This weekend I open up my professional racing career at a 10k in Phoenix, if you are asking yourself why would anyone ever want to run a 10k in Phoenix? Stay tuned because Phoenix is not the worst place I have ever run a 10k.
The last time I raced a 10k, I was forced to drop out 9 laps into the NCAA championships when the adrenaline and ibuprofen wore off and the pain of trying to run on a broken foot hit me. I broke it 2 weeks earlier at the regional meet in Austin, Texas; another terrible place to run an important 10k (My teammates, Craig and Ryan, spent their entire collegiate career at Texas, and I am very impressed that they made it 4-5 years without melting! Congrats, guys). I mean why would you choose to hold a regional track meet in May, in Texas? You have the entire western half of the United States, yet Austin Texas gets the bid over San Diego, San Francisco, all the other San’s in between those two places, Eugene, Corvallis, Portland, Olympia, Seattle or any number of places that don’t have thunder storms, sweltering heat and 100% humidity.
As you can guess, when this stupid, little, seemingly insignificant, twig of a bone decided to be a big loser and quit on me in the home stretch of my last year at the University of Portland, I was pretty torn up. I mean all my other bones were still intact and generally crushing it for me. But after almost 11 months of uninterrupted training and workouts that included a great cross country season, a very solid half marathon debut in Houston (I actually have nothing negative to say about the conditions of Houston in January, great time and place for big race), and an entire track season, my 5th metatarsal tapped out and broke all the way through, in both directions. NOT TOUGH!
This broken bone was so emotionally difficult to deal with for the obvious reason that it really threw a wrench in my plans to do well at nationals, but also for many other reasons. One main reason was because I ran so well at regionals, I mean I felt like I was jogging until the last lap when I knew I was going to qualify for nationals and unnecessarily released a half kick, which propelled me to a second place finish in the race. This kick was great because I feel that I adequately balanced attempting to scalp as many good runners as possible while not looking like a jabroni who goes to the well in a prelim they’ve already wrapped up. However, if I knew that my foot was broken I would have gone to the well, sprinted the last 200 meters and leaned at the line in order to collect the one scalp that evaded me, Ed Ches. You only get so many chances to scalp the king and in the immortal words of The Wire, “If you come at the king you best not miss.”
Breaking my stupid, (insert inappropriate derogatory term here) metatarsal was so rough emotionally because I felt like I had finally figured out this whole track thing. The previous 2 seasons had been derailed by illness, injury, and overtraining. The season before I broke my foot had ended at the regional meet in Fayetteville, Arkansas. I know, FAYETTEVILLE, ARKANSAS, AT THE END OF MAY! Just thinking about having to listen to chants of PIG SOOOOOOEEEEEEEYYYYY while being covered from head to toe in sweat that smells like stale barbeque makes me want to shed all my clothes and slap an icepack on my neck. At least Austin had a Whole Foods. In Fayetteville, on the other hand, it was harder to find a vegetable not slathered in mayonnaise than it was to avoid sweating through every article of clothing you own. Wow, I got off topic there. So anyway, my season ended at the regional meet when I was mentally and physically burnt out. Peaking for the big meets at the end of the season is hard because you want to do as much work as much as possible to make sure you’re in the best shape possible, but it’s a fine line between doing a lot and doing too much. It’s like trying to get as close to the edge of a cliff as possible without falling off. Well that year in freaking FAYETTVILE, ARKANSAS, of all places, I was not on the fitness cliff. I had fallen off the cliff and drifted down the river below and was surrounded by angry bear mothers (My teammate, Eric, had a successful athletic career at the University of Arkansas. It’s unfathomable to me as to why anyone would ever originally decide to inhabit that swamp, let alone colonize it and ultimately build a university. So congrats on getting the hell out of there Eric!).
One last note about running 10ks in terrible places; I think at this point, everyone kind of agrees the NCAA needs to change to meet the current landscape of collegiate athletics. I am all for the NCAA sharing some of its many many millions and millions of dollars from ticket sales and sponsors with the people who actually deserve it, the unpaid athletes. But first, STOP SCHEUDLING IMPORTANT MEETS IN TERRIBLE PLACES TO RUN AT BAD TIMES OF THE YEAR! Is that so much to ask?
Even the season leading up to my second place finish at regionals had been filled with heavy legs and disappointing performances. But finally, I had broken out of this track slump and had run great, my legs felt sharp, I was mentally in it, and it honestly wasn’t that difficult. I was in great shape, I just also happened to have an embarrassment of a 5th metatarsal. Fast forward 5 months and here we are. Now, as I get ready for another 10k, I cling to inspirational quotes from people like Ernest Hemmingway who said, “The world breaks everyone, and afterward some are strong at the broken places.” I extrapolate Mr. Hemmingway’s wisdom about one’s strength of character to include the integrity of all the little bones in my feet even though I know damn well that Ernest had very little if any formal training in orthopedics. I anxiously scroll back through Training Peaks files of workouts and long runs as a way to reassure myself that I’m ready to roll. I listen to paralyzing sad alternative country artists like Ryan Adams and Jason Isbell and choke back tears (JKJKJKJKJK I cry like a baby) as lyrics like, “I was born in an abundance of inherited sadness” or “I’d carry her to bed then sweep up all the hair from her floor” hit my ear drums. You know, normal race prep stuff.
In some ways, it’s back to business as usual and in some ways this next race is the start of a new chapter. I’ve got a new coach, a new team, I live in a new city, and I’ve got a somewhat newly healed 5th metatarsal, with extra bone! That being said, when I get to the start line I’ll have the same nervous energy, I’ll have had the same moment of panic where I wonder if my bowels will cooperate for a full 30 minutes, and I’m sure my legs will hurt real bad, just like all the other 10ks I’ve run in the past. I don’t know what to expect, I hope it goes well, I hope I’m not too rusty and I hope I can really test myself and show how fit I am. But, even if it doesn’t go well, at least I’m not racing in Fayetteville, you guys!