Sunday, October 25, 2009

Weekly Rant: Apocalypse Now (No Italics)

It’s 7:59 am, and I am not here. Not on this blog. Not online. Not even at a computer. Instead I’m near Arlington National Cemetery about 2 miles away from The Cooler’s home office. It rained last night, but right now the weather is dry and crisp, about 52 degrees. I am standing in a sea of thousands, about to run my second consecutive Marine Corps Marathon. The question is: “Why?”

It’s not just a rhetorical question for print. I promise you that at this very moment the word “Why?” is running through my brain as I try to stay loose behind the starting line. You can’t see me now, but it’s a safe bet that I’m wearing a stupidly giddy expression like Will Ferrell in Elf, or I look as miserable as Francis Ford Coppola on about the 212th day of shooting Apocalypse Now. If not, it’s something in between, like Dirk Diggler’s expression just before he shoots his first porno in Boogie Nights – excited and terrified. Anyway, regardless of my expression, I guarantee you that I’m asking myself “Why?” I must be, because there’s just no logical reason to run 26.2 miles voluntarily – never mind paying for the right to do it.

To be absolutely clear, today’s race isn’t just my second MCM, it’s my second marathon. Last year I wrote about my first marathon experience using comparisons I thought movie fans would understand. In that piece I mentioned that my goal was to break 3:30, but I failed, finishing the race in 3:35:11, in large part because I made a rookie mistake and got too frisky too soon, leading to a total collapse around the 24-mile mark. What I didn’t mention in last year’s recap, because I didn’t want to “play the blame game,” as A Serious Man’s Sy Ableman would say, is that part of the reason I got too frisky too soon is because a woman running next to me gave me bad information around the 12-mile mark – leading me to believe I was running behind my goal pace when really I was already ahead of it. Of course, I’m the math-challenged dummy who didn’t trust his own watch and gobbled up her poison like Snow White biting into the apple, so it’s my own damn fault. Nevertheless, given that episode of, um, influenced self-destruction I came off of last year’s race determined to keep training and come back this year stronger and smarter and ready to break 3:30.

So, yeah, that’s part of the reason I’m about to run my second marathon: I want to break 3:30. Alas, after an injury-plagued training it will feel like a tremendous accomplishment if I’m able slip under 3:35 (which just goes to show the inherent dangers of sequels, I guess). Barring some major catastrophe that makes me give up running for good, this won’t be my last marathon. I’m sure of that. My training was too frustrating this season to go out this way. I want to get healthy and start it all over again and finally get it right. But today I’m like a director who has just wrapped primary production on epic only to realize that his lead actor can’t carry a film; I’ve got to go with what I’ve got. At 8 am that process begins.

Why am I doing this? I’m not lying when I say I don’t know. Because I don’t. Not exactly. In part it’s because I want to challenge myself. It’s because running makes me healthier than I would be without it – physically and mentally. It’s because long runs help the world slow down long enough to ponder everything from the big picture to the big screen. By the end of this race I don’t expect to fully understand why I run, but if I’m able to cross the finish line having figured out what I think about A Serious Man, that’ll be good enough.

Addendum (10/26): Thank goodness that’s over. My 2009 MCM was a success in one way: I finished. Other than that it was a struggle. Long story somewhat short, the first 13 miles went better than expected. The next 2 saw my pace slow a bit, even though the effort felt the same, which is to say that it still felt effortless. I knew that wasn’t a good sign if I was going to try to set a personal record and get under 3:35, but there was still hope. By the 18-mile mark, however, it was starting to become serious work, and given my aforementioned problems with training this year I knew I wasn’t going to find a second wind. With my hope of a personal best busted, I shifted my mindset and became immediately and totally content to just manage my way through the rest of the race, finishing in a time around 3:40, maybe 3:45 at the very worst. As much as I could, I was going to “enjoy” the rest.

For a while, it worked. At the 22-mile mark, I was on pace for nothing worse than a 3:43 finish, and I was wholly content with that. Then disaster struck. Absolutely out of nowhere my right hamstring cramped. I came to a dead stop and it took me at least a minute just to get the cramps to stop to the point that I could figure out how to hobble off the course. A few minutes later I’d stretched out my hammy enough that I could walk. Then I was able to run. Alas, over the final miles I couldn’t run more than half a mile before my hamstring would start to tighten (along with other muscles) and I’d have to walk. (My first marathon I never walked once.)

But walk, jog and stagger I did. And I finished ... in just under 4 hours: 3:58:something. It was not the race I had hoped for, but it was somewhat fitting given my injury-plagued training. (Interestingly, I had no IT band pain during or after the race, even though that was the injury that threw off my training program. Also, I’ve never cramped before on a run, and I haven’t had any leg cramps whatsoever in maybe 2 years. Strange.) While I know I’m a better runner than the performance of Sunday, in some ways the 2009 MCM is my proudest accomplishment as a competitor. Believe me: When your hamstring is cramping to the point you can’t move (in fact can hardly breathe), finishing the race doesn’t just seem unattractive, it seems impossible.

But I didn’t quit. Of that I’m proud.


Craig said...

I admire your ambition, sir. I'm pleased just by going 20 minutes on the ellipticals machine. Let us know how you did after you've rested.

Richard Bellamy said...

Go for it! I'll look forward to the post-marathon post.

Ed Howard said...

Cool, hope you hit your goal. My brother was running in this too, it was his first marathon. I'll have to check in with him today and see how he did.

Jason Bellamy said...

Thanks, fellas. It was, well, memorable. I just posted an addendum above.

Richard Bellamy said...

Very impressive. When you said disaster struck and you got a cramp, I thought it would be all over. You can be very proud of yourself for that kind of determination. Again, very impressive. Congratulations - we know some relatives who will be very proud!

Daniel said...

Congrats - that's a huge accomplishment. In college I was assigned to the medical team for the Boston Marathon for a few years, catching runners in wheel chairs as they collapsed across the line. Be glad you were at least standing when you crossed - and at 4 hours, too!

I've only ever run 10k distances, but was sidelined for one this spring because of ITB syndrome. Simply bad training and prep on my part. In your case I don't think there's anything you could have done differently, however the cramp at that stage of the race was due to your hamstring simply running out of glycogen reserves toward the end. It's a tough balance between carbo-loading, race-day eating and mid-race replenishment, and being "off" on any one of those could lead to severe cramps at that stage - just depends on which muscle group.

Anyway, I don't know from experience; like I said I've only run fractions of what you just did.

Craig said...

Congratulations, Jason, for running, oh, probably 25 more miles than I could do. Don't feel bad about finishing behind Steve Phillips. He left everyone in the dust trying to get away from the paparazzi!....

Jason Bellamy said...

Thanks, guys. It's tough to put that much effort into training and then have a day like Sunday. Then again, training this season -- for whatever reason -- had been a struggle. It's not like I cramped up with 2 miles to go on a record-setting day. I can live with it. I'm pleased. There's always next time.

Craig: Did Steve Phillips run? Scary to think that was probably the easiest part of his week.

Troy Olson said...

Argh -- the dreaded hamstring cramp. I had that happen too, although I was lucky it didn't occur until the last mile. Running as far as you did with that takes a lot of effort, so nothing to be ashamed of there (and it's such a fluky thing that you really can't blame yourself for it). However, I can understand any frustration you might have.

You mentioned when commenting on my marathon something to the effect about how much work you put in to training for the race and when things don't go as you plan, how long it is until you can try to make adjustments for the next marathon. It's that knowledge of how much work I have to do just to equal my time, let alone beat it, the next time that makes it all seem so daunting.

Any chance you'll be going for another race in the near future?

Jason Bellamy said...

Troy: I'm going to take about 10 days off with nothing. Then I'll try some very short, very light jogging every three days or so for about 10 days just to see how my body responds. Do I get ITB pain? Other pain? Etc.

If I'm healthy I'm going to try to maintain my distance conditioning a little better than I did last year. It won't be anywhere close to marathon training, but I'll try to be faithful to working in some "long" runs of 10-13 miles in the winter months. A far cry from marathon long runs, but better than letting the needle get down to zero.

I've considered possibly aiming for a late spring marathon, including perhaps the Eugene in late May (which doesn't require advanced registration and gives me time to start training and see if I'm up for it). As for next fall, I'm going to enter the lottery for the NYC. If I don't make that then I'll have to decide between the Marine Corps for a third time or maybe doing something like Philly.

But this is all putting the cart before the horse. I'm pleased with how my body is recovering so far, but I won't know how I am until I try running again in a bit.

Troy Olson said...

Your plan sounds good to me (running 8 to 10 miles once a week). I'm going to try to do the same.

Do you speak of the Eugene, Oregon marathon? Or is there one on the East coast as well?

Jason Bellamy said...

Yep, Eugene, Oregon. That's where I'm from originally and where my family and many friends remain. (Go Ducks.)