Marathoning: The Ultimate Test

Compared to previous years, with my crazed goals (2 half marathons a month and 5 full marathons in 9 months), this has been a relatively quiet race year for me.  Of the 3 halfs (yes, that’s technically grammatically incorrect)  I’ve registered for, weather conditions have only allowed me to half heartedly complete 2. Two full marathons were also on the docket this year.  On October 8th, I took on my first World Major Marathon, the Chicago Marathon!

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Based on my trials and tribulations there, I’m anxious about the other.  Months ahead, in preparation for the race, I threw myself into my training.  Although I’m a solo runner, I was buoyed by the long run posts of my run-fam in different states.  Adhering to my training schedule and throwing in good cross training and strength training, I felt really strong going in, but my desired PR goal was thrawrted by one critical error and how that miscalculation hooked up with the weather to bring all sorts of unpleasantness to the party.

Admittedly, I’ve been cruising this year, running fewer miles and opting to focus on more yoga and weight training to help strengthen my body internally and to prevent some of my recurring injuries.  I didn’t want to overdo the miles, as I have in the past. I wanted to avoid fractures and overtraining and the pulls and tears that eat away at success over a long training season: I wanted to go in very targeted, prepared, and to the point.

I’m out there, beautiful weather, gorgeous scenery, happy people, tons of crowd support. I’m feeling strong and confident tapping into my inner goddess – Wonder Woman’s chocolately-hued twin sister, Nubia.

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Hydrating modestly an walking through each water station, I was tired or drained. My legs felt wonderful, breathing was on point, sprits high with that PR in sight.  I know you’re scratching your head.  This all sounds great, so what happened?

A strong advocate for training how you’re going to race, I had always done just that during my training runs. In the sweltering blaze of DC humidity, I had sacrificed many a social weekend event to attack my wee-houred early morning runs with an ice laden hydration pack to beat back the heat. Can’t have margaritas tonight, ladies, I’ve got a 6:00am run was the death toll to many an invitation.

Chi-Marathon race day was different. We didn’t start at 0-Dark-thirty! We started at 9:00am, with a well established sun overhead, and it was expected to be a warm and sunny day. A run-fraaaaand and I decided we were going to take it easy in the unseasonably warm gorgeousness, but wouldn’t you know my good feeling body was my own siren-song.

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Once I passed the 14 mile point in the Chicago Marathon, I would love to be able to say gloom and doom struck, but it was really just lovely constantly unabated sunshine.  Really focused, direct, piercing, magnified sunlight, in fact.  And in such unshaded radiance, I embodied a momentous internal battle for the next nearly 12 miles.

Feeling faint and wishing for some Prince Charming to breathe fresh life into me around ever corner, I stopped in a medical tent.  I actually felt REALLY FAINT, because I collapsed right on to one of those little cots as medics scurried to figure out what was wrong with me.   They ruled out dehydration and other maladies but discovered my body temperature was 101.8° and that I had the beginnings of heat stroke.  I begged for a banana or something to eat thinking that would help. No such luck, but I was iced down for nearly half an hour and I called my mom, Shawn and some run-fam.  I knew Mommy was tracking me and would probably freak out to see me stopped for so long – and I sure felt like clutching my chest and calling out to Elizabeth, Redd Foxx style – which wasn’t how I imagined going out.  Of course she yelled at me (calm quiet serious mom-voice-in-public kind of yelling) and told me to get a banana.  Great minds think alike and that was absolutely my next goal. Banana. Banana. Banana. If I could just get a banana I would be fine.

Since laying there crying silent but no less real adult woman tears wasn’t getting me anywhere fast,  I got up and got back out there. I wasn’t cured, my temperature only went down to 95° (which I think is an error because they didn’t take that temperature the same way as the first one), but I was determined to finish.  Of course my mental strength took a major hit and  my time was beyond busted. I couldn’t get a rhythm back to save my life, but I focused on getting a banana. Perfect race: destroyed. And then…. (cue tense music) it happened again (insert terrified face).

After struggling for two more miles, and not finding a single banana, I had to stop at the next medical tent because I felt worse than the first time.  The diagnosis was the same but the temperature had increased to 102.7°.  They tried to take me out of the race, but I would not go down for the count.  They offered me a chocolate chip cookie while they called the medical trolley.  Not today, I told myself.  I will not DNF this race.  While their attention was elsewhere, I slid out back into the rapidly thinning field of runners, well, mainly walkers by then.

Another half hour gone.  I decided to walk the rest of the race. There weren’t going to be any timing miracles that day, but at least the miracle of my life got to continue on.

So  why did I overheat so badly???? My stupid hydration backpack – or rather, the lack thereof. When I train in DC, I wear it to carry my water. I fill it with ice and only a little water and let the ice melt along my run. It also has the simultaneous benefit of keeping me cool!  DOH! Why didn’t I wear it in the race? Because wearing it is like spending eternity in a new, too tight bra that is also too loose and swings across your back regardless of the tightness of the straps slowly amputating your arms.  All this is even more acute for runs over 15 miles and I always end up with bruises and blisters on my back where it rubs across mile after trotting mile. I figured the hydration at points on the course would serve me just as well.  I didn’t honor that little pack enough and it executed its revenge on me expertly. Womp womp…. But!  I finished! And there’s something to be said for that.

And so, I’m staring the Athens marathon in the face in less than 2 weeks… Am I nervous? What do you think?

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