Before I dig into this report I have to admit that I’m still seeking perspective. I’m not sure how long it’s going to take me to come to terms with this marathon but I’m hoping that in putting this race report together, I can stop some of these details from swarming my brain. That just might be a step in the right direction.
Marathon, by Miriam-Webster’s definition: a long distance race, usually of 26.2 miles. Also defined as a contest of endurance, something characterized by great length and concentrated effort.
Marathon, by my definition: a long distance race of 24.1 miles. Also defined as the toughest test of endurance, determination and physical stamina in my entire life.
Any way you look at it – it was long and it was hard.
Race day dawned and I was missing the spring in my step that I had when I did my 18 and 20 mile runs in training. I decided that was just nerves and tried to shake it off. The weather was warm (already 70 at 6am) and muggy. The race started with a yellow flag but I was optimistic anyway.
The first mile felt great, I was a little faster than I should be – but not enough to be worried about. I consciously slowed down to a better long-distance pace for myself in mile two and from there until mile six I felt solid. I met up with a friend at mile two and we stuck to my plan and were having a nice run together, noticing things along the way such as pink painted cherubs and cute houses. This was the run I wanted, a good pace, soaking in my surroundings, running with a friend.
In hindsight, I felt too good – because I ignored the first two water stops.
At mile six I took my first energy gel and instantly felt ill. I’ve taken these gels in all my long runs since last year’s half so it wasn’t something new to my system, but the instant nausea was. I think now that it’s because my body was getting dehydrated and didn’t like all the sugar. I told my friend I needed to walk, she agreed and reminded me that it wasn’t a bad idea to conserve some energy at this point in the race. We walked nearly all of mile seven. Miles eight – ten had more walk breaks than planned and I was noticing an unusual fatigue. Again, something I hadn’t experienced in my runs all spring.
Somewhere between mile 10 and 11 my 12yo daughter was waiting for us. She, my husband, and a good friend had ventured off the 5K course to wait for me and cheer me on. That was a nice pick-me-up and my daughter got to run about a tenth of a mile with me. That was also my exchange point of running partners, I dropped off friend one and picked up friend two and promptly told her that I was not having a good run. I told her that I couldn’t stick to my original plan of taking a walk break every two miles. At this point I was hoping to go a mile between walk breaks. By mile 12 that changed to walking a half mile and running a half mile. By mile 14 I gave up running altogether. I was feeling nauseous and my calves were beginning to cramp up. The only time I ever cramped up on my training runs was when I was dehydrated. It was beginning to dawn on me that I was in trouble and I wasn’t going to be able to make up for it.
I was consciously drinking more by this point but I think the damage had been done. By mile 16 I was feeling light-headed. At mile 18 I actually sat down for a few minutes. I was feeling bad. And on top of my physical feelings, I had an overwhelming sense of failure. A group of my friends and family were sitting at mile 17 to cheer me on and I couldn’t even muster up the energy to run for them. My running partner had trained to run far with me and I was making her walk. They all went to such an effort for me and I felt like I was letting them down.
I must have looked bad because my husband and K, who were in that group of supporters, decided to walk with me for a while. This was not planned at all. And the heat was so bad in this part of the race – no shade, lots of concrete, heat index in the 90s… did I mention they red-flagged the race when I was at mile 13? That means you should slow down and run with caution because of the conditions. My short rest, gulping of gatorade, constant pouring of water on my head and having my husband by my side gave me a bit of a second wind. I picked up my pace around mile 19 and was walking at a pretty good clip for a while.
This was both good and bad. Good for me, though I was still afraid to run because my legs felt on the verge of cramping constantly at this stage. But bad because now I was worried about my husband and K. The heat was obviously getting to them and as I sped up, they slowed down. My running partner kept telling me to focus on myself but it was hard.
At mile 21 it all fell apart. A police car pulled alongside to tell us that the race had been black-flagged. They were closing the finish line and sending out vans to pick up runners. My marathon was over.
I was upset. I was angry. And then I was determined. I was going 26.2 whether it was official or not. K took a shuttle back to the finish line. My husband hung with us for a little while longer but as the water stops were closing and he was feeling the heat too, he decided to catch a ride back. He could tell I was feeling better and my friend certainly wasn’t leaving my side so I would be okay.
At mile 23 I started feeling ill again. I was still refusing all rides back to the finish line. I had my friend with me and I knew I could make it. I was starting to worry about how well I’d be moving but I had enough determination to keep going. A random minivan pulled up and asked if we wanted a ride – there were approx six of us together at this point – but I said no. Then about 50 yards down the street, this same minivan pulled over again. It wasn’t a random driver, it was the race director. She said she couldn’t let us continue. The medical director said it was far too dangerous. They had already called seven ambulances. I completely broke down, one of the women with us was equally upset – she was going for her 50th marathon and needed an official time. The race director felt our pain and promised that if we would just get in her car, she’d radio ahead and have them reopen the finish line just for us. I didn’t think she was taking no for an answer. I had to decide if stumbling to a finish in front of my family – potentially putting my health at risk – was worth it or if I should accept this offer to finish my marathon on different terms than expected.
I took the offer to finish the marathon on different terms. As did everyone else in our group.
Would the race director have let me keep going? I don’t know. Would I have finished on my own? I’m certain I would have. Would it have been safe to do so? I don’t know.
The race director drove us to the stadium (the finish line for this race is on the football field at the University of Notre Dame). She radioed a worker who came and took the padlock off the gates. We walked in through the tunnel and out onto the field. This was the finish line that I had in my head through countless difficult miles of training. I was going to run through this tunnel and come out to the sounds of cheers. Instead, I walked through that tunnel and came out to the sounds of an empty stadium with approx 8 race workers who stood up to clap us in. That and the sound of my sobbing was all I could hear. Does that count as a marathon finished? I’m not sure.
I still have so many questions running through my head. If I was smarter about hydration would I have been close enough to finish before they closed the course? I feel certain that if the weather was better I would have been fine. Should I have pushed myself to run more? Will I ever be able to consider myself a marathon finisher? Will I try again? Part of me is so angry that I want to find another marathon next weekend and do it better. Another part of me is so very defeated that I don’t think I can ever try again.
I don’t know the answers to my questions (yet) but I do know that this weekend taught me a lot. Not the least of which is the importance of family & friends. Tomorrow I have some people to thank. Some of them have given me a bit of the perspective I need to grasp, and I’ll share that too.