My Worst Race and What I Learned

Admit it, we all have that race that just haunts us.  It’s that one race that leaves us hoping that we never have to feel like that again.  It’s our toughest race, but even with it being one of the worst, we still learned from it.  Lessons like that are hard to swallow, but in the end we’re all better for it.

For me, that race is my 2012 Kiawah Marathon.  I didn’t know it going into it that it would be my worst feeling race, but it became pretty apparent from the first few miles. I had put in the training, the effort, but that didn’t matter.  My body had a plan all it’s own.

Leading up to the race, I had only run one other marathon.  It was a good experience for my first marathon.  I did every thing by the book and finished.  This was my 2nd marathon and this time, I was going to “race” it.  I had a reasonable goal and based on several of my half marathon times, a 4:30:4:45 was reasonable.  For this race, I was using the “Run less, Run Faster” 3 day a week plan.  It required me to hit specific paces on all my runs.  All my easy run days were now cross training days riding the stationary bike at the gym.  20miler

Lesson one: I should have realized that this plan was not the plan for me.  I was not a “hit these paces” kind of runner.  I liked having speed work as part of my plans, but to have to hit specific paces was exhausting.  My long run days were no longer leisurely either.  I was physically drained after each of them.  I went into the marathon tired.  I know this now.

To add to the tiredness, a few weeks leading up to the race, we all signed up to run Crooked Road 24 Ultra.  Our first one!  It was so exciting and we were all so happy to be able to finally run this one.  The trip fell right at our 20 miler, so it was the perfect place to get in a fun 20 miler!  It was just the thing we needed to break up our training.  We ran our 20 miles before dark and decided that if we were taking on our first Ultra, we should run an ultra distance.  So we continued on and ran our first 50K. crookedroad2012

Lesson two: By running a 50K before my marathon, that was my target race.  Yup, I just did that.  I just made Crooked Road my race.  Not Kiawah.  Never dawned on me until much later and more experience.

We headed to Kiawah for race weekend!  There was a huge group of us going and we were pretty evenly split between half and full runners.  The full course had changed from the previous year and we were no longer running two loops of the half, but more a hand shaped route, where we were running long out and back but always returning to a central roundabout. The weather was very different from what I had been training in.  Race day temps were in the upper 60’s going to 70 with humidity…tons of it.

Lesson three: Don’t pick a race that doesn’t mimic training run weather. I already knew me and humidity do not get along, then I have no business running a race where average temps are above my comfort zone.  I know that the weather we get on a marathon day is a crap shoot, but I still should have prepared a bit better.

We started the race and by mile 2, I was running too fast and sweating too much.  I had difficulty with getting my breathing under control.  I struggled for the next few miles, just not feeling my best.  I felt like I was running in sand, just having to work to hard for each step.  I stuck with Bekah and Andrea the best I could, but by mile 11, I knew it was not my day.  The split between the half and the full was just past mile 11.  I chose to stay on the marathon path even though I felt awful. kiawahstart

Lesson four: Take the other path.  If by the time any split happens between the half and the full and I feel awful at that point, finish the half.  Every time.

At mile 12, I announced I wanted a blanket and I’d lay right there and take a nap.  I was slowing up and felt yucky.  Bekah and Andrea went ahead on my pushing.  I didn’t need anyone to suffer with me.  I was at the point where I knew I just needed to run the rest by myself.  I needed to walk when I had to and I didn’t want to keep apologizing for having to stop to walk.  I ran as long as I could and then I’d use walks to take breaks. I passed Nathan on one of the out and back sections and he felt about the same way.  We offered each other some encouragement.  Katie and I were slowing down about the same rate and every time we passed each other, I’d yell out what type of interval I was on:  “I’m running 3 to 1”, “I’m down to 2 and 1”, and finally, “I’m just walking.”  With 7 miles left in the race, I was done running.  I was only walking.

Lesson five: Keep moving forward.  Don’t stop.  Even though there wasn’t much running going on from mile 19 to the end, there was NO way this marathon was taking me out.  I would keep moving until I reached the end.

I kept walking and walking, even passing the road our house was on.  Talk about about heartbreaking!  I wished for someone to come and get me.  I was hoping to see a car that could drive me back to the finish line.  I was miserable.  About at the time, I felt like the last 3 miles were going to take forever.  There in the distance is Henry!  I couldn’t believe it.  Henry had come back to check on all of us. I was so excited to see him.  He walked with me until I got to the last half mile where he turned around and went back to get Katie.

Lesson six: Just when you think that you can’t go any longer and that it seems daunting, hope throws you a little bone and you keep going.  Thank goodness for friends!

Once I made the last turn towards the finish line, I was greeted by Carole and Kathy, beers in hand, as I let them lead me to the finish line.  I was holding back tears the entire time.  I remembering just repeating to them how awful that was.  It was so awful!  Nick greeted me with a hug at the end of the race.  I could tell that he was nervous.  My finish time was 20 minutes past my first marathon and 50 minutes past my goal.  I’m sure that last hour was not the best feeling for him.  He also knows me enough to know that my goal is always to run another day.  finishline

I was never so happy to stop running.  I swore off marathons from that moment.  I was never doing that again.

Lesson seven:  As my grandma always says, never say never.

Never running a marathon again turned into 3 more after Kiawah: Richmond, Wrightsville and City of Oaks.  In Richmond, I realized that I had the right training plan and mindset.  Just to run smart and not to give a damn about the time on the clock.  I was there to support Cara and Daniel.  Wrightsville was tough, but I knew after Kiawah that nothing could be worse.  I pressed on, running more than I did in Kiawah when things went wrong and finished just :13 off of my Richmond time.  City of Oaks was my redemption marathon.  I ran it so smart, paying attention to my heart rate.  I ran it with no time goal in mind and it is by far my best feeling marathon.  I came across that finish line, smiling and content.  I had finally successfully figured out this marathon thing and how to make it work for me vs making me work for it.

Lesson eight: One bad race does not mean that all the following ones are going to be the same.  I couldn’t stop running marathons based on one bad one.  I didn’t think that way with a 10K or a half, why is it that way with a marathon?  Just run it anyways and with experience comes the ability to deal with any obstacles that may come my way.  Sure I was scared the same thing would happen in each of the other marathons, but compared to Kiawah, nothing could ever be that bad and if it was, I’d take the out.  Switch to the half and be done.

What was your worse race and what did it teach you?  What lesson did you learn?

Check out other runners’ worst races and their lessons by heading over to Tuesdays on the Run.

Happy Week!

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21 thoughts on “My Worst Race and What I Learned

  1. While it sounds like this was a tough race for you it definitely seems like you learned alot of important lessons from it! I think we all need to have some of these things happen in order to learn for the future. For me it took a couple or rough races to learn that I needed to train more on hills, and work on my mental strength! Its a work in progress but it helps to know what your weaknesses are so you can address them.

  2. I’m glad you pushed through and I love your positive attitude and the many lessons you take away from a bad race. That’s so very important!! Great perspective!! Love your pics! XOXO

  3. I like how you did not let one bad race stop you from getting back out there! That is a great lead to follow! I have not really had a bad race per say but I do know I do not enjoy night races. I run faster than the slow crowd but not fast enough to keep up with the fast crowd and I do not like that feeling of just aimlessly running in the dark by myself. Thanks for sharing, great story!

  4. Wow, you have a lot of great tips and have given me a lot to think about. Especially about mimicking race weather. Most of my longer distance races take place at Disney and my fall training certainly does not mimic race day weather!
    Also it is nice when races offer the full and the half on the same day so runners can have the chose which path to take. Some races do not. Good post! -M

  5. Great post! I’m thinking about running a marathon later this year and it’s good to know that even if things don’t go well it’s possible to run a few more and succeed! Great job on your redemption marathons!

  6. I definitely know that feeling (although not at the full distance, I’m not quite ready to take that on yet!) and reading your story made me want to give you a hug and a beer at the finish too! Great takeaways. There are some things that we only learn through tough experience! Thanks for linking up with us today!

  7. Wow! Way to tough it out. Experiences like these make us better runners. You did the right thing. You shook it off and continued to move forward.

  8. Amazing post and totally insightful Melanie!!! Now as far as your question goes … my absolute worst race ever was Gasparilla 2014. I went into that race with solid training and feeling fairly fit. What I got in return was a smack in the face and a kick in the teeth with worst 5K time EVER!!! The 5K is my distance, that was rock bottom for me … my darkest day as a runner. I forced me to completely rebuild my approach running and training which I spent this entire past summer doing and it has paid off BIG TIME this season even now as I work through this minor injury period. So for as painful as it was that dark day has left me stronger 🙂 especially mentally speaking 🙂

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