all, and I’m sticking to it.
These are the days when marathon runners thrive, as the first true signs of fall and its crisp mornings replace the dog days of summer, seemingly for good. As a runner, you’re also a fan of the sport, and there’s no way you can’t get excited about these beautiful days of near-perfect running conditions – even when you’re finding yourself more observer than participant. That’s what I became this weekend, not really by choice, but due to the eventual recognition of physical inability to continue. Yes, that dreaded balrog, the DNF.
It started with a simple ankle roll during a routine run four weeks ago -- at least I thought it was simple. Hey, I was able to keep going another 17 miles afterward, so it couldn’t be that bad. Could it? Well, in certain ways it’s been healing in good order, but there’s been something on-going underneath in the “soft tissue” as my doctor called it (the ultimate medical term for junk inside that’s not bone), causing a stabbing, burning feeling under the foot when I try to run. It was all starting to behave much better, so last week I decided to give it the old college try in the half-marathon event at the American Birkebeiner Trail Run in Hayward, WI.
This was held on a perfectly glorious fall day, with brightly colored trees in northern Wisconsin on a well-groomed, if rather wet from recent heavy rains, cross country ski course. I was surprised how strong my ankle felt, particularly on the many ups-and-downs of the terrain, and the annoying pain underfoot was really quite manageable.
But it was a matter of “pay me now or pay me later,” and the past week was the “pay me later” time. I knew (deep inside at least) that I had aggravated something and had no business running the October 2 Freedom’s Run marathon, from Harper’s Ferry to Shepherdstown, WV. But of course, denial is a powerful thing, especially when it comes to running on some of your favorite ground and you think there’s some way you can run-walk fast enough to beat the cut-offs and not require your friends Chris and Rebecca, who carpooled with you, to wait hour upon hour for you to finish. Well, after arguing with myself for two hours on the marathon course, I decided that it made no sense to keep going when I couldn’t even walk at a moderate pace without a limp. I eventually found a ride at a water station and was driven by some nice volunteers to the finish area. All the stress was now gone and I truly began to enjoy the whole event. I visited the food tent for the runners and helped myself to pizza, did a few pushups in the parking lot, and got my free beer glass (and beer) at the Bavarian Inn. I then met up with Chris and Rebecca, who both had done a very fine job in completing a tough course.
It’s interesting how this day was truly “déjà vu all over again.” My last DNF was four years ago, when I dropped out near that same point (on the C & O Canal) in my first attempt at the JFK 50 Miler, on another glorious fall day, when I got a ride to the finish line and also got to sit and watch all those strong runners basking in the victory of crossing the finish line. Both occasions were opportunities to celebrate others’ achievements, and also to regroup and learn from my own miscalculations. And what have I learned? Well, I’m not going to try any marathons at all, for at least three weeks.