Stepping to the line

This post will go live at 8AM on Saturday morning, the same time that I step to the line for my first marathon in seven years.

A lot has changed in the intervening years. Then, I was trying to qualify for Boston. I just missed at Portland that year but set a PR that included a beer stop at mile 23 and Haagen Dazs ice cream at the end. I ran a 3:28.

This race, the Turkey Track Trail Run, is going to be my slowest.

I’m okay with that.

I could make a lot of excuses on why it will be that way. I’m horribly undertrained which is going to hit me hard, probably around mile 16. The race starts at 8200′ of elevation – I live near sea level. Trails are almost always slower than roads. None of that matters.

What matters is that I’m here, race number pinned to my shorts. A year ago I wasn’t sure I would be able to run again. I have gout and I know it’s a popular game to blame people for their health issues, but I’ve had it since adolescence. It’s genetics and, for all the parts of the genetic lottery that I won, this one was a loser.

I also have an immune system that rejects most medications so, other than diet, I didn’t have a way to control the gout. It’s a progressive disease so gradually all my joints were affected. I worked with my doctor, a wonderful and very patient lady, while we got the immune system to react normally, and then she suggested a course of treatment that might work.

Good new, it might work. The bad news was that it could trigger crippling attacks for up to two years even if it did work. By crippling, I mean that when I wasn’t working, I was prone. The doc gave me hydros for the pain at night so I could sleep. They had the opposite effect- once I wasn’t hurting, my natural energy levels soared and I couldn’t sleep. So I stopped taking them except when I needed to get through work and then as rarely as possible. Mostly, I gutted it out.

While I wasn’t working, I wrote, Most of my first novel, Finishing Kick was put on paper during this stretch. Meanwhile, I watched and cheered the local kids racing and gave thumbs up to the weekend joggers covering ground along the river and ached to be able to run again.

Six months into the regimen, the doctor calls. Stop taking the meds, we’ve got questions on kidney and liver function – which is one of the potential side effects.

I don’t think I’ve ever been more depressed. It takes a different kind of willpower to swallow a pill twice a day that you know will be bringing you pain. I had been gutting out the pain with the mental promise to myself that it would be worth it once I could run again. Now that promise was in jeopardy.

A month later, system stabilized again, they put me back on the meds, and, in June of last year, I tried my first run. Half a mile and I was exhausted. But it was a run. Then next one didn’t go any better, nor did the next one. Then I got to a mile, and  two.

Now, a year later with only a few longish runs under my belt and minimal weekly mileage, I’m be attempting a marathon. I mentioned this to a client several weeks ago, an artist who’s moving. She used to run until her body gave out. We talked of that golden feeling, the high,  when you’re working just hard enough that your consciousness feels free to expand to the horizon. Her most creative ideas would visit her on the runs, when her mind was freed. She had tears in her eyes at the memory – and her loss.

The gun should be going off any second now if the race starts on time. I’ll have a little trepidation at the start but that will settle early as the body gets moving.

I’ll also be feeling incredibly lucky and grateful to be stepping to the line, to rejoin my place in the running community, a little further back in the pack than I was. When the race gets hard, and I know that it will, I can remember that ache I had, an artist’s tears, and the joy that comes from such a simple act as running.

Run gently, friends. I’ll see you at the finish. I might be a while but I’m on my way.