Saturday, June 22, 2013

No Run Is Worth an Ambulance Ride

Friday afternoon was a great beach day -- low 80s and sunny -- but not great running weather. I managed to squeeze in my tempo workout and hit my pace goal: Two miles at 6:34 pace sandwiched between a two-mile warmup and two-mile cooldown. 

My cooldown brought me along a local road without much shade. It brought me back a couple weeks to the Amica Iron Horse Half Marathon, which was run in similar weather, only at 8 a.m. and in early June, when no one had had a chance to acclimated to the heat. 

As noted in my race recap, I ran well and finished strong. I didn’t mention a couple encounters with another runner who ran well -- to a point. Running in the sun reminded me of this. 

At about the nine-mile mark, when the Iron Horse Half course progresses onto a quiet, shaded path, I came across another runner. I’m not usually one to start conversations during a race, but he appeared to be struggling, so I reassured him that, at his current pace, he’d finished the race in under 1:30. Hearing that, I figured, would push him along. 

It did. The he passed me. I found this odd. He was still breathing heavily and, as far as I could tell, I was still moving at a pretty decent clip. I passed him back a mile or so later, but eventually he got me back again. 

I started kicking myself. (Figuratively.) Why couldn't I stay with this guy? Clearly, it seemed, the heat wasn’t affecting him as much as it was getting to me. He was still wearing his shirt, while mine was little more than a disgusting, crumpled sweat rag dangling from my hand, and he wasn't taking in as much water as I was. Oh well, I thought. I’d already resigned myself to not running a PR, so my main goal at that point was coasting along, breaking 1:30 myself and getting an enormous iced coffee once I'd rehydrated after the race. 

As I turned the corner at the 12.5-mile mark, I saw him again. This time, he was on the side of the road, and three volunteers were holding him up. I don't know if he’d collapsed or merely teetered, but it was clear that he wasn’t finishing the race. 

I suddenly felt like an ass. Having noticed his labored breathing, should I have said something? Warned him not to push it? Acknowledged that, in such conditions, a race becomes a war of attrition, and your goals mean nothing? 

I didn't then, but I am now -- not just to him, but to everyone. No goal is worth collapsing in a heap and getting poked with an IV. No race medal, engraved glass or free bagel is worth a trip to the hospital. 

As hard as it is -- after all, runners are conditioned to push themselves beyond normal pain thresholds -- sometimes you just need to dial it back. I can’t tell you when, or how. Everyone is different. But as you hit the road, the treadmill or the trails on these hot, humid days, listen to your body. There's no shame in stopping to walk, get a drink or gather your senses. 

If nothing else, remember this: Persevere through the sun and haze, and the next workout will only be easier.