Isn't it funny how busy we can all be, even while on a supposed vacation. The first week of my winter "break" was spent preparing for all that Christmas entails: gift buying, party attending, house cleaning, etc. Two days after Christmas my two youngest children and I were off for a trip to North Carolina to visit family. As usual, when I travel, I almost always search for a race that allows me to go out and play in the environment where I am visiting. This time my goal was to do my first ultra marathon since the EC 100, so I chose the Frosty Fifty 50K in Winston-Salem, NC. I had run this race two years ago, but had only done the 25K. This time I chose to do the 50K, which is a little more than 31 miles. I also convinced my friend Ellen who lives in Virginia to join me. This would be her first long distance race over a half-marathon--heck, go big or go home I say!
However, this week I had to make a decision. Since a little before my 100-mile race at the Endurance Challenge 100, I have been experiencing periodic weakness in my right leg. Luckily, at my big ultra marathon race my leg behaved, but over the last couple months it has been getting progressively worse. Some days I almost have to drag my leg forward until the weird weak feeling goes away. It is not debilitating, but it is very annoying. I have tried taking more rest days, but even that has not seemed to help. So this week I had to decide. Should I skip my first ultra marathon since October, or should I trudge on to see what I could do? I wanted to be smart, but I also didn't want to use this as an excuse to stop pushing myself. There is a fine line between using my leg weakness as an excuse and being safe to ensure a long running career. In addition, I was really looking forward to having Ellen join me, so I made the choice to go to the race and see what my leg could do. I would still be smart and stop if needed, but I know that I really needed to try.
I had hoped to stay with Ellen for at least the first loop or two, but I found that my leg felt better if I stayed at an 11:00-12:00 min/mile pace, which was slightly too fast for Ellen's first ultra marathon attempt. I can usually find someone to run with, but I actually spent most of this race running solo. As an extremely social person, running by myself can be rough, but as my triathlon beast friend Jessica D. once told me, you have to train on your own sometimes. I was lucky to have my team with me at the EC 100, but for long races, part of the training needs to be training on your own so that you can mentally push through these lonely times. So this was good training for me.
I made it through the first lap without incident. I ran a decent pace at 9:36 min/mile and I felt strong. I made it halfway through the second when I must have failed to lift my right foot and I went down flat as I turned a corner. I was scraped up a bit, but I dusted myself off and kept going. Unfortunately, my right leg was getting tired and I had to start thinking about whether I should call it a day. I made it through the rest of loop two without incident, but as I rounded the first corner of lap three, I went down again. By this time, I was just mad...I had only fallen once in a previous race and never two times. However, I knew that I had been lucky I had not really injured myself with the falls, so I decided to set myself a limit. I was going to allow myself two more falls, and then no more running for me. I would force myself to walk the rest of the race. I know it sounds crazy, but I felt great in every other way, despite the whole falling thing, so I pushed on. A quarter mile later I fell flat again. I rolled over, raised my fist to the sky and screamed, "How many falls can a person have in one race?" At that exact moment a runner ran up behind me, but seeing the crazy woman screaming on the ground, he decided that it was probably safest to run by me and pretend I wasn't there--so much for southern manners. So one final time I had to pick myself up and carry on, but this time I knew that if I went down again I was banning myself from running another step. I spent the next ten miles willing my right leg to go higher, and I kept my eyes on the ground to detect any root or rock jutting out under the fallen leaves and shade of the trees.
I am so thankful for this experience. It was not easy, but once again I learned just how tough I can be. There is such a fine line between pushing through and just plain being unwise (read stupid). I think I will always err on the side of challenging myself, and hopefully know when I need to pull back. For now I will push forward on my running journey with my family's and my doctor's approval. The journey continues...