When good races go bad

Not all races go according to plan. Here five women share their stories of disaster, peril and plain stupidity

when good race go bad


‘I was in agony – just metres from the start line’
I chose the 2012 Beachy Head Marathon because of its beautiful route. It was my first race – until that point the only running I’d ever done was to the loo! They welcomed walkers as well as runners so I thought, ‘How hard can it be?’ From the word go I was in trouble as I developed acute left hip pain just metres from the start line, swiftly followed by right hip pain. Soon after my calves became so painful that I could barely walk. I struggled on in tears but the sweepers told me there was no way I’d finish before the race cut-off and insisted I pull out, which I reluctantly did. I felt a complete failure at the time, but looking back, realise what an achievement it was to have persevered through 18 mostly agonising miles with minimal training. The lesson I learnt that day? The key to success is preparation, preparation preparation!
Saira Salajee, 35, Eastbourne

‘Tuneless singing helped me stagger on’
The 2010 Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona Marathon was going brilliantly but at mile 18 I got a sharp pain in my right knee that steadily got worse, so I tried walking. This only intensified the pain and soon I was reduced to a hobble – I couldn’t walk and I couldn’t run – all I could do was a slow lollop. I carried on with gritted teeth: I hadn’t travelled 6,000 miles to not finish. The last section was really tough but tunelessly singing along to ELO’s Mr Blue Sky helped drown out the pain – though I’m not sure what the other runners thought! Eventually I staggered over the finish line in 4:56 and promptly burst into tears. That race taught me that if you’re focused enough on the end goal you can endure a huge amount of discomfort, something that’s stood me in good stead as I’ve since done over 120 marathons.
Rachel Smith, 45, Maidstone

‘I let the clock ruin my runs’
The events I’ve found most challenging may surprise you: they’re the 5K parkruns I do most Saturdays. For many weeks parkrun had left me with wobbly legs feeling defeated and confused (‘I run half a marathon every weekend, how can this be so hard?’). I used to continually beat myself up for not getting a PB. A few weeks ago I got injured but continued to attend parkrun. Instead of chasing a time I just enjoyed the spring sunshine and seeing my friends. And last week, I ran round pain free once more, without my watch, without getting breathless and without wobbly legs –andIdiditinmyusualtimeof 22 minutes. That made me realise the only person making good races go bad was myself! I’ve learnt to just relax and appreciate how amazing it is that I can run so frequently and so far.
Kelly Knight, 30, Swadlincote, Derbyshire

‘At the finish I promptly threw up’
I’d already done an Olympic-distance triathlon when I entered a sprint triathlon. It was a disaster from start to finish: I hadn’t trained properly and my wave started late so I failed to eat or drink enough beforehand. It was also the hottest day of the year.
I started OK but felt awful soon after. I managed to drag myself through the bike leg and somehow got round the run with a friend pouring water over my head every 500m to cool me down. The minute I finished, I threw up everywhere. I now know never to underestimate how tough a race will be, even when it’s shorter than what I’ve done before. I also realised the importance of hydration and nutrition – if I’d paid better attention to them I wouldn’t have ended up with sunstroke. Lesson learned though: I’ve since done an Ironman!
Laura Wallis (on the right), 26, Loughton, Essex

‘A killer hill at the start nearly scuppered my marathon’
Having spent nine months laid off with an Achilles’ tear I unintentionally chose a comeback marathon with an extraordinarily steep start. After a terrifying, uncontrolled headfirst dive down the first gradient, arms flailing and legs frantically paddling to catch up with the rest of me, my quads were mashed. Then I had to sidestep, crab-like, up the other side. Unable to run and with 22 miles to go, I built up to jogging for four minutes and walking for one. In bite- sized pieces, I did what I could for each minute, no matter how hopeless it seemed. Imagine my disbelief, then, when I finished in 4:30 – close to my usual time! I’ve since learned better control on downhills but the self-belief that I got from not giving up and finishing that day was priceless.
Finn O Mara, 48, Ballina, County Mayo

Here sports psychology experts from The St Mary’s Clinic in Twickenham (www.smuc.ac.uk/ clinic) suggest ways to cope with a race crisis – and make sure it doesn’t affect your future performance.

■ During a run or event that’s gone disastrously wrong, it’s important to gain control over your thoughts so that you can react in a way that’s going to help you make the most of a bad situation. One way to do this is by choosing to shift your attention from the outcome of your race (for example, your finishing time or average pace) to the process of completing the event (for example, passing landmarks or counting every tenth step). Focusing on your surroundings (what you can see or hear, who you’re running with) will give you an external focus to take your mind off the pain.

■ Don’t let one bad race put you off your stride
in future. Evaluate your performance by asking yourself what your negative experience taught you and what you should focus on improving in future. Use a training diary to monitor your performance over time as this will help you to develop your confidence and to approach your next race feeling that you’ve put the past behind you.

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