As I ran around the house yesterday morning, trying to get ready for my epic trek into the city, I stubbed the little toe on my right foot. You know how it goes; I kicked the lounge chair that I have successfully walked past approximately 927 times a day for the past 7 years and which has not moved more than a millimetre in that time.
It hurt like a mother-effer, as all toe stubbings do. I performed the mandatory doubling-over, followed by swift sucking in of breath through my teeth. When I was satisfied that I wasn’t going to vomit, I continued with my preparations.
About thirty minutes later, I realised my toe was still throbbing and was starting to hurt more as time wore on. I tried to touch it but that hurt too much. I stared at my toe.
‘Don’t you be broken, you useless flap of bone and skin’ I warned.
‘Too late,’ it may as well have said.
I set off for the city at about 11am, with the rain still pounding down. Two sections of the main highway heading northbound were closed, but luckily the flooding wasn’t affecting the southbound lanes I was using. I hoped that the rain would ease and the road would be open again by the time I started heading home… then promptly forgot to worry about flooding at all, as I tried to wiggle my toes.
My right shoe felt as though I had tried to fit three feet into the one shoe. My little toe felt very sore. When I finally got out of the car, I found that I had developed a limp to try and keep the weight off the outside of my right foot. The situation was not good.
I completed my chores, picked up my race number and returned home by about 2.45pm (feeling grateful that the rain had eased enough that most of the roads had re-opened)
Then I launched my Standard Emergency Plan: I called my mum.
We chatted about some random rubbish for a minute, then she mentioned my race. I chuckled and casually informed her that it was highly likely I had broken my little toe. Unphased by my apparent mirth regarding this turn of events, my mum quizzed me on the specifics. Then she told me she broke her toe once and couldn’t train for three weeks. And then she said I wouldn’t be able to run tomorrow and that I should go see a doctor.
In denial, I chuckled again and explained that I was hoping that with rest it would magically get better for the race (in just over 12 hour’s time) because I have stubbed this same toe hundreds of times over the course of my life thus far and never broken it.
Mum didn’t miss a beat and simply replied that I should rest it whether I wanted to race or not, because otherwise it wouldn’t get better. She instructed me to go read a book.
So I sat myself down on my recliner chair, with pillows piled under my right leg and a book in hand. I popped a couple of ibuprofen. And I rested.
The book I chose to read was Ronda Rousey’s autobiography. It is an excellent book and as a big fan of Ronda, I was engrossed after the first few pages. I read for hours and hours whilst my laundry piled up. I laughed and cried (yes it made me cry) and felt inspired… Then I got to a chapter where Ronda described a fight she had to compete in when she had a broken foot.
She didn’t just have to stand and run on the broken foot. She had to kick and jump on the foot. She had to grapple and wrestle, using the foot to balance and push off.
Ronda would run with one pathetic broken little toe, I thought. Ronda would laugh in the face of a 14km run with a broken little toe.
Of course I can race City2South with a broken little toe. If I don’t, I thought, I will never be able to look Ronda in the eye when we meet. My potential friendship with Ronda depended on this race.
I texted my mum. I was doing the City2South.
The rest of the night was spent carb-loading and trying not to move my right foot. It didn’t seem to help but it didn’t get any worse, either. I didn’t test my ability to run and I didn’t try on my running shoes, to see if my foot would fit. In short, I didn’t have a plan for the race except for memorising the infamous words of Ronda:
I dissociate from pain, because I am not the pain that I am feeling. That’s not me. That’s not who I am. I refuse to allow pain to dictate my decision making. Pain is just one piece of information that I’m receiving. My nerves are communicating to my brain that there is something going on physically that I should be aware of. I can choose to acknowledge that information or I can choose to ignore it.
– Ronda Rousey (taken from her book, ‘My Fight, Your Fight’)
I am not pain. Pain is just information. Other than that, I was winging it.
This morning I awoke to a still-purple toe as expected but, with a tight schedule before race start, had no time to worry about it and no one other than the dog to complain to. I gobbled down some porridge and got dressed in my favourite running clothes. I was relieved to find that my foot fitted into my running shoes without too much trouble (they are probably the roomiest shoes I own)
The weather forecast was for a cloudy day but no rain, so I was safe on that front. It was very windy, but at a balmy 16 degrees at 5am I felt confident that the wind wouldn’t be too much of a problem.
As you may have noticed from the course map screenshotted above, the finish line was not at the start line. The two were about 17 minutes’ walk apart, so I had to choose whether to park at the start and then do a walk after the race, or park at the finish and walk to the start. Although I felt sure that I would hate myself forever if I made myself walk after my longest running race, I was a bit worried that a walk at the start might weaken my toe or make the pain worsen prematurely.
After much deliberation I decided to park at the finish and risk a walk to the start. I liked the idea of a good warm-up and the treat of being able to leave as quickly as possible after expending all of my energy.
This meant I had to leave the house by 5.30 in order to park, walk and get to the start line on time. The dog knows that 5.30 is dog-walking time, so she was most annoyed when I left her behind. But I had a point to prove and a friendship to forge, so I promised her a short walk later if my toe felt up to it.
The walk from my car to the start line, when I finally got to it, went quite well. I was so nervous about the race ahead of me that a bit of pain in my toe didn’t seem as dramatic as it had the day before. I forgot to worry about it until I reached the race precinct and left my belongings at the gear drop. Because then it was time to warm up.
And all of my usual warm-up moves hurt.
I cursed myself. Then I developed a wicked new warm-up that barely involves moving. It was the kind of thing I have seen soccer players do on the sidelines. Let’s call it The Pussy’s Warm-up – it was a bit crap but I felt good about doing it.
It was too late to back out, of course. So I sucked down an energy gel (like most of the crowd, actually) and joined the throng of athletes trudging towards the start line. There were almost three and a half thousand of us doing the 14km course. Yes, you read that right. 3500.
Obviously I somehow ended up close to the back of my section (the section with an estimated finish time of 90 minutes) and I couldn’t even see the big red arch up the road that marked the start line. I stood still in my tiny little space and waited for something to happen… It seemed to take forever.
Eventually we started walking forwards. And then the red arches came into view. And then we got close enough to break into a jog. And I thought, ‘This is it, toe.’
I ran. I kept running. My toe hurt. But after about 500 metres I knew the pain was bearable. I knew I could finish the race. Suddenly all sorts of emotion came bubbling up and I almost burst into tears; I was running my first 14km race!
The first 4km were easy. I concentrated on overtaking all the people going a bit under pace and enjoyed the thumping music blaring from the selection of DJs and bands that were strategically placed along the course. The atmosphere was fun and energetic.
At the 6km mark I am ashamed to say I thought I was in a lot of pain. I started reciting Ronda’s advice to myself on repeat. I had no idea what was in store for me.
At about the 8km mark, I found the 90 minute pacer. For those who haven’t done a race with pacers, this basically means a paid (I assume) runner who is assigned to run at a certain pace for the whole race. They are usually wearing a special running uniform and in today’s case, they had balloons tied to them. The idea is that you can stick with the pacer of the time you are aiming for, so that you don’t have to pay attention to your watch (or in my case, if you don’t have a watch)
I was very pleased to find the 90 minute pacer. I had started so far back in the crowd that I knew this meant I was on track to be under 90 minutes for my finish time. All I had to do was steady my stride and stick with the pacer, I thought, and I would finish under 90.
The plan was working fine, until I lost 10 metres when I grabbed a cup of water from a hydration station. I was able to claw back the gap, but I knew I would need some electrolytes at the next stand. You can’t just pour electrolytes down your face and hope some of it gets in your mouth because it goes sticky and gross. So I would need more than a 10 metre lead on the pacer in order to slow down and get some energy inside me without falling behind. I wasn’t sure I would have the energy to find him again if that happened.
I took the chance on a downhill (there were lots of hills in this race!) to get some speed and a lead. It was quite exciting. But then I had to hold on to the lead until the next station, which ended up being at 11km.
By that time, absolutely everything hurt. My toe, of course. But also my knees, my ankles, my calves, my hips, my hamstrings.
I had no hope of concentrating on the pacer. I had no idea whether he was still behind me or miles in front. Everything hurt and I didn’t know whether I could finish the race.
Taking the chance to slow down a little as I passed the support stand, I was able to get a whole cup of energy drink into me. I made myself believe that everything was instantly better, and pushed on up the hill. I overtook lots of people who slowed down to walk and that was all the motivation I needed.
The last three kilometres were only bearable because I knew they were the last ones. I desperately wanted to be a wimp and drop out or go home. Then I heard someone yelling behind me.
‘OK guys, not far to go now,’ The voice said.
‘We’re about 19 seconds under our 90 minute target so if you keep up with me you’re going to blitz it. Then it’s BEER O’CLOCK!’
My heart sang to the tune of the DJ we were running past. It was the bloody pacer, just behind me. And as if he knew exactly how to motivate me, he reminded me to think of beer. What a bloody legend.
I ran on and pushed hard. With about 500 metres to go, we could see the finish line in Musgrave Park and I gave it everything I had left. I had snot running out my nose, water running out of my eyes (I am reluctant to say they were tears, I think it was just the wind got into me) and a weird nasal groan emanating from somewhere in my stomach that possibly scared the last few people I overtook into letting me past them.
I crossed the finish line feeling very hurty but very pleased.
It wasn’t a perfect race by any means, but I am so proud that I completed it. My first 14km race, in well under 90 minutes. On a probably-broken toe. I would like to think this means that when I finally get a chance to meet Ronda Rousey, I will be able to hold my head up with confidence, knowing that I am not a DNB (a do-nothing b*tch)
I probably won’t tell her the story though. I am not sure that ‘running 14km with a broken toe’ really sounds as good out loud as it does in my head.
We probably can’t all change the world like Ronda has, but if you have a fight on your hands (or a race coming up, for which you want to feel prepared whatever adversity you may come across in your preparations) then I thoroughly recommend her autobiography. I suppose it is available in all good bookshops, so go get it. I definitely think it helped me today.