If there ever comes a day when we can't be together, keep me in your heart, I'll stay there forever. Winnie the Pooh

Monday, November 14, 2011

Time to Say Goodbye

I can almost see it
That dream I am dreaming
But there's a voice inside my head saying
"You'll never reach it"

Every step I'm taking
Every move I make feels
Lost with no direction
My faith is shaking
~The Climb

I had high hopes going into Marathon 2. I had one (very hilly) debut marathon under my belt. The San Francisco Marathon was a great experience and so I immediately decided I wasn't a 'one and done' marathoner. San Antonio was a 'guaranteed' PR (personal record) for me. With a 4.17 time for San Francisco, I was confident I'd at least meet and hopefully beat that time with San Antonio. The course was described as fast and easy because it doesn't have many hills.

Runners always have goals. If they say they don't, they are keeping it to themselves. Some will say: I just want to finish. I don't want to have to stop and walk. Others will give a solid time. I wanted to finish San Francisco in 4.30. My 'secret goal' (don't ask a runner her secret goal...it's a secret;)) was 4.15. For San Antonio my first goal was 4.15....second goal was 4.00...and my secret goal? I was hopeful for sub 4. I would have happily taken 3.59.59.

I put in the time with training. I even did a test run of 16 miles at race pace (9 minute mile). I felt good! The week before the marathon I started to get pre-race jitters and added Andrea Bocelli's beautiful song, Time to Say Goodbye to my play list. I don't speak Italian but I took the line "Time To Say Goodbye" personally. It was time to say goodbye to my fear about my upcoming marathon and embrace the fact that I was ready.

I thought I was.

I had some inkling doubt about the weather. If it was a really windy day, that would be the one thing that could slow me down. I didn't even consider the heat. It was supposed to start in the 60s and peak in the high 80s. I didn't realize just how fast that heat would hit me.

Race day came and Chris and I nervously kissed each other good bye just as the gun for our corral went off. We had agreed beforehand not to run together. I was going for a 4 hour finish, he was hoping for 4.45-5. As soon as I started running I felt the humidity weighing heavy on my lungs. But I maintained my pace at the planned 9-9:15 for the first four miles.

I felt o.k.

I realized the course wasn't so much flat as slight inclines that would peak to a flat level and then incline again. No hills that took you to a smooth sailing recovery downhill. I realized I needed to slow down. It was already getting warm.

Mile 5: 10 minutes.

I was feeling weak. I decided to rewrite my goal in my head and hope for a 4.30 finish. At mile 6 I was happy to feel the tap on my shoulder. My friend Adriana was running her first half and it felt good to see a face I recognized. "How are you doing?" My reply was a pretty weak "Not so good". I wished her luck and she took off.

Mile 6: 10 minutes

I just didn't feel right. My legs were dead. But I could push through dead legs. I have in the past.

Mile 7: 9 min. 45 sec.
Mile 8: 9 min. 41 sec.
Mile 9: 9 min. 59 sec.

Mile 10: 10 min. 07 sec. This was the start of 7 long miles running on a country route in direct sun and no crowd support. It was at this mile marker that the half marathoners veered to the left to finish their last 3 miles. 20,000 half marathoners were veering left and 4,000 marathoners were veering right to embrace 16.2 more miles.I knew the next 7 miles were going to be long and lonely.

Mile 11: 11 min. 22 sec. It was here that I realized something was going all wrong. I reflected back on the last 11 miles and realized I never felt great. At some point in any run I usually have some highs of feeling awesome and lows of feeling like it's the hardest thing I've ever done. Up to this point, I knew I never had a high. It frightened me. Something was wrong.

Mile 12: 10 min. 23 sec.

Mile 13: 10 min. 55 sec. I was inspired when I looked over across the road and saw the first marathoner already on his way back. He was at mile 23 in just a little over 2 hours. The other runners and I cheered him as he raced after the pacing truck. And then reality dawned on me: I still had over 2 hours to go.

Mile 14: 11 min. 05 sec.
Mile 15: 10 min. 45 sec.

Mile 16: 11 min. 04 sec. Remember that song I mentioned earlier: Time to Say Goodbye? It came on my play list and that's when I started crying. I had never felt so physically discouraged in my life. I couldn't believe I never felt good. I couldn't believe that I hit my wall so early. Mile 16 and a wall? I still had over 10 miles to go. How many times have I run 16 miles? Countless. And though they weren't always easy, I never in my running life felt like this after only 16 miles. I felt discouraged. Disappointed. Scared. As the words Time to Say Goodbye were sung to me, I realized I needed to say goodbye to this race. If I made it to the finish line, it would be a miracle. The words DNF DNF DNF were echoing over and over in my head. In racing terms, DNF is Did Not Finish. I realized it was a possibility I would be riding the cart back to the start with the other DNFers I saw giving up along the way.

Mile 17: 11 min. 37 sec. Physically I was dealing with some things that have never happened to me before. Runners are not typically grossed out by bodily fluids. I've run by people who have peed themselves, defecated, have blood dripping down their legs from chaffing....I've seen it all. And even though I typically don't use the restroom during a race, I wasn't surprised that I suddenly had to go pee and go pee now! I ran to the nearest porta potty, quickly took of my hydration belt and slung it around my neck. I hovered (I do get grossed out by porta potties) and nothing came out. What?! I felt like I had to go pee so badly! I didn't see that stop as a waste of time, it's not like I was setting a PR this day.

Mile 18: 11 min. 18 sec.

Mile 19: 13 min. 36 sec. The sudden urge to pee hit me again. 3 more times I stopped to use the porta potty. Only to have ONE drop of brown urine come out. I felt like I had a bladdder infection. I was in serious pain, uhm, down there. It was very painful to have this strong urge to pee, to keep running on what felt like a full bladder only to not be able to go. I was severely dehydrated even though I had been drinking water at every water station including the water I brought with me.

Mile 20: 13 min. 09 sec. At this point I looked around and realized I was seeing something I have never seen before during a race: there were more walkers around me than people running. I was one of them. The high temperature hit 87. I'm sure it was warmer on the black asphalt we were running on. As I limp-ran towards a group of walkers, a guy turned around and saw me approaching. He smiled weakly. He looked really fit but exhausted as he mumbled "It's just too hot, I can't run". I stopped and walked with him for a bit. We talked about how they needed to have water at every mile. We talked about our disappointment in how slow we were going. We talked about how it was amazing to see so many people walking and knew it was something we were forced to do or the alternative: pass out from heat exhaustion. We wished each other luck and I took off in a slow and painful shuffle.

Mile 21: 11 min. 32 sec.

Mile 22: 12 min. 33 sec. By this mile marker I no longer had a time goal. I had a feeling I wouldn't get a DNF but whether my time would be 4.45 or 400 hours, I didn't know. Time didn't matter at this point. I just needed to keep moving in the direction of the finish line. I felt like we were all moving in a crawl.

Mile 23: 12.52
Mile 24: 12.16

Mile 25: 13.33 Another porta potty break. One more drop of brown pee.

Mile 26.2: 10.37 As I ran to the finish line, I felt like I was dragging my heart behind me. The crowd was energetic. Enough to make me smile, but not enough to block out the pain I felt physically and mentally for the last 4 hours and 49 minutes.

I crossed the finish line and grabbed a cold towel. I sat down and draped it over my head so I could cry. This time it wasn't tears of joy. These were tears of frustration, pain, disappointment and relief that my hell was finally over. I saw other runners crossing the finish line with the same look I felt. One woman collapsed into her husband's arms and wept. Her disappointment was palpable. I had to resist the urge to go up to this complete stranger and hug her and say "I know. I know exactly what you are feeling." I just cried silently with her. I looked up to see the guy I had stopped to walk and talk with at mile 20 running in. He gave me a hi-five and said "We survived".

We certainly did.

Sadly, later that evening, I learned our running community lost a runner that day. A 32 year old half-marathoner collapsed after the race. It made me realize I should be eternally grateful to even have crossed the finish line. To still be breathing and here on Earth with my loved ones. My heart goes out to his family.

After this race I wasn't sure if I'd ever do another marathon. The pain I felt during the race from heat exhaustion and dehydration was something I never wanted to experience again. It scared me and made me reconsider my running goals. But a friend shared this quote with me and I realized I have to try again:

"Life is not about how fast you run or how high you climb but how well you bounce." ~Vivian Komori

I have a score to settle with marathoning. I'm saying goodbye to the fear the San Antonio Marathon put in me. This runner will be bouncing back.


  1. I'm sorry there isn't much for me to say, Nicole, other than that you'll always look at that medal and remember the courage and grit it took to earn it. I'm glad you're safe, though disappointed, and hoping you'll take your time bouncing back. Thanks for sharing your race with us.

  2. Nicole, I never would have even finished! Your body may have felt weak that day, but your heart & mind were strong enough to get you through it! That counts for a lot in life!