With a terrifyingly loud BEEP BEEP BEEP, I am rudely yanked out of the doze I’d just fallen into. It’s 3:00am but I’ve been awake since midnight. At the stroke of 12, my eyes had just popped wide open and sleep eluded me for the next 3 hours – other than that blessed doze I’d just managed to fall into – and get jerked out of not 5 minutes later.
Right. I am supposed to be racing the Revel Canyon City Marathon today. In only 4 short hours. I roll over gingerly and am immediately rewarded with searing pain through my right ribcage. Not good. In fact this pain is part of the reason I’ve not been able to sleep – it freaking hurts!!
Two days earlier, Thursday, I’d gone out for my run at noon. It was a bright and sunny day, albeit a bit on the chilly side for Vancouver. Grabbing my gloves I’d headed out the door for 10km easy with a few short reps at marathon pace thrown in. Everything felt great and at 6km I had picked up my pace for the first rep. Then back to easy. And over to marathon pace again. I had been running along feeling great and all of a sudden I was hit with a sharp pain through the right side of my torso.
I was literally doubled over in pain, so I paused my Garmin watch and breathed deeply. How silly I had thought – a side stich. I never get those. So I began to run again. The pain returned fast and furious. I had had to press my hand into my side which helped to dissipate the pain enough that I could finish my reps. But then with only 2 km easy left to go, I was forced to stop again and this time sit down. I’d pulled out my phone and googled “sudden sharp pain right side abdominal”. Within 5 minutes I was pretty convinced I was in serious trouble. Appendicitis. Gallstones. Liver disease. Cancer. Any which way, apparently I was DYING.
I roll out of the hotel bed – luckily it’s a stylish bed, low to the ground and therefore easy for my injured self to roll out of without too much pain. I go to make oatmeal right away but hubby doesn’t want any yet so I choose to get ready first. We’d eaten dinner far too late last night. In fact, when it comes to day before race day, we’d done little right. I mean, sure we’d brought our banana muffins, granola bars and quinoa hummus salad to help with carb loading throughout the day. But the one and only (cheap) flight left late in the day and we knew we’d likely not be at our hotel in Pasadena, California until 7pm or so, making eating dinner at the ideal time of 5:30pm impossible.
As it turned out, our flight got delayed – it was short 16,000 lbs of fuel (probably worth the delay, just guessing). It got to the point we were worried we were going to miss race pack pick-up. Once we finally landed in LA, were shuttled over to the car rental and then crawled our way through some pretty crazy traffic, finally managing to arrive at 7:59pm. Race pack pick-up closed at 8pm. No joke. So we didn’t actually eat dinner until about 9pm.
Which explains perfectly why hubby isn’t hungry for breakfast at 3am. For that matter neither am I. I walk across the hotel room. My rib feels okay. I figure I’ll go through the motions of getting ready – I’m not ready to call it quits on this marathon yet. I put on my race outfit, pin on my bib and pack my sweat bag. My bib number is 1111. Surely that’s some sort of good luck? Meaning I’m supposed to run? I’m obviously in denial that running is probably the one thing I shouldn’t be doing.
Good point. So I pull out my rib brace and carefully strap it on tight. I’d bought it after seeing the doctor on Thursday. Once I’d returned home from my run I had hightailed it to the walk-in clinic. When the doctor saw me I immediately spurted out all the various terrible problems I figured I might have. He took all of 5 minutes to determine I had a sprained rib (a costo-vertebral sprain). Well, at least I wasn’t dying. I told him I was supposed to be running a marathon in 2 days. He told me there’d be plenty of other marathons.
I didn’t even know there was such a thing as a sprained rib, let alone rib braces. But here I am on race morning sporting both. It’s now 3:30am and I know we must leave at 4am to drive over to the college where we’ll catch the bus to the top of the mountain. This race – Revel Canyon City marathon is a point-to-point downhill marathon, with a huge net drop in elevation. I make some oatmeal for myself – hubby still doesn’t want any – and eat most of it. And then it’s time to leave. I realize that if I leave now, I’m kind of locked into running, pain or no pain.
We get to the car, picking up our ‘grab-n-go’ breakfast bags on the way. But hubby can’t find the GPS and without it we have no idea where to go. So we turn around and make our way back up to our hotel room, and after a few frantic minutes finally turn up the missing GPS. Now we’re running late, so hubby breaks into a run down the hall and again toward the car as we get outside. I do the same… And wow, ow, pain stabs through my right side each time I attempt to run. Yet I’m obviously delusional because somehow I still think I can run a marathon.
Once we’re parked at the college, we make our way over in the pitch black to where the marathoners are boarding the busses. “Hold on a second”, I say to hubby as I hand him my bag, “I just need to try a run for a sec to see if I can do this”. I’ll be honest, I’d popped an Advil a half hour earlier and was hoping it’d dull the pain enough I could run through it. I recognize this action was rather unwise and not something I’d recommend anyone do, ever. It’s amazing what we’ll do when we’re desperate. I am appearing completely incapable of rational reasoning this morning.
My little jog reconfirms I probably shouldn’t get on the bus, so I grab my bag from hubby and get on the bus. It would be a little over an hour ride to the top. I eat the banana from the grab bag with a tiny sip of water. Then I doze off – and sleep as much as one can sleep on an bumpy yellow school bus.
When we arrive at the mountain top, with about 50 minutes to race start, it’s cold. Not as cold as it had been in Vancouver a few days ago – but chilly enough that I am a bit uncomfortable. I know at this point I should do a warm up run. But of course running hurts, so I decide to forgo any type of warm-up whatsoever. I mean, I’d pretty much done everything wrong so far, why change things now?
For crying out loud, I’d even had a glass of wine with dinner last night. After 4 months completely dry, I was so frustrated and in pain that I’d ordered a glass of wine. Obviously this goes directly against what I, a nutritionist by trade and one that works specifically with runners at that, always advise against (for those with injuries). I’ve seen so many clients heal dramatically faster once cutting alcohol out. Let’s just break all my rules why don’t we, as I also realize I’d not hydrated well at all this morning either – no water or matcha or coffee or espresso or Vega pre-workout. None of my usual race morning standbys, particularly as I knew I’d be an hour on a bus.
I stand there shivering, thinking of everything I’d not done right and go to grab another Advil (I know, it goes from bad to worse). I had stuffed 2 Advil into my shorts pocket earlier. They somehow both pop out as I reach for them and land on the ground, rolling away from me. Runners surround me from all sides but somehow no one steps on my little pills. I grab them up, pop one and stuff the other back in my pocket. And wait for the gun to go off.
Finally, it’s time. I cross the start line and start my Garmin GPS. We begin by actually going up a bit of an incline – it confuses me, I thought this was all supposed to be downhill! Then I realize it’s just a quick out and back before we began our descent. As I knew it would, my right side radiates pain. I’d not thought of it previously, but the jarring action of running downhill seems to intensify the pain. I immediately begin telling myself to sit in the pain and run with it – let it drive me. I accept it and focus on my legs. Oddly, this works. After the first kilometre or so, the pain fades into the background. Maybe I just got used to it, I’m not sure. Or maybe it’s the beauty of the course that has taken my mind off my rib. I pull my camera out and start snapping pictures.
I take it really easy the first 2-3km, but then I realize my legs want to easily fall into a faster pace, so I let them. Before I know it I’m running alongside the 3:35 marathon pace bunny. And then I pass him. When I come upon the 3:25 pace bunny, I know I am asking for trouble. But I pass him too. The entire first half is predominately completely downhill, literally zero incline and a few flattish parts. It feels crazy easy. In fact, had my rib not been giving me any trouble, I’d likely have gone out even faster. I watch the mile markers come and go with relative ease.
And then I hit the halfway point. Pretty much as soon as I crossed that half-way mat, the downhill seems to stop. I’m on a flat stretch, which feels ridiculously difficult, given my legs are far too used to the downhill at this point. My pace slows dramatically, but so does everyone’s around me also. Everyone’s quads are trashed. And then we hit the inclines. They are deadly. One seems to go on for about 5km, steeper in some parts than others. I just keep moving forward slowly but steadily, certain that another downhill must be just around the corner.
At around the 28km mark, I hear a number of footsteps catching me. Sure enough, the 3:25 pace bunny and a handful of other runners overtake me. Darn it. Well, no huge surprise. I continue on. At the 32km mark, I look up and see that everyone around me is walking up the hill we’re climbing. My run is pretty much at a walking pace. I find it comical to see so many marathoners who are set to cross between 3:25 and 3:35 all walking.
And then finally, blessedly, the downhill begins again. But whereas my rib pain had been somehow shoved into the background for the past 20km or so, it comes back with a vengeance the minute I began pounding down the hill again. It holds me back as I try to run through it. Popping my last Advil, I grit my teeth. No way I will let it stop me now. I am too close.
Thankfully, the pain recedes just enough to allow me to pick up my downhill pace to what it had been for the first half. I’m able to continue this pace until I finally reach the bottom of the mountain. At this point I realize I have about 5km to go to the finish – and along mostly flat highway. I dig in deep and give it everything my legs have, repeating over and over to myself to sit in the pain and run with it. At 4km out from the finish line I see hubby! I can’t believe he’s backtracked all this way to cheer me in! He claps and encourages me. “What time you cross in?” I yell, but at this moment I realize he has no bib on and no medal around his neck. “No”, he calls out, “I hit the wall”.
“F#@&!” I yell. How nice of me. He hates it when I swear. I’m sure that was just what he wanted to hear. Aw shoot. For a second I consider swinging around and walking it in with him. Really, that doesn’t sounds like such a bad idea. My legs are hurting, my rib is hurting. I’m cursing the rib brace, which has chaffed me so much by this point I’m not sure it was a good idea or not.
But I keep going. I’ve got my eye on a girl I’ve been ‘back and forthing’ with ever since the halfway point. I try to pick up my pace. Now I just want this to be over with. I wouldn’t mind passing her also.
With exactly 1 mile left to go, I pass her. But it’s because she’s just stopped to walk. At that moment I don’t want to pass her, I want to run it in with her. “Come on girl, I’ve been chasing you forever, 1 mile to go – you can do this!” I say to her as I pass. I hear her start running again. I hear her behind me.
We run with everything we have left in us. It’s gotten quite hot in the last 10-15 minutes and I think the heat is getting to me. I just don’t run well in heat. But I’m so, so, so close now. I will my legs to keep turning over. And then… There’s the finish line! I pick my pace up, but not as much as the girl who’s been just on my heels – who was ahead of me for most of the race. She all of a sudden zooms past me. I do everything in my power to catch her, but to no avail. She crosses, and 6 seconds later, I cross.
I hit stop on my GPS and it tells me I’ve just run a 3:30:33 marathon (official time 3:30:31). And that, my goodness me, that is new PB. But I’m somehow void of emotion at that moment. I’m sad for my hubby, worried about the possible damage I’ve done from running through my darn sprained rib pain, shocked at my time, thrilled with my time. Plus I’m ticked off about losing another toenail. So I grab a water and a banana and sit on the sidelines until hubby finds me, in a bit of a daze.
I came to California to run this marathon for fun. No time goal, no pressure. Just fun. I thought a downhill marathon would be an enjoyable experience and just maybe would help with an overall faster pace. Maybe that was why I PB’d. I heard some crossing with PB’s claiming it was because of the downhill. I heard others crossing, having missed PB’ing and claiming it was because of the downhill. I know for hubby the downhill did him in, trashed his quads and threw him into the wall harder than he’s ever been hit before.
My legs recovered more less over the next 4 days as per normal marathon recovery. Hubby’s did not – that race really beat him up bad. Needless to say you won’t find us planning another downhill marathon anytime soon! My rib is slowly on the mend. It’s now six days post-marathon and I haven’t run again yet – my rib has told me not yet. This time I’ve listened. But if you asked me… Yes, I’d do it all over again – as silly as it was or wasn’t.
PS. Huge thanks to my hubby, my number one supporter who is by my side looking out for me as best possible through all my crazy ideas – love you so much babe. Huge thanks also to my coach, Dylan Wykes of Mile 2 Marathon Coaching – this wasn’t even a goal race of mine yet he somehow prepared me to run a PB! Thank you to my trainer, Mark Oxford of Innovative Fitness Kits – I’m quite sure that without his guidance in training my legs to squat my own bodyweight in the months leading up to race day, I may have ended up with a DNF also – that was one tough race on the quads. And thank you to my running partner Devon, who shows up every single darn Tuesday morning at 5:30am (despite dark, cold, or rain) to run 12 to 14km with me – never underestimate the power of great run partners. I could go on – so many people have helped me get to where I am today – to all… I am so grateful. Love and thanks.