We all have them, we all hate them, failures. I had a huge failure on October 7, 2018, the Chicago Marathon, my biggest race of the year. I must admit, many actions contributed to this failure, some my own choices and some happenstance, but either way I set my self-up to fail but still was hoping luck would be on my side, it wasn’t.
This was my 8th marathon of the year and the 2 months before the race was rough starting with a cough that turned into bronchitis for the month of August, then a fall running away from some Jehovah Witnesses that took me out of running completely for 12 days in September. Normally I run 50 miles a week in training, but for the 2 months before the Chicago Marathon I barely could get in 30 miles a week and had a full 12 days with no running after the fall which severely bruised my left knee inside and out. I kept hoping I could bank on my fitness and the 1500 miles I had logged so far this year, but deep down I knew it wasn’t going to work, I just kept trying to shut down that mental negative worm. Some people are natural athletes, I am not, I am just a hard worker. I so tried to lie to myself that I was ready for this marathon.
I finally got back to good mileage but the left knee still hurt and I tried to ignore it and be tough the week before the marathon. I also met a new guy who lives in Chicago, gosh meeting new guys and going on dates is just so difficult at my age, such a disaster so when you get just a little hope, well you again hope for luck. Two hopes for a lucky weekend don’t turn into success.
I knew when I arrived in Chicago that my body was in no shape for the marathon. Even just walking around the expo I could feel my left knee and my feet hurt, my feet almost always hurt. I met with some of my sponsors, saw a couple of friends then went on a date with the hot new guy. The date was great, even if my body wasn’t feeling ready for the race, mentally I was all happy from meeting a nice new man. (p.s. normally I would never go out and have a couple of drinks the weekend of a big race but I was desperate to get positive for this marathon. Yes, I will list at the end how many things I did wrong to run this marathon and produce this failure.)
Mentally on Saturday the 5k was great, a little hard to breath from the humidity with my asthma, had a good time but my body did hurt, but gosh this is racing Vanessa it is going to hurt I told myself, you will be good for tomorrow. Then I realized I didn’t pack some stuff, needed to go back to the expo to buy some stuff, didn’t like my outfit for tomorrow, didn’t feel ready to run for hours in the rain, oh it was starting to snowball mentally and I shut it down. Had another great date with Chicago man, uggh, I knew I should have been just resting!
I didn’t sleep Saturday night before the marathon, had breakfast, got dressed went downstairs to go the chutes with my 45k running friends, then went back to my room and cried. I knew this was going to be a disaster and didn’t even want to start. Why hadn’t Chicago date guy even texted me to wish me luck or tell me where on the course he was going to watch me? I was mentally spinning out of control and knew it. I went back downstairs to go to the race.
In my corral, I saw a woman I knew and she is a great talker and kept me entertained as we waited. I had a disposable rain coat on and was cold, but felt ok. When we started to run, I took it off and threw away the plastic coat at mile 2, I was doing ok, I was running a good pace. At mile 8 the skies opened and it poured rain for almost 20 minutes. My hair was soaked, then at mile 10 we hit a headwind and now I was cold and wet. I started to shiver and get nauseous, never have I felt like dropping out of a race before and DNFing, (Did Not Finish) and I knew this was it, I would have that DNF after my name. I was horrified, I teach people how to work out and run, take many clients to their first races, how can I myself fail at a race?
I went into a portapotty to get out of the cold, I know how gross, and cried. Then went into a medical tent where they gave me Ibuprofen and anti-nausea medicine. I felt like such a loser. The people in the med tent told me it would take some time to get a ride back to my hotel from this location, but the next tent 2 miles up was better, could I get there? Sure, I said, I got up and started shuffling up the miles. An older man next to me told me I was weaving like a drunken sailor, I was horrified, just said ‘thank you’ and kept my head down. I vowed I would crawl to the finish. I walk/crawled/jogged to the finish, hating my life and everything that had happened in the past 52 years. One of the great things about running a marathon is the mental thinking that happens. Good and Bad, we all have these thoughts of our lives in those hours of pushing our bodies.
I finished the Chicago Marathon with smiling finishers with me looking completely miserable with my head down, even hiding from myself. I wasn’t happy with finishing the marathon over an hour slower than I had planned, I thought I was even stupid to start and went back to my hotel, alone and sad with my silly metal around my neck.
Chicago man finally texted me, ‘hope you had a good race’. I ignored him.
I rested, then went to meet Chicago man for dinner. He was in a bad mood, wanted to talk about where this was going since he lived in Chicago and I lived in California, I wanted to drink alcohol and laugh, not talk seriously. He was awful to 2 friends of mine who stopped at our table to ask why I had been so slow today, he criticized adults getting metals for just finishing a 26.2 mile race. I hadn’t even told him yet about how bad my race was or ask him why he didn’t step out of his townhouse to at least wave at me.
I went back to my hotel alone, drowning in the rain, because it of course poured again as I was walking and crying. I had my worst race of the year and had a guy be rude to me all in the same day. And I spent $2500 for this?
I flew back to California the next day, so happy to get back to 84 degree weather at 1030am when my plane landed. I was happy to pick up my wonderful dogs and get back to my clients, who are also such nice friends.
All failures have reasons and hopefully lessons.
1. If you are unable to train due to illness, just cancel. There are other races and just not necessary physically or mentally to push yourself when you are not ready. I could have seriously hurt myself.
2. Don’t get on an emotional/romantic rollercoaster then weekend of a marathon. (don’t date someone new) HA, let’s see if I can follow this advice!
3. Don’t drink alcohol at all the 2 days before a big race. If I have 2 glasses of wine, the next day my sitting heart rate which is usually 46-54, will go up by 10 beats a minute. You don’t want your body working off the effects of alcohol while pushing your body through a marathon.
4. Forgive yourself for failing. It has been 10 days and all day every day I am beating myself up for my failure. Ran 4 miles yesterday for the first run post-race; everything hurt brain and body. I just must take it slow and push through this slump and be nice to myself.
5. The harder I work, the luckier I get. Either Jefferson or Cox started this saying, but for me it is true. Luck never happens to me, I just must work hard not necessarily to succeed, but to feel like I accomplished what I set out to do. And for me, marathon running isn’t about getting a metal and an age group placing, it is about doing the work to accomplish what I set out to do. So, important for me.
So, in closing, get the work in, and if you can’t do the work don’t expect miracles, and also don’t date—it is painful!