Going into 2010, my plan was to run two marathons. The first was slated for June 6, 2010 in Minneapolis. I made it to the race in Minneapolis. And I enjoyed the experience on the whole. But I did not run the full marathon. I ran the half-marathon, and my time was 1:41:05.
The year started off well. I had taken it pretty easy over the holidays, but by January I was back in training mode. I was building up my weekly mile totals, and I was doing more cross training. Running still dominated my training schedule, but weights and swimming became staples as well.
I was excited about Minneapolis. It wasn't the race that I saw myself qualifying for Boston with. I was going to shoot for that later in the year. But I knew that I'd be stronger and faster than I was in Chicago, and I was looking forward to using Minneapolis to assess my progress.
I was also excited because both of my sisters were coming up from Denver, and they were going to run too. I have one sister that is a couple of years older than me, and another that is thirteen years younger. Both are runners, though neither had run into double digit miles before. So they were both looking at the half-marathon.
But before any of us made it to Minneapolis, I had a detour to take. I went on a month long vacation to Southeast Asia in March. I knew that I would lose some of the cross training while I was gone. But I figured that as long as I stayed somewhat disciplined with the running, I'd be fine. I'd get back to the gym in April, with a full two months left before the race. And in the meantime, I'd use those training runs in Asia, to see places that I would've never seen otherwise.
My first stop was Hanoi. I landed at night, and I fell asleep immediately after I arrived at the hotel. But I didn't sleep long, and when I found myself wide awake well before dawn, I decided to go for my first run of the trip. It ended up being my longest run of the trip too.
I was lost within minutes.
I was initially okay with being lost. I'm pretty confident in my sense of direction, and I'd written the name and address of the hotel on a piece of paper and brought that with me, and I figured that I'd make my way back there eventually. I knew that directions might be a little tough to follow since I don't speak Vietnamese, but people can look at an address and point in a general direction, and eventually that would get me where I needed to go. In the meantime though, I was too excited to see the city to really give a damn that I didn't know where I was.
But as time went on, I became less and less confident that I was heading in the right direction. When I'd left the hotel, the city had still been sleeping. But thirty minutes later, the sun was up and so was the city. Shops opened their doors and pulled their wares onto the sidewalk, traffic erupted and filled the streets, and people were everywhere. Any landmarks that I'd noted as I left the hotel were useless at that point. And after an hour or so of running, I had to accept that I could be miles from the hotel or just a few blocks. I had no way of knowing, and with the language barrier, distance can be tougher to convey than general direction.
So I ran. I walked a little too. And I kept asking for directions, just to be sure that I wasn't running away from the hotel. I did, of course, find it eventually. And I felt quite relieved when it happened. I'd probably been out for two hours by then, so I won't pretend that I never got worried or frustrated. But even with those drawbacks, that was still one of my favorite runs ever.
That was my first, and as of now my only, trip to Asia. And for me, it was a wonderful introduction. I got pretty far off of the beaten path that morning. I ran through neighborhoods that looked nothing like the area that my hotel was in. I got out were people lived and worked. Where kids went to school. Where families interact and people lay their head at night. That's not always an easy thing to find while traveling, but the likelihood increases significantly with running.
I squeezed in a few more of those runs before leaving northern Vietnam. And after that first morning I managed to do it without getting lost.
After that I made my way over to Laos. My first stop in Laos was in Luang Prabang. It's much smaller and more peaceful than Hanoi, and my first run there was beautiful.
When I looked at the basket full of dried cuttlefish, I knew that I probably shouldn't eat any. And to be honest, they didn't even look appealing. It wasn't like staring at a basket of cupcakes and thinking that I should pass. It was dried cuttlefish. But I was traveling. And one of my favorite ways to tour a new place is through my taste buds. So I bought a stick of three and I took a bite. It was terrible, but I took a second bite to be sure. Then, confident that each bite would be as bad as the last, and that this would be one taste that I probably would not acquire, I tossed the rest away.
But the damage was done. There were bacteria working their way through me that my body was unfamiliar with, and therefor was poorly equipped to fight. Before the night was out, I was completely incapacitated. My body started to flush everything out, and there was little for me to do but lay in bed and wait it out.
I was able to function again within 24 hours, but I remained weak for several days, and I never let myself get too far from a restroom. On the sixth day, I decided to go for an easy run. I was in Siem Reap, Cambodia by then. I was extremely sluggish, but I couldn't be sure that that was a result of my having been sick. I was moving steadily south by then, and I had also come down in elevation, so the heat was a much bigger factor than it was before the cuttlefish. But I had managed to get in about five miles, and I'd done it without needing to find any facilities. So I definitely took that as a positive.
For the remaining two weeks of that trip, I didn't do a lot of running. I felt more or less capable, but I just didn't do it. I had gotten out of rhythm. I let the heat deter me. And then I just gave up. I told myself that I'd be fine. I'd just chalk it up as a minor setback, and get back to work as soon as I got home.
But shortly after I returned home, I was sick again. It didn't feel like the same sickness, and when I eventually went to see a doctor, he said that it didn't sound related to what I'd experienced in Asia, and that the timing was probably coincidental. But regardless of the cause, it was frustrating.
Throughout the entire month of April, I struggled. I couldn't keep food down, and I was getting weaker by the day. On one particularly rough day, I walked into work and watched as my boss' eyes widened at the sight of me. He quickly looked me up and down, took a cautionary step back, and told me that I should go home.
My lowest point came near the end of April. I tried to go for a five mile run, and I couldn't finish. For the first time since the summer of 2008, when I was just starting out, I had to run/walk a simple five mile route. I was beyond frustrated. I was filled with self-pity and despair. I was a month away from Minneapolis, and I clearly wasn't in any shape to run 26.2 miles. Most of the work that I'd been putting in for nearly two years was gone, and I was back at the start.
That was when I finally went to see the doctor. (I can be a little stubborn with that. I prefer to let my body do its own healing when possible.) We talked about my symptoms, he gave me some pills, and gradually I was able to keep my meals down. I'd lost a lot of muscle. And I was still frustrated. But I was finally able to start moving forward again, and that was an enormous relief.
But I still had to decide what to do with Minneapolis. I hadn't registered for anything yet. I never thought that I would skip the race all together, but I couldn't let go of the possibility that I could get myself through the full marathon. However, after some soul searching and a realistic assessment of my physical condition, I came to terms with the fact that even if I did finish the full marathon, I'd be miserable throughout the experience. And I run because I love to run, not to make myself miserable. So I signed up for the half-marathon, and I hit the pavement.
In the meantime, my younger sister had gotten bogged down with school work, and had decided to skip the trip. She was also going to be taking summer classes, so she would have had to fly home just hours after finishing, in order to be in class on Monday. But my older sister had been training hard to prepare herself, and I was looking forward to sharing the experience of race day with her. (I was also looking forward to sharing the experience of post-race greasy food, cold beer, concerts, and baseball games with her. And we did manage to squeeze all of that in before leaving Minnesota.)
The race itself was fun. Minneapolis is a beautiful city to run in. The course was challenging. It was reasonably flat at first (Though few courses seem truly flat when you're used to running in Chicago.), but it became quite hilly once we started running along the Mississippi River. But mostly I was just grateful to be running again.
And I was elated to have the chance to see my sister cross the Finish Line at her first half-marathon. She ran it in 2:46:39, earning every ounce of the food and beer that we put down later that afternoon. Since then, she's found other ways to embrace the spirit of the sport. This past winter, she completed a five race winter running series in Colorado. (My little sister did four of those with her.) And this coming October she'll be running another half-marathon, this time at home in Denver.
When I got back to Chicago, I had to acknowledge that I was a long way from attempting a Boston Qualifying run. The base that I'd built up was gone. And I had less than four months to change that. But I had already signed up for my next full marathon. And this one was going to be on a course that has been called the fastest course in the world. So I sat down with a pen and paper, and I made a list of all of my regular habits that have an effect on my health. And I made decisions about what would make me stronger, and what would only slow me done. If it fell in the latter category, it was gone. It it fell in the former category, I was going to do a lot of it. Clean and simple. Four months of pushing myself hard. I knew I couldn't guarantee that I'd qualify, but I felt that I could guarantee that by the time I landed in Berlin, I'd be in the best shape of my life, and ready to give it everything that I had in me.