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Half-Marathon Race Report: Bridge of the Gods

The don't-look-down Bridge of the Gods that racers immediately crossed in Sunday's half-marathon
The don't-look-down Bridge of the Gods that racers immediately crossed in Sunday's half-marathon (Photo credit: Adam Lapierre)

Last Sunday, standing on the Washington side of the Bridge of the Gods in the Columbia River Gorge with almost 700 other half-marathon participants, I felt primed to take on 13.1 miles. All the pieces were in place: I'd been training since early June with Coach Briana "Bri" Boehmer, pushing out paces I hadn't clocked in several years in pursuit of a speedy times at October's Victoria Marathon. I'd carb-loaded and hydrated with an intensity I don't think I've ever done before. I had a jammin' new playlist on Spotify (set on shuffle, if you can believe it!!). My running partner, Molly, and I had done a great coach-prescribed warm-up that left me feeling loose and peppy, if a bit damp already. Yes, the course ahead was hilly and the sun was already shining too brightly, but I was optimistic.

As Bri had instructed, I eased into the race for the first two miles. The first few hundred meters were across the grid-bottomed bridge, giving a view straight through to the rushing green river below. Freaky! I didn't glance down at the GPS on my wrist or the rushing water. Bri and I had agreed I'd run at a rate of perceived exertion (RPE) of 6 or 7 (out of 1-to-10 scale) after mile 2; she thought this would average out to about 9:02-minute miles over the course of the race.

The race was almost entirely on a paved trail that loped through woods, occasionally having us run parallel to a highway. The canopy of trees offered welcome shade, yet when the trail went near the road, we were blasted by direct sun; the contrast was striking. I picked a few women, close to my age yet far more lean than I, to try to hang with in the early miles. One was a tall, slender triathlete with a race-bib belt and matching aqua-blue tank and Lycra shorts; the other was also lanky with a pale yellow tank and patterned shorts.

As we wound past towering pine trees, the course rolled up and down; it never seemed to flatten out. On the longer climbs, my two tall "rabbits" would get 10 to 30 feet ahead of me, but I consistently reeled them in and passed them in the top third of every hill. I felt immense pride every time.

One of the long, steady climbs in the race's first half.
One of the long, steady climbs in the race's first half. (Photo credit: Adam Lapierre)

On the hills, several of which were a quarter-mile or longer, my RPE climbed up to 7 and sometimes to 8. I was feeling powerful, yet my mile splits were nowhere near the 8:50-9:10 pace "window" Bri had suggested I run. Except for the hills, my RPE was where Bri wanted it to be, but with the unrelenting climbs, my mile splits ranged from 9:17 to 9:55 in the first half. This situation left me feeling confident during the bulk of the the mile, but when my GPS would inform me of my pace for the last mile, I was bummed. By Mile 5, I knew the hills would be defeat my pace goal. I was disappointed, but not out of the game (yet).

Just after mile 6, we were greeted by a particularly punishing climb: switchbacks in hot, exposed sunshine. It was like something a runner would encounter in Utah or Colorado, not verdant, rolling Oregon! On the final switchback, I was delighted to spy Molly toward the base of it; I yelled out to her waved.

It was the last elation I felt in the race.

Shortly after the heinous climb, we reached the turnaround spot of the race. Thankfully, we got to go right back down the switchbacks. But instead of feeling downhill-wheee!  I felt all what-the-what? tingly. My arms and legs suddenly felt prickly. "Need GU. Now!" shrieked my brain. Usually I'm a planned-gel'er--at miles 4, 8, and 11 of a half--but the tingly-prickly sensation told me it was time to spontaneously GU. As I sucked down a Blueberry-Pomegranate Roctane and drank some water, I felt a tickle on my shoulder and heard a hastily asked, "You okay?" It was Molly opening up on the downhill. "Go, Molls!," was all I could muster in reply.

The sugar Roctane quickly made the tingly feeling pass, but it was as if electrical currents had passed through me and fried my circuit board. Even going downhill felt like a major effort. I was confused: I had been nailing workouts for weeks, now running downhill seemed strenuous. Repeating, "strong! strong! strong!" in my head didn't work its usual mantra-magic. I reminded myself what Dimity often tells people at race expos: "Races mimic the peaks and valleys of life. You can be on the highest high one minute, and the lowest low the next. It's all a lovely rhythm." I tried to calm myself, thinking, "Just like Dim says: just because I'm sucking now, doesn't mean I will for the rest of the race."

Well, Dimity was right about the peaks and valleys of a race--I just didn't realize this craptastic feeling I had was actually a high, not a low, in this second half of the half. In mile 9 (or was it 8?), we started up a long, slow climb. Not super-steep, but continuous. My breath sounded like it had when I'd been at 9,000' elevation in Colorado two weeks prior--rapid and empty. Like with the "GU. Now!" instructions, my brain commanded me to "walk!"

Molly (pink skirt, BAMR blue tank) looking mighty badass crossing the finish line in 2:05.
Molly (pink skirt, BAMR blue tank) looking mighty badass crossing the finish line in 2:05. (Photo credit: Adam Lapierre)

Walk: something I'd never done in a race before except when I sucked down a gel or drank. Yet my feet followed the command because my body felt so alien and weak. Even at a walking pace, my breath heaved my chest at a RPE of 5 or 6; my heart was a burning muscle in my chest. I was briefly dejected, thinking I was letting down Bri, but mainly I just felt confused and panicky. Why was I breathing so rapidly? Since when was walking uphill so challenging? 

Eventually I started running, but when I encountered the nearly mile-long climb at mile 10, I reverted to walking. I channeled my inner Dimity at Ironman, trying to powerwalk. I was in good company--many other racers were walking by this point, too. I walked at least half a mile, averaging 12:50 for that mile.

Much of the final 2.1 miles were in direct sun, but I gutted them out as best as I could--I wanted this race to be d-o-n-e. The final mile was one of the longest I've ever run. I was mad and dejected, but mainly still confused. I had been cruising along, then my plug had been inexplicably yanked.

Running on fumes: me in the straightaway to the finish.
Running on fumes: me in the straightaway to the finish. (Photo credit: Adam Lapierre)

Molly was cheering for me as I crossed the line, motioning me to raise my arms in triumph. Ever compliant, I mimicked her gesture, yet as soon as my Sauconys touched the timing mat, I jack-knifed  at the waist, resting my hands on my super-slick-with-sweat knees. With the help of Molly and our 10K'er friend Joanne, I stumbled toward a grove of trees to collapse in the shade; my kind nursemaids got me a chair, where I slumped like a convalescing senior citizen in a wheelchair.

Describing my nauseated, tingly dizziness, Dr. Molly (a veterinarian) initially diagnosed heat exhaustion, but later she--and Coach Bri--decided I had hit the electrolytes too hard the day before the race. Bri had told me to hydrate really well, so I'd dutifully drank bottle after bottle after bottle after bottle of Nuun, sometimes dropping two Nuun All Day tablets into 24 ounces of water. (Proof there can be too much of a good thing: I took in 8 to 10 tablets on Saturday.) As Molly and Bri see it, I overloaded my system with electrolytes, raising my blood pressure. Then my heart (and lungs) had to work extra hard during the race, causing my panting, burning heart-sensation, and energy drain.

My 2:12 finish was my slowest half-marathon save for a runDisney race or two, yet without the "excuse" of stopping for photos opps with Mrs. Incredible or the Lost Boys. On a morning run, Molly once blurted out to me, "You really are unrelentingly optimistic." For that very reason, I'm not dwelling on this disappointing race result. I know I can prove myself marathon-ready plenty of times in the challenging workouts Bri will set out for me in the coming two months.

The tree is doing ALL the work keeping me upright in this post-race pic.
The tree is doing ALL the work keeping me upright in this post-race pic.

 

 

 

 

 

39 responses to “Half-Marathon Race Report: Bridge of the Gods

  1. Sorry about your experience.
    As for the inagural race itself, I thought the organizers, supporters, and volunteers did a beautiful job.
    From packet pick up, to the finish line lunch, and everything in between!
    I thought the aid stations were spaced out nicely and the volunteers had great energy!
    I benefitted from that even though I ran self-supported.
    I heard it was a tough course, but I felt strong. I do agree that the last mile was pretty tough in the blazing sun.
    Everyone in my group of 5 agreed that they would love to recruit friends to join us next year!
    ~Tacoma, WA

  2. Disappointing race result? I just read this story and am in awe of your determination and how you kept plugging away; truly inspiring to others!

  3. SBS, I’ve done that with electrolytes too. During the Hood to Coast last year, I was puking in the middle of the night between my second and third legs (wait, that sounds funny, if you think about it). So disappointing. I’ve been nervous to take them much ever since. But moderation sounds like the key! Anyway, keep on keeping on and I’ll see you in Victoria with my group of lovely Mother Runner friends, all running the marathon!

  4. Thanks for sharing this – I feel like it might be a warning for me, as my half is in two days and I’m not feeling all that great about it. I’ve got a few nicks that have been hanging on for months and just don’t feel as loose (physically and mentally) as last year. In truth, last years half was just another long run during a full training season – no pressure, you know. This summer, I worked my ass off with the ‘Own It’ plan, but my long runs are way slower than last year. I’ve been kind of preparing myself for more of a down run – maybe this and the comments will get me to a place where I’m more ok with it.

  5. SBS, this is one of my fave posts ever from you. Not that I love your difficulty, but it is a profound reminder of why I love you and Dimity so much…. you really are just like the rest of us. Much love and hope for you to BQ.

  6. Thanks for sharing! Bad races are the worst-especially when we have been training so hard! I know you’ll do great in your marathon! Can’t wait to hear the good news when you cross the finish line.

  7. Thanks for the honest race report! Sorry you had such a disappointing race, but as others have said, better to learn a lesson now than in your goal race. Your report scares me just a little though, because I am running the Bridge of the Goddess Half next month, which is pretty much the same course. Hopefully it will not be quite as hot! I am slightly intimidated by the hills, but more intimidated by the heat, as I live on the coast, and am just not used to it! It will also be my first race without a “buddy”, but it will be interesting to just run my own race, and maybe meet some other BAMRs! Thanks for all the inspiration, and keeping it real.

  8. I had a similar experienc at a half last May and collapsed at the finish line and was taken to th ICU med tent. I think the lesson I learned was, don’t be afraid to pull myself from a race. I just kept thinking I had hit the worst wall ever. I also realized, I never should have been able to finish that race and my mental toughness may indeed be enough to go for 26.2…safely hydrated of course. :-). Glad you are okay SBS! And while I too was disappointed by my time, m husband said to me and I’ll pass along to you, “You gave it ALL you had on that day. Be proud of yourself.”

  9. I agree with all of the others. I have been listening to your podcasts in awe of what you and Dimity can do while I slog along with my 10-11 minute miles. I strained a hip flexor in one 10K and suffered traumatic plantar fasciitis in my last half so I understand the disappointment. But as you guys always say- many happy miles! A bad race helps you appreciate a really good race more and we listeners feel like we can relate to you more when you struggle like we do at times.

  10. One of my neighbors did this same race with you-she and her husband walked it. It sounds like a really challenging course and it’s good to know about not hitting it too hard on the electrolytes the day before-so glad you’re feeling normal now, you’ll rock Victoria!

  11. I kicked myself a couple months for a 2:03 finish last March where I couldn’t calm down my breathing and get control. I kept pushing, but just wanted off this race from hell. Felt like a loser to be honest, after training so hard. But after looking at the photos, I realized all the vacation over-eating and poor-eating probably had something (A LOT) to do with it. I looked bloated in photos. A 2:03 would have been a dream for some, and me just two years ago. We all have bad days at the race and it gonna happen at some point, but it doesn’t define your fitness or your badass core… You have assessed what contributed to yours, so that won’t happen again. I am happy to say I kicked ass just 2 months later in a full. Can’t wait to read how you BQ this next year! And I am making a electrolyte from your experience!

    1. Thank you very much for your words and encouragement, Jill. I’m just chuckleheaded enough to be 95% certain Sunday’s race was a blip, but it is comforting to have you confirm that it’s still possible to kick 26.2 arse in 2 months!

  12. Although bummed you had a less than stellar race, it is nice – now and then – to hear that even the people that seem to have it all worked out still stumble occasionally. It validates the rest of us. This past spring I had the worst running season in years. I thought I was completely prepared, well trained, analyzed down to the nth degree, but yet I still floundered and flailed, feeling completely exhausted half way through a half marathon. Glad to see I am not alone.

    1. Not at all. You are very much not alone. I’m trying to be more open and vulnerable in my reports. This race, that’s all I could be! We all stumble on occasion.

  13. Thanks for the honest and candid report, SBS. I just did my first half this past week, and it was disappointing. I’m trying to shake it off and move forward and learn what I can from what went down on race day. It was great to read that even seasoned racers can have a race day go not according to wishes, plans, and work.

    1. No doubt, Lisa, it’s disappointing. But Sunday reminded me how MANY variables go into having a great race day. Heat, hills, stress, lack of sleep, hydration, nutrition, too many leafy greens the night before…you name it. I trust you are holding your head proud for completing 13.1. xo

  14. THANK YOU for writing this. It’s an awesome reminder that no matter how much we plan and train, race day is always a crap shoot. It also helps to know that I’m not crazy…other people have ‘bad’ races and get out of bed the next day looking towards their next one. We runners are a little nuts! p.s. What I wouldn’t give for a 2:12 finish! Ha!

  15. Congrats on finishing, and for letting the rest of us know that even seasoned veteran runners, can have the same hard races as us normal folk. I had a similar half experience in July and felt like I lost a bit of my soul. It took me a long time to recover from it, but realizing I’m not the only one who trains and then struggles is very reassuring. Thanks for sharing your story and good luck in your next race.

    1. Dear Stacy, I’m sorry your race result last month took such a bite out of you. It happens to everyone. I just try to put it in the broad scheme of things, too. I’ve had some friends suffer from family member deaths in the past month. Compared to that burden, a lousy race is like a hangnail. Still real pain, but minimal in the bigger picture of life. Hugs.

  16. Thank you for sharing your experience Sarah. I’m sorry the race did not go well for you. I appreciate hearing your conclusion about what went wrong. I have bonked in a full marathon before and had to go to the medical tent because I could not stop shaking after the race. I concluded I hadn’t had enough electrolytes before or during the race. It is valuable for me to read that having too many electrolytes can be dangerous too. I hope this learning experience sets you up for a fantastic race at the Victoria Marathon!

  17. Wow, Sarah! I am totally impressed by your honest race report. Thanks for sharing your experience so truthfully. You have educated so many people today with your candor. There will be other races and you will no doubt rock your upcoming marathon. Sometimes there has to be a yucky race to make you really appreciate the really good ones. Sounds like you are totally due. I look forward to reading about the Victoria Marathon!

  18. Thanks for your honesty and for sharing this with us all. I am sorry it didn’t go like you wanted it to, but we are all cheering you on and can’t wait to see how you do in your marathon!

  19. Sounds like a really challenging day- it is hard when you are baffled by your body. I am glad you had Molly and friends to support you when you got done, and you have a great attitude to get you back out there. Go SBS!!

  20. bummer on the race! glad to hear it is a temporary problem and something you can learn from. I’m glad it didn’t get more serious.

  21. Congratulations on finishing strong in what appears to be a very challenging race. I appreciate your race report and am happy to read that you continued on to the finish line. I don’t have as much racing experience as you nor am I as speedy, but I understand what it feels like to not meet your own expectations when you’ve trained and your body just won’t do it. I had an experience a year ago when my entire body pretty much stiffened about 8 miles into the race. I finished but my time was not what I’d hoped for given those 8 miles. I had to walk. I had to stop and stretch but I crossed the finish line and moved on, well eventually. Congrats again and you will no doubt be ready to rock in your marathon. Perhaps a little less Nuun before that one. : -)

  22. I’ve been anxious to read the race report – sorry it didn’t mirror all the ass kickin’ training and hard work you put in beforehand. It’s actually kinda scary, what happened, with your electrolytes all out of whack. So on the positive side, I’m glad you listened to your body and that it didn’t turn out worse.

    I love your attitude, Sarah! You will be more than marathon ready come October!

  23. You answered a question I’ve been having… Is there a limit to how many Nuun’s we should consume in a day? I’m sorry that you had to learn that the hard way. Your mental and physical toughness is so inspiring. Many of us would have stopped but you powered through. And if it’s any consolation, you look amazing!!

  24. Sounds like you learned a lot from this race. Heat exhaustion is a buggar!! I’ve experienced it once and dehydration once. Both were so awful!! I appreciate you sharing a less-than-ideal experience. Now to move forward!

  25. Even though the race didn’t go as you planned and hoped it would, learning the lesson about the electrolytes was certainly a valuable take-away. Better it happen now than during your goal marathon. A finish time of 2:12, even though slower than usual for you, is great considering the struggles you had during the race!

  26. My last half, my 10th ever half, (Zoomz-2 weeks ago) was like this. By mile 4, I knew I was in trouble. The heat and humidity did me in. It was my slowest half ever–2:14. BUT there were things that made this race put a smile on my face. My friends, who got me to the finish line, preventing me from having an even worse finish time. And I didn’t quit.

    Neither did you. You pushed through and got it done. Maybe not the way you planned but you finished. That’s some badass mother runner toughness you have there! Thanks for keeping it real and showing all of us that anyone can have a bad day. Good luck with the rest of your marathon training!

  27. Thanks for an honest race report. So many times on social media it’s all rainbows and unicorns but that’s not real life is it? I had a coach ask me after an awful half what I learned. As a fellow optimist I like finding the lessons in less than stellar runs. I never thought about too many electrolytes, thanks for sharing!

  28. Sometimes a race does not go as you expect ( all running and no walking) but the most important thing is that you did what was needed that day to complete the race. YOU did not give up!! Great job!!!

  29. Sorry,the race did not go well but thanks for the honest race report. There will be other races and better days!

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