Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Trials of Miles. Guest Blog by Melissa

Today's blog is by Nate's wife, Melissa Donais. She is a nurse practitioner and runner, who prefers 5ks to marathons.

"The difference between the mile and the marathon is the difference between burning your fingers with a match and being slowly roasted over hot coals." -Hal Higdon

He came stumbling through the door like Rocky Balboa at the end of a prizefight. I had expected something like this, but I still wasn’t prepared for it. “Melissa!” He yelled in a garbled, distraught, exhausted voice. I ran downstairs to him, concerned that something was wrong, beyond the expected exhaustion.
“Where’s Ruben?” I asked.
“You gotta go get him. He didn’t make it back. I can’t drive.” He collapsed onto the couch.
“What? Where is he Nate?”
“Up by the church.”
The church was about a half mile from our house. Ruben couldn’t make it back from the church? I grabbed some juice, anticipating that poor Ruben’s blood sugar was likely even lower than Nate’s right now, and hopped in the car. At the same time I dialed my mom’s cell phone.
My brother was up visiting from Saratoga this weekend and my parents, Nate, and I were planning on having dinner after Nate’s workout. I had called my mom earlier in the afternoon and warned her that Nate’s workout was unlike any workout our running family had ever heard of, but she didn’t seem to understand. “That’s okay, honey, we’ll pick you guys up so Nate won’t have to drive.” Now my parents and brother were on their way to our house. My mom answered the phone, and in a rushed voice I said “Ruben didn’t make it back. You gotta help me find him. Nate left him by the church.” My mom said they were right by there and would start looking.
Meanwhile, I circled the rotary by the church, scanning the sidewalks and peering over snowbanks looking for Ruben. I didn’t see a soul. I drove up the street a bit, still no Ruben. It was dark, and about 18 degrees out. I knew it wouldn’t take long before hypothermia set in for Ruben. I called the home phone.
“Is Ruben back yet? I can’t find him.”
“No. He’s not at the church?” Nate’s words were slurred from hypoglycemia and exhaustion.
“No, Nate, he’s not at the church. You let your friend die on the side of the road and just ran home yourself? Where the hell is he? You left him at the church?” I demanded in frustration, as I feared we might be making a trip to the hospital, all because these two geniuses decided to attempt a “special block” and run two insanely hard workouts, totaling 36 miles, in a twelve hour span. It was stupid. It was just stupid. And this stupidity could lead to some serious health consequences.
I drove down Great Pond Road, thinking maybe Ruben tried to make it back to our house but missed the final left turn onto our street. No Ruben. Then my cell phone rang. My mom, “We’ve got Ruben.” Thank God.
I arrived home to a shaky and cold Ruben. Nate wasn’t much better. They took showers, my brother and dad checking in periodically because we were afraid they would faint. Then they both collapsed on the couch, huddled under blankets. We ordered food and they slowly, over a couple of hours, improved mentally and physically.
Later my parents and brother would tell me they drove past the church, and my brother noticed something on the steps of the church. He jumped out of the car, ran up the steps, and sure enough, saw a man curled up on the steps.
“Ruben?” he asked.
No answer.
“Ruben? Ruben? Nate sent me. I’m taking you back to Nate. You must come with me.”
Ruben, mumbling, reluctantly got up off the steps. In his cold exhaustion he had somehow convinced himself that curling up on the church stairs would be warmer than waiting on the side of the road.
This is the life of marathoners striving for greatness, following the Canova system of training, where specificity is king. If you want to run a marathon in 2:11 (I mean, who doesn’t?) then you better run an ungodly amount of miles at 5 minute mile pace, and you better not take much recovery between those miles, because you’re going to have to string 26 of them together on race day. Sounds simple enough. It’s the doing that’s hard.
There’s a lot of glory that comes with greatness, and a lot of respect and admiration for the journey towards it, but what most people don’t understand is the day after day fatigue and pain experienced by the journeyman, and what no one even considers is the worry and frustration experienced by the caregivers. It’s very easy to say that you’ll support your spouse no matter what, and it’s an entirely different experience when you’re living with someone who is trying to run 140 miles a week around a full time job (you don’t want to see our house; it will be a mess until the end of April).
You never know what to expect. A run goes well and you breathe a sigh of relief. He will likely be cranky, hungry, and tired, but the run went well. Phew. The run goes bad and you get a call on your way to the gym, you’re turning your car around and finishing the dinner that’s in the middle of cooking on the stove while your spouse heads to a 90 minute Bikram yoga class because his foot feels tight.
Yoga ends as you’re ready to head to bed and your spouse finally arrives home. You haven’t seen him all day. But you can tell by the look on his face that things are not good. “Boston’s over. I’m not doing it. If I miss a workout now it’s all over.”
All because his foot is tight. I sat him down, massaged his foot, used a guasha tool to break up fascial restrictions, and sent him to bed (he refused the “hell bucket” of ice treatment). In the morning I kinesio taped his foot before he left for work.
You end up walking on eggshells, praying for good runs, and doing your best to provide reassurance when the runs don’t go well. I mean really, I sought out every possible fix for his right leg/loss of coordination injury, do you think I’m going to let a tight plantar fascia prevent a successful Boston run? No way.
It’s been hard for me and I’m not putting in the miles. The cult classic novel, Once a Runner, referred to “trial of miles, miles of trials.” All runners think they understand what that means but I think few truly do. The trial of miles is a man, injured for seven years, who has undergone multiple extremely painful nerve tests,  a (very risky) spine surgery, and countless hours of physical therapy to crawl his way back to a sport he loves above all else, to get just a chance to run his heart out and be healthy on the day. It’s a man who is dedicated to his full time job, and consistently running over 100 miles a week around it. A man who still finds some time to cuddle with the dog and kiss me goodnight, despite trying to make the impossible possible.
It is nothing short of amazing, and it is the culmination of years of work and hope. We have days when we feel we are losing the fight, but on the good days the dream lives. It’s so easy for others to look in and criticize, but only the few who have tried to live this life will understand the day to day drudgery and the tiny hope for glory.

I never comprehended what went into making a great marathoner. Now that I know and I have lived it I have so much awe and respect for my husband and for those great marathoners who came before him. They are part of an elite group of people who have more will and guts than most of us. No matter what happens in April, the dedication to his dream, the solving of his longtime injury puzzle, and the insane training (that he loves and missed during his injury) that he accomplished are real victories. I am so proud of Nate for fighting the good fight.

12 comments: said...

Melissa's bio of herself was way to modest. She is a great runner, a footlocker finalist and won the Millrose high school mile. She is a published author and graduate of Phillips Academy and Yale University. She also does the vast majority of my morning runs with me and generally puts up with my bullshit which I really appreciate.

Greg said...

Melissa, great post! Wow!

Nate, I wanted to say I just listened to your podcast on cloud 259. It was fantastic! I love the fake it to you make it analogy about believing in yourself. Inspiring! I'm rooting for you to have a great day at Boston and good luck with the training cycles! Thanks for getting me motivated this winter!

RunningDoc said...

Nate, no more posts by MD, she caused me to tear up a little towards the end (I mean my eyes got sweaty)...

MD, great description of what life is like when you are on the edge - the edge of collapse, the edge of breakdown, the edge of insanity, the edge of....greatness...

Nate, I hope this training cycle finds you back on the path towards happy, injury free and fast running for you...

Anonymous said...

MD, one of the best blogs I've ever read.

danny said...

Like I always tell people who are getting married, try to marry up and hope you find someone who is willing to marry down. Well done my son :)

Seriously, In my humble opinion, it's the admiration and respect you achieved from Melissa, that is your biggest credit Nate. It ain't easy, I myself carry a sense of perpetual guilt (and shame as well), due to my lofty running goals and all the work involved to achieve them. My family is sacrificed in more ways then I care to reflect on. But they have my back a 1000% and I rise again and again because of them.

The phrase "awe and respect" Melissa, brought me close to a gushy and emotional moment. That's rare for an unfeeling SOB like me. Win, lose or draw come Boston, in my eyes you already won Nate.

No great achievement is possible without persistent work, and in my case as well as in yours it seems, No married runners training week would be complete, with out the love and support of all the Melissa's and Elena's in the world (that's my dog, and she's got quite a bite) . :)

Ps.. case in point, 5k club race in Da Bronx Sunday early morning in the tough cold hard streets. Where will my wife be? Fighting for a good spot, to take a shot of her man winning his age range amongst a lot of very tough competitors. Now I am gushy.

Great stuff Melissa, we are all holding hands and rejoicing at the love and loyalty you have for that man.

Jim Hansen said...

Saw this on LR and thought it was such a fantastic post! Great writing and best wishes to Nate and Ruben at Boston! said...

Great post Melissa. The link below is for Nate regarding your nomination for sainthood:) said...

Thanks for the link Bob, I'll get right on that!

RunningwithUta said...

Thanks, everyone, for the positive comments...your checks will be in the mail! :-)

Unknown said...

Loved This!

You're BOTH amazing individuals, that inspire me daily!

kemibe said...

Now that we're all about 30 months past the incident in question and everyone formally survived it, I have to say that Ruben and I actually talked about this historic double tonight. I shouldn't laugh about any of it, but the way the two of them managed to lower their effective combined IQ to about 85 strikes me as at least a little funny. They managed to get separated in the middle of civilization the way sailors on a sinking ship do, a kind of exhausted, maybe-I'll-see-ya-on-the-other-side thing. Just one more 1K, right

People thought I was nuts for doing workouts like 18 in the morning and 11 with 4M at tempo the same evening, or 75 laps on the track at goal MP. (Three weeks after that second one, I ran a marathon within a second a mile of the 30K, so something worked.) This one is on a different planet of intense. said...

I defend my choice to leave Ruben behind... Actually in terms of the workout as silly as it sounds I feel the mistake was the cool down. There is no need for a cool down after something like this. I just didn't want to put Melissa out to have to come pick us up which was a mistake. No cool down and this is a great session.
I don't think I have ever managed 75 laps on an outdoor track, that seems rough to me, I did 30x1k once and maybe 15 or 20 by a mile another time. Too many turns! In the end my response and I would argue what yours should have been is simply. Racing 26.2 is a leap beyond running it and if you are going to be prepared to run 26 miles in a row within a few ticks either way of 5 mins per mile you are going to have to do some pretty extreme things to your body to bring on that kind of personal evolution particularly if you weren't born with the type of physicality that makes running fast an obviously natural activity.
- I did feel really bad about fucking Ruben up like that. Frankly I don't worry about myself, I was born to take a beating. I can shuffle on no matter what but I don't think that was what Ruben signed up for that day.