What Running (And Failing At) A Race Taught Me
Pre-race, post-potty – the high point of my day.
The End: Shaking, incoherent, sobbing, vomiting and laying under all my blankets still in my sweat-soaked racing clothes: This was how my kids found mommy yesterday.
The Beginning: “Sure, give me some of your pills!” Famous. Last. Words.
That pretty much sums it up. But if you want all the gory details of my Worst Race Ever (swiftly followed by Very Important Life Lesson), read on:
The day dawned bright and beautiful and cold. Gym Buddies Allison, Megan and I met up all kitted out in our glittery skirts and painted hair. The drive in was easy, we quickly found a parking spot, we were plenty early for several potty breaks and I even got to meet Reader Jen at the starting line (which got awkward when Allison asked her if she wanted me to sign her bra. Jen replied, “Do people really ask you that?!” And I was like, “Um, NO. Just Allison!” I’m sorry Jen!). But even with everything going so swimmingly, I was still really anxious. Have to do my best, remember?
Allison and I after getting all prettied up.
It was my last long training run that did me in. My “fun” goal for the race was 1:30 for the ten miles – an easy 9 minute pace*. I knew I could do that. But then I had an awesome run outside. And then an even better one inside. I’d consistently paced at 8:40/mile. I didn’t want to tell anyone for fear of jinxing myself but if I could shave that down to 8:30/mile that would be a personal record (PR) for me for this distance. Sure I’d have to run a hard race but I could do it! If I just had a little edge… Just, you know, something to give me a tiny push… Something like… a pill?
Seduced by the allure of a PR, I convinced one of the Gym Buddies who is into that sort of thing to give me a couple of caffeine pills. It’s just caffeine, I reasoned. Sure I’m caffeine sensitive but it wasn’t that much and my Gym Buddy uses them all the time and has had great results with them. I mean it’s not like it was crack, right?
Might as well have been crack. Actually, crack would have been preferable.
I knew something was wrong about 20 minutes after I swallowed them. A strange fog came over my mind, my heart started pounding and I began to shake uncontrollably. Nausea rolled over me in waves. “Don’t worry, you’ll feel better once you start running,” my friends reassured me. And for a few minutes I did. Then I realized something strange; I could no longer feel my limbs. You’d think this would be a bonus for an endurance race – hey, I’m flying! – but when I say I couldn’t feel my limbs I mean I couldn’t feel my body. It was the strangest feeling and not at all pleasant. I realized the downside to this when I tripped over a stick and caught it between my legs – it took me 10 feet to figure out why my legs weren’t propelling me forward anymore. I also managed to tear off half my fingernail (Where? On what? Who knows??) and get a bruise on my thigh the size of a fist.
You remember the children’s story The Red Shoes – little orphaned girl covets red dancing shoes, girl gets shoes and loves them more than anything else, the shoes become possessed and bind to her feet forcing her to dance until at last she convinces someone to chop off her feet. And then she dies! Charming little tale: deadly sin, demonic possession, punishment that way overshadows the crime – sure don’t make fairytales like they used to! Well, I was now the girl in the red shoes. My legs only had one speed: sprint. So I ran the first three or four miles at a crazy pace and then it hit me. No, not another stick. The nausea that had been building now punched me in the stomach and I immediately knew I shouldn’t have blogged about runners who poop their pants because I was pretty sure I was about to join their ranks. I stopped just long enough to blow chunks. Thankfully they came out of my mouth. (I never thought I’d be so grateful for barf!)
I have never, ever vomited during a race. Wanted to, yes. Done it, no. I walked a few paces and then my stupid possessed legs took off again. This became my strategy for the last 6 miles: sprint until I was 99% sure I was going to puke again and then walk. Sprint, heave, walk. Repeat. I’m pretty sure this particular strategy isn’t covered in any of the major running manuals. Can’t say I recommend it either. By mile 8 I just wanted to die. If I’d known the neighborhood at all, I would have ducked out of the race but I knew I had to make it to the finish line to find my friends and my ride home. So I continued to run the most schizophrenic race ever, alternately confusing and horrifying fellow runners and bystanders alike. Hey kids, don’t do drugs!
The finish line is supposed to be a glorious moment where you sprint with your arms held high in the ecstasy of victory. I dragged over it after having walked most of the final mile, my possessed leg muscles twitching in protest. To be honest I don’t remember much after that. I hugged Gym Buddy Dennis. Some man I didn’t know gave me a picnic blanket to put over the two sweatshirts I was already wearing over my running clothes and I still couldn’t stop shaking. I ate one bite of a salted nut roll only to throw it back up in my mouth. My legs were weak, I wanted to cry and my heart was beating so funny I was sure I’d just self-medicated myself into a heart attack. I kept a brave face on until I got home (at least I think I did, my friends would have to tell you how convincing I was) hoping that my husband would be home. He wasn’t.
I burst into hysterical sobs, threw up again and eventually managed to drag myself into bed which is where my kids found me sometime later crying and hyperventilating. By the time my husband got up there I begged him to take me to the E.R. I was that sure I was dying. Instead he changed me into dry clothes, gave me a few sips of Sprite and put me back in bed where I spent the rest of the day. I couldn’t eat a thing until this morning. Between sweat, tears and vomit I lost 3.5 pounds in 24 hours so while I missed my running best, I think I set a new PR in bodily fluid spewage.
To say I was bitterly disappointed in myself would be a massive understatement. I spent last night trying to decide which spot this event would take in my Top 10 List of Things I Most Regret. (Top 5, probably.) I spent most of this morning wishing for a do-over and calling myself every iteration of idiot I could muster. After avoiding it all day, I finally broke down and looked at my time on the race site. It wasn’t great (1:37 – 9:40/mile) but you know what? It wasn’t terrible. I finished. I cannot believe I finished at all. As far as mental toughness goes, this was by far the toughest race I have ever run. And yet I still did it.
Then I did something even better: I looked up the times for all of my friends that ran it. Since I’d puked up any last vestiges of pride and competitiveness, I was able to look at their times and just see their accomplishment. And it was a beautiful thing! I was so proud of them I started crying all over again but happy tears this time. Every person had to run their own race yesterday and they all did. Every single one finished. Megan got a PR in the half-marathon. Allison ran her first 10-miler and looked adorable doing it. Kandi & Ben finished within 1 second of each other (the couple that runs together, stays together!). Jeni ran her first 10-miler and hit her goal while her two young daughters cheered their hearts out for her. Other Megan #1 ran her first-ever half marathon and Other Megan #2 paced her step-for-step; they crossed together. Tom shaved 30 minutes off his last half time. Candice finished her first half marathon. Melissa and Julie and Greg and Other Megan #3 (seriously, we have that many Megans at the Y) and Jen and Other Allison all ran great runs.
In that moment I realized that if I can be proud of all of them – and I SO am! – then I can be proud of myself too. I may not be proud of what I did but I am proud of myself for finishing. And that is, after all, good enough.
What is your worst race story? Anyone else ever take a shortcut to help them only to have it massively backfire? What moment do you wish you could do over?
*I don’t normally use actual numbers when I post because I know numbers are very triggering for some people and for the rest of us, well, comparisons are odious. My fast is your slow, my slow is your fast… whatever. But writing this out without the numbers ended up needing more calculus than I remember. My apologies if this made you nuts.
Post-race with our finisher’s medals! Boy howdy did I earn this one.
Written with love by Charlotte Hilton Andersen for The Great Fitness Experiment (c) 2011. If you enjoyed this, please check out my new book The Great Fitness Experiment: One Year of Trying Everythingfor more of my crazy antics and uncomfortable over-shares!