The Panic Attack- Cincinnati Thanksgiving Day Race 2015

Honesty, Racing Tips

Terrified.

That is exactly how I felt this morning when I had a panic attack during my race.

At least thats what I think it was. It is what I imagine a panic attack would feel like, and I can see now why those would be so debilitating if they happened often.

So lets start from the beginning…..

This morning I ran the Cincinnati Thanksgiving Day Race, and going into it, I was not sure what to expect. I had absolutely no pace goals, no expectations. All Steve said he wanted was a hard effort from me.

To be totally honest with you, my dedication since my 1:13 in the Philadelphia Rock and Roll Half was definitely flagging. I felt out of gas, and was just struggling to motivate myself to run hard. It was not like anything was wrong, I just knew it was time for my break.

I have mentioned before, that I am someone who LOVES my time off. Don’t get me wrong. I love my running, and I appreciate it, but when I really give my all to a race, like I did at the RNR Philly (especially when sick!!), I feel emotionally and physically drained.

I love doing NOTHING for a week, and I enjoy being away from running.

I felt tired for about a week after the race, but I noticed that it was more emotionally that I just did not have the desire. We have never kept training after a big race like this, so that may partly be why, but regardless, we had to change the workouts around a little as I was struggling to find any kind of middle gear….I felt like it was either hard as I could or easy, there was no in-between.

But it wasn’t just the hard running. It was everything else. I was too lazy to do my strides, stretching or foam rolling after. I was back to eating sweets every 2 hours, and sometimes I even would have a giant bowl of fro-yo (with toppings) for lunch. I was not sleeping as much, stressing out too much trying to get everything ready for the honeymoon, and just putting my running on the back burner. Basically I was just not committed.

I got defensive when Steve accused me of this on our cool down this morning, but looking back, he is right. I was definitely crusing it in, and I wasnt dedicated in the way I usually am.

Now, I do not think that is the reason I struggled this morning, but it definitely played a part, especially the nutrition as my body is so used to having efficient fuel, and these past few weeks I have filled it with junk.

Okay, so back to the race……

I warmed up for 4 miles, a little more than usual, but as it was a shorter race than the ones we have been doing, it was fine.

One thing I did notice during the warm up and strides, was that my eyes felt tired….now this sounds absolutely ridiculous, but its the best way to describe it. I felt like my eyes were stuck together and I couldn’t open them properly. Other than that, everything felt good.

The race started, and over 17,000 people began the Thanksgiving Day Race in Cincinnati. This race had typically had fast times each year, so we figured it was flat and fast…..but another indicator of my laziness, I had not looked at the course map, and had no idea where I was going. I knew there was a decent hill around 1.5 miles in, but that was it.

I felt good, strong as I went through the first miles. I was clicking along, passing people, and felt in a good rhythm.

Tina muir Cincy Thanksgiving Race 2015

Steve had said to me a few days ago that I HAD to run this hard, even though he could see I did not have a desire to push hard,  he was adamant I had better not half ass this race (little did we know just how hard I would end up going!!), and I had that in the front of the mind most of the race, I tried to think back to my college days of the 10k, how it would hurt 2 miles in, and so I tried to remind myself of this….”don’t be a wimp, Tina”, and I kept pushing forward.  I felt strong, and was breathing hard, but nothing out of the ordinary.

After the uphill around mile 1.5, I thought I was mostly done with the hills, but there were a heck of a lot of downhills, you know, the kinda downhills where you can really get rolling……

I practiced what Max had taught me, and ran the downhills with good form. I felt like I was flying down them, and for the first time, I was passing people on downhills, rather than being passed. However, we all know that what goes down must come up, and there were a good amount of uphills still to go in this race.

I passed the 5 mile mark, and told myself I had about 7 minutes max left of running. I was hurting, but I knew I could hold it…..or so I thought.

But it turns out my body (or maybe my mind) had other ideas……

Suddenly my entire body went numb. I felt a serious restriction in my breathing. The best way I can describe it is like my lungs were a sponge, and someone wrung them out, so there was nothing left.

I had experienced this once before, in the North Shore Half Marathon.

When it happened before, I had to slow down and focus on relaxing my breathing, but after about 5 minutes, my breathing calmed back down, and I was able to get rolling again. I got back to the pace I was on before, and finished strong.

I tried to remind myself of this, and I took it even further this time, slowing down to pretty much a jog, but I wanted to prove I learned my lesson last time.

Except this time, my breathing did not calm down, and the world started to spin. The guys who I was right behind put 100m on me within a minute

After a few minutes (which felt like an eternity), I did not feel ANY better, and I was coming to a hill to go up and over the bridge to get back to Ohio (we had run into Kentucky earlier in the race).

That’s it.

I am dropping out.

I stopped on the side of the road, trying desperately to get air into my lungs. AT that moment I did not care about the race. I did not care about how I was going to get back to the finishing area, all I was thinking about was getting air into my lungs; trying to BREATHE.

But my breath didnt come back, after 30 seconds, I was hyperventilating just as much as I was when I stopped.

And suddenly the fighter in me came out. I WAS going to finish this race, no matter what. I didnt care how slow I had to run, I would hate myself if I dropped out. Nothing was really wrong with me. And besides, I promised Steve I would race hard, how would dropping out be doing that?

I am NOT a quitter.

So I started back up, barely moving. Guys flying by me, encouraging me, telling me to run with them, but I could barely manage more than a crawl.

Before I knew it, I was stopped again. This time hands on the wall. I still couldn’t breathe any better.

But once again, I am not a quitter, so I started again.

This happened one more time.

Then I managed to convince myself that no matter what I was going to do this.

I just had to finish it. There was no pressure on this, no expectations from anyone. This was about me, and my pride. It was like a battle between me and my mind, and no matter what I was going to finish this race.

I kept pushing as hard as I possibly could. Still trying to suck in air, the world spinning, my lungs on fire.

Somehow, I put one foot in front of the other, focusing on each and every step, just making it to the next step. That was all I could do.

As I ran the final quarter mile, I could not even pick up the pace. All I could do was not fall.

I crossed the line still unable to breathe, barely able to lift my arms up as I broke through the tape…..actually I barely knew what was happening, let alone enjoy the moment (although somehow I actually look okay in this photo!!!)

Women’s winner Tina Muir of Lexington, KY prepares to cross the finish line on Second Street during 106th Thanksgiving Day Race and Walk Thursday November 26, 2015 in Downtown, Cincinnati. Photo by Joseph Fuqua II for WCPO

Women’s winner Tina Muir of Lexington, KY prepares to cross the finish line on Second Street during 106th Thanksgiving Day Race and Walk Thursday November 26, 2015 in Downtown, Cincinnati. Photo by Joseph Fuqua II for WCPO

Cameras, photographers, people surrounded me, asking questions, taking photos. I had maybe 10 people all around me putting their microphones in my face. All I could think about was getting air into my lungs.

I managed to answer their questions, but I have no idea what I said. They put a winners jacket on me. I took photos with the major (I think!?) giving me the award, but I just wanted to know what happened. How could I go from running 5:30 and under feeling strong, to a state like I have never been in before?

IMG_3186

Actually, thats not true. i have been in that state, at the finish of the Philadelphia Marathon. I vowed I would never put myself into that place again. Thankfully I only had to suffer through it for a mile (rather than 7), but I am not going to lie. I am scared again now.

I never, ever, want to experience that again.

For those runners who think being an elite is easy. I hope my description of this race shows you that not only do we have bad days, but we can sometimes put our bodies in a place where we have no idea how they get there.

I know that every single guy who passed me in that final mile (probably over 20 guys), knew I was in a worse shape than any of them. You could have heard me breathing from 50m away.

Elites have bad days. I know I made everyone cheering on the sidelines stare at me, and not because I was doing so well, but because they were concerned.

I need to figure this out. Part of me wonders if it was just running too fast on those downhills….which does not bode well for Boston…..but the other part of me wonders if my stress head self just legitimately had a panic attack.

After reflecting last night, Steve thinks that I just maybe ran a little too hard, and my body wasn’t ready for it after the last few weeks. It wasn’t like I ran out of what I am capable of….I was only running around the pace I ran for the half, but as we had not done any long sustained efforts since the race (only shorter reps, as thats all I felt I could handle), it hit me pretty hard.

So much for the girl who tells you how not to slow down in a race! 

Hypocrite.

Either way, dwelling on it is not going to do anything, it is time for my break, and I am going to enjoy every second.

I am going to eat all the sweets I want. Move as little as I can, and enjoy my honeymoon to Australia with my husband one week today.

I will race again. I will come back stronger. I will eat right, stretch, and do all those little things that help me to be the best I can be.

And I will make myself stop being a sour puss. 17,000 people ran that race this morning, and 16,999 of them were proud to finish, let alone if they had won the race.

Yes, I did stop and walk 3 times in my last mile. Yes, I did have a panic attack, but I finished, and I won the race. That is something to be proud of, and something that I need to stop being a brat about to appreciate like I should.

I retire the 2015 running year with this race. I have had three great races (London Marathon, winning the Army 10 Mile and Philly RNR Half Marathon), and a handful of average ones, but I have grown a lot, and I am proud of my year.

I will write a recap of the year at some point, but for now I want to step away from running for a few days, and just enjoy resting. Enjoy straightening my hair and having it stay straight for a few days, wear normal people clothes, and lie on the couch to do NOTHING.

Thank you so much for all your words of support. I am SO thankful to everyone who has wished me well this year. Have a wonderful weekend!

Any ideas? 

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28 Comments. Leave new

  • Hey Tina that’s a frightening experience no wonder you are shook up. Go easy on yourself, don’t give yourself a headache trying to work it out just listen to your body and the answer will be there. I had a similar experience earlier this year and ended up linking it to strong coffee I drank most mornings. It left me feeling antsy and eventually caused me to have heart palpitations which affected my breathing which made me panic and then I struggled to breathe even more feeling afraid! As runners sometimes our bodies are more sensitive than we think. Have a great honeymoon – I just got back from a 2 week honeymoon in Japan and it was amazing.

  • So sorry you didn’t feel well! That is simply awful and I know what it’s like to not feel well during a race, it’s just horrendous and scary. You still did amazing and had an amazing year!!! Enjoy your honeymoon and please have some more frozen yogurt for lunch, you know I love that : )

  • Lisa@runningoutofwine
    November 27, 2015 6:54 am

    Wow, that sounds really scary! I am glad you are ok. You definitely need and deserve a break! Enjoyed some time away from running and I hope you have an amazing time on your honeymoon!!

  • I really appreciate your honesty and it makes us mere middle of the packers feel better because we all have good and bad races. Sounds like it was really scary for you out there. Do you think you needed more rest in between races? You have been hitting it really hard really lately. But look at you feeling like crap and pulling out a win-impressive! Hope you relax and enjoy your honeymoon friend.

  • Christine @ Love, Life, Surf
    November 27, 2015 10:21 am

    You’re not being a brat or a sourpuss. That’s a really scary experience. As someone who has dealt with asthma attacks in the past, it’s terrifying not to be able to breathe. I’m so glad that you are OK. Yes, you can learn something from this experience and apply it to next year but you have been working so hard this year. ENJOY your break and your honeymoon. You absolutely deserve it. xo

  • I am just so impressed by your determination. I don’t know why that happened, but I bet it’s tied directly to your go go go this year. The break will do you good! Enjoy your honeymoon!

  • Gosh that sounds quite scary. I’m sorry you had such a rough time out there. These things happen, for an array of different reasons both mental and physical, so don’t beat yourself up about it. You picked yourself up afterwards and got back to it. And congrats for getting first female despite all of that!!
    Take some time to rest and relax. Your body has done so many amazing things this year it’s probably its way of saying “I need some R&R for a bit”. Take care of yourself x

  • Martina Di Marco
    November 27, 2015 11:58 am

    As I mentioned on FB yesterday, I had some panic attacks in the past (never while running) and they are extremely scary. They usually happen to me when I’m under a lot of stress and the symptoms you described match exactly the symptoms I had: numbness (my arms would become so heavy because it would be as if blood stopped circulating all of a sudden), nausea+dizziness and, especially, not being able to breath. I really think the downhills and the hard effort have little to do with it… You didn’t really want to race yesterday, but I “know” you by now: you are a really hard worker and there was no way you were not going to try your best for this race. I think your body was ready for the challenge, but your mind felt “forced” to do this, and the combination of these two things caused the panic attack. Now, don’t dwell on what happened yesterday… Take this well deserved break, enjoy your honeymoon, don’t think about running and come back re-charged and ready to get back at it again. You had an outstanding year and you should feel really proud of what you have achieved!
    PS: did I miss anything?? Are you really going to be in Boston in April?? If so, one of the best days of my life is about to turn into THE best day of my life!!!

  • Have you considered that it could be due to blood sugar levels? I’ve experienced dizziness due to blood sugar levels see-sawing from eating too many sweets in the days before a race. That difference combined with the adrenaline of a race could trigger dizziness & feeling faint (according to my doctor friend) and those feelings in a race could quite plausibly trigger a panic attack. Just a thought! Well done on finishing the race! Enjoy your break!

    • Hmmm, I dunno, I guess maybe? But I had the same food I always have, and have never had that before. It could be the ups and downs of the sweets though…that would make sense…..hmmmm will keep that in mind! Thanks so much for your support Sarah 🙂

  • Wow that sounds so scary! I’ve had panic attacks before but never while running, and I can’t imagine trying to keep moving forward in the middle of one! Congrats on pushing yourself to the end and for winning the race, but I hope you can figure out what happened soon!

  • Having a panic attack can be super frightening during a race- I experienced that during the Battlefrog race I did in Atlanta. Don’t beat yourself up about it though, sometimes your body just needs a break and that’s it’s way of telling you you’re pushing too hard. It’s great that you finished the race despite the panic attack!

  • That is so scary and thank you for being so honest and transparent in your experience.
    I’ve had to start using an inhaler before races because of a number of races where I’ve had to stop, walk, and wheeze my way to the finish line.

  • I’m so sorry this happened to you during the race Tina, but you were strong and managed to finish… and win. Give yourself a break though, you are not a hypocrite. You’re human! Heck, I blogged a few days ago about not “banking time” because you pay it back with interest if you go out too fast… then yesterday in my 5K I went out too fast and PRed the first mile… haha. ALL OF US make mistakes, but you did the best you could to come back and handle it when it happens. That’s what makes a strong runner and person :).

    I have anxiety and have had panic attacks. It is scary. I’ve never had one while running, because most of that happened before I was a runner. But be careful out there and listen to your body.

  • What do elites do in the “off-season”? When you get back from your honeymoon, how do you resume training? How big is your mileage? What is your first race next year?

  • I could barely breathe myself as I was on the edge of my seat reading this. I’m so glad you got through the rough part okay and I am sorry this happened. You really show what a true champion is all about! ENJOY every moment of your honeymoon and have beautiful hair and just have the BEST time of your life!!!! xo

  • That sounds very scary! I admire your determination to finish, which earned you a well-deserved win. Congrats! Enjoy your honeymoon and rest!

  • One thing I really really like about following you is how you keep it real. I’ve had panic attacks in the past but never when I was running. I could see it happening tho, if you were stressed and your breathing was out of whack. This year, when I ran Chicago, I had trouble catching my breath. It wasn’t panic, it was my asthma, and I didn’t have my inhaler. I had to really consciously focus on my breathing to keep it steady and slow. And of course, I had to stop to walk multiple times.

    Sounds to me like a little break is the perfect anecdote for you. Don’t be hard on yourself, you’re human. And thank you for sharing this story. You don’t know who you might be helping!

  • Thank you for sharing this with us. I think it’s so important to hear the inside view of your experience, beyond the headlines of your winning. Savor your downtime, your eating, being with your husband. You are a great role model to all of us!

  • Annette Petrosino
    November 28, 2015 10:07 am

    Holy moly! What a race! Good for you for fighting through. It always shocks me to see what our bodies and minds can do when we are determined! And 17,000 people….I was just writing about 5,000 being a lot at our turkey trot! Congrats on your win!

  • Enjoy your well deserved rest and time off (and sweets 😉 ) Tina, you’ve more than earned it. That must have been quite a scary experience for you but you finished it out and that takes courage. You’ve had an awesome year and can be very proud of everything you’ve achieved so hold your head high 🙂

  • Whoa… feel like I’m in elite company if ’20-somethings’ have had this awful scary thing happen. Had a similar incident last year while just walking the dog… even called 9-1-1 on myself… thought I was having stroke. Trouble breathing, headache & tingling down my arm totally freaked me out. When you’re approaching 60, crap happens & you can’t always blow it off. Never did find out what/why it happened even after a slew of tests. Cardiologist tells me my heart is just fine but I am almost 60 so I should slow down! What?!!!
    Will echo others who are amazed that you kept going (& won the race!) Congrats. And you will LOVE Australia. 🙂

  • Wow, that must have been incredibly scary, I can’t even imagine. But you are totally inspiring and not stopping and even winning the race. Kudos to you for that! Most people would have walked off the course. And that my friend is what makes you elite!! I hope you enjoy every single second that you have off and have a wonderful Honeymoon!!

  • How scary! I’m so sorry! Don’t give up. You are a strong and fabulous runner. So days are just off.

  • Hi Tina, thank you so much for your post, and for being so open about your race experience. The running community looks up to you for being so real. Another way that you are so inspiring is in your podcast- I just love it! Your podcast episodes take me through my challenging runs and many other times throughout the day. I gave you a shoutout in my blog today: http://janerunswild.com/2015/11/29/sunday-keeping-my-eye-on-the-prize/

    Thank you again and best of luck post-race! Keep up the great training and inspiration!

  • That is so scary, Tina! I’m so glad you were able to finish and everything was okay. I hope you can figure out how to prevent something similar in the future. As Christina said, the first thing I thought was caffeine.. is that a possibility at all? It also shows how mentally tough you are- and maybe you’re able to push far beyond what your body really wants to do. Regardless, enjoy your off time and the time to relax!!

  • Sandra Laflamme
    November 30, 2015 11:14 am

    So scary, you may never know why. The human body can be so strange like that. I cannot imagine all of the pressure that you must put on yourself to race strong and sooooo fast everytime. I am glad you are ok and happy that you are now in a break period! Thank you for sharing your very real experiences with us mortals and showing us that there are ups and downs for everyone. Hugs and hope you had a great Thanksgiving!

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