I forgot to mention that I was really sick -- I had a fever of 100.1° and a sore throat so bad I was pretty much unable to speak. My neck felt like it had been inflated with snot, like an inner tube some insane gas station attendant had been flailing on with a bicycle pump all night. However, my plan was that as I approached insane speeds on the road, my brain would continue to heat up and begin delivering delightful hallucinations to me -- I would race along side puffy pink elephants along glittering green roads and everything would look a bit like the yellow submarine and I would feel no pain.
My friend Jackie had abandoned me but I ran into Philadelphia actors Lindsay Smiling & Krista Apple-Hodge. It's nice not being alone at a race. It's also nice to know runners outside of the running circle.
Bring on the Blue Meanies.
I got up close to the start, the gun went off and I shot out like a living arrow. A lead pack broke out of about 5 people and behind them were about five stragglers, stretched out pretty evenly, this was my group. One by one I would consume them all in the final mile. (This was the plan.)
People don't tend to think of 5k's as endurance races, but they are. If you're running it to win (there's no way I was winning the race, but I figured winning my age group was possible) it's extremely uncomfortable from pretty much the moment you start and it's a constant battle of your mind telling your body to just shut up and take the pain. And your body is doing pretty much everything it can to convince your mind that it doesn't want to do this anymore.
There's this South African scientist named Tim Noakes who's done research to suggest that a central governor exists in the brain to keep you from, basically running yourself to death. This governor's job is to keep a needed reserve for emergencies, which could be one reason that fatigue is related to the distance from the finish more than the amount of energy expended.
So, you're continually listen to this voice in your head screaming STOP RUNNING YOU ARE IN PAIN. STOP RUNNING THIS BLOWS. STOP RUNNING YOU WILL NEED THIS ENERGY LATER IF WE ARE ATTACKED BY A SABRE TOOTHED TIGER. And you can't not listen to it because it's in your brain. But, if I understand Nokes correctly, you can sort of appease the central governor by showing it that you can perform a certain task and not die. So, the theory goes, if you want to run a 5k really fast, run a 5k really fast and at the end, your central governor is like "oh, we can do this and not die. Next time I'll let a little more performance out before I throw on the agony." I had decided that today I was going to kick my central governor in the face and run like a monster until I dropped.
Something like that. So anyway, I'm running, and it sucks, and I've latched on to a couple of people who don't know it but THEY ARE RACING ME which is kind of how I do it. And somewhere during mile 2 I start to feel like I'm going to throw up.
Spoiler: I did finish.
This is not unusual. There are tons of reasons your body wants to toss it's cookies when you're running hard and typically you see how far you are from the finish line and set your effort from there. You don't want to barf before the finish line, because that screws up your time, you want to throw up right over the finish line, or, possibly right on it for a spectacular finishers photo.
Anyway. I was doing really well, My time for the first mile had been 7:14, well on my way to setting a new personal record, and I was still going fast. I backed off a little bit to let the nausea subside. My body wanted a 10% reduction in effort, I bargained for a 5. But, oh well, there's one of those bets you loose ... I felt breakfast on the way up. Nothing I could do. I jumped off the side of the track and heaved my guts up (mostly snot and tea), some people passed me while I was barfing, one of them was actor Lindsay Smiling who clapped his hands together & shouts encouragement (in my mind he shouted "you are a warrior!" but I had headphones on and was a bit loopy from the fever so who knows). If I have to barf epically, I'm glad it was at least witnessed by someone I knew. With the energy of a 10 year old on Xmas morning and a vow to pass everyone who snuck past me. I leapt back on the course and lit out at a sprint. I got about 200 feet ... off to the side ... up comes more ... more people pass me. I shake my fist at them (metaphorically) then I jump back in and start sprinting again ... and gaaah! here it comes a third time. After this, there seems to be nothing left in there. So I set off again, but not at a sprint. My second mile, with all the puking, averaged out to a rather disappointing 8:17. I managed to pull it together in the last mile to some extent, but I'm unable pass what looks like a 7 year old who's 100 yards ahead of me the whole last third of a mile. When I see the finish line in the distance I just stop trying and limp my way in to a 21st place finish in a time of 24:31 -- a whole minute and a half slower than my PR. Lindsay kicks my ass.
Click here and you can see right were I barfed.
I poured some water over my head, ate a banana and saw our friend Krista at the end. We talked about Hedda Gabler for a while and theater in Philly and I walked her back to the road (she was riding her bike home.) I considered jumping on the train, but realized I should watch them give out the awards to the fast people because there should be an audience for things like that. So I started walking back toward the finish when this guy came around the corner, running with great effort, on his last leg of the race. "Don't give up!" he said in between breaths, "you're close to the finish! Come on, I'll run you in, just don't stop." -- So I started running with him, to the finish line again. We could see the clock in the distance. "Let's get there before 47 minutes," he said, "we can do it," and he put his head down and screwed his courage to the sticking place. And we ran and watched the clock. And I crossed the finish line again and the guy I ran with hi-5'd me and I realized that this was pretty much the exact time of my first 5k three or so years ago, one that had nearly killed me and left me unable to walk for days. That in the intervening years I'd pushed so hard and shouted so hard that my central governor had changed the amount of energy I was allowed to expend, and I'd built my muscles up and lost so much weight. And now I could vomit during a race, limp to the finish, think I was a failure, and still beat the ghost of my best self from just such a short time ago.
So despite losing, I went home a winner.
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