‘Payback is Hell’
By Scott Ludwig
It seems like a lifetime ago—perhaps in a different life altogether—that I wasn’t sure I would ever run again. Truth be known, it was exactly twelve months ago, or as I referred to it at the time, my ‘February to Forget.’
February 2005—28 days of misery, pain and suffering. The (still) undiagnosed pain in my right leg—a pain that would appear in different spots (knee, ankle, calf) in different forms (one day it would feel like a shin splint, the next day a stress fracture, then the next day a pulled muscle) in different intensities (irritating, aggravating, unbearable)—resulted in performances I’d just as soon pretend never happened. My first marathon over four hours…my slowest 50K ever…a ten-day experiment of walking—walking!—in an effort to repair the damage.
Eventually, after fifteen treatments over a period of two months by a chiropractor, the pain(s) subsided. Perhaps my eventual recovery was the result of his treatments and adjustments, or perhaps it was a simply a matter of time healing all wounds. Most likely, it was a combination of both. Either way, running again was a welcome relief–both literally and figuratively.
The horrid memory of February 2005 is now officially that—a memory. Payback is hell. Literally and figuratively.
The Road to Hell actually began in January. It was then that I decided on running marathons on four consecutive weekends to run myself back into some semblance of running fitness, beginning with the Callaway Gardens Marathon on January 29. While a 3:29 was not one of my bests, it was a step in the right direction. An age group victory, albeit against limited competition, was encouraging as well. Plus, it was 23 minutes faster than my time at Callaway from last year.
The next weekend, a 3:24 at Tybee Island (February 4) was satisfying, although I did struggle a bit at the end. Still, it was 30 minutes faster than my time from last year.
Next was the Mercedes Marathon in Birmingham, Alabama (February 12). A 3:26 on a hilly course in frigid temperatures and windy conditions wasn’t bad, especially considering how I struggled to a 4:19 last year. A third place age group finish in a competitive field was a positive sign, considering that for the third week in a row I was running what I consider to be ‘comfortably fast’—at this point in my running career, I just don’t see the point in ‘gutting out’ races anymore.
The fourth marathon was in the city of my alma mater, the University of Florida. Gainesville! It just so happens that I ran my very first marathon, almost 27 years ago, in this very same place in the now-defunct Florida Relays Marathon. Now, 123 marathons later, I’m back in Gainesville to run the Inaugural Five Points of Life Marathon (February 19). My 3:18 placed me third in my age group in yet another competitive field, and my finishing time was (a) my fastest marathon in three years and (b) 26 minutes faster than my first marathon 27 years ago. Considering I was still running what I considered to be ‘comfortably fast,’ I was extremely pleased with my efforts over the past four weeks.
It may seem odd, but over the past four weekends it seems I (re)learned how to run the marathon. Each successive week the splits for the two halves of each marathon were getting closer and closer, indicating that I was (re)learning how to pace myself. Each successive week I was putting more focus into running aggressively (competitively) as opposed to defensively (trying to survive). And each successive week, I felt a little bit better once I crossed the finish line.
The best was yet to come. The next weekend I entered the Silver Comet Ultra Run (50K) in Rockmart, Georgia (February 25). Originally I had intended to use the race as a cool down after my four ‘comfortably fast’ marathons over the past month. Prior to the race I was so relaxed sitting in my car—listening to the rain fall—that I almost fell asleep. Once the race began, I found the weather to be my kind of running weather—cold and rainy. I decided I would, for the fifth week in a row, run ‘comfortably fast.’ However, a combination of the cooperative weather, a wonderful new pair of running shoes (New Balance 901’s, if you’re interested), and the sudden realization that ‘comfortably fast’ was making me ‘relatively competitive’ made me up the ante, so to speak. ‘Comfortably fast’ quite honestly almost became ‘gutting it out.’ At the halfway point, my 1:56 indicated that I could possibly break four hours—something I hadn’t done in over seven years.
At this point in my life, I was convinced there were two running thresholds I would never exceed again: a sub-three hour marathon and a sub-four hour 50K. Suddenly, the latter was a reality. Around the 35K mark, almost (gutting it out) became absolutely. I was now on a mission. To say my desire to break four hours was ‘aggressive’ is an understatement. For whatever reason, at approximately three hours into the race, running this race in under four hours now became the single most important thing I could ever hope to do in the twilight of my running career.
I hit the marathon mark in 3:19—just seconds slower than my time in Gainesville six days ago. My pace remained even for the last five miles, and I managed to hold on for a 3:56:59! As I crossed the finish line, I’m pretty sure I didn’t tip anyone off as to how I was feeling emotionally. Physically? That’s a different story. It was ridiculously apparent that I was cold, soaking wet and quite literally beat to a pulp. It was obvious I had gutted it out, something I thought I would never do again.
Now, how was I feeling emotionally? Absolutely ecstatic!
Epilogue. Twelve months after my dreaded ‘February to Forget’ of 2005, I’m feeling positive and confident about my running again. I am back and gaining my confidence back for the ‘home stretch’ of my competitive running career.