Welcome to my first race report! Bear with me, it's a long one!
Coming in to this race, I was injured, overtrained and just plain tired. Yet, I hadn't trained for this race. How does that work exactly? Well, this was my 6th race of 2013 so far. I had trained throughout the winter for back to back half marathons in February, one Sunday followed by the next. In January, I ran a 15k, where I PR'ed (1:26:56). In addition, I logged over 100 miles in training alone in January. I achieved a PR (2:03:46) on the first half at the Five Points of Life half marathon, and not a PR (2:11:46) at the second one at the Disney Princess half marathon. Following that, I competed in a sprint triathlon, and then a 5k charity race in 1000% Florida humidity less than a week ago. Since the two other half marathons, I had not run more than 8 miles, and I am nursing some plantar fasciitis, so I was sticking to running shorter distances and running a slower pace. I feared that my body would rebel on me during the race, but I am not one to back out of a race that I have paid for. I was hoping for a miracle.
Race morning was like any other. Up at 4:30, a small cup of coffee, 2 cups of water, a cup of yogurt and granola and a banana for breakfast. This is my tried and true pre-race meal, it never fails me.
My husband drove me to the race start, where I met up with a friend who was also running. After taking it down to the wire while waiting for a porta-john, we got our warm-up in as we scurried to the starting line. This actually didn't bother me, as it gave me no time to really think about the fact that I was woefully unprepared to be running the race at all.
The first mile had us traversing through a bit of downtown Clearwater, for about a mile. It was merely a distraction for the runners, for as we turned the corner, the first bridge, the massive Memorial Causeway, was there waiting for us. I can do hills without fear, and I didn't find the first trip across to be very taxing. I was maintaining my normal 8:45 race pace and I felt great. It was very humid, but there was a nice breeze off the Gulf, so I hardly noticed the stickiness.
I conquered the bridge, and as we approached Clearwater Beach over the next few miles, I was not only shocked at how good I felt, but it didn't escape my attention that I felt no foot pain. Regardless, I decided to ease up on my pace, and dropped to around a 9:30. I went into this not expecting to PR, and kept telling myself that under 2:30 was going to be a good time considering my lack of training.
The miles ticked away, and I made sure to stop at the water stations and hydrate to combat the humidity. I walked for about 30 seconds through them, and all was good. I made it over the second bridge, the Sand Key Bridge, running and feeling strong. As we approached Sand Key Park around mile 5, I started to feel little tweaks here and there, but it was so far so good. We looped through the park, and I saw my friend plugging away just a little bit behind me, and I felt pretty ok.
And then came Mile 7.
I could feel my quad muscles tightening, which was something new to me. I tried to shake it off, and I began a run/walk/run thing in hopes of not totally blowing it. The quad cramping subsided, but began to move down my legs, and into my feet.
Here is where I issue a strong word of advice. Do not ever wear compression socks or sleeves for a long race, unless you have trained that way! While I wore my sleeves for the Princess Half, and they did ok, I did recall my calves trying to cramp up then. That should have been an ample warning to me, but alas. So I wore them to Iron Girl, and I think it was the biggest running mistake that I have ever made.
As I approached mile 8, the sides of my calves began seizing up so badly. I stopped to walk it off, and would try to run. Whenever I started running again, I could feel my feet moving in unnatural directions as they hit the pavement. My toes kept pointing out, yanking at my ankle muscles. It hurt so bad, and I wanted to stop. I couldn't run 15 feet without the cramps amping up. It was so frustrating.
Mile 9.5, and the return over the Sand Key Bridge was looming. By then, I knew there was no way I could run it, it would be a walking race from here on out. I jogged/hobbled through the water station and hit the steep bridge, coming to a complete stop. My legs, in unison, knotted. I almost fell completely over. I had to stop and try to work the kinks out. I wanted to cry, and did a little. Runners passed me, some of them in as bad shape as me, and everyone was supporting each other. That got me over the bridge. I was slow, but as I approached the acme of the bridge, I was able to carefully jog down.
At mile 10, I took my phone out of my arm band, and I texted my husband:
"3 more miles, cramping badly, legs seizing up. I want to quit"
He replied: "Don't quit"
I walked most of mile 10. As I approached the water station, this adorable little girl shouted to me as she handed me a cup of PowerAde: "You are awesome, Robin!" (we had personalized bibs) This lifted me up just enough to jog/walk for the next 2 miles, until I saw the Memorial Causeway, the behemoth of bridges. You know, Florida might not have a lot of impressive hills, but they sure can build some bridges to make up for it!
Again, this would be a walker. The same bridge that a mere 1 1/2 hours ago I casually jaunted over was going to be my undoing. The cramping was so bad that I had to do stop on the side of the bridge to stretch. And I hate bridges, they terrify me. Heights nearly send me into a panic attack. But, at this point, my legs felt like they had been tied in 10,000 knots. Grasping the railing to stretch, I closed my eyes to avoid the view below. I stretched the best that I could, and soldiered on.
The peak of the bridge never seemed like it would come, but as I reached it, I realized that the end was blessedly near. I began to slowly jog on the downhill, and as we approached the corkscrew exit of the bridge, the cheers at the finish line propelled me. Coming through the finish chute, I felt physical pain that rivaled chid birth (no exaggeration), and just pleaded with my legs to carry me over the line. As I saw the line, the sight of my husband and kids and their cheering was almost more than I could take.
I crossed the line, took a bottle of water, received my finisher medal, and at that moment, everything stopped working.
I spotted my family waiting for me at the end, and I crumbled into my husband's arms. All I could do was sob and tell him, "It hurts, it hurts..." I hurt physically and mentally, and I knew that I had probably sidelined myself for a good while.
My time was better than I had expected: 2:23:03. Under 2:30. I am an Iron Girl! I guess.
After the race, I found a shady patch of grass to rest on. As my husband peeled off my compression sleeves, he commented that my lower legs were a pale, sickly white color, while my upper legs were bright red. As I got further into the race, it appears that I was depriving my lower legs of blood flow, hence the severe cramping. All the PowerAde in Clearwater wasn't going to help, either. I could have really injured myself. I learned a big lesson.
So, I am hanging up my running shoes for a bit. My foot needs to heal. My spirit needs to heal, too. I feel like racing has become a chore, and I want to find that spark again. I want to feel that thrill of the finish line, and that is going to take some time to find again.