Saturday, November 12, 2011

Santa Barbara Marathon 2011: The Day I Almost Quit

EVENT: Santa Barbara International Marathon
DATE: Saturday, November 12, 2011
LOCATION: Santa Barbara, CA
FINISH TIME: 05:00:26.2

After reading all the nice comments on my pre-race post, I am almost embarrassed/sad to be writing a report on today's race.  Especially since I spent a large portion of that post talking about how I really wanted to make my 10th marathon something to be proud of (besides the quantity, of course).

Before I elaborate on the (upsetting) details, I'll talk about the brighter times from the day before.

One of the highlights of this race was the great organization.  Second to that was the super cute race tech tee. I told the high school-er below that I really liked the shirt because it looks like a soccer shirt.

At that same expo, I won a race entry!!  I was shocked, because I feel like I never win anything.  After today's race, I'm not sure how to use it, though.

After a nice lunch and a little strolling, we checked into our hotel.  "The Ukrainian" originally thought we could make the drive up to Santa Barbara on race morning, but at the last minute, we decided that was a very bad idea.  Luckily, I was able to score a $97 inn, and in spite of my fears, it was the hugest hotel room I've ever stayed in.  It had a kitchen, living room, separate bathroom and walk-in closet, as well as a separate bedroom.

We took advantage of our huge space by bringing in food.  I didn't feel like going out (in the rain), so this Greek pizza/breadstick/salad dinner really hit the spot.  While dinner was good, we were sad that UCLA lost the basketball game.  Agh.

Here is a vague interpretation of my race outfit.  I didn't end up wearing the gloves or hankie due to it not being as cold as I feared.

Okay, time to write about the tragedy.  I came into this race feeling pretty confident about my training and the hydrating/carbo-loading I had been doing in the days before the race.  The weather was in the upper 50's-mid 60's most of the race, which also made for pretty ideal conditions.

Mile 1 - 8:58
I ran the first mile pretty much right on pace, according to the race strategy that came with my training program.

Mile 2 - 9:12
I don't know why this split was this, as I was checking my Garmin, which was telling me I was still at the 9:00/mi pace.  I was holding back during these first few miles, because I knew I would regret it later.

Mile 3 - 9:14
Mile 4 - 9:15
Mile 5 - 9:23: electrolyte pills
I found the 4:00 pace group coming up from behind and ran with them for a few miles, but I started dropping behind when I slowed at a water station.  Since the water stations seemed kind of spaced out, I didn't want to miss any GU Brew or water.

Mile 6 - 9:50: gel
Mile 7 - 9:35
Mile 8 - 9:57
Mile 9 - 9:40
Mile 10 - 9:27
Mile 11 - 10:02: gel and electrolyte tablets
Mile 12 - 9:52
Mile 13 - 10:08
I could feel myself slowing down during these miles, and I knew that the 4-hour marathon thing just wasn't going to happen.  My muscles were getting just a little tight, but nothing I haven't felt before.  I was briefly stretching at water stations, which helped a bit.  I thought it would be best to slow down before I got a Charley horse.  I just wanted to run a comfortable race, so I went at a pace that felt more natural to me, one that I was familiar with due to the long runs I did during my training.

Mile 14 - 10:35: gel
We entered a beautiful park area with bridges, bodies of water, and leaves on the ground.  So pretty, and the cool Fall air made this part enjoyable.  I was already making plans to run this race next year.

Mile 15 - 10:15
As I finished a small climb, out of nowhere, my right calf seized up.  It was mostly in the lower calf, so although it was extremely painful and immobilized, I was able to massage it a bit and continue after about a minute or so.  I was being cautious and knew that any hopes I had of getting a PR were basically down the drain at this point.

Mile 16 - 12:32
Toward the end of this mile, at the top of another small climb, my calf locked up again, this time entirely.  That thing got so hard and painful that I let out a scream and then had to breathe like a laboring woman.  Everyone was looking, and a few asked if I was okay.  I could not move, and since my other leg was in an awkward position, I was afraid it would seize up, too.  That would was resulted in me falling over, but luckily, it didn't, although it was also tight.  Some guy shook his head at me and said, "You can't stop," which obviously frustrated me...

The last time this happened during a marathon, I was not able to run for the rest of the race, which is one thing at Mile 22 but at Mile 16... agh!  As my leg kept coming in-and-out of this crampy mode, I contemplated getting my first DNF.  To drag my stupid calf another 10 miles (after having dragged it 2 miles since the issue first started) sounded unfathomable.  But then I thought about the medal and all the other times I pulled through some bad times and decided to continue.  Besides, there were no volunteers or aid anywhere around.

I saw the 4:30 pace group, the last pace group, pass me as I was still doubled-over.  It was soul-crushing.

Mile 17 - 15:34: gel
I was able to do bits and pieces of running as my calf would allow.  I was thankful for every step I was able to run (or even walk) at that point.  Lots of cursing on my part ensued, mostly toward my calf, calling it an "attention *hore."

Mile 18 - 17:32: electrolyte pills
I was stopping a lot to prevent my leg from anymore damage.  Sometime during this mile, a brown cat dashed in front of me to take a dump across the way.  Exactly.

Mile 19 - 15:26
Mile 20 - 14:52
At this point, I knew that if I wanted to come in before the dreaded (to me) 5 hour-mark, I'd have to push myself harder.  Prior to this point, I was worried I wouldn't be able to run and finish in 5:30 or more.

Mile 21 - 13:18: gel (believe this was my last one... nothing was helping me)
Mile 22 - 12:58
Mile 23 - 12:34
Mile 24 - 14:09
This mile contained a half-mile ascent of 170 ft, though as I could tell by everyone around me, it felt a lot worse than that.  I knew this was coming, but it was more than I expected, plus there was no real liberating descent afterward.

Mile 25 - 11:09
My calf was in danger of locking up again, but at this point, a sub-5 was a do-or-die.  Very sad, since my goal was an hour less than that.  But I still wanted to accomplish this task, but the slanty roads and lack of descents really made this harder than I had hoped.

Mile 26 - 11:04
.43 - 9:16/pace
This last part was sooo awful, as it felt like forever, and at the last few turns toward the finish, I was pushing so hard (as my precarious leg would allow) I wanted to vomit.  The last bit was on a rubber track, so those last steps felt like a relief.  In the last few seconds, I knew I wasn't going to make it.  It was crushing.  When I crossed the finish line, I kept saying, "I quit, no more."


Through those last 12 miles, I was pretty certain that this would be my last marathon.  Getting Charley horses/cramps every single marathon, no matter how much or little I train (and keep in mind I tend to injure when I train adequately) has been getting old.  Something must be wrong with me, since most marathoners I know don't come upon these issues on sometimes lesser training.  I shouldn't be doing something that I really shouldn't be doing.

I even told a few people on the course that I was retiring from marathons after this.  Yes, I did register for LA Marathon 2012 next March, but since they recently introduced a relay, I was planning on asking them if I could switch over.  I was planning to announce that I was quitting marathons forever on this blog.

"The Ukrainian" made me reconsider.  I agreed that I would run LA Marathon ONLY if I finally see a sports doctor about this and find some sort of cause.  Also, I am going to train over a shorter period of time, much like I did before the Pasadena Marathon in 2009, which is my PR.  Unless I'm able to find a cause and run a decent LA Marathon (which I have yet to do), then that will be my retirement from full marathons.

Yes, the thought of my marathon-ing coming to an end makes me a bit sad, and then I keep wondering if amnesia about today will kick in and convince me to not place this ultimatum on my marathon career.

Sorry this got long... In short, I am sad, disappointed, and all negative things I could possibly feel, all at the same time.  For the first time, I have no urge to ask, "When's the next one?"  And I don't feel proud at all.  Maybe just a little for not quitting, but beyond that, I feel like I've let you all... and myself... down in a very public way.  It was probably one of the darkest running days I've ever had.

Updated with race photos:

(love this first shot because I just crossed the "ish" line)


  1. This is so sad to read! It breaks my heart. I am glad that you are going to see a professional about your cramping. Honestly, you have been so diligent about your training and electrolyte consumption that it boggles my mind that this happened again and in such a disheartening way. I hope the doctor has some better advice. Although on the other hand running halves are so much more fun anyways. Did you win an entry into Ojai? If you liked today's course, you will love Ojai. You are still amazing for pulling through such a rough race. Be proud of your undying will to "never give up."

  2. Oh I am so sorry! This seriously broke my heart reading. You trained SO hard for this and I've been following your training for months now. I was thinking of you yesterday and hoping that it went well. I totally get the embarrassment thing... I felt extremely embarrassed hurting my back in such a stupid way and then not even attempting to run the marathon because I knew I would suck. I'm sure you can sort through this issue and beat it. Don't give up on marathons! You ran a sub 4:20... you have a sub 4 in you, I know it.

  3. You're a champion and hero in the making. You know why? B/c you went through something like this and you were humbled. Now you will bounce back. Guess what? You didn't fail you, me, The Ukrainian. You didn't fail anyone. You simply had a bad day. But you still completed the race. You could have quit. You could have made up some story on your blog. Instead you took your lumps and kept moving. Failing would have been walking off, quitting the race and saying, "You know what? I'm done with Marathons" nothing wrong with wanting to quit-- but you didn't. Go home, lick your wounds, than go back out there. This is NOT a failure. This is simply a "defining moment" in your Marathon Career. The question is not did you fail. It's "how will I let this define me?" Grab your morpher, say "it's Morphin Time! White Tigerzord!" And get back out there and fight the monster before he destroys the city. I'll be morphing, too. :-)"Mastodon!"

  4. You have amazing drive to push through all that to finish. Most people would have quit. I hope your sports medicine doctor can help find answers, sounds like a horrible thing to go through. Take care!

  5. I am sorry that your race didn't go the way you hoped, and the way that you trianed for. I am, though, glad that you are already acknowledging your decision to stay away from marathons might fade with some post-race amnesia. Let us know what the doc says -- it sounds like you are doing all the right things.

  6. Well, damn. It totally sucks that you did everything right and the race ended up like this. But I agree with the Ukranian - I think that means that there's something else going on beyond your control, and if there's a way to get it back in your control, you may have many more marathons in you. So definitely allow yourself to be frustrated over this one. And then get to that sports med doc - and go from there.

  7. You are so strong! I know it must have been really hard to take it all in - but I am glad to hear you'll be going to a pro. You have been doing all the right things, so you can be assured that it is not YOUR fault at all!

    Much love, girl.

  8. Don't let one bad experience cause you to give up on marathons. Just take what you learned and move forwards. Sounds like you either over and under-hydrated, which brought on the cramps.

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  10. Congrats on the finish, despite feeling so terrible about it. Chin up. A few days difference may be all you need to think/feel differently about this race.

  11. Congratulations on your Marathon! A part of being a runner is figuring out what went wrong, and moving on and going at it again, though taking time off is good too to reflect. You have a sub 4 marathon in you, you just have to pull it out. I know you can and will do it, maybe we will see a sub 3 some day!!! Take care and dont give up on it.

  12. What are you using for electrolyte replacement? I used to have a similar problem with fatigue and cramping (I don't now because I'm not running enough, but that's a different story). I was able to determine that it was a sodium/potassium thing that I resolved by switching from Endurolytes to Salt Sticks, which contain more Na and K. Experiment a little on your long runs....

  13. Way to go finishing the race even though it wasn't the one you had imagined! It can be so frustrating to let your body win sometimes, that it can damage us mentally -- but this is truly an inspirational story! I also have had calf cramping problems. I've started taking s-caps before long runs and running in compression socks. It helps a bit -- oh, and upping my potassium intake.

    Hope you get it all figured out!! And congrats on finishing TEN MARATHONS!

  14. I think Google ate my original comment.

    I'm sorry it didn't go as well as planned. You didn't let me down (or I assume other readers). I don't have as much experience racing as you, but I know what it's like to go in feeling prepared and not be able to give it your all.

  15. Congratulations on finishing under such difficult circumstances! Sound like a nice, well run race. I am sorry to hear things didn't go as planned. I hope you don't quit marathoning, as it is obviously something you are passionate about. And I hope you can find the cause of your cramping. Hang in there!

    All the best, and congrats on your 10th marathon!

  16. Julie, I am so sorry to hear that your race didn't go as planned. I know the dedication that it takes to train and run a marathon and when things don't go your way it sucks. I had my mind set on a 4:20 marathon the first time I ran one and I didn't get what I wanted. But, hold your head up high because YOU RAN 26.2 miles! Who cares how long it took in the end. What an accomplishment! Congrats on adding another medal to your already impressive collection :)