On I went, out of the wood, passing the man leading without knowing I was going to do so. Flip-flap, flip-flap, jog-trot, jog-trot, curnchslap-crunchslap, across the middle of a broad field again, rhythmically running in my greyhound effortless fashion, knowing I had won the race though it wasn't half over, won it if I wanted it, could go on for ten or fifteen or twenty miles if I had to and drop dead at the finish of it, which would be the same, in the end, as living an honest life like the governor wanted me to. -Alan Sillitoe, "Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner"

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Fall Foliage Half Marathon race report

This story is not pretty. Not at all. It also involves woman-bits, so be warned.

The plan for last Sunday, the 23rd of October, two weeks before NYCM: a tune-up half marathon a couple of hours outside of the city so that we could practice marathon morning stress (getting up at 5 but not running until after 10) and so Tara could "peep some leaves." (Seriously - she must have used that exact phrase at least 1,000 times leading up to the race. Turns out we can add "peep" to the list, along with "moist" and "panties," of words that make me cringe.)

Pretty leaves, no?
The leaves were gorgeous. At several points during the race, I contemplated taking photos of said leaves for the blog. Then I realized: I was running a race, not walking around in the park.

And I was running a good race, at first! Our goal was to stick to marathon pace, or around 11:30s. The first two miles clicked by in 10:0x - and felt easy. The course was hilly - much more so than I expected - but we were going solidly, using the downhills to refresh for the uphills.

Oh, but the hills weren't the only problem with the race.

Here's the thing (and I have to apologize to my brother and any other males who might be reading): I'm one of those lucky women who get cramps each month. Bad bad cramps. The morning of the race, I woke up at 4am (an hour before my alarm) with a very familiar "uh-oh" feeling going on in my torso. I slapped on a sticky heating pad for the drive to the race and tried to ignore it.

By mile 5 of the race, the discomfort of my Woman Times had shifted into pain. Intense pain. Each-step-of-running-stabbing-me pain. I knew, without a doubt, that I needed a bathroom and I needed it fast. Thank goodness this race was stocked with port-a-potties. I saw one in the distance and I jetted toward it.

MY UTERUS IS THE SIZE OF A PEAR. HOW COULD IT DO THIS TO ME? (I didn't wear the heating pad for the race, although I wished I had.)

That bathroom break bought me some time. For a couple of miles, anyway.

Here's the weird thing about this otherwise well-organized race: the mile markers were off. I mean, legitimately off, not just "Waaaah, my Garmin says something different!" off. I know that Garmins aren't as accurate as certified courses. I am never one of those Garmin whiners. The official race time is your time, even if your watch said that you ran 15.2 for a half. It is what it is.

But I didn't know the mile markers were misplaced at first. So when the mile markers were progressively farther than we expected each time, Tara and I trusted the race course; we talked about Garmin inaccuracies and marveled at how badly our Garmins were doing, given the crowdless, open course. Knowing that I was so close to a PR, though, I'll admit that I gave the mile markers a dirty look as I passed by them and secretly wished that my Garmin was right, instead of the course markers.

The course was lovely, but the hills were no joke. Still, they rolled along mile after mile, and so did we. We made some friends with other runners on the course, we looked at the pretty houses, we talked about the marathon, I complained about my cramps as they got worse and worse.

Mile 12, after my second bathroom break, I gave up mentally. (For comparison, in the sum total of my nine marathons, I have used a port-a-potty two times.) There was nothing left. I could not physically run anymore without pain shooting through my abdomen. If you have a uterus, you know the pain I mean. It's a gut-wrenching, terrible pain that made me want to vomit. Either that or curl up on the side of the road in a cow field and just cry myself into painful sleep in the fetal position. Walking relieved it - in fact, walking was pain free.

Have you ever been excited to see one of these?

I told myself not to walk. I told myself I only had 11 minutes left in the race and I needed to just suck it up. I tried to channel every heroic athletic endeavor I could to just HTFU and get through it. I thought of Chrissie Wellington. I thought of Angry Runner. I thought of how good it would feel to know I pushed through. But I couldn't. It hurt too badly. I alternated running and walking and just kind of kept moving.

But what did it matter? I left the port-a-potty at the 12 mile marker, 12.4 by my watch. I had 1.1m left and my PR was now officially out of range. If I could have stopped right there, I probably would have. If this had been the day of the marathon, I wouldn't have finished. I would have DNF'd and walked off the course at mile 12. I was in that much pain.

But here's where the mile markers became an issue. Right about mile 12.5 by their markers, at 13m by my Garmin, a volunteer was standing there yelling, "The finish is right there! Less than .2m to go!" What? The course was an accurate distance. My Garmin had been right all along. If I had known that, maybe... Well, there is no maybe. I didn't push myself harder. I don't know if I could have or not, because I didn't. I finished the race 2 minutes off my PR.

At the finish line, I took my medal and asked if there was a medical area. I was in pain, bad pain, and I needed a heating pad and some painkillers. The man at the finish line freaked out, even as I tried to explain to him through tears that I was fine but having cramps. (Why are we women so often afraid to just say, "I'M BLEEDING FROM MY LADY PARTS AND IT REALLY FREAKING HURTS?" I had menstrual cramps. Dirtier phrases have been said.)

Once the paramedics realized what was going on with me (and that it meant they didn't have to get out of the warm front seat of their ambulance), they told me they had no heating pad and tried to give me directions to a drugstore. In the local vernacular, these directions of "down past the light and a little over the tracks" were too much for me and I collapsed in a chair, crying.

A few minutes, one Aleve*, and one heating pad later, I was fine. Tara and I had lunch and explored scenic Rhinebeck.

I'm being a doofus

Tara enjoys a beer

For what it's worth, my final time was 2:23 - the goal, running this at marathon pace, was 2:30. So I guess it's a victory?

*I'm actually not allowed to take Aleve or any other NSAID, being as I take blood thinners. The pain was so bad that I took my first NSAID in 3.5 years. I was willing to chance internal bleeding to make this pain go away. Don't tell my doctors.


  1. I am impressed you have only had to use the bathroom twice during your nine marathons...I am actually nervous about having to go during NYC and losing a lot of time...The diagram is also cute! It's like a cartoon character.

  2. I really really really want to use the 'p' word in this comment, but I won't. You did great that day! Those mile markers were whack.

  3. As soon as I saw that you'd commented, Tara, I was like, "oh, god, it's going to be peep peep peep peep, isn't it!"

  4. Geez, girl! That sounds like it was miserable.
    I'm glad you're feeling better now!

  5. When I get cramps no effing pain reliever works, NOTHING. The therma-care pads however are amazing if I put them on before the pain starts (after it starts, it's too damn late).

    Birth control pills actually help -- I never have debilitating menstrual cramps anymore, but I remember a time when I was super-single for way too long, I stopped taking them, and within a month I remember what cramps were really like. I waited one more month to make sure, and yep, couldn't even make it out of bed I was in so much pain, so I got right back at it even though I was not actually getting any action (TMI?).

    (By the way, why is there a huge fuzzy picture of a garmin on your background? It's freaking me out -- what does it say??)

  6. That IS a fuzzy Garmin!! I honestly don't remember what it says. Not sure why I have that picture.

    When I was diagnosed with the blood clot, the first thing the doctor said was "no more birth control pills." A month later when that time rolled around, I thought I was going to die. It was unbelievably terrible. Blood thinners don't have the best effect - well, you can imagine that it gets bad. Very very bad.

  7. Ugh. I know soon enough (ok, not THAT soon), I'll have get off of them, and I'm NOT looking forward to that again...

  8. That sounds like bloody hell. Sorry. Had to be said. But DAMN -- 2:23 running hills and a (what felt like a) detatched uterus that is freaking amazing. You are a hero in my eyes.

  9. Um, peep, moist and panties in the same sentence? HOW COULD YOU????

    Where can I get a perky uterus stuffed toy?? I could place it strategically on my desk when I wanted to, you know, subtly deliver a message about my state of mind/body.

  10. wow your candor was refreshing! congratulations on your victory and good luck on the next! :)

  11. I have to agree that I was really, really disappointed in how the mile markers were off! I didn't have a Garmin, just a regular watch, but I was depending on the mile markers being a little bit more accurate so that I could take my energy gel at the right time!

    I'm sorry that you were in so much pain during the race, way to stick with it though.

  12. Oh wow, it sounds like that must have been a miserable experience. I've heard people say that exercise can be great for cramps, but any time I have cramps I can't imagine getting up and exercising. I'm sure the people who made that statement were men.

    At any rate, congratulations on making it through in spite of the pain and suffering. And good luck today!!

  13. FACK dude, I was in sympathy agony for you while I was reading this. I've had minor cramps during a run before, but never those horrible first day cramps, and never during a race. I think you sucked it up pretty decently in spite of that, and the horrible mile marking.

  14. I'm sorry your lady bits got the best of you (seriously, WHY don't they just come with an on/off switch? That would make life SO MUCH EASIER), but I sort of really want a stuffed uterus now. So cuddly-looking!