This had to have been the worst race of my life. My expectations were completely off-base. I set off with the 1:45 pace group thinking I’d be on auto-pilot for 10 miles and then crush the last 3 miles, finishing close to 1:40 and feeling great. My goal was 1:40, my fallback goal 1:45, and… well, I didn’t imagine finishing any slower than 1:45. My Garmin watch/”virtual assistant” thought I could run 1:43, and I’ve typically maintained that I’m much faster than my watch thinks I am.
I overslept my first alarm (5:15) and somehow missed my next two alarms (5:20 and 5:35, the latter being when I was supposed to leave). I got out of bed at 5:45, changed clothes, brushed my teeth, and made it out the door by 5:55. Got to the starting area in time to do my warm-up leg swings and find my “wave” right after the National Anthem at 6:30.
I hadn’t run much in the weeks leading up to the race. But I thought I had a strong base and mental toughness I could rely on. I still had, in recent memory, the 8 mile South Seattle loops I could run without much preparation, even if I felt poorly for the first few miles. I was typically around 8-8:30 pace in these training runs, so I was still expecting I’d be able to run 7 minute pace in a race atmosphere with water and gels, just like I would’ve been able to pull out 7 or 8 years ago. The night before, my legs were a bit tired (maybe from the day before, rearranging stuff around the house) and I wore compression socks in hopes that it’d help my legs feel fresher.
I actually thought about starting with the 1:40 group, but lost them once the race started. Eventually, the 1:45 group caught up to me and I latched onto them for the first 5-ish miles. But I remember pretty early on, the pace felt faster than I expected it to. The course was a bit hillier than I expected it to be, and it didn’t help that the pacers noticeably took the downhills fast and the uphills slow (the opposite of how I would normally take them). It also didn’t help that the pacers were also fast! They were supposed to have been running 8:00 pace, but the first 4 were 7:56, 7:28, 7:38, 7:38 (that’s 7:40 pace, which was… what the 1:40 group should’ve been running). The next was 8:02, and then I’m pretty sure I fell off. At one point, someone had turned to the pacers and asked them if they were aware what pace group they were assigned.
I was starting to feel pretty dead by mile 6 - I’m not sure what it was. It might have been the pace or running in an unfamiliar place, but it was probably just because of the race atmosphere. I was spending a lot of mental energy just being in a race and thinking about how I was racing, wanting to look easy and under control instead of actually just naturally being those things. I stopped a few times to stretch. I had hamstring tightness manifesting itself in upper interior knee pain. I had some muscle tightness on the inside of my upper legs - relieved by doing that sitting butterfly stretch. I fell off the pace and was demoralized by being endlessly passed by other runners.
From mile 6, I was still just thinking “let me just take it easy until mile 10 and then I’ll turn it on”. I was going pretty slowly and then stopping every now and then to stretch. A little after hitting mile 10, I had my first leg cramp. The last 5k was a cycle of barely running, running slightly faster, cramping, stopping, and stretching. I got passed by the 2 hour group. I saw runners running back after having finished. I was pretty adamant about not walking to make forward progress - I kinda stubbornly wanted to say I ran the whole thing. So if I cramped, I wasn’t going to keep walking, and if I got to a hill, I wasn’t going to walk up it. My mantra by the end was “I’m going to finish. I’m not going to get injured” - because the latter was a very specific thing Suzi had asked of me when I asked to do the race.
The last 0.1 miles were an uphill, with people lined up on the sides cheering. I kept trying to run, but my legs would just lock up and I would end up unable to do anything but stand and wait. It felt a little like one of those races where you see someone crawling across the finish line. I finished in 2:12, something like that. 9:55 pace.
I guess the comfort at the end of it all was that I pushed my body to its limit. Running way faster than I could have for the first several miles was the only way I could’ve blown up as tremendously as I did. I was pretty stiff and sore for the 48 hours after the race. But that doesn’t actually provide much solace. I was really humbled by the race, and not in some positive-spin sort of way. I felt embarrassed, like maybe it was time to give up running. I’m sure I won’t, running is still the thing I default to doing whenever I have free time. But perhaps I’ll start to take myself a lot less seriously as a runner.