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Apr 29

The Worst Race Day Ever and How to Avoid Having Another One

If you have been running and racing for any length of time, you have probably experienced the worst race day ever. Possibly two. There are just so many factors out of a runner’s control, coupled with the fact of having just one day to race, after what was most likely months of training.

I’ve been running for over 15 years now and have had my share of horrible races. Mostly the weather has had something to do with it but there was also that one time when I followed the lead pack and went the wrong way in a 5K race, when I was the first woman. It wasn’t pretty.

I ran .58 miles more but managed to come in third in my age group. My prize was a Donna Summer album titled "The Wanderer!" Touche.

I ran .58 miles farther but managed to come in third in my age group. My prize was a Donna Summer album titled “The Wanderer!” Touché! At least I can laugh at myself.

Because misery loves company, I took to social media to ask all my runner friends to share their horrific racing stories. I was not disappointed but I was truly shocked that some of them not only survived the races they described but had the cojones to lace up and race again! Runners are a tough bunch. #CaptainObvious

Here are the most common reasons horrendous races happen and, how you can avoid making the same mistakes we did:

THE WEATHER

Perhaps someday runners will realize their ultimate collective dream and be able to control the weather. Every race day will be set for partly cloudy skies and 45 degrees, and we will PR every time! Ok, so that will probably never happen. It certainly did not happen when I ran my first ever marathon in pouring, driving rain and it absolutely did not happen when I ran Boston for the first time in 2007 when they almost canceled the race because of a nor’easter.

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This is what happens when the weather screws with your race day:

“I’m with you on Boston in the Nor’easter 2007 baby!! That was my first and only marathon…I basically ran in a plastic suit trying to keep dry….it was 30* at the finish…my feet felt like they were broken….but boy was that finish line sweet!!!  – Nancy C.

You can also ride the pain train for 13.2:

“At the start, it began to downpour and made it as miserable as possible. I questioned why I was even there.  To set the stage, it was also 40 degrees and windy.  The wind made the “feel” temperature around 30 degrees. [13.1 miles later]….When I finally saw the clock, I was surprised. It felt as if I was inching along slower than a slogging recovery run. I crossed in 1:26.50 and my body immediately locked up.  My legs felt stiff; my calves tired, and I was cold. I went through the shoot, tried to smile at friends and booked it straight to get warm clothing.  (By booked, I mean hobbled slower than a senior citizen).” – Hollie S.

Doesn’t she look like she’s having fun?

Hollie blogs at FueledbyLOLZ but this was not funny...

Hollie blogs at FueledbyLOLZ but this was not funny…

How to avoid it:

Basically, you can’t. The only thing you can do is get out there in the bad weather during your training and try to prepare for it. As inviting as the treadmill may look on a cold, windy, wet day, as long as it’s safe to be outside – get out there! You will feel so much more confident staring down a start line in the pouring rain/sleet/wind, knowing you have done it before. Plus, it makes you feel like a total badass…until you crumple into a ball, weeping at the finish. But hey, the story!

THE BODY BREAK DOWN – FUEL INDUCED

I know my husband thinks I’m insane when I start to talk about the complexities of figuring out pre-race, race and post-race fuel. The fact that I even refer to it as “fuel” makes his eyes roll so far into the back of his head, I think he may be seizing. However, he doesn’t race and I tell him he should feel lucky he doesn’t have to figure this out because it can be so difficult.

The race start time, location (time zone, etc) and distance all factor in and, sometimes the best laid plans can go down the shitter. Pun so intended.

“As my husband called my name at the finish line of my one and only 26.2, I started spontaneously vomiting after feeling like crap for 20 miles. (My coach even tried to get me to bow at at mile 7 or 8). I was taken to the medical tent in a wheelchair, laid out with ice all over and all I thought was, “Can I run the race now?” I finally felt better.” – Melissa B.

Unfortunately, there is a lot of vomit at most marathon finish lines.

My first marathon. A spring snapped on our car driving to the race, spending the majority of the race in the woods dry heaving and pooping (and making friends with strangers), all while it was 40 degrees and pouring rain. Oh and then we were stranded in Burlington for 2 extra days because it was a holiday weekend and the dealership wasn’t open to fix our car. And this was with 2 year old twins. Good times. Good times. Ron [her husband] just reminded me that Lukas also was car sick on the way home and threw up all over himself and his car seat. Needless to say I will never do VCM again!!! – Angela B.

That’s right Angela! It was definitely Burlington, Vermont’s fault. Agreed.

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“Huntington Beach half marathon….13.1 miles of stomach cramps and nausea…something just wasn’t right that day” – Paria H.

“Having stomach issues at the new haven 20k. No where to go. Got caught by a cop, LOL – Anne C.

I’m sure the cop was more horrified than you Anne!

“My very first full marathon I drove myself into Philly and parked in a parking deck, managed to smash out the back window of my Explorer and had to leave it or abandon the race…then it was so cold, the mayor had to just yell “GO!” and at mile 20 a woman leaned in front of me at the beer table to throw up…so there’s that.” Jill S.

You’re just an overachiever when it comes to bad race days!

How to avoid it:

Practice your food intake before, during and after the race. I cannot stress this enough. However, sometimes you practice and everything feels good and then the day of the race, it doesn’t. Race day nerves come into play and mess with your stomach, sometimes the temperature spikes and nothing will sit right but, most often if you eat exactly what you planned on eating on race day, things will go right!

It is also key to eat a mostly bland dinner the night before. You don’t need to carb load but don’t try the new Thai food place either.

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The golden rule in all of racing is this: NOTHING NEW ON RACE DAY – – and it goes for food and clothing.

THE BODY BREAK DOWN – INJURY INDUCED

This is probably one of the worst things to have happen during a goal race. Training for months on end can lead to a breakdown of almost any body part. If you enter the race already injured and hope for the best, at least you’re aware of the issue. Sometimes a very unexpected injury can pop-up at precisely the wrong moment:

I sprained my foot at mile 22 of my first marathon – 2012 Chicago and limped to the finish on my heel.”

Wait, what???

“…it actually turned out wonderful because I was able to stop and really see the course and people around me instead of focusing on the distance. The after pain was bad but some wine did the trick for the night lol ended up in a boot for November and did goofy that January where it got to 96F the last 6 miles of my second full.” – Lisa L.

Distraction is always good in the last miles of a marathon but I’m not sure anyone wants that much of a distraction! Good for you!

“Iron horse half.. Blew my knew out on the first half when going by the finish line to start the second half of the half marathon I decided I needed to finish. So being the stubborn ass that I am, I did! I spent the next 4-6 month with Americo!” – Bridget K.

Americo is the physical therapist we all have on speed dial around here. Not sure if that is good or bad?

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“I have two – one was an 18 mile that I had to stop at 8 miles and cried limping to baggage because of excruciating ITB pain. The other was ironically also one of my favourites. The first NYC marathon I did in 2010 was amazing and I loved every step…until I crossed the finish line and was immediately having trouble walking. By the next morning I was on crutches.” – Carly P.

Sometimes the euphoria of the miles doesn’t let the pain set in until you have crossed the line. The mind and body connection is fascinating like that.

injury-murder

“I attempted to run my 1st marathon with a 9 month old baby (still nursing) and without every running more than 13.1 miles ever in my life. To make the race worse, I paced out with a Boston Qualifying time group for 14 miles. After 14 miles I hit the wall big time. Stop, run, walk, and telling myself this was worse then childbirth. Miraculously finished the marathon but went 18 months before ever attempting to do that again! Now I hesitate to enter a race untrained.” – Wendy A.

At least it sounds like you learned from your mistake? I’m talking about the baby.

How to avoid it:

Some injuries seemingly come from nowhere and are obviously harder to treat. However, if something hurts, you should pay attention to it immediately. Mostly injuries are due to imbalances or weaknesses we all have and are most likely in the hip, glute and low back area. Pay attention to strength training these areas and see a specialist at the first sign of injury to increase your chances of correcting it prior to race day.

And, I don’t think I need to write this but you should absolutely train for the distance you plan on racing, unless of course, they change it on you on race day:

“My worst race was my first tri. Getting trained for the 5k run was a challenge for me, but I showed up nervous but ready. Arrived race setup to see a sign posted that due to bacterial content in the water, the race would instead be a run/bike/run. If I hadn’t had two friends doing it with me I would have turned around and gone home. Wound up walking a chunk of of the second 5k but finished.” Stacey N.

I told Stacey that is my dream come true “triathlon” race.

To me this says "HOORAY NO SWIM!"

To me this says “HOORAY NO SWIM!”

As we now know, things do not always go according to plan on race day but, so much can be done to avoid crashing and burning.

You may have noticed that most of these “worst” race day stories end happily or with a sense of it all being worth it. By virtue of doing what we do – – running a ridiculous amount of miles – – we want to be challenged and, by the time we cross that start line, we are ready for anything!

Have you ever heard of Eventbrite? They are the company behind every great race director, helping to make your race experience as seamless and simple as possible. If you’re involved in event creation or would like to be, check out the Eventbrite  management page and run happy, no matter what!

Care to share your most horrible race experience?

If you’re not a runner, share another challenging story!

33 comments

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  1. Kris Walters

    OMG! This last year I’ve had too many to count but it has been a roller coaster year anyway. Great idea to have readers post their bad races. We’ve all had them!
    Kris Walters recently posted…Ride For Roswell 2016 – Fighting Back Against CancerMy Profile

    1. vita88

      Yes we have! Unfortunately it comes with the territory.

  2. Angela @ Happy Fit Mama

    Is it wrong that I love reading all of these horrible stories? It’s like a badge of honor to a runner! We’ve all had our fair share and then some. Non runners don’t get it and sometimes I question my WHY?!?! But I keep coming back hoping that this will be THE race that is good. Most of the time, it is!
    Angela @ Happy Fit Mama recently posted…High Five FridayMy Profile

    1. vita88

      I could not agree more!!!…they will have to drag me off the race course…which could actually end up happening 🙂

  3. Hollie

    I do think weather plays a huge role in miserable races. Shockingly, Shamrock wasn’t my most miserable. I ran a half marathon in 2012 when I was having digestion issues and it was miserable. I think that was my worst race ever. I loved this post and I would agree that misery does love company. LOL…
    Hollie recently posted…Bloggers GuiltMy Profile

    1. vita88

      Oh Hollie!!! That is truly awful. Luckily I have never had stomach issues during a race but I think that must be worse than a bad weather day…and I have had plenty of those!

  4. Nellie

    Yes. These stories are just incredible. My worst experience would be my first half marathon which was an out and back twice, a complete monsoon, no crowd support and a dead phone at mile 10. It was pretty awful. I agree though, there are a lot of things I’m doing differently for NYCM and I hope that it makes a big difference.
    Nellie recently posted…You Might Need This To Get the Extra “Stink” Out of Your Workout Clothes!My Profile

    1. vita88

      Oh I remember that and I felt SO badly for you! No one should have that be their very first race experience. But, you learned from it, like a smart runner would, and look at you now!

  5. Danielle @ The T-Rex Runner

    Well, there was the marathon where I started projectile vomiting at mile 8 and threw up every mile or two for the rest of the race…there was the marathon where my back gave out on me and I lost control of my right leg and had to hop my way to the half marathon finish line instead of finishing the full…there was the marathon run almost entirely on soft sand in the blistering heat with no shade…I’ll stop now
    Danielle @ The T-Rex Runner recently posted…BIG Travel Announcements!My Profile

    1. vita88

      Well, when you run as many races as you do, I’m not surprised you have had SO many bad experiences!! Still, I think the stomach issues must be the worst…no wait, the back issue…no wait…

  6. Courtney @ Eat Pray Run DC

    I was at Shamrock this year as well (the race Hollie wrote about it) and it sucked but was also kind of awesome because we all felt badass. 🙂

    1. vita88

      I remember reading that! I felt so badly for anyone out there that day but, like you said, total bragging rights!!

  7. Paria@momontherunsanity.com

    Who is this Paria H. person…. she has a unique name…. I still think fuel and nausea/GI issues are still going to be my biggest thing to battle at my next NYC marathon… at least I have not vomited post-race yet. And of course weather….. weather is such a huge factor!!
    Paria@momontherunsanity.com recently posted…When Doves CryMy Profile

    1. vita88

      Oh well she is just this amazing woman I have the privilege of knowing 🙂
      The weather is absolutely a huge factor. If you practice your fuel intake, you should be fine!

  8. Laura @ Mommy Run Fast

    I saw your FB post about this and thankfully, haven’t had too many… either that, or I’ve totally blocked them out. But this weekend is calling for rain Sunday at the Broad St run and all the miserable weather/rain experiences are making me nervous!
    Laura @ Mommy Run Fast recently posted…Dark Chocolate PB Bars + 3 other favorite homemade treatsMy Profile

    1. vita88

      I’m sure you will be just fine. You are a veteran racer/runner and I think most of these horror stories happened to people early in their running and races days, before they knew better.
      GOOD LUCK!!!

  9. Laura @ This Runner's Recipes

    Is it bad that I find these stories fascinating? I think it’s part of the camaraderie of the running community because we all can relate to bad races. I ran the Go! St. Louis Half Marathon last year, and they decided to have the first 5K go over a bridge, through part of East St. Louis, and then back downtown over another bridge. When I was running through East St. Louis, I looked over and saw a drug deal at mile 2. Freaked out, I pushed my pace way too hard to get away. Once I ran over the second bridge, those fast first miles immediately caught up with me and I struggled through the rest of the race.
    Laura @ This Runner’s Recipes recently posted…Trail Mix CookiesMy Profile

    1. vita88

      Well that is a new one!! Oh Laura – that is horrible. You should never feel unsafe during a race! I have had some experiences like that (feeling unsafe) during training runs, or running the strip in Vegas, but never in an actual race. I hope they have since changed the course!!

  10. Claude

    Preparation, Preparation, Preparation!

    Know yourself, know the course, know how you’ll respond to aid station fuel, or take your own. Try a camelback for hydration to bypass the aid station zoo (Jill S’ comment and the aid station upchuck comes to mind!)

    No injury comes from nowhere, it’s been brewing for awhile and just decided to put you on notice! It may be a hip pointer, it may be a blown out knee.

    Change NOTHING the last 2 weeks prior to the race, especially shoes!

    Shitty conditions are there for everyone to enjoy, the field is even, relish it; better yet, train in rain/sleet/snow/wind (Precisely why I harp on the false sense of performance/security of Treadmills and spin bikes, Vita calls it good on this one also:)).

    Events leading up to the race should in no way influence your perception on the race experience itself (upchucking kids, blown out car windows, traffic tickets, etc.). Learn to compartmentalize your feelings and experiences, recognizing which belong to what and why!

    Don’t be at the mercy of your emotions, race day is all business, emotion has no room and will contribute nothing positive. If you don’t have enough running base, the answer to that was in the months leading up to today’s race; nothing can be done so deal with it!

    But honestly, how can you run a first ever marathon with a 9 month old having only run no further than 13.1, and expect ANYTHING but a miserable day, let alone a possible tragic outcome for Baby and runner? (we’re talking child endangerment here). [I just don’t get how people think?]

    In the end, a bad race day is your doing. Maybe instead of digesting and accepting the bad race day, a more constructive approach might be to ponder why it was bad? even if an injury came out of nowhere!

    If you want every race to be a great race, a great accomplishment with a message; do your due diligence in the preparatory weeks, even the tiny 5ks where the intensity is so tweaked and the course comes like a slap in the face (expect others to go off course, always!).

    I don’t mean to preach, these are just observations after racing and training for 45 years.

    [FROM THE SCHOOL OF HARD KNOCKS]
    Claude recently posted…Cycling weeks 9-12My Profile

    1. vita88

      Wow! You are on a roll Claude! I think we may have touched a nerve here 🙂 I have to say, on most points, I agree with you but you have to concede that a lot of this comes from experience and talking with people who have been there and done it. I had no clue about fueling, chafing, tapering, etc during my first marathon, which is why I promptly went out and hired a coach and starting hanging with a core group of runners who could help me muddle though it. Of course so much of what happened to everyone can be avoided but, as my husband always says “you don’t know what you don’t know.” That said, I intend to crush my triathlon course no matter what since I have been out in the wind, rain, and sleet during my training 🙂

      1. Claude

        YIPPEEEEEEEEE:) You’ll smoke it, I’m certain!
        Claude recently posted…Cycling weeks 9-12My Profile

  11. Suzy

    This post made me laugh so hard! I need to re-read it again, out loud to Andrew. It’s the perfect thing to read before we race on Sunday!!! The crawling to the finish line was the best.

    I’m not sure I have any really bad race stories! Which is weird, because I have a lot of other crazy ass stories but for some reason my races have been uneventful. Mostly because of Immodium. I think I’ll write to all the anti-diarrhea pill companies and ask for sponsorship.
    Suzy recently posted…The DragMy Profile

    1. vita88

      Oh that is so awesome! I hope you did because he killed that marathon 🙂
      I’m shocked you don’t have any misery to share but yes, Immodium was the saving grace for a friend of mine for years! You should totally look into sponsorship!

  12. Natalie

    Oh my gosh – I love this!! Runners – we are indeed a hard core bunch of crazy people!! Hollie’s picture was awesome. I mean Shamrock just seemed CRAZY.
    I don’t have anything too insane. I ran the LA Marathon once in the absolute pouring rain, which was so weird because it doesn’t rain here (please, we need more rain!).
    Great stories!!!
    Natalie recently posted…The Boston Marathon 2016: Runners Are The Nicest Friends!My Profile

    1. vita88

      Thanks Nat! And yes, running in the rain is usually fine but…not for 26.2!
      I hope some of the constant rain we have had makes it to you!!

  13. Wendy@Taking the Long Way Home

    I’ve had bad nausea in my last 2 marathons and I’m not quite sure why. I think maybe I need to drink more water along with my Tailwind–maybe dilute it more. I have a magic antinausea pill (that I prescribe at work for kiddos with the stomach flu) and I’ve used it both times. Works great, tho!!

    I met a woman who slipped on a banana peel while running Chicago a few years ago. Dislocated her hip and tore up her knee. She popped that hip back in and hobbled to the finish from mile 22. That is the most amazing story I’ve ever heard!
    Wendy@Taking the Long Way Home recently posted…Runfessions for AprilMy Profile

    1. vita88

      I read that you had to take one of your magic pills at Big Sur! It’s too bad that happens to you at all but at least you have a solution!!

      OMG from a banana peel??? That is TRULY amazing!!! wow.

  14. @TwinsRun

    We’ve experience quite a few “worst race day ever” races – most often it’s been due to weather.

    1. vita88

      Weather can do that! It’s not so bad for a 5K, 10K or sometimes even a half but 26.2 of bad weather will tear down even the toughest runner!

  15. Kristen

    Haha omg these are hilarious! I think my worst race was the same race two times – the Her Tern Half here in Anchorage. The first time I ran it I hit a serious wall at mile 13 from not fueling enough and had to have someone help me over the finish line, and the second year I was on course to PR when I stopped to walk through a water stop and randomly injured my knee and had to walk to the finish! I will probably never run that race again 🙂

    1. vita88

      OMG! Sounds like that is just not the race for you. I would say you should skip it in the future for sure!! Nice job making it to the finish both times 🙂

  16. Sandra Laflamme

    These stories are great as no race is ever going to be totally perfect especially when racing longer distances. One of my worst was at the Vermont City Marathon. I went out ridiculously fast, it was hot and I did not hydrate nearly enough. Thankfully I was with my friend Bridget because with 5 miles to go I was unable to run in a straight line sue to dehydration. After drinking 4-5 glasses of gatorade and they somehow allowed me to continue. I don’t remember finishing. My friend swears that two hot guys carried me to the med tent. Needless to say it was awful! and stupid!
    Sandra Laflamme recently posted…Boston Marathon 2016 Race RecapMy Profile

    1. vita88

      OMG! I think that race is truly cursed! I seriously cannot believe you had to finish like that. Wow.
      I ran it in 2007 and I had run Boston that April. I had no clue how ridiculous that was back then! Needless to say, my finish time was less than stellar and, when it started raining with 3 miles to go, I wanted to cry. I also ended up with bronchitis two days later. Oh the things we do!

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