The Long Walk

The long walk isn’t a marathon. That’s the whole problem. It’s much shorter. It’s me, fighting my way through the crowds on the Capitol grounds to get to the gate of the finish line area, bib clutched in hand so I can prove I belong back there. Then it’s swimming upstream of runners in their medals and mylar blankets, trying to avoid being noticed while I retrieve my drop bag. My fingers can’t untie the knot I enthusiastically cinched it with five hours prior, so I rip it open and put on the jacket I tossed in there before I handed it over to a volunteer. And finally, it’s leaving the crowds behind and walking a mile and a half back to my car at Union Depot, just like I did the year before, but without a medal and a mylar blanket of my own, because I didn’t finish. Of course, it’s also spending that walk thinking about what went wrong on the race and second guessing my decision to drop out.

There’s no traditional race report to be found here, not just because it was a DNF, but because the entire 13.3-ish miles that I completed before dropping out, I spent trying to figure out what went wrong. I don’t really have splits because the first mile was so jacked up from being in downtown Minneapolis that it looks like I set a mile PR. I promise I didn’t even come close. This will be a list of excuses couched in overwrought language.

I slept poorly the night before, as I usually do, but I did manage to get a couple hours of sleep. I’m not sure how many, maybe as little as one, maybe two and a half, but either way it was enough that I didn’t feel completely woozy like I do on no sleep. I got up, got dressed in clothes I’d put together the night before for the cliched “flat lay” for my Instagram, and completed the remaining items I had on the obsessively detailed checklist I made for the race. Items on the list include “remove rings” (I don’t race in my rings because my fingers get puffy and they get tight, especially my Order of the Engineer ring, but I forget to take them off sometimes) and “fill soft flask” because it’s too important a task to leave to my forgetful brain. I left a little later than planned and had to park a little farther away from the light rail station than I wanted to because the Union Depot parking lot was unexpectedly full. I had to hustle a bit and got on the train with only a couple minutes to spare before it left.

The start area was absurdly crowded and it took me quite awhile to get to the bag drop. I had to meet my colleagues at 7:45 to take a group pic, and I barely made it back in time. I only met up with one (who had flown in all the way from Houston!) for a pic and then tried to find a spot toward the back of Corral 3. That didn’t work because there were Biffy lines that prevented me from going much further back. I did find my other colleague and he and I stood together until the start.

Right from the beginning, it felt hard. Yes, a marathon is hard, but it felt too hard. I don’t know what pace I was actually running at the beginning because of the GPS errors from running through downtown, I know that I hit mile 1 at about 11:50, so I was about 25 seconds over my A goal pace, and slower than I went out last year, so I know I wasn’t out of control. I chalked it up to the lack of warm-up and the wind through downtown, and then the second mile felt slow because there’s a hill there. But the third mile felt hard, too, and the fourth. I grabbed some Gatorade at the aid station around mile 4, and at mile 5 ate my first gel, thinking that maybe I just needed some more fuel. Through 5 miles I think I was at about 58:40 or something, so just below 12 min/mile pace. The last 5 mile run I raced, my pace was 10:01 or something. I finished the Run Baby Run 10K back in August at a 11:09 pace. I think I was still around 12 mins at the 6 mile mark (I had to glance at elapsed time on my watch and I think I was at like 1:11:XX), and if Run Baby Run felt hard a minute faster in high humidity, there was just no reason to be through 6 miles at a pace 40-50 seconds slower and feel like I couldn’t hold it. And yet I did.

Between Lake Calhoun and Lake Harriet, I started taking walking breaks. I thought maybe I could give my body a chance to take in the gel and the Gatorade, I’d start to perk up again. The Chain of Lakes section is supposed to be a section to cruise through, not a place to struggle for no apparent reason. But I thought maybe I could turn the race around. The section around Minnehaha Parkway (which is really nice! I need to run there more often) has one of the bigger hills of the race so that slowed me further since I walked the entire thing. My walk breaks were becoming longer and I wasn’t feeling any better, despite having more Gatorade and another gel at mile 10.

I also wasn’t having any fun. I had a few sections where I gave thumbs up to people who cheered for me by name thanks to my bib, and I saw my friend Laura at mile 4, which perked me up momentarily, but I wasn’t smiling. I smile during races a lot, partially because I’m having fun, partially because it helps keep my spirits from sagging, and partially because it suppresses the gag reflex. I wasn’t thanking as many volunteers or enjoying the surroundings and the music and the general party atmosphere. It was a grind.

As I started the section around Lake Nokomis, I started to think seriously about quitting. I had thought about quitting several times, but I often do when I’m getting settled in to races and then that feeling dissipates once I’m in a groove. But I’d keep talking myself out of it, saying I could do a run/walk and keep on surviving. So what if I didn’t make my A or B goal? Maybe I could still make my C. Or maybe just a PR. Or maybe I’d battle my way to a finish. Instead, I came through the half marathon mark at around 2:50, and at that point knew I’d spend most of the rest of the race chased by the sag wagon. I didn’t have enough water and fuel to continue on the sidewalks on my own (and there would be no value in doing so) and if I got on the sag bus at like mile 16-17 I’d probably be bus-sick all the way to the finish. I’d gotten nauseated on the light rail on the way to the race and that was before running (although it was also because a woman was smoking on the train).

The thought of running down Summit didn’t appeal to me, or that amazing point in the race when the course crosses into St. Paul. I didn’t care about seeing the Cathedral and then heading down into the Capitol to the finish. I love so much about this course and nothing was giving me joy at all. I didn’t want to learn a lesson or tough it out or force them to cut me. I just wanted to be done.

Conveniently, my mom was spectating at the half marathon mark and I was able to drop out and get a ride back to the Capitol with her. I didn’t know you could just drop whenever, so I continued past the half marathon timing mat to the drop station, thinking they’d need to take my number or my bib or whatever. I guess they don’t do that in big races! Weird. I’ve never dropped out of a road race before. So I added probably an extra half mile of walking to my daily total because I’d walked to the drop station and then back to my mom. Then she and I walked back to her car, which was parked like… maybe another mile away, maybe a little less, at my cousin’s house. This ended up giving me time to cool down and stabilize so that I didn’t get so claustrophobic when I got in the car. I felt sort of crappy in general at that point: my lower back hurt, and my face was sunburned (if I had continued this would actually have become a huge problem, because I wasn’t carrying any extra with me), and I’d been feeling slightly breathless the whole day, likely due to the wind and the cold-like symptoms I’d had earlier in the week (as well as the overall labored running).

I’m so disappointed, and I can’t really tell what the cause of my dead legs/low energy was. I didn’t have a designed taper, but I also didn’t run a lot of mileage so I didn’t think my legs had been overly taxed, and this week I ran like 15 miles with two rest days so I don’t think I overdid it. Of course the converse could be true, that I didn’t run enough miles, but that would become evident later in the race, not from the get-go. I didn’t sleep, sure, but I never sleep before races. I had a bit of a cold last weekend, but I got over it and it was never in my lungs. I don’t eat very well, but I never have and I’ve still managed to run a couple miles without my thighs turning to cement. Maybe I put too much pressure on myself for this one event, but I didn’t really.

Maybe there’s nothing to figure out. Maybe it just wasn’t my day. I’ve been stressed at work and that’s probably taken its toll in ways I didn’t realize. The good news is that I am not hurt or sick or otherwise impaired in the long-term, so I can go out and run some other fun races and try to make at least a few of the goals I’ve made for myself this fall. The bad news is that I didn’t have an amazing Twin Cities Marathon experience and I’d really been looking forward to it. Next year, I’ll be ready.

2 thoughts on “The Long Walk

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