Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Half the distance, twice the pain

I know you are all dying to know how I did in my half-marathon debut this past Sunday. To make things interesting, I’m going to try out a nonlinear approach to my race report, à la Quentin Tarantino:

As I slumped down in the bathtub, awkwardly wedged between the top-right and bottom-left corners, I honestly wondered whether I would ever stand up again—not just because I was soaking my cramping muscles in hot bathwater when a bucket of ice would have been much more appropriate, but because I was pretty sure my internal organs were shutting down one by one.

OK, now let me explain how I got there.

When my alarm went off at 4 a.m., I was 100-percent convinced that it was going to be a glorious day. I wasn’t even tired. I skipped down the stairs like it was perfectly normal to be getting up in the middle of the night. I put on a pot of coffee and popped a piece of bread into the toaster. As I sat in the dark kitchen, sipping my morning caffeine and munching on peanut butter toast, I visualized my race plan one last time.

In my mind’s eye, I saw myself starting out at an easy, relaxed pace—maybe finding somebody to chat up for a few miles before really getting after it. Around the 8 or 9-mile mark, I would suck down a GU pack and chase it with a few sips of water—all without breaking stride, of course. Then I would kick it into high gear, passing people left and right all the way to the finish line.

The thing about life, of course, is that it rarely goes according to plan. For example, I didn’t plan on driving away from the house without my GU packs and subsequently wasting precious minutes turning around to retrieve them. I didn’t plan on getting caught in a bottleneck traffic jam on the way to the starting line. And I definitely didn’t plan on waiting in line for 25 minutes to use a Porta Potty before pushing my way through thousands of people to arrive at the starting line exactly 5 seconds before the gun went off.

I also didn’t plan on running the first two miles in a long-sleeved pullover. But there was no time to ditch my warm-up top before the start of the race, so I just sucked it up—actually, more like sweated it up—until I saw my parents a couple of miles down the road.

Despite all of my pre-race snafus, I was actually doing pretty well. I hit the first mile in 6:45, right on pace. I got a little excited the second mile and sped up to a 6:30, but I was feeling great, so I wasn’t too worried.

Even with the 6 a.m. start, the air was warm and I had a nice sweat going. Based on my extensive knowledge of sweat rates—thanks Runner’s World!—I decided it would be a good idea to hydrate sooner rather than later. At about the 5-mile mark, I grabbed a cup of water and gulped it down like a champ, refusing to slow down or stop.

About a half-mile later, my stomach rejected that water. Emphatically. I slowed down to about 8-minute mile pace and clenched. Hard.

All I could think about was that food poisoning scene in Bridesmaids. (“It’s happening! It happened.”)

I was terrified of re-creating my own real-life version of that scene right there in the middle of the race, which is why I resolved to make a beeline for the first Porta-Potty I spotted. Fortunately, I didn’t have to wait long.

There was a portable facility at the aid station right before the 6-mile mark. There was also a team of high school football players handing out water and Gatorade. I have never seen so many 16-year-old boys with perfect hair and skin, and I mean that in the least-creepy way possible. I tilted my head downward in an effort to hide the shame and embarrassment in my eyes as I pushed past the group of Justin Bieber clones, swung open the bathroom door and stepped inside to take care of business.

Even though I tried to be quick, I know I lost at least a minute in that stupid plastic outhouse. But I emerged feeling refreshed and 10 pounds lighter.

That feeling lasted for approximately two minutes. Then I was back to feeling like crap, even though I no longer had to take one.

As I plodded along, I noticed that someone in front of me was wearing a T-shirt with the following phrase printed on the back: "Half the distance, twice the fun!"

If I'd had any strength to spare, I would have lifted my middle finger to that shirt. Instead, I grunted and shook out my arms.

By the 9-mile mark, I knew I was on the verge of hitting the biggest wall in the history of walls. When I came up on the next aid station, I tore open the GU pack I had been carrying in my sports bra because I didn’t have enough time to properly secure it in my waistband before my hasty start. (Luckily, my ample cleavage provided the perfect hiding place for my little mid-race energy boost. Yes, I’m being sarcastic. I’m pretty sure it looked like I had some kind of boob deformity.)

I slowed down to power-walking speed, downed my GU with a few sips of water, and tried to settle back into a decent pace. About a mile down the road, the GU finally kicked in, which made running suck slightly less.

I continued on in a daze. By this time, I was running completely alone—a stark contrast to my visions of passing a continuous stream of tired runners as I chased the lead female pack to the tape.

I could barely make out the form of the next woman. She was at least a minute ahead of me, and although I gained on her a little during the final miles, my cramping calves let me know that passing her was out of the question.

By the time I reached the final stretch of road, my form had deteriorated into an awkward loping motion that probably made me look like I was experiencing gravity for the first time ever.

Then I crossed the line, and…it was over. At least, the running part was over.

I felt sick almost immediately. I went directly to the bathroom, where I camped out for about 20 minutes. As The Worst Stomachache of My Life Besides the Stomachache I Got After Eating Seafood at Applebee’s set in, I limped back to my family and told them there was no way I was sticking around for awards. I needed to go home. Now.

And that, my friends, brings us back to the opening scene—which is actually the closing scene. Clever, right?

Obviously, I made it out of the bathtub alive. I split the rest of the day between my bed and my couch. I swore to myself that I would never, ever run another half marathon ever again. Ever.

Then I looked at the results and saw my time—1:28:34. It was a good time, and I was happy with it—mostly. But I couldn’t shake the nagging feeling that I could have done better. Which is why I know that eventually, I will do another one. And probably another one after that. And maybe even—gasp!—a full marathon.

But next time, I’ll remember to stuff some Pepto Bismol in my bra, too.


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks, Les! It wasn't exactly great, but I'll take it.

  2. Glad to hear you are still alive. Hopefully by now you can get up and down a flight of stairs like a normal person. I applaud the quick smile you flashed as you approached the last corner, especially knowing that you were summoning all your energy to keep your insides inside of you. Look at the bright side: you were the 8th place woman even though you felt like crud and took an unplanned break (or breaks?) during the race. A 6:45 average pace is pretty darn good. I’m assuming you managed to beat your brother along with setting a PR. Next time will be much better.

    1. Thanks. Yes, I managed to beat my bro, and--surprise!--set a PR. But seriously, I have to give props to all of the volunteers, yourself included, for being out there. Smiling was the least I could do. Luckily, you escaped the very real threat of projectile vomit.

    2. Thankfully there were no projectile additions to the road pavement at my corner this year. It has happened in previous years, and there is no calling for "cleanup on aisle..."

  3. That's a great time, Brooke! It gets better... I promise. But yeah. I have spent any number of days supine on my living room floor after hard races. The best one, though (like my current PR race), I was able to drive 4 hours home, eat dinner, and then run a beer mile. So really, it does get better.

    1. So, like, approximately how many races do I have to suffer through before it "gets better?" Because if that shit happens again, I'm done. (Just kidding...sort of.)