I had never been much of a runner. In high school PE classes, when told to run laps around the baseball field I would hide behind the backboard until the last lap then re-join the group to cross the finish line trying to look tired so the coach wouldn’t catch on. In boot camp we ran wearing heavy boots in a freezing cold Texas winter – I swore I would never run again. Before a training academy at Quantico, Virginia it was suggested I do some pre-conditioning. I forced myself to run a few laps on the local track but it made my legs so sore I could barely walk for days so, no more pre-training.
But during 16 weeks of running at the academy, I got in shape and came to enjoy it. From then on jogging was my exercise of choice. My wife and I regularly ran 2 to 4 miles several times a week for the next 25 years including several 10K races – a distance of 6.2 miles.
In our early 50s we decided to run a half marathon. We chose one in Davis, California because it was level and near our hometown. My sister-in-law agreed run with us and so training began. Over the next several months my wife and I increased our long-distance training runs to 9 miles. We felt we were ready.
The night before the race we stayed at my mother-in-law’s house in Sacramento. We planned a dinner of pasta and fish to “carb-load” for long-lasting energy during the run. My wife had read somewhere, or heard, or maybe just dreamed it, that it was best to run “empty”. By “empty”, she explained, it was necessary to clean our systems through the use an enema. It was never clear to me how that would improve the endurance of my legs and lungs. Regardless, my brother-in-law and I were dispatched to buy three Fleet-brand enemas. Now, truly, I’ve never had a problem buying my wife’s “feminine products”. But, standing in line at the CVS, I began to squirm over what the elderly customers surrounding us might be thinking of two middle-aged men buying three enemas in the early evening hours of a Date-Night-Friday (not, of course, that there’s anything wrong with that).
Back at the house, we enjoyed our family dinner then suffered the humiliation of “emptying” our systems as instructed. Then it was off to bed for an early morning trek to Davis.
On race day we shivered in the morning chill along with the other runners as we stretched and jogged in place to limber up. As is typical of these fun runs, the participants ranged from young, lithe, zero-body fat runners to the over-weight, over-aged and under-trained. We considered ourselves to be somewhere in the middle. The start time approached so a last trip to the Porta-potties then we were off.
For the first mile or two we worked out the kinks, warming up, getting loose and finding our pace and stride. Caught up in the excitement of the run I realized we were running faster than our normal pace. I slowed to the pace we’d trained at. That’s when I became aware of my wife right behind me, just off my left shoulder. If I sped up she was there, if I slowed down she was there. Shift left – there; shift right – still there. She was always there and it began to play on my feeble mind. I know she was just letting me set the pace but it began to feel like I was pulling her, dragging her along, and it was wearing me out! At a water table I grabbed a cup of water and slice of orange then ran off trying to disconnect, to no avail.
I ran up behind an “old guy” – the ancient age of 60 or so (I was 53) – and decided to pace him a while then pass him. I don’t remember even seeing him again and I don’t know who passed who but we were well into the race by then, over half way, and I was starting to have other issues.
The route crisscrossed town, so we periodically saw runners on different parts of the course. Being unfamiliar with the course and missing the mile markers I had no sense of where I was or how far I’d gone or how much farther I had to go. At one point, I ran under a bridge covered with runners going 90 degrees to me. Who the heck were they? And how long before I got to be up there? Or, had I already been there and didn’t remember it? The end had to be near, but it seemed like forever before I got to cross that bridge. Not knowing the distances made it seem so much longer. By the 10th mile I realized we had not had long enough training runs. Finally, mercifully, I crossed the finish line barely able to smile for the picture my mother-in-law was taking of our grand finishes.
We ended with decent times given our age and level of training. I wasn’t especially tired and I didn’t get sore but my desire to run was gone and we have not run much since. Why? My heart just wasn’t in it anymore. I think it was either that the increase from 9 to 13 miles was too large an increase or, whether it helped or not, just like Pavlov’s dogs, thinking of jogging reminds me of that damned enema!
I felt like I was running with you all the way! Your story kept me in suspense, wondering if your wife was drafting you or there would be aftereffects of the enema.
I used to do trail runs, despite being susceptible to shin splints, and joined a group that held them around the Bay Area. They offered multiple distances, including marathons and half-marathons, but I mostly ran their 5-mile and 10K courses. Then they did one virtually in my backyard—up and down Windy Hill—and the shortest course was 9 miles. Fuckin’ course (with about 1,500′ elevation rise) almost killed me! I think that was the last one I ran.
Maybe I should have answered those “big” questions but story runs longer than I ran! We have no hills here in Fresno but walk the dish when we come to your area so I can relate to the Windy Hill effort.
Having seen my husband run LOTS of races, I am unaware of the enema as a pre-race routine…sad for you! But I understand your growing fatigue and frustration as you couldn’t quite figure out how far you still had to go and didn’t feel prepared for the race. At least you finished, but it took everything out of you…nothing left in the tank. And now, no will to run at all, just the memories left; thanks for sharing these with us.
Like I said, the origin of the running empty theory is unclear. And probably unfounded.
I never was a runner. I was lucky to make it a quarter of a mile. In your story, like John I kept waiting for the after effects of the enema. Enjoyed your story mike.
Thanks Burl. Thankfully there were no bad effects or, unfortunately, benefits!