The Sydney Half-Marathon Non-Race Non-Report
Let’s just get it out of the way, shall we? I didn’t finish the Half-Marathon. Yep. DNF. I made it to 12.5km before pulling out. While I think it was the right decision, I’m still kind of disappointed I didn’t finish. Let’s go back to the beginning.
In terms of race preparation, this was my best ever. I drank about 2 liters of water every day last week. I had a couple doses of Endura the day before the race. I got plenty of sleep, even on the last night. I got up that morning feeling ready. I slathered my injured right foot in anti-inflammatories and popped a Mobic. I filled my water belt and packed it with energy gels. I got dressed, had a cup of coffee and a piece of toast with peanut butter, and headed off for the bus stop. I felt cautiously optimistic.
The day was sunny but chilly, but I didn’t feel the cold much. I did some stretches while I wanted for Venks. After he turned up, I hit the porta-potties for one final pit stop before the start. Just as the gun went off, we met up with Other Kris (who has a cracking race report here). We hit the road. I had been telling Venks that we needed to go slow at the start, but the energy of the crowd was hard to fight. Our first kilometer was way ahead of our needed pace. We ran together all the way down to the Rocks and then turned onto the hill at Argyle Street. Without even thinking about it, I powered up the hill much faster than I normally would have, leaving Venks behind me. My legs felt great. As we came down into Hickson Road, I actually passed a couple people. I started to think that I was going to have the race of my life. I ran into my friend Emma (as I always seem to do) and said hello as I passed her. I ran all the way to the first water stop, which was around the 4km mark. I slowed to a walk while I sucked down a few gulps. Then back to running. I hit the 5km mark at about 33:25 (according to RunKeeper), which is probably a PB at that distance. Note: To reach my goal of 2:30:00, I needed to run about 7:10/km. So I was going way fast. I was fixated on making the 11km checkpoint though, so I kept pushing. I had an energy gel at this point, then started the climb back up into the city. I had to walk on Hunter Street. I could still see Venks only a short distance behind me. I kept telling myself that I felt great. The wheels were about to fall off.As I reached the top of the hill, I got a wicked side stitch on my right side. I wasn’t sure if it was from the water and gel I’d taken, or if it was just from going too fast. At any rate, I had to walk a bit more and belly-breathe to try to get rid of it. As we entered the Domain around the 7km mark, Venks caught and passed me. I think he asked how I was doing. “Side stitch,” I gasped. I decided it was time to switch to my 3:1 run/walk intervals, which I’d had playing through my (one) headphone the whole time. I made it to the water stop at the end, but the stitch was still bothering me so I just dumped the cup on my head and kept going. That section from 9 to 11km just SUCKED. I had another gel but it didn’t help. Did I hit the wall? I don’t know. I just know that what seemed effortless for the first 5km suddenly seemed insurmountable. The stitch lessened but there was a pain in the pit of my stomach. My pace was dropping off. I started to notice that my arms felt cold and clammy and shivery, and my head felt a bit dizzy and faint. (Upon further research, I may have actually hyperventilated in my attempt to deal with the stitch.) I came out of the Domain and hit the 10km mark at around 71min. My pace had dropped off considerably, and I was living for the walk breaks. I hit the 11km mark at around 79min, but once again I could see that they weren’t actually pulling anybody off the course for not making the 75min cut-off. There were plenty of people behind me. I slowed to walk again. “Are you feeling all right?” asked a Race Marshall. “Oh yeah, fine!” I lied.
I kept going. I still hadn’t really entertained the thought of stopping. I just knew that what my body really hated what I was doing, and I was fighting it every step. On Hunter Street, a random guy – who I later found out was JayDub – yelled a greeting as he passed going the other direction. I made it back to the Rocks and turned onto the Argyle Street hill, planning to walk it. I fumbled for another energy gel and ended up squirting half of it on the road. My breathing was still ragged, though my stitch was mostly gone. My skin still felt cold and clammy even after more than an hour of running. All I could think was that I wanted to sit down. “There’s no way I can face another hour of this,” I suddenly thought. Another Race Marshall asked if I was okay. “I’m just going to sit down for a second and catch my breath,” I told him. The two sides of my brain fought. One side wanted to grit it out, Steve Runner-style, dragging my body across that finish line come hell or high water. The other side argued that my body was trying to tell me something, that I didn’t feel right, and that I wasn’t having any fun. That there was no shame in cutting your losses and living to run another day. Still, I was reluctant to quit. I stood up to resume my walk up the hill… and suddenly I was limping. It was the overuse injury I’ve been fighting since February – the one that has never fully healed, the one that I’d tried to stave off with my pre-race anti-inflammatory regimen. The race day adrenaline must have been masking the pain. Well, that pretty much sealed it. Running another 10km on that foot would have been pretty stupid. I hit “stop” on RunKeeper and sent the Snook a text message telling him what had happened. Then I left the course and started my long, slow, cold walk back to the finish line. I unpinned my race number on the way, not wanting anyone to think I was a finisher.
Eventually I made it back to the park and sat on a bench, huddling and stretching my legs. My calves and feet started to cramp. I sent out a couple tweets about what had happened, and I was so grateful for the response you guys sent back. The wonderful Snook showed up with a backpack full of warm clothes and snacks. He felt my cold arms and took me over to sit in full sun, which still didn’t help much. We hovered near the finish line, waiting for Venks to come in. He finished at 2:40, and we cheered him in. Then it was over to my planned meet-up with Other Kris (who’d finished in 2:20) and Major (who’d finished in 1:45). I was so happy for them all, yet still disappointed that I hadn’t finished. We left to catch a bus home, and I was still shivering. The Snook thought that I was in some sort of shock. It took about 30 minutes of sitting in a very hot bath at home for me to start feeling normal again.
Okay, so what’s the upshot of all of this?
Negative: I feel disappointed that I didn’t grit it out til the end. I feel like a big ol’ quitter. I feel like some folks might judge me negatively for pulling out.
Positive: I actually ran a really good 5K at the start, and a semi-decent 10K (despite it sucking towards the end). Physically, I feel pretty good today. My quads are a bit sore (probably from powering up those hills) and my right foot is still tender, but otherwise I’m fine. I’m planning to do some cross-training at Spudds tonight. I should be fine to continue my normal morning runs, I think. I’ve had a lot of comments and emails and tweets from people telling me I made the right call, and that I still managed more than most people for getting out there.
Going forward: I’m starting to realise some things about my running. When I think about my “best” races, they aren’t necessarily the ones where I ran farther or faster than before. They’re the ones where I had the most fun. City 2 Surf? Those have been so fun. (Well, except for that one I ran the day after flying in from L.A. That was hell.) Running the Bridge Run with the Snook? Fun. The Mother’s Day Classic last weekend was Super-Fun. I think I have this tendency to get caught up with goals and numbers, which is why I sign up for these big events in the first place. I’ve always thought that if I didn’t have some big goal and plan in place, I would lack the motivation to get out there. But I’m starting to figure out that the numbers make me sad more than they make me happy. It’s kind of like the bathroom scales. That damn number hasn’t budged, but this morning I pulled on another pair of pants that used to be too tight to wear. I need to define new metrics of success because numbers don’t always tell the full story. The point of all this running for me isn’t to collect a new race medal or set a new PB. It’s to get fit, have fun, and be part of the running community. I think I need to just focus on meeting those goals and not worry so much about everything else. So I’m going to cut back my distance a bit, increase my cross-training, and focus on finally letting this foot heal completely. I’m looking forward to the Bay Run and the City 2 Surf not because I want to set a new time goal, but because of much fun they’re going to be.