The summer of 2009 damn near broke me.
Having moved to Washington, D.C. in early 2005, I’d become well acquainted, if not even remotely acclimated, to its boiling, humidity-clogged, unbearable summers. I found no pleasure in June through August during my time there, but prior to 2008, I’d largely avoided the worst of summer’s blazing wrath by blasting air conditioning at home, avoiding excessive (or really any) outdoor exercise, and spending my time firmly entrenched in the cool, dark, smoky havens of DC’s pubs.
That all changed when running began to creep in to my life. I dipped my toes into the sport throughout 2007 before finally taking an aggressive dive in during 2008. A half marathon in May of 2008 left me pleasantly surprised and ready to increase my training. I began to pick up my mileage slightly, averaging 50 to 60 miles a week on six days of running through the summer and fall.
By spring of 2009, I’d run my first marathon—a personally exciting 2:46 at the Washington D.C. National Marathon—and was now running seven days a week averaging 70 miles with two solid workouts.
Which leads us to the brutality of the summer.
Heat came early that year. May felt like June, and June like July as humid mornings and 88 degree afternoons turned my new addiction into masochistic marches. At the mid-June “Lawyers Have a Heart 10k” in Georgetown, a suffocating, wet blanket fog hovered over the race despite the relative “respite” of high 70’s temperatures. I ran a painful, sweaty 34:46 en route to a lackluster 13th place in what was—up until that point at least—the least pleasant race of my life.
Still, having just signed up for the Marine Corps Marathon in the afterglow of an exciting spring season, I ran on, longer and harder than I ever had.
I celebrated my birthday in late June as I’d celebrated the day before and the day before that. I got up at 5:30 a.m., and was out the door by 5:45 for my morning 10 miler through Rock Creek Park.
My stomach has always been sensitive—aggravatingly, astonishingly so at times—and my early morning pre-run ritual always, and I mean always, included a trip to the bathroom. To leave out that essential step would almost guarantee the type of awful, panic-stricken, “I AM GOING TO CRAP MY PANTS!” anxiety that leads runners to make inappropriate stops into barely wooded areas or Starbucks.
The plan was 10 miles on my standard Rock Creek Park out and back route. And in one of my first, relatively easy marathon-specific workouts, I would try for five miles at marathon-specific pace, or approximately 6:05 a mile.
Things started warm but decent enough. I ran shirtless through the thick morning air; nearly drenched by the time I’d crossed the Calvert Street Bridge and Connecticut to enter the park. I descended the mammoth Rock Creek hill, made my way around the zoo’s perimeter and began to churn out marathon pace for the workout.
I knew things weren’t going well after the first mile. My heart was beating too fast, I was already slick with sweat, and I had the inkling of a rumbling coming from my gut. Still, I pressed on, hopeful that the feelings would pass and my body would rebound.
After four miles of marathon pace, my body was revolting. Running 6:05’s might as well have been a 4 minute mile, as my chest screamed and sweat poured off of me. To make matters worse, a sudden, stabbing sensation in my stomach gave clear indication that it wasn’t happy either.
Moments later, faced with the instantaneous urge to extinguish my system, I veered off a side trail of Rock Creek where I immediately gained some necessary, but none-the-less demeaning, relief. Clumps of leaves from a nearby forest-floor plant were available for “cleansing”, and soon, I was on my way.
After a shower and a day of work, the lady and I went for a birthday dinner and huge beer at the culinary wonderland Buca di Beppo (I don’t care what anyone says I love the place). It’s at this point that I started getting squirmy. Itchy. Uncomfortable. I shifted around in the booth, not really thinking much about it.
The walk home demanded some rearranging, and it’s here that I started to get nervous. Maybe those forest floor leaves weren’t simply leaves, and maybe I didn’t recognize poison ivy as well as I thought I did…
The next four days would be spent in a puss-filled, itchy, sleepless nightmare. I was only able to sit on my side for fear of ruining chairs with poison ivy “weeping”, and during my runs, of which I did not miss any, I felt like I was carrying a five-pound hacky-sack in my pants.
Ointment was applied, shorts were ruined, a special “sleeping towel” was created, and it brought my future wife and I closer together than any couple should ever be.
The summer of 2009 was barely beginning, and it was well on its way to breaking me.