I was so eager to return to road racing and the blogosphere with a bang after a year and a half away from it due to nagging injuries and a slow rehabilitation process. Alas, the only bang that occurred for me in today’s race was the starter’s gun. It pretty much went downhill from there.
Before I describe the details of today’s race, let’s turn the clock back to the Fall of 2016. I was on my sabbatical and delivering lectures in several countries and enjoying the pinnacle of my global impact as a scholar and teacher. I also planned to get a little extra bang for my buck during this wonderful semester away from my full-time teaching duties at Florida A&M College of Law by getting ahead on my distance running training. I would be based in the U.K. and Australia during much of my sabbatical and enjoying glorious non-humid weather, which would enable some significant training and fitness gains. Sabbatical started in August, most of which I spent in Orlando and I logged 100 miles that month – a good start that I planned to build on for the remainder of the fall. Little did I know that 15 months would pass from that time and not once would I hit 100 miles in a month again.
I started my sabbatical with a week of lectures in Birmingham, U.K. in September and was enjoying some great runs on the beautiful campus of the University of Birmingham in glorious sunny and pleasant weather. And then my best laid plans for upgraded training during sabbatical went up in smoke in the blink of an eye. I was simply walking out of a room on campus when I felt a sharp pain in my hip and lower back area that felt like someone had whacked my pelvis with a sledge hammer. I shrugged it off and allowed my pre-lecture adrenaline to put the pain in the back of my mind. When I returned to my lodging that evening, I was virtually crippled and writhing in pain. Two days and 8-10 Advil per day later and I wasn’t able to overcome the pain. The first night with the pain was so severe that I didn’t sleep a wink and I couldn’t even move, let alone get out of bed, without extraordinary pain. And I had to travel from Birmingham to London by train with a massive amount of luggage through it all. My first few days in London were spent similarly immobilized and shrieking and cursing through the pain.
Long story short – this unusual bout of pain that came out of nowhere was here to stay for the short term anyway. I was able to walk without pain a few weeks later in London and Cambridge, but running during sabbatical was out of the question until the last week of my time in Australia in late November when I was able to run 2 miles on the treadmill and do a few workouts on the indoor rowing machine. That gave me some hope that I might return to being a competitive athlete sometime soon. I slowly rebuilt my training base starting in December and through Spring 2017 with about 30-50 miles of treadmill running per month and lots of indoor rowing (about 60,000 meters per month) to rebuild my strength, flexibility, and endurance. I transitioned to running exclusively in May and started to build my distance each month from May to September – 50, 60, 70, 80, 90 miles per month – most of it on the treadmill, but braving the heat and humidity 2-3 days per week as week as well.
Our move to Baldwin Park in July helped jump start this renewed focus on running and I acquired my new running buddy, Steve, in August, with whom I run on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 6:45 a.m. That momentum was interrupted with an inordinately stressful month of October filled with work and ill family members that derailed some of my progress and fitness leading up to this race. We saw the first few cool days of the season in the week leading up to the race after a miserably hot and humid hurricane season in Orlando, which gave me some hope that the race conditions might be favorable. Spoiler alert — Not!
This race is aptly named the “U Can Finish” 5 miler because “finish” was about all I did that was commendable today. Merely finishing has never been a goal in my 37 years of competitive distance running. But today I was literally telling myself to just drop out after each mile of this race that twisted and turned around the University of Central Florida’s campus. Fortunately, my ample macho pride would not permit to drop out of this short race. And the knowledge that my training buddy, who drove to the race with me, was running the race about 3 minutes behind me today was that little extra push I needed to propel me to just finish.
This was without question the longest and most miserable 5-mile race of my career. With new lows like this, it’s almost impossible to be disappointed with my future efforts. To cap it all off, I suffered a short bout of dry heaves after I crossed the finish line. After standing up straight again following my brief stint being doubled over, I grabbed my finisher’s medal with entitled alacrity. I used to scoff at finisher’s medals for races below the half marathon distance. After today’s effort, I felt like I desperately needed a piece of hardware to help mend the hole in my heart and soul after this painful and futile effort. I waited a year and a half for this? I decided to clone my finisher’s medal below for some additional “bruised ego balm.”
I chose a race that was late in the fall (almost in November) to avoid the oppressive Florida humidity. Well, that decision backfired in a big way– the humidity was at 97% at the start of the race today with ominously gray clouds that shrouded the sky and speckled the race course with a light drizzle. Even by Florida standards, the humidity was unmanageable for me today. I sweat profusely when the air conditioning is on in Orlando – running today made me concerned that I would cross the finish line so dehydrated that they would need to hook me up to the nearest fire hydrant to refuel. And my dry heaves episode was a good indicator of my level of dehydration today.
I placed 264 of 1504 runners overall (Top 17%) in an abysmally slow time of 43:42 (8:44 pace). The only consolation I feel is that more than 80% of the field was slower than I was (and most were younger, too). But that’s a dreadfully low standard. And I must confess that it doesn’t give me much comfort to know that most of Central Florida is in worse shape than I am because that, too, is a low standard.
Now that I have recovered from the physical pain and disappointment from today’s performance, I plan to bounce back in 2018. After all my injuries and ailments this past year (including hip, foot, and back issues in the past month alone), 2018 just may be my last big chance to redeem myself and I’m going to give it my best to prepare for “aging up” to a slower age group (55-59) in 2019. I will spend the next three weeks trying to rebuild my mileage to where it was in September and then I will transition to cross training on my indoor rowing machine and complete the Concept2 Holiday Challenge (rowing 200,000 meters from Thanksgiving to Christmas) to help prepare me for a few short road races in January or February.
Postscript: A mere two days after this race, I just ran a 3-mile training run with Steve this morning in normal conditions for this time of year (50 degrees and 50 percent humidity) and we ran 3 miles at an 8:52 pace (comparable to my race pace on Sunday) and it felt easy. But I’m not bitter!