Saturday, June 19, 2010

Your Turncoat Flesh

My 16-mile run yesterday was going along fine...right up until it wasn't.

Despite an extra day of rest (see "The Truant's Tale"); despite feeling good enough halfway through the run to joke about the process on Facebook and Twitter; and despite a water break somewhere between miles 9 and 10 that made me feel like I was starting afresh, at 14.75 miles, my body betrayed me. My head felt like it was detached from my neck, and the air around me dimmed in that way it had the one time I ever passed out. So I did something I've never done on a training run yet: I stopped and sat in the shade.

With my head lolled near my knees, I thought about my options. My husband was at work, so there was no calling him to the rescue (and truth be told, I wanted to finish the run more than I wanted rescuing). I scanned the street--I suppose the a man slamming the door of his F150 and the retirees kibitzing on a porch were folks I could have asked to fill my water bottle. But then the world clicked back into focus, so I stood back up and struck a deal with myself: walk until my iPod/pedometer told me I'd covered 15 miles and then jog for the final mile.

As I left the people in the neighborhood behind me, a couple of taxis screamed along the road, and I worried that this was a sign that I should have stopped and asked the old men for water, that I should have flagged down a taxi, that I should have given up. When the nice woman's voice on my pedometer announced: 400 meters to go, my playlist served up Andrew W K's "Ready to Die." The inspirational first verse goes as follows:
This is your time to pay!
This is your judgment day!
We made a sacrifice!
And now we get to take your life!!
If I had been feeling slightly better, I'd have laughed at the irony of those lyrics, though I suppose if I was feeling slightly better, the lyrics wouldn't have been so ironic. Either way you look at it there was nothing at all ironic about the dive my general well being took when I got home.

When your body turns on you--even temporarily--a part of your consciousness abandons your turncoat flesh to watch the show. You watch a person who looks a lot like you struggle to keep her head up against the dizziness. You see her arms hanging at her side, so leaden, you wonder if this is the wall runners talk about hitting. You hear her muscles screaming to be stretched, but watch as her nausea and her inability to balance refuses to let it happen. You marvel at how even though her body is in need of water and food more direly than she's ever needed them before, the act of chewing and the sensation of the water slime-ing around her tongue trips her gag reflex. And when you do snap back to your body, you're fascinated at its inability to care for itself in the moment--sure you are--but mostly you're scared.

You find that you can stomach water if you're lying down, so you hit the bed and drink and drink and drink. And when you feel yourself drifting off to sleep, you reach for your phone and set an alarm. You have a minute to wonder if sleep is bad in this situation, like nodding off after you've bumped your head hard, but you can't fight it.

And then, an hour later, when you jump up to silence that alarm, the nausea and dizziness have disappeared as if they'd never been anything more than a bad dream. In fact, the only lingering ill effects from the heat exhaustion and the unscheduled nap are a primal hunger, slight soreness in the legs you weren't able to stretch, and a lingering fear that forces you to take a ragged breath. Forget the proverbial dodged bullet--part of you knows you've just skipped across a firing line without so much as a scratch.*

Catherine Elcik is running her first marathon to raise money for a scholarship fund for Grub Street, Inc, and independent writing center in Boston, MA. Sponsor the run at

* I recognize now that getting the runs in early in the morning is no joke in this heat. I have three more long runs before the marathon on July 30. I'll be better, I swear.
I swear.

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