I sent this to Runner's World a month ago. I'm guessing it's not going to run. (oops pun)
The All-State 13.1 Chicago race day started like so many other race days. I got up at an ungodly hour, ate my normal prerace breakfast (banana and multi-grain toast) and drove to a slightly unfamiliar location in the city. I received a good omen when I found a parking spot only two blocks from the start corral. It got even better when I went to my start assignment. I was right next to the 2:20 pacers and I thought, “Awesome! If I get and stay ahead of these guys, I’ve got a really good chance to PR today.”
The race started right at 7:00 AM and my wave went on twenty minutes after the first wave. Before we reached mile 1 the course conditions went from green to yellow due to the heat index. That wasn’t a particular worry of mine. I don’t mind the heat, actually kind of like it. I was proud of the fact that I was rolling out slow as well, the 2:20 pacers were just ahead of me. I was going easy and they were only a quick dash in front of me. I gained even more encouragement that by mile 2, when I was going to start pushing a little more I passed the pacers without any effort. During races I try and monitor my fluid intake because in the past I’ve drank too much and felt like a punch bowl sloshing along the course. It was so hot this day, however, that I took on more fluid than I was planning, better safe than sorry.
I wasn’t feeling bad, but I noticed in between miles 4 and 5 that I wasn’t sweating, or better stated, my sweat was dried up on my forehead and face. What was worse, I emerged from Jackson Park and its shady trees into the blazing sun of the lakefront. It was like running into a broiler and I knew it was going to be long stretch in the heat, but I was undaunted by the turn around and even posted my best mile split from mile 6 to 7. I could see the PR on my watch. Then it all came crashing down.
I knew something was up when people I had passed miles ago were starting to pass me. More to the point, even though I had lubed up liberally, my feet were very angry with me. Every stride was agonizing and labored. My breathing was…ok. I didn’t feel great, but I was ok. When I passed mile 8 my pace had slowed by almost a minute and getting slower. Somewhere between mile 8 and 9 I did something I’ve never done in any race; not in grade school, high school or in my exercise renaissance since age 34. I walked. I’ve got nothing against walking, mind, but I’m sure some of my fellows understand. I take it as a sign of determination, strength and yes pride that I had never walked in a race. It wasn’t just that I saw so many others slowing down and walking, but I was feeling so exhausted that the will to run wasn’t finding a receptive audience in my legs. The final straw was when the 2:20 pacers passed me by. I was broke, finished. I walked.
I didn’t walk to the finish line. I made it to the next water station, hit the mister and started running again, even though my legs, arms and especially feet were begging me to stop. For some reason, it became a good idea to run in the sun and walk in the shade. I don’t know if that was the best strategy, but by mile 11 I was feeling ok, definitely not great, or good, call it a C- of overall feeling, body, mind and spirit. I gained a small measure of satisfaction (very small) in that I ran the entire final mile. I crossed the finish line with my worst time ever in a half marathon, almost 15 minutes off the goal I had set before the race.
The walk back to the car was dreadful. Even on my best days I’m not one for the festival after the race (and is it just Chicago, or does every race have pizza at the end? Just sounds gross after a long run). My medal felt like a millstone, my feet (and other regions) were in pain and on fire and the warm car seat didn’t help. On the commute home I felt even worse than I had on the course. A massive wave of nausea hit and I thought for sure the post-race granola bar and water were on the way back. Luckily that didn’t happen, but I knew I wasn’t looking particularly good when I got home and my wife immediately asked if I was ok. Some more fluids, a nice cold shower and some rest before an evening out (Timon of Athens, little known but powerful Shakespeare) got me back in functional shape. By Tuesday the temperature had come down and I was itching to run again, planned off week be damned. But I resisted. If I learned anything it was this: sometimes the body needs to be told to take a break, weather the mind wants to or not.