July 27, 2014

Any Healthy Strong Finish Is a Good Finish

I didn't meet goal A or B today, but I heartily met goals C and D.

After I'd decided I was overheating and needed water, after the coach of our local running club ran ahead and bought me water at a Shell station around mile 8 in the full sun, and after I'd decided to succumb to as many 5 minute run intervals with as much walking as I needed to feel comfortable to finish for the last 3 miles, I found myself in the finish chute, at the end of the last 1.4 miles ran slowly, without a break, just happy to be finishing healthy.

Suddenly, a couple of hundred meters from the finish, the woman in front of me slowly splayed her arms, dropped her head back and started to dance.  But not in a good way.  She did a bit of an awkward grapevine, an uncomfortable almost drugged out airplane to each side, and was obviously loosing control of her gait.

Did I mention the direct sun in the Mission was much hotter than usual for this time of year in SF and I'd been seriously concerned about overheating due to my previous fever?

A guy ahead of me sweeped in and grabbed her right elbow.  Her ELBOW!  The rest of her body fell to the left, reaching for the barrier to keep her upright.  I sped up and dropped my arms under her armpits as she started to fall.

The guy looked at me and said, "Oh good" and ran off.  To give him the benefit of the doubt, I'm going to assume he thought I knew her.

I did not.

I wrapped her right arm around my neck and put my left arm under her left armpit.  She was jelly.

I asked her if she could take a deep breath.  She vaguely looked at me and then her eyes rolled back.  She was very pretty, but right now her lips were scary pink-white.  Someone in the crowd on the other side of the barrier asked her if she wanted water.  She opened her eyes and nodded.  The woman handed her the water bottle and she tried to drink.

The cap was on the bottle -- obviously, no water came out.  I realized I had a bottle (thanks to run coach), but I'd need to move my hands to open it, which would result in dropping her unless I could pull off some complicated maneuver my run-stupid brain couldn't figure out at the moment.

At this point, thankfully, a man behind the barrier yelled at me, "She needs to lay down."

Duh.  He was obviously right.  My runner instinct was to hold her up and hope she could recover.  I was coming in on a super slow race where I'd been very conservative, so I really didn't care about my time, but for some reason, I thought this woman might really care about crossing the finish line, and it was only 200m away.  With his words, I finally understood the seriousness of the situation.  I said, "I'm going to let you down to the ground now..."

She turned her pale white lips to me, and spoke emphatically for the first time, "No!"

I looked around.  My first thought was that if there was another runner willing to help we could help her over the finish line and she could get help there.  It was so close.

But no one else was coming near us.   Uhhhh.....The folks at the barrier motioned for help, and I recognized the intelligence of this option and waived my hands for help, too, struggling with the reality and trying to walk her a few steps forward at the same time.  I mean, I could see the dude with the microphone announcing all the finishing folks and he could see us.  It was SO CLOSE.

But, the microphone dude did not call for runner's aid from fellow runners, and finally, a woman in a yellow safety vest came over and walked behind us, placing both arms behind the jelly-lady's armpits as I had done when she was initially falling.  I looked at the woman, "You got her?"

"Yes."

I let go.

Then, I ran towards the finish line, seeing a wheelchair being rushed opposite me on the left towards my former charge.


Later, I learned that a friend was cheering loudly for me having seen me heading into the finish a few meters later.  But I didn't notice her at all.  She chalked it up to headphones, but I'd actually silenced them for the finish chute, I was just generally oblivious at this point.

I wasn't paying attention to the cheering of friends (but I did get to meet up with Jen afterwards for a very enjoyable catch-up session). 

For those 200m, I was thinking about how lucky I am.  How strong I was at the finish because of my support system, general luck, and my desire to live a balanced life.  How, when I caught her, I didn't have any concerns about how long I could hold her up -- I was just worried about her, nothing else.  Also, I was so stable.  And yet, I had been sick, with a fever before the race.  I had been worried about myself at the start and various points during, but I was still racing, albeit slowly/smartly.  I thought about the freakish need to use a port-a-loo to go pee (as opposed to dealing with GI issues) for the first time *ever* during a race because for once I was actually overhydrated.  I thought about asking my run coach to walk with me during her supposed pacing miles, admitting my overheating (the water support was terrible on today's race), and how she ran to the nearest Shell station and bought me water.  I thought about the decision to do 5 minute run intervals with as much walking as I needed after my local run coach left me on my last 3+ miles of the race today -- to finish strong, but smart.

And I couldn't help that all of this meant that I was in the right place at the right time.  I very much hope my catchee is okay.

I may not have met my A&B goals, but I feel *very* alive.  I am consistently impressed with the lessons that running teaches me.

I finished, strong.  In hindsight, my conservative goals meant that I was strong enough to catch a falling runner and hold her up for an indeterminate amount of time.  Goal C for the big human win!

In fact, I have a new Goal C.  If I'm honest, I'm not regularly in a place in my life or sports performance where it makes sense for me to be the falling runner.  In general, I want to finish strong enough to catch. 

Run Happy.

6 comments:

L.A. Runner said...

Oh how scary! I'm so glad you were there to help that poor woman! Great reminder that none of us are invincible. The summer heat is no joke, especially in situations where the climate is usually mild and a heat wave hits.

Years ago, I finished a cool down from a race and watched medics try to revive a man that had collapsed the finish line of a 10K. He not make it. It was the first time I'd actually seen someone die. Needless to say, it was terrible.

Sometimes in races we face things we can't control (like the weather). I'm so glad you hydrated well and had sense to adjust your pace before you got into a "danger zone", too.

Arvay said...

Yikes! Lucky woman she was that it was you who came by. I can hardly imagine being in better hands!

Biting Tongue said...

@L.A. Runner -- there was a guy on the ground who was trying to be revived at mile 25, too. I think you're right about the typically temperate climate. SF isn't usually this hot. The course is structured such that the last half is in an area that's usually clear (no summer fog), and while it's not usually too hot, yesterday was an anomaly.

@arvay -- thanks, although, to be honest, after my initial instinct just to catch her, I really wasn't that helpful. It was interesting to realize that my runner instincts were stronger than my general human instincts (that I didn't immediately want to lay her down, for example).

Jen said...

Like I said yesterday, you seem to attract finish line drama! Next time, maybe you'll wish for that crazy person trying to chase you down instead of a fainting runner?! ;)

I ran the SF2HM last year - it was cool at the start (I recall trying to get underneath the heatlamps) but it got pretty hot by the time I hit the Mission, so I can only imagine how much worse it was this year. Congrats on another great finish!

Angela said...

Oh my god, that is just terrifying. Did you see the letter SFM posted on their facebook page today acknowledging that there were lots of complaints about the aid stations & running out of food/drinks at the finish because of people taking more than their fair share? One woman also posted this, which made me so angry.

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=847502108600930&set=p.847502108600930&type=1

bt said...

@Angela -- I didn't see that post on FB, took a quick look and couldn't find it but didn't try too hard. I'm glad they are acknowledging the mistakes. Hopefully that means they will address them going forward.

As for the Zico pic -- seriously?