In many ways, I’d like to just forget this race ever happened. It was tough, both physically and emotionally. I’m recovering well physically, but I’ll be honest…my emotions are still pretty raw. I think my perspective has changed enough by now that I can write about it though. Fair warning: it’s going to be long!
Ever since I started running longer distances, my goal has been to run a sub 3 hour half marathon. This was the race where it was possible. My training had gotten me to the point where it was within my grasp. Shortly before the race, my 3 year old got sick and spent a day throwing up. She recovered pretty quickly, and no one else got sick, so I assumed it was just some odd fluke. The day before the race arrived, and my family and I spent the day at a wedding, then headed out to pick up my race bib. Packet pickup was fast and easy, I snagged a couple of photos and headed home.
That evening, my stomach was not too happy. I just figured it was something I had eaten at the wedding, so I ate a light dinner and went to bed. The next morning came early, and I was a bundle of nerves. Which is so silly, isn’t it? Why do we get so nervous for races? I always do though. I struggled to choke down some breakfast, I really didn’t want to even look at food, but I knew I’d need the fuel. We loaded up the kids and headed to the starting line. We got there plenty early, so I had plenty of time do all the pre-race things, and of course pictures.
I tried doing a little warm up, but even that was a challenge, and I started dry-heaving. I once again, assumed it was nerves, and decided I’d walk the first half mile to give myself time to calm down and get into running mode. It was a mass start race, so when the time came to line up at the starting line, I placed myself in the back knowing that I’d be walking for a bit. And then we were off!
(not sure what I was looking at. But clearly it was interesting!)
I walked my half mile, and was still feeling pretty iffy, but I decided to go ahead and start running. I knew my goal pace for that first mile wasn’t going to happen (about 13:45 m/m) so I decided to finish the mile out at an easier pace (14:30-14:45) and pick it up in mile 2. Mile 2 came along, and I was still struggling, so I held onto my easier pace, knowing I probably wouldn’t hit my sub 3 time goal, but also knowing if I pushed too hard in the beginning, it would kill me in the end. Mile 3 came along and it was all I could do to not stop and throw up along the side of the trail. I hit the first aid station and grabbed some chews and water, hoping that would settle my stomach. I walked some more, sipping my water, and sent a text to my husband letting him know that I was feeling pretty sick. He offered to come pick me up whenever I needed, and asked me to keep him updated. The portion of trail we were running on was not easily accessible by road, so I told him I’d get to the next aid station and decide if I was going to continue or not. I knew the aid station at least would be easier to get to, or they might even have someone who could take me back to the starting line.
I continued on, trying to remind myself to enjoy the views and have fun with the other racers. I tried alternating easy running and walking, but eventually I had to admit that wasn’t a good idea. I was grateful that I had decided to bring my hydration pack though, because sipping on that seemed to help my stomach. The next few miles are kind of a blur. I made it to the next aid station, and grabbed some more chews, and briefly considered stopping to use the porta-potty but decided against it because there was a line several people deep. At this point we were back on the street, going through a neighborhood. The river was really high, and part of the trail had flooded, so the course got redirected. I decided to keep going, knowing that it would be easier to stop and have my husband pick me up if needed.
The nice thing about this race, is that there were a lot of people. It’s a whole lot easier to be struggling through a race when there are others around! The crowds had definitely thinned though, and I was mostly by myself by this point. I kind of seemed to be between the last running pack and the first walking pack. I got to a point in the course where we had to cross a busy street. The crossing was being directed by some local police officers, who definitely looked frazzled! There was heavy traffic backed up really far in both directions, so they asked if I’d mind waiting for the next group of people before crossing, so they wouldn’t have to stop traffic for just one person. Other times I might have been a bit annoyed by something like that, but this time I didn’t really care. I knew the race was not about time anymore, and I could understand the officer’s perspective and his desire to keep traffic moving. I ended up waiting about 2 minutes or so, which was actually a nice little break! The next mile or so continued through the streets, and eventually rejoined to trail by the river. My plan was to get to the next aid station and reevaluate, but when the next aid station came up, I immediately looked for the porta-potty. I had been drinking a lot, but because I wasn’t running, I wasn’t sweating much. Which obviously leads to a full bladder! There was however, a line, but in the distance I spotted another bathroom, one that was there for the trail system and not one of the aid station ones. So I headed there, completely forgetting that I was going to decided whether or not to continue. There was a short line at this one, but I decided to wait it out. By the time I was done I just headed back down the trail, not even considering going back to the aid station to get picked up!
There was nothing to do but keep going. By the time I had hit mile 8, and was feeling pretty discouraged. I was averaging somewhere around 17 min miles, and I just wanted to curl up and cry. I ended up falling alongside someone else who was walking the half, and we spent nearly 3 miles together. It was just what I needed! It was so great to have someone to talk to, someone to help distract me and help keep me moving. I’ll probably never see her again, in fact I don’t even know her name! But I’m so grateful to her for helping me through that. Eventually I had to slow down though. I hurt soooo badly. It may seem like walking 13 miles would be easy if you’re used to running that distance. But it’s not. Not at all. Training to run a half marathon gives your body time to get used to the distance, time to strengthen your running muscles and build up a tolerance to the pounding your feet will take. But walking is different than running. Your stride is different. You use your muscles differently. You land on your feet differently. And 11ish miles of walking was teaching me that. My knees were starting to feel it, and I felt like the bottom of my feet were raw. There was nothing to do but keep going. I was too close to give up! I’ve gotta admit though, It was really hard when I passed that 3 hour mark, knowing how far away from my goal I was.
And then the blisters started popping. Sooo painful! I haven’t had blisters on my feet in years, and never right on the bottom of my feet. I kept hobbling along though, too stubborn to quit when I was this close. I passed that mile 12 marker and I’ve never been so happy, even though it had taken me nearly 22 minutes to finish that mile! I was mostly alone at this point, there were very few half marathoners left. There were still some of the full marathoners passing me here and there, but I was mostly alone. I got to a point where the trail seemed to split a bit. I couldn’t see any clear directions, or maybe my brain was in too much of a fog to see them, but I decided to head right. The next thing I knew, I was walking through an outdoor seating area at a restaurant, and exiting out onto a street. I was lost. I stopped and looked all around me, and couldn’t see any obvious way I was supposed to go. I wasn’t at all familiar with the area, so I couldn’t even gauge where the finish line was supposed to be. I panicked. I cried. I was ready to give up. I called my husband…he didn’t answer. I decided to head back the way I came, to see if I had missed something, and to hopefully get back on track. Thankfully, a runner spotted me and directed me back on course. I was sooo relieved!
As I hobbled along, my husband called me back. I explained to him what had happened. I was now directly across the river from the finish line, and was so happy to know that I was almost done! As I was telling him where I was, I looked up and saw a race photographer. My first thought was, “The first photographer I’ve seen, and I’m walking and talking on the phone?! Perfect.” So I quickly got off the phone and walked by. I couldn’t even summon the motivation to run long enough to pass the photographer. I’m looking forward to seeing if he got a photo of me though, and whether or not I was on the phone!
(update: he was nice enough to wait until after I got off the phone to take the photo!)
After that I finally got to cross the bridge over the river, through the park, and across the finish line! I think I managed to run the last couple hundred feet or so, just so I could get that finish line photo! I forced a smile and made across! I spotted my family and went over to hug them. Then I spotted the camera my husband was recording me with. The camera that still had the lens cap on. Really?! All that and I didn’t even get the stupid finish line video?! He apologized profusely (poor guy felt so bad!), and suggested I run through again. He said lots of other people had been doing it, so I wouldn’t look silly. So I did. Then I got my medal and finishers shirt, and went to take some photos.
I stood at the photo station, and my husband took my picture. And then I decided to do my traditional jump shot. I regretted it as soon as my feet left the ground! And then my feet returned to the ground. Soooo painful you guys! So then there was nothing left to do but find a first aid station. They supplied me with some band-aids and I went to sit down and bandage my feet. I pulled of my shoes and socks, fully expecting blood. I couldn’t see a thing. Not even blisters! I honestly felt a little cheated. All that pain and nothing to show for it?! But as I looked a little closer, I could see where the blisters had been, and felt a little more justified. As I sat and rested for a few, I pulled out the camera to watch my finish line video. It wasn’t there. There was the first video he took, the one one with the lens cap on, but not the second one. Seriously, that poor guy felt awful. I tried to reassure him that it was ok, but I’m not sure how convincing I sounded since I was trying not to cry. By that point I was ready to just go home. My husband went to get the car, and I sat and cried a bit.
I had spent months training for that race, I had put in hundreds of miles…and I had nothing to show for it. I was a wreck. And I knew I couldn’t just put it behind me, pretend like it hadn’t happened. So many people not only knew about the race, but also knew about my goal. Now I was going to have to tell them all. Tell them that I had failed. It was not something I looked forward to. The 45 minute drive home was quiet. My husband kept trying to make me feel better, kept offering to stop somewhere to get me something. But I was so sick and miserable, I knew I couldn’t eat anything. I spent the rest of the day in bed. Resting and answering text messages. Responding to people’s inquiries about my race, and then finally sharing about it on Instagram. Oddly, instead of making me feel worse, it made me feel better. The response from people was amazing. Full of encouragement! By the time I went to bed, I had a completely different perspective on my day.
All said and done, I finished just under 4 hours. That includes the time I had to wait to cross traffic, the bathroom break, and the few minutes of getting lost. Clearly, that’s a far cry from the 3 hours I was hoping for. But 4 hours of walking practically nonstop, while sick? That’s an accomplishment for sure. Some of you have called it mental strength, some of you called it toughness. I call it stubbornness! But whatever it was, it got me through the day.
Bad races happen to all of us. Whether it’s getting sick, weather, injury, or a myriad of other causes. I’m not sure yet the full ramifications of this race experience will be. Part of me wants to get back into half marathon training and try again, the other part of me wonders if it’s time for a new goal. I’m not sure which part will win in the end. But I don’t need to figure that out just yet. So, for this week I’m going to rest, I’m going to process, and I’m going to enjoy a weekend with family.
Photo update: The race photographer got some finish line photos of me! From both times I crossed the finish like hahaha! Yay for free race photos!!!