Taper Cramps and Tape Worms

So yesterday was the big day; the 50k I spent five months and countless hours preparing for. It was not only a physical test, but a test of what I know about training and fueling and recovery. But before I tell you about that, let me first tell you about Friday.

Friday was my rest day, the last day of a slow three week taper. The whole idea of tapering before a race is to decrease your mileage enough to allow the body to build and recover while maintaining enough intesity as to not lose your edge. For this taper I experienced something new: taper cramps. Basically, in all my training my muscles came to expect a certain thing, when I took that away they rebelled a bit (I know, this is all very technical) and by Friday the cramping was almost unbearable. So all day I just tried to keep moving; walking, running errands, and so forth. Figuring I was out and about anyway, I also decided it would be a good day to take the cat to the vet.

Now I have been avoiding taking the cat to the vet for a couple of reasons. One, he is not the best traveller and has an uncanny sense when a vet visit is approaching (perhaps the sudden appearance of a cat sized box). And, two, it always costs way more than I expect which is hard to explain to a husband who only knows the cat as the ball of fur that takes his side of the bed at night. However, I could no longer avoid the visit due to a disturbing tape worm discovery earlier in the week (I will spare you any further detail.) So, taper cramps and tape worms came together at 3pm on Friday afternoon as I, the two kids, and a cat in a box crossed the threshold of the West Hills Animal Hospital.

Looking back, bringing two kids and a skittish cat to the vet on my rest day was probably a bit counterproductive, but what can I say all ideas cannot be good. The visit went something like this:
2:55 we walk through the door
2:56 the cat poops in the box (a good thing according the technician who was hoping for a fecal sample . . . really? hoping for a fecal sample?)
2:58 TJ starts sobing because the woman behind the desk mentions shots
2:59 TJ stops crying when he finds out the shots are not for him
3:00 we go into the room labeled “cats”
3:03 technician opens the box and praises the cat for the perfect fecal sample, and exits with said sample
3:04 Teagan says she is bored, I tell her to sit down (repeat this every thirty seconds for the next half hour)
3:05 cat jumps out of the box, kids scream, cat jumps back in
3:07 cat jumps out of the box, kids scream, cat hides in a cabinet
3:10 technician returns and tests me on my knowledge of tape worms. I play dumb not wanting to admit that my cat not only has worms, but he also has fleas.
3:12 techician pulls out special combs, shows me flea sample (not sure if she was hoping for that one, though she was a bit smug about it). I do my best to act surprise.
3:15 Teagan and TJ fight over a laminated list of dog breeds, knock over a huge display, and Vet enters room
3:16 Vet shakes my hand and pretends to be happy to see me, my cat in the cabinet, and my two kids who just knocked over her meticulously placed display
3:17-3:31 kind of a blurr but included kids screaming, fur flying, agitated vets, and a sudden increase of taper cramps (stress maybe?)

At 3:32 I left the vet a little poorer, a little less rested, and a lot more resolute that all ideas cannot be good. I also left a little more knowledgable about tapeworms and fleas. I knew tapeworms came from fleas, but honestly had no idea that my cat had fleas (until I saw the tapeworm). Somewhere between telling Teagan to sit down and trying to catch the cat, the vet asked if he was a meticulous groomer.
“I don’t know,” I replied, “does washing his hands in his water dish after he eats count. Or how about washing his hands in the toilet after he uses the litter box. Oh, and he always takes a bath after the Jason or the kids touch him.”

The Vet agreed that such behaviors could classify as meticulous, and then explained that meticulous groomers can have fleas and never have any live bugs because they injest them all. So while meticulous groomers often have nice coats (a compliment my cat receives often), there is a huge downfall. That is, injesting fleas leads to tapeworms. It is equivelant to what we call in running diminishing returns; the point at which the cost outweighs the benefit.

Which brings me to yesterday. In all the advice I recieved about the race, the thing I heard the most was to respect the hills and to be aware of diminishing returns. I was guaranteed that there would be points along the way where I would be able to walk for half the energy and 90 percent of the speed.
There was in fact 7000 feet of hills in this paricular run and it rained buckets all week so some of the climbs might as well have been covered in oil. My goal was to run as much as I could, but always to keep in mind those returns.

As the race began I felt prepared. Prepared for the mileage, prepared for the hills, but what happened next was nothing I could prepare for. By mile six my pace was good, but I was starting to feel nauseated. At mile ten my gut shut down. Anything that went in, came back up. I decided to sip water and wait for it to settle. Mile twelve came and I was actually on track to finish in my six hour goal. Miles thirteen to seventeen were the technical part of the course, the part with those diminishing return hills. It was difficult, but fun. This was the part of the race where I got to jump over fallen trees, leap across streams, and ride the trails like roller coasters. There were a couple of climbs in this portion I could not run because my feet would slide down faster than I could run up. It was on these that I would take big walking steps and grab branches for support.

Coming out of that section I was still on track in terms of time, but the lack of electrolytes and calories was catching up to me. Even the sips of water were a struggle and not entirely effective as an idle gut cannot absorb water without some sort of sugar to aide it. I knew at that point I was in survival mode. It was no longer about goals, it was simply about crossing that finish line. My thoughts became consumed by diminishing returns. I had to consider the grade of each hill, the miles to go, and how I was feeling at that moment. I crossed the finish line forty-five minutes past my goal. I was physically shaking from low blood sugar and electrolyte imbalance, and it took all that was in me to fight back the tears. Everyone was telling me good job, but I was heart broken.

I could not believe that after months of training and research, after doing everything “right,” that this was the end result.

I have spent most of the last twenty four hours wondering what I did wrong, agonizing over what I could have done differently, and rueing the fact that there are no do-overs.

Funny thing is, in all my self pity I missed the most amazing part of the whole race. You see I sent out an email asking people to pray for me while I ran, and in return told them to send me their prayer requests. In black Sharpie, I covered my water bottle with the names of all the people who were praying for me. (My plan was to pray for them as I ran. And I did pray for them . . . for the first twelve miles . . . then most of my prayers were simply “help.”) So how amazing that in all the things I brought with me: sandwiches, gel packs, electrolyte drinks, and so forth, the only thing I could keep down was that water. The reality is I probably should not have been able to finish that race. I physically had nothing to keep me going, but I had the support and prayers of people who care.

People always talke about running in to heaven, and I’ve always pictured the perfect athlete with his sweat band on gliding through the gates and giving God a high five. Now I picture it more like yesterday. A slow stride in, a bit weary from a hard road, choked up a bit by the could’ves and should’ves of life, but somehow aware that the one thing that kept you going was the only thing you really needed.

Perhaps with God there are no diminishing returns. As my kids always say. He takes our little, and makes it a lot.