Week 20: Small hail

Saturday’s forecast called for wind, rain and “a chance of small hail,” nearly sending me back to bed for the first time in five months of early-morning marathon training.

We were scheduled for 18 miles, our longest foray yet (nearly all of them are, when you’re a novice).

A couple of weeks earlier we’d done 16 miles. Though I was getting over a cold, so eager was I for that double-digit boost to my marathon odometer that I ventured forth, suffering through rain and cold and general misery.

Besides, I’d bought into the claim that you can “run through” illness, that even if you feel lousy at the beginning, you’ll feel better by the end.

Except when you don’t.

I completed the run feeling triumphant, but the euphoria lasted all of about two hours, at which point I developed a fever and chills and my throat began to swell. By the following morning my neck resembled a puffed-up bullfrog. Turns out I had an abscess in my throat -- a “big, infected hole,” as my co-runner Andrea put it.

I lost days of work, couldn’t talk or swallow and was generally a wreck for nearly a week. I’d been told that recovery from a long run can involve flu-like symptoms. Is this what I was in for after every long run? I vowed to be more sensible from here on out.

So here it was, the 18-miler, with wrathful weather looming. What was a recovering run junkie to do?

I’m a pathological completer. Once I start something I find it very hard, if not impossible, to stop, consequences be damned. The only movie I’ve ever walked out of in my entire life was Geronimo (the New York Times called it an "earnest, leaden epic"), and even then my husband had to drag me out.


When the training program started with AIDS Project Los Angeles back in early October, as many as 200 people or more would run on any given Saturday. We’re at the point in our training now, between injuries, fundraising shortfalls and general malaise, where we’re lucky if 80 people show.

Each person starts to feel the pressure to keep his or her pace group together. If it’s rain one week, it’ll be mudslides the next, and before you know it you’ll have dropped out and reverted to life as a couch potato.

On the other hand, there’s the question of recovery. During each long run, according to Coach Scott, the muscles sustain hundreds of micro-tears that can take as long as three weeks to heal. It had been only two weeks since our 16-mile run, so my muscles surely were not completely healed.

Throw in an abscess and a chance of small hail, and I had a darn good excuse to stay home.

“I’m staying home,” I told my friend Sara Stein, who is also training for the marathon, on Friday afternoon.

“Okay,” she said. “Feel better.”

“I’m staying home,” I told my husband Friday night.

“Good,” he said. “You should take care of yourself.”

“If it’s raining when I wake up, I’m staying home,” I told myself before I went to sleep Friday night.

And yet, come Saturday morning, with overcast skies, I found myself eating oatmeal, filling my water bottle and packing energy snacks.

On the way to Griffith Park, a fat smear of rainbow -- purple, blue and yellow -- glowed over the 5 Freeway.

Shortly after that the sun came out, and stayed out, for the entire 18 miles. It was cool, brisk and sunny. The best running weather yet.

“I was going to stay home,” I told my co-runners as we crossed the finish line. They didn’t believe me. They never do.

1:24 PM Friday, February 13 2009 • Link •  
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