October 19, 2009

Race Report: Breakers Marathon

After last night’s disastrous hotel/dinner excursion, I figured the race had to go better. It seemed like things were good: the forecast was no longer for snow, but for rain, and mom had even heard some runners in the lobby saying that the rain might start later in the afternoon. Unfortunately, when we woke up at 6, it was pouring. I could only hope it would let up.

The packets had said that the shuttle buses would run from 6 AM to 4 PM (back and forth even after the race), but didn’t give an ending time to make the start, so I was hoping that 7 AM would be fine for an 8 AM start. We headed over to the race a bit later than we anticipated, nearing the shuttle buses at 7:15, but instead of dropping me off and then having my mom continue to find a spot at the finish, we decided to just follow the bus and go to the start by car. Since my mom wouldn’t be parking, hopefully it would be fine.

We had no trouble following the bus, and my mom dropped me off just a few feet from where the bus was unloading. Score! I took a few minutes to get myself together (namely, get my trash bag on my body to keep me dry), and then headed out. They weren’t letting any runners into the visitors’ center at the start (except those who still needed to pick up their packets), but next door, I saw tons of runners going in and out of the Marriott. Sure enough, this had become the haven for runners trying to stay warm and dry until the start of the race. I ran into my friend Tim and another Maniac, Jeff, whom I hadn’t met before. Before long, they headed out. I stayed in the hotel as long as was possible, and finally, reluctantly, headed out into the rain as well.

Next to the start was a big covered walkway, so I headed there, where I found my friend Jackie. We stood under the walkway for the pre-race announcements and the National Anthem. I don’t know what it is with Rhode Island, but they just have the worst National Anthem singers ever. Last time I was there for a race (the Cox Providence Road Races half-marathon), the singer forgot the words halfway through (you laugh, but I’m dead serious). This time, we had a gospel wannabe who knew all the words, but was changing the notes as she saw fit. I’ve seen many singers take artistic license with the National Anthem, and I don’t like it (if you’re a truly great singer, you can make it awesome as written), but this was especially egregious because it was clear she was only changing the notes because she couldn’t hit the high ones otherwise. Terrible! I wasn’t the only one who thought so – people were actually laughing aloud at how bad it was.

With that done, they finally got ready to start the race (already 10 minutes late – thanks for keeping us in the rain even longer!). Prolonging the start further, they said thaty wanted to give us some more musical inspiration, and I groaned inwardly. However, this turned out to be a good thing: they played that song that starts with “you ready for this?” and then goes to a techno beat. It actually did get me pumped, and I jumped up and down to the beat for a bit, partially to get warm and partially to get my spirits up.

With that finished, the starting gun went off, and we funnelled from the sides into the crowd before the starting line. I hadn’t seen if there were corrals or signs to indicate pace times, but it didn’t matter – so many slower runners had been waiting in the start chute and were now at the front, and so many faster runners had been waiting under the walkway and were now at the back, so it was really chaotic. However, I wasn’t worried about pace at all; I was just playing a massive game of bob-and-weave in order to avoid the potholes that were now filled with water and were soaking the feet of many a runner. I had gone with my New Hampshire Marathon trick of wrapping plastic bags around my socks, but that technique wouldn’t help if I actually submerged my foot.

The first two miles went down the streets of what I think was lovely downtown Newport, but I was spending all my energy staring at the ground and watching for puddles, so I didn’t get to see it. From there, we headed down “Ocean Drive,” so named because it goes along the ocean (duh). Unfortunately, when you combine pouring rain with 35mph winds and 39 degree temps (and I’d assume that those wind and temperature estimates were based on inland measurements, not along the shoreline), you get the worst conditions ever. The rain was going into my eyes in a pounding, stinging way, both hurting my eyeballs as the drops hit, and also making me afraid of losing my contacts. Meanwhile, I was regretting my decision to poke armholes in the garbage bag around my body, because my (sleeved) arms were now so soaked that they were dripping with water. Finally, the wind was not at our backs but going against us, so every step forward took a colossal effort. Was this really how it was going to be for the whole race? The idea of quitting came to mind, but I’ve never gotten a DNF, and I didn’t intend to start today.

Mile 3 took us by a Woodstock-themed waterstop – fun! I was also relieved that we had turned away from the ocean. Unfortunately, about a quarter mile later, we were right back by the breakers (hence the name of the race). Some guy commented on my trash bag making a lot of rustling noise, which was true…. but at least it was keeping me (sort of) dry. However, his comment made me then hyperaware of the rustling noise, and I tried to hold it down so it would stop flapping around so noisily.

We turned into a residential area, but then I noticed the houses take a turn for the beachy feel. Uh oh. Sure enough, another turn brought us again face-to-face with the crashing surf. We passed a water station where volunteers were trying to fill the cups all the way to the tippy-top in order to weight them down, but the cups were blowing away anyway thanks to the strong winds. Finally, the volunteers just started pouring the cups individually for each runner and putting them in hand. It was the best they could do, and I say this not to fault them, but to point out how horrible the conditions were.

Unfortunately, the winds were also taking their toll on my garbage bag, which had split at the armholes and was providing less and less protection as it was ravaged by wind. I knew my mom was planning to wait to see me at the halfway point, so I made a quick call on my cell phone to tell her about the disastrous conditions and ask her to please procure a replacement garbage bag for when I stopped by.

I pushed onward, but started taking walk breaks as I tried to wrap my arms around my body and get some warmth. I was reluctant to take many, because I knew that every walk break I took meant I would be out in the rain longer, but I needed to try to conserve some energy in order to stay warm. It was a delicate balance to strike. Meanwhile, I still had to expend a lot of energy trying to dodge the puddles (and rivers and lakes) that had sprung up on the road.

I tried to turn my attention away from the cold/wind/rain and toward more normal marathon thoughts, like looking at the bodies of the two female runners ahead of me and trying to figure out who I was more like (yes, I play bizarre mind games when I’m out there). Unfortunately, in doing so, I briefly took my eyes off the ground and managed to step into a massive lake-sized puddle. Despite my precautions with the plastic grocery bags, all the waterproof running gear in the world can’t withstand total immersion, and my feet were now soaked. Now I started wishing that I had provided my mom with a totally dry set of gear for me to change into at the halfway point, including socks! I hoped that the Aquaphor I put on my toes would keep them from developing blisters.

I was getting brutally pounded by the wind and rain at this point, and the arm holes I had put in my trash bag were now so enlarged so that I had to hold the bag around me in order to make its protection any use. I started to cry, and just when I was about to call my mom and sob to her, my friend Jackie pulled up alongside me. Up to this point, I hadn’t really talked to anyone (focusing instead on just moving forward), but Jackie’s presence got me talking and kept me going. We commiserated over the conditions, and I told her that I was starting to wonder if the smart thing to do was to quit. I pointed out my inadequate gear, and she cheered me up somewhat by pointing out that no amount of gear was keeping people warm and dry in these conditions. True!

We started running through the famed mansion district at this point, and… wow. Before I had thought the beach houses were awesome (and even mistakenly thought that those were the mansions), but now I saw what true mansions were. Big brick-walled estates with doorbells on the gates and signs pointing out the service entrance around back… it was like something out of Gossip Girl (if not set in NYC). Gawking at the homes definitely helped to pass the time, and soon we were at mile 11 and heading into the campus of Salve Regina.

In addition to being cold and wet, I was now starting to get tired, and I desperately wanted a walk break. While Jackie had kept me going for the last mile or two, I made the ill-fated decision to let her go on again and take that walk break. I assured her that I’d catch up, but knew in my heart that I was actually just letting her go on in front of me. In hindsight, I wonder if staying with her would have kept me going? Who knows.

Now I was on my own, and my mantra became “two miles till Mom.” I couldn’t wait for both the friendly face and the fresh garbage bag, and I hoped that having that extra layer of protection back would solve all my problems. Until then, it was one foot in front of the other, and eyes to the ground to avoid the puddles. By now, the fleece pants I was wearing had stopped being water-resistant and were completely soaking up the water, making my legs super heavy and causing my pants to start slipping off my waist. I called Mom with an update to let her know how far away I was, and also asked if the garbage bag she had found was clear or opaque. I figured if she had found a black bag, maybe I could ditch my pants and just wear the bag like a skirt to cover my butt. Unfortunately, she had a heck of a time getting a bag at all, and it was clear, so no dice. It was probably for the best, as I realized that the bag would have blown around like crazy and completely exposed me anyway. My mom did seem surprised that I wasn’t further along. Yeah, I know; sucks for me too 🙁

Finally, I turned onto a main road with only 1/2 mile to go until the halfway point. We were on a slight downhill, and I managed to pick up the pace just a hair (with the thought of a fresh garbage bag motivating me). Though we weren’t yet back by the oceanfront, the wind was still nasty, and my bag kept ripping more and more until it was scrap – not even staying on my body unless I held it wrapped around me like a plastic sheet. At this point, I ditched it – it wasn’t offering me any protection whatsoever anymore, and it was getting to be a huge pain to have to clutch my arms in front of me instead of being able to swing them for a little added momentum.

Just after tossing the bag, I found myself on the oceanfront, and I knew my mom wouldn’t be far. I started scanning the crowd, a look of pure misery on my face as I did so. Finally, I saw her ahead, sheltered by the 2nd floor deck of some restaurant and smiling. When she saw me and my distraught face, however, her face turned to concern, and she bustled toward me quickly to help, imploring me to take a quick break and come sit in her car while I decided whether to keep going. I knew that she would probably try to convince me to quit, but I also knew that if I really wanted to keep going, I could probably win the battle, so I didn’t need to be asked twice about taking a quick shelter break. My only concern was that I was going off-course to get to her car in the parking lot, which I felt a bit guilty about. Then again, it was only about 20 feet away, so it probably wasn’t affecting anything. Just in case, to be perfectly honest and upright, I made sure not to take any diagonal shortcuts, and went exactly parallel to the main route.

We got into the car, shut the doors, and cranked the heat – amazing. With the rain no longer pounding, I realized just how soaked through my clothes were, and I put my gloves and headband on the dashboard in an attempt to dry them out at least a little bit. I calmly started talking to my mom, who was not-so-calmly trying to convince me to buckle up and she’d drive me back to the hotel for a shower. After she saw that I was being rational and reasonable and actually contemplating the idea of quitting, she calmed down as well, and we started debating the merits of each option. I also picked up my cell and got Boyfriend on speakerphone to get in on the decision.

On the one hand, if I could just keep going another 2-2.5 hours, I’d be done. I’d have Rhode Island all checked off, and I wouldn’t have to rearrange my marathon schedule to try to get back again. I wouldn’t have to pay for another hotel, make my mom drive out from Albany, and spend another night going from restaurant to restaurant just to get something to eat. I also wouldn’t have spent an awful two hours in the wind and rain for no reason – my time would have been worth something.

But on the other hand… this sucked. I was freezing cold, and this was only marathon #4 in my string of 9 marathons in 8 weeks. If I got pneumonia or hypothermia, that would take me out of a whole string of marathons, including the all-important hometown race in New York City on November 1. Was it worth sacrifice one race to save others?

I tried to think about when the other Rhode Island races were, but I had no idea. I knew that the Cox Providence Marathon was the only other marahton in the state, and that it was on May 2nd, but I also knew I had another marathon scheduled for that day. Which one? I didn’t know, so I couldn’t think if that one could be shifted. I wouldn’t really have a way to replan my schedule until after I got home and got to my computer.

Meanwhile, I was still trying to figure out what the “smart” decision was. Jackie had seemed okay when I was running with her, though she remarked that the conditions were tough. However, my mom’s car was sitting right next to the halfway point, and I hadn’t seen any other Maniacs or 50 Staters go past. Did that mean they had all quit already? I wished I had an experienced marathoner’s number to call for advice. I didn’t want to quit because I was a wimp, but I didn’t want to do anything dangerous.

Well, you all know me – I like to try stupid things in order to prove my bravery. After one last dose of the warm air from my mom’s heater, I bundled up again (oooh, these clothes were cold and wet) and opened the car door. As soon as the wind hit me, I was shaking. I walked the 10 feet back over to the course, and started running, hoping that my body heat would warm me up. However, I just kept shaking, and shaking. I crossed the halfway checkpoint barely at a slow jog – my muscles were expending so much energy shivering that I couldn’t really do much more than that. And then I realized…

If I was shaking this badly, and jogging this slowly, there was no way I would be done in less than another 3 hours (or more). I would be shaking the whole way, probably getting constantly stopped by volunteers wanting to take me out of the race, and then I’d have to sit around and wait for the sag wagon to take me back here. Meanwhile, they had tents with hot food set up, and my mom was right here. Decision? I just can’t take this – I’m done.

I asked a volunteer if it was possible to switch mid-race to the half-marathon instead of the full. He told me yes, and that I just needed to circle back around the two chutes and enter on the half-marathon side, so it would register my chip as finishing. I shuffled over, angrily stomped my foot down so the chip would register, and walked off. Maybe not the best display of good sportsmanship, but I didn’t care. No one else seemed to notice anyway – a volunteer swiftly approached me with a huge smile on her face, offering me a medal and a congratulations. I accepted it nicely, but inside I was steaming. I had come here to run the full marathon – leaving with a half-marathon medal just hurt.

I called my mom, who had been on her way back to the hotel to get our stuff before checkout. She hadn’t even left the parking lot, having seen what happened when I crossed the halfway point just a minute after getting out of the car. We met in the food tent, where I guiltily ate two pieces of piping hot pizza and a cup of chicken noodle soup. Delicious, but I was annoyed at myself for eating all those calories when I hadn’t earned them by actually running the full.

Once I had showered and was warm and dry and on the road to the airport, I spent the rest of the day second-guessing my decision. If only I had stayed out a few more hours, I could have made it work, and I wouldn’t have to come back to the land-of-no-tables-at-restaurants! How on earth was I going to make this up with my aggressive marathons-every-weekend schedule? I’m at a loss.

Race stats:
Distance: 26.2 miles
Time: DNF

22 thoughts on “Race Report: Breakers Marathon”

  1. Even with a look of pain on your face, you look STUNNINGLY gorgeous in that photo! Way to go, beautiful!

    I am sure you made the right decision. You are soooo hard core, if anyone could have finished it, it would be you.

    Even before reading the whole report, I was thinking I would ask you to make a post about where you are on the 50 states at this point! Maybe a new photo of your map? You’ve really been cranking them out lately and I want a visual! 🙂

  2. I totally feel your pain. We ran the Raleigh marathon this weekend and it was also cold (got colder as the day progressed) and rainy. Gross. Before we even started, my mom was saying ‘are you sure you really want to do this?’

  3. Awww… I get it. I’d HATE to leave anything incomplete. But you know what? I doubt it will affect your longterm 50-states plan. A half marathon is still a terrific feat for most people (although for a seasoned runner like you, it might not feel that way). GOOD LUCK ON YOUR NEXT MARATHON!

    PS – you’ve inspired me to sign up for my first… Hyannis, MA in February. HELLOOOOO winter weather!

  4. Hang in there Laura! You’ve really put yourself through a lot and I know you can keep going. One unfinished race is not the end. Great work. Sometimes realizing what you need to do is harder than just keep on chugging on.

  5. I’m sure when you check in with other 50 Staters and Maniacs, you’ll find that lots of runners you respect have a DNF under their belts. And, as a dedicated half marathoner, I can tell you that racing 13.1 in horrible weather is still an accomplishment.

  6. I have to say that I think you made the right move. I know someone else who dropped out of the same race, and know the conditions were miserable. Most important not to jeopordize the rest of your races.

    You gonna do Rhode Races in Providence on May 2? I’ve already picked that as my next marathon! I guess you’ve done the half marathon there before?

  7. Aw, chica . . . that sounds more miserable than I can even imagine. You really can’t find any worse marathon conditions than those.

    I think you definitely made the right decision. I know it wasn’t easy, but it’s really just not worth it to jeopardize the rest of your races. You are incredible, and I fully expect you to bounce right back from this! 🙂

  8. Sounds like a good but tough decision to me. I think the mark of a mature runner is knowing that there will be another day.

    Based on your picture during the race, I can see this wasn’t a fun race for you. There are other days.

  9. Laura – you did the right thing as well as I did. Like you, it was the worst imaginable weather condition I ever endured. I was trying to stay warm by running faster but got tired easily. I was literally soaked entirely. Just before the halfway mark. I was running on Memorial Blvd before going down by Easton Beach. That is where I bailed out. You can check on my blog and see the map. It was heart wrenching for me to bail out but knew it was the right thing to do. Believe it or not, 50% of the runners bailed out due to miserable condition. I wish I had the opportunity to run with you. I know I met you very briefly in Burlington, VT as you were the pacer. Hope we will meet again!

  10. Laura – I am having a marathon fever and desperately looking for a closer marathon this fall. The Philadelphia marathon is SOLD OUT. Dang ! I am seriously contemplating on doing the Newport next year with a vengeance. (that’s only if the Nor’easter doesn’t repeat the performance next year). I do want to get the job done next year in Newport. Then, I will feel better. (really need to cross that off on my list!) Let me know what’s your next race will be. Keep me posted!

  11. You got me all fired up !! I didn’t see Rehoboth Beach Marathon via marathonguide.com. I could cross Delaware off my list as well. Thanks for the link. I am definitely going to look into this. Realistically, its only a couple hours drive for me to Cape May, NJ and take the ferry to Cape Lewes. Hmmm.. Hmmm.. Hmmm..

  12. Oh girl! You so made the right decision! Look at how unhappy you were!!! My heart goes out to you! I know it must have been hard but you have to take care of yourself first and foremost!

  13. Hey, it had to happen eventually, right? I’m pretty sure that this race was a while ago, so I can only assume that looking back you now feel that you made the right decision. Afterall, not getting sick enabled you to have such a good finish in NYC!! (If you are taking race report requests, you should fast track that one. Of course, that would put you out of sequence which I wouldn’t do if I were you….but I digress 🙂 )

  14. You’re first DNF, don’t beat yourself up! You did the smart thing, just like everyone has already told you. Go back in May when hopefully the weather is better! 🙂

  15. Hey! I’ve been reading you for awhile, and you’re an inspiration. You’ve done things that I don’t think I could do. You’re about as tough as they come; keep inspiring people like me.

  16. Hey there! Just wanted to say first off that I stumbled across your blog a little while ago and love reading about all your races. You are truly an inspiration!

    That being said, don’t feel badly about this race. I know you didn’t want to DNF, but in the end, what really matters is your health and sanity. You made the right choice because what you’re going for is a larger goal–the accomplishment of running marathon after marathon and meeting so many great people along the way!

    (And by the way, in my opinion you still TOTALLY earned that pizza and soup! Ha ha!)

    Take care,

  17. I ran this race too. I was only in the half. This race was by far the worse experience of my life….. Truly the worse experience I have ever run in or experienced. My mom looked at my finishing picture and said I sould buy it to remind me of the pain I was in that day. Because the memories would fade. At the finish line I had to be brought to the medical tent. My body temp was only 89 degrees when I got there. I had to be hot wrapped and monitored for over 30 mins. Not sure I am running it again next yr…

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