Tacoma Marathon Race Recap

I’m not entirely sure if I’ve had the time to fully process the outcome of this race, and in fact I think it may take a few days for it all to sink in. I can say, though, that this race was without question one of the most exhausting, humbling, and all-around intense experiences I have ever had. It is probably safe to say, as well, that this race was perhaps the most memorable—for better or for worse—that I’ll ever go through.

I’m going to start with the end (Tarantino style), just to set the stage for what the race resulted in, and then I’ll back-track with more details of how everything set up.

The good news about this race: I PR’ed, and I finished.

The bad news: I was carried across the finish line (and over the last .3 miles), and I spent an hour afterward in the medical tent being treated for severe heat stroke.

Rewind, rewind, rewind…

Leave you hanging much? Well, prepare for a lengthy race report…and I promise to flesh out the details that resulted in the most physically grueling experience I’ve ever been through.

Let’s start at the beginning of it all.

Not a detail missed. I was really feeling psyched for this race. I was nervous, obviously, but really I was just ready to see what I could do. I knew my training was right on with where I wanted it to be, I knew my taper was smart, and I certainly knew my carbo-loading went perfectly. I was ready to run.

It’s 5:30 am! It’s race day! Let’s run a marathon!

The race was quite small, but still well-run and organized. I managed to see most of the people I knew beforehand, which was very comforting and helped get me excited. My sister had come down for the race, and she managed to capture some corral pictures right before the gun went off.

PSYCHED!

Ready to run! (These photos seem so ironic right now…)

My strategy was to stick with the 3:40 pacer until the halfway point, and then try and chase down 3:35 if I was feeling up for it. The 3:40 pacer, as you might be able to tell from the above photo, had a ridiculously fantastic mustache, and I knew we were going to get along from the very start.

My sister was also able to capture this video right before the gun went off. I admit, I hate videos of myself, but I figured it’s a good way to get a glimpse into the beginning of race excitement:

And off we went! The weather was a perfect 45 degrees, slightly overcast, and ideal for racing conditions. The first few miles felt great, and although I could tell we were going a bit quicker than 3:40, I figured we’d settle into a proper pace before too long. The first 5 or so miles wound through Tacoma neighborhoods, and I really enjoyed seeing some of my old token running spots along the route. My legs felt springy, my knee didn’t hurt at all (which was perhaps my biggest worry), and I was feeling very comfortable with the 8:15 or so pace we were averaging.

At this point, I will admit, I was already a bit hesitant about our slightly faster speed. I knew that miles 10-22 were the hilly parts, and I wanted to save my strength for that, so I did fall a bit behind the group for a bit. I was trying very hard to run my own pace, as opposed to following the pacer, however we seemed to be right on par with one another, so this approach seemed do-able.

I hate to say that it was really only the first 10 miles that I can say I felt “good.” I started to feel tired much earlier than I expected, and than I knew I was in shape for, and I credited this to the hills, the humidity, and the speed. I didn’t feel too bad, but I knew that the way I was feeling around miles 12-16 was not how I should be feeling. I was staying more hydrated than normal, wary of the humidity and the exertion, and I was taking in a bit more fuel than normal as well.

At mile 16, my sister ran a bit with me, handed me a caffeine energy gel pack, and gave me a bit of encouragment. It was great to see her, but (as I told her) I was not feeling the way I knew I should have at that point.

moral support from CB

mile 16, on a hill, SHOCKING.

Between miles 16-19, I purposefully fell behind the 3:40 pacer. I wasn’t trusting his timing (which, rightfully so, because we were about 3 minutes ahead), and I trudged on myself. I was hoping that somehow the hills, which plagued nearly every mile since mile 11, would somehow let up a bit…but alas, they never really stopped. I was prepared for this, certainly, and I can’t necessarily say that they were worse than I expected—but I had never really had the experience of running that fast, for that long, with so many hills.

I was trying desperately to relax, to let the music energize me, and to remember that I was in sight of a BQ. Because I was…and I forced myself to focus on this goal. If I let myself wander away from that thought, all I would be thinking about was stopping—because that’s all I really wanted to do. Every so often, I would get a mini surge of energy—normally due to a quick gulp of my gel pack or a brief slowing at a water station—but truthfully my body was done around mile 20. My mind, however, was relentless, and despite my nausea, my aching legs, and my fuzzy brain, I maintained my speed and kept going.

And you know what else kept going? The hills. Despite all my mental and physical preparation for the hill factor in this race, they really seemed to be the biggest physical representation of my mental state over the last 10k. I muttered more curse words than I care to admit every single time I saw another upward slope ahead of me, and despite every molecule screaming inside of me to “STOP!” I kept going. I tried desperately to maintain the thought that I was well within sight of a BQ, however that thought—despite how bad I wanted it and how hard I had worked—was being completely eclipsed by my desire for it to be over.

On top of this battle, as well, I was so frustrated. I kept thinking, “This is not how I felt during my first marathon, why does it feel so hard now?” and I was mad at myself. I started cursing my failed race strategy, my ill-hill preparation, and my overly zealous attempt to make this race—one that I KNEW was a hard course—my try at a BQ.

I kept going though, fast, and at this point I was about 1 minute away from the 3:35 pacer (BQ time for women.) Based on my own timing, I knew that I had about 28 minutes to run the last 5k—a task that would be a piece of cake on any other day. I tried to remember that I knew I could do it, that the ultimate, ideal goal of a BQ was still within my sight—despite my body rejecting every bit of mental encouragement.

However, my body’s desire for the race to be over had finally surpassed my desire to BQ, and it would offer no waves, surges, or even glimpses of energy. It was done. My brain, however, was still on a mission. I was very back and forth between these two conflicting feelings. I think at this point, my brain had overtaken my body’s desire to stop, and I was running solely on the dream of completing the goal. All I could focus on were the mile markers, because all I wanted was for it to be over—and of course, the mile markers…22, 23, 24 were going by slower than any other race I’ve ever been in. At mile 24, my vision was getting a bit distorted, and all I wanted to do was close my eyes. I felt so tired that I was overwhelmed with a feeling of wanting to sleep. In fact, I think I did close my eyes for a few paces in there. Truthfully, I’m having a hard time actually remembering things after mile 22.

When I saw mile 25, I felt the smallest morsel of encouraging energy—my first since way back in the middle of the race. I knew if I just kept going, just a little bit further, I would be done and I would be under 3:35. I had never been so overwhelmed with the desire to be done with something than I was at this point—which was frustrating. I know how to push through pain, I should be so excited…I’m about to qualify for Boston, mind over matter…these were the only thoughts I could use to make my body keep going.

I rounded the final corner of mile 25, and I spotted both the mile 26 marker and the finish line. At this point though, my desperate running was only focused on finishing. I wanted nothing more than to be done—this desire had officially overwhelmed both my body and my brain, and although I was still within reach of a 3:35 finish time, all I could attempt to do was finish.

I was hunched over at this point, the picture of physical exhaustion, and all at once, just before I crossed the mile 26 marker, I collapsed.

My legs had given out and they crumpled beneath me. I tried desperately to get up, over and over, but I couldn’t even get halfway up without completely falling over again. In my head I thought, “No, no…not now, not when I’m so close!” but I was also in a panic for help. There weren’t too many runners around me, and I was just far enough away from the finish that there weren’t any spectators or volunteers near me. My brain was so warped and my body was so overheated that I could barely managed to look around, let alone call out for help. All at once, though, two half-marathon finishers stopped their race and offered to help. I pleaded for them to go on and finish their races, but instead they so graciously took me on either side of them and carried me.

I am a bit fuzzy on the memories of exactly how everything afterward went. I remember the woman who picked me up feeding me a chocolate GU, which I definitely did not want, but she insisted (understandably…since I was so decrepit at that point) and I remember insisting that they let me walk over the finish line myself. They had to essentially carry me, since I was unable to put any weight on my legs, and eventually a few volunteers caught wind of what was going on and ran over to help out.

From the sidelines (where Corey, BF, and my friend Kawika were standing), they saw that the Medical Director had been alerted that someone needed attention. As soon as they saw it was me, BF jumped over the barrier, and ran over to me as well (a miraculous feat, given he had incredibly tired half-marathon legs himself). Unfortunately, I actually don’t remember this—but apparently I was very gracious, insistent upon crossing the finish line myself, and  I said it was okay to take pictures (hey, perhaps my good humor doesn’t entirely disappear when my physical capabilities do). With hoards of people around me as we got to the finish line, they let me down to walk about three steps over the actual line, and I was immediately picked up by the Medical Director and taken to the medical tent.

The next several minutes are a big blur, but I remember a lot of doctors around me, while I was laying on a table, taking my vitals, putting an IV in me, and asking me questions. I wasn’t really able to talk, so they were mainly talking to me, telling me I would be okay and instructing me on what they needed to do. They took my temperature (rectally, which was awesome…except that I didn’t really care at the time) and my temperature was at 105.

At this point, I regained some consciousness, and I was very scared. I repeatedly asked them if I was going to be okay, and they assured me I would, but I needed to be cooled down immediately. They lifted me, very gingerly since my muscles were cramping so badly, and completely immersed me in a huge ice bath. I regained a lot of sensation at this point, and the ice bath felt so amazingly good. They covered every part of me with ice, ensuring I would cool down, and they started asking me questions to gauge my mental state. I was able to answer all their questions coherently (for which I was proud of myself) and they let BF come in to be with me. My left hamstring and my right calf were cramping so badly, and two people had to continually clench and massage them to make the seizing stop. I was completely unable to move my legs without my muscles clenching, and I remember this being the most painful part.

They kept me in the bath for a while, making sure that my core temperature was dropping, and I began to be coherent enough to ask BF how his race went. He ran a 1:47…and despite my current state of being, I was (and am) SO proud of him! The doctors kept asking me questions and letting me know I’d be okay, and at some point while I was still in the ice bath I became stable enough that my emotions got the best of me. I burst into tears, completely overwhelmed with everything, and mainly concerned for the state of my running career. I said out loud, “What if I never want to run a marathon again? What if I’m done forever?” which was a paralyzing fear, despite the fact that I had just been chewed up and spit out by the marathon. BF…in all his logical and rational thinking…said, “Babe, if you are saying ‘What if?’ at this point in time, I think it’s safe to say you’ll be fine.”

Eventually, I got myself together, and the doctors were able to carefully hoist me out of the bath. My legs continued to cramp pretty violently, and they had to keep my legs lifted at a 90   degree angle to drain the blood. They took my temperature again, and I was down to 101…which they seemed very impressed by. I felt very feverish, and the thought of sitting up was very daunting. They eventually began giving me Gatorade, which was sitting fine, and they took it as a good sign. Eventually, they very slowly hoisted me up so I was sitting up-right on the table. I felt dizzy and flu-like, but definitely much better.

Slowly but surely (and because this detailing is getting a bit long), I was able to get up walk very slowly. I was absolutely freezing, given the fact that my clothes were soaking wet and I had just been in ice-cold water (and just ran a marathon), and they took me outside with a space blanket to warm up. I was able to meet up with my group at this point, and eventually I regained both my cognitive and (limited) physical abilities. The mustache pacer actually came by as well, as he’d seen the less-than-glorious finish, to check and see how I was doing. The doctors told me that I had to pee before they would let me go (which I accomplished) and we were allowed to leave.

From entering the medical tent to leaving, it took approximately an hour, and by the time we were allowed to leave all I wanted to do was changed my clothes, warm up, and sleep.

Afterward, everything was somewhat post-race standard. I was able to congratulate some of my fellow marathoners, we got a big farm breakfast, and I spent the afternoon laying on the couch. Unfortunately, I was not left with the accomplished, satisfying feeling of finishing a marathon. After my first marathon, I was on a high of feeling so happy and proud of myself, and despite the fact that I did finish this race…the aftermath took away from the whole “I finished a marathon” experience. I felt a whole range of emotions, but primarily I felt grateful and scared. I cannot express how thankful I am that such a thing happened so close to the finish line and there were people around to help. I can’t imagine what would have happened if this had occurred any earlier. I was blown away by how helpful the volunteers, the runners that picked me up, the medical staff, and “my people” were through this whole thing. I tried to thank them all as much as I could, and I wish I could fully express just how gracious and humbled I am to have had such incredible support.

Like nothing happened, right?

After assuring my family that everything was okay, the only feeling I could really feel was exhausted. Marathon exhausted, certainly, but mainly emotionally and physically drained from the whole experience. Unfortunately, I wasn’t actually able to sleep as well as I’d hoped last night—my heart rate was still a bit high, and I was unable to rifle through all the different thoughts going through my head.

Today, despite my very sore legs and general fatigue, I feel much better. Like I said, I can’t really begin to articulate how this experience has affected me—because it all hasn’t really processed yet. I feel a combination of embarrassment, fear, shock, and stupidity. I can’t really help but be critical of myself, for running such a physically demanding race at the rate I was and for not obeying the demands of my body. I believe this feeling will go away—because honestly, I know that I am exactly the type of runner that this would happen to. My brain was stronger than my body, which most of the time is a great strength, but this time it got the best of me.

I will post later on my feelings following this whole experience, once they’ve all sunk in a bit more, but at this point I can say this: I know how it feels to push to the absolute furthest points of my limits, and there is not one more ounce of stamina or mental toughness I could have given into that race. Unfortunately, I was over my limits—and despite my will to keep trying, my body’s resistance finally overcame my mental determination.

I am sure I will take more away from this experience than I can actually wrap my head around, but for now I am going to let some rest, reflection, and recuperation help rebuild both my mental and physical strength.

And if you were curious, my official finish time was just over 3:44…three minutes faster than my first marathon. I find this humorous, and although this is a PR, I do think it should have a big fat asterisk next to it. Also, somehow in the midst of my collapse and being picked up…I managed to stop my watch at 3:33, meaning that had I been able to keep going, I’m pretty sure I would have been able to pull it out. Am I disappointed? Sure. But I also know that there was really nothing more I could have done…and I’m actually comforted in knowing that I was right there, and had the course been more forgiving, there is no question I would have had it.

Still got my medal! And it has a bottle opener on it…awesome.

So, there you are. A very long, detailed explanation of one of the more intense experiences I’ve ever had in my life. Out of all the scenarios that could have happened yesterday, this occurrence never even crossed my mind, and although I know these collapses can happen…I never imagined it would happen to me. I can assure you though that I am feeling better, I am going to continue to take care of myself, and I have no doubt that the lessons I draw from this experience will eventually make me a much stronger and prepared runner. That is, of course, when running doesn’t sound like the most painful thing on Earth.

Thank you for reading and for everyone’s unbelievable support. Congratulations to BF for his PR, and to all the runners who raced yesterday! Tacoma was without a doubt the hardest course I’ve ever competed on, and I admire every single one of you for taking it on.

Lastly, despite the shock and the drama that occurred at the end of this race, I have no doubt that the things I will take away will be more influential and more beneficial than any BQ or goal time could ever give me. And mark my words, the marathon may have scared the crap out of me yesterday…but I am nowhere near done with it.

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36 thoughts on “Tacoma Marathon Race Recap

  1. sweetmaddy

    Wow!! Unexpected to say the least! I am so glad you are ok. I must say that I think you were way too easy on the volunteers/organizers/medical people at the race. It sounds like they did great at treating you, but I find it ridiculous that it took that long for them to become aware that you needed help. They should definitely have way more people spread out along the course, looking out for things like this. But it all worked out so that’s good!

    Reply
  2. Ricole Runs

    Oh Robyn I’m so so so so sorry! I nearly cried about 3 times during your race recap, for you, for those wonderful runners who carried you, and for the doctors getting you better. I am so so glad you are okay. How are you feeling? That is so scary. I wonder why? Do you have any inklings? You are my hero for going through all this and with such a positive attitude.

    Reply
  3. TriGirl

    Holy cow!! I’m so glad you’re ok and that the race was so well-organized! I was riveted reading your recap. I want to do a marathon but this sounds like the sort of thing that would happen to me. I was rushed to the ER my first tri :S. I could feel that incredible frustration you had when your legs gave out-but you made it and I bet you’ll do another one :). Hope you get some good rest this week.

    Reply
  4. Erika

    Wow… I am just amazed by what you went through. What a scary situation that I can’t even imagine going through. I’m so glad you are ok though and you clearly gave everything you had – and more. Wow. i hope you are feeling better now! And by the way it was such a pleasure to meet you on Saturday! Hopefully we can rally again soon. Get well!!!

    Reply
  5. Tall Mom

    WOW!! I love this! you are strong.. Nice to see another local Blogger. I HIGHLY recommend Eugene for anyone wanting to qualify for Boston, it is FLAT and FANTASTIC.. Hang in there lady.. running with a 105 fever?? WOW!!

    Reply
  6. runkaylarun

    Oh my gosh! I am so glad to hear that you are OK! What a scary thing to go through at any time-especially while running 26.2 miles. Sounds like you kicked some ass during the marathon either way. You will definitely land that BQ next time 🙂

    Reply
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