I don’t really know where to start with this one, so I’ll just dive right in.
This past Sunday I ran the Long Beach Marathon. I went into it with high hopes of a personal best of sub 3:30 and come out with an official result of DNF.
DNF. Did Not Finish.
In reality I actually did finish. I actually did cross the finish line. I actually even got a medal.
I tried to walk through the line without being given a medal, but a really nice volunteer made sure one got placed around my neck. But I’m getting way too ahead of myself. Let me go back a few hours.
I wake at 2:45am even though my alarm wasn’t set to go off until 2:50am. See, Daisycat had me and hubby up at 2am (yes, we brought our cat furkid Daisy to Long Beach with us, along with our 2 doggie furkids Sparkle and Sunshine). So, sick and tired of all the persistent meowing, we finally just get up and I make our breakfast. It’s not such a bad thing, I mean maybe I should be thanking Daisy, as we wanted to be finished eating by 3am anyways. LOL! Badass cat.
At 3am pretty much on the nose, we are eating our creamy coconut Qi’a oatmeal with honey and a sliced banana, and I’m drinking my matcha green tea. I also mix up 16 ounces of Skratch matcha flavoured exercise hydration and this is what I drink over the next hour. Although I’m super nervous, I’m able to just relax, slowly get ready and reflect on the training I’ve put into this marathon. These past 12 weeks have been full on the most intense training I’ve ever put into a marathon – more than any of the past 17 marathons I’ve run. I’ve followed the direction of my coach pretty much to the letter and averaged 115km per week with key workouts that showed me my fitness is where it needs to be. I know my body is capable of running the sub 3:30 I’ll ask of it today.
At 4:30am, hubby and I each have 1 banana muffin – I made a dozen on Monday and these are the last two. They served us well for our carb-loading, along with the banana bread and energy bars I’d also made. At 5:00am, I shoot back my triple shot espresso. We went out last night to get a Jamba Juice and there was little coffee shop right beside it. I knew it’d be highly unlikely I’d find an open coffee shop at 5am this morning, so I’d grabbed that up in advance. It’s cold, but it’s gone in a second, and I’m so glad I don’t have to go searching for an open coffee shop only to come up disappointed. Hubby takes caffeine pills. He knows I’m not a fan of the caffeine pills, but he hates coffee. Plus pretty much all the elites do the caffeine pills. I may even have been the one to suggest caffeine pills to him.
Anyway, we’re all caffeinated up and ready to go. Just before we walk out the door, I shoot back my BeetElite mixed with water. Ergogenic aids done. Everything has thus far gone incredibly smoothly. Last nights dinner had been white rice and tomato sauce with a few carrots and asparagus. Not on the menu, but when I’d asked they’d done up a plate for me and it was perfect. I am feeling very good.
We leave the hotel and head down to the start line. It’s dark… And quite warm. In fact it is 24 degrees Celsius and 60% humidity. I’m pretty much nearly sweating. This makes me nervous. I should most certainly not begin sweating before racing. This is not good. But I shove my anxieties over the heat to the side as we search for the start line and portapotties with a short line up. Everything thus far has gone just right – I’d even go so far to say perfectly – and there’s no reason this can’t continue.
All set to race, we make our way into the start corral and weave our way through everyone right to the front. I wait and chat with hubby. With this all going so smoothly so far, including a day of feet up and relaxation yesterday and all our pre-race rituals gone perfectly, we literally could not have asked for anything better.
Except for the temperature. Our shakeout run the day before had exposed us to a taste of what we were in for today… And it was bad. But this was race day, and somehow on race day the temperature is going to be more manageable. Right?!!
At 5 minutes to race start, which is scheduled for 6am, I kiss hubby good luck and make my way back through the racers until I am positioned behind the 3:25 pace bunny. And I wait. And wait. It feels like the race start is late. Indeed it is. But finally, the gun goes off. At 6:08 we are off.
The minute I start running I know immediately that I am in trouble. The air feels so heavy and I am already sweating buckets. I sweat very easily and the first thing that happens is sweat pours off my elbows. I must run just behind hubby when we’re running together otherwise my elbow sweat flicks onto him and that’s just gross. I’m totally dripping elbow sweat everywhere at the moment. I hope no one is beside me. I don’t dare look.
It’s a very conservative first kilometre. But I’m following the 3:25 pace bunny, likely a mistake, and so my second kilometre clicks in too fast at a 4:45/km. I know that although it is the pace I’d need for a 3:21, it’s too fast because unlike other races where a 4:45/km has felt ridiculously easy, this actually feels far too fast. I’m pushing too much. I definitely still have race adrenaline pumping through me, but it’s wearing fast.
I follow everyone along the dark roads lit by street lights, up and over ramps, over a bridge… Around… Back over. By the 4th kilometre, I am well aware that today will not be my day and I’m forced to back off my pace as I can feel the heat literally draining my energy. I see cameras and put on my game face – just in case this is my day I need some good pictures right?!!
At this point I make a conscious decision not to look at my pace again. I already feel so awful I know it’s game over, so maybe now I should just slow down a bit until I see the 3:35 pace bunny and then attempt to stick with him. I’m waving good-bye to my personal best goals and grieving just as I hit the beach path. Which is absolutely gorgeous. So is the fireball in the sky ahead of me. It’s also extremely scary because I know once the sun rises, it’s going to get even hotter. And it’s only 12km in and I’m already dying.
I run along the beautiful beach path. I take in as much of the beauty as possible and try to enjoy myself. But I’m SO FREAKING thirsty already. I’ve grabbed water from every station so far, and honestly they can’t come up fast enough. I start grabbing two cups from each station – eventually I worry I might be taking in too much plain water without electrolytes but I can’t stop.
When I hear a group coming up behind me I know it’s the 3:35 group. I also know there’s no way I’m going to be able to do any picking up of my pace to stay with them. Sure enough, they pass me, and all to quickly disappear.
Just after I leave the beach path, at 16km in, the separation point for half and full is just ahead of me. At this point I seriously consider calling it quits and parting ways with the full marathon to go it in with the half’ers. I’m struggling so badly and it’s so hot I can barely breathe right. I definitely can’t seem to get enough water into me (which is always the case for me in heat and humidity, no matter how well hydrated I am).
I decide at the last second to continue on, because dammit I’m at least going to go the distance. But it’s an epic struggle, an awful one – not the struggle of speed, I can work through that – it’s a struggle of fighting a body that is trying to shut down. I wish I knew what my heart rate was – I’m sure it was sky high, pretty much from the very start.
In hot conditions, less blood flows to the heart because it’s going instead to the skin to help cool the body. This decreases cardiac filling and stroke volume, and so the heart rate skyrockets in order to sustain the workload. With the increased stress placed on the heart, we reach our maximum intensity far sooner than we should because the heart is working that much harder.
Plus those who sweat buckets (um, ME) increase their blood viscosity which also puts more stress on the heart. I don’t know why I deal so much more terribly in the heat than others (aka my hubby who hardly sweats and the heat only took 3 minutes away from a personal record for him). Sometimes I blame my half pack a day habit from age 16 to 22 for my perceived ‘weaker’ heart. It may not be the case or it may be, but at least it gives me a distorted sense of comfort that I can only blame my younger more foolish self for my inability to deal well in heat.
As I approach the half way point, I’m beyond disappointed. The heat and my extreme disappointment at what this race is turning out to be is setting in and playing with my mind. I want to stop and cry but I don’t. I keep running… And walking through the water stations, grabbing as many cups as I can.
At about km 26, I have to stop and walk because all of a sudden I cannot breath. I’m literally gasping for air. I still can’t breath as I walk – it’s the same as when I used to have exercise induced asthma attacks, way back in 2006-2008. Eventually I finally can breathe and so begin shuffling again. I turn into California State University campus and someone passes me. As he does he says something about what a crazy hot day it is. I reply with something sarcastic and subsequently remind myself to keep my mouth shut from there on in, as clearly nothing nice is going to come out. He says oh you never know it could be a PR day after all, and I’m like yah… NOPE.
The 3:45 pace bunny passes me. At that point I’m again reminded of how far off my goal I’ll finish at. I stop and walk again. I’m completely dejected. I can’t think of how I could get back to the start via a shorter route as now I know I’ve come all the way to the furthest point out, plus I know I’m not actually injured or dying. I just feel like it. But I am done.
My left knee has been hurting for the past couple hours, pretty much from the start, but clearly I can still walk and run. I fell two days ago as hubby and I went out in the pitch black near our hotel in Sacramento for an easy run. I slammed down onto my left knee. We cut the run short at 2km. I thought my knee was okay, but it’s the same one that began acting up last week and the week before when I was “fat-loading” and cut out my tart cherry juice among most other carbs. I injured it so long ago I can’t even remember what the original cause of the pain I keep at bay with my daily tart cherry juice. Fat-loading has worked very well before for me in the past, but next time I’m keeping my tart cherry juice in the picture.
I’m now stopping to walk every few minutes, and always through every water station. I start walking more. At this point I know I can make it to the finish line, but I’m completely devastated and this no longer feels like a race. I’ve completely checked out. This is my 18th marathon. I didn’t come here today to finish… I came with a very specific goal in mind. Sub 3:30. Because I spent the last 3 months thinking of nothing else, pouring more hours into training than ever before, I can’t seem to flip the switch. My performance driven mindset won’t back down. Probably because it’s this mindset that got me through the intensity of training over the last 12 weeks. Running to finish… Running for fun… That is awesome and exactly where I plan to go with running next – but at the moment it’s all about performance.
Eventually I get to the point where I do not want my time registered. I’d prefer to officially DNF. Childish or not, I’m so deflated that it seems perfectly rational in the moment. I hate what this day has turned into. Again I want to sit down and cry, but I need to meet hubby at the finish line – he’ll be worried if I don’t get there soon.
I tear my timing chips off my bib and toss them into a garbage can, in a very calculated move.
The moment I toss my timing chips, the pressure is lifted and I start chatting nicely with the people alongside me who are also struggling in the heat. I end up spending the last 10km walk/running to the finish line.
With about 5km left to go, an amazing person is standing on the side of the road is offering ice cubes to the runners. He dumps 3 ice cubes into my hands and they might as well have been gold. I rub them over the back of my neck and my arms until they disappear. The next kilometre absolutely feels better.
At about the point the ice cube high wears off, a young kid offers me a freezie. A freezie! I’ve not had one of these things in like 20 years!! I happily take it, it’s a red one, and slowly savour every bite. The guy beside me, he’s walking too, mentions how great the freezies are. He’s got one too. I begin chatting with him and his friend and I even laugh. A lady on the side of the road cheering runners on tells us all to get going, we are looking too relaxed. So I tell them I must go, and jog away. I can hear them try to keep up, but then start walking again.
These last 3km are killing me and feeling extremely long because I know how close I am but the finish line just isn’t showing up, plus there is like, NO WATER. I am still dying despite the pressure that had been lifted a few kilometres ago by tossing my timing chips. I’ve walked so much. But walking makes this thing bearable… Doable.
Finally, I see the finish line. I don’t want any pictures taken of me. I consider placing my hand over my bib to prevent any pictures identifying me. I only want to cross and cover my face somehow. I’m so embarrassed. Not to mention irrational. Luckily, the minute I cross I am handed a cool damp towel which I immediately put over my face and begin balling into.
I make my way by all the food being offered, none of which I want – I only want water. I am still so so so thirsty. I see none but I do see other finishers with water in their hand, so, frustrated, I turn back and finally find the water… Still crying into my towel. I make my way quickly out of the finishers chute and head to where hubby and I agreed to meet. Before I make it there, he finds me, puts his hand on my back and turns me into him. I rest my head on his shoulder and he lets me cry it out for a few minutes. Eventually he calms me down.
I know that technically I ‘finished’ the race, but in my mind it was a DNF because I did not run or finish the race I set out to run. The race I’d hoped for went out the window almost as soon as it began. While I’ve debated whether or not tearing off my timing chips was irrational, I’m still glad I did it – although perhaps not proud of it. Regardless, it’s an odd action I must now live with as part of my marathon racing history!
I knew before this race began that heat shuts me down. I knew before the gun went off that I am incapable of racing well in the heat. I hope I learned my lesson through this experience that my body is such that I cannot perform well in the heat. No matter how much I think I can train harder and defy my body’s inability to deal with heat – I will never, ever be able to race well in the heat. It sounds like giving up, but I hope moving forward that I can learn to see it as simply knowing my limitations and planning strategically within them.
This race may have been a disastrous one and one that I needed a few days to bounce back from (psychologically that is, not physically… physically I’ve already gone for a run today and my body feels only like it did a long training run 2 days ago), but I’m beginning to come around.
Immediately it felt like an epic waste of 12 weeks of training, but I’m now feeling as though all is not lost. While I thought I’d now be in off-season mode for the remainder of the year, I am now strategizing how I might turn things around and use this training for a personal best in the marathon after all.
Maybe Seattle at the end of November… To be confirmed… But if there’s one thing I do know, it’s that I’m not giving up until I reach my goal of sub 3:30 and ultimately sub 3:21.
For now, I’m totally taking the next week to vacation in San Diego… But stay tuned, I’ll be back soon!
So sorry to hear this Sarah. You trained so hard. Don’t waste it — Seattle will be cool — do that one. The year I ran Seattle was stormy, windy and rainy. Heat will not be an issue. Good luck!
I totally thought of you Robin, when I thought of Seattle – your hands in the air happy finish line picture makes it seem like it must be a good course, despite the stormy windy rainy conditions 🙂 Which I would totally take over the heat and humidity!!! Thank you so much!
Heat and humidity are just the worst. I had to walk most of the last 3 miles of a half last weekend 😦 but it was just a vacation race. Like yours my body likes to sweat a lot.
You’ll bounce back from this. I know you were aiming for a PR and a way faster time but you finished a marathon. I dunno about you but when I started running that seemed impossible, you still did something amazing..so don’t be hard on yourself. Enjoy vacation time!!!!
Thank you Kathy!! I think I’ve learned my lesson that hot races are best run for fun as part of vacations – you were smart!! And thank you so much for the reminder, yes, when I began running it seemed like a crazy and near impossible thing to make my body do… So in seeing how far I’ve come you are right, how can I justify being so hard on myself?!! Thank you so much for your encouragement!
Oh, Sarah! Thank- you for your honesty, always.
Feb. 2015. Surf City Half, Newport Beach. 24 freaking degrees. Last 3 K straight into the sun. Thought it was because I’m a slow old lady that I Hate the Heat.
Keep up the good work!
Oh my Jill, I was totally thinking of running Surf City this February!! Now I know to make it a fun run 🙂 Yikes, that sounds just like what I just experienced, eek. Aww haha no no no, there really seem to be some runners who do so much better in the heat… And then those of us like you and me, no matter our age or speed, that just don’t have the physical capacity to properly deal with heat. Thank you so much!
Sarah Sarah Sarah, I know the pain, disappointment and shame that you were feeling…I know how hard it is to train so hard for so long to have it all slip away step by step and I know it all just sucks sometimes!!! But but but, “they” say that all of this is just the universe providing us with exercises (literally! Ha!) to help us change and continue learning. I think you’re amazing and brave for picking yourself up and remaining steadfast in your goals! I’ll be right there pounding the pavement until I achieve mine too! Lots of love, a fellow runner
Oh my Lilly, it does sound like you’ve been through a very similar experience as I just went through! I agree with you though – everything happens for a reason and the best thing to do is take all the lessons we can from each experience. You are so sweet, thank you so much for your encouragement!! I am hoping all the best for you too, keeping at it, chasing those goals down! xo
I feel the need to say this as I often read your blog but this was just a bit much for me to not comment. There are people out there with real issues maybe running with disease, to recover from something, or with real challenges like having no legs, etc. As a role model to the running community, do you think that taking off your timing chip make those in the four hours or more category seem like it’s not a worthy goal when they are putting it all out there too? Just some food for thought.
That’s a very far stretch because Sarah wasn’t bad mouthing that time range at all. People have the right to run their race how they feel, and by the sounds of it she wasn’t even sure if she’d still finish the race after the chips were ripped off. Would you be less offended if she continued at an effort of 180+ bpm and went to the medical tent??
I just think that we need to stop taking others actions so personally and realize that everyone’s entitled to live their life, or run their race, so long as it’s not hurting others.
Thanks so much Mike – so true – I did feel guilty out there as I wanted to pull out but felt like I would need to faint or something to justify being pulled off the course and back to the finish line in an emergency vehicle. I knew I could make my way to the finish on my own two feet, but the race was over in my mind. Thank you!!
Thank you so much Kelly for pointing this out!!! Indeed you are correct, my ‘issues’ were nothing compared to those who deal with what some people must deal with! And as I mention, tearing my timing chips off isn’t necessarily something I’m proud of – but in the heat and distress of the moment I did it, and so must live with it.
I have a client I just spoke with who finished Chicago in 4:10 and I am SO incredibly proud of her. Her goal of finishing between just under 4 hours to less than 4:50 was an incredibly worthy goal and I’m so happy and thrilled for her. She is super happy too. Amazing result.
For me, I went into this, my 18th marathon, not to finish but to compete with myself. In training more than I’ve ever trained for any marathon – I went in with a very different mindset. Because the only person I was competing with was myself and my sub 3:30 goal – that is where any timing considerations for tearing my chip off came into play – not for a second to belittle anyone else’s times or goals.
Thanks again for commenting and raising this very valid point. I hesitated to share any of this at all on my blog or social media because I understand it could be taken the wrong way or viewed as petty. And I’m really sorry if anyone takes it the wrong way. It’s just an honest account of the emotions I went through on my marathon day. For 12 weeks all I did was eat sleep think and dream running. This was simply the result.
All my best to you in your running goals!!
Thanks for the recap and letting us in, it’s not easy after a disappointing race.
I like where this ends in that you’re entertaining another marathon to salvage your fitness gained. I think that’s doable with the right race, recover then have a 4-6 build and you should be in PR condition again! Only I don’t think Seattle is the best PR course because of the hills…I was close to doing this but decided not to for that reason. CIM or Humboldt would be better on the west coast. Or if you’re looking to fly, Philly is perfect PR conditions! 😉
Thanks for this note Mike! You’re so kind, I so appreciate it. I’m looking forward to getting back home and going for a run there – will give me a better sense of where I’m at. But yes I agree, recover and a 4-6 build… think that will work 🙂
Ahhh I hear you, Seattle and the hills might not be best for PR… Humboldt I wasn’t aware of previously, but looks great course! But darn it’s tomorrow!! Seattle is easiest to get to of course, cheapest too… Definitely a lot to consider as I nail down what’s next!! Thanks much!!
I am so sorry this didn’t go as planned. However, you are still an inspiration and I find you only more human. Although you think that it may have been childish to throw away the chip, it is understandable when you have dedicated your last 3 months to this goal and the disappointment is so great. I love your journey and know you will succeed at achieving your sub 3:21!
Thank you so much Belinda – your words are so appreciated! I will keep moving forward – upwards and onwards – in this runfaster journey of mine I’ve been so uber focused on and not quite ready to let it go of yet… Still thinking my goals are eventually achievable!! Much thanks for your support xo
I read the story and my comment is your race has been dominated by a negative mind. Why didn’t you just stop the drama, bite the bullet and put a foot in front of the other? You have trained so in fact you are ready to run the damn race, I see you speak of what you eat pre-race not of what you drink (except for coffee) so I assume you didn’t pre-hydrate, that is a mistake you can correct next time. But all the timing chip drama, the bib number covering drama, the embarrassment…seriously you don’t need it, you only need to put a foot in front of the other. Everything else steals your focus from the race, put your head into the race and don’t let it go anywhere else.
And you cannot blame the heat, there are people who ran the same marathon and finished regardless and it doesn’t mean they had fun at it. There are people who run the Marathon des Sables (aka Highway to Hell) every year and they don’t have it easy, they don’t even blame the heat, they prepared, they knew what to expect and in any way they overcame. You could have done it too with a lot less drama if you had just focused on what you were doing.
I notice you say you felt relieved when you removed the timing chips, that’s overall a bad sign, you’re too concerned with time to the point of obsession. How would you feel about running the next marathon without chips? It could be good therapy.
As you said heat affects your overall performance (without being the only factor to blame) so you are put in front of a choice, that is (1) focus, run and cross the finish line with your head high – because there are going to be people in front of you and just as many behind you and nobody is “ashamed” to be slower than they’d like (2) let yourself panic, start saying that no no all is lost -at just 4km- (is that a self-fulfilling profecy? watch your language with yourself more than you watch it with kids, the way you talk to youself is the way you run, if you talk yourself into failure there is nothing, litterally nothing, that can save you) and be embarrassed.
You fell, it happens.
Learn the lesson, get up, put a foot in front of the other and do better next time. Kudos to you!
Anne nailed it. Drama. Seriously it’s a race of thousands of runners, many who won’t hit their goals. Why the Sarah pity party? You finished, be happy. You weren’t even close to a PB so you write this woeful diatribe? And yes, please don’t blame the 24 degree heat unless you do all your training runs in the Arctic. All the World Majors have had occasional races in 30+ temps. 24c is nothing if you’ve prepared well.
Hydration was mentioned in Anne’s reply. What about training volume? Were you overtrained or did you not think you needed to taper? Did you fully recover after your last race? Maybe consider getting a coach. You clearly know the nutrition but your posts don’t detail training schedules. If you are the type of person who would actually listen to what a coach tells you and follow her instructions you might have your best race ever. You have lots of PB’s in you but you clearly need to rethink your plan to achieve better results.
Cheer up and good luck.
Outstanding summary of your race. After doing multiple IMs and marathons in intense heat and humidity, I totally identify with your experience. Interestingly that your summary was one of the best detailed accounts I have ever read in terms of what is going through my mind. My personal worst IM is the race i was most prepared for physically. We have all been there and and I can say I have experienced the exact same thoughts. Thanks so much for being so candid and honest, as most of us would just bury the experience and try to never talk about it. It take huge courage to document a poor performance and it adds to your credibility in my opinion. Thanks again and best of luck in future races. One thing I have learned is, you never know what you will get on race days…even the pros face unexpected circumstances that they need to deal with and also dnf. As I tell all my family and friends when I experience once of these days, make the most of your day on the beach and work on you tan, as it seemed you did,
Thanks again and I followed up my personal worst IM with my personal best, so I imagine you will as well in your next race.
Thank you so much Warren – it is so helpful for me to hear others stories of similar experiences – as you can tell, I was pretty crushed and I’d be lying if I said it didn’t still hurt a bit. And to hear your personal worst IM is also the one you were most prepared for physically! Thank you so much for sharing. It’s so true… I really only wanted to hide after this race and never speak of it again!
I hope to follow in your footsteps – so happy to hear your personal best followed your personal worst! Yay! Thanks so much for your encouraging words, I really am excited to get back out there and give another (cooler) marathon a good go!!
Thanks so much, all the best to you too! xx
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The words of a competitive warrior runner!!! You are still inspiring even in your darkest hours!!! So much to learn about our strengths & weaknesses. Although you discovered heat is your kryptonite, you also probably realized your mental toughness & discipline is your great strength! I have no doubt you will break 3:30 & it will be that much sweeter after this experience! You’re awesome for writing this incredibly difficult blog! Best of success on the next marathon …. Sacramento is an amazingly fast course & typically not warm at all in case you’re looking for a good race to focus on 🙂
I’m so glad you say that about Sacramento – that cements my decision to make my next serious go for my sub 3:30 CIM next year… Already excited!! Can’t wait to break 3:30! Thank you for uplifting words… and coming from the competitive warrior runner you are too, thanks much Eric 🙂 So true, so much to learn of our strengths and weaknesses… And I have a funny feeling the learnings will never stop!! Oh the ups and downs of life – I suppose we must have these downs to balance and truly appreciate the ups… But it’s true I find more people focus on the ups and tend not to write about the downs… My attempt to keep it honest I suppose. Super appreciate your kind words!
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