It's about six laps into the 5-kilometer race, and it begins. The first four laps are fine; good even. I feel strong, smooth, and ready to come out here and do what I set out to do; run my best. But just a couple short laps later and I begin to lose control. A runner knows what it feels like to be in control. Our mental and physical power is so strong that it allows us to do things we never dreamt possible. I used to possess that power. But now, I can only long for it.
I put the possibility of my legs giving out behind me at the start of every race. That just because it happened last time does not mean it will happen here today. But then it hits. The loss of control is somewhat sudden and gradual at the same time. Sudden because I notice the moment that sense of control is lost, and gradual because it gets progressively worse from this moment on. I first feel it in my right quad/outer thigh; it gives out and transcends down all the way to my foot. My form immediately feels off and I no longer have any control of it. My legs lose all function and it is hard to keep moving. As I struggle to get through the laps I try to stay positive, hoping it might subside. My pace drops, but I'm still fighting. I feel my stride lengthen as my legs no longer will move through their full range of motion. As this happens, I feel myself getting lower to the ground, as I do not have the control, strength, or speed to keep myself up as I try to adjust to this new stride length, which is compensating for my legs inability to do what they are supposed to. My body is literally falling apart but I just don't want to give up.
The worst part is that desire that I still possess mid-run. I want to go faster, I want to close the gap, I want to finish strong, but I simply can't. It becomes both a mental and physical battle to just finish the race without collapsing. I am fighting to stay upright and moving. Any effort to change gears is just asking for trouble and could more than likely result in crumbling to the ground, as it only causes to lose more control of my running form. Each time I come around to the start/finish line where I read the laps to go I feel lucky to have made it another 400 meters.
Two laps to go and I do not feel strong and I do not feel smooth. I do not feel pain, but I hurt. I hurt from this battle I am fighting to literally keep from falling. I have no control over my legs and it is like they are working against me. The legs that have gotten me to so many accomplishments in my life are now the things keeping me from going further. I feel defeated. Each lap is worse than the last, and although I am here on the final lap I am still unsure I'll make it to the finish line. Where I am in the field and the time on the clock does not matter anymore. It hasn't since halfway through the race. But I see the finish line and I want to reach it. With a couple of glitches in my step and a close call here and there, I cross the finish line and my legs crumble beneath me. I kneel on the ground, not from exhaustion, but from defeat. Whatever has begun to take control over my races has won once again. With the hand of a friendly competitor, I rise to my feet. I have control again.
Everything I just felt and experienced is now gone as if it never happened. But it did. Being in this moment it is hard to reflect on everything that I just suffered through because I've regained control; my legs are my own again. But I've experienced it enough now to know. This thing is real, and it stands in my way with the weirdest of conditions. Cross country races are fine (knock on wood). But it is the flat races on the road or track that make this so troublesome.
Up to a 3-kilometer race and I am good, but any race beyond that and back to the battle I go. I wish I had answers to this not so I can just run faster, but because a loss of control while running is like your greatest passion in life is being taken right out from under you. Everyone has a race strategy, and no they don't always go as planned, but it is truly heartbreaking to be so aware of how your race is falling apart. I am a spectator in my own race, for everything but my legs are outside of me. From the moment my legs give out they are on their own, and the rest of me is just dying to push myself to new limits as I just watch the race play out with no control of my own. I still walk away with the satisfaction that I completed the race and the optimism that the next one will be better. It seems easy enough because it is what my mind and heart want. It is what my mind and heart always want. But I know that does not reflect what my legs may do. Nonetheless, the next one will be better.