The Pictures in My Head: A Marathon Report

So last week did not go as planned.  Nope.  There isn’t a single bit that matched the pictures in my head about how it would go.  Let’s review what script said:

  1. Head to Sacramento, get CIM bib.
  2. Lineup Sunday morning ready to run the best race of my life.
  3. Cross the finish line in less than 3 hours, 25 minutes.
  4. Bask in the glory of having qualified for Boston on my first attempt.

You have to admit, it was a hell of a script.  Unfortunately, none of it came true.

By midweek last week, the weather forecast for Sacramento began to deteriorate day by day.  By the time Thursday rolled around, the forecast for race day was a 100% chance of rain, flooding and high winds (30-40 MPH).  I happened to be in Washington, D.C. that day on a business trip, but I did manage to get a email out to my coach to ask for advice about what to do.  Not surprisingly, he said that trying to run CIM for a specific time was going to be tough in conditions like that, so I made the decision to look elsewhere.  After my flight home was delayed by 5 hours that day, I finally got home just before midnight to talk to my wife about everything.  We had a bunch of travel plans that were to begin Friday morning, so we had to make a decision quickly.  After looking at possibilities for marathons that same weekend and the next two after that, I settled on trying to get into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas Marathon that very weekend.

Friday morning came early and there was a lot of work to do.  The first order of business was to see if it would even be possible to gain entry into the marathon.  The online registration had closed a week ago, and the website said registration would be possible at the Expo, if available.  That would be fine if I were local to Las Vegas, but I certainly didn’t want to fly out to Vegas only to find it was closed.  I exchanged emails with the race director who told me that registration would, indeed, still be open, so that started the rest of the planning in motion.  My wife started to make the calls to cancel all of the Sacramento and San Francisco travel plans.  Flights, hotels, rental cars, the works.  Meanwhile, I started making calls to set up the travel plans for Las Vegas.  After a couple of hours of phone calls, everything new was in place and all of the old plans were cancelled.  We hustled up to Columbus to catch our long flight to Vegas, my third flight in just over 24 hours.

I spent a good deal of that flight trying to change the picture I had in my head for this race.  For more than six months, that attempt was personified by CIM.  It’s all I thought about and planned for.  My iTunes running playlist for training was called “CIM2012.”  When I had to order a new iPod Shuffle when the old one died, I had them engrave CIM2012 onto the new one.  Every email reminder about the race for six months was from the Sacramento Running Association, the organizers of CIM.  My wife and I had planned out points along the CIM course where I’d see her, complete with printed maps.  When I visualized crossing the finish line, I pictured that line in Sacramento.  It was a lot to let go of, and honestly, I don’t do well with last minute change.

Waking up Saturday morning in Las Vegas helped to solidify the fact that I was not going to be running CIM.  Craps tables, slot machines, and scale replicas of various major cities will do that for you.  I went for a shakeout run and my legs felt great.  Well rested and ready to go.  With that out of the way, my wife and I went over to the Expo to get registered.  The whole process went very smoothly.  Five minutes after entering the Expo, I had a bib.

After grabbing some much needed lunch, Michelle went out to do some Christmas shopping while I went back to the hotel room to obsess relax.  Not much more to report for Saturday.  A spaghetti dinner for carb loading and then to sleep for the night.

One interesting nuance to the Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas Marathon is that it’s run in the evening rather than first thing in the morning like most races.  Their Twitter hashtag was #stripatnight, since the race begins and ends on the Las Vegas strip and because it doesn’t start until 3:30 PM, the second half of the race is in darkness.  The usual Sunday morning of a race day would be spent quickly getting dressed and to the start corrals, but this one was going to be different.  Even moreso than I suspected.

I woke up Sunday morning not feeling particularly well.  Not horrible, but not great.  It was my stomach that was upset, so I spent the first part of Sunday making frequent trips to the bathroom. How can I put this delicately?  Everything just kept flowing right through me. At first I thought that I was just more nervous than usual, but after half a dozen potty trips, I knew it wasn’t nerves. I tried to keep as positive as possible but I had begun to think this whole trip was just not meant to be.  Every time that thought crept into my head, I’d fight it off and just tell myself to simply get to the start line and everything else would take care of itself.  I had trained for this opportunity for six months.

I got to the corrals plenty early and got all stretched out and even had time for a brief jog to warmup. This is when I knew I was in trouble. After just a brief warmup run, I had cramps in my abdomen. Again, trying to remain positive, I figured a marathon’s a long way, so who knows, I may end up feeling better later in the day. I’ve felt terrible at the beginning of training runs plenty of times only to feel fine once I got going, so I found the 3:25 pace group and waited for the gun to go off.  My plan was to run with the 3:25 pace group up until the halfway point, then pick my pace up just a bit for the second half of the race.

Not even a mile into the race, I could have told you there was no way this would end well. After months of hard work and training to get to the place where a 7:48 pace felt comfortable, on this day it felt like a 10K pace. But I’m pretty stubborn, so I kept telling myself to hang in there and maybe, just maybe I’d feel better later. I did manage to stick with the pace group through about 8 miles, but then everything came crashing down. I was hit with a wave of nausea and quickly stopped by the side of the road to vomit.  This repeated itself two more times over the next 4+ miles. After each time I vomited, my body would start to cramp more and more. Fighting dehydration in the windy desert air is tough enough, but after throwing up multiple times it was impossible to avoid.  The cramping started in my abdomen and shoulders then made its way to my legs. After a while, the cramping brought me to a complete stop. I had made it to about the halfway point and I had planned to see my wife at mile 16, so I just kept going, hoping to make it to her. I ended up seeing her a bit early, just after the 14 mile mark and told her through bitter tears that I couldn’t go on.

She got me to a nearby medical tent while my body continued to cramp in different muscle groups in waves. I tried to keep some salted Gatorade in me but not much stayed down initially. Along with 3 other runners (and my wife), they sent us to the main medical tent back at the start/finish in an ambulance. The EMT tried to get an IV in my arm three different times along the way but only succeeded in poking fun holes in my arms and never found a vein. With the heat on in the vehicle, the EMT jabbing me repeatedly, and the stops and starts of the driver, a brand new wave of nausea hit me. Once finally back at the medical tent, the doc gave me some Zofran for the nausea. After that settled me down, I was able to get some Gatorade to stay down and that helped stop the cramping.

The disappointment was nearly overwhelming at first.  My poor wife had to deal with me not wanting to talk about it at all at first, and after that, I began to question everything.  Why hadn’t I just punted on racing that weekend altogether?  Why did I refuse to pay attention to my physical symptoms and line up to run anyway?  Was it too much for my ego to handle, or was it competitiveness?  Was I too worried about how it would look, or was I trying to finish what I started?

I have to be honest and say that I don’t have good answers to these questions.  What I do know is that it’s now in the past and there’s nothing I can do to change it.  I hope that I’ve learned from the experience and can make better decisions in the future.  I also hope I’ll get better at dealing with change.  One positive thing that came of it is that I didn’t run a full marathon on Sunday, which means I may be able to run another sometime soon and give that BQ another shot.  I know for sure I am not going to give up on my goal.  That’s the one part of the script that still lives in my head, and will one day make it into real life.