There remains little doubt that the dumbest fuckin’ thing I’ve ever done was a polar plunge in Antarctica.
But there also remains little doubt that age is never an assurance of wisdom. There have been any number of actions, decisions, moments, things that I’ve done, made, initiated or participated in of late that frankly have all entered the pantheon of dumbest fuckin’ things I’ve ever done.
Today was a day that entered the top ten charts and could easily climb to the penultimate space.
I actually sent an email to my Mom and brother telling them I wasn’t feeling great but that I was at the start line. I mentioned I had slept terribly and had bad, bad dreams. I’ve been haunted by real and composited failures from past, present, and near future and I awoke this morning feeling every much as emotionally battered as my butt and back felt physically bruised from that flailing fall of a few days prior. But I was better physically and I thought I’d be okay-ish… plus I had pre-paid for the registration and packet pickup and I was already up… what else was I going to do?
On top of that, I had shamefully indulged in a binge eating of cereal that would make my face worthy of a Halloween mask in the punderdome mall under the heading of “cereal killer.” I needed to get some mileage in; in fact, I needed to not eat for the next two days and run TWO marathons to try and get close to a zero sum weight gain for the week. And that seemed… unlikely. But I figured I might be able to get a marathon in at least.
I was feeling so down and mopey I couldn’t even really appreciate the sky. In the mountains of Ojai, the clear, cloudless blackness of the sky was pierced by thousands of points of light – it was beautiful and awe-inspiring and all I could think was, “yeah, yeah… why is this portajohn line so freakin’ long?” And it was long – had I not been on one of the first buses and relatively early into the line, I’m not sure the hour lead time before the official start would’ve been sufficient for me to actually use the facilities.
Rumor had it there were 1500 marathoners and that it was a super fast course; I was in the first corral and folks were talking about breaking 3 hours for the first time but at a minimum keeping it under 3:07. Could this have been a sub-3 course for me? Not the way I was feeling… and yet there was a voice in the back of my head that said, “try, try, try.”
That voice would quickly turn to “no, no, no” with my first steps after the gun was fired. EVERY stride hurt my tailbone, my butt kicked by the course quite literally from the word “go.” It hurt to do any kind of stride so I was reduced to something akin to a half-stride. Little did I realize that on top of that still painful concession to the running gods, the graceless gait I was undertaking would take a massive toll on my feet. They were adjusting to the stride as best they could but the resultant half step footfalls eventually would prove beyond problematic.
As the sun eventually rose, I realized I had been here before. I had done part of, if not this exact same course, several years ago at a race called “Oaji 2 Ocean.” It’s since been rebranded “Moutains 2 Beach” and like this Ventura Marathon race now, it promised to be my “SoCal BQ Race!” The opening 10 miles or so were rolling hills (and actually were a loop done twice) followed by supposedly 14 miles of downhill. One could see how that elevation chart might lead to a BQ or a PR or something of a fast time.
For me, the course was a pain in the butt… literally. Stabbing pain at each stride but it at least wound down into a dull throbbing pain as I carried on. This also meant I felt like I couldn’t stop for any reason as to stop would enable my butt to decide it had had enough and it would hurt too much to go on.
By mile 16, though, my feet had given in. There’s a movie, or a myth or legend, or maybe even an actual medical condition that this all reminded me of. My left foot in particular (and later the right), felt like all the cartilage and molecules between the bones proper had transformed into quick-drying concrete. A knot developed and then expanded on the base of my foot and it grew more and more debilitating. I slowed from a run to a walk and then to a standstill. The next aid station was just ahead and I decided for the first time ever I was going to drop out of a race in the middle of it.
I had never done this so I wasn’t sure how it worked. When I hobbled to the water stop, I asked the volunteers if there was a med tent. The first guy said there was one in 10 miles… meaning the finish line I guess. Knowing full well if you don’t like an answer you try and ask somebody else, I asked the next volunteer who pointed me to two CB radio operators in a nearby tent. I told them I needed to drop, I couldn’t go on.
They sat me in a chair and asked if I was in distress. I said no I just couldn’t go on. They radioed for a “med evac, non urgent.” As the squelch was adjusted and they waited for a reply, one guy said to me, “Well, you made it to mile 16.75!” I just shook my head, depressed, watching runners carry on past me. I took off my shoe and massaged my foot, trying to break up the “concrete” as best I could. The CB operator came over to me and said all the vans were down at the start line but they’d be coming eventually. “Might be a while though,” he said. I asked what a while was and he said 45 minutes to an hour. Pacers went by holding flags – 3:27… then 3:37.
I put my shoe on and felt like the searing pain in my left foot had subsided into a manageable dull throb.
“Screw it,” I thought to myself. I told the CB guy I would carry on. They radioed back to say runner “four zero” was going to keep going to the next aid station at least and to cancel the evac for now.
I trotted back out onto the course proper and my hips and butt immediately screamed out in pain… but I couldn’t go back to those guys and ask them to flip-flop once again. I figured I’d at least get to the next aid station. I thanked them over my shoulder and gritted my teeth, willing myself, foolishly, to go forward.
As the pain increased, my mind cried out, “You’re a fool. A damn fool!” But I had come this far. And all I could think about was that binged cereal box slashed by my pudgy man hands. I hobbled, walking dead shuffled, lurched from foot to foot and passed the miles.
Five miles after I “dropped” I had to stop again along the side of the road and peel off my shoes. This time both feet felt like they were cement galoshes. I massaged them as best I could. A pacer for 3:47 passed me by. I put the shoes back on and trotted along, my ass dragging metaphorically as it had been by that damn fall, and now was being kicked by this damn road… but most of all it was kicked forward by my own stupidity and stubbornness.
I really, really, REALLY shouldn’t have been out on the course today. And I really, really, REALLY, REALLY, REALLY shouldn’t have tried to finish. But sitting around waiting for an hour to be picked up felt like a depressing death by a thousand footfalls as runners went by.
I struggled on.
And eventually, tears in my eyes obscured by doused water cups from aid stations, intermingled with salt dried to my skin from perspiration, I made the final turn toward the beach, toward the finish. Spectators would cheer on, encouraging me to “finish strong” or “kick it.” Other runners, as so many had done throughout this painful day, breezed past… and not only breezed past but did in fact finish strong and kick it. I was barely able to put one-half-footfall in front of the other.
But I did finish. I have no idea if I’m disqualified for having “dropped” at mile 16.75. I have no idea what my time really wound up being as I had paused my Garmin at the drop point and only remembered to restart it somewhere around mile marker 17.
The promised waffle breakfast was a long wait though I did grab one for comparison’s sake to Belgium. It was… not an official Belgian waffle. Let’s leave it at that.
The line for the shuttle bus back to the parking lot was equally long and I couldn’t face that. It was 0.75 mile according to google maps. I decided to just walk it. Besides, it was along the beach and there’s worst places to be shuffling along.
While walking was better than running, it still hurt to move and my strides were gingerly and asymmetrical. I may have looked like I was drunk, though I skipped the complimentary Sierra Nevada at the finish. I just wanted to get home.
I understand now better than ever the opioid crisis the United States of America is facing. I’ve only been hurt from that fall for three days now but I cannot even describe the melodramatic lengths I am prepared to go at this point for a couple of painkillers. Let’s just say I would do a lot of dumb things, a lot of potentially top three dumbest fuckin’ hit parade things. As it is, I’m gobbling naproxen Aleve like they were blue M&Ms.
I deserve this though. I have no one to blame but me. This was ONE OF the dumbest fuckin’ things I’ve ever done.
Where it ranks will depend on how much lasting damage I did.
Time will tell. I fear the night. And the dawn. And the coming week.
But for now, I’m just hoping to dull the pain. I do have those bottles of palinka…
Self medication comes in many forms. It’s been a series of bad decisions… what’s one more?