So, what’s the dumbest thing you’ve ever done before a race? And I don’t mean signing up for a marathon at the last minute or maxing out your training with an eight-mile long run. I’m talking straight up sabotage. You trained for months for this race, counting every mile, calorie, and lost hour of sleep, and then, just as you were supposed to set your taper to cruise control, you… did what?
Go on. Let me hear it.
This past weekend, I traveled to Washington, D.C., to run a half marathon. I went with my two Friday morning training partners, Chris and Megan, along with Chris’s friend Rita. The timing of the trip was perfect. Not only was the day of the race Chris’s birthday—which we would celebrate over the course of three days—but it was an ideal six weeks out from the Illinois Marathon in April. I figured I’d race the half marathon as a tune-up before the full next month. It’d be perfect.
The four of us being experienced runners, we wisely concluded that the best way to prepare for the half marathon was to spend as much time on our feet and get as little sleep as possible in the days leading up to the race itself. This we did like champs.
We toured our nation’s capital on foot and stood in long, patriotic lines. At the airport. At the metro station. At the Smithsonian. We even woke up at an unholy hour the day before the race and pulled on our fancy boots (read: heels) for a 7:30am tour of the White House, an experience that involved multiple security checkpoints, a never-ending line snaking down the sidewalk (which, in keeping with the nature of sidewalks, was outside, in the cold), and a bomb-sniffing German Shepherd. And while we didn’t get to see the President, we did catch a glimpse of the First Dog, Sunny, which was really Megan’s only goal for the entire trip.
And that was all before lunch.
Over the course of the day, I managed to pack as many non-race-friendly activities into my itinerary as humanly possible, the most impressive being my decision to purchase a two-gallon jug of water from a CVS pharmacy nowhere near our hotel and subsequently carrying it across the streets of D.C. for what felt like five miles.
Guys, you have no idea how badly I want a video of me hauling that stupid jug of water with our country’s most iconic landmarks looming in the background.
To top off my series of entertaining but suboptimal decisions, I went for a five-mile run around the National Mall on Friday evening. I circled the South Lawn of the White House and looped the Washington Monument. I scaled the stairs of the Lincoln Memorial and watched the sun set across the Reflecting Pools, which were actually drained for the winter (but I used my imagination). Forget that the race was in twelve hours. I needed to tell Honest Abe to wish me luck.
I was going to need it.
You see, in addition to our tourist tendencies and my dehydration (which is why I purchased the infamous water jug on Friday afternoon), I was also under-fueled due to an unfortunate incident involving spinach-artichoke dip the day before we left St. Louis. The dip, I discovered too late, contained garlic. This is not remarkable. Except I’m allergic to garlic. And I couldn’t eat anything for the next twenty-four hours.
Race morning arrived. It was 42 degrees and pouring down rain. And that, ladies and gentlemen, pretty much sums up the race.
Folks, I broke every pre-race rule in the book. And I paid for it. I did not run well.
But I had so much fun. Before the race. During the race. After the race. Everything. The entire trip was nothing but fun. Even though the course was cold and wet, it was gorgeous and historic and (should have been) fast. In fact, I highly recommend it. Plus, I have now experienced firsthand the truth in the adages about hydration, fuel, and staying off your feet in the days leading up to the race. (Not that I didn't believe them to be true.)
No, the race didn’t go as I had hoped, but as the saying goes, sometimes you have to make a decision between the chance of a PR and the chance of seeing Sunny, the First Dog.
Amy L. Marxkors is the author of The Lola Papers: Marathons, Misadventures, and How I Became a Serious Runner and Powered By Hope: The Teri Griege Story. Click here to receive Amy's weekly article via email.