In the dark of night, they were coming for me. I didn’t know how close they were, but in that sixth attempt, I wanted it badly.
I went out in the driver’s seat, as my tenth grade student runner Tony had done in last month’s race. Typically, I don’t lead from the gun. I build. But I was ready to go out hard this time, then hold on.
The plan was in effect. About 4.5k in and I’d never looked back to see the pack. I just kept running forward into the darkness.
We’d shot straight down the promenade next to the Shanghai Science & Technology Museum, then looped around the backside of Century Park. Running the motorbike-bike lane as usual to have more space, we next traveled along the side of Century past the small sports field, before traversing the long stretch of the park’s frontside.
Only one final turn to the park’s opposite side, then a blast to the finish near where we started.
A slight coolness permeated a still somewhat warm October evening. I was putting in a hard but manageable effort. 4.5 days before, I ran a decent 10k and wanted this final hard effort as a tune up before my goal race November 4th–the Lihu Half Marathon in Wuxi.
I’ve been training all through the summer with Wuxi in mind. I’m finally getting back into good racing shape, finishing 43rd of about 6,000 in Sunday’s 10k. My previous three races were all 2nd place finishes. One here, one in a 100 floor vertical race up Shanghai World Financial Center, then here again.
This past spring, I’d finished 5th here twice, then maybe 4th the other time.
I’ve been ready for a win for a while now. After putting in the work in the mountains of Dali in July, then heading to Jordan to train in the grueling heat and steep ascents of Petra, I’ve paid my dues.
Along the way, I suffered what must’ve been parasite related GI issues in southern China, then another set of GI issues brought on by heat exhaustion while training in Burma last month.
A year living in Asia and no illnesses to speak of. Then, boom! Two in under three months.
It’s been a wild ride.
Thursday was a long day at work. But no matter, I was ready to win.
I kept close to a woman on an orange MoBike as we paralleled Century’s frontside. I’ve run this loop many a time in training with Vegan Runners and know all the major reference points. From the park’s main entrance, I would be pretty close to the final right turn.
That side of the park is the shortest. I would blast away the final kilometer heading back towards, then up the stairs, then back down the promenade through the finish line.
Some fatigue, but strong and confident.
That’s where I’ll get back up on the main running path, I told myself–looking ahead.
Up over that small curb and onto the track-like pathway.
There’s a light there and no bushes to jump over, as I found myself doing in August’s race.
I hit it at a good clip–right foot over.
Before I knew it, it was over.
My left foot had crumpled over onto itself. No chance to self-regulate my balance; it had already happened.
Not the ankle, that was fine. But the top side–ligaments hyperextended.
My right leg was in motion, continuing forward; not realizing its counterpart was stopped dead in its tracks by what? A crack in the curb? A gap between curb and grass?
Most likely the latter.
An object in motion remains in motion
…over the bright red fire hydrant I flung myself, unwillingly. I landed hard, skidding on the palms of my hands onto the pathway.
I shouted as I crashed onto the red path.
As I jumped up I looked behind me and saw several runners perhaps twenty meters back. One wore a neon green shirt.
A man in glasses was directly next to me as I came upright again. Silence.
I knew I was injured.
A sudden realization manifested itself and I knew I’d arrived at a major crossroads:
Throw the race and walk in
Storm through the finish. This could be my new goal race
What would you do?
The injury showed itself as my gait became uneven, discomfort expanding out across the side of my left foot.
Through the small grove of trees. The bridge straight ahead. Not much further before the turn to the stairs.
If anyone tries beating me now, they’re going to have to bleed for it.
Mantras rain down.
I give myself to You.
I wanted to be going all out by the time I hit the stairs again. Instead, I was only running moderately hard up, but every footstep injected more discomfort. Not necessarily pain, but something forcing my slower pace, like the nail deflating a car’s tire. Movement, slower.
I give myself to You.
Down the hill. Colonnade of lights.
Straight ahead. Never looking back.
Martin’s yelling for me. As I cross the proverbial, but not literal, line, he shouts my time.
My course PR. 10 seconds faster than last month. 58 seconds faster than August race.
Stumbling now, the discomfort transforms into something some may call pain.
11 seconds later, the next finisher crosses. 3 seconds after, the third place guy (and a training partner).
My student Tony crosses about two minutes later. I struggle to stay standing while awaiting the arrival of my seventh grade student Ewan. I lean on a large marble-like flower planter.
I talk briefly with other finishers, biding my time.
Ewan comes in. My students escort me down to a massage therapist. Very serendipitous how he’s been offering services these last couple of races.
In typical Chinese fashion, a mouth massage accompanies calf massage. As this occurs, Tony is instructed to continue massaging my left calf.
This was an awkward moment.
For about five minutes, my tenth grade student massages calf. Ewan looks on in disbelief as his PE teacher and running coach lies sprawled out in the shadows, tongue protruding from mouth as a massage therapist looks down into my mouth.
“Can you taste your food?” He asks.
Later, “You look cute, 可爱,” he tells me, as my insanely tussled hair shoots out in all directions.
What in the heck is happening here??
Tony & Ewan head out. Stubbornly, I decide to still take the subway rather than a taxi. I just won a race, darn it. I can do this.
Hobbling through the always busy East Nanjing Road station, I’m a spectacle: a 120 year old infirm person could beat me walking right now. I’m smelling a bit, racing clothes fermenting. My hair is completely out of control. I grip whatever railings are currently available.
I transfer to the 10 line, then exit later at Longxi Road.
For the first time, I accept an offer from a motorbike taxi driver and climb aboard. His friend (?) hands me a racing shoe which had fallen from my backpack.
I’m a mess.
My groin is disturbingly close to the backside of my driver as we shoot helmet less off into the night.
After some inexplicably unannounced u turns into the dark recesses of two different apartment complexes, including my own, the driver finally stops the bike. I jump off and want to get the heck home.
Seems weird how he never asked, in any language, where my apartment is. No matter. I’ll hike home from 400 meters away.
I scanned the WeChat code on the front of the bike and hit the road, barely moving along.
I don’t like making excuses for myself. I live to challenge myself, always believing there are no true limits to human endurance.
So, what do I do now?
Well, first I went to work the next morning–on one full hour of sleep–which promptly created a circus of a spectacle I honestly did not anticipate.
I knew the night before, I would first need to go to the nurse’s station to get crutches and ice. I did not expect colleagues John and Nathan to carry me–WWII injured in battle arms over shoulders-style.
I also did not anticipate Madam Feng–head of our entire well known across China campus & liaison with the Communist Party of China–to spot me being carried into the White House, then immediately make a phone call, rush in to said nurse’s station & begin helping John adjust my crutches, alongside Linda–second in command & member of the Party.
Meanwhile, colleagues Myriam & Christy were at the door. A primary school teacher I’d never met came in to assist.
My colleague Yenny brought Advil. My immediate boss Mary Margaret brought in a zip locked IKEA bag filled with Excedrin and Advil. Bill had carried my backpack to my classroom upstairs.
Every kid within a ten mile radius soon posed astonished looks and questions to me, as though I’d transformed into a unicorn shooting rainbows skyward.
Holy crap. Maybe I should’ve not come in today, as my boss suggested.
I soldier onward.
I understand there’s a 99% chance my goal race has already been run.
I know full well that I most likely will not run for at least a week; possibly not for a month.
Last time I suffered a similarly freakish curb injury (detailed in my forthcoming memoir), in Little Rock, Arkansas 2003, I didn’t run for five weeks. But probably could’ve run a week sooner.
That was my ankle, however. I’m thinking this being top of foot is better. I mean, how integral to running are the ligaments on top of the foot?
Here’s the thing: being upset will not help me recover.
I am in good racing shape.
And I will stay that way.
I’m hitting the hospital tomorrow for a good once-over.
Then, to the gym on Tuesday.
The bike will be my new friend for a bit. And I can still utilize the ab machine and most weights.
In fact, there’s a heck of a lot I can do without putting too much strain on my foot.
I’m pushing forward
Onward and upward, Friends. And many thanks to my girlfriend Guilin for helping carry me upstairs Friday night and for bringing me a bunch of provisions.
Thanks to you all for all of your support!