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Breaking the 3-Hour Barrier My Story

Breaking the 3-Hour Barrier, Part 4

I didn’t want to write this. This was the most disappointing race I’ve had to date. But I know that regardless of who (if anyone) reads this, I will want to have it written down for myself in the future.

Five months ago, I began my first training cycle of the season. I was slower than I thought I’d be, coming off a four-week break. Mentally that was hard, but physically I benefited from the rest. Scheduled in the midst of my training plan was a 10k, half-marathon, 15k, 5k, half-marathon.

The February 10k I didn’t feel ready for – I wasn’t “back” yet, but it went better than expected with a new PR. The first half-marathon in March I had higher expectations that were left unfulfilled, shaving less than a minute off my PR. My lungs weren’t ready for the pace and my legs felt heavy. After that, I cut back on the heavyweights to try and lose a LITTLE muscle mass in my legs. Two weeks later I ran the 15k but again, didn’t perform well. The next weekend was my 5k and even though I only PR-ed by a few seconds, that was my turning point in training. Immediately after the race, I could feel my lungs starting to break free.

Two months before the marathon, my husband started a new job that took him overseas, where he’ll be through October. That was and is hard, but it’s what made me decide to join the San Diego Track Club. I was nervous, as I don’t run or train with anyone and up until that point I’d never done anything on a track. For the first few weekly workouts, I felt like a hamster on a wheel, going around and around in a circle, but I began to find my place. It was good for me.

Six weeks out was the other half-marathon – La Jolla. This course crushed me last year and I really wanted to pay it back. My training was going really well and I knew all I needed to do was stay calm and avoid going out too fast. I beat last years’ time by three minutes and took 3rd female overall. It was pretty satisfying, but now it was time to focus and get some solid long runs logged.

Recovering from the La Jolla hills took a bit longer than expected, but I was careful to use body sense and not overdo it. Going out for a 22-miler, I stopped at 8. Unfortunately, it was on my out and back route so I had to walk the 8 miles back home. I realize this sounds silly, but the next week I went out for the distance and rocked it. Listening to my body, 22 miles was my peak run for this race. I was okay with that. I had a few more long runs, and in the end, I felt really good about my training as a whole.

Taper week was here and I was getting so excited. Beets and spinach smoothies, carb-loading the last few days, and letting my legs rest up. I’d never felt this good before a race. I had confidence in my training, how my legs felt, my fueling, everything felt ready.

It was the day before and I had everything set and laid out. All I had to do was work the morning shift, come home, foam roll, and relax. In the past, I’ve had trouble with dehydration, so I made sure I drank A LOT of water throughout the day. By mid-afternoon, I was peeing every hour, sometimes twice. My brain felt a little fuzzy and I started to get a headache, so I was able to fall asleep pretty early.

Race morning was chill. I woke up before my alarm and was able to skype my husband. I drank my yerba mate tea, ate my cheerios with honey and banana, and headed to the start line! I live close enough I was able to walk (about 1.5 miles).

The starting area was crazy as usual, but what I felt was not the usual. I wasn’t anxious like I’ve normally been. I was calm. I was focused. Sub 3 was going to happen that day.

The stampede begins. Within the first few miles, I felt odd – something was off. I was a little slow, my breathing was a little labored, and my energy level was low. Mentally, I stayed calm as the feeling continued through mile 11. Then I started to get concerned. This wasn’t right. I pushed on, staying cautious.

Somewhere around mile 14, I was with several other runners about to enter a turn-around loop in the course. The road was split by cones, and there was a hand cyclist coming out of the loop on the other side. A car was rolling behind him and I didn’t understand why or how. As our group of runners got closer, the car suddenly turned and ran over the cones heading toward us. He cut back over in front of the hand cyclist to get to a freeway on ramp before I finished my “oh no!” thought. What just happened? Well I don’t know the whole story, but apparently the police chased the guy for quite a ways (about an hour North) before catching him.

Anyway, at 16 I knew I wasn’t going to meet my time goal. I was fading fast and by this time I knew it had something to do with hydration, but I still didn’t know what exactly. I was so confused. I pressed on, looking for my in-laws who said they were coming to cheer around mile 20. I started to vomit in my mouth every 20 minutes or so, and shortly after seeing my family, I started the walk/jog shuffle. Whenever I stopped to walk, I became dizzy. I just had to keep a forward motion, as runners around kept encouraging me. I made it through the finish line and collapsed onto the side rails. A runner and a medic team member helped me to the finish line medical tent. I stayed there for about 15 minutes while they did their thing and helped me sip Gatorade. In that moment, I had never tasted anything SO FREAKING GOOD! It was amazing. My mind was “aha-ing” while they wheeled my weak, pitiful looking body to the major medical tent. One person was pushing the wheelchair while the other was keeping me upright. “Why was I so deficient in electrolytes?” I thought to myself. During the race I had what should have been plenty. I spent another 40 minutes with the doctors, but with much more Gatorade I was feeling like I could sit up. They kept me for a little bit longer, but the doctor came back and saw I had color in my face and said I could go. As I was waiting to be discharged, a medic student came over to me and quietly asked, “Excuse me miss, but is your name Amy Cragg?” I stared at her for a second and smiled. “No..” That was my race day highlight. Bless you! Haha – In case you don’t know, Amy Cragg placed 9th in last years’ Rio Games.

After retrieving my stuff from gear check, I walked the 4 miles home. Yes, I was exhausted, but my legs weren’t that bad. They didn’t really get the workout they wanted. After getting home and eating, I did some research with the facts that I had.  Long story short, hyponatremia. It’s usually caused during a race by drinking too much water and not enough electrolytes. But it can be caused by over hydrating before an event, too. Symptoms include fuzzy brain, dizziness, headache, nausea….yep. By trying to make sure I wasn’t dehydrated for the race, I over-hydrated, flushing out all the minerals and electrolytes I would normally already have in my system for race day. So instead of my race fuel keeping my body stocked with what it needed, it was trying to play catch up the whole time.

Fortunately, once you get what you need (in a timely manner), you bounce back pretty quickly. That’s why I was able to walk home. I was really upset. I had been so hopeful for this race, and I’d worked so hard, I wanted to prove it, and it was there. At the end of my “recovery” run the next day, I looked down at my watch and there was goal pace. Part of me was relieved, in that it proved to myself that I wasn’t crazy, part of me was mad, in knowing that it was there and I screwed it up, but all of me was brokenhearted. However, as my husband pointed out, I don’t really know how to run yet. Marathons aren’t typically what one tackles first. I don’t have the experience or knowledge that a lot of competitive marathoners do. When I told him before the race, that I didn’t know what I would do with another disappointment, and he said I would just keep on keeping on like I always do, he couldn’t have been more right. I still have my training and the progress that came with it. I’m still going to beat the odds. I’m in for one heck of a PR in November. New York, street lights, big dreams, all lookin’ pretty.

Final Stats

3:24:59

213 of 5355 overall

27 of 2312 female

10th of 376 in division