Spoiler Alert – I lived to tell the tale of running a 5k with a chest cold!
The Honest Truth…
This was probably a really stupid idea. However, I’m headstrong and stubborn and wouldn’t have it any other way. The jury’s still out when it comes to what if any lasting damage may have resulted from this poor decision making.
Let’s Start from the Beginning
Issue 1 – a 5:30 am wake-up call does not promote healing
Common sense and experience tells you that the best remedy for almost any sort of illness is to get some extra sleep. Although I did hit the sack around 9:30 pm or so last night (aided by the Nyquil gods), 5:30 is still a really early wake up call. The race had a 7:30 am start with a 7:15 deadline for packet pick up. That plus a 45 minute travel time and the obligatory “I always run late” buffer built in really necessitated this.
As tradition would dictate, I woke Charles up about 5-10 minutes before we absolutely HAD to leave so he could throw on clothes and we hopped in his car. I’m usually really nervous before races so I like it when he drives. As vain as this probably sounds, I also usually put on make up before a race scenario. You need to be prepared for those key photo ops after all. I wouldn’t be devastated if I didn’t have the time but hey, I feel better when I know I look my best and you need every boost you can to have a great race so why the heck not. The other great part about Charles driving is I usually save some time before we leave by putting on makeup in the car en route. This worked like a charm today as it has in the past.
I did have ample time to get some productive coughing and nose blowing in so I figured this boded well for the race. I also wake up with comparatively limited symptoms. My running nose had practically stopped and while I was sneezing occasionally and coughing to some degree, I felt relatively good. This was very encouraging since I was definitely questioning even going to the race this morning.
We Have Arrived
After our drive, we had a little bit of difficult but finally found a (definitely illegal) spot in a business parking lot near the race. Hey, tons of other people were doing the same thing and there was no designated parking so no judgments!
We quickly found my friends Nan and Brittanie who I had talked into doing this race as well. I was glad to see them and chatting with them before the start helped to put me in a good frame of mind for the race.
We headed to the start with about 5 minutes to spare. I optimistically positioned myself in the “7-minute mile” section at the start since my last two 5k have been somewhere in the 7-something minute range. Nan and Brittanie joined me and we kept chatting till the race started. When the announcer sounded “GOOOO!” we were off!
Off To The Races
Nan and Brittanie did not plan to keep the same pace to we separated there and met back up at the finish. I felt pretty good at the start. Since I clearly had mixed emotions going into this race, I didn’t have as clear of a focused plan as I normally would have. I figured I would just run what felt right and since I didn’t feel too bad at the start, I opened with a normal pace.
There’s a little discrepancy between my watch and the clocks on course here. My watch said I ran the first mile in 7:02 which it claims is my fastest mile it has recorded. I remember passing the 1st mile marker with 7:45 on the race clock. My chip time and clock time varied by about 8 seconds so that would leave us at 7:37. In all honesty, it’s probably something in-between. I wasn’t really focused on running the tangents since I had a lot to worry about and my final readout on my watch was 3.19 for the race. Who knows. In either case, I was keeping a pretty good clip for the first mile, particularly given my condition.
I wasn’t really feeling a need to cough during the race which was one of my concerns so I kept trucking. As you can see from the pact graph below, I started to steadily decline at the end of mile 1 and definitely into mile two. Uh oh.
Look at me thinking I can outsmart nature, biology, and warning signs from my body again. Hah! About half way through mile 2, it really caught up with me and I knew I could not continue like this for the rest of the race. I swallowed my pride and decided to take a little walk break. Before I had time to start beating myself up in my head about this, a wave of light-headedness overcame me. Well that affirmed that decision. Clearly, my body was throwing up a warning flag. I let my head level out a little bit and I picked a silver range rover as my goal – I would run again when I caught up to that car. And so I did.
A Push To The Finish
Yes, I had already walked but I wasn’t going to just throw away the rest of the race. I allowed myself the psychological flexibility to walk again if I needed to but wanted to push through the finish this thing. As a somewhat experienced runner who no longer walks during a half marathon let alone a 5k, this was not a fun experience. I cannot tell you how frustrating it was to watch people stream by me, powerless to stop them or catch up to them when I picked up my pace again. It was unbelievable maddening to watch people who I had passed earlier in the race buzz right by me. I am a pretty competitive person by nature so this was pretty much torture and an experience I hope to avoid at all costs in the future. I also care a great deal about what other people think, even strangers. Maybe it’s stupid but I couldn’t help but wonder what the people around me were thinking. I didn’t see another person in my pace range walking. I felt defeated. I wanted to yell out “You see everyone, I actually have a horrible chest cold and I have no business running right now! I’m really light-headed! I swear, I can run this pace or faster no problem!”
In the end, what people think doesn’t matter. Not even a little bit. There is no explaining anything to the people around you and you don’t really owe them any explanation anyway. Anyone can have a bad day, whether they know it going in or not, and I am sure much more experienced runners than I have had to DNF and race or walk because of illness or injury. It’s not laziness. That you can control. Sometimes your body just can’t perform. As my mom said to me after the race “that wasn’t you out there.” It really is true. I knew my body wasn’t in its normal shape when I woke up this morning. It was not something within my control. They only thing I had control over today was putting forth my full effort (which I did) and choosing to take the risk of racing rather than skipping out.
I forged ahead and took just one more short walk break early during mile 3. That light-headed feeling set in again but I tried to keep the break very brief. I set a mailbox as a goal point and picked up my pace again. I knew I didn’t have much further to go at this point – I could do this.
Since the race started and finished in similar places (and I had seen where the 3 mile marker was before the race) I had some sense of what part of the course was left. As you can see from the graph, I started to pick up the pace a little bit which was challenging at this point.
I pushed through to the finish.
Charles took some action shorts as I headed down the finishing stretch. You can see the look of focus in my face. I don’t look like I’m having fun and I can assure you, I was not. My final chip time was 26:18. Not bad, but nowhere near my current 23:41 PR.
As soon as I stopped running, I did not feel great. I didn’t feel like I was going to die on the spot or throw up but my body was definitely in some sort of distress. The “Planet Smoothie” mascot gave me a high-five but I wanted to push him to the ground and out of my way at that moment. Although I certainly wasn’t happy about my performance, I mostly just needed to sit down. Immediately. And that stupid milkshake was in my way!
Charles found me right away, G2 in hand, and we found a place to sit down. The coughing fits started almost right away and continued with a high degree of intensity for probably 20 minutes. I felt like I had a big “clog” right in the center of my chest and I couldn’t really do much speaking or laughing between the coughing. I felt miserable in that moment. I few tears slipped out of the corners of my eyes – due probably mostly to the forcefulness of the coughs. Nan and Brittanie joined us as they finished. I was proud of them as they both ran great times (though I had trouble physically communicating that at the time. Great job girls!). A bunch of people from my Thursday night running group were actually at this race and congregated near by. At first, I couldn’t even get myself together enough to say hello. Luckily, the coughing subsided to some degree eventually and I was able to chat with them and hop in a quick photo as well.
Once everything calmed down and I was able to talk again, we gathered out things and headed towards our cars. We had to stop and take a picture with this sign on the way back to the car. It’s a long story but the dog my brother had with his roommates during college ended up being nicknamed “The Seamstress” at some point. I know, random. So I decided the little guy went into business for himself.
We had decided to grab breakfast after this race and, since I was finally starting to feel a bit better, this seemed like a perfect way to end the morning. We met up with a few of our other friends at First Watch and enjoyed a fun time with great company.
All in all, I think the regret and thoughts of what could have been that I would have experience if I had skipped the race would have been far worse that the discomfort during and after it. I know myself well enough to know that the mental dialogue that would have followed would have been much more torturous than an uncontrollable coughing fit. Even as it is, I already have said things to Charles like “I wish I could have pushed it harder,” at which point he tells me to shut up, that I had no business running today in the first place. I need to start being a bit kinder to myself in my mind but this is the very same part of me that pushes me to succeed and become stronger in the sport and in other areas in my life. All in all, I am able to celebrate the fact that today was a triumph. As stupid one maybe, but a triumph nonetheless. I pushed my body beyond where I thought I could and I survived to tell the tale.
Now, my hope is that I did not slow my recovery at all with this little stunt. We stopped at my mom’s house on our way home to visit the puppies. This is therapeutic for me in its own right.
Since mother always knows best, I consulted with her about what medication to get at Walgreen’s and referenced some information online as well (which you know is always the best source of accurate and reliable information). Anyway, we settled on getting Mucinex to help break up the junk that’s been in my chest. They actually have a Mucinex version that is coupled with Sudafed so that seemed like the best medication to address all of my symptoms.
I got a nice bit of sleep this afternoon and that, coupled with the medication, is leaving me feeling much better. Well, I think I’m on the mend now! I am sad to have to take a few days off of running now but even I’m not stupid enough to keep pushing my health. I have another business trip Monday/Tuesday of this week and hope to be able to run again on Wednesday and get back into normal training – fingers crossed!
What had your toughest race experience been? Have you ever felt totally defeated during a race?