The Madison Half Marathon was a day of firsts for me.
- First DNF
- First ride on the SAG wagon
- First trip to the medical tents
- First field-style IV
What happened? I thought that since I race 13.1 every chance I get, that it wouldn't be a big deal for me to run one - even under bad circumstances. I was wrong.
I woke up that morning after a bad night's sleep, with my stomach cramping, feeling lousy. I felt so bad that I could only eat a few bites of my breakfast. Still, I got dressed and ready for the race, despite feeling sick and knowing that it was going to be an unseasonably hot and humid day.
Steve and my uncle dropped me off at the starting line and I was immediately sick. Steve came and talked to me, basically waiting to hear why in the blue hell I would still want to run the race. I convinced him that I was "probably okay," and that I actually felt better after having thrown up. This is sometimes the case - maybe I could have risked going to the office that day, but again, running 13.1 miles in really hot conditions? Not my best decision.
I tried to soak in the festive atmosphere. The marathoners started their race 20 minutes prior, and the course took them through the area where we 13.1'ers were gathered. That was very cool - watching them run was inspiring and exciting, and naturally we cheered for them like crazy. After they passed, it was time to line up.
I still didn't feel good and vowed to race carefully - run slowly, take walk breaks as needed, and get in plenty of fluids. I had already taken a walk break before the first mile and was running at the edge of the course in case I had to duck off to get sick. Not a good sign.
At mile 2, I wanted to switch from sipping on the Gatorade I had in my Fuel Belt to water. It was hot, I was feeling rough, and grabbing two cups of water felt like a good choice. The water made my stomach feel sloshy and even worse than it already did. A bad cramp seized me, and I found a semi-secluded parking lot where I tried unsuccessfully to get sick.
Running made my stomach feel worse, and I was starting to feel weak from the stomach cramps, lack of food, and the heat (already approaching 80 degrees before 9:00 AM). I made a tough decision: walk to the next aid station, then drop out of the race.
I have never, ever quit a race in the 25 years I have been a runner. It felt absolutely terrible to have to say, "No, I cannot do this. I am not strong enough, and I cannot fight through this. I cannot finish what I started, and no matter how hard I try, I cannot do this thing I have been looking forward to for months." It sucked, and I felt miserable... and still sick.
I saw a volunteer on a bike and flagged him down like I was hailing a cab. I told him that I was sick and couldn't finish the race. He calmly led me to a shady area, and as he was about to radio for support, a marathoner joined us. Her name was Tiffany, and she was dehydrated and needed to drop out as well. Volunteer Steve gave me cold water and Tiffany a bottle of Gatorade from his saddle bag and assured us that there was no shame in dropping out on a day like that.
A few minutes later, a medic on a bike joined us. He said he'd wait for the SAG wagon with us, so the bike volunteer moved on to see who he could help next. The medic checked our blood pressure, pulse, and temperature. He found my pulse to be a little weak and Tiffany's a little fast, so he kept checking us to make sure we weren't deteriorating.
While I wasn't trying unsuccessfully to be sick, I talked to Tiffany. As you can imagine, it was a bonding experience. She was running her first marathon and had been kicking ass before she started to feel so terrible, running at a 3:15 finishing pace and hoping for a BQ. As you can imagine, she was heartbroken at having to quit. I assured her that she could still do it, just not that day. It was the first hot day we've had, and not having trained in hot weather made the race much harder than it could have been. I suggested she look at a fall marathon for her BQ and hope for better weather. There will be other races.
The SAG wagon arrived after an hour. The driver apparently had been quite busy picking up fallen runners around the course and was having trouble navigating all of the roads closed for the race. She finally got us to the medical tent.
At this point, I was feeling really bad. I was hot, dizzy, weak, and my stomach was killing me. I was also depressed - the medical tent was right at the finish line, so I had to watch runners crossing the finish line looking happy and collecting their finishing medals. I would not get and did not deserve one of those medals and would not get to feel the amazing accomplishment that comes every time you cross the finish line.
In the tent, doctors and nurses quickly got me settled in. The gave me a bottle of water, put a bag of ice under my neck, checked my vital signs, and asked me questions about how I was feeling. Dr. Smith asked how long it had been since I was sick (hours at that point) and since I'd had anything to drink (also hours at that point). He said I needed to get some fluids in me and suggested that I either try drinking some water, or they'd just give me an IV. I said I'd try for the water and see how it went. He agreed that was a good decision.
Like so many things for me that day, that didn't work out for me. A few minutes later, I was dramatically sick. Dr. Smith calmly said, "Okay, an IV it is," and sent a nurse over to hook me up. Not surprisingly, she had trouble getting a vein because I was so dehydrated and admitted that there was more blood than she would have liked. My race team singlet now has blood stains to remind me of this day.
The IV had me starting to feel better. Other things that made me feel better were learning that the course conditions were so bad that the race director called the race 4 hours in. That lots of other runners had to quit as well. And the point that one of the doctors made, which was that although it was unfortunate that I couldn't finish this race, what was really important from a health standpoint wasn't the race, but all of the training I'd put in.
With the hydration of two IV bags came some clarity. I should never take my ability to run - at any distance - as a given. No matter how well conditioned I am, some days my body is just not going to cooperate, and I have to be able to accept that. And the reason I can accept that is that any single race is not the be all, end all of my running experience. As the doctor said, what's important from the point of view of my health is my training. I love the challenge and accomplishment of racing, but there will always be another race. Tiffany will finish her first marathon, and someday, she will qualify for Boston. I will race my next pikermi ("half marathon") in a few months, and when I do, I'll get to the line feeling healthy and knowing that I can finish the race strong.
Steve arrived to take me home just as I was realizing my other important lesson: the doctors who volunteer at medical tents at major races are, across the board, really hot. I am grateful for the humility and perspective this lousy experience has given to me. I am grateful that my husband will be there for me to hold my hand when I'm feeling sick. I am grateful to the volunteers who helped me - the guy on the bike, the medic, the woman who drove the SAG wagon, the nurse who gave me my IV, Dr. Hot Asian Guy, Dr. Abercrombie and Fitch Model, and Dr. Seth Meyers Only Even Hotter. I will be back, and I will be smarter.