IMC 98, Part VII

"Take deep breath; you feel?"
"Take deep breath; you feel?
"Go down, huh?"
"Now I give stimulation, from here to here. You feel?"
"Not yet."
"How 'bout now?"
"Not yet."
"Medium, or mild?"

Lying flat on my back, needles projecting from numerous points of my body, I fancy myself an overstuffed pincushion. Dr. Wu is skillfully applying electrical stimulation to key healing points via the needles inserted in and around my left ankle and right knee. Our dialogue is the same as it has been every other week for the past year.

I began seeing Dr. Wu just before Ironman Canada '97. At that time my primary objective in pursuing acupuncture treatment was a strengthened immune system. Frequent colds have dogged me since childhood, and with just a few weeks to go before the biggest race of my life, I was prepared to go to unusual lengths to prevent any last-minute bugs from cramping my style.

Upon returning from Canada I found that the rigors of the IMC marathon---26.2 miles on hard pavement---had left me with what I described as "creaky" knees. I realized that, if I was to survive another year of Ironman training and racing, these knees were going to need a little help. Back to Dr. Wu!

Every other week we'd repeat the scenario above, initially focussing on my knees (the right always a little "creakier" than the left); then, after an ignominious twist suffered in May, on my left ankle as well. In the wake of that twist my running stride shifted in some subtle way to compensate for the injury, resulting in numerous mild follow-up pains that came and went. The one pain that set up permanent housekeeping turned out to be a real pain in the.... uh, heel. Plantar fascitis, yippee.

Going into IMC 98 this mild but potentially debilitating injury weighed heavily upon my mind. Plantar fascitis is the kind of thing that doesn't bother you when you're actually running; it's afterwards, particularly the next day, when you feel the pain. If I were to run the marathon at IMC, however easily, chances were pretty good that I'd be nuking my run in Ironman Hawaii.


Hot, sweaty, and sore, but ever so relieved to be done with that blasted bike ride, I hobble into the changing tent and plop my salt-encrusted body contentedly into a chair. The tent is a bit quieter now than it was in the morning; fewer athletes, and most moving more slowly than they were in T1. The heat is stifling, probably 5-8 degrees (F) hotter than outside, and it's a bit more humid.

For the fun of it, I open my run bag and survey the contents. Hmm. Well, at least my running shorts and singlet are clean. And my running shoes look mighty comfortable; I might as well change out of all this salt-stained bike gear. Hey, while I'm at it, can you hand me a damp sponge and a towel? Thank you very much.

A lovely older lady begins laying out my run gear and stuffing my bike stuff into the now-empty run bag. Hmmm, I can't disappoint her, I'll put on a good show of actually doing something here. I can figure out how to officially DNF after I change and leave the tent.

"How are you doing?" asks another friendly volunteer as she hands me a cold towel.
"I tell ya, the wind out there is absolutely insane, it's just vicious. Really beats you up, y'know?"
"Yes, that's pretty much what everybody's been saying, a tough day out there."

Everybody's been saying that, eh? Well, good, perhaps it wasn't just me being out of shape. "Have you got any sunblock?"

"Yes, just a second."

Taking my own sweet time, I've pulled on running shorts, singlet, fresh socks, and running shoes. Next I consider my torsopack and running hat. Hmm. Yeah, let's put on some sunblock. The volunteer slathers my shoulders, neck, clavicle, and legs.
"Oh, you're welcome. Good luck out there."

Uh huh. Hmmm.

Before the race I had arranged a plan with Skippy to prepare for my planned DNF. At the time I wasn't sure whether I'd do any portion of the run at all, or just go out and run a few miles. "If you see me come in from the bike and don't see me come back out to start the run within twenty minutes, you can assume I'm calling it a day," I told her.

How long has it been since I hopped off the bike? I check my watch---hmmm, 13 minutes.

I wander outside the changing tent to the portapotties. Ugh, pretty disgusting. Well, who's picky at this point?

I step out of the blue box and survey the chaos of the transition area. An alarming number of people lie in the grass looking like absolute hell. I've never been in a transition area strewn with broken bodies like this, it's surreal.

Little about those who are upright suggests that they are racing; most are moving pretty slowly. A few athletes still have some urgency about their movements, but these are the exception rather than the rule. The only significant displays of energy here are those put on by the volunteers. The racers, for the most part, are drained.

Comparatively, I realize that I'm not in bad shape. Wiping the sweat and salt from my body made an enormous difference. Heck, now that I'm off the bike, I almost feel human. Oh, why not, go ahead and jog a mile or two, just for the helluvit. It won't kill you at this point, and a couple of miles won't aggravate your plantar fascitis. OK, let's do it. But hurry up and get out of here before Skippy assumes you've already quit.

Happy with this decision, and especially happy to begin jogging when I know I don't have to _keep_ jogging, I trot to the transition area exit/run start with a smile on my face. Hey, I'm doing this because I want to, not because I have to. And I only have to do as much as I feel like doing, then stop. Oh, what a lovely, lovely thought!

Jogging through throngs of people lining Lakeshore Drive I feel like a complete poser but ignore the sensation. Scan the crowd for Skippy at the corner of Lakeshore and Main, and when I spot her cheering I gesture with thumb and forefinger to indicate a tiny amount. I shake my head, grin, and holler, "I won't be long, Skip, I'm not gonna do much." I see her nod in understanding and, wearing an idiotic grin, I jog happily up Main Street.

Continue on to Part VIII...