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.
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:
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.
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?
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.
“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.
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.”
“…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?
“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.
“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.
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!
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Care to share your most horrible race experience?
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