To say my 20K race in New Haven on Labor Day this past week was bad, is a massive understatement. It was the worst I’ve ever felt in a race. Ever. This is saying a lot since my first ever marathon was run in pouring, driving rain. I also had the bad luck of running the Boston Marathon in 2007, also known as “the year it was almost canceled” due to the horrific weather.
Now, as you may know, runners are a tough bunch. We suffer all kinds of bodily harm in the name of sport – bloody nipples, chafing, stress fractures – and are often subjected to horrific race-day weather. But, like any good football player knows, the show must go on, and a little rain or heat or humidity, will not stop us from lining up and getting it done. However, toeing the line for 12.7ish miles proved almost too much for this athlete, on this given day.
As I mentioned in last week’s rundown, I have run this particular race seven times before. It’s become something of a ritual with me and a few close running friends. We meet before the sun comes up, drive the hour into New Haven, and talk about races past, compare running and training stories and dream about the end of the race, when we all meet in the park, for an entire loaf of warm bread and an ice cold beer. Little did we know the hell we would go through to earn that beer this year.
The weather forecast sucked. We were sweating as soon as we got out of the car. It was about 85 degrees with 93% humidity, and as anyone in New England will tell you – it’s not the heat, it’s the humidity! Then the sun came out. Now, usually at the start line of any race, when you’re packed in like sardines (because 10 min milers are lining up with the 7 min milers!) it can be a little unpleasant. On this day, it was downright disgusting. People were sweating profusely while we were still listening to the National Anthem. Not good.
I had reassessed my game plan in the morning. I knew it wouldn’t be a day for a PR (personal record) but I thought I could manage a 7 min per mile pace (my original goal was 6:43) because of the heat. At the cannon blast we took off…and when I say “took off” I mean it was a meandering shuffle. My first mile was around 7:05. Ok, I’m feeling good. It’s hot, I’m breathing soup, but definitely manageable. By mile 4 people were starting to walk – strong, athletic looking people, with marathon tattoos. At mile 6 I saw the first person throw up, and then another puker at mile 8. It was getting ugly.
It started to unravel for me around mile 7. Don’t get me wrong, this race was horrible by mile 4, but my mental game came undone around the 7 mile mark. My legs felt like lead, I was grabbing two cups of water at each station – one for my head and one for my mouth – but it was no match for the water pouring out of my body. I have never mentally struggled so much. My self-talk sounded like this:
This sucks so f*cking bad! Why the hell am I even out here?
Ok, you can do this. If this was one of your clients, what would you say?
This is how most people must feel when they run. No wonder they hate it so much!
What would Tina Muir do?
Any elite who knew they weren’t going to win the 10K purse today, has probably dropped out by now because they are smart and this is stupid, stupid, stupid!
So you can see that was not helpful at all. I could not get it together. Every positive thought was immediately followed by a negative one. I seriously contemplated just walking off the course, something I have never done before. Every ounce of my being wanted to just.stop.running. But I didn’t.
Somewhere near the end, as I poured yet another cup of water over my head, I thought about the ice bucket challenge. I thought about all the people who suffer from ALS who would kill to run, even in these conditions. I started to think about what I could control – my attitude, my thoughts (kind of) and my legs. And then I got pissed. I decided to show this race who was boss, and run the last three miles as fast as I could, even if it killed me, which was a very definite possibility.
Miraculously, I crossed the finish in 1:31:29. I tied my PR for this race, but I was pretty mad. Here’s the issues I have with it:
1. This is a 20K which is just shy of a half-marathon. My half-marathon PR is 1:29 so clearly, I should be able to at least do that, if not better.
2. Obviously, if the weather had been better, I would have smoked 1:31. I guess this should make me feel better, but it doesn’t.
The worst was yet to come.
As I was coming down the finish, one of my friends who was running that day, was cheering me from the sidelines. Now, she runs a slower pace then me, and didn’t seem to be properly trashed from just running what I ran. I was so confused. Turns out, she dropped out of the race! In all her 20+ years of running she never has.
Don’t worry, it gets worse…
After raiding the food tent (Yasso yogurt bars are the bomb people!) I made my way to our designated meeting spot and found my other friend, waiting under the tree. As soon as she turned around, I knew something was wrong…and then she pointed out the bandage on her ankle. She went down hard at a water station, slipping on one of the bizillion water cups strewn about, and badly sprained her ankle.
My third friend? The worst yet.
She came off the course all fine and dandy. She held an 8 min/mile pace with no real issue, until mile 11. Yeah, mile 11 is pretty much when it’s supposed to start sucking in a 20K. We told her how annoying she was, and she tried to keep her joy to a minimum. It was appreciated.
So, what did I learn from this race? New acronyms: BR (bad race) AR (annoying runner) and we were all just slightly happy no one had a BM (bowel movement) on the course, although my friend with the bad sprain may have preferred it.
Ever had a bad race? Tell me your coping skills!
Ever DNF (did not finish)?
How has heat and humidity effected your summer plans?