The Learning Curve (Part III)- My Debut at Philadelphia Marathon

It has now been a week since the marathon, and I am shocked with how my perspective has changed. As I walked away from all the buzz and excitement of the finishing area, feeling deflated, depressed, and….well, devastated, I did not think I would ever feel happy about my 2:49 finish after I was so convinced that I was going to break 2:40. I have never been more confident I was going to achieve something in my life, but at the end of the day I did not listen to the one piece of advice I had been told by every person who has completed a marathon; respect the distance. I know that makes me sound like a complete brat, and most people would kill to run 2:49, but I hope you know that I am just very hard on myself and I am not a spoilt brat….I hope….you tell me?

I respected the distance in the the most obvious ways: intending to run negative, taking it conservatively the first half and slowly working it down: I knew it would hurt: and I knew that my body was going to take a battering. I also respected it when it came to the training. I really dedicated myself, doing everything I could to prepare. In fact, some of my friends suggested I took it a little too serious, and now I can honestly say I agree. I was obsessive about trying to control everything, and I honestly think my lack of flexibility was part of the problem.

I am not 100% sure of what happened, probably never will be, but I have allowed a week to analyze and speculate, and now it is time to move on. Take these lessons and move forward, smarter, and more determined towards the next one (which unfortunately will probably not be until Chicago in October).

I am having a blood test on Tuesday to make sure that I did not do any permanent damage internally, and I have been trying to take good care of my body this week, making sure I gain some weight, as I was borderline too thin. I know my friends and family definitely think so.

Elesha Courtney

After talking with one of my good friends who is a sports medicine doctor (and has saved my running career many times), and another who is an athletic trainer, we have come to the conclusion (well as sure as you can be) that I went into hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) in the race. The bagel, banana, animal crackers, and gels did not provide me with enough complex carbohydrates to get me through. I also think I did not eat as much in the days before as I should have. You hear about how people worry about gaining weight in the days leading up to the race as they are eating so much, but I was not really eating much more than usual.

The combination of not enough fuel before the race, and consuming nothing but simple sugars meant that my insulin levels were too high for my body to be able to use the sugar….therefore I crashed within one mile of taking my final gel. My doctor was amazed that I was able to finish, and the symptoms I showed, along with what the medics found, made hypoglycemia the most likely cause. I wasn’t running hard enough or far enough out of my comfort zone to actually hit the wall that early, and I would not have run how I did had that been the cause.

Side note: my doc also said that I was lucky I stopped with my overdosing of ibuprofen when I did, or I was at a serious risk of kidney failure in the race due to the stress my body was already under…..scary!

The other problem was that after removing my fuel belt at mile 12, all I had to drink was one sip of water at 14, and the two sips of Gatorade at mile 22. Definitely not enough, and this is where my stubbornness of not wanting to “waste time” slowing down to drink came back to bite me…..hard.

Okay, so what can be taken from this?

    • There are so many ways this could be applied. 26 miles is a long way, and you are putting your body under so much stress, that you need to be prepared that your body is going to resist in one way or another.
  • Stock up on complex carbohydrates in the days leading up to, and the day of the race. This means lots of slow burning foods such as oatmeal, whole grains, cereal, and bread. You need to eat a lot more than you think. You are burning around 3000-4000 calories during the marathon, if you only give it 500 the morning of, how can you expect your body to sustain itself? This may mean you feel a little more full than you want to on the start line, but I assure you it is better than what I went through!
  • Drink water/sports drinks at every aid station. Even if you have to slow your pace, or run out of your way, consuming enough liquid from the start is CRITICAL to successful completion of the marathon to prevent severe dehydration. It also means that your body is able to continue to regulate temperature to prevent other issues.
  • Be prepared for something to go wrong. As I mentioned, I was overly confident that everything was going to go exactly how I wanted it to, but the marathon does not work like that. Something WILL go wrong, you just have to be prepared how to handle it. Think of what you would do in a variety of situations; see yourself successfully making it through the challenge to continue on your path. I have been told by many experienced marathoners that sometimes you can feel bad in the middle, but you just have to suffer through that mile and not let it affect you mentally till you come out the other side of the rough patch.
  • Do NOT take ibuprofen anywhere close to the race. It is better to have a little pain, than risk your kidneys failing!
  • Try not to make any sudden movements. This is what really messes your body up. The more consistent you are able to be, the less likely your body is to go into some kind of shock.
We are all guilty of taking our bodies for granted, becoming frustrated when it does not work how we want it to, and forgetting that at the end of the day, we are only human and cannot perform on request. There is nothing wrong with breaking down, especially when you do not look after it well enough. It is amazing to think about what the body can achieve on a daily basis…..the fact that your body can adapt to running 30….50….80 miles a week is incredible. Shows its strength, and durability. This lesson was clearly evident last weekend as my body ran out of fuel, yet still managed to cover another 7 miles.
As horrible as it is, we often need that reality check to be brought back down to earth to see just how lucky we are to even be out there. We expect so much out of ourselves and we beat ourselves up when we do not perform to our own high standards, feeling that people are judging us, when in fact it is only our own insecurities that are attacking. Give yourself a break, there will always be another opportunity, and these down days truly make you appreciate the up days! If there were no downs, you would never know what an up felt like as everything would always be the same.
My lovely trophy Β for first Philadelphian and the best medal I have ever received
Finally (I promise I am almost done), one of the most important things I learned was just how genuinely GOOD people are. I have been absolutely blown away by the support and love that I have been showered with by people I am surrounded with on a daily basis, people far away, and people I did not even know. Comments on this blog, twitter, facebook, even people coming up to me saying CONGRATULATIONS have made me feel so incredibly special. THANK YOU! You have madeΒ me realize that finishing the marathon in any state is a wonderful achievement, one that should be worn with pride.

The cheering and support I received coming down Kelly drive will stay with me forever. I genuinely do not think I would have managed it had those people not been there, so THANK YOU to anyone reading who was out there on the sidelines, or out there on the course going through the same pains as me. I only hope I can become half the person that you are. You have no idea how much that means to someone who is struggling that bad.

As an elite athlete people often think everything always goes right and life is easy, but I hope my experience showed that it doesn’t, and we make the same mistakes as everyone else, and even with all the training, pay for it in the same way as everyone else. Thank you to each and every one of you. If I can support you in your future endeavors, please tell me about what you have coming up and I would love to repay the favor or give advice.

The marathon is a race unlike any other, it gives you the biggest highs, and the lowest lows, but it teaches us all something, not just about running but life in general… is a roller coaster, there will be ups and downs, but the most important part is to enjoy the ride. πŸ™‚

Here is Part I and Part II if you missed it.

Have you ever beaten yourself up unnecessarily from a bad performance? How did you learn to let go?


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  • Hi! I found your blog via your comment on my guest post at Better WIth Veggies page last week. Wow! What a recap…you learned so much, articulated it well, and have a lot to share with others. I know the race didn't go as you planned, but looking in from the outside I still can't believe you ran a 2:49 WITH all that crazy stuff going on! So inspired by you! Thanks for sharing the ups and downs. I ran my first full marathon this summer but the race was cancelled due to extreme floods in Calgary (the highway to Banff where the race was held got washed away!) so I ran solo with my husband and mom biking with me. Thankfully I didn't have any issues besides head games, but I can't imagine how having a crowd would have helped me run faster and harder like they helped you along. Despite the tough stuff, congrats on your marathon! New reader here. πŸ˜€

  • Thanks for sharing what went wrong – a good reminder to get enough complex carbohydrates before a marathon. Big congrats on finishing first – especially considering the troubles that you ran through!

  • Even though I've only run one marathon (so far), I think I learned so much about myself in those 26.2 miles than any other distance. It was definitely a roller coaster of emotions and pain. Big congrats on your first place. That's one sweet trophy!

  • Thank you for sharing, Tina. This has been a lot of help for when I run my first marathon! So happy your kidney's didn't fail – how scary that would be! Love that quote at the end:)

  • I also think my next marathon will be Chicago. But anyways-

    After running my first marathon as well, I have come to realize the only way you can truly realize or be prepared for your first marathon…is running your first marathon and realizing how hard it is. Realizing that you will make those mistakes and feeling the toll they take on your body. Yes, 2:49 is an extremely fast time (heck I'd kill for that time) but we both know you are WAY more capable of that and you are going to drop a lot of time in Chicago. One issue I have with blogging is the fact that people complain about times and others jump on their case about how fast a certain time is. Everything is relative and personal. That would be a dream goal for me, but barely scratching the surface for you. Anyways long ramble short I cannot wait to run with you (behind you) in Chicago. And meet you soon!

  • Great post Tina! It is so scary what you went through. Thank you so much for sharing what you learned during the race! I've enjoyed reading each of your recaps. I can relate with you on fueling. I know that it is something I need to focus on more during my training and racing. I have felt terrible at the end of both marathons, and although I know it should hurt it was more than that. I look forward to following your next training cycle and learning along with you as we go. πŸ™‚

  • Thank you, Bonnie! That is a really sweet message. I really appreciate your support, and your thoughts on the race. I have been so overwhelmed with lovely messages from wonderful people like yourself.

    I am sorry to hear about the race being cancelled, you did it anyway is that what you mean? That is so cool! And shows your dedication, that nothing was going to stop you! You will appreciate the crowds so much more in the next one….any place for it yet?

    Thank you so much πŸ™‚

  • Thanks, Tina. Although it wasn't fun, I hope others can learn from my mistakes, and I certainly never hope to feel like that again. I really appreciate your support!

  • Thanks, Angela πŸ™‚ You are so right, it is amazing what your mind goes through during that time. You find out your true strengths. Let me know how your second goes πŸ™‚

  • Yes it would have! I am very grateful I was smart enough not to take those ibuprofen!!!! Lots of lessons learned, I am glad you liked the quote….I made it up πŸ™‚ If you need any help for your first one, please let me know, I would love to give any support I could!

  • Yes! That would be so awesome to run together as we train for it.

    Thanks so much for your support Hollie, I love our friendship that is being created through the world of blogging, and I cannot wait for our friendship to begin in real life! We have so much to talk about.

    I am glad you brought up the point about relativity, as I agree with you, and I hope that people read your comment and see that we all have our own high standards internally that we hope to reach, and when we are not able to hit them, we are disappointed. It makes us sometimes seem ungrateful, but also pushes us to new heights that we would never reach otherwise πŸ™‚

  • Thank you, Erin! You are so sweet, and that is nice to hear you enjoyed it. Nutrition is something we can all improve on, and there are always ways to make it better. Especially with all the superfoods out there now.

    Thanks again, and I look forward to supporting you in your training also πŸ™‚ Blogging friends are so wonderful!

  • One of the best recap-ish posts ever! I think most, if not all, of us have beaten ourselves up. I have no tips on how to move on. For me it just takes time.

  • Aww thank you, Jill! That is an honor to hear you say that. I agree about time….as they say, time heals all wounds! I am almost there…I think.

  • I just found your blog today – I live in Philadelphia also (I'm an undergrad at Penn and on the board of Penn Running Club). I just realized in reading your marathon recap that I saw you on the course! I would have been one of those running on the other side of the road cheering… your recap is really inspirational; it's unbelievable you finished in 2:49 in that condition. I look forward to keeping up with your posts πŸ™‚

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