It turns out that sometimes…running sucks.
I learned this important life lesson this past weekend when I participated in the Happy Girls Half-Marathon in Sisters, Oregon.
Running 13 miles on forested trails in the high dessert of the Cascade Mountains with 500 other amazing women. What could be better than that? What could go wrong?
I was super excited for this new adventure of trail running (I’d never done it before) and was even more intrigued by the idea of doing such an event with no men around.
Things started out great. I fell into a group that had a nice gentle pace, running single-file along the trail and through the trees. Even though there were several hundred of us it was almost completely silent on the trail except for the sounds of the feet pounding the dirt. It was magical.
I felt great!
At about mile four I started to feel a little hemmed in by the slower pace of a woman ahead of me on the trail. I decided to go off-road, bounding over low bushes and rocks, and sprinted ahead to pass. Once I was out front I picked up the pace to make up for some lost time.
We came upon some good-sized hills. A lot of women opted to walk up them. But, I was burning up the trail and decided to power up the hills at a brisk pace. I was totally rocking this trail running thing!
Soon thereafter, everything fell apart.
At about mile five I started to get light-headed and dizzy, and my pulse was racing like never before. I am very prone to getting motion sickness and the vertigo I was experiencing on the trail quickly led to an epic case of nausea. I felt like I was trapped on the Tilt-A-Whirl at the county fair by some deranged teenaged carnie hopped up on Mt. Dew.
Several times I had to stumble off the trail, tripping over rocks and bushes that seemed to be spinning in circles, to throw-up behind a tree. I’d return to the trail, try to run, immediately get really dizzy and sick to my stomach, throw-up in the bushes and then try running again. I repeated this sequence over and over again.
Most avid runners can tell you one story or another about a horrible race experience they have had. I had chalked this up to people making poor decisions on or before race day…you know, trying sushi for the first time for dinner the night before, etc. I had the nerve to assume that something like that wasn’t ever going to happen to me! I mean…I’d run two half-marathons before this – so that pretty much made me an expert, right?
Don’t get me wrong; I’ve had plenty of runs that didn’t go great.
I’ve experienced boredom and malaise, aches and pains, exhaustion and frustration. But this was truly the first time I’ve ever wanted to quit – to curl into a ball on the ground beside the trail and simply give up.
But, I didn’t have that option. I was literally in the middle of nowhere and my two feet were going to have to get me back to civilization, one way or another.
I ended up walking (and stumbling) from mile five until about mile nine. Eventually the dizziness became more tolerable and I was able to slowly jog the remaining miles, with a bit of walking through the rocky and uneven sections. I’ve never been so excited to cross a finish line in my life!
Looking back, I’ve tried to piece together what went wrong.
First – I got cocky. I was feeling great and my “I’ve totally got this” attitude went to my head. It turns out that trail running is considerably harder than road running. You have to concentrate on each step so that you don’t trip or sprain an ankle. You have to pick up your feet to avoid rocks and branches (which gets exhausting) and you use a lot of energy navigating the uneven terrain. I didn’t use my head and I over-extended myself.
Second – There’s less oxygen up there! This race was at about 3,800 feet above sea level. I typically run at about 20 feet above sea level (in Portland). Plus, I recently started taking a new medication that has the side effect of lowering blood pressure. I don’t have high blood pressure so this means when I’m taking this medication my blood pressure is in the low to very-low range. Between this and the higher elevation, I think I just didn’t have enough oxygen flowing to keep me from getting dizzy. And, when I get dizzy I get nauseous.
Third – Sometimes, shit happens. Eventually everyone has a race that goes horribly wrong. Now I can check that off my bucket list.
But, it wasn’t all bad!
I really enjoyed participating in a woman-focused event. There was something inspiring and empowering about doing this with a bunch of other women. The vibe was very congenial and supportive. Even as I was stumbling down the path like a drunkard nearly all of the women that passed me gave words of encouragement…“You’ve got this”, “You’re amazing”, “Way to go.” Groups of friends ran together through the forest singing songs and complete strangers issued hoots, hollers and high-fives as they passed the mile markers.
Plus, I got to do the race with several friends including: Genevieve, who originally told me about the race and encouraged me to sign up; Michelle, who has given me ongoing support, advice and inspiration as I’ve worked to get healthy; and Laurel, who just recently took up running, not only making this her first race but also her first half-marathon!
In addition, my parents live in the area so they were able to come cheer me on as well.
If you had asked me at about mile eight if I’d ever do something like this again, I would have given you a clear and resounding “NO!”
But now I think I want a do over. I want a chance to make smarter race-day decisions (e.g. maintain a slower pace, walk up the big hills). I want a chance to better prepare (e.g. train at higher elevations). And most of all I want a chance to reclaim my self-confidence and prove to myself that I have what it takes to run the whole thing (without puking in the bushes!).
So – bring it on Happy Girls Half-Marathon 2015. I’m coming back to take you on and you’re going down!