Well, if you read Princess Alana’s race recap, you know we ran the Toronto Women’s Half-Marathon last month. Been there, done that, got the finisher necklace. What you don’t know is why Alana wrote the recap: I JUST COULDN’T.
We always said we’d share warts and all, right? Well, here’s the deal. I trained well, but race day came and things didn’t quite go my way. Sometimes that happens. It is frustrating and particularly disappointing though when you have done the work. I logged the miles and fought hard to get myself ready for that race. Although I completed Disney’s Princess Half-Marathon in February, this one felt like my first “real” half because there would be no fireworks and fanfare, no photo opportunities or character stops, no over-the-top costumes, nothing to distract me from the lofty distance…basically, no pixie dust in case things got tough. I was fresh off an injury in Disney World with my only goal being to finish without needing crutches afterwards. Mentally, I put a lot on the Toronto race, seeing it as some test I had to pass. And the thing is, I trained well, I tapered well, I hydrated well and rested well leading up to the race. I did everything right. It should have been a happily ever after. And in fact, the official finisher photo even looks like that.
But race day came and instead, it was a bit of a gong show from the start. Alana and I got a little turned around on our way from the hotel to the race, but quickly corrected. We had left a good buffer of time, but had not accounted for the snarl of traffic leading into Sunnybrook Park. Oh the stress and angst and energy I wasted during this part of the morning! Traffic was crawling along, leaving us just enough time to park, hit the bathroom, check our bags and – WTF??? – the countdown was on for my corral! I was literally jumping into my wave when the horn went off. I spent the first kilometre running in a panic, feeling totally out of control and trying to settle in. It was not happening. I’ll be honest, there were some tears. I am a runner who needs a bit of mental space to get ready to race. I like to have my iPod set, my Garmin locked, take in the atmosphere and get ready to go the distance. After this less than stellar start, I never quite found my rhythm.
Then there was the last minute course modification which re-routed us out of Sunnybrook. Now, Sunnybrook is in a valley so you do the math. Going out, around and back into the park can only mean one thing: hills. And not just any hills – massive inclines that I don’t think could even be trained for, in all honesty. I run hilly routes each week. I am used to both long, gradual, kill-me-now inclines as well as steeper, you’ve-got-to-be-kidding-me climbs. I hate them, but I do them regularly. They couldn’t prepare me for these bad boys, one of which came at the 18K mark.
A few other debacles, like a runner losing her water bottle in front me which almost caused me to eat asphalt; firefighters refilling my water bottle with powerade instead of water which made me hesitant to drink much until the next water station; and losing a gel mid-route (click, gas tank on empty) just made for a tough race. By 16K, I really didn’t care anymore. The race had gotten the best of me. I crossed the finish line just on the nose of my very conservative goal, but felt no accomplishment, no celebration, no pride – just disappointment.
I have always said that one of the things I love about racing is the pure emotion: the thrill of personal victory, the agony of defeat. You can’t have one without the other. Sometimes bad races make the good ones that much sweeter. But this particular half-marathon will always be bitter-sweet in my mind. Yes, I did it and I did it with friends. I ran for Boston and I trained well. It was a weekend in celebration of health and friendship. The running part though? Not so good. (Again, contrary to photographic evidence!)
I returned home frustrated that my next half was 5 whole months away. It seemed like a long wait to try again. I needed redemption. But there was nothing on my race calendar. Plus, I was heading out on a short road trip south of the border for the Another Mother Runner Party. But just before I left, I heard about a women’s race in Wellington about 1.5 hours away. The temperatures were suddenly soaring though, and I wouldn’t be able to rest and hydrate properly. Not to mention, I’d just run a half-marathon. Every runner knows it’s the sleep you get 2 nights before the race that really matters. Well, 2 nights before this race in Wellington, I was in Albany and up until 2 am after the mother runner party. And as I fell asleep that night, I had no idea I’d be racing another half in less than 36 hours.
But I couldn’t get it out of my head. Yes, it was hot and humid (neither of which it has been since!), and I wasn’t sure if my body would be game for another challenge so soon. Yet somehow I found myself awake at 5:30 am that Saturday morning and on my way to run my second half-marathon in a week! No one knew where I was so I had no support or virtual cheerleaders. I didn’t really know where I was going because I’d never been to Wellington before. And I was taking a big chance, assuming I could register on-site. Since I was essentially doing the opposite of everything you are supposed to do, I decided to throw in a few more: I bought new shoes on the way home from Albany and wore them to the race, along with a new tank. Meh…at this point, why not?
There was a reason I didn’t want any fanfare or sparkly costumes – this was about me, proving to myself that I was better than that last race. When the gun went off and I started running, I remember thinking that this could be the stupidest decision yet. I could fail miserably, sending myself into what would surely become a downward spiral of negativity. And yet, I suddenly felt a little surge of pride and surprise: no matter what, I was running 2 halfs in one week under less than ideal conditions. One of my favourite songs is “Brave” by Sara Bareilles and my favourite line is, “Show me how big your brave is.” I was running strong, knowing that my brave was pretty big that day!
I ran the first half so well, so strong. I was feeling great. But eventually the heat and humidity did catch up with me. I couldn’t maintain the pace, and definitely had some tougher moments on the back half, but they never defeated me. I didn’t give up. I told myself this part always comes in a race at some point and, if this is it, it’s not that bad – just keep moving. At one point, I saw a volunteer on the course who works at my local running store. He was cheering me on and I told him, “I feel like I’m dying a little out here!”. His response? “No way, you look great.” Bless his sweet soul for lying when I was a hot mess running on empty, but I chose to believe it. And just keep fighting.
One of the things that bothered me in Toronto was that by the time I hit 20K, I was out of gas and could not manage my final kick. I always end with a final kick, even on training runs. Part of that was due to losing a gel and literally being on empty in Toronto, but part of it was because I had already decided the race was a bust by that point. I had given up. In Wellington, I found my kick and was able to turn it on over the final few kilometres. So, yep, I need to better prepare for that rough patch that always seems to plague me between 10-15K (“I’ve come so far! And yet I have so far to go! Why did this seem like a good idea??”), but overall I was proud of my race. I came into the final stretch strong and crossed the finish line feeling so damn proud of myself. It was not about the time – it was about taking a risk, finishing well, feeling good and knowing I did the best I could on that day with what I had. In fact, I did manage to PR, but that was just icing on the cake!
These 2 half-marathons will always be linked in my mind. Book-ends, so to speak. Together, I am proud of them. After Toronto, I was feeling like my whole training cycle had been a waste; after Wellington, I knew that was not the case. Suddenly, I was feeling like one badass mother runner! What a difference a week (and 21K!) makes.
A little plug as well for the Wellington Women’s Half-Marathon: this race is like the little engine that could! It is small. It is organized by women for women. It is the sister race to the bigger Prince Edward County Marathon (which I ran as part of the Team Challenge in the fall). The race slogan is “It’s a girl thing”. The race shirt is awesome – a tech tank that I have already worn while out running. The goodie bag was adorable, including chocolate, perfume and hot pink nail polish. And the finisher’s necklace is an original piece of glasswork designed by a local artist. The route is gravel country roads, not my terrain of choice, and there’s not much to see other than fields, but the course support was amazing. The race signs along the route were hilarious including my fave, “What a girl won’t do for a necklace!” and, at the 20K mark, “WTF is the finish line?”.
For a small race I had never heard of until a week before I ran it, this little half-marathon will always have a special place in my heart. I guess I’m sentimental that way. It’s where I found my brave.
Tell us: Have you ever had a disappointing race? How did you deal with it?