On Saturday night, just before we turned off the lamp, I rolled over in bed to face Michael. There were tears streaming down my face.
“What’s wrong?” he asked, concern etched in every corner of his handsome face. I took a long breath before I answered.
“I’m going to hurt myself really, really bad tomorrow,” I whispered.
Michael wrapped me in his arms and just held me. He didn’t tell me it wasn’t going to hurt because he knew that would be a lie. He didn’t pretend that everything was okay, because it wasn’t. His wife was about to inflict two and a half hours’ worth of torture on herself and he knew it would hurt him too if I failed at my goal after months of training and years of hope.
The thing is, I have no one to blame but myself for how I’m feeling right now. I have no one I can point to and say, “You, sir!! You’re the reason I can’t sit down on a toilet seat or step off a curb without searing pain!”
I wasn’t strapped into a chair with my hands duct-taped behind my back. I wasn’t screaming as a big dude in a ski mask held electrified wires to my skin or slid bamboo shoots under my fingernails. This torture was 100% self-inflicted. No one was holding a gun to my head telling me to keep hurting myself, some part of me chose it while the rest of me, my quads in particular, begged for mercy and cessation.
I try to be honest, so here is the truth. I may never run the Chicago Marathon again. A part of me died out on that course yesterday. The final eleven miles of that race broke something in me that I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to repair. The only other time I’ve felt like this was after my 10K PR on the track. In 2012 I ran 32:37 on a cool night in Portland in a last ditch effort to qualify for the Olympic trials that year. I dug deep. Too deep. I don’t remember the final 9 laps of that race, save for the small pair of black shorts that covered the tiny butt of the girl in front of me. I went to a dark and painful place. How dark and painful?
Do you remember that part in Lord of the Rings where Gandalf is explaining the demon that the fellowship will have to face in the Mines of Moria? The part where he said, “The dwarves delved too greedily and too deep.”?
Oh, so you don’t remember it and you’re not a nerd? Well to sum up, the dwarves of Moria, obsessed with treasure and wealth, dug too deep under the mountain and basically they hit hell and released a demon. A Balrog of Morgoth to be exact. It’s like when you’re at the beach digging a hole to china, and you actually reach China, but instead of China it’s hell.
Well, yesterday I hit hell and released a demon, just like I did after the 10K.
On that night five years ago, I stayed with my parents and spent the night hugging ceramic, wretching and dry heaving as wave after wave of nausea swept over me during the long hours before dawn. I was unable to run properly for another several days and two weeks later I dropped out of the Olympic Trials, completely broken.
Yesterday I rented a car and drove six hours down to Kentucky, grateful for the rain washing over the car in sheets as I wailed at the top of my lungs like a toddler. I threw a tantrum.
And look, I get it. Terrible things are happening all around the world, and one bad race is not that big of a deal. Millions of people in this country, myself included, are struggling to make sense of what happened last week in Las Vegas and fifty-eight families are now faced with a hole that they will never be able to fill. In the grand scheme of things, a 2:38 marathon isn’t something to whine about.
It’s just that…
Well, it’s hard to fail at what you love.
It’s hard to be hurt by something that you pour your heart into, something that you hope will love you back.
But you want to know something weird? I have run two marathons this year.
In Houston, I went through the half marathon three minutes slower than I did yesterday and I listened to my body, not my watch as I reeled in one person after another to finish fifth. Yesterday, I was a slave to my watch during the first half, pushing far too hard even though I knew it would come back to bite me in the end and it did as runner after runner sailed past me like I was standing still.
The day after Houston I was walking fine, excited about the future and looking forward to the rest of the year. Today, I feel like I was hit by a bus and then the driver of that bus stepped out of the vehicle, walked over to where I was laying in the street and whaled on me with a baseball bat just for good measure.
I need to find that Houston attitude again, find the part of me that can race by instinct and ignore the watch. But hey, on the bright side, I am now officially a 4-time Olympic Trials qualifier and on the list for 2020, so it’s nice to have that out of the way.
Truthfully, I don’t know what’s next. I don’t want to know right now.
For now, I’m going to enjoy a delightful few days with my glowingly pregnant friend, Tina. Then I will head home to give a quick kiss to my cat before jetting off to Mexico for my five-year anniversary with Michael.
And regarding the bottle of champagne I’ve been saving for the day I break 2:30, I have been given a bit of advice by a dashing friend of mine who just happens to be a former world record holder in the marathon. He told me to either drink it or toss it, just to get the bear of expectation off my back. And who am I to argue?
So listen, if your goal race didn’t go to plan, give yourself a minute, baby yourself for a few days, then keep digging, but maybe in a different direction.