A Failure of a Half Marathon

I just read a thing that noted that people who blog rarely mention their failures. So today, I’m going to talk about the time I pretty much failed a half marathon.

It was to be my fifth half marathon, and I’d actually run this particular race twice before. The first time had been my first half marathon ever, and I’d run it in 2:01:02. The next year, I hit 1:56:54. I trained for this one as I had for the others – nothing too strict or crazy, but a good mix of short and long runs with basically no attention paid to speed workouts or hills or anything like that. I felt as prepared as I ever had.

In hindsight, it’s easy to see why it didn’t go well. The week before the race, I’d come down with an annoying cold. The Saturday before the race (it took place on Thanksgiving Monday), I’d been up in Whistler. We’d gone to Maxx Fish and it had been nearly empty, so we’d imbibed in the free drinks that were offered to us. And the day of the race was cold, wet, and nasty all around.

Still, I felt totally fine at the start of the race. It was dark, freezing cold, and way too early, but I had a pep in my step at the starting line and the first 10 k were pretty breezy. They had added a small trail component that year, and I remember being caught behind a few people on the single track and being annoyed that I couldn’t pass them. I was pretty sure I was going to set a personal record on this race.

Around the halfway mark, I suddenly felt really terrible. I can’t think of a good way to describe it – I just felt bad. Lightheaded, low energy, and blah. The cold and wet hadn’t bothered me before, but now I was definitely noticing them.

I had never “DNFed” (did not finish) a race before and I wasn’t sure what the protocol was for doing so. I got to an aid station and told a volunteer that I didn’t feel well and didn’t think I could finish the race. She told me to wait in her car so that I could warm up and that she would have someone come and pick me up. I sat in the passenger seat and put my head between my legs. I’d had a few tough races before, but I’d never quit. I was really disappointed in myself. I pictured going to work the next day and my coworkers asking me about the run. It would be so embarrassing to have to tell them I had dropped out partway.

My large ego made me get out of the car and get back into the race. I told the volunteer that I was going to push on. She told me I didn’t look great and asked me if I was sure, and I told her I could always drop out if I felt bad at the next aid station.

I was able to run for a little bit, but I found myself having to stop and walk quite frequently. I thought of a UBC friend who was (and still is) a race walker; he can race walk much faster than I can run. Despite never having race walked in my life, I tried to give it a go for a kilometre or so. I probably looked even more ridiculous than I felt.

I should mention that this was a pretty small race (286 participants total). Runners kept passing me; eventually, I hardly saw any other runners at all. I started getting nervous – I had checked my backpack, which had my car keys and my phone inside. What if I was so slow that they shut the course down and closed down the bag pick up? How would I get home?

My motivation became arriving in time to get my bag back. Then, things got really weird – this is DEFINITELY when I should have dropped out. I started having trouble following the course signs. Now I was getting worried about getting lost. Just ahead of me were what I presume was a mother-daughter duo. The mother was a good bit older and was having difficulty with her knee. The daughter would coax her into running a bit, then they’d walk a bit, repeating the cycle kilometre by kilometre. I let the daughter be my coach, running and walking with them. I knew I couldn’t lose them or else I wouldn’t know where to go or how to get to the finish line.

I don’t remember most of the rest of the race, but I remember getting to the finish and telling someone (I’m not sure who?) that I didn’t feel very well. The next thing I remember is being inside a bank, sitting on a chair. The volunteer from the aid station was there – as luck would have it, she was a nurse. Someone brought me my backpack and gave me a Gatorade. I took a few sips and puked into a garbage can as a few kids looked on in horror. I must have been a sight for sore eyes.

I remember feeling very, very weird. For instance, they asked if there was someone they could call for me. I told them to call my friend Charlotte. They asked me how to unlock my phone, and I couldn’t remember. I knew that I unlocked my phone ALL the time, but I couldn’t remember how it worked. I couldn’t remember things like my postal code. Eventually, the paramedics arrived and I told them I was worried about my car getting towed (priorities!).

I ended up in the hospital and they found some enzyme thingies by my heart, but it ended up being okay – Charlotte and her friend came to get me at the hospital, they released me after half a day or so, my car didn’t get towed, and follow up medical stuff indicated that my heart was in good shape. I eventually found out my time: 2:37:42. Although I had been certain nobody was behind me, I placed 270/286. I’m actually pretty impressed with this time, given that I felt like I’d walked the entire second half of the race.

I think a lot of things contributed to this running fail: being leftover sick from the cold, consuming alcohol in the 48 hours before the race, the crummy weather, starting off way too fast, and just having a bad day. My biggest fail, however, was not listening to my body when it was telling me to call it a day. Caving into my ego was dumb – really, my coworkers would not have cared at all if I’d had to quit. Was it worth putting the extra stress on my body and ending up in the hospital? No. Definitely no.

I swore that I would never run a half marathon again – but in 2014, I came out of retirement and ended up running that same race (though the route had changed a fair bit since the disastrous race of 2011). I registered very late and I only had 5 weeks to train, so I took it easy and focused on staying healthy. I ended up running it in 2:04:15 – and though it wasn’t my best time, it sure beat my worst!

Ever since the failure half marathon, I’ve focused on staying healthy on my runs and during my races. I’ve learned to listed to my body and to take myself less seriously. It was a humbling experience, for sure.

And that’s the story of how I failed a half marathon.

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One thought on “A Failure of a Half Marathon

  1. Pingback: The Lakes Have Been Looped: Race Recap of Run Squamish’s Loop the Lakes 21k | Out of Bounds Squamish

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