It’s mile 22 of the Utah Valley Marathon and my legs feel as fresh as they did at mile 5. My feet don’t even touch the ground as I fly down the flat six-mile straight stretch toward the finish line. I’m about to win the entire race. I can’t believe it any more than the bystanders cheering me on. Suddenly Hillary Clinton steps out of the crowd and ushers me over. We have polling questions to answer and until I get three of them correct, I can’t move on. Just as I reach out to read the first question, Bernie Sanders passes me. How did he get to be so fast? I thought I was so far ahead. Why is it so hot? Why is this strange woman branding my shoulder with a hot poker? What is happening?
I sit up straight in bed, sweating. It was a dream. Well, the race was a dream. The searing pain in my shoulder, sadly, is real.
Instead of struggling through the last few miles of the Utah Valley Marathon as planned, my weekend was spent struggling to put my hair in a ponytail, brush my teeth and put on makeup, all with my dominant arm in a sling.
Last week, my friend Shelly and I were in a bad bike crash. At mile 27 of a 100-mile bike ride, our hopes and dreams for an incredible month of races were dashed by a piece of wood the size of a brick lying in a road in Logan, Utah. Shelly hit the wood, then me and then we both hit the ground — Shelly skidding along the road to the left, and me flying into a bed of landscaping rock and landing with a thud to the right.
Not two hours earlier we’d been joking about crashing around mile 80 so we could avoid climbing the big mountain at mile 90, even giving us an excuse to bail out of some other big races, including Utah Valley, for the rest of the month. We were joking, but the fates were not amused, and our wish was granted.
Out of 43 marathons, this is only my second DNS (Did Not Start). My first was the Boston Marathon in 2009. I’ve had injuries before but always somehow managed to make it to every start line. Even as I was being strapped to a hard backboard and loaded into the ambulance, I still thought there was a chance I could run the marathon the following weekend. Not even the sight of the giant, swollen lump on my collarbone convinced me that I couldn’t at least eek out a 4-hour finish. It wouldn’t be pretty, but a finish is a still a victory.
Maybe it was the orthopedic surgeon’s description of the tear and separation in my shoulder, or maybe it was the quizzical look and soft chuckle when I asked about the likelihood of me racing, but I eventually realized there would be no marathon for me. Even more surprising was how disappointed I felt.
Recently I felt I’d lost a lot of my zeal for racing. I love running, but racing takes a lot of time and mental energy. While on a Disney cruise with my family in January, my husband and I signed up for a free 5K on Disney’s private island, Castaway Cay. I’ve run it before and loved it. But because of high winds, the ship couldn’t dock this past year and the 5K was effectively canceled. I was tremendously relieved. It was a revelation to me. Obviously racing has become so hard for me that I was overjoyed that a simple, free 5K was canceled.
So why was I so disappointed that my marathon was over before it started? I don’t have a real answer, but I do know I was prepared. I was more than ready. While I never said it out loud, I had realistic hopes of running a sub-3 hour race, winning the master’s division or even placing overall. Turns out, I probably could have done all three.
People have been kind all week. Their concern has been surprising and appreciated. While we all recognize that our accident could have been so much worse, most understand that what Shelly and I went through, and are still going through, has been really tough. Shelly had surgery on her elbow to reattach her tricep that had ruptured. I’m still in a sling to immobilize my shoulder and minimize any permanent “deformity” — doctor’s words, not mine. Everyday tasks are as challenging as any track workout and twice as frustrating. Shelly and I miss our runs. It will be another seven weeks before we are allowed to bike again. For two active, summer loving women, this is as bad as a teenager losing phone privileges.
All weekend long I’ve been posting congratulatory comments on Facebook to friends who did finish their races. I’ve tried to keep my perspective and remind myself that this, too, is just a temporary setback.
But what I’ve come away with most of all is a deeper appreciation for what I have and can do and what lies ahead. My next marathon isn’t until September when I run the Top of Utah Marathon. Rather than let pre-race jitters get the best of me, I’ll remember how much I wished I could experience that nervous nausea this past weekend and run with a little more joy.
And be careful what you wish for.
Kim Cowart is a wife, mother, 24-Hour Fitness instructor, marathoner, Alii Sport Ambassador, and Hammer Nutrition Athlete. You can follow her running adventures at www.kiminthegym.blogspot.com.