I ran the Orange County side of the West Orange Trail, and convinced myself I’d nail it. After all there are almost no hills and I was running far earlier than the week before, thus avoiding the heat. The run started nicely. It was cool and dark, and the warm up portion going nice and slow. The right Achilles groaned at me, but loosened up around the second mile. There were more runners than bikers at first, but as the sun rose more bikers hit the trail. Around the third mile, my upper right Achilles started tightening again. I continued my Clydesdale pace, plodding through Winter Garden and north along the West Orange Trail. The calf continued tightening at the halfway mark. After stretching it a bit, I started walking back, then running slowly.
At that point, I recalled the story of Pheidippides. It’s his experience following the Battle of Marathon where the Greeks defeated the Persians in 490 BC upon which the marathon race is based. Following the battle, Pheidippides ran the entire distance between Marathon and Athens to announce the victory, at which point he collapsed and died. This is the part that rattled in my head. He died. And he was a trained soldier. I am NOT a trained Greek soldier. We’ve previously deduced I’m not even an athlete. Yet I’m voluntarily running a race the distance of which is based upon the experience of a trained Greek soldier who dies after running it.
I also recalled the story of Achilles. And we all know what happened to him when he injured the tendon joining the heel to the calf. For those who don’t know, he died too. Granted, he died from a poisoned arrow. But he died.
I never really feared for my life. Nor do I think I'm seriously risking my life by running this thing. After the halfway point yesterday, I did contemplate the challenges over the next two months. First and foremost, to run a marathon I must get my Achilles healed (pun intended). Four weeks ago both calves / Achilles tendons caused problems. The trouble alternated back and forth between right and left at different times – so correcting this is possible. The biggest challenge is healing while continuing to work my body to the point of running 26.2 miles. And I need to run it in less than six hours. That’s when they shut down the course. In the beginning of training, I thought it’d be great to finish in less than four hours. Right now I’ll be happy to finish before everybody packs up to go home. While hobbling back, I did the math. To finish the marathon in under six hours, a runner needs to average under 13:42 per mile. From where I sit right now I’d be happy with that, which is a little bothersome.
Four times I’ve trained for a marathon. I never completed training because I’ve either pushed myself too hard too early and injured myself, or I gave up because of conflicts on my calendar. I’ve never made it as far as I’ve made it now in training, and I know my body better now than I did then. On the run back, I figured if I keep the pain as tightness and prevent it from turning sharp and stabbing, I can recover.
What could have been done differently over the past couple weeks? There are two differences between this past week and the week before. The first of those weeks, my legs weren’t stressed from running twelve miles. Also the first of those weeks, considerable time was spent stretching and caring for my legs. This past week that didn’t happen – and it should’ve because of the 12-mile run. There was a false sense of progress. After all, I just ran twelve miles. I’m going to do this thing. I’m unstoppable.
When I was younger and more arrogant, I remember watching older men running slowly. I’d think, “They CAN’T be getting anything out of that. Why don’t they push themselves a bit harder?” As I grew older, I appreciated and respected the effort. They were doing something most people weren’t doing, and many weren’t able to do. Now, I am that man running slowly. While running slowly yesterday (and walking), I took great pride doing something many can’t on a sunny trail, training for something bigger than myself.
Yesterday was a beautiful day. It was cooler than last week. And while the run ended with less confidence and bravado than it started, it was still a beautiful day. And tomorrow will be another one.