Note from Lindsay: Yesterday I wrote about my experience spectating, cheering, and pacing my friend Katie’s attempt at a Boston Qualifying time at the Wisconsin Marathon. These are Katie’s thoughts, 48 hours after a disappointing (for her) finish at the race. Anyone who has hit the wall, or who dreads hitting the wall, will find something here that may help you in the future. In her words:
In the past 14 months, I have run 3 marathons, (3:57, 3;43, 3:53). In each race, I experienced the same dreaded end-of-race fade. Of course, it was the wall. Everyone talks about the wall. There are so many reasons for hitting the wall: nutritional, physical, mental. But in all my reading and researching and geeking out with other runners, I never bothered to ponder and never bothered to ask the question: “What happens after you hit the wall?” I am not exactly sure where to go from here: could it be that I need to look at a very different pacing strategy? Do I need to look at alternate strategies for fueling? Or does it mean that I am just not capable of a Boston Qualifying performance? Will I forever be wishing that a marathon ended at mile 23?
This past Saturday, I kept such a close eye on running even, easy splits, staying calm, hydrating regularly, fueling early. My dear friends Lindsay and Kristiana even drove the ENTIRE course the day before this race so that I would have an idea of what to expect: hills, road conditions, gravel road portions, stretches of the course which appeared a little more remote and would likely have very little crowd support.
I have to wonder how much of this fade at the end is mental: when I had one mile that was off pace by 15 seconds, I didn’t give up. I can vividly recall wanting to just lie down on the side of the road in the final miles 7 or 8 of the Myrtle Beach marathon in February. My body just felt exhausted, and my feet just hurt.
This time, my feet didn’t hurt, and I certainly didn’t want to lie down. I had one mile where my pace slipped by 15 seconds. I had enough cognitive ability to know that even if I could hold that pace until the end, that I would still have a qualifying time. Easy math: 15 seconds x 5 miles is only a just over a minute slower than I wanted. My mind was sharp and I just hit the gas a little bit more.
But then I turned into the wind, going uphill. And because we had driven the course the day before, I knew very well that I would keep running this direction until just before the finish. The wind wasn’t going to end. I didn’t remember the hill. And when I turned around, it looked like the road I had just climbed up was also going uphill. How could that be? I kept giving myself surges to push faster. I have trained for this.
The mental strength that I gained from the 9 x 1 mile at 30 seconds faster than marathon pace workouts? This is when I needed it. I thought about those workouts. I thought about the 25 miler that ended with a fast finish which I accidentally routed UP a massive Atlanta hill, but still maintained an 8:10 pace. I needed that right now. And then, something just broke inside me. And my legs stopped going as fast as they were. And the pushing that I was doing to keep the pace that was going to get me in a 1:15 slower overall? That effort level was giving me a per mile pace that was 30 seconds off my goal pace, and then 50 seconds off my goal pace. And then I started throwing up.
My friend Lindsay jumped in at mile 23, and I started to vomit more. This was not puke-your-guts-out after a hard track effort vomit; it was a foamy, energy gel spit up.
This happened to me once in Myrtle Beach. I had a bit of vomit in my mouth. But then it didn’t happen again.
But now it kept happening. I slowed down to walk, and each time I started up again, I would throw up some more. I started to feel woozy and dizzy. Later, Lindsay later told me that I was weaving instead of running in a straight path. When Lindsay talked to me, I had trouble answering her, but it wasn’t because I was going so fast. I was able to talk to people a little earlier in the race, at miles 14, 15, and 16, when I was racing at the right pace.
I took some Gatorade from an aid station (I thought that maybe I needed some more electrolytes) at some point during after mile 23, and it came right back up a few minutes later.
At some point I thought: “what if I really hurt myself trying to do this?”. And instead of vomiting and running the whole thing in, I just slowed to a walking pace for the last mile, and ran in the last 0.2.
It is hard for me to not feel really disappointed right now, especially because I just felt so strong and ready. I didn’t hit the wall so tragically during training in the 23 and 25 milers. I felt a little exhausted towards the end of those, but I was able to push through that and really finish strong. But during all those training runs, I had to take breaks for stoplights, and to refill my water bottles. I wonder if these little breaks in running allowed me recover just enough to not have a big bonk at the end.
My husband asked me how I was feeling, and I told him I felt devastated and ashamed. He told me that I had every right to feel sad, maybe even devastated, but not for long. And I had no right to feel ashamed.
It is easy to get caught up in the concept that if you put in the work, you will always get results. But, that is not always the case. That is why you show up on race day and race, instead of just being handed a medal. And the marathon is, in its simplest form, a beast that is not easy to tame. Every time you toe the line at a marathon, the possibility of failure looms large. No one is guaranteed a great day of racing, fueling, hydrating, pacing, staying mentally focused. It is a challenge.
No, I am not ashamed. I did take a risk. My day was not Saturday. While I was at the medical tent being checked over (I am sincerely thankful for having such loving friends at the finish line to propel my stumbling self over to medical) I looked Kristiana and Lindsay in the eye and said my typical refrain about 10 minutes after finishing a marathon: “I am never, ever (!!) doing one of these again!”.
But the lure of qualifying for Boston is there for me. It’s a goal that I have talked about in front my children, my friends, my parents. I can’t just walk away after a measly two tries. What sort of example does that set to them? How does that affect my own self esteem?
It may be another year or more, but I will come back to this goal. I’ll spend some time laying down an even stronger base of fitness before I begin another marathon training cycle. I also need to spend time building up all the other things that began to be neglected. My family needs me to step out of the season of marathon training and come back to a more attentive, present state in our home. There is, after all, a race we are all running that needs a lot more endurance than the one I ran on Saturday.
20. 8:23 (this is where running into the wind off the lake was starting to mess with my head)
24. 11:50 (this is where I started vomiting)
26. 15:32 (walked and vomited probably 8 or 10 times)