How did I start for the half marathon and end up handing out water at the 16k water station? Funny story…
Today’s race strategy was to run a relatively comfortable 1:45 half marathon, which would not only confirm my goal marathon pacing for Hamilton in two weeks, but would also be an easy 7-minute PB over last year’s finish. Sounds simple, no? It should have been, but I’m starting to think that I have a half marathon curse; I’ve never been able to run a half marathon to my fitness level because something always ends up getting in the way. This year I was nervous that my recent hip issues would flare up, but hopeful because everything was feeling normal for the past few days.
Starting out on the slow side of a 5:00 pace felt so easy, just like I was floating, and I honestly couldn’t believe how soon we got to the 5k mark that signaled GEL TIME!!! (I get really excited about Gel Time because it’s how I break up longer runs into manageable 5km segments).
One gel and a couple kilometers later, I felt a twinge in my hip. No problem, I thought, concentrate on form and everything will be fine. I picked up my cadence, shortened my stride and leaned forward a little. Good. It really was good, until it tightened again with a little more urgency and I recalled my promise that I would stop the moment my hip hurt.
That decision to stop the race after less than 8km was incredibly difficult, and even more because I knew it was a pain I could get through to finish on pace. Triathletes are known for being able to handle more pain than most people and I’d like to think that being tough is one of my strengths as an athlete, but pulling out of the race took a different kind of strength than most of us are used to exercising. But I shifted my focus to the Hamilton marathon, and because it’s not worth blowing a marathon for a training race, I stopped and walked to the next aid station.
So that’s how I ended up at the 8/16km water station, handing out water while waiting for a ride to the finish line. And you know what? It was actually really cool seeing all the pros come back, and cheering for Michael and Hector as they passed by! Not only did I learn to pay attention when holding water out (I looked away for a moment and a runner accidentally splashed the cup of water all over me), but also how to successfully grab water during a race (because I definitely saw what doesn’t work!). Also, I learned that some people really suck at getting water, so my suggestions for a successful aid station experience are:
- Slow down for a couple steps as you actually grab the cup, because it’s really difficult to keep any water in a cup that accelerates from rest to 14km/hr in about a second, and that’s assuming you can even grab it at that speed (applied physics win!). It’s a marathon and 2 seconds don’t matter, unless you’re Eric Gillis, who beat the Olympic qualifying standard by 1 second last year.
- Make eye contact and point at the person who you are taking water from, so they know who they’re handing off to. It really does make a difference in how much water stays in the cup and how often the cup stays in your hand until you’re done drinking. (Although raising your hand burns about 211 calories per hour according to The Internet, so maybe take along an extra gel to offset these additional calories throughout the race.)
Although I had fun at the water station, it was a really tough day. I really cared about the race, had such high hopes for a good finish and PB, and I’ve never DNF’ed a race, ever, not even when I bled through my running shoes and had to throw them out after. The one good thing that came out of this is that I know I made the right call, and in making that call I proved to myself that I am a more mature athlete than I was last year.
So what’s the plan?
I have two weeks to figure out whatever is causing the issues with my hip. Rather than an acute injury (although it may be a pull), it feels like a tight muscle is pulling something out of alignment – meaning I just have to figure out what is tight and then deal with it the typical ways. I’m going to take it easy and see a sports physician this week, and perhaps try physio as well since I suspect stretching and strengthening the supporting muscles will be a big help.