Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Beware of Little Rock

No, not the Little Rock Marathon itself. I mean a little rock at mile 8 of the race.

Everything was going so smoothly until my left foot found it and my weak ankle gave way. Down I went, hard, and I could not get back up.

Whoa. This could be serious.

I took a minute to do a quick assessment -- nothing seemed broken, but a nasty scrape on my right knee, bruises on both knees, a hole in the palm of my left glove (no hand injury though), and a probable sprained left ankle. I cursed to myself as a kind female runner helped me get back on my feet so I could hobble off the course.

Thankfully, I guess, I'd fallen right near a water station. A volunteer asked if she should call for medical assistance or transport back to the start/finish area (same for both the half and full marathons), but my pride immediately declined and said I wanted to try to get there on my own. I just asked for some tissue to wipe off the blood oozing from my right knee. I then took a few deep breaths and headed back onto the course, still limping quite badly.

I was truly pathetic, going no faster than probably a 30 minute per mile pace, and began debating the merits of continuing. But after about 10 5 minutes of hobbling, my left ankle miraculously started to feel better! Perhaps the adrenaline started kicking in and killing the pain? Whatever the case, I was able to switch to a limping jog instead that gave me hope that I might actually be able to make it to the half marathon point.

The ankle seemed to get neither better or worse after passing mile markers 10, 11 and 12, but I was moving along at around a steady 10 minute pace so I made the big decision to continue on instead of dropping out at mile 13.1. Finishing, no matter how slow, seemed much better than the thought of another DNF. (For those who may not know or remember, I did not finish my last race, Ironman Florida 2006.)

Before going further, I stopped into a porta-potty and glanced at my right knee. To my horror, I saw that globs of dark red blood had dribbled down my shin to my sock. But the blood was dry and the leg looked a lot worse than it felt so I just left the mess and headed out again. It was more important to keep moving to avoid my ankle swelling and stiffening up, which was already beginning to happen during my little break. I crossed the halfway timing mat in 2:05 and started up a gentle 3-mile long hill.

Now, usually, hills are my weakness so I am not fond of them. But this time, the hills seemed to work in my favor. Perhaps more effort meant more pain-killing adrenaline? Not sure, but I just kept plugging away and other participants kept coming towards me, which made me really feel like I was back in the race again. Along the way, there were pockets of lively music and spectators cheering me by name (names were printed on the bibs), even people handing out doughnuts, cookies and other treats!

After cresting the hill at mile 16, there was a somewhat steep 2-mile downhill section that was a bit scary for me. I was exceedingly careful about where I stepped, making sure my feet found no more little rocks or whatever to cause another fall. Before I knew it, I was at the bottom and at mile 18, the start of the flat, 5.5 mile out-and-back section.

This was probably the toughest part of the course for me because I hate long out-and-back sections, particularly late in a race. Plus, there was an annoying headwind on the outbound section and seemingly few spectators and distractions. To pass the time, I made a point to cheer for other participants that I passed, many of whom were walkers wearing "This is My First Marathon" signs on their back (walkers were allowed to start 2 hours earlier). I also began cheering for some who had already made the turn and were headed in the opposite direction. It still seemed to take forever ...

When I finally reached the turnaround (mile 20.5), I immediately perked up mentally and started picking up my pace. Besides having a tailwind helping, I was confident by then that my ankle was going to hold up to the finish. In fact, like running uphill, it felt better while running faster too (more adrenaline again?) and I knew I had plenty of energy left from having slowed down considerably earlier. So why not?

To help motivate me, I set out to catch a couple of runners who had passed me around mile 19. I caught up to the guy about a mile later but the woman he was with before was nowhere in sight. As I looked for her, I ran for a little while with an Army guy carrying a U.S. flag and we chatted briefly about the Marine Corps Marathon, my favorite large race and one he planned to run later in the year. He then urged me to continue running strong as I pulled away or he fell back, I don't know which.

After a little hill at mile 25, I finally saw the woman I was looking for and gave her a hearty word of encouragement as I went by her. She was wearing a blue bib so I knew this was her first marathon and she had obviously run a smart race to be running so well near the end.

One more turn and the finish line was straight ahead, just down a little incline. There was a good crowd along the final 0.2 mile stretch and by then, I was feeling no pain whatsoever. I ran hard to the finish line and crossed it with a net time of 4:05:50. It was my worst race time to date, but only by about a minute and a half so not bad considering what happened back at mile 8. And running a 5-minute negative split (second half faster than the first) is always a good thing in my book.

After getting my humongous medal (4" x 6" and purported to be the world's largest finisher's medal!), I made my way to the medical area to get my knee and ankle checked out. The staff shook their heads as they cleaned and bandaged me up but all I could think of was how much I actually enjoyed this race. The rolling course, great running weather, good music (often in the most unexpected places!), enthusiastic spectators, incredible race medal and, yes, even my extra struggles all made for a very memorable race experience.

Lesson learned: A little rock in the way can still result in a good day.

(I'll try to post more photos from the race in a few days.)


fanatix said...

Hey, my fastest marathon was 30 minutes slower than this race u ran!

Hope you're ankle is healing up ok!

Nancy Toby said...

Uh, you couldn't have possibly gone too terribly far at a 30-45 mpm pace to finish the first half in 2:05!

Well done!

Tri-Dummy said...

Way to go, Shirley!

COOOOOOOOL looking medal, too!

ShirleyPerly said...

Nancy, you are right!

I was guessing a lot when I wrote the post (didn't wear my Garmin and didn't have split info at the time). But upon analyzing the posted race splits at 6.7 and 13.1, I couldn't have been hobbling for more than 5 minutes (just seemed much longer!) and my post-fall jogging pace was closer to 10 min/mile (just seemed much slower than before!).

I've updated my blog entry accordingly so no one thinks I cut the course or anything ;-)

Nancy Toby said...

Revisions noted! Now me, I've done 30 minute miles, for sure!!! And those have been on GOOD days! ;-)

Susan said...

It's so nice to hear someone else's account of my first marathon!

For the record, though, the hill at mile 25 was not little! :)

I am proud to have read your story. You really hung in there, and you are to be commended.

My next race is a 10 miler in Chicago in May, then after that I'll train through the summer for the 2nd Annual Worldwide Half Marathon. In between, though, I'd like to achieve a 5K PR.

39 marathons???? YOU GO GIRL! I will now bookmark your blog - it seems fantastic!

Ellie said...

Wow, Shirley, nice save!!!