When a Good Race Goes Bad

My first half marathon experience was awful.  Like, seriously awful.  It’s only now, over two weeks later, that I can finally sit down and recap it.

I arrived at the race plenty early, spent some time hanging out around the outdoor heaters, chatting with some fellow racers.  It’s a small, local race (about 150 people in the half marathon), so everyone started at the same time.  I lined up toward the back, knowing that my pace would put me in the back of the pack.  The first mile went according to plan.  I started out slower than my goal pace, knowing that there was going to me a lot of hills in the first half of the race.  I was getting passed like crazy, but I knew that many of them would slow down later, so I wasn’t too worried about it.  By the time I was approaching the end of mile 2, I was a little ways behind the main contingent of runners, but they were still in my sight.  I saw them turn the corner to head up the first major hill, and I soon followed.

I made it to the top of the hill and was slightly discouraged that I hadn’t closed the gap at all between myself and the main pack.  They were now completely out of sight.  I turned and looked behind me and could see no one coming up behind me (I knew there were some back there though).  Well, there was nothing to do but keep going.  The hills kept going too.  I passed the first aid station and grabbed some Nuun.  I thought the volunteers were pretty efficient, seeing as how the table was completely restocked with neatly lined up cups of water and Nuun.  And on I went.  The hills got worse and worse, and I was running pretty slowly by the time I hit the next aid station.  The volunteers were nice enough to stop their game of football and help me get something to drink.  Again, they table was full of neatly lined cups.  I started to think that I must be way far behind if they were able to fully restock and still have time to play football in the street!  It was getting pretty discouraging.

 Next came the big hill.  The 15% grade one.  It was bad.  As I was going up the hill I felt a horrible snapping in my hip.  Like a rubber band.  Over the next mile or so, the pain spread down to my knee and kept slowing and slowing until I was eventually walking.  I passed a family had camped out on the side of the road to cheer on the racers.  Due to the course route, they were the first spectators I’d come across (other than within the first mile).  They waved as I approached and asked where all the runners were, they hadn’t seen anyone.  At that point I knew for sure I was so far behind, there was no catching up.  I reached the halfway point, where the volunteers cheered me on encouragingly and told me that “It’s all downhill from here!”  Liars.  Granted, there was less uphill than in the first half, but it wasn’t easy.  By this point though, I was walking.  My knee was in so much pain, that I couldn’t even run the flat or downhill portions anymore.  The good news, though, was that I finally caught up with some more runners.  The bad news is I lost sight of them when I stopped at the porta-potty!

 As I approached the mile 10 aid stations, I could see them dumping out all the cups of water, and packing things up.  When I got to them they asked if I was the last one.  Of course I was.  I was walking and most of the racers had probably finished at that point! Then the also apologized for the course mix up.  I didn’t think much of it and just kept going. As soon as I passed them, I burst into tears.  I had passed my goal finish time quite some time ago, it was nearing the course cut off time, and every step I took hurt.  At about this time, my husband called to see how I was.  I had texted him earlier to let him know that I wasn’t going to hit my goal finish time.  I spent a while on the phone with him, unloading all my disappointment.  He offered to come pick me up.  He remind me that it wouldn’t be giving up, it would be stopping because of an injury. I had run 13 miles the week before, so I knew I could do it, and didn’t have anything to prove.  So I told him to go ahead and come get me.  A couple of minutes after I got off the phone, I passed the mile 11 marker and thought “Two miles.  I can do two miles.  I’ve come this far after all!”.  So I texted my husband, and told him I was going to finish.  He said he’d head back to the start and meet me there, and off I went.  Soon after, I was joined with another half marathoner who walked the rest of the way with me, chatting as we went.  That was probably the easiest part of the course!  Having someone (even a stranger) there made all the difference in the world.  We got to the chute, ran our way across the finish line and got our medals!

I wish I could say that I was happy about it, I wish I could say that it was an amazing feeling, but I can’t.  I was so dissapointed and I felt like such a failure.  All those weeks of training, all that hard work, and I couldn’t do it.  After posting about it on Instagram and Facebook, I was overwhelmed by the support and encouragement from everyone.  And you guys were right, even though I didn’t finish the way I wanted, I did finish.  And that is a huge accomplishment!

Over the next day or two I learned a thing or two about the race though.  You see, there was a major mess up.

 At close to the two mile mark, the course splits, goes in a giant loop, and rejoins.  Well, as it turns out, they sent most of the half marathoners the wrong way!  They realized their mistake, and by the time I got there, they sent me the right way.  So that means, I ran the course the way it was intended (Including all those hills!) while nearly everyone else ran an out and back on the last half of the course (where there was significantly less elevation!).  I ran the whole first half of the race thinking I was way far behind because I didn’t see a single runner, when in reality I was actually the front! That’s why the aid stations were so well set up, I was the first to use them!

 Learning about this made me wonder how my race would have been different if I had been sent the wrong way too.  Would I have been running with other racers and stayed more motivated?  Would I have still injured myself if I didn’t have to run all the hills?  I guess I can’t say for sure, but I feel like my race experience would have been drastically different.  That changed everything.  I went from thinking maybe I just wasn’t cut out for races to being determined to try again!  So, now that my knee is healed, I’m working on rebuilding my aerobic base and making strength training a priority.  Next spring I’ll head to my next half marathon much stronger and better capable…and let’s face it, it won’t be too hard to PR 😉

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