You have a choice. You can throw in the towel, or you can use it to wipe the sweat off of your face.
-- Gatorade Ad
Today's stage is the first real test of endurance, both physical and mental. With the problems I've had with my IT band and knee, it will be the make or break stage; decide whether I continue with my quest to finish my fourth ENDURrun, or whether I succumb to the injury and watch from the sidelines.
I seem to be getting used to these early morning wake-ups. At home, I wouldn't be able to get out of bed much before 8:00am, and yet here I seem to be conscious before the alarm goes off at 5:45am. What's up with THAT? For the past few days, sleep has been crappy at best, and last night was no exception. Some serious partying going on outside at 3 am, followed by the usual tossing and turning. Nothing a little coffee and food can't fix.
I also made the decision to pre-medicate. I figured that the IT band would take some serious abuse today, and perhaps some "Vitamin I" (ibuprofin, for those of you who are not in the know) would help take the edge off. I also downed a gel before we left for the race, to hopefully give me a little more spring in my step off the start.
The forecast today was rain for later on in the morning, but as we pulled into the park, it was overcast and cool, around 20 degrees. Perfect weather for a run. Hopefully the rain would hold off until almost the end. After some chit-chat with the other ENDURrunners and going for the (hopefully) last bathroom break of the race, we lined up at the start and awaited Lloyd to count us down and start us off.
This stage consists of six 5km loops. Yes, count them, SIX. The course consists of some flat running (along paved and gravel, and some grass), then enters the forest for some trail running. Lots of hills, some short and steep, some long and gradual, some ups, some downs. Lather, rince, repeat, six times. I've said in the past that this route is very much like the movie Groundhog Day; by the third or fourth lap, you don't know where you are, because it all looks the same. You pass the same water stations, you see the same volunteers, and you come through the finish line... then start all over again. For me personally, it's a very mentally challenging run. I always feel despair by the end of the third lap; it seems like I've been running forever, and I still have forever left to go.
With the first steps off the start, my knee and IT band was sore, way worse than I thought it would be. I skipped my warm-up jog before the race; figured I'd need to save all the running I could for the race. It took me a good 2km to get going. After 3km the pain settled down, and I focused on the task at hand, namely keeping my mind from thinking about how much it hurt.
I don't usually run with music, especially races. Last year, I did run the ENDURrun with music, except for this stage, because it was pouring rain, and it would have destroyed my MP3 player. When one has to run a long distance with no one but himself to talk to, it can become difficult to stay focused. I found myself thinking about how lucky I really am, that I can take the time off and come here and run with (and I'm borrowing a phrase from Joanne Bink here) some of the most excellent people on the planet. I think about all the people who have played a part, small or big, in getting me here. I think about all the ENDURrunners, guest runners, and team runners, that are either passing me or running in the other direction, and how I appreciate their support, their high-fives, their words of encouragement, even when it's clear that they are super-focused on their own races, and often times competing for first, second, or whatever position. Also the volunteers, who stood in the pouring rain and were cheery and happy handing out water and Gatorade and gels for 4+ hours.
So how did it go? Well, the first 3 loops were very painful. By the 4th loop, I wanted to quit, and it felt like there was a knife or nail or some other very sharp object imbedded in the side of my knee, being twisted. I seriously contemplated quitting, just giving in and giving up. Lots of negative talk was bouncing around in my head; I haven't trained, I'm an idiot for doing this, why am I torturing myself, etc. Eventually I told myself that I would soldier on to the end of the 4th loop, and if the knee was still so bad, I'd quit. I wasn't about to end in the middle somewhere.
But an amazing thing happened. At the end of the 4th loop, the pain subsided substantially, so much so that as I ran around the soccer fields at the start of the 5th, I didn't feel any pain at all! Perhaps my leg was dead! Maybe the Vitamin I was finally kicking in! In any case, I resolved that at this point, as long as it felt okay and the pain was tolerable, I'd stick it out. And stick it out I did, right through to the end.
I did have to walk quite a bit. All steep uphill and downhills I walked. Even on some of the rollers in the trails, I'd walk and take a break. The downhills were especially bad on the knee; I'd have to sort of limp down and let the right leg take the brunt of it. But I kept moving. My mantra was "Keep moving forward."
I have a big problem with quitting a race. I've never done it. NEVER. Mind you, I've never had an injury of this type before. But the idea of quitting really REALLY bothers me. Perhaps it is stupid of me, and irrational, but it is me. I'm stubborn that way, especially with running. I feel it makes me ONE TOUGH RUNNER!
So solider through I did, and I managed to finish strong, albeit much slower than past years. It was great to hear the cheers of those that finished earlier than me as I came through the end. I was happy with myself for getting over the mental and physical pains, for not giving in to the negative talk. I still have a long way to go, but this was one of the big hurdles of the week, and I think I passed it in good shape.