Monday, January 21, 2008

Carlsbad: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

I had such high hopes for this marathon. But enough with the foreshadowing. Grab a beer, because this will be a long post.

Pre-race dinner: The night before the race, I had a lovely dinner with Anne, T., who I met at the Honolulu Marathon last month, and her friend, B. I was especially grateful that Anne came because she was not feeling 100 percent.

Weeks ago, T. said she would run the last 6.2 miles of the Carlsbad Marathon with me. But tonight she said she couldn't because of the Chargers v. Patriots game the next day. San Diego is Chargers-crazy. "That's OK," I tell her.

Race Day: After a fitful night in a Motel 6 (and waking up at 2 a.m. to a screaming match in the room next door), E. drives me to the race start at a mall in this picturesque town north of San Diego. Thousands of runners mill around. Most of them are half-marathoners - of the 10,000 registrants in the Carlsbad Marathon, only 2,000 are marathoners.

I try to ease my way through the crowd to the 4:00 marathon pacer, who holds a small yellow flag above runners' heads. I aim to run conservatively, as my right ankle is still tender after rolling it painfully two weeks ago. Instead of an 8:35/mile pace, as I had planned lo all these months, I want to run 9:09 mile splits.

Mile 1 (8:49): Before I can reach the 4:00 pacer, the crowd surges. The race has started. I slowly weave my way through the white-shirted half-marathoners. I feel cautious but hopeful.

Mile 2 (8:18): It seems as if many of the half-marathoners are running at a faster pace than they could reasonably sustain. As I gradually accelerate, some jack-rabbit by. I ignore them, keeping my eye 800 meters ahead - on the flag held aloft by the 4:00 pacer.

Mile 3 (8:42): Running through Carlsbad Village, I ease my pace as I start to close in on the pacer. My stride is smooth and my lungs and legs feel strong. My right ankle is still stiff but not painful.

Mile 4 (8:35): "Gotcha," I say to the 4:00 pacer, as we run along the beach. Gorgeous course, by the way. Just stunning. There is nothing to our right except sand and the Pacific Ocean. And a few gulls.

Mile 5 (9:09): Right on pace, although in general, we are about 90 seconds ahead of the 4:00 goal. I chat with the pacer, T., an ultra-marathoner who ran the 100-mile
Western States Endurance Run last year. About ten of us - eight men and two women - surround T. I also see E. and Nelson here, next to a two-man band playing Hawaiian songs. We wave wildly to each other. Nelson barks.

Mile 6 (9:09): We finally split off from the half-marathoners. The marathoners veer inland, while the halfies stay on the beach road. The course thins considerably, giving us breathing room. We relax. To me, this seems like the real start of the race.

Mile 7 (8:58): We run on a new four-lane road, through glass-enclosed office parks. There are very few spectators, although every once in a while in this nine-mile inland stretch, a band would serenade us.

Mile 8 (9:21): Just before Mile 8, after I take some water from a volunteer, I round a corner, and head diagonally on the course toward a trash can to throw away my empty paper cup. But before I reach the trash can, I stumble badly.


My right ankle gives way and rolls inward, just like it did two weeks ago. Searing pain. I flail my arms, reaching out blindly to stop my fall. I inadvertently grab the shirt of the runner ahead of me and we almost collapse in a heap, but manage to right ourselves at the last moment.

"Sorry!" I breathe to the runner, a skinny 50ish man. "That's OK!" he said, smiled, and took off. I hobble, trying to catch up to the 4:00 group, now about 100 meters ahead. "Shake it off," I mutter to myself. I reach the group after a few minutes. One of the runners tells me I should have taped my ankle.

"Too constricting," I say.

The pain in my ankle settles into a numbing throb.
I can endure this.

We ascend a steep, winding hill, where two members of the Redeemer by the Sea Lutheran Church hand out small white cards. On them are taped small crosses, along with a "A Runner's Prayer." It begins: "O Lord Jesus, protect me and keep me safe today as I run."

"I could've used this a few minutes ago," I say, and tuck it into my back pocket.

Mile 9 (9:25): We run up a half-mile hill. The stress of running uphill makes my right ankle throb more painfully. I try to run as normally as I can, knowing that if I favor my right ankle and foot, my gait will change unnaturally and put more stress on my other ligaments. Which may cause further injury.

Unfortunately, it takes extra energy to run this way, and I feel myself tiring. The 4:00 group pulls away from me again.

Mile 10 (8:39): We are on a long, lonely stretch of highway. The California sun is bright and unrelenting. The pace group is 200 meters ahead. They make it look so easy. I hate them.

"Goddamn it!" I say to myself. "Catch the f**k up!"

And I do.
I ignore my protesting ankle.

Mile 11 (8:29): Yeah, baby. Pain is weakness leaving the body, right? I wave to E. and Nelson again. That damn dog is still barking.

Mile 12 (9:00): More blacktop highway. I keep my eyes on the 4:00 pacer. Nothing else matters.

Mile 13 (9:14): We are now on another office park loop. I grab a cup of water from a volunteer. He looks at me, concerned. "Are you OK?" he asks. "I'm fine," I say, smile a tiny smile, and take off.

Mile 14 (9:18): The 4:00 group is ahead again. I am running alone, with no one ahead of or behind me within 50 meters.

Mile 15 (9:17): The sun is so bright it hurts my eyes. The pacer's yellow flag is now only about 100 feet ahead. I have a couple of minutes in the bank, so I don't further stress my right ankle by surging. I bide my time and try to quell the growing pain.

Mile 16 (9:28): The marathon course meets up again with the half-marathon course on the beach. More than anything, I want to stop and rest my ankle and foot. Just for a moment. I resist because the pace group is even further away.

Mile 17 (9:38): I am not running. I am lurching, throwing the right side of my body forward instead of striding smoothly. The pain in my ankle and foot is radiating up my leg. My face is a grim mask. The pacer's flag is a tiny yellow dot in the distance.

Mile 18 (10:24): The beach is beautiful. Blue waves crash against a white-sand shore. But I ignore the million-dollar views. Thank god runners are few and far between because I am weaving slightly. I stop on a bridge and stretch my hamstrings and calves. I try to rotate my right ankle. No go.

A volunteer sees me. "You want me to call a wagon?" she asks.

"No thanks," I say. "I'm going to keep going."

Mile 19 (12:05): A big hill, at the end of which stands a crowd. I gather my strength and try to run normally again. "Looking smooth!" a man says to me. Tears well up in my eyes in gratitude. I smile and bite my lip.

About 75 meters after I leave the crowd, I slow down.
There is an ominous grinding feeling in my ankle. Pain radiates not just through my ankle, foot and leg, but all the way up my thigh.

I look up. The pacer's yellow flag has disappeared.

Tears of frustration and rage sting my eyes. I wipe them away. They keep coming. I start running again, but now I can't see the course. And then there is the unrelenting pain.

So I walk. I turn my face away from the course and hold my hands over my eyes.
I hear runners go by. Their labored breaths. Their tired feet hitting the tarmac. No one speaks. We are all in our own little worlds of pain.

For two minutes, I merely stand still, looking at the marshy grass to my right, and assess my options.

I can't physically run anymore. It is just too painful. I can hobble, but at a 20-minute/mile pace at best. And in doing so, I will likely further injure myself.

I nod once. Decisively.

Mile 19.65 (10:54): I head towards a policewoman, and ask for a ride back and for a medic to look at my leg and ankle. I am officially a loser. I wait with another injured runner, a half-Ironman triathlete. We smile ruefully at each other.

We get into the SAG wagons, and I'm handed off to the medic's tent at the finishing line.
A volunteer places a bag of ice on my ankle. A doctor sees me and says I may have badly strained, if not sprained, my ankle. He looks at me severely when I say that I twisted my ankle recently and ran the marathon anyway.

"It's a good thing you didn't finish," he said. Then he prescribed me two to six weeks of no running and rehab exercises. And he told me to get my ankle X-rayed.

From my cot in the medic's tent, I see the 4:00 group come in a minute ahead of schedule. If only. They wave their arms in the air and cheer. I smile at them wistfully. They do not notice me.

"Someday," I say, "I'm going to redeem myself." Then I close my eyes. And rest.


  1. Phil and I have been worried about you since seeing the results. I feel so badly for you, but you did the right thing. Carlsbad will always be there next year and beyond. And think - you now know the course! Well, dinner was great and I only wish I could have been there to help.

    Follow dr's orders and stay off that ankle for awhile. Enjoy your sanctioned rest.

  2. Not so easy, Bex. I know there's a ton of fight still left inside you. Rest up, and let's go after the next course! What say you, NYC?

  3. I was thinking about you while I was running on Sunday morning around 8am. I'm so sad to hear that it did not go well. It was not a good day for the Chargers either. Take care of yourself. After your ankle heals, you will still have a lot of time to train for Chicago, Oct 12, 2008...I'm in.

  4. Hey now! Buck up lil' camper! you did great! Your body causes you pain for a reason... best to heed its call. Welcome to the human race.

    Not sure why you like running around and sweating so much, I mean endorphins are great and all but, 20+ miles is a hella long way to run.

    You know you can do the distance and the time that you want Bexwee, just do it when your bod is ready, ankles and all.

    Good run! You should do Boston someday.

  5. So beautifully and succinctly written. My only wish is that you didn't feel yourself a loser.

  6. That pretty much sucks. I bet it was worse than you made it sound--it would have had to have been before you'd bow out.

    I hope you heal fast. Running will always be there. You need some rest after everything you've been thru this year!

    If the doctor allows, maybe you can start your swim practice, for your first TRI!

  7. So sorry to read about your DNF. I had tears in my eyes too as I was reading it. But this injury may have broken you at Carlsbad but will make you stronger in the end.

  8. I admire your perservance to run as far as you did with an injured ankle. I don't know that I would have been able to do that.

    It's hard to train for a marathon for so long and then have it end abruptly. The hurt and disappointment will stay with you for awhile--but you're by no means a loser. You will get another chance.

    Rest up. You deserve it.

  9. Carlsbad is a tough enough course even without a twisted ankle. You did real well and were certainly running strong up right up to the big climb on Palomar Airport Road.

    Thank you for the beautiful write up. You'll heal up soon eneough and be back in shape to smash through your PR before you know it.

  10. DNF happens. There's always another race. Vaya con Dios, amiga.

  11. Sorry to hear about your injury. It was excruciating "running" those middle miles with you, my right ankle was hurting as I read and I wanted to tell you to stop! That's the foot you hurt in the fall of 2005.

    You did great and will get them another day. Sounds like you were focused and running well, the benefit of all that good training. Don't use the word lose, use the word wise, truly.

  12. painful as it is, you did the right thing. And if you ask me, you certainly did leave it all out there on the course... this makes you a winner in my book.

    (and of course, only you could be commenting on the lovely waves, ocean, sand and on, in the middle of that pain!!!)

    It was lovely meeting you on Saturday.

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  14. Sorry to hear about your ride in the SAG wagon. Things happen.

    There will be other races to conquer..

    Rest up and ice the ankle.

  15. What a moving post. I'm so sorry about the ankle. You did the right thing. Sit back and enjoy those lemon drop martini's you turned me onto last year or so.

    BTW I love the Tahoe bliss place.

  16. What we never hope happens to us can; and it did to you. The bummer is in having recovered enough from the first twist so you could start, and then twisting it again. As in ALMOST!

    I could live with the DNF knowing it was the wise thing to do. You just concentrate on healing and then start planning a redemption run. NYC is not for PRs. Chicago could be. NYC is for the best good time of your running career. Tough decision.

  17. I can't believe I didn't respond to this- I was sure I had.

    Maybe I got stuck on what to say.

    That sucks? duh!

    There are always more races? Sure there are but that doesn't fix THIS one.

    Happy healing? Oh sure - that makes it all better!

    So I'll stick with the tried and true - sorry your ankle let you down but you didn't go down without a fight - that's our Bex!

  18. chica, you're a trooper. if you can run 19 miles on a shit ankle, you can heal up and redeem yourself and fly through 26.2.

    at CIM? :) we can both celebrate with adobo.