Monday, April 02, 2007

Every Finish is a Good Finish

Caution: The following contains material that might be considered offensive to some people. Proceed at your own risk.

After 39 marathons, I thought I pretty much new what to do and what not to do during a race. Either I'd made the mistake myself or had been warned by others. Yet, sometimes I really only learn the hard way. And what happened to me during my 40th marathon I will never forget.

DO NOT TRY ANYTHING NEW ON RACE DAY. How many times had I heard this? How many times have I told it to others? It's like one of the first and foremost rules of racing, right? So why in the world did I disobey it?!

Well, TBH, I think if I hadn't completed so many marathons successfully I would have been more careful. But I'd gained a false sense of confidence. I'd made a number of newbie mistakes at various races and still ended up finishing relatively well. I'd even finished my last race after having injured my ankle at mile 8.

So the fact that the Olathe Marathon wasn't serving a sports drink I was familiar with didn't prompt me to bring my own like it should have. (According to the race FAQ: "The Olathe Marathon uses Quik Kick from Cramer Products. They donate the mix every year. Unfortunately, it's institutional meaning they supply colleges and high schools and thus, not available retail. We know one is coached to train with the same sports drink they will use in a race and we apologize for this but the price is right if you know what we mean.") Nooooo, my plan was to just drink plain water during the race. It wasn't to be a fast race anyway with my ankle still not 100% and I'd often done long runs fueling with just water and gels.

But the wonderful volunteers at the aid stations were yelling "Gatorade! Gatorade!" so I took a cup thinking that perhaps the sports drink had been switched after all. Mistake #1. And as soon as I tasted it, I had my doubts but I drank it anyway. It'd probably be OK, I thought, since I'd had no problems with a variety of other sports drinks in the past (Powerade, Ultima and Amino Vital). The weather was kind of warm (60-ish), quite humid from thunderstorms earlier in the morning and very windy, good reason to consume extra carbs and electrolytes. At the next aid station, no adverse side effects so I continued drinking the sports drink except at mile 6 where I downed a gel with water.

Shortly after mile 10, however, grenades began going off in my intestines and my race became a war: me vs. the evil forces of Runner's Trots (RT). To suppress the enemy, I slowed and made finding a porta-potty my main objective. I remembered seeing two at the aid station just before mile 10 and assumed there'd probably be some at the next aid station 1.5 to 2 miles away.

Enhhh! Wrong. And none at the halfway point of the race either. WTF?

No one I asked seemed to know where the next one might be and the peaceful rural Kansas course turned into a nightmare. There were no gas stations, no stores, no fast food restaurants, not even any trees or bushes for cover or concealment. Unable to hold on for much longer, I began weighing two very undesirable options: (1) stop and open fire in plain view or (2) keep moving and fire away in stealth mode.

Remembering the mess and smell of a runner who passed me at the 2005 St. Louis Marathon, I decided against the second option and began gathering my courage for option one. The few spectators and runners on this course now seemed like way too many, though, so I kept hesitating and plodding on waiting for the right moment. And just when I thought the pain had gotten too unbearable, I crested a hill and saw two beautiful porta-potties at 12 o'clock, about a half a klick away (at mile marker 15). Never have I been so happy to see one in my life!

Though it was a major struggle to keep the enemy at bay much longer, I managed to get there with only a minor breach. Once inside, I let the bad guys fall to their deaths with absolutely no regrets. Afterwards, I took an extra minute at the aid station to rehydrate well since I had not drank much at all the last few miles for fear of making the situation worse. I carried on assuming my war with RT was over. Mistake #2.

Within a mile, the RT forces had regrouped and returned with a vengeance. Rather than retreat back to mile 15, I advanced forward hoping there might be something, anything I could use for cover. After the intersection at mile 17 where there was a pocket of spectators, runners turned onto a quiet road and I saw a parked car ahead with no one in it on the opposite side of the road (yes!). My hopes were dashed, however, when the owners returned and drove it away before I got there.

Thankfully though, just a little ways further was a dirt road off to the side with a very sparse row of vegetation bordering it. Though I'd be completely exposed in the opposite direction, at least oncoming runners would not probably see me unless they turned and looked (and too bad if they did). So I turned off onto the dirt road and squish-squashed through some standing water to get friendly with the plants, one in particular that had a number of very wide leaves (and not leaves of 3). As more bad guys fell, I think I heard some snickering in the distance but I didn't care. I was now just doing what I had to in order to survive!

Back on the course again and, sure enough, another RT attack within a mile. I gave the volunteers at the next aid station my dire SITREP (situation report) and begged them to tell me where the next porta-potty might be. No one had any idea, unfortunately. All they could offer me was water, "Gatorade" and oranges. I took a sip of water, just enough to wet my mouth and throat, nothing more to give the opposition more ammunition. I was now very despondent with nearly every part of my body aching due to dehydration and the constant battling with RT.

Then finally something good happened ... a church appeared in the middle of nowhere and there were a few cars parked in the back on a Saturday. I left the course and took a road up to it hoping the folks inside would let me use their restroom. They did and there I stayed for a long time (10 minutes?) while I made my final stand. The dark RT forces came in three waves and the last one left me so exhausted and weak that I didn't think I could go another 7 miles to the finish and seriously contemplated dropping out of the race. But seconds later, I came to my senses and flushed away those negative thoughts. As I stood up to leave, I noticed a can of air freshener on the back of the toilet and smiled as I dispersed the chemical agent and gave the forces of RT a final goodbye and good riddens.

From mile 19 on, the rest of my race was pretty much uneventful, which is good. I was well past being able to do anything about my chronic dehydrated state so I just kept shuffling along slowly and took walk breaks while drinking water at the aid stations, which were now at one mile intervals, fortunately. Since my finishing time was no longer a concern at all for me (in fact, I hadn't looked at my watch since the halfway point), I stopped two more times briefly to take some rocks out of my shoe, which were probably in there since I went off on that dirt road but I hadn't noticed before. During the second shoe stop (around mile 22), I met up with and ran with a guy named Jim, who was very talkative and had run this course before.

Jim was great company and kept me moving at a steady pace until we crossed the finish and got our nice double-sided medals. My net final race time was 4:27:58, a new personal worst by 22 minutes and a horrendous half hour positive split. But I'd be hard-pressed to view finishing this race as anything but a victory. So this finish, along with all the others before, is a good finish and now I have completed 30 marathons in my 50 states marathon quest.

AAR (After Action Review): I did some online research on Runner's Trots and the Cramer QuicKick and discovered that a key ingredient in the drink is fructose, a natural sugar found in honey and fruits, and it's also a common cause of GI distress. Since I felt fine at the start of the race and nothing else was different food-wise before or during it, I think my RT bouts were caused by the fructose in the drink, which would make sense knowing that I can have the same problem if I eat too many grapes, plums and other fruit. Though other sports drinks have fructose too (original Gatorade does not, but newer formulas now do), somehow the blending with other sugars or the amount is different so they don't bother me. Trial and error, live and learn ...


fanatix said...

You had my stomach hurting, from laughing so much! But, I know it must have been a very humbling experience. Thanks for sharing your experience. I hope I will never disobey rule #1!

MarathonChris said...

Wow, what a story! That one is definitely for the books. Good job on finishing the race! 30 down! :-)

Maddy said...

I'm sorry you went through that.

One more state out of the way.

My favorite line in your post: "I came to my senses and flushed away those negative thoughts"

That is awesome!

I am glad you persevered.

Susan said...

Live and learn indeed! I experienced something similar on Dec. 18th (I think). You can read my blog archive. It wasn't at a race... but terrible nonetheless. I now have a pre-longrun routine that I would not change for all the tea in China. Lesson learned!

I enjoyed your story, nonetheless. And hey - congrats on being 30 for 50. That is HUGE!

Wrenching Winz said...

Out of the bed and onto the floor, 50 yd dash to the bathroom door. Reminds me of my bout with Beaver Feaver while doing a section hike of the AT.

Iron Pol said...

I'd say you're right. Fructose is evil when it comes to GI distress. I made the mistake of a 15 mile run a few hours after a lunch heavy on the fruit. Big mistake. Glad you survived.

Ellie said...

Your story is a live-and-learn lesson for me, and I'm going to do something new in my next marathon: carry a little pack of bio-degradable toilet paper in one of my pockets :-)

What a riotous tale!!

ShirleyPerly said...

Thanks everyone for your kind words. I think I too will be carrying some biodegradable TP (those leaves were definitely no Charmin) and some immodium too, just in case. But hopefully there will be no more next times!!!

akshaye said...

That was a tough race. But I admire you for finishing! Congrats on number 30.

And your time.. even a PW was pretty good. I'd take that for my first one!