Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Thirteen Point One Reasons (Part Four: Race Day)

This evening I took down the half-marathon training schedule from my refrigerator door and tallied up the number of miles that I've logged in the past eight weeks.

One hundred and sixty-seven miles

It looks impressive when you write it out this way, don't you think?

Given slightly different circumstances this final number would have come to 168 miles, but I'll get to this in a moment.  Let me first begin where all half-marathons begin, which is at the starting line, surrounded by roughly 25,000 fellow dry-fit clad runners who are shaking out their arms, stretching their legs, and fidgeting with pent-up energy as each corral is brought forward and released onto the course.

I clicked my watch as I crossed the starting line, breathed deeply, and temporarily felt propelled by the crowd.  The first several miles were spent jostling for placement, passing some runners who were moving slowly, looking for small windows of space to fit through, and keeping my excitement at bay in order to maintain a sustainable speed.

By mile seven, I was in a good rhythm and safely keeping my goal pace of 9 minute miles.  Focusing on breathing deeply, I scanned the scenery and absorbed the unfolding scenes along the city streets: thousands of runners surging ahead, bands playing, cheerleading squads cheering, water cups being tossed and trampled.

I glanced at my watch as I passed the tenth mile marker, and I couldn't help but smile when I saw my time.  If I could complete the final 3.1 miles of the race within a half hour -- which seemed like an attainable goal -- I'd fall under my goal time of two hours.  You've got this, Robin, I told myself, and headed into mile eleven.

Ah, mile eleven.

I must say that I don't recall much about mile eleven, except that the punk band at the side of the road was painfully loud, and that my temple suddenly throbbed, and that for one brief moment as I was nearing the twelfth mile marker, it seemed as if everyone was starting to pass me and the ground was spinning.

My next recollection was looking up into the face of a paramedic while lying on a gurney on the side of the road.

Granted, I wasn't thinking too clearly at this moment, but I could register one thought: This really can't be good.

"What's your name?" the paramedic asked.

I answered.  Correctly, I must add.

"How old are you?" another paramedic asked as he hooked me up to a blood pressure cuff.

"Thirty-three."  In my mind, I figured that they were checking my level of coherence.  If they wanted coherence, I'd give them coherence.  I launched into a brief autobiographical sketch.

"I'm here with a group of friends."  That's where I paused.  Technically, I only knew one of the other runners in my group well.  I just had met the other members the day before when we had carpooled for four hours together to the race.  Upon closer thought, I wasn't even sure I could accurately recall all of their last names.

I retracted my statement.  "Actually, I'm here with one friend and a group of her friends.  I really don't know the rest of them.  Not well, anyway.  I just was invited along."  Oh, man.  I was babbling.  "They're all going to be wondering where I am at the finish line."  One paramedic raised his eyebrow at the other.

"Don't worry about that right now," he said.

"Can't you please just let me go?  Let me at least walk to the finish line.  I'm totally cognizant of my whereabouts."

There.  I had used the word cognizant, which clearly is not a word that would be selected by someone who wasn't just that.  Couldn't they see how lucid I was?

A female paramedic came to my side, squatted down, and spoke directly to me.  "Look.  You were out cold.  You hit the pavement.  Your knees and hands are scratched up."  I drew my hands toward my face, inspecting my palms as if they weren't my own.  She gestured to my arm.  "You're hooked up to an IV."

I had no recollection of this.  None of it.  She continued, "You tried to fight me while we brought you to the medical tent and insisted that you could finish the race.  Right now your blood pressure is extremely low and your heart rate is too high.  You're dehydrated." 

"Oh."

I sank back into the gurney and watched the steady stream of runners passing by.

A group of paramedics looked at my monitor and conferred.  "You're going to need some more help and tests than we're able to give here.  We're calling in an ambulance."

As I stared up into the sky, I prayed.  Lord, this wasn't supposed to happen this way.  This is entirely wrong.  I'm not supposed to be here.  

I was in a strange city, separated from a group of people that I didn't even know well, unable to get in touch with anyone, and about to be transported to a hospital I never had heard of by ambulance.  I totally had screwed things up.

My mind raced, spinning unproductively over the unknown logistics of how everyone would find me in the hospital, what alternate carpooling arrangements would be needed for the long drive home, how I would get in touch with Joel, and the eventual emergency room bills that would be coming our way.

And then, one final realization: I absolutely cannot believe that I'm going to have to write a blog post about this.

Then I resigned thinking altogether, scanned the inside of the ambulance, and watched the blur of the hospital walls as I was wheeled into the emergency room and hooked up to probes and monitors.

"So, young lady, what happened to you?" one technician asked as he hung up a new IV bag.

"I was running the half-marathon, and well, I collapsed, I suppose."

"How far did you get?"

"Twelve miles."

"How far is the race?"

"Thirteen point one miles."

"Dang, girl!  You were almost there!"

Point duly noted.

Words can't adequately convey the relief that came when I saw my friends eventually enter the doorway, still in their running gear and bib numbers.  I filled them in on all the details that I could recall.  They asked smart questions to the doctor.  When I joked that I didn't get much opportunity to stretch when I finished running, two women that I hadn't known twenty-four hours prior massaged my stiff calves.  "You did just run twelve miles, you know," one reminded me.

That's precisely when the tears welled up.  I was disappointed, embarrassed, and had a terrible headache, but only one thing struck me: even though we had driven to the race in multiple cars, no one was choosing to leave.  I was blown away by their incredible kindness and support, silently thanking God for turning this situation around through these amazing people rallying around me.

After five hours, two IV bags, one chest x-ray, one CAT scan, and four small containers of orange juice later, I was discharged.  The diagnosis: low blood pressure and low blood sugar.  Apparently, when low enough, this combination is enough to knock a girl off her feet.

"Have you ever passed out before?" the doctor had asked.

I had -- twice in the past few years, actually.  Both times had been characterized by missed meals.  I thought back to my morning's half banana and few bites of toast.  Obviously, that hadn't cut it.

When I walked through my front door much later that evening, I dropped my bags, bear-hugged each girl one by one, and settled into Joel's arms on the couch.  The girls climbed up on me.  I didn't want to let anyone go -- or to have anyone let go of me.

"Mommy, does this mean that you finished last?"  Reese asked, an impish grin on her face.

"Well, that certainly is one way you could put it."

Or, you could say that instead of a finisher's medal around my neck, I instead earned a hospital band around my wrist.  Not as glamorous, that's for certain, but certainly earned.


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6 comments:

  1. Oh Robin, I know EXACTLY how you feel. A few years ago (I don't know if you remember), I was training for a century bike ride (100 miles). I trained and trained and trained, pushed my body, felt unbelievable anxiety prior to race day. And on the day when I was supposed to prove my abilities, my body collapsed. I was too weak even to start the race. It's not quite the narrative that we sought when we started the process.

    This similar outcome in our endurance-training experiences proves a few things, I think: 1) we have tremendous mental discipline and will; 2) we sometimes deny (or ignore) our bodies to indulge our minds; 3) we absolutely are capable of these "tests" that we construct for ourselves. The real test, though, is allowing balance, rest, and (oh my!) even indulgence to enter into our very rigid equations.

    I love you!

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  2. oh Robin! Oh wow. wow. I am so proud of you! wow. sigh.

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  3. Oh you are a winner!!!!! I learned, through my own running journey, that getting my behind out there every day to move is a winning point. The embarrassment and disappointment I felt when a knee injury kept me out of the Philadelphia marathon was overshadowed by the fact that I did it! I could do more than so many I knew. Let me know if you want to run the Philadelphia marathon with me in a year :-)

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  4. My friend's husband did the same thing this summer when he tried a half marathon. I think near the same mile mark. It's a common thing that happens. I'll probably do it when I run the Tussey Mountainback in a month. In fact, I'm planning on passing out!

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  5. Michelle, Carol, Naomi Bell, and Jessica: thanks so much for your great feedback.

    Michelle, I totally remember your century experience! Your wisdom is very much appreciated and accepted.

    Jessica, passing out is overrated, but I supposed it does make for a good blog post, right? You could give it a try to see whether it's "chocolate."

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  6. Oh my. I would've missed this were it not for the comment buzz on your latest post.

    Would it make you feel better if I told you I missed my M.A. graduation b/c of a 32-car pile-up? (We weren't involved in the actual accident, but traffic was at a stand-still.) My parents had driven up from TN...my cousin over from WV. I was supposed to be first across the stage; they were panicky when I never showed. Oh, and a friend had flown in from KY. She was in the car w/ us.

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