It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. Wait, no. Actually, it was pretty much just the worst.
Yes, it sucked. And then I died.
Let’s cut to the chase, here: I dropped out of the race. Yes, you read that right. I stopped at Mile 14 and decided I had nothing left to give. Unfortunately, I had no way home, so I had to run an additional 7 miles to Mile 21 before I could share that news with my husband and then together, we had to walk another three miles to get a ride home.
The reasons were many: the course was not as flat in the beginning as advertised, I had not hydrated properly or had sufficient sleep, I had to pee through the first half of the race and had to find a beach (BECAUSE THERE WERE NO PORTA POTTIES) five minutes off course to pee on. And I am pre-menstrual. But the most pressing reason—and the reason I ultimately blame for my demise--is the heat. The terrible, roiling, 90-degrees-by-the-sea, high-humidity, curl my hair and kick my butt heat. It was brutal. Brutal in ways I never could have imagined. The recap:
Rob and I head out to the start together, which, as it turns out is only a quarter mile from our hotel (memo to the general populace: when in Providence, RI, do not, I repeat do NOT stay in the Westin Providence. It has the worst customer service I have ever encountered in my life and costs an unreasonable amount). This was the only benefit to our hotel that I could see. But I digress.
I am jittery and nervous and not feel ready to rock, despite having made a marathon play list that featured Ricky Martin several times on repeat (What? You think his 1998 World Cup anthem is not the coolest song in the world? I beg to differ.)
I meet another woman who is trying to qualify, but she is 40 and needs a 3:50. This makes me a little depressed since had I been just a few years older, I would have qualified last year. I am feeling nervous, but still somewhat confident.
The plan was to keep a 7:50 pace as long as I could and then let it dwindle to 8:10. I do a pretty good job and am feeling strong, but as the clouds start to part (the race started at 8 a.m.) and the heat starts to rise, I am already feeling it. I stop at Mile 1.5 for some water and dump it over my head.
I also need to pee. This is my fatal mistake, I now realize. I usually assume reabsorption is best, but in this case it never happened. As I get deeper into the race, I am peeing a little in my pants every time I step and yet I cannot find a port-a-potty.
At Mile 4, Rob bikes in to give me kisses and encouragement and asks how I am doing. “!@#! Hot! “ I tell him, which is a very bad sign. Swearing at Mile 25? Normal. At Mile 4? Uh-oh.
The need to pee is now all consuming. I am stopping everyone in a yellow jacket and begging for a bathroom. I am now sporting a wet circle between my legs and the distinct fear that if I don’t find a potty soon, I am going to be unable to stop myself from letting it all run into my socks.
Finally I pass a race worker who (kind of) actually knows something.
“I have seen people disappearing off that way,” she says, pointing off to a beach.
I thank her and walk over to the boardwalk, walk down several flights of steps and relieve myself. It was like a cross between an orgasm and chocolate fondue, it felt so good. But once I was done, I also saw the writing on the wall. I had lost five minutes to my little pee-scape, was burning hot and could not summon the mental energy it would take to finish the race in spite of these things.
Besides, by this point, the sun is beating down on us and it feels simultaneously like we are being forced to spin in a sauna and dance on hot coals.
I reach the halfway point at 1:50:23, which is way off-pace for what I wanted and would have been a very disappointing half marathon time. In a marathon? It was the kiss of death.
Somewhere in here, I realize that I can push myself to death and still possibly not break the four-hour mark. Now, I realize there are people who do not run for time. And I realize there are people for whom four hours is a good time. But for me? It feels like a really bad time, one I am not willing to kill myself to get. And so I decide I am finished.
Unfortunately, I am about 14 miles from my hotel and the finish and about 7 miles from my rendezvous point with Rob. So I keep running, even though I feel awful and am in a terrible mood. There is nothing pleasant about it. I feel like I may throw up or pass out at any moment.
I remember very little from these miles except feeling utterly defeated, depressed and exhausted. At some point I also decide that I am pregnant. Because, clearly, why else would I have had to pee so badly? Why else would I be this bone-tired?
I spend the next few miles worried that I am cooking the baby I did not know I was having until Mile 17.
I finally spot Rob and, much to my surprise, he is very supportive of my plan to drop out.
“Why kill yourself for a bad time?”
I want to make out with him right there, but I refrain. I rip off my race number and the two of us walk three hot, hellish miles to the aid station where we are able to get a ride back into town. Rob bikes back and I hop in a Ford Explorer.
Once I see the finish line, I do consider running over it and claiming the time, but not seriously. Mostly I just want to get into the hotel, strip off my pee soaked clothing, hop in the shower with Rob (a dual-headed shower is another perk of the hotel from hell) and forget this bad, miserable experience.
And then we do just that. With club sandwiches from room service to boot.
And as much as I think I should say I am mad at myself for being a quitter, I don’t feel that. It was the right choice.
26.2 takes a toll. 21? Meant no chafing, no trouble walking, time alone with my husband and a healthy appetite. I could have killed myself, gutted it out and run a time that would disappointed me or I could salvage my dignity, call it a training run and find another marathon in the fall (or in a couple weeks – stay tuned) that might give me a better shot.
In the end, I think I made the right choice. I was never running to finish. I have had the “life experience” of a marathon. Now I want the 3:40 BQ. And I am not going to kill myself over anything less.
I did learn a few things from dwindling to the back of the pack. People in the back laugh more. They enjoy themselves more. They stop and offer help and don’t freak out over time issues. And they work hard, too.
It was humbling, to be sure. I know that heat has traditionally been my arch-nemesis (along with his evil stepbrother – hills), but I was not aware of how much. A part of me wonders if I should have just bagged the race the day I saw it was going to be 88 degrees for a high. But I had to try. I am disappointed, tired and frustrated, but not defeated.
I know my BQ is out there somewhere.
Sasha Brown-Worsham is a writer, a mother and an unabashed, unashamed runaholic. Check her progress each week as she trains to qualify for the Boston Marathon.