Machine Gun Farts and Broken Hearts


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North America » Mexico » Jalisco » Guadalajara
October 19th 2014
Published: November 6th 2014
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***Disclaimer: Absolutely no broken hearts are featured in this blog entry***



I stand amidst a few thousand Mexicans, waiting for the firing of the starting pistol. It's 7:19am, still dark, a slightly fresh October morning in Guadalajara. No clouds are visible, chance of rain is virtually zero. Perfect conditions for a run, unless it takes you more than four hours to complete, in which case you would have to face the uncomfortable midday heat. People around me are stretching, jumping up and down, setting their smartphones and mp3-players or crossing themselves, which produces a mild sneer from my part. Your God's not here to help you, cabrón. The excited guy with the microphone starts a countdown, everybody joins in: ...cinco, cuatro, tres, dos, uno, ¡PUM! The Kenyans and the other elite athletes up front start dashing ahead while the suckers behind slowly walk, then trot, jog, and finally start running while crossing the starting line. The few hundred scattered spectators are cheering, Guns 'n' Roses' 'Sweet Child of Mine' is playing, a nice choice and a welcome change from the usual Vengaboys-Scooter-techno-dance-trash you hear at races in Germany. We pass the Catedral de la Asunción de María Santísima, which is ringing its bells for the start, giving the whole affair an important and solemn feel. I overtake runners left, right and centre, trying to find the pace I set myself to run. There's no turning back now, 42.195km to go until the finish.



***



This is my second marathon. The first one I ran three years ago in Luxembourg, on my 31st birthday. Having set myself the goal to complete the race in less than four hours, I finished at a respectable 3:37:08 hours. What followed were essentially three years of extreme ups and downs, of various injuries that ultimately prevented me from running another marathon. I pulled both calf muscles more than I can count, strained my groin muscles and rolled, bruised and almost broke my right ankle. Nevertheless, during periods when I was relatively pain-free, I ran a few half-marathons, one 25k-race, several 10ks and many 5ks. I especially started taking a liking to the latter distance, participating in weekly free runs during my time in Australia. My latest injury happened during a 10k-race in March of this year. At around km 8, my left calf muscle twitched. I thought it was a cramp, so I kept going, trying to shake it off. Runners get so used to pain that they just tend to ignore it if it's not too debilitating. Less than a minute later, though, it twitched again, so I decided to stop to try and stretch it out. It was obvious, though, that it was more than just a cramp and that I had to resign myself to hobbling to the finish.

A visit to the doctor and some ultrasounds and x-rays later gave me the sobering diagnosis of a torn tibialis posterior muscle, the key stabilising muscle of the lower leg. I would have to rest for six weeks, the doc said, that should do it, he said. To me, not being able to train is devastating. I get grumpy and depressed and don't know what to do with myself. Fortunately, I was about to leave for Mexico to do a CELTA course anyway. That kept me busy for my downtime, minimising the negative effects on others. Back in Australia, certificate in pocket, I resumed training with a vengeance. They say you have to start gently after an injury, but I just can't. I quickly started to increase my workload in distance and intensity, initiating the training for a yet-to-be-specified marathon later in the year. I ran 5ks again and managed to lower my personal best (PB) four weeks in a row. Not only that, I beat one of my life goals, to run 5km in less than 20 minutes. A few weeks later, I smashed my 10k PB.



***



About 12 kilometres in, I feel great. It seems as though I've found a good pace, my legs are moving as if on automatic, yet I wonder whether or not I'm going too fast. I'm averaging about 4:40 minutes per kilometre, a little faster than I'd planned, but it feels easy and manageable over a long period of time. There's no need for me to stop or slow down at the fuel stops, as I carry a litre of Gatorade in my hand as well as a few packets of caffeine-carb-enriched jelly beans and organic energy chews in my pockets. Interesting to see that amongst the helpers, there are uniformed soldiers and little boy scouts handing out water and plastic cups of energy drinks. Some of them offer sponges as well, which makes me wonder who would possibly want to get soaking wet at this stage, when the sun has only just risen. Soon after, a 90-degree right turn takes me on Avenida Patria, the longest continuous stretch of road of the race. It winds itself up north and then east, past universities, plazas and parks, for about 13 kilometres, before we turn onto a different road. Makes for a good mental mile marker.



***



"One does not simply jump into running a marathon. There is evil there that does not sleep. The great eye is ever watchful. It is a barren wasteland riddled with fire, and ash, and dust, and the very air you breathe is a poisonous fume." There's a lot of truth to Boromir's words. The marathon is not for everyone. If you're not a runner and you want to run one, start slowly. Work towards a 5k, then a 10k, then a half-marathon, and then, maybe about a year after starting out, you could consider preparing for a marathon. Or you can jump right into it if you're the short attention span/immediate gratification-type of person. Which is quite likely, I presume. But then you should be prepared to die a thousand deaths along the way, to reach the finish, if at all, after six hours+, a sobbing, dehydrated, broken, blistered mess with bleeding nipples and multiple stress fractures.

I started competitive, serious running about four years ago and gave myself three months to work towards a half-marathon. I was able to take that shortcut as I'd been doing sports all my life and had already had a decent level of fitness. Still, preparing involved a lot of training as well as a steep learning curve. I managed to finish that first half-marathon, and worked my way towards my first marathon nine months later.

For the Guadalajara Maratón, preparation proved to be rather difficult, spanning three continents and involving more downtime than recommended. I started my training in Australia, then did a few weeks in Germany, before arriving back in Mexico disoriented, jetlagged and stressed out, which resulted in no running for a full two weeks. After finally finding my bearings and settling in, my training runs were short and I felt unfit and unwell. At that point, I wasn't even thinking of running a marathon. Then, it got even worse. I was hit with a bad case of GI distress (a.k.a. la Venganza de Moctezuma), which cost me about three weeks of quality training. Back to normal, I was burning to run. The training got serious and tough quickly, and I ended up doing three to four weeks of good speed sessions and long runs. Only then did I decide I would give it a go and register for the marathon less than a month later.



***



At around km 24, I have a mild crisis. My stomach starts cramping like hell, resulting in the release of staccato/machine gun-farts in sync with my cadence, or every time my feet hit the ground. Some call it walkie-talkies, apparently. Well, nobody said running was easy. The kilometres aren't flying past as quickly as they did during the first half. A few ks later, everything seems to settle down, and I continue as planned. In my mind I'm constantly calculating my pace and the overall distance. I'm still worrying whether or not I'd gone out too fast, hoping that I won't have a breakdown during the last third. I've started refilling my bottle at the aid stations, making sure I'm properly hydrated at all times. My stack of jelly beans and energy chews is about halfway gone at this point, and should last me until the end. Thus, I've made sure my glycogen stores are refilled, making it unlikely I hit the wall or 'bonk', as it's commonly called. Unsurprisingly, though, the worst is yet to come.



***



Nutrition is one of the key aspects if you want to run a marathon successfully. I've been experimenting endlessly with my diet, adding all the superfoods I could get my hands on, while reducing refined sugar, bad fats and simple carbohydrates. In Mexico, staying away from sugars is particularly difficult. Much like in the big neighbour up north, they're in everything, no matter if necessary or not. Consequently, the amount of obese people, especially children, is appalling in this country. One of the worst offenders is high-fructose corn syrup, used liberally as an ingredient in too many foods.

On the other hand, what I consume when preparing for a marathon would make for a good rant of a few pages in a Bret Easton Ellis or Chuck Palahniuk book, describing a fanatical yuppie lifestyle gone berzerk. There's granola, rice milk, Greek yoghurt, cranberries, chia seeds, flaxseed meal and pinole. That's just the breakfast. For the other meals or in between, coconut water, beetroot juice, black beans, wakame seaweed, agave syrup, sundried tomatoes, miso, pumpkin seeds, almonds, tofu, avocados, pomegranates, peanut cream, dark chocolate, green tea, wholegrain breads, pastas and rice also make an appearance. And veggies, needless to say. Also, bananas, lots of bananas, almost too many bananas. No, no dead animals. No animal milk. No eggs. Instead, loads of oats. And incredible vegan tacos and ceviche on the weekends.

I should mention that I get crazy cravings during and after running, and after meals as well. I do eat snacks every now and then, sometimes more than I should, but I try my best to keep it limited. But then I do burn a lot of calories, so I'm not gonna put on weight even if I eat a bag of potato chips or two a week. Directly after running, I try to always have some granola bars and bananas handy, so I don't start wolfing junk.



***



After a little more than 30 kilometres, my right hip starts hurting. First there's a dull ache, but it quickly spirals into full-blown, debilitating pain. Worse yet, it seems to travel down my leg into the Achilles tendon. I slow down noticeably, holding on to a pace around 5:00 minutes/km, which requires a lot of grit. Making it just to the next kilometre feels like a major chore now. What happened? Did I go out too fast? Did I not train enough? Did I train too much? Did I not do enough strenghtening exercises? Did I not eat enough carbs and protein during the last taper week? There's no way of knowing now, and it doesn't matter. What matters is to try and keep it up, to finish, at the very least. It feels as though I'm running on quicksand. My legs won't lift as easily as before, as I trudge forward towards 32k. I try to think of several smaller goals ahead, which are 35k, 38k, 40k, and finishing strongly. Reaching each mini-goal takes what feels like ungodly amounts of intestinal fortitude, but once I've finally made it, I can concentrate on making it to the next one.



***



This is the part where cancer usually comes into the equation. People run because cancer. My goldfish had cancer, so I run. I run for a reason. All that kind of stuff. Not here. There's no cancer involved in my running. I just love running for running's sake. I like movement, much like a child likes to move. I guess I travel for the very same reason. Running appeals to me for a variety of reasons. First, the simplicity. Then, the solitariness of it all. It is something that gives me control where I feel like losing control over many other aspects of life in general. I can set myself a goal and work towards it, try and conquer it. It reminds me that I can achieve anything if only I set my mind to it and put the necessary effort in. Plus, I can think a lot clearer when running. I'm in great shape. Constantly banged up, but in great shape.

There's a fine line between a passion and an obsession, and since the latter makes for a better story, I'm gonna say that prior to the marathon, I'd been lying awake at nights worrying about accumulation of lactic acid and whether my glutes are strong enough and, more importantly, properly activated.

Whenever you are passionate about something, you encounter people who try to take away from that passion, to criticise it, make fun of it, cut you down to size. Some of the methods they use are condescending comments and dumb questions. "Why don't you just take the busHAHAHHAHAHA!" is one of those. Or "What are you running away from?", the stupidest and most patronising of all questions. It even pops up in interviews with elite marathoners or ultrarunners. I would reply with a stolen "I'm not running AWAY from anything, I'm running TOWARDS something - towards myself", which bears a lot of truth, but might actually be a little too hippie for my taste. In any case, the naysayers don't know what they're missing out on, you gotta feel sorry for them. Better brush that dirt off your shoulders.



***



A good three hours in, I've overcome the worst. The pain is still there, but my right leg doesn't feel as numb anymore. Amazing what you can achieve through sheer willpower. I keep going because pride and fighting spirit and all that. Stubbornness, I should mention. Any doubt I wouldn't make it to the finish has been left behind. I pass the 40km-sign, elated at the prospect of crossing the finish line soon. The sun is burning now, and I grab one of the wet sponges from a helper, douse myself with the cold water and scream. Now I understand the reason for those sponges. I shout "¡Otra! ¡¡Otra!!" and grab another one, and another one, soaking myself, feeling a burst of adrenaline.

At kilometre 41, the street is lined with cheering spectators. Music is playing, some of the people are even dancing. They are cheering for me, just because. They're not waiting for their Dad or sister or teammate. They're cheering for me. This is not Berlin or Boston or New York, where there's 42 kilometres of people cheering you on. Here, not many people are interested, not many are out and about. It means something when after more than three hours of anonymous fighting, somebody finally gives you some encouragement. "¡Venga, venga, venga!"; "¡Échale, jóven!" It's too much for me, tears are welling up in my eyes, and I accelerate noticeably. I pass a park, some taxi drivers, street vendors, policemen stopping the traffic, before making a last turn onto Avenida 16 de Septiembre. Further up the street, I spot the cathedral. I'm sprinting as fast as I can, determined to finish strongly.

The last bit feels like an eternity. When I finally pass the finish line, I hardly hear the cheering of the people around me. 03:21:23 hours, crushing my old PB by more than 15 minutes. I've run 42.6km, no wonder the last stretch felt that long. About 400 metres more than it should have been, two excruciating minutes too much. But I've made it, so who cares. I walk towards the cool-down area, where I stretch a little. All of a sudden, the floodgates open and I start sobbing for a while. I guess the emotional aspect of preparing for and running a marathon is not to be underestimated. It's just something I had to get out of my system. "¿Tienes algún dolor? ¿Te duele algo específico?" a lady asks me as I line up for the post-race massage. She wants to know if there's something specific that hurts. "Todo", I reply, already able to smile again. Everything.

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6th November 2014

Congratulations!
Well done, what a fantastic achievement. Running is definitely a mental game....you conquered it in Guadalajara.
6th November 2014

Cheers!
Thanks Rachael! You can't let the mind games get to you too much, gotta stay focused and run on!
6th November 2014

Todo!
Claro. Wow! Congrats on the race...You are hysterical, machine gun farts and all. What an amazing place to run a race. Love Guadalajara
6th November 2014

:)
Thanks Andrea! The race course was beautiful, unfortunately I didn't get to take any pictures before, during or after. It's all etched into my mind, though.
7th November 2014

Excellent work!
Congratulations on the marathon! As a non-runner I have to say that I'm so amazed that you can make your body do that. And I'm curious about the stomach cramps and the resulting activity, but I really don't think I should google 'machine gun farts'! :)
7th November 2014

Thanks a lot!
Thanks for the comment, Ren anDrew! :) The human body is a fascinating machine, and I'm always amazed at what it can achieve and accomplish. And sometimes disappointed at the things it can't. Stomach cramps while running are the worst, they just make you want to stop and cry in fetal position for a while. Unfortunately, they're hard to avoid, with all the excitement and all the artificial, enriched crap you eat during the race. Cheers, Jens
7th November 2014

Wow! I hope you recuperate without any further injuries. This was such a fascinating blog -- best thing I've read on running since "Born to Run". You know you've read something good when it makes you want to get out and run despite gun-machine farts, multiple injuries, and the honesty in the Cancer section. Congrats and thanks for every kilometer!
7th November 2014

Hi Michelle, thanks a lot for the laurels! :) Oh you read 'Born to Run' as well? I guess you'd be hard-pressed to find a runner who hasn't. It's a really great book. Wow, I didn't know I could actually inspire people with this blog, would be cool if it made somebody go out and run. Thanks for reading and thanks a lot for the nice comment! Cheers, Jens

Tot: 0.04s; Tpl: 0.022s; cc: 12; qc: 24; dbt: 0.0096s; 1; m:saturn w:www (104.131.125.221); sld: 2; ; mem: 1.3mb