There are two common experiences to which almost all runners can relate: the elation of achieving a big goal and the frustration and heartbreak of a no good, very bad, bonk/hit the wall/crash and burn race. In this month’s Just Run round up, running bloggers share their worst race experiences – and what they learned from them.
I have had my share of mediocre races: those races where I still ran well, relatively speaking, but I missed my goal and was disappointed. But one race stands out as my worst race ever: the Portland Marathon, which I ran as my first marathon in 2015.
It was the sort of race where my husband found me, just outside the finisher’s corral, sitting on a curb in the middle of downtown Portland, unwilling to take another step. I felt like crap for almost a week after the race.
My worst race ever starts in training. I opted to follow the Hansons Marathon Method and sharply increased my mileage. I forced my goal pace – a BQ pace – in the grueling tempo runs. My body began to rebel; my already sensitive stomach raged against me, I constantly felt fatigued and bloated, and many of my runs felt like a slog.
On race day morning, I was wracked with nerves and could barely eat. I managed to eat about a cup of dry Chex cereal and a banana and a meager cup of coffee (in comparison, now I eat a full bagel with peanut butter, honey, and a banana before a race).
The first 10 miles or so of the race went well enough, although my pacing was erratic despite sticking with a pace group. In retrospect, I went way too fast up the steady climb from mile 1-3. I skipped a couple water stations. My mistake here was twofold – not taking in electrolytes, just water, and skipping aid stations. I wagered that my GU (another mistake – GU isn’t the best fuel for me) had enough electrolytes, right?
Around mile 10 or so, I started to experience upper abdominal cramps. I debated following the half marathon course and just being done for the day. At mile 14, I starting taking walk breaks and my mile splits dropped by about 90 seconds per mile. I couldn’t get down enough fluids, my stomach continued to cramp, I felt bloated, my legs could barely move, and the prospect of running a full 26.2 miles seemed near impossible at this point.
And then there was the St. John’s Bridge: that grueling climb at mile 17, one of those hills where you nonsensically curse at everyone from the race directors to the city planners. I walked, my slumped posture indicating just how craptastic I felt. A medical person checked in on me and told me to take electrolytes. I started to drink Ultima at the aid stations (which let me tell you, does not taste good) and continued my shuffle of run-walk.
Finally, at mile 22, I was able to run and only stop to walk through the aid station. Each mile made the finish line feel even further away. My hopes of a BQ were well out the window, and all I wanted to do was finish in under four hours.
I finished in 3:49, swayed and shuffled through the long queue of the finisher’s corral, and sat, aching, exhausted, grumpy, and defeated, the first place I could: a street corner, just outside the finisher’s area.
That all said, I learned a few valuable lessons from my worst race ever:
Do not attach yourself to time goals.
I ran my first 10 miles too fast because I was set on qualifying for Boston and was overly attached to that time goal. My best races have been when I detach myself from a time goal, thus removing pressure, and focus on smart pacing, proper fueling/hydration, and a good mental mindset.
A bad race is just that… nothing more.
Unless you severely injure yourself or harm your health (and I hope you would DNF before that happens), bad races are only that, nothing more. All runners who toe the start line experience a bad race – even the elites. A bad race does not reflect your abilities as a runner or who you are as a person.
A positive mindset can salvage a race.
Even in my worst race ever, I managed to pull it together in the final few miles and pick up my pace to finish as strong as I could. Mindset is powerful during a race: if you let some bad miles get to you, they will set the tone for the remainder of the race. In contrast, when I ran my third marathon (CIM 2017), I had some rough moments, an achy knee, and pelvic pain – but I didn’t let those harder miles affect how the race would go, kept a positive mindset, and achieved my goal of breaking 3:30.
Bad races happen to every runner – you can read the other Just Run bloggers’ experiences with their worst races ever – and how these races changed them as runners:
What was your worst race experience ever?