So I typically write a little recap after each annual Gate River Run 15K–my favorite road race of the year. I normally would have written this reflection a little sooner, while everything from the morning’s event was still fresh in my mind, except for the fact that post-race I was actually exhibiting some minor brain fog…due to my first ever episode with heat exhaustion…not fun to say the least.
Despite the fact that participating in this running delight has been a yearly tradition since I was in high school, I was exceptionally excited for the race this year. I knew lots of people enrolled in the event, including my new pastor who had also become my morning running buddy and pace-partner. I had plans to meet up with people from work, and was in the 3rd starting corral of the first wave ahead of thousands of runners, right behind the elites. So far, all seemed to fall in my favor: eagerness for the journey, a few satisfying bridge loops under my training belt, and warmer true Florida weather–something which my body usually thrives off of– not this time, unfortunately.
The race itself wasn’t awful, but upon recollection, the majority of it seemed a blur. I remember starting out faster than my normal pace (~7:45/7:30 per mile), which I knew was too fast, but in the moment felt exhilarating and comfortable. I hung with another girl that I knew from among the galloping crowd and was able to keep up that ridiculous starting rhythm until around mile 3, before I first began to feel the need to slow down. I was frustrated with this, particularly because around mile 3.5 my family of spectators were waiting to cheer me on in their usual spot on the sidelines. During what is usually my favorite part of the entire race, I was literally just trying to hold on to my original goal pace of 8:30/mile. As a result, I wasn’t able to really soak in the atmosphere of that entertaining neighborhood stretch, or appreciate all the smiling faces rooting on the sidewalks in my familiar running route.
I can’t remember if I had already taken advantage of a water station yet or not, but my efforts were in attempt to stay ahead of the game in hydration. I had strategically carb-loaded the night before with wholesome clean foods, and had intentionally attempted to drink more throughout the day. I skipped my normal morning pill supplements to avoid upset stomach and dehydration, but did manage a cup of green tea pre-race. Glancing back, I don’t know if that was necessarily a good idea or not, considering I don’t usually consume that before runs on a normal basis. Needless to say, I thought I was on track. No excuses…at least not in my book.
My goal this year was to still give the run my best, without letting my overly competitive nature get the best of me (easier said than done.) I don’t know that I can honestly say I fulfilled this goal. I wanted to see what I could do…everyone is dealt the same deck of cards–it’s all about how you play the game (given individual circumstances of course.) I recognized (and began to regret) not adding in any warmer interval training runs in my haphazard “training” routine. But the truth was, I hadn’t really seriously trained for the race at all. This was more of a “community event” in my rehearsed perspective, and with my athletic history, was one I was generally able to just hop in and wing year after year. Perhaps the pivotal moment of turning a “quarter-of-a-century-old” a month prior had something to do with it. Age could have indeed played a role in my performance (or lack thereof.) The intentional refocus of my workouts on strength work with minimal running-specific training could have added to the cause. My body has been through a lot this year trying to figure out this new life season and balance itself out, which could have indeed just been too much stress for a prolonged period of time. Or maybe it really was just too freakin hot! …But last year was hot too, and in that race I set a new PR since high school. Again, I simply wasn’t looking for excuses.
The fact of the matter was, I pushed myself, as any competitive runner would. I thrive off of that adrenaline high…the rewarding accomplishment that comes from conquering that mental and physical challenge to not give in, even when your muscles ache, your breathing heightens, and the sun beams into your face as sweat streams into your eyes. In all of my past experiences (running experiences, that is,) pushing it has always been worth it. I did finish in an acceptable time for my personal standards, despite feeling like a hot mess at the end (pun intended). And in a sense, it was worth it, because I unintentionally set my body up for another case of surrender–once again, I chose to battle against factors I couldn’t control. And then of course paid the consequences. Hey, ya live and learn.
Mile after mile seemed to be increasingly taxing, as I managed to keep form and prayed for a relief. I tried to make out faces lining the streets, which the lively-me would have normally shouted out and waved to. This time I pretty much just focused my gaze on the path ahead, which again robbed the community joy out of this captivating community event.
On the bright side, the race actually did seem to go by rather quickly, (which expedited the physical torture I was randomly experiencing,) though this course is usually one that I enjoy running through. I guess I really was pretty internally heated without really realizing it. I made sure to pour water on myself every chance I could, but mistakenly missed the last water station and last chance for a quick splash. The uphill battle on the green monster (aka Hart Bridge) was a doozie. I slowed down substantially, and it truly was a tough mental battle to not stop and walk. The rational voice inside me convinced my legs to keep going steady, since it would take even longer to get to the top if I chose to walk. I knew I would have regretted stopping so close to the finish line too. Again, my competitive ambitions proceeded to rule the field.
The bridge is always a killer, I’m not hinting that it’s easy even in the slightest. It’s always the most difficult part of the course by far, but you know while trekking up that it’s all downhill once you reach the peak. Usually I have enough reserve to really push it on the upward climb, and then simply use whatever I have left in the tank to speed down the finishing ramp. This time, once I did reach the top without stopping, I felt the need to hang on to whatever energy I still had just to even make it to the end. My legs wanted to fly, but my nervous system wasn’t giving in to the urge this time. I still managed a fast pace during that last mile, but it was disappointing relative to previous Hart Bridge descents. I took note of the meter markers along the guiding concrete walls, designating how much distance was left to cover…
800m…2 laps around the track…just under 3 minutes…
400m…1 lap around the track…90 seconds–if I can kick it…
The finish banner came into view sooner than I expected, and of course with the crowd lined up alongside and yelling, I gave it my all through the noisy straightaway.
So desperate to be done, I completely forgot about the cameras at the finish line. That picture should be glorious…
Immediately upon stopping into the finishing chute, my knees buckled and I felt like I could vomit any second. I kept moving, knowing this was necessary to prevent blood pooling, and grabbed my Top Ten Percent Finisher hat–(which is secretly really everyone’s goal.) All of a sudden I realized that I was beginning to lose control of my bladder, and the Spibelt pack strapped around my waist wasn’t helping the situation. I was shaking a little, and popped an electrolyte tab from my pouch into the water bottled I received from the volunteers. Somehow I knew I needed to replenish, and fast. Luckily, I had also finished early enough to get an ice bag too, which I smacked on top of my head and neck. All of this took precedence over the medal, which was the last item I accepted before being coaxed out of the immediate area.
I hung around a bit in the shade, and kindly let another woman use my cell phone as I pondered where to go next. In years past, I’ve typically gone back to cheer others on during the last 100m, or sometimes I’ve just stepped off to the side to stretch. I tried to do some math in my head, while checking the time on my watch to calculate if any of my friends had finished yet. But my brain just wasn’t sharp…math seemed impossible…I hadn’t even bothered to look at my Garmin for my own finishing time yet.
Slowly I decided to make my way to the after-party grounds, and was able to pick out a few faces in the mob. I saw some of my cross-country girls, and then my pastor tapped me on the shoulder. I walked with him to the fair grounds, and we caught up on each other’s race, inquiring about his first Gate River Run experience. Ironically there were no Gatorades or bananas out for grabs when we arrived. They did have complimentary smoothies, but I just wasn’t feeling up for that yet. My focus was to down my electrolyte water, and then find something more substantial. But I also wasn’t hungry yet, which was odd. After conversing with my new running buddy, he set on home and I continued to make my rounds and met up with some friends from work.
After about an hour or so, as I was waiting for one of my friends to arrive, I began to notice that something just didn’t feel right. Sitting out in the open heat of the day, the sun was hot and high in the sky, and I was still dripping wet with sweat. My Top Finisher hat was helpful in shielding the rays, but the pressure around my forehead was giving me a headache. I got up to fetch some more water, and gave in to the smoothie samples, both which seemed to help the rather disoriented condition–at least for another half hour or so…
I did have fun seeing so many people, and being part of such a huge deal here in my hometown. Each year is different, and each year has contributed to wonderful memories in my racing archive. I always leave feeling elated, and still felt that way as I started the long walk back to my car. I’m glad I decided to head back when I did though, because again there was some instinct that signaled I was beginning to fade. Once I got to my car I just sat there for a minute with the door open, trying to let the car cool off and also just trying to compose myself. I winced at the dreaded traffic ahead, which defeated the fact that I live so close to the race site. Finally joining the long exiting line of cars, the bumper to bumper wasn’t helping my headache. I began to feel nauseous…“Something isn’t right…” I kept saying. I definitely didn’t feel well, and was confused by this unexpected afterburn effect. All I wanted was to just make it home…my eyelids began to feel super heavy, and I felt extremely tired all of a sudden. Quickly surveying my surroundings and preparing for the worst, I emptied out my race bag and held it open in my lap to serve as a makeshift barf bucket if needed. Please God…please let me make it home…
About three blocks from my house, I felt those smoothies coming. “C’mon!” I urged…”Just hang on, you’re almost there…”
Of course as soon as I pulled onto my street some lost soul from out of state was inching along and stopping at each and every driveway clearing without any idea where the heck he was going. Perfect timing, buddy. I’m usually not an obnoxious tailgater but I sure became one that day. I was simply desperate to get out of the car, with my tummy screaming at me.
Thankfully, I did make it home. Thankfully, I also live with caring family members who attended to me when I needed it. My unusual post-race symptoms were scary, especially with all my first-aid training echoing through my mind. At times I noticed I had stopped sweating, but my flesh was hot and my insides burned. I knew the best remedy was full body immersion in cold water, yet at the time this thought was perceived as utterly miserable. I did force myself into a cool shower, however, and began to feel better. Lethargy settled over the remainder of the day, along with a throbbing heat headache and dizziness. I attempted to retell my race experience to my family, but the pieces were all discombobulated. Instead of my usual perky runner’s-high-self, I was exhausted and still trying to make sense of my body’s weird reaction.
Skipping forward through series of an upset stomach and attempts to guzzle down fluids against my tummy’s will, I now reflect on this occurrence 40 hours later, finally beginning to feel like myself again. The recovery was frustrating, without being able to properly utilize the refueling window of opportunity to restore my muscles. The last day and a half have been spent sleeping, moving from one couch to another, sipping water and electrolytes and slowly introducing whole foods as my tight stomach allows. Knowing my state of dehydration, accompanied by feelings of weakness and lightheaded spells, I was determined to get back on track and allow for proper recovery. I knew that drinking would be easier if the liquid had something to hold on to, and I knew my energy levels would also increase with fuel. With a holistic mindset of course, foods were the answer. This morning began with eggs and rice crackers, followed by a crafted vitamin-rich substantial smoothie for lunch which was easy to consume and aided hydration. Happy to announce that I was able to eat and hold a hearty dinner of rice, yellow squash and chicken. Weird and random bland cravings, but wholesome nonetheless. Slowly but surely, strength is returning. If given what it needs, and proper time, the body will indeed heal itself. Today it reminded me that I need to stop and take it easy…another forced opportunity to really cut back on the hectic pace, since I obviously refused to during the run. Despite the unfortunate discomfort this weekend, I’m glad everything happened the way that it did. Another opportunity for learning and growth, and another prompt reminder of where my stem of control lies here in this world.
In hindsight, I admittedly should have trained smarter. I am getting “older”, and can’t expect my body to be able to just bounce back as quickly as it could in high school or college. Looking back, I don’t know if slowing my race pace down really would have made a difference or not. The positive side of pushing myself was that it shortened the duration of increased intensity in the heat, even though I did stupidly continue to hang around in the sun following the race. We can’t travel back in time, but we can learn from experience. The Gate River Run is still, without question, my favorite race of the year. The atmosphere, without a doubt, is one to far surpass any other sporting event out there. What better way to spend a gorgeous spring Saturday than sharing my passion for running with my enthusiastic lovable city.
Each year is a new adventure, as is each day we are alive. We choose what we see, even through the haze. Yesterday’s view may have been a little blurry, but at least there was light available to see the immediate steps ahead. Even in this hazy memory, I see passion and love for something greater. Even though the roads can seem winding, and the heat debilitating, there is always a finish line patiently waiting. Thankfully, this life has changing seasons, and even though it may appear as such, this life is not a race. Looking forward to what next year brings, and what tomorrow will hold.
“But they who wait for the Lord will renew their STRENGTH…they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall RUN and not grow weary; they will walk and not faint.”