Sunday, July 5, 2009

Most Challenging Run

"Diamonds are nothing more than chunks of coal that stuck to their jobs." **Malcolm Stevenson Forbes**

Sometimes things can go very wrong, but turn out right. Yesterday was one of those days. Earlier in the week I had hurt myself doing a stretch with the wrong form in my yoga class. I’m sure I should have let the 8 kilometer race go and just helped out, but I figured I’d run anyway and just take it easy and enjoy the scenery. After all, the race was through the Yorktown Battlegrounds on a beautiful Independence Day!

We were tardy getting out the door and it was a long walk from the parking lot to the race start so, by the time I threw in a last minute port-a-potty stop, I barely made it to the back of the crowd when the start was signaled! There were only about 400 people so it didn’t take all that much time to get to the start line, but it struck me right away that the pavement was very washed out and rough. No matter, I thought, I can deal with it by running in the grass at the side of the road. This worked for about ¼ mile.

The road continued to get worse as we entered the woods. The areas on the side of the road turned into weeds that concealed big chunks of rocks and gravel, with trees and shrubs very close to the road. I found if I looked for places where the top layer of pavement, a coarse later addition to the original pavement, was worn away it was smooth enough to be comfortable, but this too was short lived. All I could think about was running fast. I wanted this race over as soon as possible and the faster I ran, the less it hurt. Unfortunately, I couldn’t maintain that speed for long.

The terrain changed constantly: wooden bridges, woods, fields; sometimes there was a nice grassy shoulder, other times it was steep and uneven. My hips were starting to hurt from all the crazy angles and constantly being ready to recover from stepping into a hole or unseen hazard hidden in the grass and weeds. I’m sure I added a lot of distance to my run, zig-zagging back and forth across the road looking for the least chewed up patches of pavement, or a bit of softer even grass on the other side.

I was sorely tempted to flag down the little gas powered golf cart that was zipping around and beg it for a ride to the end, but that would mean admitting defeat. If I arrived at the finish line by anything other than my own two feet, everyone would simply nod and say, “Of course it is too hard to run barefoot! Were you crazy?” My ankle hurt, but not as bad as the soles of my feet. I was tense and exhausted from the extreme concentration it took to keep my footing in the tangles of rocks, roots, and weeds on the side of the path. Every muscle in my body ached, but I was making good time. As the miles ticked away, I started thinking again that I could make it.

Then, with 1.3 miles left, the runners were directed off road onto a narrow gravel path. You would think that after the horrible pavement, gravel wouldn’t be much worse, but it was big chunks of cut limestone, and they were the last straw. There was no side of the path to escape to. The path itself was so narrow that I had to stop walking and stand aside in places to let runners pass me. I had no idea how far we had to continue on the gravel, but there was only one way out, and that was to keep moving forward. I dug deep and continued to gingerly pick my way across the gravel like a cat in a puddle.

Finally, with about ¼ of a mile left, I was back on the pavement, but it wasn’t welcoming at all. As we came out of the woods, the open field next to the road was recently mowed and very dry so the blades of hay were sharp and deeper than my ankle. I had to get pretty far off the road to get away from the rocks, and then cut back across to go through the finishing chute. I’ve never been so happy to see a finish line in my life!!! My husband met me with my slides and I put them on before I even handed in my tag or left the chute! Humorously, the curmudgeon from my track club, who has been the only person to be sarcastic and derisive about my barefoot running, was just outside the end of the chute. He glanced down at my feet and said, “That is cheating to be running in those!” As if I had run 5 miles in my sandals! I was in no mood to be nice so I shot him a withering look and said, “I did NOT put these on until AFTER I crossed the finish line!” He shrank back, muttering an apology and I walked on. My husband, who was pretty much done with standing around bored, wanted to get home to prepare for holiday guests so we headed straight back to the car.

After a cool shower and careful scrubbing of my feet, I looked them over for damage. I was amazed to find I didn’t have a single blister! I am, however, rather bruised, my ankle is tender again, and my hips will be sore for a couple of days. When all is said and done, I believe this race did a lot for improving my form. I had to be totally precise in how I set down and picked up my feet, no matter how tired I got. I had to use my abs and hips to control my gait, and had to keep going when I wanted nothing more than to take my ball and go home. This was one of the most mentally challenging things I’ve ever done.

I believe we benefit every time we challenge ourselves and rising to a challenge, even a self imposed one, builds strength. We can sit around and let our muscles atrophy until we are too feeble to get out of a chair, or we can hit the gym and build muscles so they are there when we need them. I believe mental fortitude can be similarly built by finding challenges and rising to the occasion. Our lives are too easy for normal daily activities build our bodies enough, and it is the same for our minds. In our safe little world, we are often complacent, jaded, and totally unprepared when tragedy strikes. As I prepare to send my first born across the country, and my husband across the world, I wonder if I will have the strength to deal with the realities that may come my way. During the course of the race I was called a warrior, said to have iron feet, and told I am tough. I don’t think I am any of those things; I’m just a lump of coal hoping that someday I will have the strength of a diamond when I need it.
**Special thanks to Mike Angelo, the Peninsula Track Club photographer, for the great pictures!**


BarefootJon said...

Wow Wendy! Awesome job getting through it. It sounds very similar to one of my runs a few weeks ago where I decided to include a couple miles of trails during my run. It was excruciatingly painful and I just wanted to stop and give up barefoot running for good. I can't imagine an 8k worth of that pain. Keep at it. -Jon

Anonymous said...

Hey Wendy I've seen your posts (with the big font LOL) on the runningbarefoot Yahoo! group, but I've got new respect for you after reading your bio with mention of RA. Good job doing the best with what you have, and keep up the running and numerous races! - Efrem

Anonymous said...

Way to persevere in the face of adversity! Great job!

greentigress said...

Wow Wendy,
I hope your ankle recovers quickly!!!

Clare said...

i still think you're nuts! doubly do now. i remember one run when my ankle was swollen from the RA and i was so scared of stepping on a rock or twig that i was mentally exhausted and my whole body hurt from being so careful. i imagine this is worse...except you sound like it's a good thing, so nice job!!