Saturday, January 4, 2014

Kiawah Island Half Marathon Recap Part 2: Race Survival and my Hardest Earned PR

Happy 2014!

I hope you are off to a happy and healthy start for the new year! Thank you so much for joining me in my blogging journey last year, and stopping by for my first post this year. I look forward to exciting things to come this year, including growing in my health journey and my blogging. More on that later...

If you're new to Coffee, Scarves, and Running Shoes, or you missed last week's post, this is the second part of my recap of my second half marathon in Kiawah Island, SC last month.

I was feeling nervous about my second half marathon. Mentally, running a second half marathon has completely different nuances than the first half marathon (at least in my experience). Nonetheless, we arrived to beautiful Kiawah Island, got our packet and pre-race meal, met up with our RunKNOX friends at the race, and I totally looked like an idiot cutting in front of everyone at the portapotties (see Part 1).

I was feeling the pressure to PR. I finished my first half marathon, the Knoxville Covenant Health Half Marathon in April, 2013, in 2:45. This averages to about 12:30 per mile. My goal for this half marathon was to PR (duh!), and to hopefully be under 2:40. I wanted to average 11:50 per mile.

Mile 1-6: Unstoppable

As I left off in Part 1, after tapering, hydrating, and magic running jellybeans, I was feeling fantastic. On fire! My plan (per my coach) was to start running at 12:30 pace for the first 4 miles, then progressively get faster by 5-10 seconds per mile. I felt so awesome that I was running faster than planned at first. My friend Lauren had to keep reminding me to hold back.

Wild mustangs just can't be tamed.

The first 6 miles FLEW!! I ran about 11:50-12:00 minute pace, with Lauren randomly reminding me of our pace if I inched up any faster.

Here we are again. Didn't we look so happy and energetic?

The weather was gorgeous and warm. We had expected it to be cool and rainy, but it was sunny and clear. The temperature was in the 50s when we began and crept into the 60s during the race.

I was unstoppable! The course is an out-and-back, so I saw B and my faster RunKNOX friends as they passed by. I was jacked up on energy, beautiful weather, and my excitement to see my friends.

I played the numbers game.

With each mile I ran 12:00 or faster, I thought about how I was banking up 30 seconds faster than my previous half marathon pace. During those 6 miles, I was adding up those banked minutes and realized I was already 3 minutes ahead of my last half marathon. 

I know, I wasn't following my recommended plan, but it felt great to be ahead. I had plenty of energy. What was the worst that could happen?

I was careful to fuel and hydrate.

I consumed a pack of my Sport (jelly) Beans before the race, which gave me plenty of energy. I had another pack with me and and consumed a few beans every couple of miles, as I usually do (this story will explain why I prioritize fueling and hydration). I had been drinking plenty of water in the days before the race, and had my handheld filled with water and a Nuun tablet. I had another tablet with me to add to water later. I skipped the first water stop at mile 2, but refilled my water bottle at the water stop at mile 4. 

I was following my tried and true plan. This would work, right?

Mile 6-8: Overzealous?

I couldn't believe I was already halfway through the race. I still felt amazing. I was supposed to progress slowly, only increasing my speed 5-10 seconds each mile. 

Forget that. It was time for this bird to fly free.

Despite my plan and despite Lauren's help, I decided I wanted to jump up my pace to 11:30. 

This was a whole minute ahead of my last half marathon pace! Talk about banking up time!

So I did just that after 6 miles. I still felt good, so I continued that pace after 7 miles. However, during mile 7, my energy started to dwindle. I still felt fine, but my faster pace had started to wear on me. I had already stopped for water at mile 6, and decided I would just consume a few more jelly beans to get my energy back. 

The jellybeans weren't helping, and I started feeling really hot. The temperature had gotten up in the 60s and the sun was blazing down on me.

It had been a few months since I'd run in this kind of weather. The sunny 60 degree weather was gorgeous and all, but I wasn't used to being this hot while running.

Mile 8-10: May Day! May Day!

Once I approached the 8 mile mark, I had reached the peak of my energy and I started crashing fast.

What goes up, must come down.

I was determined to keep going, as my pace was about 4-4.5 minutes ahead of my last half-marathon.

Get it together, Amy! You've set yourself up for a PR. Don't screw this up!

My plan was to slow down at the upcoming water stop at mile 8, refill my water bottle, drop another Nuun tablet in, and eat a few jelly beans to get myself back on track.

Then something weird happened. You may remember back in the summer (in 80+ degree weather), I got overheated during a track workout. I realized something was weird when I felt cold (as in cold chills) all over in miserably hot weather. I told my coaches, who told me that was a symptom of overheating/heat exhaustion, and ordered me to quit the workout immediately. They made sure I re-hydrated with water and electrolytes and cooled down.

Just before the water stop at mile 8, that happened again.'

You've gotta be freaking kidding me. I'm in the middle of a race. What am I supposed to do?

I didn't know what to do, so I followed the plan I'd laid out above - I walked a little while and re-fueled and re-hydrated. I actually felt better once I did that, so I kept going. I got the weird chills under control, but I felt thoroughly fatigued and exhausted. To make matters worse, I started feeling nauseous, and had to fight those feelings.

Amazingly, even though I felt like I was dragging myself, my pace didn't actually suffer too much. I still stayed in the 11:50-12:00 minute range, so I was still outperforming my last half marathon.

Mile 10-13: Survival

Finally, I had run 10 miles and realized there was only 3 miles left. Mentally, I felt better when I saw that 10 mile sign. 

There's just a 5K left. Less than 36 minutes (for me). I can do anything for a half hour. I'm still ahead of my last half marathon time, so I can still pull out a PR, even if I have to slow down.

Because I knew that I was ahead of my last half marathon time, I told myself that all I had to do was survive and get to the finish line.

Easier said than done.

Physically, I was feeling worse and worse. I felt like I was dragging my legs each step of the way. I had no energy left, and no jellybeans left (I'd already consumed 2 packs). The sun was glaring down on me. Every 10 minutes or so I'd get those chills again, and I'd walk it off and drink water. I was fighting the urge to throw up, even though I was also hungry. Weird.

It was the most miserable 3 miles I'd ever ran.

Regardless I kept at it. I told myself that a half hour isn't a long amount of time. As long as I kept going, it would be over before I knew it. Besides, what else was I going to do? I had to get to B and my friends at the finish somehow.

Finally, my pace slowed down as I finished the last two miles. I hate to admit I didn't care anymore. 

Once I saw the 12 mile sign I felt better. Just 1.1 mile to go! I could do this. I'd be done in less than 15 minutes! I told myself no more walking breaks!

Although my jogging was almost as slow as walking at that point.

And Then It Was Over

Finally I saw the finish line. In some races, getting to the finish line feels exciting, like a prize or accomplishment. That race it felt like arriving to a hospital. I was going to feel better!!

People were around and cheering so I tried to stand tall and look like I had this running thing down. It didn't work so well.

I felt even worse than I looked. Stark contrast to the photo from the first part of the race, huh?

Finally, I crossed the finish line and was so relieved it was over! And the best part - I PRed by 6 minutes at 2:39!!! I knew I  should hang in there!

Times (according to my watch)

Mile 1: 11:41
Mile 2: 11:57
Mile 3: 11:51
Mile 4: 11:56
Mile 5: 11:58
Mile 6: 11:57
Mile 7: 11:36
Mile 8: 11:36
Mile 9: 11:58
Mile 10: 11:55
Mile 11: 12:34
Mile 12: 12:55
Mile 13: 12:56

Overall Time (official): 2:39:19

...Or so I thought it was over...

However...even though the race ended, my feelings of sickness and exhaustion did not. I hobbled past the finish line, found a portapotty (I didn't cut in front of anyone this time), some water, and finally my husband, Brandon. You know, the essentials. I chatted with him and one of our RunKNOX friends for a few minutes and we got some pics.

It turns out B had a great race himself! He PRed by over 20 minutes!! Who does that?? He had a great time of 1:48. He too, however, said that he felt dehydrated and sick around mile 10.

Then I made a genius move.

I was still hungry (although still nauseous), so I decided to check out the food available after the race. B helped me get a plate of a cornbread muffin and some fruit. 

Some food would help me feel better, right?

Um, no. A few minutes after eating, I was desperately trying to find a shuttle back to our end of the island, and laying on the ground while waiting on the shuttle. I texted the friends I missed after the race to tell them I was outtie.

We finally made it back to the condo, where I spent the next 4-5 hours in bed. I was so sick. My tummy was unhappy on multiple levels. 

I was so thankful we had rented a comfortable condo with a bed, refrigerator with filtered water, and shower and I didn't have to sit in a car for 6 hours.
At first I was so sick, I couldn't sleep. I forced myself to drink water, thinking that rehydrating might end this madness. 

Not even a hot shower, my solution to everything, could help me. As soon as I got in, my fingers wrinkled up immediately (usually it takes 15 minutes or so) and I felt even worse.

I didn't even know that was possible.

B felt okay, just tired. He laid in bed with me to watch TV and nap. He tried to help me but there wasn't really anything he could do for me. He turned on a marathon of the Terminator movies.

I like Terminator movies as much as the next child of the 80's and 90's, but really? Do I really want to watch death and destruction as I lay here feeling miserable?

Finally, I fell asleep for a few hours, and woke up feeling...okay. Still a little sick, but bearable. And starved.

My legs had that "hurts to walk" soreness, which apparently had taken a backseat to my stomach, because I hadn't noticed them before. 

Finally, later that night, I put myself together and we dragged ourselves out of the condo to eat dinner. We went to an Italian place we'd seen the night before, and ordered Neopolitan style (wood fired) pizzas, and I then enjoyed a vanilla bean ice cream with espresso and biscotti.

Food had never tasted so good.

We took the next day, our last day in Kiawah, pretty easily. I made cinnamon rolls (out of a can) and fresh local coffee that morning.

We did "active recovery" by walking on the beach.

We were famished and we snacked all day. We browsed around boutiques and got ice cream. We had a fabulous dinner at a French/seafood restaurant. And it was awesome.


The Kiawah Island (half) Marathon was a beautiful, well organized race, and I'd highly recommend it. We loved staying on the island, and it was the perfect place to relax for the weekend after the race. It's a very quiet and private island, but there are great shops and restaurants nearby.

So what happened??

After sharing this story with running friends, I *think* what happened to me was dehydration. One of my coaches told me that it can be a shock to our bodies to race in a location even 10 degrees warmer than we're used to training. Tennessee doesn't have a cold climate by any means, but I was used to running in 30-40 degree weather before the race. While 60 degrees and sunny is beautiful, I was not used to it.

My takeaways from this race:

  1. Destination races are fun! It was exciting to travel and race in a new location and make a vacation out of a race.
  2. I need to plan better for the conditions of a race ahead of time. Learn the race course ahead of time - will it be hilly, flat? How will I pace myself around this course? Know the weather conditions of the course ahead of time, and prepare for them. How should I dress? In a destination race, I need to understand if the weather is different than where I've been training, so that I can adjust my hydration strategy. Clearly, I didn't do a great job of this, and I'm inspired to better prepare in the future. 
  3. I'm stronger than I ever gave myself credit for. As much as I've been complaining about how sick and miserable I felt, one point still stands. I never gave up. I fought through the last 3 miles in which I wanted to lay down on the ground. I even earned a PR despite of it!! Getting through a tough race is a victory in and of itself, PR or no PR!
That's it! I don't claim to have all the answers when it comes to race strategies, fuel, and hydration (obviously), and I'm not qualified to give advice on it. However, staying healthy and safe is my top priority in running. I'm learning all of the time, and have much more to learn. I hope this story inspires you to also prioritize health and safety in running (if you're not already doing so), and find what works for you!

Have you had a rough racing experience? How did you get through it? Did you discover your own strength in doing so?


Coffee & macarons

I was not compensated by any of the above organizations for this post, nor are they affiliated with this blog. I am simply sharing my honest opinions and experiences. The views expressed in this article are solely my own. Also, I'm not a health or fitness professional of any kind. See my  Terms and Conditions page. 

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  1. Sorry that your experience was not as great as it could have been! The important part though, is that you learned from it. My very first race was pretty traumatic. I did not train properly at all, or really barely trained. I thought my sister said 5k, but she said 5 miler! After that, I committed to taking running seriously. I had just agreed to the race to help keep my sister company, but it ended up changing my life!

    Miss Adventures in Running

  2. You did so awesome! Even though you slowed a bit at the end, you did great. Congrats on a huge PR!

  3. I love Kiawah, and grew up in SC! So cool that you did a half-marathon there!

  4. Greta race recap, from the point of view that I almost felt like I was running it with you! Too bad about the difficulties you faced but, damn, you persevered and PRd at the same time! And what an awesome learning experience. Way to go!

  5. lol That would be *great* race recap.....

  6. I am sorry you had such a rough experience, but I am more glad that you're okay. Dehydration is no joke and an incredibly scary experience. I'm glad you kept drinking water - that had to have helped your body a bit!

    Congrats on your PR - thats pretty amazing considering the conditions you were up against!

    I had two rough half marathons last year and at some point, I just had to let go of the time and focus on me being healthy and safe. I was beating myself down for having to slow down and that was getting me no where. Learning that time isn't everything is so, so hard with racing, but I'm slowly getting better at racing for the experience and letting myself do what I need to do in the race, whatever that may be!

  7. Congrats on your PR and for breaking 2:40 even if it didn't go as planned. I can relate all too well to laying on the ground after a race and being sick for hours after...not fun at all. I imagine that the race was also humid as well which is not something that TN has in the colder months. Even though it wasn't a completely ideal race experience, I'm glad to see you pushed through and still met your goal! If you ever need any Nuun tablets then please let me know as I have quite a stash!