Running up, over and through the cogs

Two Steps Forward, One Bum IT Band Back: The 2013 Houston Half Marathon Race Report

midtown-houstonThe two weeks of progressive running leading up to the Houston Half Marathon gave me plenty of confidence that my IT band syndrome issues had finally subsided.  I knew that I probably wasn’t ready to push myself to the point of all out racing, but I knew that I had a good shot at finishing 13.1 miles pain free.

Unfortunately, I was wrong.

Pre-Race, 4:15 a.m.
The alarm clock goes off and I’m ready to go through my now conditioned routine: half a cup of coffee, one banana and a bagel.  I peek out the window to see the trees outside my dad’s house blowing violently in the wind.  I open the door to see just what type of weather I will be dealing with today and I quickly shut it, less I freeze to death.  Low 40s.  Lots of rain.  20+ mph winds.

Oh, yay.

5:15 a.m.
Dad throws his bike in the back of the truck and we begin the 45 minute drive to downtown Houston.  I didn’t sleep much last night so I take this time to catnap.  I visualize a succesful race, one without knee pain, without giving in to the elements.  Training in Chicago the last several years has made me pretty tough.  I don’t like running in the cold, windy rain (does anyone really?) but I know I have the ability to shut it out, toughen up and just get the work done regardless.

6:40 a.m.
In my corral now, I’m huddled among a mass of anxiously freezing runners.  I have decided to wear my lightweight running jacket over my singlet.  The high powered winds are just too chilling for me to go without it.  A quick look around shows that I’m not the only one dressed for warmth, and as the announcer begins his introductions, the rain starts to come down steady and strong.  A gust of wind hits me below the belt.  Dressed in my trademark short shorts, I start to worry about the safety of “my boys”.  But it’s too late now.  All I can do is focus on running.


And we’re off…

Miles 1-3
Brrrrrr!  Well, it’s a good thing I’m not trying to break any records today, I remind myself.  The first few miles are a mental showdown between me and the elements.  The winds are strong and mostly in my face, pushing me backwards with violent force, but I just keep my head down and barrel through.  I stop trying to avoid puddles — there are just too many of them, and my feet are already soaked anyway.

Since I lined up at the very front of the corral, I’m not suffocated by a bunch of people tripping and skipping their way across my path.  I’m surrounded by runners who match my fitness level and at the two mile mark I’m drafting inside a tightly formed pack.  My plan is to just go out at a comfortable 7-minute pace and hold it throughout the race.  I cross the three mile marker in 21 minutes.  Right on schedule.

Miles 3-6
My body feels good, but I’m not really enjoying myself.  All I can think to myself is I can’t wait until this is over, I can’t wait until this is over.  This is a rare thought for me, especially during a race, but the elements are wearing on my mind.  The gusts of wind keep coming at me, from all directions, and I’m pretty sure my balls are frozen now.

At least my leg/ITB/knee feels good.

Until, *BAM*, it doesn’t.

Miles 6-9
Oh shit.  Here we go.  I pass the six mile marker and almost immediately, I start to feel that familiar ache developing at the ITB insertion point of my right knee.  No, no, no… this is not happening, this is not happening, this is not happening.

Except, it is happening.  And there’s not much I can do about it.

Maybe it’ll go away, I think to myself.  I grit my teeth, trying to ignore it.  But having been dealing with this issue for so long now, I know better.

Around the seven mile marker, I see Dad, a bright spot.  Goooo Jeff! he encourages me.

Not feeling good. My knee is starting to hurt, I tell him.

Uh oh, he responds.  The look on his face is the same look I’ve been carrying for the last mile or so — the same one I was hoping to avoid indefinitely.  Sometimes we do all the right things and we still don’t get what we want.  This is a lesson I’m trying to understand.

I keep going, pushing along as my pack starts to move ahead of me.  The ache is becoming a throb, so I stop and do some ITB stretches, hoping this will make it go away.  The stretching feels good, but once I get moving again, the pain persists.  I push and push and push, but another, more sane voice finds its way inside my head and says, Dude, it’s not worth it. Stop now. Live to fight another fight.

I hate that this voice is right.  But, for once, I listen.

I stop running.  I look down at my watch.  8.62 miles in one hour exactly.

Miles 9-13.1
Well, now what? I ask myself.  All I really want to do is punch something, to scream, to break things.

I resort to a hobble-walk.  I can’t walk too fast.  The ITB pain gets worse the faster I move.

Just as I feel myself succumbing to the dark cavern of negative thoughts, I see Dad up ahead.  I’m happy to see him, but beyond disappointed in my condition.  I tell him how I’m feeling and, knowing how pissy I am right now, he doesn’t say much.  Instead he peddles alongside me on the race course while I try to stay out of the path of the hordes of runners passing me.

I can’t help but feel embarrassed, defeated.  I’m sorry, I tell him.

Don’t be sorry. You have no reason to be sorry with me.

I’m really trying hard not to be a baby right now.

If it wasn’t so damn cold, windy and rainy, maybe I’d have the strength to have a good cry.  But I’m shivering, struggling to stay warm.

Do you want your warm-up pants? he asks.  I try to run again, hoping maybe everything was just in my head.  It wasn’t.  I still have ITBS and running is not an option right now.  We stop so I can put my pants on.  I pin my bib to my front leg.  He gives me his raincoat too, which helps immensely.

We discuss me dropping.  I really want to.  I hate hobble-walking while the crowds continue to cheer for all of those running past me.  I know they mean well, but if I hear one more person tell me I’m doing a good job, when I CLEARLY am not, I might do something stupid.

We get to about the ten mile mark and I decide that not finishing is NOT an option.  DNF’ing was not a part of the plan today, so I’m going to gut this one out and hobble across the finish line no matter what.  Dad labors alongside me on his bike, offering consoling conversation when I need it, but mostly just staying quiet, like me.

I can’t help but think how lucky I am to have a dad who would bike alongside me like this in such shitty conditions, offering up his own coat so that I don’t freeze.  Despite my bum leg, I’m a pretty lucky dude.

With a half mile to go, the course narrows and the crowd grows.  There isn’t enough room for Dad to bike alongside me anymore so he splits off and we agree to meet back at the George R. Brown Center.

I cross the finish line just as the lead American marathoner finishes his 26.2.  The deafening roar drowns out my depression and I take a second to cheer the guy on myself.  I’ll have days like that again someday, I tell myself.  This ain’t my last rodeo.

I’ve had enough time now to find a little bit of healthy perspective on the whole ordeal.  Despite my positive training runs leading up to this event, I’m thinking that my body just wasn’t ready to handle that sort of continuous speed quite yet.  Or maybe it was pounding on the few rolling downhills the course had to offer.  Or maybe it was the conditions.  I don’t know.

I will see my sports doctor on Tuesday to get his perspective and advice.

In the meantime, I’m finding comfort in the fact that I didn’t continue to push my body through the pain — that I didn’t act with recklessness as I probably would have once done.  I let reason dictate my actions.  And I’m hoping such discretion will allow me to have enough time to adequately train for Boston.

Perspective is a bitch sometimes, no doubt, but I’m glad I finally have it.

15 responses

  1. Baba


    January 14, 2013 at 15:32

  2. Dan

    I could offer words of encouragement and attempt a sage reflection on the path ahead for you, but why would you want to read that. You know where you are and what you have to do. I completely agree that perhaps the hard effort half marathon was a bit too soon, but no one knows anything until it happens. Now you know.

    It sucks to be hurt. I like that you spill it out though, the contents of your brain as the pain builds up and you take the toughest approach: getting to the end, come what may. Here’s to a continued recovery — hope you make it to Hopkington feeling ready to crush the course.

    January 15, 2013 at 11:34

  3. I read this entry with a lot of empathy, nodding my head all the way through it. The initial false dawn, the middle miles of feeling *good*, followed by the sudden and abrupt halt — I’ve been there. Like Dan said, you don’t know what it’s like until it happens, but at least now you know. It’s all part of the comeback trail, which I’ve been slowly (but steadily) trudging along myself.

    The Paleozoic Trail 25K will be my first race in 4 *months* — are you fixing to be healthy enough to run that?

    One last question, how difficult is it to get into the Houston (full) Marathon? I have relatives in that city, and I am eagerly looking at 2014….

    January 15, 2013 at 17:54

    • Otter, I definitely hope I’m 100% by the Paleozoic Trail 25K. I’m looking forward to that race all the way!

      As for Houston, it’s a lottery to get in, and I believe the process begins in June. Once you get in though, you can earn a guaranteed entry based on your performance. This year’s entry was from last year’s successful race, but I had to drop down to the half because of injury issues. Probably won’t run it next year, but it’s a great race that I highly recommend.

      January 16, 2013 at 09:31

  4. All the best, Jeff. I hope all works out for you. I have nothing but respect for all the hard work you’ve done.

    January 16, 2013 at 23:49

  5. I’m really glad you posted this entry. I’ve been following your blog now since I started running, and I remember thinking people like you were invincible and that you never get injured or face setbacks. You’re helping more people than you know by sharing stories about your highs – and your lows.

    Keep on keeping on, friend. You’ll be back in no time.

    January 20, 2013 at 18:55

    • Glad my story can help others, in whatever ways possible. I thought about skipping it… it sucks to write about being injured and poor performances, but it’s part of the lifestyle. Most runners end up injured at some point. Might as well learn from it and try to prevent more of the same happening in the future. Thanks for the comment, Glenn!

      January 21, 2013 at 09:29

  6. Way to gut it out Jeff, those last 4.5 miles had to be torturous. The rain, the wind, the injury, the frustration… thanks for a compelling tale that hits too close to home for a lot of us. I went to college in Houston, so I know the weather you’re describing all too well. And after a painstakingly slow 8-week layoff with tendonitis last summer in which I hated every day and questioned (unreasonably) my odds of ever running healthy again, I can definitely empathize.

    If we didn’t push our limits we’d never find them, and I guess we’d never get injured. And then running would be as much fun as routine dental work. Here’s hoping for your speedy recovery, and that Patriots’ Day finds you deservedly toeing the start line in Hopkinton ready to run with the best.

    I found your blog through Dan’s Marathon and look forward to following along. Good luck!

    January 23, 2013 at 02:35

    • Thanks for the kind words, Mike. It sure helps hearing these sentiments at a time like this. I know things will get better. Trying to focus on the process of getting better right now. Cheers!

      January 23, 2013 at 14:22

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