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For an upcoming article, Runner's World magazine is looking for stories about how you dealt with your worst race or a discouraging key workout. What happened at the race or during the workout? How did you rebound well from a race like that? What did you learn from it? Share your story below, and we'll contact you if we are interested in hearing more.
Hi Clara, It's Mark from TeachtoRun.com.
I recently ran a FEW bad races and while I was pretty upset at first it was a real opportunity to re-examine my training. One example was running a 5k over 19 minutes for the first time in years. I was pretty discouraged but realized that my training was more oriented towards marathon training as I am doing my first this fall (Chicago) and I hadn't done any training really at 5k pace. To compound this I then hopped in another race not aligned with my training: a mile race. Same results. After a few specific workouts (workouts at the pace of my short term goal race) I was tuned back up and PR'd in a 3k. Sometimes it just takes a little longer than we'd like to have our workouts "soak in." It sure doesn't happen right away.
Also, I was able to re-evaluate my diet and realize I wasn't eating enough carbs. Long term I think it helped but wasn't pleasant while it was taking place.
My rebound story comes from DNF’ing an event that I was using as a training run for my first marathon (Chicago2011).
I totally cramped out at around mile 14 of an 18 mile event and had to DNF. I was insuch bad shape that police, paramedics, an ambulance, anda fire truck all converged on me after other runners called for help (believe it or not, I was still trying to make my way down the course, sort of penguin-like even though I was in tremendous pain). It was embarrassing and humiliating, but more importantly, I was just 4 weeks away from running my first marathon and was horrified that I might not have the juice to go the distance. If I couldn't get through 14 miles, how the hell was I going to make it through 26.2? I was seriously concerned and very depressed at the thought that I might not be able to run the entire marathon.
I was depressed about the DNF for a long time, particularly since I was expecting so much from myself, so I set about to learn about the causes of cramps. And it turns out that thereis no one correct answer. I embraced and experimented with every remedy I could find in the short four weeks that I had left before the marathon. I had time for only one more long run before tapering, a 20 miler that I turned into 22 miles just because. But again, I cramped, this time at around 18 miles. However, I was able to recover using techniques that I had learned and was able to complete the full run. Progress.
I ran the marathon and was having a great run until mile 23, and again cramped. I recovered and pushed on, but was then hit with a full-on leg cramp right at 25.75 miles (just before the bend up to the park). I was in such pain that I fell against the spectator railing. But again I recovered (a few steps ahead of the paramedics), and ran the last half mile or so to cross the finish line running. I lost 20+ minutes to dealing with my cramps, but the most important part to me was that I crossed the finish line running.
What got me through the cramps was having an idea (but not really knowing) of what to do when they hit, all of which I learned by asking lots of questions and reading as much as I could about it. I’ve learned that cramping has as much to do with nutrition (electrolyte balance, hydration, sugars, etc.) as with endurance, and when they hit you have to know what part of your leg to stimulate (and it turns out that it varies from person to person).
I'm going to run the MCM this October and so far (knock on a lot of wood), I have been cramp-free through all of my runs!
And that, in a nutshell, is my story….
I guess I've been lucky since I have to go back over 20 years for this. I was running a local 5K in Pasadena, CA and I was well trained for the race, not expecting any surprises. But about a half mile into the race, I unexpectedly twisted my knee and within about 30 seconds realized I would not be able to continue. I was totally furious with myself. And my husband (who was still racing occasionally at the time) was ahead of me, and I had no way to let him know. I could still walk, but it would have taken forever to get to the finish line, and besides, I didn't want to claim an official hour-long finish time. So I got off the course and hobbled back to the start line. When my husband saw me, he just rolled his eyes as in "what the **** happened to you?", which didn't help. Fortunately the injury was not serious and with the help of standard RICE, recovered within about 2 weeks. That was my first and only DNF in over 200 races.
@ 5K: Ontario Mills 5K, Ontario, CA, 25:17
New Balance Palm Springs 5K, Palm Springs, CA, 24:32
@ 10K: LA Chinatown Firecracker 10K, Los Angeles, CA, 52:15
Great Race of Agoura - Old Agoura 10K, Agoura Hills, CA, 51:40
I can't say any of my races would qualify as a "worst race". Even the two DNFs I've had (both marathons) were worthwhile. I ran one marathon injured and had my worst time but it was Disney! And that by itself made it fun. I've had ups and downs over the years, and as I get older I get slower. But every race is challenging and interest on it's own, and I only compare each to my expectations on that day, and I'm rarely disappointed.
My first 10K was a huge disappointment because I'd been training for it for months, and then all of a sudden there was a heat wave and we were running in 85 degree weather, with high humidity, no shade, and months of 60 degree perfect outdoor runs as our only preparation.
I was so terrified that I would push too hard and crash that I ran almost a minute per mile slower than I'd accomplished on longer training runs. It took me over an hour to finish, and my ipod playlist actually ran out because I was so far behind schedule.
That entire last mile took everything I could to just keep on running... especially since there were two women near me who kept walking, then sprinting, then walking. They must have passed me fifteen times only for me to jog on by them when they started walking. Every time they slowed down, I wanted to start walking, too. Only my determination to run this 10k, the whole thing, without stopping, kept me going. I was going for completion, not a time, and I did it.
There's a picture of me throwing up my hands in victory and shouting "FIRST 10K!!!" (making spectators laugh) as I ran across the finish. I have never felt such a runner's high as I did coming across that finish line right then. The heat, the hills, the intense, nagging urge to just give up and walk was so fresh in my memory that I knew for certain that I had just accomplished something great. I was in a great mood the entire rest of the day. Not a good mood, a GREAT mood.
But then I saw my time, and I processed my time, and I woke up the next day and my legs didn't even hurt, and I knew I hadn't given it all. I crossed the finish line with a half-full tank.
To get past that feeling of failure, I try to remember the feeling of ecstasy I had when I crossed the finish, back when I could remember the EFFORT I had just put in, and not the numbers. Could my legs have done more? Yes. But did I get heat stroke or quit halfway through or dry heave? No. A learning experience, not a failure.
Next time, I won't leave so much in the tank.
I write a running blog geared towards other new runners at http://www.iamrunningthis.com!
Couch to 5K graduate, September 2012
First 10K, June 2nd, 2013
First Half Marathon, September 2013