Race Day Disasters

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?


55 thoughts on “Race Day Disasters

  1. One thing I don’t like about roadraces is the water/aid stations, a really dangerous place, starting with the caps of the water bottles, people who insist on putting the cap back on the bottle before throwing it away (stepping on that is a recipe for disaster) and then people.
    I think my worse race was one in Hauppauge, it was a 10km, a USATF Nat. Championships, mid August at 10am, I was 13 minutes off my best time, but I finished, and finished 2nd, out of 20 that started the race, only 8 finished. Was really humid and extremely hot.

    • I’ve never done a race with bottles but never thought of that side effect! I always thought it would be nice for me because I suck at drinking out of the cups but now that you say that, I bet the cap chaos is more trouble than it’s worth!

  2. that first one would have pissed me off so much! what kind of jerk trips people at a marathon, it was your first too! I think I see a trend of you having painful experiences and still trying to finish races….

  3. Good post idea! I don’t have any stories nearly as traumatizing (yet). My biggest race day disaster was probably either: a full marathon in the pouring rain (soaked shoes at the start line) or a 5k with 4 total runners and a terribly marked course–we ALL got lost and ended up teaming up, so the first place runner would run out to find the “next ribbon” and wave us all on

    • Oh no!! That’s terrible 😦 I try to be thankful that even with my two bad marathon experiences, both times I was able to finish. Had I torn my knee ligaments before the race, I wouldn’t have crossed my first marathon finish line that day. Was it a triathlon or a run that you missed?

  4. wow, girl! You’ve had a few rough races! You poor thing throwing up on the side of the road:/ That would totally be scary and so disappointing. This is kind of inspiring me to do a post of my own:P I ran a half in really hot temperatures a few years ago. When I finished you could feel and see the salt on my forehead. As for cold, yup, I live in Canada lol!

    • It was definitely scary! Now that I know what happened, I understand it, but at the time I was just scared and confused. You Canadians are crazy, not only is it freezing there but you guys actually race all freezing winter long! The coldest race I ran was a marathon in about 33 degrees F. Cold isn’t my favorite but it sure beats hot…

  5. No racing disasters so far for me (just injuries leading up to and after them), but for some reason whenever I sign up for a half, I get cold and/or rainy weather. Although I don’t mind that – 60 degree weather in July is better than 90 when it comes to running!

  6. What kind of person trips runners?! That blows my mind!! I can’t believe that… So sorry for your injury too!

    WOW I never new a gel could have that kind of impact on you too! How scary 😦

    I haven’t had any race disasters that really stuck in my head, aside from having the WORST digestive tract ever, it seems haha! My body always picks the wrong time to have to go, so that’s always fun to deal with.

    Ahh the life of a runner, eh? 🙂

    • I don’t think gels would hurt most people, I’m just allergic to apples and didn’t check the ingredients (too busy running I guess…oops). Sorry you’ve had bad luck with GI stuff during races! If it makes you feel any better, I have read some hilarious but horrible stories from elites who have had digestive issues during races…runner problems 😉

  7. Wow you’ve had some rough races! I can’t think of any off the top of my head, but I’ve had my fair share. Getting sick in the middle of an indoor track 5k was one of them. That was a miserable race. The good thing is that we do learn from every race we run, and sometimes the worst races are the ones we can take the biggest lessons from!

  8. Holy scary! That lady sounds awesome – part of the reasons I love endurance sports. I hope this means you never gave a disaster again – you’ve definitely had your fair share!

    • I hope it means that too! And yes, she was like an angel. There is actually more to the story that made me feel worse about her stopping…she had just been diagnosed with cancer and was running the marathon and starting her chemo the next day. She didn’t know when she’d be able to run that kind of distance again so she was viewing it as her last big hurrah before she gave everything she could to fighting the cancer. I kept begging her to leave me when she told me but she just kept sitting there. She was an incredible lady.

  9. Ah good advice, sucks you had to learn it the hard way! I’ve been lucky and never had any race injuries but fingers crossed. I’m always worried about the congestion spots during bike rides and swimming in a pack of 1000 + people is horrible.

  10. OMG…getting tripped at mile 18 is the cruelest thing ever! That’s horrible!

    My Race Day disasters seem miniscule now compared to ‘tearing fascia’ !!!! But here they are: not getting into a washroom due to long lineups before the start :S iPod dying (not a disaster I know), shoe coming untied and me missing my goal by seconds! Side Stitches….need I say more???

    Congestion at water stations freaks me out. And now, I’ll be extra cautious after reading your experience!

  11. Oh wow, that’s some crazy luck you’ve had! At last year’s Disney Marathon, they had a heat wave come through. I had been training in 20-40 degree temps, but race day in Florida it was in the 80’s with 90% humidity. I did not have a good race. Haha.
    Not me, but one of my elite friends here in Dallas was running the Cowtown Marathon in the lead, when the course markings sent him in the wrong direction. Despite running a mile or so extra, he still won the race (he’s fast).

  12. I’m pretty sure I have a guest post scheduled to hit sometime this weekend, but the SAME damn thing happened to me, where I had been having some troubles with my stomach leading up to the race, and 18 miles into the Greensboro Marathon, I puked my guts out. So gross!

  13. Oh my! I got tripped up at a water station during a half back in November. Still trying to figure out why they had a water station in such a narrow place! Luckily I was able to keep my balance though. I would have been so upset if I was you! I would have been crying not only from the pain but from anger. Things out of your control (like weather and freak accidents) are hard to handle but someone else’s stupidity would just put me over the top! So thankful I haven’t had anything as terrible as this happen to me!

    • That was the case for me too, narrow point water station and on a downhill…freaking genius. It’s so hard when it’s out of your control and also kind of a blessing because as upset as I was that my race was ruined and in I was in so much pain, I also knew it wasn’t my fault and that I was guaranteed to do better in my next race.

  14. Oh my word, these are all horror stories! I would say you have bad luck but I guess with such a long running career it is bound to happen. I know it wasn’t the most life threatening, but your first story…. wow. GO YOU for finishing!!!

  15. YIkes! They are some pretty awful race disasters. I guess they’re character building?

    My first half marathon was in Utah last May. It rained non-stop for the hour we had to wait at the top of the canyon for the race to start and only got worse during the race. I was completely soaked and my shoes were squelching. They messed up the bag collections so I was freezing cold with no dry clothes for about an hour after the race. Luckily my boyfriend found me and brought me straight to our car to warm up before I got hypothermia. Not fun.

  16. Even I want to hug the lady that sat with you! Runners are such an amazing community. I’m glad she took care of you. It can get lonely on some of those long stretches. I PR’d at the Half I was most unprepared for. That came as a complete shock!

  17. Holy crap! Never anything as scary as the apple extract incident, but I did have something somewhat similar to the water station incident happen at a race last year, but it was at the start of a 5 miler. They gave us the go and about 10 feet off the start some girl kicked me in the shin and I went down. I thought I was done for. She kept on going and I wanted to wring her neck. I actually ended up running my fastest mile to date after falling because I was in such a blind rage. I wasn’t injured as you were though…just some cuts on my hands and a badly bruised hip.

    • Good for you! Please tell me you passed her later. What a brat knocking someone over and just carrying on her merry way! I’m so paranoid in congested starts and water stations now it’s hilarious.

  18. Those are all great stories! Sure they weren’t great at all at the moment, but now you have a bunch of running stories to tell. You are so strong and brave to keep going, especially on your first marathon!

  19. OMG these are insane!!! Lol I love how determined and stubborn you are (meant to be a compliment as I am super stubborn too). #1 and 2 sound incredibly painful!! And #4- holy crap! What a freak incident! So glad your body decided to reject that shit right away!

  20. I love race disasters – great post!! I think your first one was my favorite!! I have a couple of good ones, but I think it’s too soon to talk about them. It’ll always be too soon LOL

  21. I love the blog. Found you because of the Pro Compression giveaway, but I’m hooked.

    Can I ask a favor. I’ve decided to run the NYC Marathon this year to raise funds for pediatric cancer research. I have an idea of trying to get 10,000 strangers to donate 26 cents each to prove that every penny makes a difference. Would you be willing to promote this idea if I show you my fundraising page. I just think it would be special to have so many people , especially fellow runners, step up to help in a way that won’t burden them at all. They can simply check under their couch cushions. Thank you

  22. At my first half marathon it ended up being a super chilly morning. I had been prepared and had brought layers and then stripped them down about 10 minutes before the start when I gave away my bag to be carted off to the finish for me. Low and behold, about 2 minutes later they announced that a couple of the hotel busses were delayed and we would not be starting for almost another hour! I was so cold by the time the race and already tired from 45 minutes of jumping jacks and dancing to Gangnam Style over the loud speakers that it was hard to find my groove. Not the worst experience ever but not a great one for your first big time race!

    • Ah, that’s terrible! Did you finish a lot slower than you wanted aft expending so much energy before you even started? That would be so tough, and I’m terrible at being cold so I know for sure my performance would have suffered if that had happened to me!

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