This water station is a nightmare. They are not ready. I am not ready. I have to stop, rip apart some plastic sheeting. I lose seconds. I have no seconds to lose. The stopping means I start again and when I start again it's there. Full on. All out. Stabbing. I stopped two weeks ago with this pain. And so I will stop now. But I do not stop now. Not yet. My training partner is just around the corner, waiting with gels. That's the time to stop. I speed up a little. The sooner I get there, the sooner I drop. The corner comes quick. I see her before she sees me. dressed as she is in luminous pink. She's on the phone. She's talking about me, I guess. though my ears have failed to burn. She looks worried. I am very late. Probably he's dropped already, she's thinking, maybe saying. Should she start to walk back? I raise my hand. She spots me. But instead of instantly identifying my terrible need to make it stop, she whips the gels from her pocket and holds them in my path. What can I do? We practiced this on the coast road that Sunday morning that I pulled up short. I wore my serious face as she passed the squishy batons. "I hope I get a smile on the day!" she said after she caught me back up. I made no promises. And she gets no smile. But I take the fucking gels and keep running. Because practice.
I am still running. I don't know why. I should have stopped. I really should have stopped. I could still stop. Quick, now, stop before she leaves. She'll take off her luminous pink coat and cover me up. The pink will hide my tears and my shame from the passing thousands who could not give a fuck and from the gawking spectators who might well be glad to gaze upon a spectacle besides those passings thousands. They will bestow on me their terrible, terrible pity. But I won't see, hiding underneath the pink coat. We will walk slowly back through the park. I will exaggerate my limp. I will ask her to mention to passers by that my ribs are broken even though they no longer are. We will phone Common Law who will be expecting this call. Hopefully the family will not have left for town. It will be hard to get home. I may have to borrow a bike. But I will get home. And I will crawl into bed. It will be warm and my knee will not hurt. I will cry some more, though mostly with relief. It will be over. I am only here to find out where it ends, and it may as well end now. Common Law will give me comfort. The children will tiptoe around me. My younger daughter will not understand. I banish this thought. I will go to work tomorrow and say over and over and over again "Not great, I had to drop out. There's always next year!"
There's always next year.
My younger daughter will not understand.
The pain is very bad. It runs the length of my upper leg and nods a hello to my lower back. It has settled somewhat from a stab to a sear. But sear it does. Still I am not quite limping. I continue to run. Slowing has not helped. I spot the 3'20 pacing flag maybe 200m ahead. So I pick it the fuck up. Why not? This neither magically dissipates the pain nor makes it noticeably worse. I begin to pass people. I follow a fellow surger onto the far right hand side of the road. The camber! I have been on the left all the way through the race! Maybe this change will magically heal me! It does not. Me and this guy, we go up on the grass to enable further passing. The softer surface will soothe me! It does not. We come level with the pacers on a slight downhill. My friend eases off, happy to have made the catch. I press on. The descent will ease my pain! The descent does not.
It hurts. It really, really hurts. But it has not worsened over the last half mile. I know that I cannot stand this for another nineteen miles. This is a given. It seems really unlikely that I can make it to my next training partner meeting place at fourteen miles. I'm not sure that I can even make it out of the park. So I summon the spirit of Gordy Ainsleigh. inventor of modern ultra running, who famously asked, as he threw up, pissed blood and hallucinated his away around a 100 mile mountain course, "What can I do?" And his answer: "I can take another step."
I take another step.