By Rachel Lotz
I continued with my warm up run and eventually hopped into the starting pen for my race. As I stood behind the start line I stared at the first daunting hill we had to climb. I kept reassuring myself that this hill was just like the one I climbed in the gym on the treadmill with some addition of mud and rocks. The announcer released us and I took off charging up the hill. I think I was running purely on adrenaline at this point, it had been nearly 6 months since I had toed the line for any race at all. The first mile marker rolled around and I looked down at my watch to check my pace and mentally prepare myself for the pain that would occur in the next mile. The mile and a half mark was my weakness and I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to push through the debilitating pain once it began.
In the days leading up to this race I asked Bob for a plan to approach the race, which usually consisted of me asking many “what if” questions, being able to only assume the worst. What happened if I had to medically DNF? What if I made it only a mile and had to walk? What if I was at the top of the hill, and couldn’t walk down without pain? What if I fail? He told me to be happy in the small victories, to take it literally one step at a time. If I had to walk, so what? I wouldn’t be the only one out there. If I was at the top of the mountain and couldn’t walk, why not just slide down on my butt? If I could only run two miles, and had to medically DNF, that was a win in itself. Bob stressed that any improvement is progress.
The second mile marker rolled around and I was in disbelief. I had spent the last ten minutes so concerned on my breathing and foot placement on the uneven terrain that I had neglected to worry about the expected pain in my leg at the mile and a half mark. Granted I still had 12 miles between me and the finish line, but at that moment I decided to split the race up into half mile increments. I re-evaluated myself every ten minutes or so to ask if I was doing the best that I could do. Was I planting my foot properly? Was I leading my my hip/sacrum when climbing the hills? Was my spine in alignment? These small adjustments were so critical to be able to finish my race. Around the tenth mile there was a gloriously steep climb that seemed to never end (thanks Steve Hammond), and provided a beautiful view once you reached the top. To my dismay this hill would be the beginning of the downfall of my race. A few steps into the decline my IT Band started to flare up. The outside of my knee started to burn, and I felt as if the muscle was going to snap.
I always remind myself during races, whatever goes up must always come down. Usually running down hills during races is the best part. You can make up for the long period of time it took to get up the hill, you can breathe a bit easier, and fly down the hill. Not this time. Even though this situation was all too familiar to me, it took a large amount of time to get down the hill. The path was littered with rocks so sliding on my butt was out of the question. I took a deep breath and endured the pain for the remainder of the race, which felt nothing less of an eternity.
Throughout the remaining four miles of the race I felt a whirlwind of emotions. I felt like a failure. I felt pain. I felt sadness. I just wanted to give up, because maybe then the pain would stop. The only thing pushing me towards the finish line and through the pain at this point was the idea of laying on the ground, body free of mud and warm in my jacket and sweatpants. As my body had physically given up on me, my mind started to too. I missed the spear throw, slipped off the first section of the twister, and couldn’t reach the rope on the slip wall. I felt pretty pathetic. I watched several racers run past the burpee zone I was sulking in at these obstacles.
At last the festival ground music was in ear shot, I could smell the kindling from the fire jump (the last obstacle), I knew I was close. As I crossed the finish line I collected my medal, banana, and other finisher goodies. I walked over to the results tent, where I pulled up my time and placement for the race. 4 hours, placing me 7th out of 15 women in the competitive age group. I proceeded to one of the grassy hills behind the tent, laid down and cried. I cried because I hurt, but mainly because I had finished a race that I expected to not be able to finish. Yes, a very pessimistic outlook, but less than two months ago I could barely even walk on the treadmill without an incline, let alone run a 14 mile competitive race.
After a post race debrief with Bob, he reminded me to be mindful of the small victories that occurred, by comparing my current situation to my current abilities; not to my previous year of racing where I was healthy. For one, being able to run TEN miles without pain was a huge feat in itself. Yes, I had to walk a majority of the remaining four miles, but I never stopped completely. Secondly, he mentioned that I wasn’t last in my age group, I still beat 8 people with my time! Looking at the positive aspects of any race, regardless if you are injured for any athlete is difficult. Thankfully, I was able to walk away from the conversation with Bob with more pride in my race that when I crossed the finish line earlier that day.
The week after my race I was advised by Bob to actively rest by minimizing the movements in my legs. I did not partake in any exercise (besides lifting weights with my upper body), walked sideways down the stairs at my apartment complex so as to keep my right leg as straight as possible, and avoided foam rolling and stretching. I’d say that the week of resting was probably just as difficult as the race the weekend before because I wanted nothing more than to be active again. However, I needed to be mindful of the extreme stress and exertion I had placed on my body by racing 14 miles.
As I finished the week of active recovery, I shifted my focus onto the three day race that I would be doing at the beginning of June. Yes, you read that right, three days. You’re probably thinking that if I can barely run anything over ten miles, then there is no way in hell that I would be able to continue for another 68 hours. Yes, you may be right, but this race is far more than who can run the fastest and get through all the obstacles without any burpees. This race tests your ability to orient yourself on a map in unfamiliar territory, work together as a team of over 60 people, and most importantly listen to directions. I will be participating in the Summer Agoge that Spartan Race puts on in Rochester, Vermont.