Race day misadventures can add excitement on the way to the finish line
There is a picture on the Internet that you don’t want to see, because once you have, it cannot be unseen.
Actually, there are probably about 50 billion pictures on the web that meet the above description, but the one I’m thinking of has to do with a guy running a race. This guy had some digestive issues during said race.
You know the photo I’m talking about, don’t you? The guy with bib #26? I don’t think I’ve ever wanted to finish a race that badly in my life. I would have called it a day. Actually, I would have changed my name, got plastic surgery and moved to another country. Bad things can happen on race day, and not just poo. I’ve had a few of my own racing misadventures, for certain.
The 2008 Calgary Underwear Affair was held during monsoon season and everyone’s socks were growing mould long before gun time. I saw one guy early in the race shout and swear as we ran through the pouring rain, yanking his headphones out of his ears. “Damn thing electrocuted me!” he said. We all came out of that race with trench foot.
And of course many know the story of Dick Beardsley, who lost the 1982 Boston Marathon by two seconds to Alberto Salazar because Dick was cut off (WAIT! Dick was cut off! That’s horrible!) by a police motorcycle. Seriously, Dick should have a lifetime licence to speed and ignore stop signs in Boston because of that.
My sister had her own pre-race debacle two years ago, where she realized two days before flying down to Las Vegas to run a half-marathon that her passport had expired, something the Stasi at the Department of Homeland Acts of Patriotism are kind of uptight about. Realizing there was no hope of begging her way onto a plane, she was able to cross the border by car with a driver’s licence and birth certificate, but had to spend two days of solid driving to make it to the race on time.
How many pictures of racers with bleeding nipples have you seen? Has a fellow racer ever elbowed you in the throat? Sometimes those spectators need to just get the hell out of the way. And there are times that race organizers screw up, such as what happened at the 1974 New York Marathon where they didn’t get the water stations set up in time and no one got to drink anything for the first eight miles in extreme heat and humidity. This situation had the race’s winner, Dr. Norb Sander, treating people at the finish line for dehydration and heat stroke while waiting for an ambulance to take them to the hospital.
I can just hear the organizers saying to Dr. Sander, “Congratulations on winning. Here’s your trophy. Now please go help those people who look like they’re about to die.”
In 2005 during the London Marathon the hometown girl started cramping up at the 16-mile mark, and by 22 miles knew she couldn’t take it any longer, so she squatted down at the side of the course, in front of God and country, and let fly.Of course, the media respected her privacy by zooming in so they could broadcast the image to all who were watching and allowing it to live on in YouTube eternity, but Paula had the last laugh; she won that race with a time of 2:17:42, then promptly went to wash her hands. I hope.
Of course, marathons are supposed to be painful, but not before your timing chip activates.
In March I ran the L.A. Marathon — my first time doing the 42.2K — and the guy next to me slipped on a discarded sweatshirt and went down hard. He didn’t get up quickly either. Note that good things can happen on race day as well. My own experience of catching a break was during an effort to get into that somewhat exclusive club of sub-40 minute 10K runners.
Again, it was the Underwear Affair — 2011 this time. But they’d changed the course to one with hills and sharp turns, and by the halfway point I knew a sub-40 time was impossible. I was bummed, because I’d trained hard. And I was in fourth place overall (out of 796 runners) for much of the race, and I thought a spot on the podium might mitigate the sense of failure. The problem was that overtaking third was going to cost me a lung and add ample scar tissue to my ventricles. But a race-day miracle happened when a kilometre from the finish, Third Place Guy just up and decided he couldn’t keep running. He stopped to walk and I tapped into a reserve of “not yet dead” to overtake him and earn a little trophy.
At 42-years old that was my first, because I went to school before the advent of “everyone gets a trophy” day. I cherish that piece of Plexiglas.
James S. Fell authors the syndicated column In-Your-Face Fitness for the Chicago Tribune.