(aka The Very Long, Sad Story of the Sour Stomach)
For anyone who has ever trained for a marathon, you know what the week before is like: fretting around, trimming toenails, praying that the one sneeze you just sneezed isn’t the start of the flu, hydrating regularly, peeing even more regularly, and checking the weather forecast even more regularly than that.
I headed up to Dallas on Saturday with the plan of hanging out with my family for the day. In the afternoon, my dad and I drove the race course so I would have some appreciation for what was coming. We were joined by the USA Comrades Ambassador Pat Kongslip who was in town to chase down a Comrades “B” seeding on the Dallas course. As we drove, we traded running stories and advice. Pat and I were fortunate to have my dad’s insight on the course, both as someone who has been running the Dallas streets since 1964 as well as someone who laid out a large portion of the course back in 1983 when he was race director of the Dallas White Rock Marathon. Having insider information and visual reconnaissance of the course may not seem that important, but it gives a strong sense of confidence going into a marathon.
Overnight I was awakened at 2:10am by pounding rain and driving winds. My optimism for the day was, quite literally, dampened significantly. At least I was able to get back to sleep for a few more hours.
I got out of bed at 6, dressed, and took my pre-packed “stuff-I-want-to-have-with-me-in-case-I-decide-I-need-it” bag down to the car. My dad and I left the house just after 6.40am.
We were in a parking lot near the start by 7am, and then we spent 20 minutes complaining about the rain, changing outfits, wishing the weather would improve, and generally burning nervous energy. Around 7.20am the rain diminished, and we decided it was time to don our garbage bags and head to the start corral.
It was about 52F at the start, but the rain made it feel like 48F. The forecast was for rain until about 10am, then winds picking up to around 20mph. It was a tricky forecast to dress for. I didn’t want to be cold, but I didn’t want to wear more than I needed to and have it get wet (and heavy). I had on shorts, a short-sleeve shirt, running hat, gloves, and armbands that were really sleeves cut off an old t-shirt with the cuff on my bicep and hairbands on my forearms to hold them to my arms. I slid my pace band for my all-important sub 4:00 Comrades “D” batch seeding under the hairband on my right arm. I felt confident I could run 4:00 comfortably, but I’m terrible at math on the run, so the pace band was there to keep me focused.
Our pre-race timing was perfect, finishing the port-a-potty adventure just as the start corral was collapsing toward the start line. That meant there was very little standing around time, which was good since it was still raining a bit. Just as the countdown to the start began, I took off my garbage bag.
Off we went! I started slowly, as planned, hitting my first mile in 9.30. I am a slow starter on morning runs, and I knew that going out too fast would make for a long day. I hit my first 5K in 28.26, which was bang on race pace (9.09/mile). Excellent!
The rain had tapered off, and we were running through Turtle Creek and Highland Park– very residential neighborhoods which afforded protection from any wind. I was already getting warm. I rolled my “sleeves” down to my wrists. By mile 5, my gloves were off and tucked in to my waistband.
I was running strong, feeling great, and clocking off miles ahead of pace. I hit the 10K in 56:16 (9.03/mile), giving me some cushion for my sub-4:00 finish. I was worried about the possibility of a headwind for the last 4-5 miles, so putting a little time in the bank now seemed sensible.
The race ran down Greenville Ave, a street lined with bars and restaurants. Despite road construction and potholes filled with water, this was a great section of the course. There were supporters lining the streets. I thanked every police officer at every intersection, knowing that keeping things positive always helps me run better. The aid stations were well stocked and staffed, and I was doing a great job getting the water and gatorade down every chance I had.
By 15K, I’d dropped my overall pace to 8.59/mile clocking in at 1.23.48. I knew then that I was well ahead of pace. I had the idea that maybe I should have walked a bit more early on, but I was feeling so great!
Somewhere between Mile 11 and Mile 12, I started burping gatorade. It was really unpleasant. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but in hindsight I know this was the beginning of the end….
I got pumped when I saw Mile 12, knowing that my husband and kids, and my mom, and my brother and nephew and niece would be on the course in a few minutes. They were in a great location where I spotted them from a block away. I was still cheery enough to wave my arms and enjoyed watching them wave and clap as I approached. This is the first marathon since I ran Boston in 2002 when I’ve had family on the course for support– it’s always much appreciated!
Just after I saw my family I ran/walked over “the Dolly Partons”– two hills of moderate challenge that are an iconic part of the race course. I got a good chuckle out of the guys wearing wigs and fancy dresses with balloons inside who were handing out water (and other beverages) as Dolly Parton tunes blared.
Feeling buoyed by my family and the fun on the Dolly Partons, I ran well through the half-marathon mark. I was at 1.58.14 (9.01 pace), so well under where I needed to be for a sub-4:00 finish. And I was halfway done!
But any marathoner knows that the halfway mark is really at 20 miles.
And never has this been more true than for me last Sunday!
But I’m getting ahead of myself….
As I ran around the road adjacent to White Rock Lake, I was able to see runners ahead of me who were running on the path and were already on their way back to downtown. Around 13.5 miles I saw Comrades Pat and gave him a shout– he was running really strong. It’s always a lift to see someone you know on the course.
Running out to the turnaround point, I kept my focus on staying hydrated and keeping the Gu going down. My stomach was starting to turn a little nauseated, so I really had to give myself a pep talk at each aid station.
By the turnaround (about 15.5 miles), my stomach was really sour. Every time I tried to push the pace– my legs felt strong and my breathing was totally in control– I felt sick. Not one to push through, vomit, and get on with it, I chose to back off.
I didn’t enjoy the stretch of the course along the path by White Rock Lake as much as I should have. I know this path really well, having trained on it regularly for my entire running career. The only fun part was seeing my dad as he was on his way out to the turnaround. We shouted encouragement at each other and shared that we both felt sick. I’m sure the people around us appreciated that.
I was able to get into a little better, more smooth groove on the very slight downhill between TP Hill and the Katy Trail. It helped knowing a) that it *is* a downhill, and b) that my family would be at the start of the Katy Trail. I repeated the mantra “My body is healthy. My mind is strong” for about two straight miles.
By the time I saw my family again I knew I was going to fade. I just couldn’t keep the pace I needed without feeling sick. I was happy to see them and hear them cheering for me. A few high-fives with my kids did my spirit good.
The next two miles or so were pretty desperate. I started to feel the wheels come off. The Katy Trail is concrete, and I could feel the pounding in my legs. It didn’t much matter, though, because I couldn’t make my legs go fast enough for it to really hurt.
I hit 20 miles in 3:04:31, a super slowdown to 9.14/mile pace. While I was able to do the quick math to figure out if I could just run 9s all the way in I could still meet my goal, the logical part of my brain said: “If you could just run 9s, you’d already be doing that!”
Fortunately, right after that negative moment in my brain, I registered that there were people cheering me by name. It took me until I was about two feet in front of them to realize it was my cousin and his wife. I offered for her and I to switch places, but she politely declined. Again, a little fun and friendly banter lifted me spirits for a few minutes.
I was surprised to see them again at Mile 21– those punks knew a shortcut! I offered again to trade places with my cousin’s wife, but again she said no. My cousin offered the wise truth that I was already a mile closer to the finish than I was when I last saw them. Fair enough.
I took my last Gu around 21.5 miles, wincing and gagging as I squished it into my mouth. I was still taking Gatorade for fear of adding cramping to my already bad situation. My stomach was a mess.
(At the time I was blaming it on the Gu. In hindsight (and realizing I had this same problem at the NYC Marathon last year), I think it is drinking the full-strength Gatorade that my stomach doesn’t like. I use G2 (Gatorade’s less sugary sister) when I train, and I’ve never had stomach issues in training….even when running at much faster paces.)
There was, indeed, a headwind at this point of the race, but I wasn’t running fast enough for it to be an issue. I walked a lot on the uphill stretches through La Vista, moving along only because I knew right where Mile 22 was, as I saw it on the opposite side of Swiss Avenue when running outbound. That was an important point for me: in marathon training, a 4-mile run is a short run…and easy day. Getting to 22 miles means I have only an easy run left.
I can’t say it was easy, but I can say I was resigned to the fact that I couldn’t hold on to the pace I needed to break 4:00. It was so frustrating! I knew my fitness was there to run the time I needed, but I just couldn’t hold it together.
I made it in to the finish in 4.06.40 (9.25/mile), my slowest marathon ever by more than seven minutes. It was disheartening. Yes, it’s a Comrades qualifier. But I’ll now be starting TWO batches lower than where I’d hoped due to a special seeding bracket for folks who have 10 Comrades finishes in between sub-4:00 and 4:00-4:19:59.
Mostly, it’s disappointing because my muscles feel so great post-race! I’m a little sore, but not really. At this point, I just hate my guts! I know that if my stomach had cooperated, I’d have had a better result. Alas, this is the cruel reality of marathoning…..months of effort go into one day, and there are lots of things that can go wrong.
(In better news, Pat snagged his “B” seeding, finishing in 3.17 and change. And my dad finished in 4.54, safely under the 5:00 time limit needed for a Comrades qualifier.)
I’m taking a few days off now to recover, stretch, and receive massage. I’m still confident I can have a strong Comrades finish in May. But there are a lot of miles to run between now and then.