32nd Annual Ridge Runner Marathon

Date: Saturday, June 5, 2010
Location: Cairo, WV
Time: 3:23:22
Pace: 7:45 mpm
Place: 5th
Place Age Group (45 – 49): 1st

My Worst. Marathon. Ever.

I set three goals prior to the race:
1. Have fun
2. Run smart
3. Finish sub 3:10

I achieved none of these goals. If I had also set goals that involved staying hydrated, running (and not walking) the entire race, and/or implementing positive self-talk, I also would not have achieved any of these goals.

I drove to WV Friday morning, and arrived at North Bend State Park at about 3 in the afternoon. It was a very hot and humid day, so I limited my outdoor activities and instead lounged in my room. I ate at the lodge restaurant, passing on the pasta buffet for grilled salmon, steamed carrots, and a baked potato. The meal was delicious and inexpensive! I picked up my packet at 6 and studied the course map. For whatever reason, I had incorrectly thought this was a trail race. Yes, I had read the reviews on marathonguide.com, most of which talked about the crushed cinder surface of the North Bend trail. I wasn’t able to find a course map online. I didn’t recall reading about the asphalt and/or the traffic. As I incorrectly thought this was a trail race, I had planned on racing in trail shoes. The only other shoes I had with me were my Nike Frees. Yup, I ran a marathon in my Frees. Ouch.

Mistake #1: Foolishly assuming this was a trail race.

I attended the pre-race meeting, and my fears were indeed confirmed. A gentleman from Pennsylvania added to my discomfort by asking if automobile drivers were nice to the runners and if loose dogs were known to approach or attack runners. Another gentleman who had run the race the past three years stated that most automobile drivers were polite, but that some would try to run you off of the road. He also confirmed that there were some loose dogs, but you could frighten them away if you stood your ground and made lots of noise. Yeah, right.

I attempted to get a good night of sleep. There must have been a large person in the room beside me, because whenever she or he walked, the entire floor shook. This meant that my bed also shook. I’m a light sleeper, so this was not good.

I was awake at 4:30, and went through my typical pre-race routine. It was very nice to walk out of the lodge and take a very short walk to the race start. It wasn’t nice that the temperature was already in the 70s, and it was very, very humid. It was nice that the sky was somewhat overcast. It wasn’t nice that it was very, very humid. Did I already mention this?

This was a very small, low-key race. Well over half of the runners began the race at 6 instead of 7 am. There were probably no more than 25 runners gathered at the start. The gun went off at 7, and the first and second place finishers were already well ahead of the rest of us. After a grinding uphill at the start, the next few miles had rolling hills, and some pretty steep downhill sections as well.

Mistake # 2: I worked the early downhill sections and destroyed my quads.

I was able to keep the second place finisher in my sights until about mile 6. This and the next section of the course was run on a lightly-traveled, paved road; thus, it was uneventful and somewhat boring. I was, however, running strong, and at a nice, comfortable pace. I was also taking in fluids and consuming gels and salt tablets as planned. The volunteers at the aide stations (2 were not staffed) were wonderful!

An hour into the race, I began passing the early starters. All were very encouraging and supportive.
At about mile 11.5, the course entered the town of Harrisville, and the traffic, while not heavy, wasn’t very light, either. I had caught up with many of the runners who began the race at 6, and they were all running on the right shoulder, i.e., with the traffic. I ran on the left shoulder against traffic, and I’m glad that I did. There were many times when the drivers made no attempt to give me any room, and I had to run to the far left of the shoulder. I often had to run through gravel. The gravel got stuck in my shoes. I had to stop numerous times to remove the gravel from my shoes. Ugh.

Mistake # 3: Wearing Nike Frees for a marathon, particularly this marathon.

Mile 15 was very difficult, as the course ascended up a rather steep hill. Here is where things began to fall apart. Yes, at miles 15 and 16, not at miles 20 or 26, where this is much more likely to happen.

I was becoming severely dehydrated, and I had a difficult time keeping my heart rate from skyrocketing. I contemplated walking, but ran very slowly instead. It took me 9.14 to run this mile. All previous splits were between 5.45 and 7.45, not wonderful, but given the course, respectable.

I nonetheless pulled myself together, and once again managed somewhat respectable splits, ranging between 7.30 and 8.07 until mile 22.

The course finally turned onto the North Bend trail. It was then that I saw a runner quickly catching up with me, and he looked strong. I had no doubt that I would be quickly overtaken. He did so at about mile 22. To add insult to injury, this was the first time that I had to stop and walk, as my heart rate had skyrocketed and I was getting light-headed and feeling very nauseous. My hearing was getting “soggy” as well.

This should have been the easiest part of the course, but it was not. I had to repeatedly stop and walk, and it took every ounce of resolve to begin running each and every time I did so. Another runner passed me at about mile 23. I was now in 5th place.

Mistake #5: Not staying efficiently hydrated. Even though I drank at each and every aide station, I should have carried a hydration bottle. I brought one with me. I chose to leave it in my room.

There were also 3 tunnels on this section of the course. While there were glow sticks placed within the tunnels, it was nonetheless dark, muddy, and slippery. I don’t like tunnels. I’ll admit that I get claustrophobic and somewhat frightened. My Frees also managed to collect lots of rocks, and the mud encased the rocks. I could feel the blisters forming…

Mile 22 split 9.03; 23 split 8.56; 24 split 8.56. These are not typographical errors. I had become so dehydrated that I could not make myself run, try as I might. Mind over body? I think not.

Mile 25 was the worst, as this involved traversing up a very steep hill, having left North Bend trail on the last stretch to the park. I would run for 20 breaths and walk for 10. Sometimes I would run for 30 breaths and walk for 15. The first place finisher of the 10-mile race (that began at 9) quickly caught and passed me. It took me 11.56 to run this mile. Did I say run? More like crawl. I was done.

I finally made it to the entrance to the park. I walked one last uphill section, and then began the rather steep descent on my way to the finish. The second place 10-miler caught me on the uphill, and I passed him on the first downhill. Every step was agonizing. My quads and calves were on fire. I felt like I was going to fall to the ground each time a foot hit the pavement, and my legs began to give out from under me. In all of the races I have ever run, I have never experienced such agonizing pain.

Mistake # 6: Not wearing shin/calf sleeves. Yes, I brought them.

I would have cried, but I didn’t have enough fluid in my body to do so. I also didn’t have enough energy to do so.

I could finally see the finish, but with just 2/10 of a mile left, I had to stop and walk. The 10-miler caught up with me again, and shouted, “You can do it—the finish is right there! Be strong!” Thank you, runner, for saying this, as I did run to the finish. I passed him, too. I did feel somewhat bad about that…

3:23:22, my slowest marathon ever.

I was feeling very discombobulated and disoriented, and my heart rate was not decreasing. After a few minutes of trying to walk it off, I approached the EMS workers, Bob and Bonnie, and let them know I wasn’t feeling very well. They took one look at me and knew I wasn’t kidding. Bonnie attached a pulse monitor to my index finger, and my heart rate was still hovering near 140. Keep in mind that my resting heart rate is in the mid 40s. I couldn’t catch my breath or speak in full sentences, nor could I stay upright. It took 20 minutes before my heart rate went below 100. Thanks, Bonnie and Bob, for your assistance!

I took a van shuttle back to the lodge, drank some chocolate milk and Gatorade, closed my eyes for a moment, and drove back to the finish for the awards ceremony. I really didn’t know how I had placed in my age group. While the ceremony had already taken place, the race director was kind enough to present me with my trophy and his congratulations.

Yes, I would run this race again. It’s not a race for the faint of heart. I’d like to think that I belong in this category.