We’ve seen it many times. Incredible stories of how runners overcome insurmountable odds and complete a marathon. A 70-something year old woman breaks her collar bone, wraps it up and completes the Ironman Triathlon. Their commitment and perseverance are so incredibly inspirational. Hurray! But has anyone ever actually asked them how they felt and why they didn’t give up? I had my own personal hellish run at last weekend’s 2013 Ottawa Marathon that I’m still a little in shock about. I trained for 18 weeks, set an intelligent goal, and was completely prepared. But even though I was both physically and mentally prepared, I wasn’t prepared for coming down with the stomach flu on race day.
The day before the race we ran the 3km Friendship Run with Running Room founder John Stanton. It was great fun. I drove from Prince Edward Island to Ottawa 3 days before and was ready and excited. My sister, her husband and I met up with my two running buddies from PEI and ran together. It was awesome. I did experience a couple of instances of nausea but didn’t think anything of it.
Race Day: I did what I always do. I woke up 3 hours before start time, ate breakfast, showered, dressed and relaxed. I started feeling nauseous and it continued on the car ride to the race.
The crowds were huge, excitement filled the air. I couldn’t wait to get running. They sang the national anthem, the crowd was excited, the gun went and we were off. My stomach was not feeling good but I hoped that it would settle as I ran. We were running along the Rideau Canal, the crowd was awesome and fun filled the air. My watch suddenly wasn’t doing the 10:1 intervals and it threw me a bit, I stopped it and tried to fix it on the fly without any luck. I shook it off and found the 4:15 race bunny. By the 10 kilometre mark I was feeling sick. It would turn into what would be a series of port-a-potty stops and the start of my dehydration. By 12 kms, I felt like I was going to be sick and had to walk. The sides of the streets were filled with people cheering. If I was going to be sick there was no where to go. I saw the 4:30 and 4:45 bunnies pass me and each time tried to run with them but couldn’t. I had to accept that my time goal of 4:20 was gone, and I had to surrender and mentally let go of it. Luckily we train for this and I was able to reassess my goal on the fly.
I didn’t realize I was sick until I was well into the race.
At 16k I was running again, no longer side-lined with crowds I went up onto the grass just before the water station there and was sick to my stomach. Two race volunteers came to my aid. One of whom was telling me something and laughing a little. I was so out of it I couldn’t hear him, but he was yelling, “Turn down wind! You’re throwing up on yourself!” He had to turn me. I have to admit it was a little funny. They took great care of me, took me to the port-a-potties where I looked up and saw a whole line of mortified runners who had seen the whole thing. I looked at them and said, “I guess I’m officially hard-core now, eh?” and they laughed. The two volunteers who helped me were wonderful. An experienced runner, one of them said it had happened to him and not to worry, keep going. I realize now that maybe he thought I had gone out too fast and that was the cause of my ills. But no, I tend to go out too slow. I did everything right.
So what do you do in a situation like that?
I didn’t know what to do, so I just kept walking. I couldn’t run or take any nutrition. I figured I’d walk until I felt better, but it never happened. I tried running a few times but every time I did I was going to be sick. So I walked. I started getting really cold. It was prefect running weather, but a little too cold for walking. At one point I couldn’t feel my arms. I went to the port-a-potty and I couldn’t get my arms to do what my brain was telling them. Sliding the lock and rolling toilet paper was near impossible. It was a really strange feeling.
My arms were dark. I’m not sure if it was because they were so cold but by 23k while passing the medic station, I locked eyes with one one of the medics which is what made me stop. These people would help me. Help me think and figure out what was going on. At that point I was a little out of it and when I talked I could hear myself slurring my words. I looked right at the medic and said, “I’m slurring my words, eh?” They wrapped me in blankets and sat me down, took my blood pressure which was fine at 100/70. They talked to me for quite a while. I have to say they were really great. I remember them telling me my lips were blue, that I had a gastro, they tried to make me feel better by telling me one of the elite women had stopped. I remember telling them that I’ve done races before, that I was a running instructor, I was totally prepared, I didn’t go out too fast, and that I would call it and stop when I felt I had to. I remember saying, “But I came all the way from Prince Edward Island. I don’t want to go home without a medal.”
Why didn’t I want to stop? It took my walking the rest of the marathon to figure it out.
They called the medic van over to take me. I looked up at the medic through the window, hesitated for a moment, and shook my head. The doctor said, “You runners are so stubborn.” She then recommended that I force some nutrition down which I did. I asked how far was the next medic station and they told me they were pretty much every 3 kms. So wrapped in a silver thermal blanket, I decided to walk 3 kms and see how I felt. I continued walking the race and stopping and sitting at each medic station.
As I walked so many thoughts went through my head. It was surreal. A very lonely experience.
I cannot put into words the massive sense of disappointment I felt. Every once and a while I would succumb to the disappointment and start to cry, but then it would stop just as quickly as it hit me. Then I’d think about how ridiculous the situation was and I’d laugh. I thought about John Stanton telling us that after all of our hard work, dedication and training, we’d have to work really hard to come last, and I thought… I’m trying really hard John!
The crowds were cheering like crazy and the runners flew by me and I walked as if in slow motion. As the time passed the crowds disappeared and the entertainment stations were all packing up.
I was also getting passed by some real characters. The back of the pack is a great place for inspiration. All the people who are trying the hardest and not giving up, and I think they are awesome. But then there are those few who really should stop. Who could no longer walk upright and were all bent over sideways. Who were collapsing, and getting back up and walking on. Yeah, these are the people who were passing me. Seriously. I keep thinking, “I can’t believe I’m getting passed by these people.” It was pretty funny.
With 5kms to go I ditched my blanket hoping I could run to the end. But there was no way. At the 40km mark I saw some of my kids. My granddaughter Amelie ran towards me with her arms outstretched. It was wonderful to be with them and there were hugs all around. They walked with me to the last kilometre. It took everything I had to run the last kilometre over the finish line. The place was deserted. The announcer had all kinds of time to call my finish which was pretty funny. Usually there are so many people crossing that the announcers are racing to get in all the names. When he announced me as being from Prince Edward Island I waved to the crowd which I thought was pretty funny seeing as how there was no crowd there. I got a laugh out of that. I walked through the recovery area, got my medal and saw my sister and brother-in-law waiting for me with their Half-Marathon medals on. I hugged my sister and cried.
I knew my family and friends would see my split times and know something went wrong. I felt lost. I felt stupid and embarrassed. I still didn’t understand why I kept going. By the time I finished I had many texts and emails asking me where I was and what happened. Was I okay?
After the race I got into the back seat of the car, leaned forward with my head on the back of the front seat and fell apart on the phone with my husband who was back home on PEI. My disappointment was beyond explanation. I burst out crying, telling him what happened. It was all way too fresh. I posted what happened on facebook right there, so everyone knew I was okay.
After a day of drinking water and rest I wasn’t getting better, so we went to the hospital where I was hooked up to an IV drip, and had blood and urine tests. I was dehydrated.
What got me through? My training. My mental strength. My favourite mantra; “You are so much stronger than you think.” Thoughts of how hard my running buddies had worked, how they didn’t give up, and the thought of hugging them.
I believe there is a lesson in everything, and as I walked I kept looking for it. I learned that it’s okay to say it’s not my day today. I came to learn that I don’t run for the medals. I run for the joy of running, and there was no joy in this run for me. My medals are my children. My family. My friends. I kept going because I wanted to keep going.
The Lesson: I don’t run for the medals. I run for the joy of running, and there was no joy in this run for me. My medals are my children. My family. My friends. I kept going because I wanted to keep going.
I learned more about running and myself during that run than I could have ever imagined. If it makes me a better runner, better instructor, better me, then I am truly grateful for the experience.
A huge thank you to the Ottawa Marathon paramedics, medical crew and the volunteers who really helped me through. I’ll be back to run my race.
Congratulations to Heather Ogg for finishing the Ottawa Marathon at the Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend in a time of 06:20:31.
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