Well, it happened.
Ask any runner and it’s very likely that they have a story about “that one” race. Most of them have a story about “that one race” and if it’s not about them, it’s about some other poor runner who succumbed to it. It happened to our own Coach Joe (the coach of our Virtual Team In Training team) and since he was open about it (right here and has offered advice on the topic), I thought I might come out of the closet on the topic myself.
So if you’re a runner and you enjoy partaking in races from time to time, I hate to break it to you but odds are, it’s bound to happen to you, too. My advice from the beginning? Be one with it. Expect it. And move on. It’s like a notch in your belt.
If you think about it, it’s like the race day lottery, really. You never know when to expect it and which race it’s going to happen in.
You never know when your number will be up.
Because you take all the necessary precautions. You eat the right breakfast, you eat early enough, you don’t eat anything crazy that might adversely affect you, you definitely don’t try anything different. In fact, if you’re like me, you get up a little extra early so you can have that one cup of coffee early enough to get things moving along quickly in the right direction. (You know where I’m headed now, don’t you?)
And Heaven forbid it doesn’t move along in a timely manner, you arrive early enough on race day to try your luck at the evil porta potty and its even more evil lines. All necessary evils, but evil nonetheless. (OK, NOW you’re with me. I was being subtle.)
And then before the race, things work out in your favor hopefully and finally, you believe that you are all squared away in that department when lo and behold! The race starts, you’re running along at a comfortable pace and suddenly there is an uncomfortable stirring that occurs around mile 6. I think the term we runner-wanna-be’s call it is, “Gut Rot.” Which inevitably turns into what’s called, “The Runner’s Runs.” (You’re welcome.)
And so when the feeling strikes, you briefly think, “Uh oh.” And then you briefly wonder, “Is my number up?”
So you look at your watch. You weigh out the pros and the cons. You wonder if it is, indeed, the emergency you think might be brewing and if it is, indeed, time to throw in the proverbial towel on the dream of beating that last PR because you know that any kind of pit stop is going to cost you.
You go back and forth in your mind for about a half-mile when all of a sudden, your mind actually decides FOR YOU that it needs to be in the company of a porta-potty immediately. I mean, right away. Because disaster is indeed looming and you know now that running another 7 miles this way is not an option.
Because who wants to be wearing a tutu during any kind of disaster? Seriously! Even tripping and falling in a tutu isn’t an option. Because then you’ll be the girl wearing a tutu who fell and that image of the tutu flying up as you fall on your face and the image of you trying to get up and uncrinkle the poor tutu and run away will be forever emblazoned in the minds of both runners AND spectators. You will forever be the topic of conversation when anyone brings up their race experience, because now YOU are part of THEIR story. “Oh, and remember when that girl in the tutu busted ass? It was hilarious! There was tutu everywhere!”
We can’t have that.
And of course you know too that running with an unsightly substance running down your leg is definitely not an option, but even more importantly running in a tutu with an unsightly substance running down your leg is even less of an option that that! We’re not trying to win the Boston Marathon or anything, here, we’re just one of the thousands just trying to finish! And strangers telling that story? Uh uh. No way. A girl in a tutu has to preserve her dignity, after all.
So. There you are. In your tutu, running along, smiling, while the lower half of your body is screaming. And you pull off to the side when you see the oasis of porta-potties to your left and despite how disgusting they are in reality, you think to yourself, “Pretty maids all in a row!” Because that’s just about the best thing those eyes have seen since this feeling all started!
And then you get in line, because yes, even during a race at mile 6, there is a line, and you watch your PR, every precious second of it, tick away from you. And even though you know in your heart that the disaster that is awaiting is so much more important to divert, the pain of giving up the dream of a new PR is still there hanging over you. It’s a small moment of defeat when you stop running.
Finally, a long and full 5 minutes later (you’re welcome), I emerge from the porta-potty somewhat victorious and I’m ready to continue on, disaster averted, ready to run.
I de-crumple my poor tutu that was cowering at the sight of the porta-potty, and together, my tutu and I pick it up and get back in the race. At that point, I heard my tutu whisper in its little begging tulle-y voice, "Please. No more porta-potties." I assured it we were ok.
I get moving and it feels pretty good, only I realize that it’s actually pretty hard to keep that 10 minute mile momentum up after stopping for a good 5 minutes. Nearly impossible, in fact. And my mind frame begins to shift from trying to catch up and catch that PR, because honestly, yes, I was still a bit unwilling to give up the dream and trying to do the math for the next couple a miles hoping that maybe the dream was still alive somehow, somewhere, post-porta-potty. I realized that it might not be in the cards for me after all, so my mind began to drift toward just finishing. Which is just never the end I have in mind at the beginning.
So I GU, I GU Chomp, I hydrate, I run along with the 2:30 pace group for a while until my legs start to feel like concrete stumps around mile 10 and the 2:30 pace girl eventually fades off into the distance because I can no longer keep up her pace, and I feel a little more defeated.
At that point, I hear my husband’s voice in my head. “It’s easy. You just put one foot in front of the other, for a while, until you’re done,” he says.
Easy for him to say.
But that’s what I do. I keep propelling myself forward, hearing the masses along the route cheering for my tutu (because they do! They really do!) and it lifts me up. I play only the fastest, hardest songs on my I-Pod because those are what I need right now. But of course only one headphone is working at this point and it’s funny how only half a pair of headphones gives you the effect of only half a “pump up”, rather than the entire “pump up” that you need.
I look down at my tutu and it’s a bit crumpled and weary-looking and I decide that it looks just about how I feel. And I hurt. I hurt a lot.
I slow down and walk for exactly one minute. It takes me to the 11 mile mark and I decide that the pain in my quads and the pain in my feet doesn’t actually exist and that it’s only in my mind and I push through it.
Around mile 12, a song comes on and the lyrics are:“I need you right now.” And I decide that I might need a little divine intervention at this point. Because I’m now in the very last mile and my body doesn’t feel the end in sight and it’s yelling at me.
I say a little simple prayer. “God, I need you right now,” I say in my head.
And then I climb a hill and what do you know? At the tippy top is an entire cheerleading squad wearing tutus and they are ALL CHEERING FOR ME! Because I’m wearing a tutu and all and when you’re wearing a tutu, you realize that there is such a thing called “tutu solidarity.”
We tutus stick together.
And it made me so happy and I got all choked up and have you noticed how hard it is to run when you’re getting choked up? So I try to regain my composure here and the very next song that comes on is “Hum Hallellujah” by Fallout Boy. Again, divine intervention? You know what I think, of course!
Here, is the spot where I would like to insert my two cents about hills. Because that’s just what cropped up in the final ½ mile. A darned hill.
Someone told me before the race that there were only a few hills and that it was a pretty flat course. But I’m from Florida. I know flat. And this course was not flat. It was riddled with hills. And not the kind that I like, because I actually even kind of like hills. The ones that go straight up and down? I like them. Even on a bike, I like them. I like to pretend that this big bad hill is out to get me and as I’m cursing it on the way up, I am conquering it. I like to yell at the hills as I climb them and I like to tell them off when I get to the top. Because it feels good.
But these hills were different. They were MILE-LONG inclines, hills that lasted forever and forever and forever. Ones that never, ever seem to end. Long, drawn out hills that are like those terrible movies with lots of really good actors in them that fool you into think they’re going to be good movies but really they suck really bad and you just want it to be over already.
I insert my little hill rant here because of course, it followed too, that the very last ½ mile of the run was on one of those slow drawn-out inclines with a tiny strip of straightaway at the end and it felt just the slightest bit cruel to do to that to a runner who had just gone 12.5 miles. I mean, really, race-course-mapper-outers. Thanks?
Anyway, despite my personal, ahem, pitstop, I loved everything about doing this race. In the grand scheme of things, this race actually had very little to do with beating the time from my last race. It had everything to do with running a half-marathon as part of a team, part of a wonderful group of girls and an even greater cause, it had to do with conquering so many little obstacles and finding victories along the way, an exact metaphor for the way life goes and especially the way life with cancer goes. Because that is what this has all been for, after all.
I love so much how every race has its own story, from the beginning of its inception, to the training, all the way to the very, very end. And in the story is a chapter of each training session, each learned moment, each victory and success, each injury suffered and overcome, each tear and each tiny defeat. It all leads to that one moment at the starting line when you’re waiting for that horn to blow. The journey was the hardest part, after all. It makes the next 2.5 to 5 hours toward that finish line look like gravy.
So in this story, it wasn’t my best race. It certainly wasn’t my prettiest. Well, the tutu turned out to be pretty cool. And my “unfortunate emergency” number was up for this race (because it was bound to happen sooner or later!) And in the end, I didn’t beat my PR. The training was long and filled with learning moments.
My lessons: I learned that nutrition before, after and during the long runs is well worth the effort of logging and switching and experimenting (although that wouldn’t have helped me on race day in this case.) I learned that playing softball and toying with a knee that has very little cartilage and no ACL will jeopardize my future in running or triathlons, so it will have to go for now. I learned that the long runs are necessary and should not be skipped (Yep. I skipped one.) I learned that tempo runs really do kick your ass into making you faster! I learned that you can somehow convince people to let you fly all the way to California without your identification because you have driven right out of the bank drive-thru without it the day before and your flight happens to leave before the bank re-opens. I learned that if I have a race, it is inevitable that I will get a cold that will level me the week before. I also learned that at some point, I might just have to stop having huge expectations for myself and believe that doing the best that I can do with what is going on at the time is victory in and of itself. That it’s not all about the PR, but like in this case, something much, much greater. That in the end, it is a race against me and only me. And that I win. No matter what.
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