I’ll just be honest right up front: in my current state, I really had no business running the Big Sur Half Marathon on Monterey Bay this past Sunday, but having spent $125 to register for the sucker plus running it with Team in Training, I was committed no matter what shape I was in. I’m stupid like that.
Last week, I saw my doctor to figure out why my neck was in constant pain, 24-7 (feels like someone stabbed my right shoulder with a knife and left the blade behind, super duper ouchy, especially anytime I’m driving or upright) while the entire length of my right arm would get painfully tingly and go numb several times throughout the day, every day. She ordered x-rays and discovered 3 pinched nerves in my neck.
This has had a significant impact on my ability to run these past 2 weeks. Duh. I would start my training runs and by mile 2, the pain in my neck would rise and my right arm would go all pins and needly, and then numb. The more I pound the pavement, the more my neck hurts.
If I ignore it, it will go away right?
So I got a bunch of drugs from the doc and began battling HMO bureaucracy to try begin physical therapy starting as soon as freaking possible… OF COURSE I didn’t ask my doctor if I should run a half! That would be something a smart person would do. And like I already said, that’s not me.
On Saturday, I endured the 2 hour drive to Monterey, checked into my hotel, then walked to a nearby Trader Joe’s to buy the staple banana/peanut butter/water bottle trifecta that is my pre-race routine. I noticed when I woke up that morning, I also felt a cold coming on- with my daughter home sick all week with a really bad flu, I wasn’t surprised but was pretty pissed. Decided to skip the team dinner in order to spend the time laying down, resting my neck, and drinking tea.
Woke up anxiously at 4:45am (even though my alarm was set for 5:15) and started making coffee, getting dressed, vaselining my feet, gathering my items for the sweat check (which I NEVER do but as the forecast predicted rain, I wanted dry back-ups just in case) et cetra and so on… met up with team mate Zeb and walked a half mile to meet up with the rest of our team and coaches.
I stayed with my team for the walk over to the starting line, but then lost them all as soon as they broke off to porta potty land while I went to the sweats check truck to hand off a bag of stuff I didn’t even end up needing- 80% chance of rain predicted yet we got blue skies and sunshine. The Bay Area is so fickle like that. Nevertheless, I was glad I had the bag- while I was waiting in line, I looked to my right and saw speedy friends Andrea and Roberta! Love those kinda coincidences!
We chatted for a bit and off they went to corral B while I went to my corral, E, to await the start.
The race finally started, we were off, and I was immediately slower than normal. On my training runs, I’ve been settling in at around 9:30/mile but just could not, for the life of me, break 10 the whole entire race. I knew that in order to PR the half by 2 measly minutes, I would have to maintain a 9:46/mile pace to do so. I CAN TOTALLY DO THAT. Just not this time… <le sigh>
By mile 2, my legs felt warmed up and ready to go but my neck was in pain and my nose was running everywhere. Saw Coach Al and he ran with me for a bit and of course I complained of my neck. He told me to take it easy, stay strong and focused but the pain was so so so so so distracting and mentally debilitating. Sucked it up, ran on through a really cool traffic tunnel…
One of the many cool things about a Big Sur Marathon Race Event (they have several) are the mile markers, colorful, funny cartoons, I actually found myself actively looking for them as the miles went on, hoping to be mildly entertained through the torture I was experiencing… it worked…
I went into a daze for the next few miles, until we hit Asilomar Beach around mile 6, when the elites were already on their way back. The weather was really post-rain perfect, the view was breathtaking, and I half-heartedly cheered the winners in.
By mile 7, it was time to carbo-UN-load and find a porta potty so I stopped and took approximately 5 minutes doing my thing, then getting out and readjusting my skirt, iPod and water belt as needed before running again. Since I’m always writing about my time in the porta potty, I thought I might as well document said events, so here ya go:
Around mile 7.25, I saw Mama Lisa on the other side of the course. She mouthed, “How are you?” and I pointed at my neck, frowned, and mouthed back, “OUCH.” Next thing I knew, Mama Lisa was right next to me asking me if I was okay. I complained, told her no, started to cry a little and we ran together for about a mile. She encouraged me to get ice somewhere- the next medical tent, an open hotel, a restaurant, a spectator- to freeze my neck so I could finish strong. I didn’t care about strong at that point, I just wanted to finish. Said good bye to Mama Lisa and walked for about a half mile, putting chin to chest, trying to ease the pain in my neck.
Right before mile 9, I just stopped and stood on the side of the road, catching my breath and taking in the ocean side scenery, reminding myself that even though this race wasn’t going to be the best, how lucky I am to be here, on this earth, seeing these waves, running this course for this cause and for my friend Travis. I started to cry (I am SUCH A CRY BABY!!!) and a fellow runner touched my shoulder and asked if I was okay. I said that I was just thinking of a dear friend I recently lost and how lucky I am to be here. He agreed, we exchanged pleasantries about the weather, and then pics:
And on I trudged…
I started running again and then would stop completely several more times when the pain got too intense. There was a slight uphill to mile 10 and then a water station with cold orange slices- my fave- and I sucked on a few before completely and totally breaking down, weeping. My mental levee broken, the negative thoughts flooded in while the pain got worse and worse. We were running straight into the sun and I pulled down the brim of my hat not just to block the sun’s intensity but also so no one would look at my teary, snot filled face.
Got to mile 12 and I thought, this is it, now is the time if you’re ever gonna do it. And I couldn’t, I just couldn’t. I read once that you can only give as much as you’ve got to give on any certain day, and I did. I tried my hardest, and that was it. I gave it my all, and it was over.
I was bawling when I crossed the finish line, so ready for relief from the pain. Got my sweats, went right past the free beer and soup to check out at the TNT tent, and then found a chair on the upper level and sat right on down, head in hands, trying to calm myself. Chatted with some fellow runners and then fled back to my hotel room to take my pain meds and ice my neck before driving back home.
So I would LOOOOOOOOVE to do this one again, the right way. I have participated in the Big Sur Marathon relay prior (that one is in April and along the Big Sur/Carmel coastline) and of all the races I have done to date, these are definitely my favorites. While the reg fee is up there, you truly get what you pay for. The race is so very well organized and the course itself is beautiful with just the right amount of challenge, lots of on-course entertainment, tons of porta potties, ample water stations, great shirt, unique ceramic medal, ample post-race food and drink- I really can’t say enough good things about this race! I really hope to get the chance to do this one (or their other one) again.
I finished in 2:43 which is, officially, my WORST TIME EVER for a half. And this was my 9th half- I’m so disappointed I could scream. And then cry some more. My PR for the half is 2:10 and my next goal is 2:08- I’ve run halfs with major tummy issues in 2:17, halfs hungover and puking in 2:25, halfs with course attrocities in 2:36, so what happened here??? I’m really committed to healing and getting back at it the right way and if that means taking a break from my one-race-a-month habit, so be it.
I’m not really planning on taking a break from running, per se, just scaling back a bit. Until my neck is better, that is. I have a handful of races planned in my head but my next officially already-registered-for race isn’t until March 2013 (the Oakland half) so I promise myself not to sign up for any others until I can run a half again pain-free. I think that really is the best choice for me to make right now no matter how difficult and upsetting.
However, that doesn’t mean I won’t be constantly thinking about and still blogging about running… it’s what I do… and hope to do well again!