Tolerance for the Inevitable — Making Peace

by klassman

Elsewhere on this blog I shared my view of running.

I run because it is basic — not much gear to maintain, no travel time to the pool — and because it is necessary in order to finish a triathlon.  Between running and me, there is no love lost, only tolerance.

In the four weeks before Ironman Lake Placid, I had only run six times for less than 22 miles.  For that matter, in the two weeks before the race, I had only run six times.  The longest was 51 minutes and each was fraught with anxiety.  I didn’t want to re-injure my leg; I didn’t want to under-train; I didn’t want to overtrain considering I was coming off of a couple weeks of inactivity.

Altogether, during the 30 weeks of preparation, I ran 564.81 miles or the equivalent of 21 and 1/2 marathons.  I topped out with nearly 130 miles in June.

By the time I made it to Lake Placid, I did not seek a grand running experience, only tolerance for the inevitable and strength to persevere.

The course begins on a long downhill.  This feature is particularly cruel.  Not only is it necessary to come back up the hill, twice, but everyone comes out of transition with legs accustomed to turning over 90 or more times a minute.  Running with that cadence produces a fast pace.  With more than four hours of running in front of me, I did the first mile in 7:33 before settling into a few miles in the 8:40s, a few miles just over nine minutes each and then into the 9:40s.  It was mile 10 before I broke the barrier of 10 minute miles and still had not pushed my heart rate out of the 140s.  This was zone two running but the pace was slowly slipping away.

Around mile 11, I decided that I would cast off the nutrition plan in favor of liquids only.  Like clockwork, during mile 15 I hit a spot of trouble.  It was potentially end-of-the-race-trouble and no doubt due to the poor decision on nutrition.

The plan was simple — easy enough to remember regardless of fatigue.  With aid stations located every mile, I would drink Perform at mile one, water with a Gu gel at mile two followed by water at mile three and every fourth mile I would skip to give my stomach a break.  Approximately once per cycle I would take an Enduralyte salt tablet.

The plan worked well, as long as I followed it.  But then I didn’t, and it didn’t, and the dizziness came.  Somewhere around mile 15 I found myself presented with three options.  I could keep running and stare at the white line on the road because it was a bit more steady than the horizon.  I could stop, regroup and try to figure out what to do.  I could walk until either the next aid station or the until the dizziness ended.  I chose the third option and knew that I had to eat something.  Splits no longer mattered, time was irrelevant, I had to figure out how to keep moving toward the finish line.  After a some walking, some running I stuttered into the next aid station and forced myself to eat Gu Chomps.

I was back on the four mile plan for nutrition.  The next time it came around to eat, the Gu Chomps went down, the water went down, and then everything came right back out.  Nutrition for the last hour was whatever I could get down and keep down.

Later, looking at the splits on my watch, I learned that the walk only lasted about three minutes.  However, there is another two minutes between when I decided to start running again and actually began to run toward the aid station at mile 16.  It took two full minutes for the signal to get from my brain to my legs and for my legs to acknowledge the new instructions.  If there is a measure of fatigue, it can be found in those lost two minutes.

From this point forward, I walked through every aid station and probably added a good 45 seconds per mile to my pace.  Curiously, each time I started to run after walking an aid station my right knee would have a terrible pain.  It was dull and the ache would last about a minute.  At least seven or eight times the cessation of this pain was announced by a sharp electric stinger starting in my left elbow.  It would fire down my forearm.  At the time, I learned to expect them.  They were little psychedelic friends produced by my brain to keep me alert and to help mark progress forward.  They only occurred after the dizzy spell and each time followed the same pattern: walk, food/drink, start to run, tremendous limp-inducing pain in knee, pain fades, ZAP! stinger in left elbow.  How does one look forward to a nerve induced electric shock?  I don’t know, but I did.

The run was not entirely a slog.  I chatted briefly with Vinu Malik on the course.  He got a kick out of being recognized and that I use his products.  I had a nice conversation with Pete Jacobs as he lapped me headed toward a second place finish.  He could not have been more pleasant.  There is a section of the course that takes you straight toward the towering Olympic ski jumps and the eye is drawn upward beyond the treeline to the heavens.  The jumps are like great flying buttresses of an athletic cathedral.  Maybe I was going a little out of my head out there, it was hot after all.

I may be crazy to run an Ironman, but you won’t catch me jumping off of one of those things.

I danced through nearly every section where spectators provided music including to Creedance Clearwater Revival (three times), some reggae and too much club music, and something by Ozzy Osbourne.  I was induced to some wild air guitar during Guns and Roses’ Sweet Child O’Mine.

Coming through town around mile 24, I found a lady holding a sign that read “Shut Up Legs.”  I must have been the only one to recognize its profound genius because when I did my best Jens Voigt impression and thanked her, she went wild.

In the end, my leg held up.  I was ready.  I have plenty of room to improve starting with pacing.  I thope to  never again spend the last 10 miles of any race being passed with such regularity.

The run did not transcend like the swim.  It was not exhilarating like the ride.  But it did provide its own meditative, rhythmic calm.  It was an integral part of a wonderful experience.  I came to the point where I enjoyed it.  Out there, with cups of ice and sponges stuffed in my shirt, after reaching the social depths of having peed myself in the middle of the road and before being lifted up by the rush and thrill of the finish line scene, I made peace with running.