I did not run a sub-4 marathon this weekend.
I’m not going to do my usual thing and write a long race report where I try and keep you in suspense the whole time and leave you on the edge of your seat about what happened. You know the result now, so you can choose to keep reading if you want to or not. Either way, I’ll start from the beginning.
In addition to being excited for the race itself, I was looking forward to this weekend primarily because I had friends coming in from across the country to run it. Patty, Jennie, and Leslie were flying in from Tulsa, while JC was coming from New York, Amanda was coming from Houston, and Kino and his crew were coming from New Jersey. They had picked the race based on my recommendation, which always makes me happy but also super nervous because I get afraid that the race will somehow suck this year and everyone will hate it and they’ll be all “Ughhh why did we listen to Danielle, she picks the worst races!” Fortunately, that has yet to happen, but the fear is real.
Anyway, I ran around like a crazy person on Friday morning baking brownies, grabbing groceries for our pasta dinner that night, packing, stretching, and trying to take my mind off of the race, which obviously was a failure. I picked the Oklahoma girls up at 3 pm from the airport and we headed down to Kiawah, which took us much longer than it should have based on the traffic I knew was inevitable. We got to the expo around 4:45, and I was pleasantly surprised to see how much they had expanded the expo since 2011, when I last ran it. They had really cute merchandise for sale along with handmade Christmas ornaments and a bunch of other items, plus everything you could need for the race. I checked us into our gigantic house and we headed over to it, getting impossibly lost along the way. Once it gets dark on that island, there is no hope. There are no lights anywhere.
We settled into our absurdly large house and discovered that there were a lot more than the 8 beds that we had been told were available. I think the final count we came to was 14 BEDS, not including couch space and all the room available for air mattresses. We definitely could have had more people stay with us, but we had no way of knowing that.
We had a great pasta dinner with all the fixings, including garlic bread, salad, and dessert. It was nice to sit around and talk with everyone about our goals and what we wanted the race to look like the next day. All of us in the house were going for a sub-4 marathon except for Leslie, and out of all of us, the only person who had ever actually done it was JC! That didn’t exactly inspire confidence, but it was nice to know we were all in it together either way. We decided our plan would be to warm up for the first couple of miles at 5-10 seconds slower than goal pace, then speed up to about 10 seconds faster than goal pace and hold that for as long as possible before leveling out at the end. The strategy has worked for me in all of the races I’ve PRed in this year, so I figured it was as good as any.
Race morning dawned and I woke up from not one, but two nightmares, because of course I did. In the first one, we missed the race because someone had told Jennie that it didn’t start til 1 pm and we apparently just thought that was completely reasonable and didn’t question it until we saw everyone running by. In the second one, AJ became a drug dealer not unlike Scarface and got me addicted to cocaine that looked like glitter. Upon reflection, I’m 100% sure there’s a market for glitter cocaine. Our house was only half a mile from the start, so it was super convenient to walk over, and we didn’t even leave the house til half an hour before the start. Walking outside, the 100% humidity was completely obvious. I tried not to think about it.
My friend Sharen was running the full and also trying to break 4 hours, and her husband Doug is perhaps the most calming running influence in my life, so I made an appointment with him for my pre-race “DON’T PANIC” pep talk, but I couldn’t find him anywhere at the start. It was a madhouse with people EVERYWHERE. With about 3 minutes to go before the race start, I finally found Sharen, who showed me where Doug was. He gave me the schpiel and I went back to find my friends with about 10 seconds to go, and then the gun went off.
I got choked up as we approached the start line for the first time since my very first marathon. The magnitude of what I was about to try to accomplish just got the best of me, I guess. As soon as we crossed the line, I composed myself and set out to stick to our plan. As it turns out, that was basically impossible in the early miles. For reasons I will never entirely understand, this race is more crowded for the first 3 miles than any race I have ever done, and it’s not even a big race. It’s very unsettling, but having done the race before, I knew it would settle down quickly. That being said, the best we could do for the first mile was just under 9:30 as we dodged walkers, slower runners, and tried to weave through the crowds. My heart rate was sky high and I was boiling hot in half a mile. The humidity was just insane, and I couldn’t believe how miserable it felt so quickly. I wasn’t alone though – I commented to Amanda about how hot I was, and she and JC and everyone else were feeling the same way too, so I knew I wasn’t crazy or overreacting, so I calmed down.
I was not feeling good pretty much from the start, but I told myself it was all in my head and I just needed to settle in and hold on for the first few miles and my heart rate would come down and I would cool off and it would be fine. Even once the road opened up and we had more room, that wasn’t happening. My legs felt fine, but I was very uncomfortable. “Don’t panic,” I kept telling myself. “You’re fine. Look at all the pretty salt marshes and the houses you will never be able to afford.”
As we approached mile 5, I started seeing black spots and knew I was about to pass out if I did not stop. If you’ve never passed out before, it’s a very odd feeling, but you kind of know when it’s going to happen. I was incredibly dizzy and weak and knew I was about to go down if I kept running. I told JC and Amanda to go on ahead of me and get that sub-4 or at least PR, and I was adamant about it. Patty came up behind us and I told her what was going on and she said that she knew sub-4 was not going to happen for her either. She was struggling with the humidity, so we decided to slow the pace down and shoot for one of the other goals on my list. I was fine with that. My only concern was maintaining an upright position for the rest of the race.
The problem was that even running at a slower pace, I did not feel right and I was very woozy. For the first time in my life, I truly did not feel safe continuing the marathon. After thinking about it for a couple of miles, I told Patty that I was going to drop down and do the half. My reasons were as follows:
- Obviously I did not feel well, and continuing could definitely have resulted in me passing out or getting sick. I’ve already run the marathon before and obviously I have the state completed, so it wasn’t worth the risk to continue.
- I knew that I was not going to come anywhere close to my goal, and in fact, I’d be lucky if I even finished, so it seemed silly to exhaust myself or put myself in danger.
- I only have a certain number of marathons I can do this spring in order to make sure that Flying Pig is my 50th marathon, as I’ve been planning. Doing the half instead of the full at Kiawah would mean that I could do the full marathon at both Charleston next month and Myrtle Beach in February and have two more chances to break 4 hours on flat courses in better weather.
When I thought about it like that, the decision was easy. I sent Patty off at mile 8, and the only thing I really felt bad about was the fact that she was going to be running alone. I was very strangely at peace with my decision, and even at peace with the fact that I wasn’t going to accomplish any of my goals that day. Sure, I wasn’t happy about it, but this wasn’t a matter of not pushing myself hard enough or psyching myself out. I genuinely could not safely continue the race, and there was nothing I could do about that.
Shortly after mile 8, a woman complimented me on my Team T-Rex shirt and then recognized me and realized that this is my blog. “Your blog has made me cry quite a few times!” she said. I didn’t know what to say, so I apologized, but it turns out that she meant I’ve made her cry from laughter. Awkward! She was running her first marathon and has been a lurker on my blog, so it was nice to have someone to talk to for a minute to take my mind off of everything. I was a bit embarrassed when I told her that today wasn’t going to be my day for a big PR, but I realized I might as well get over that since I’d have to tell all of you in a matter of time anyway. I was dizzy even when I was walking, so I decided to just walk for awhile and just get back to the finish safely.
Mercifully, Allison and Allen, my friends from Team in Training, caught up with me somewhere after mile 9 and we started running together. They weren’t feeling great either, so I was able to maintain the pace and we talked a bit to make the time go by. We all wanted the race to be over. I was pleasantly surprised to find a beer stop at mile 11, and although I’m pretty sure Allison and Allen thought I was nuts, I grabbed a cup of Sweetwater 420 and it was the best. So at least the race was not a total loss.
I have never felt so completely sure of a decision in my entire life as when the half marathon split from the full around mile 11.5. Normally, I kind of joke and laugh that I wish I was running the half instead of the full, but I don’t really mean it. As we passed the split, I honestly could not imagine running the full marathon that day. If Allison had not been with me, I would have walked or verrrrrry slowly jogged the entire rest of the way. In the end, we finished the half in something like 2:12, which is obviously not important, but just in case you were wondering.
I headed back to the house for a quick shower in hopes of getting back to the finish line in time to see Chuck finish, since he was shooting for a big PR at 3:50. I got totally lost going back to the house. It was very simple to just follow the path on our way TO the start/finish, but on the way back, there were a lot more options and I found myself aimlessly wandering the island, dizzy and about to cry. I eventually found my way back, took a quick shower, and made it back to the finish. I was able to hang out with my TNT friends for awhile as we all waited for Chuck, but the clock kept ticking and it became apparent that he wasn’t going to make his goal either. He eventually finished in 4:12 and had a hard time in the heat and humidity too. He and I suck at quite a few things – sensitivity, pacing, and running in the heat – so neither of us was that surprised. He is in great shape and has been training so hard, so I know with the right conditions he will crush his goal.
As the clock ticked closer to 4 hours, I kept hoping I would see someone, anyone, from our house break that elusive barrier. It turns out that the closest anyone came was Patty, who finished in 4:26. Everyone else was close to 5 hours, and it turns out that the weather just crushed all of us. I was sad that they didn’t accomplish their goals, but I felt slightly vindicated knowing that almost everyone had had a rough day and I wasn’t completely insane.
We all hung out at the beer tent for quite awhile, and I ran into my friend Crystal. Did you know the race offers unlimited beer to all of the runners? And not shitty beer, either. Local craft beers (Palmetto Amber), Yuengling, Mich Ultra, the whole works. Also, the food is excellent – soup, organic pasta, couscous, fruit, brownies, etc. Cannot be beat, and there is plenty of space for everyone to sit down. At this point, I saw Kino, Nobu, and Maggie – also known as the fast people from New Jersey. Nobu was 2nd in his age group with a 3:04 and Maggie was 3rd in hers – and those were bad times for them. Crazy.
The fact of the matter is that in any race, there are some things you can control and some that you can’t. You can control your training, your attitude, and your preparation, but you can’t control the weather or how you’ll feel. PR races are basically a perfect storm of all of those factors coming together, and they didn’t come together for me this weekend. I’m ok with that. I wish it had turned out differently, but I’m proud of myself for making a smart decision FOR ONCE and living to race another day. I am going to the doctor this week to get some blood work done and see what is going on and figure out why I’ve been feeling so badly. Assuming I can figure it out, my next attempt at sub-4 will be the Charleston Marathon on January 18. I know I am prepared for this PR. It is going to happen. It’s just a question of getting the stars to line up and having the guts to go for it on the day that they do.
Note: Some of you checked my race results because you couldn’t stand the suspense and tweeted/Facbeooked me congratulating on my PR. First, thank you for caring enough to stalk my results. Second, I have no idea why the results say that I finished the marathon in 3:55. I did not. This is not some elaborate hoax to try and trick you guys into thinking I didn’t break 4 hours when I secretly did. Trust me, that shit would have been all over the internet if it actually happened. But thank you for caring.