State 42: Maine (2014 Maine “Half” Marathon)

I awoke on Sunday with a serious, credible issue in my right knee. My IT band was extremely tight and would complain loudly every time I raised it off the ground. It could bear weight, but the minute I sprung forward, it tingled with pain. The hilly and challenging New Hampshire Marathon had pulled something out of alignment and I had hoped against hope that a good night’s rest would somehow nudge all the pieces back to their original positions.

It hadn’t, and I was due to run another marathon in just two hours.

This marked the first time I saw the sun all weekend

This marked the first time I saw the sun all weekend

My friend Javier dropped me off at the start line about an hour before the race was to begin. I made use of that time by walking in circles, hoping to somehow shake off the pain, as if it were a pesky bug that had gotten caught in my leg hairs. As more runners arrived, I felt like I was doing something right. Lifting my leg so that my knee was almost touching my chest, I felt better. I even dashed for a hundred feet and the discomfort felt manageable.  Perhaps I would be able to survive this marathon after all.

It took just one tenth of a mile to crush my optimism like a mallet to an egg.

If I felt any sort of relief, it was gone by the time the smoke from the cannon had faded from the starting line. With hundreds of runners zipping by me, I stopped to walk just a minute into the race. The pain in my right knee was unbearable, sending acidic stings with every step, each one worse than the previous. In that moment, I knew that 26.1 more miles of this would be impossible, if not absolutely excruciating. In my hand I clenched my phone, which I had sealed in a ziploc bag, and every slow, stumbling step I took, I gripped it harder. It was my way out, my lifeline. I could use it to call Javier and this whole thing would be over. I had that power to drop out.  I just worried that I didn’t have the maturity.

Mile 4, by the sea

Mile 4, by the sea

I sent him a text message instead.  “This is not working out.”  It was like mental insurance, an early warning sign of things to come.  But I stopped just shy of using it to call for a rescue.

That first agonizing mile was slow.  Every time I broke into a run, pain would singe into my knee and I would be forced back to a walk.  In that time, the one thing I managed to do very quickly was burn through the five stages of grief.

Denial

This can’t be happening. This is my thing, running is MY thing, and I’ve proven to be pretty good at it. There’s no way that this pain is really such a big deal. I just need to keep running on it so it loosens up my knee.  After that, everything will just click. All pains eventually go away, so it’s just a matter of ignoring this little hiccup, steel yourself, use mind over matter, and pretend it doesn’t exist. Just keep going.

Anger

Ow, ow, ow, this is bullshit and not working. I absolutely killed my training for this without a single issue. There’s no reason why my knee should be hurting this much. It hasn’t ever been this bad. In fact, my right knee has NEVER hurt, so why start now? I didn’t even push myself yesterday and suddenly it’s punking out like it’s never experienced a race before? Unbelievable. Ow, ow, ow …

Bargaining

You know, if I switch my gait to my old, maligned heel-strike, then I can actually pick it up a little. Maybe I can stay with this run/walk business until the end. Can I hobble the full distance?  But then we’d miss our hotel check-out and Javier and his family would end up waiting far too long for me. I wouldn’t be able to shower either – is that such a bad thing though? Is it too much to ask a family of four to wait for five hours and then endure the mephitic odor of an unwashed runner in the car for another two? 

Depression

This sucks. This really sucks. I came all the way here and now I might have to bail. There’s a reason that many runners re-brand DNS from “Did Not Start” to “Did Nothing Stupid” and I’m about to discover just what Stupid is. Man, each step hurts; this is the worst. People are going to give me that smirk and tell me SEE? They KNEW running was bad for your knees, and the proof was in my pudding-like pace. I wish people would stop staring at me.  I know, I’m walking at the first mile, thanks for your concern, but please move along.  And on top of all that, I now have to come back to Maine eventually to re-do this state.

Acceptance

… or do I? This slower pace and awkward stride is actually working pretty well. In fact, check it out, I’m at mile 4. I can probably keep this up for another 9 miles, cut my losses, run a half marathon instead and stay on track for all fifty states. It wasn’t my original plan, but if I stop running and go home now, I’ll be very upset at myself. Am I alright with doing “just” a half marathon?  Yeah … yeah I’m okay with that.

(left to right at Sebago): Diego, me, Javier, Erin

(left to right at Sebago): Diego, me, Javier, Erin

I would love to say that a smile burst from my visage from that moment onward and I waltzed happily for the next nine miles. Instead, I was locked in a grimace, a vestigial emotion leftover from the Anger phase. Denial was quickly overcome – there was no getting past the obvious pain. I bargained with my goals and ultimately accepted that I would rather not crawl for five hours, kill my enjoyment of the event and ruin everyone’s plans. But anger would stick around for several thousand strides.

It wouldn’t be until mile 10 that I began to run fast again. I wasn’t in the clear, as my IT band was still pretty tight. But it was no longer feeling like it was getting squeezed. I even sped up to a 6:47 pace toward the end and only then did I let myself smile. Maybe I hadn’t really accepted what I was doing until this point, as if the last two hours had only existed to get my mind off what felt like cheating or giving up.

Lobster Roll at Sebago Brewpub

Lobster Roll at Sebago Brewpub

It took me a while to get over it. I thought of people like Steve, Danielle and Otter, who have gone on to finish long races with terrible, probably worse pains, crossing the timing mats often smiling and with absolutely no regrets. It made me wonder if they know something I don’t, or if their worldview is somehow more mature than mine. Maybe they’re just better actors.  A childish part of me believes that accomplishments are only worthy or important if someone else thinks they’re impressive. I know that’s not true, but I can’t help but think on it from time to time.

I wish I had been able to fully enjoy the friendly volunteers, the flanks of cheerful spectators who assured me that I was “looking good” and encouraged me by name to “keep it up.” I’m sure they had seen my scowl because I had never gotten that much dedicated attention before. It would have been nice to enjoy the picturesque neighborhoods that came alive to witness the stream of people flowing through them. I would have taken more time to breathe in the beautiful seaside vistas and wispy cirrus clouds vanishing into the horizon.  Because the race really was quite scenic and very well organized.

The Maine Marathon gives out enough swag to fill a Doomsday Prepper bunker

The Maine Marathon gives out enough swag to fill a Doomsday Prepper bunker.  And yes, that IS a can of baked beans.

But I did finish smiling. Oddly enough, part of me did have fun at this race, even if the majority of it was spent wincing and facing the possibility of dropping out. If the physical act of running weren’t fun by itself, then I wouldn’t have come all the way here in the first place. Though they were emotionally charged and far from graceful, the miles I ran in Portland were still miles run. And of course, beyond the race itself, there was plenty to enjoy. When I wasn’t running, I was spending a fun weekend with a good friend and his family, happily noshing on local seafood during a gorgeous time of year.

It’s a strange thing, dropping to half the distance.  As the day went on, I quickly forgot about the race, almost as if it had happened weeks ago.  Despite how much those early miles hurt, they didn’t seem to register in my mind.  Maybe my subconscious is already quite aware that I will come back to Maine for the distance I originally wanted to run.  But that comeback will have to wait, and for now, I’m happy with my memories of the Pine Tree State.  Though I will certainly look back on this trip as “the time I dropped to the half,” I will also remember Maine for many other reasons.  There was the lobster, the chance to reconnect with friends and the realization that these events can bring out more than just the strength in your legs and the sweat from your pores.

Onwards.

Marathon_Map 053 (ME)

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About Dan
Running a marathon in all 50 states because there's no better way to explore the world around you than on your own two feet, for as long as you can, until you hate yourself and everything around you. Then you stop, get a medal, and start over.

27 Responses to State 42: Maine (2014 Maine “Half” Marathon)

  1. Pingback: Race Schedule & Results | Dan's Marathon

  2. Thanks for the shout-out! I will say I think it’s probably different for you. You’re in a position where you’re not used to being injured, you usually run really strong, and you’re PRing like crazy lately. I haven’t spent much time (in running or in life) pain free thanks to my back, so it’s a situation where I just try to make the best of the limited abilities I do have. But yeah, sometimes it’s just better acting 🙂

    • Dan says:

      I suppose that is even more motivating — to get through so many races with constant discomfort is very impressive and admirable. You pop up in my head whenever stuff like this happens, and your example is one that would help others continue the full distance in the face of obstacles.

  3. tootallfritz says:

    Oh, that stinks!! Heal up quickly. I know switching to the half was a huge concession but certainly the right one considering the pain. Not really sure how you made it that far. And you are thru 42 states!! That’s amazing!!

    • Dan says:

      Thanks! The decision to drop only sucked for a few hours, and then I began the process of moving on. I did get the state, the medal, and they even had an official half marathon finish time for me. I thought they were going to disqualify me or worse, shame me on social media. But instead I kept my project going, which is a good thing, right?

  4. I commend you for getting through that. Definitely been through that exact conversation with myself. If it’s ITBS, make sure you focus on strengthening anything that is weak. Typically ITBS is from weak gluteus medius, hip flexors, and transverse abdominus. I have plenty of experience fighting my way back from that injury. Let me know if you need any help. Quick recovery!

    • Dan says:

      Very helpful words from the accidental anatomist. But unfortunately I only know what a few of those things are. I feel like Derek Zoolander after David Duchovny tells him that Mugatu activate him using an auditory or visual Pavlovian response mechanism. What should I do? Squats? Lunges? TELL ME!

      (And thanks for the kind words, Jeff.)

      • Squats and lunges are fine, but targeting the weaknesses that generally lead to ITBS is better. For gluteus medius, there are several exercises you can do, but clam shells and Jane Fondas are the easiest to accomplish on your own. Single leg squats, lunge and reverse lunge are also good. You’d want to keep working on core strength and not neglect the transverse abdominus.

  5. OmniRunner says:

    I ran this marathon a few years ago, we didn’t get half the swag you got.
    You hung in there and managed a half when many folks would have dropped out – good for you. And you have an excuse to go back to Maine!
    Cheers – Andy

    • Dan says:

      That’s true — my return to Maine won’t happen for several years, but I’ll certainly do my best to not overdo it then. Thanks for reading Andy!

  6. whitneysoule says:

    I was at Maine, too! http://www.pleaserunwithme.com

    Good job getting through the half.

  7. Jen says:

    I know it’s not what you wanted, but good “save” nonetheless to make it to the half marathon distance. Hope your knee and ITB are on their way to full recovery!

    • Dan says:

      “Save” is true — I have the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon on November 1 and it’s my last time-goal race for the year. I haven’t managed to improve my marathon time in 2014 and it’s my last shot. So that was also in the back of my mind as I kicked down to 50%. Thanks for reading 🙂

  8. Mike says:

    Wow, huge credit for toughing it out through 13.1 miles of denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. And for turning lemons into lemonade, flipping your own agony on its head to make the rest of us (uncomfortably) chuckle. I can empathize after the stupidity of what happened to me at E.T. last year, but that happened mid-race and was only 9+ miles of agony… I’d have been pretty shaken if I’d had to make the decision to abort early in the race.

    I’m sure it also occurred to you once or ten times that even if you’d had the time and pathology to grit your teeth through 26.2 long miles, you’d still be greeted at the finish with your first 50 States marathon finish of over 4 hours – and the thought of including an asterisk on your beautifully evolving map… well, luckily we’re dealing in hypotheticals here. So clearly you made the smart choice, and for now you can file away Maine in the dark recesses of your mind where the motivational gremlins with the red eyes and razor-sharp claws live.

    I’m guessing (and hoping) that, much like North Country, this lightning bolt reminder of your own mortality brought to you by the running gods will fade by this weekend, so that if called upon you’d be able to run your hometown marathon without any hint of pain. It’s a major reason I love running – the insight it provides into the fickleness and bounce-backability of the human body.

    I guess technically you can call two boxes of band-aids, three pouches of fruit-flavored chews, a can of baked beans and assorted salty snacks “swag”… but are you sure you weren’t given the emergency kit for the Maine Fire Fighters Search-&-Rescue weekend retreat?

    And where’s our Larry Macon shout-out? Don’t tell me he wasn’t there!

    • Dan says:

      Lest we forget that my 50-states map has several 4+ hour finishes. There’s Air Force (4:47), Ice Age (5:16, 50k) and Bighorn (7:27, 50k). But there’s really only one state that will require revisiting and that’s Mississippi (4:31 in Tupelo, back when I was inexperienced and couldn’t handle the 80-degree humidity). But that will happen in due time.

      Honestly Mike, I don’t like reminders of my own mortality. It sucks. I prefer to run unencumbered by such trivial details as “frailty” and the fact that we are bags of fat and meat held together by thin filaments that can bring us down with one faulty step.

      But it happens. And I get no shortage of “Wait ’till you get old” comments from everyone else, so I have THAT to look forward to. In other words, this is why I’m running reckless. Because I can. Because I’m still at that age where I can recover in two days. Does it make me imprudent, yes. Impudent, even. So when this happens, it’s a sobering reminder that shit happens. Alas.

      Thanks for the support. Looking forward to our ghost duel in 3 weeks.

      • Mike says:

        The first 3 did come to mind, though obviously pacing obligations and ultras don’t count in the sub-4 club. Tupelo, though, now that one I had forgotten… so that’s currently the only legit asterisk on your map. Though it’s not nearly as fat an asterisk as my 4:08 HALF marathon up on Pikes Peak in 2010. I’d definitely recommend an August weekend in Manitou Springs to help you recalibrate your racing expectations.

        Fat + meat together = one of my favorite words to describe the human condition, gristle. I always file the “wait ’til you get old” comments along with the “running’s bad for your knees” nonsense, since neither is productive and both usually come from people who took shitty care of themselves. Sure, life moves more slowly and and biology betrays us more often as we age, but for some people that betrayal hits at age 40 while for others it’s 80. So until that happens, I’ll continue to take care of myself and run with what I think of as “controlled recklessness”… I may run sub-3:45 back-to-backs, but I draw the line at sub-3:40 since that WOULD be reckless. 😉

        Unfortunately only one of us will be racing that first weekend in November with PR on the brain… so get out to Indianapolis and kill it!

  9. Well done gritting it out for the half after a grueling marathon the day before. It does look like you need to done some downhill running training (once you get better) to get your form right and ensure that downhill runs don’t mess up your knees. May your recovery be swift and long lasting.

    • Dan says:

      Find me some hills in Chicago and I’ll gladly run them. I can’t stand treadmills and 90% of them only provide an UPhill setting. Anyway, thanks for the kind remarks. Hopefully I’ll be able to bounce back fast enough for my next race.

  10. Devil's Chasin Me says:

    Ahh… I can relate to the stages of grief! I had gone through that myself on Sunday – I’m happy to hear you switched to the half! I hope your knee is feeling better soon!!

  11. MedalSlut says:

    Thanks for cheering me up with the blow by blow account of your emotional roller coaster on the course. Obviously, I can relate, but apart from ‘anger’, I had forgotten about the others. 2015 will be amazing – clearly. I would also argue that your stubbornness is admirable, so colour me impressed.

    • Dan says:

      Thanks for the compliment, but I think it was more stubborn than admirable. You never know how badly things can turn out with these events — I know people who have legitimately broken their foot by running through a race. My former boss had to get screws drilled into her foot, put her out of running for months completely, because she just gutted through a marathon with foot pain. That kind of haunts me every time I run. Scary stuff.

      Thanks for reading, albeit reluctantly and perhaps with teeth grinding.

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