I started my 4th half-marathon promptly at 8 AM, Sunday, September 13, along with 640+ other Skagit Flats marathoners/half-marathoners. It felt great running outdoors soaking in the late-summer, early-autumn beauty of the Pacific Northwest. I ran with an excited bounce right from the start as TB and Owen saw all us runners off and cheered me on. The temperature had reached the upper 50s by the time the gun fired and the bright sun hung over the flat, treeless, farm-draped course painting the asphalt in bright yellow and warming the air with a damp, earthy thickness.
I planned to run mile one at a 9’30” pace then gradually increase my pace the rest of the way to about 8’45” by mile 10. I hoped my training prepared me to finish between 1:55 and 2:00 based on how I ran the other races. Where I ultimately landed in that range would be determined by how I felt at the midpoint and again at mile 10.
Expecting a fairly cool temperature throughout the first half of the race, I ran with less fluid for the first 4 miles than previous races. While my FuelBelt holds 6 bottles, I wanted to minimize the additional weight I carried along each segment (1-4, 5-9, 10-13). I started with a single 8 oz bottle filled with Gatorade Endurance. I swapped the empty bottle with TB for two more 8 oz bottles at mile 4. At that point I was already hotter and thirstier than I expected. My plan called for me to run miles 5-9 with that 16 oz of Gatorade supplemented by water at the water station I would pass just after mile 6. Before reaching mile 6, I had consumed one of the bottles of Gatorade. At the water station at mile 6 I tossed back a 2 oz cup of water. At the 6 1/2-mile turnaround I ate a GU gel and drank half the second bottle of Gatorade. I felt strong and energetic but sensed I was overheating.
By mile 8, I drank the last of my fluid and still had 1 1/2 miles to go before TB and I made our last bottle swap. With each stride it became more evident the heat was having a huge effect on my ability to regulate my temperature. My blood was being redirected to my skin to cool me off so my digestive system was shutdown. At that point, little of the fluid or carbs I had in my stomach made its way to my muscles. Around the 8 1/2 mile mark I felt a slight twinge in my right calf. It was the tell-tale sign of cramping, also known as the late warning system of dehydration. Disappointed, I knew I would not be able to sustain my current pace. I would have to settle for a finish closer to 2:00.
By mile 9, the cramping in my right calf grew more severe. To make matters worse, having altered my strides to compensate for the pain in my right calf, my left calf also began cramping. My legs needed hydration, electrolytes and rest. I tried to power through to reach TB at the 9 1/2-mile mark but the pain became too intense. At that moment, I knew I was in bad shape. I had to walk. I walked about a minute until the pain subsided. Attempting to run again, a dozen or so strides later, the cramping became even more intense. I walked longer realizing it was quite possible I would have to walk the remainder of the race if things didn’t get better. So much for 2:00. 😥
I was able to run-walk to the 9 1/2-mile exchange point TB and I established before the race. She consoled and counseled me as only a concerned spouse and experienced distance runner can. She knew exactly how horrible I felt but also how important it was for me to turn what would undoubtedly be my worst time into my best guts-and-glory performance as a runner. As any distance runner will tell you, the moment you toe the start line your body is physically capable of completing the race. Whether you complete the race, however, is more a function of mental fortitude down the stretch. Where my legs were failing my spirit would have to succeed. That was a challenging position to be in with 1/3 of the race remaining.
Before leaving TB and Owen to run, walk and hobble the remaining 3.6 miles, I drank several ounces of water then stretched and massaged my aching calves. Off again, I made it to mile 11 in about 17 minutes. That is when an already miserable situation got worse: My hamstrings and quads began to tighten. “You gotta be kidding!” I thought. I walked more to give the water, GU and Gatorade time to work its way through my digestive system to my rapidly deteriorating lower body. After 5 minutes of off-and-on light jogging something crazy happened: My legs started feeling better. I decided, to hell with it, I’m running it in. Tired of running and being browbeaten by the energy-sapping sunshine, I picked up my pace.
A short time later, I saw the mile 12 marker. At that point I knew I would finish the race no matter what. I made it back to the start which left 0.1 miles pass the high school and onto the track to the finish. By that point, the runners were so spaced out, I was 2nd of four visible runners as I entered the stadium. My legs were killing me and the cramping caused me to sort of skip-run the final 50 meters. The spectators and earlier finishers were so gracious as they cheered us on. I heard TB’s voice over them all and have never been so beaten up yet so proud.
Officially, I crossed the finish in 2:15:59 with a whole lot of grit and very little grace. I was so exhausted and out of sorts I forgot to stop recording until I had been sitting in the stands recovering for 4 minutes. Here are the results captured by Nike+.