You don’t pick your race day: How Boston didn’t go as planned.

Boston Marathon 2016

It has been two weeks since the marathon and although this blog was never going to be easy to write – I think this is an important story to share.

By now you may have heard that the Boston Marathon did not go as planned, or even remotely how I anticipated. For those unaware, the flu got the best of me and after a week of pretending I didn’t have it, I landed in Boston only to struggle more and more to hide it. I thought mental toughness could outweigh my body slowly breaking down but alas; I woke up on Monday, April 18th knowing that it wasn’t going to be my day. Regardless of my sentiment – I was already in Boston, I had trained hard for this, and there was nothing stopping me from putting my toe to that start line.

The morning of the Boston Marathon is unique to most races. You spend an hour busing to Hopkinton, where the race starts, only to hang out in athlete’s village for about three hours before making your way to the start line. During this long lingering time, I kept telling myself that I would run through it, that I just need my body to adjust and that I was strong enough to pull off my goal time even with an illness.

By the time my corral was off, it was already 70 degrees Fahrenheit, not ideal for an Edmontonian post-training through winter but for an ill-Edmontonian, it may have been the cherry on top of this recipe for disaster.

Mile 1 felt like mile 20 and that didn’t change as I continued to put one foot in front of the other. My chest was pounding, my head was dizzy and it felt as though it may explode. I remember thinking about how many check points I would have along the course and breaking it down that way. The first part of the marathon is downhill but my legs did not feel the benefit of the decline yet I managed to feel every little rolling hill. I was dumping water on my head at about 5km, something that typically happens far later on in the course, I found myself grabbing Gatorade and water in both hands at aid stations and yearning for the next one to appear. It wasn’t fun and I wasn’t feeling the benefits of my perfect pace workouts, the hours logged or the confidence I had acquired during a great training season. I was slowly breaking down along the course and there was nothing I could do about it.

Everything I ingested, I threw up. My gels, freezies, even an orange slice. Looking back, I wonder what the crowds were thinking when this is happening to a runner at kilometer eight but in the moment, I didn’t care.

I remember crossing the 15 kilometer checkpoint and asking where a medical tent was. From that point on, all I really recall was seeing stars, weaving, slowing down to about a 6min/km pace and feeling pain throughout my arms. The next thing I remember was someone helping me off the course and into the medical tent. The relief of being in the shade and standing still outweighed any of the disheartening sentiments I was experiencing in that moment. I could not sit down, as my legs were like cement so I stood in the middle of the tent with a blanket around me trying to answer questions, as my jaw was locking up.

When I felt a little less miserable (about 30 minutes later), I decided to try and go back onto the course. I headed out and made an incredible 500m effort before turning around and returning to the tent with my tail between my legs. I refused an IV because I feared they wouldn’t allow me to go back out on the course so I sat on the warm pavement with a face on fire and a body shivering for another 40 minutes until I asked the doctor if she thought there was any chance of me finishing. She said if for some reason I could finish, I would be a very hurt individual for the next week and kindly reminded me of my 500m attempt and the lack of success I had there.

After having a little cry on the phone with my dad, I threw in the towel and waited for a van to take us back. The ride of shame was about an hour from start to finish and included a van, bus, visit to the main medical tent near the finish line (a place I wanted to be as far away from as possible). The final portion of the journey was made on foot and Uber back to the hotel. I showered to warm up and then retired to my bed, where I remained from approximately 3pm to mid-morning the next day.

Now that I have shared context with you, the important part is what I learned and took away from this horrendous experience.

1. You don’t pick your race day.

I had the perfect training season, I nailed workouts in the cold weather, I nailed workouts on limited sleep, I nailed workouts when they were back to back and I knew I was ready for Boston. Unfortunately, the week leading up to Boston wasn’t ideal and the timing of the flu should have resulted in a reassessment of my race day plan but my stubbornness took over and I thought I would wake up cured.
This is something that is unique to the Marathon. You work so hard and for so long so hope you wake up on race day with all the elements aligning. There are so many variables out of your control and more often than not – the run doesn’t come with ease. It is part of the thrill but part of the frustration. A constant assessment of your goal time and continual growth of your mental toughness – you accept a shitty day and you get back out there for the next run, workout or race.

2. Taper the best way for you.

This is something I am really researching and figuring out. I thrive on stress and my body doesn’t like to “relax”. I have found that cutting back too much, is actually harder on my body. What I am going to do from now on is figure out what will help limit stress in my life and what level of activity/stress I need in my life to assist with my race preparation. This will come through trial and error but that’s part of the marathon challenge.

3. Just because you stop puking, doesn’t mean you aren’t still sick.

I came back too soon. It took me until this morning to feel like I had my energy back. I don’t think a diet of cereal and peanut butter is likely the most nutritious but it definitely stayed in my stomach over the past two weeks. My advice would be to take more than three days off and make sure your energy is up. Running 20km five days later will hinder not help you.

4. I really love running.

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