I used to be a runner like you, but then I took a pothole to the knee

For those of you who don’t already know and can’t stand the anticipation, I did not complete the half marathon yesterday.

I don’t know the thrill and feeling of accomplishment of stepping over that finish line yet, but my experience was nonetheless rewarding in its own way.

About half a mile into the race, Madame X and I were behind some walkers. I saw an opening, and put on a little burst of speed to get past them. This innocent little decision turned out to haunt me, though I didn’t realize it at the time.

I felt a little twinge. Then, for the next several next steps, I felt like my kneecap had been hammered straight through with a spike. It was just….stuck. And very, very unhappy about being stuck. The pain started to lessen though, and I figured ‘keep going’ was as good of a strategy as any, so that’s exactly what I did.

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Me at mile 3 or 4. Still smiling, but you can see the back of the right knee already swelling.

It felt not-exactly-terrible for the next couple of miles as we ran-a-bit-walked-a-bit, but as the miles dragged on, it started feeling worse and worse. The run-walk turned into a walk-shuffle by about mile 6.

Madame X, at that point, started to get rather concerned, and started asking if I needed the sag wagon.

Nope nope nope.

I should’ve said yup yup yup.

Finally, right before the mile 9 marker, my knee got to a point where it was going on strike with every other step. It was just not working any more. My stride had shortened because I was using my hip to move my whole leg, and I knew I simply could not go on. I had somehow pulled nearly 8 miles out of that complaining knee, but four more might as well been a hundred more, or a million more. It just wasnt going to happen.

She shuffle-hobbled with me to the nearest aid station, telling me that is exactly what they were there for, and telling me there was no shame in dropping out if you’re injured. Maaaaaan. Felt bad, but she was, of course, right. There is no shame in using the aid stations for their intended purpose.

Let me say that again, for anyone who may be thinking about running any kind of race:

THERE IS NO SHAME IN DROPPING OUT IF YOU ARE INJURED.

THERE IS NO SHAME IN DROPPING OUT IF YOU ARE INJURED.

THERE IS NO SHAME IN DROPPING OUT IF YOU ARE INJURED.

She went on to finish the race, despite the fact that I had quite clearly pillaged any hopes she had of getting a good time. Im so proud of her for finishing, and very very grateful (now, anyway) that she kept at me to not finish.

I went over to the aid station, told them I could not continue and why, and that’s when the interesting part of my experience began, even though my actual race had ended.

I don’t know what I thought the volunteers at the aid station would do. I didn’t think they would jeer or anything, but I figured theyd silently judge me for starting something I couldn’t finish, and find me rather inconvenient. 

Holy hannah. So wrong. The people were so incredibly nice and thoughtful and hospitable. I was sat down, and while I dont exactly remember what happened in the flurry of activity, my knee was wrapped with an ice pack to reduce the formidable swelling, and I was offered snacks, water, gatorade, and a blanket. A lady sat by me and chatted with dejected, hurty old me for a little while and really lifted my dejected, hurty spirits. I was cold, tired, and in a whole lot of pain, but I was truly impressed by these people’s kindness.

The ambulance that was patrolling the course (if youre thinking clearly, the fact that they have not only aid stations but actual medical staff looking for injured folks would point to me not being the only person in the history of the universe to drop out) came by to check if I needed to go to the hospital, but I waved them off.  No need for that, though it was great that they were there, just in case.

A very kind gentleman drove me back to the start, where I met up with Johnny Rotten and the kiddos. They had told the folks in the first aid tent that I was coming, and I got my knee checked out by a very nice orthopedic specialist who was waiting on me to show up.  He wrapped it up, and I was advised to ice and rest my knee when I got home.
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And then, I went home to do exactly that, and have been doing that ever since.

On the surface, my race was anticlimactic and disappointing. Im frustrated and may have burst into tears last night, because while I expected some pain afterwards, I expected to have that pain with a finishers medal around my neck. I guess I could’ve gotten one if I whined, but I didn’t.  Finishers medals are for finishers. I didn’t finish. Im okay with that. Every person who did get one earned it through 13.1 long miles, and they should be awfully proud.

My race experience was still so valuable though, and I dont regret it for a second.

I proved to myself that I will work my butt off, even with no guarantee of success. I can honestly say I did my best–better than my best even, when I think back to those many, many strides of six inches or less.

I learned that those race volunteers are truly special people, and in any race, they should be thanked profusely, and i dunno, given flowers or a parade or something. They are amazing people who stand out in the cold and wind for hours and hours, just to encourage complete strangers in success, and to comfort those who fail.

I learned that having a buddy who will tell you that you need to quit for your own good is worth ten who will encourage you to succeed at any cost, even if you occasionally eat fried testicles because of that person and question her judgement (read the archives, folks!). I’d be much, much more hurt now if it weren’t for Madame X, and I appreciate her willingness to say something I didn’t want to hear.

And finally, I learned that its not the end of the world to drop out. There really is no shame in it, and there’s always a next time.

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