Part One: Did Not Finish
Twenty-four years ago, I never really kept track of mileage, followed training “plans,” or worried about things like, say, a stabbing pain in my ankle that could make my hair stand on end about 30 minutes into a run. I just liked to run a lot and lump all injuries into the Shin Splints Zone, a catch-all container full of “They’ll Get Better If I Keep Running!” ailments. So far, that approach had worked (ah, youth). However, in the fall of 1984 when I decided that it would be okay to run a 15-mile race in spite of the fact that it felt as though my right ankle might snap off at any moment, things didn’t work out so well.
It was a beautiful autumn morning, I was wearing my groovy Bonne Bell 10K shirt, and “99 Luftballoons” by Nena was cranking out over the loudspeakers at the starting line. What could possibly go wrong? This was a race in my hometown that I’d run every year since 1979, so I knew the course well. I knew I’d see friends and family along the way and at the finish. The final half mile was downhill. It was going to be delightful.
Then, about 8 miles into the race: CRACK! I’m not just writing that word for dramatic effect. I actually heard my ankle bone crack as I headed into a lonely, unpopulated stretch of the race. For a moment, I thought I could keep going. Maybe my ankle had just needed to crack (you know, like knuckles) these past few weeks, and now it would be all better. Even now, I have to admire that desperate and moronic attempt to ignore a serious injury. However, I quickly realized I couldn’t run, chiefly because I couldn’t walk. I hopped a little bit, then sat down on the curb and stared intently at my watch. There was absolutely no reason to be looking at my watch, but I couldn’t bear looking at all the people hurtling past me and occasionally shaking their heads in sympathy. I just wanted everyone to get on past.
When you’re pissed, humiliated, and in pain, 10 minutes seems like forever. Why the eff are so many people running this stupid race? Pick up the pace you #%^@&* slobs! I sat down like three days ago! I knew that a couple vans would follow at the end to pick up all the wretched DNFs along the way. Finally, the last runners tottered by, and I shamefully flagged down one of the vans. Since neither of the vans had any runners in them (more shame!), and we were already past the halfway point, the van I was in just turned up a side street to take me back to the start. Yep, just me and this huge chick who looked suspiciously like the driver of the school bus I rode in the 7th grade.
“Done wore out, dintcha? Eight miles! Whooooeee! I’d be plum tuckered,” she announced merrily while popping bubble gum incessantly.
“No,” I replied gloomily. “I didn’t wear out. I think I broke my ankle.”
“Like you sproinged it while stepping off the curve wrong or something?” she asked in all seriousness.
I was pretty sure I had a stress fracture, but the thought of trying to explain this to someone who had just asked if I had sproinged my ankle on a curve was too much to deal with.
“Maybe so,” was all I said.
“Git you one of them Ace bandages,” the driver offered knowledgably. “And don’t run for a few months,” she added with an authoritative flair.
Finally back at the start/finish, I hopped and staggered over to where I thought my parents might be. I leaned against a light pole and waited. The winning men came in, then the first several women. Then I heard my mom behind me say, “You’re already back! Wow! You must have run your fastest time yet!” Then she hugged me, and I burst into tears.
Fast-forward to the 2009 RC Cola and Moon Pie Festival 10-mile race in historic Bell Buckle, Tennessee. This is one of my all-time fave races. Held in the midst of Southern summer heat, the race itself is not unlike a Moon Pie: it may not be good for you, but you want it anyway. And when it’s over, you feel kind of gross, but you don’t regret it.
For the week leading up to the race, I had been pleasantly ignoring a tightness in my left groin muscle, thinking It’s my groin, for crissakes. “Groin.” Ha ha hahah ha ha. But by mile one (one!) I knew I was in trouble. I turned to a friend who was running alongside me and told her that I felt like I had a rock in my groin. She gave me a look that was a cross between “TMI” and “That can’t be good.”
It wasn’t good.
Close to mile 2 I began trying to decide if I should slow down and just jog 8 more miles or give it up. Sharp pains right at the 2-mile mark made up my mind for me. My second DNF in 31 years of races. It’s an eerie feeling to quit a race…kind of nightmarish, as though, certainly, this couldn’t be happening. Sometimes I’ll dream of races that go through houses, up staircases, through tiny windows, and ultimately to insanely narrow dead ends where I’ll finally just have to quit. Then I’ll wake up, fall back to sleep, and forget it.
However, what followed out on the rural roads of Bell Buckle was something I’m assuming I’ll always remember. As I turned around to do the Walk of Shame back to the start, the tidal wave of runners flooded toward me on the other side of the road. Once walking, I really was in no pain, but I kept a semi-agonized expression intact just so that no one would think I was, you know, plum tuckered at only mile two.
Anyway, every few minutes or so, someone I knew would shout to me, “WHAT’S WRONG??” and I’d have to bellow back, “MY GROIN!!” while pointing at my junk in front of hundreds of strangers. Ah, yes. Good times. Distinctly memorable.
Part Two: Did Not Hurl
A mere 32 hours after the Moon Pie debacle, I was scheduled to do my very first Beer Mile.
One may wonder: Is it wise to race around someone’s slippery, twisty, and hilly back yard under the influence of four beers while sporting a groin injury? Of course not! So, then, what better reason could there possibly be for barrelling ahead with this event? Plus, how utterly attractive might it be for me, a woman pushing 50, to lurch drunkenly around while belching in front of relative strangers? I wrapped my groin and headed across town.
Hard as it may be to imagine, I’ve never chugged a beer, run a quarter mile and then repeated this activity 3 more times. In thinking of what my “goal” would be for this “race,” I decided that simply not hurling would bring a certain sense of pride and idiotic superiority. Roughly, I estimated taking 3 minutes per beer and running an 8-minute-mile: 20 minutes total. If I could break 20, well, I’d probably have to have another beer to celebrate.
For anyone who imagines that the Beer Mile is just one big hardy-har-har, I should point out that some participants used Garmins to get their beer/run splits and looked tremendously serious prior to the starting gun. There was some definite consternation as to whether one should start one’s watch before cracking open the first beer or after. Nail-biting angst over the fact that some runners had wide-mouth cans abounded. Last-minute panic over the fact that Bud might, in fact, have been a better choice than Miller created a colon clutch or two.
Finally, however, we were off. Or, should I say, we were standing still. Gathered around the tables, with our 4 beers marked off in squares, we drank quietly until the first thunderous (literally) belch blasted through the pleasant suburban back yard. Birds erupted from trees and children playing in neighboring yards ran in terror. Miles away, dogs cocked their heads and narrowed their gazes.
Men are lucky: they can merely envision burping, and the burp arrives. My first beer took just a little over 2 minutes, which I was inordinately proud about, but I could NOT crank out a belch. Admittedly, I feigned a few burps to psyche out the competition (burping is critical to successful Beer Miling), but they were lame imitations. I ran the wacky quarter mile up the hill, around a pool, down a driveway, corkscrew turn, a figure-8, through a sprinkler, and back down the hill in about 2 minutes. But still, no belch. Slight panic. Beer # 2 was not going down nearly as smoothly…and then….KA-BOOM! I’ll admit it. I was frightened by my own burp.
Honestly, I don’t remember too many specifics after this point. More beer. Slipping in the mud. What groin? More beer. My blurry watch. Laughter. Belch-o-rama central. One more lap…16:45 final time. And, tears of pride, no hurl!! I think I was briefly troubled by the fact that I could actually drink 4 beers and run a mile all under 17 minutes. Apparently not troubled enough to not have another beer. Some time later, I think I recall telling one of the guys that he looked like he was wearing mascara. I jumped in the swimming pool in my clothes.
Yes, all in all, an outstanding weekend of summertime racing. One race I’ll never forget, and one I’ll never quite remember.