I decided to share with you all some of my race day disasters. If there is one thing that seems to be emblematic of my running, it’s things falling apart on race day for no good reason. Weirdly, I’ve gone into races completely unprepared (as in, running maybe 30 total miles in the 6 weeks prior to my first half marathon with no run longer than 5 miles) which turn out perfectly fine and yet, many of my races that I’ve entered 100% physically and mentally prepared for, utter disaster strikes. There have been great ones, too, of course, but what fun are those to rehash? Here are a few of my highlights…er, lowlights:
1. In my first marathon, I had run 18ish miles when some idiot tripped people at the water station. I wasn’t tripped by the original offender, but someone fell on top of me and I, in turn, fell on top of some poor man who ended up with serious road rash. The twisting my leg did under a bunch of bodies was INCREDIBLY painful and when I tried to run, I found I couldn’t without tears streaming down my face. I had NOT just done all that training and 18 miles of running to quit when the medics wanted to check me out, so I walked the remainder of the course. It took me forever to limp my way to the finish but I sucked it up the last few yards to run it in with tears streaming down my face. Joe had gotten so worried that I hadn’t appeared two hours before that he was busy yelling at people to go out and find me when I found him in the finish line chaos. A trip to the doctor and an MRI showed that the fall had torn two ligaments in my knee and necessitated 8 months off of running completely. At least I crossed the finish line or I would have been ten times as upset. Lesson learned: Be aware of your surroundings at congested points (water stations, the first few miles, etc)
2. I was due to compete in the USAT Collegiate National Championships (triathlon, if you are unaware what USAT is) and we flew to the race two days early. I still have no idea how I did it, but during a shakeout run on a trail (rock maybe?) I felt searing pain in my foot. We had to find a podiatrist willing to see a random out-of-state patient on short notice and learned within a few hours that I had partially torn my plantar fasciia. He taped it up crazy tight but told me flat out, there’s no way I would be able to run. Not that I couldn’t try, that I physically couldn’t. Obviously, I’m stubborn, so I decided I’d swim and bike and if it sucked that bad, walk the run. I didn’t last 5 minutes. The pain is unbelievable. Another massive amount of time off for that one. Lesson learned: Well, I don’t know what I could have done to prevent the actual injury but for heaven’s sake, people, don’t be stupid like me and try to compete on it.
3. Not so much a “disaster” as bad luck. I was running a race in April in Richmond, VA. For whatever reason, they sent the age groups off at different times to alleviate course congestion. Being the youngest group, we went off at noon. Temps are usually around 70s, maybe 80s at most that time of year but no, for two days only temperatures reached over 100 at the peak of the day, exactly when I was racing. Wholly unprepared for the heat, I alternated actual running with walk breaks every few minutes, mostly due to the fact that I was terrified that my HR watch was telling me I had spiked to 196 BPM whenever I started to even jog. I commiserated with a guy doing the exact same thing next to me for most of the race. He was crushed, he had just set a PR a few weeks earlier and thought he was due for another one. Slowest I have ever “run” in my life, but there’s not much you can do about that kind of freakish heat. Lesson learned: Practice hydration and pace adjustment for all weather conditions in practice runs so you know how to handle various race conditions. And in the event of freak conditions, be patient and do your best on that day, don’t go crazy trying to achieve what you would have on a cooler day.
4. With the exception of #3, potentially the most life-threatening. I was running a marathon and on target through halfway when I decided to take a gel on the course. Literally steps later, I’m throwing up for half an hour by the side of the road. The nicest lady in the world stopped her race just to sit with me while I was shaking and scared and on a part of the course with very few spectators. She wouldn’t leave until I stopped vomiting and I wish I knew who she was so I could thank her for keeping me company (and making sure I wasn’t dying) and for embodying the runner’s spirit. I had no idea what was wrong, but I had obviously depleted myself and had no energy left so again, I was walking to the finish. I found out later that the gel had apple extract and I could have gone into anaphylactic shock but my body somehow was able to get rid of it before I had that kind of reaction. It’s kind of amazing how your body does its best to save you from yourself. I walked incredibly slowly to the finish, again scaring the crap out of Joe who had checked my pace at the half and knew I was on target to finish 2.5 hours earlier than I did. Lesson learned: Look up in advance what the course supplied fuel is and then look up the ingredients of those products and practice with them. Try to find out the flavors too, I was tripped up not by the brand (which I knew I could stomach) but the flavor.
I promise I’ve had races that have actually gone well, too, but I think you learn a lot from the bad ones and I’m a fiend now about learning everything I can about a race before I go: where to run the tangents, where the water stations are and how they are set up, what the available fuel is, which parts of the course have the worst congestion. All of my experiences have made me a better runner and a better racer, even the injuries.
What about you, ever had a race disaster?
Ever run a race in really cold or really hot temperatures?