Tuesday, October 24, 2006

You Can’t Finish If You Don’t Start

My name was supposed to be there among the finishers.

Right between Wethern, Mike, Mandeville, LA, 4:00:38 and Wettstein, Ted, Bradenton, FL, 3:43:53.

My bib number would have been 35356. But I didn’t finish the Chicago Marathon. I didn’t even start.

I stood on the “L” platform the day of the race. Spectators waited for trains that would carry them to checkpoints along the course, where they would urge loved ones to gut out one more mile. I had hoped to avoid anything that would remind me of what I wasn’t doing that morning, but there it was, the marathon, inescapable.

I stopped training on Friday, July 28. I began my last run at 7:44 a.m., the temperature was 75 degrees, humidity was high, the sun shone brightly. I went 6 miles in 61 minutes, sticking to the grass along the asphalt path. My left shin had been troubling me since June and now the right one was throbbing too. I graded the run a “D” and knew it was time to quit.

As recently as July 23 (7:47 a.m., sunny, 75), I had run 12 miles in 103 minutes. But my training diary was littered with “ughs” and “ouches” and “sore leg.” Inexplicably, I had rated most days, the 23rd included, a “B.” How much worse was I prepared for the pain to get?

The orthopedist, Dr. Abraham, ordered a bone scan, which revealed a stress fracture. In each leg. Right tibia, left fibula. Recommended course of treatment: Rest. Not so much as a 20-yard dash for the next 6-8 weeks. “Maybe you can try something else, like a cooking class,” Dr. Abraham joke. I was not amused.

Stress fractures are common in runners, basketball players and other athletes who participate in high impact sports. They affect more women than men because we’ve got the brittler bones owing mostly to poor nutrition from dieting.

My downfall, technically, was overtraining. Although this would be my first marathon, I refused to consider myself a novice and decided to follow an intermediate program. Basically, I would run more miles per day.

I obsessed over the pace chart. How fast would I have to run to finish in less than four hours? Nine-minute miles. I could do that. How fast would I have to run to finish in 3 ½ hours? Eight-minute miles. Could I do that? I would try.

And that’s where my marathon ended.

The goal should have been to get to the starting line, not the finish. The goal should have been to run the race, not how fast.

I didn’t earn a marathon medallion. Didn’t ride the train home, exhausted yet exhilarated, wrapped in an aluminum foil blanket. Didn’t astound family and friends--and myself--with a remarkable achievement.

Didn’t even start.


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