The Nine Mile Surprise: What I Learned

About five minutes after crossing the finish line.

Finally, the ten mile run.   On Friday night I returned after dinner with friends at midnight and with a stress and exhaustion headache from a rough week at work.  On Saturday morning, the headache was still there.  I ran two miles.  Things were not feeling great but I took two paracetamol and ignored myself.  Owing to the run’s distant location I stayed in a hotel on Saturday night, accompanied by my support group.

I had entrusted my mother to arrange accommodation.  We stayed in a hotel that was a half hour drive to the ferry, a short ferry over to the town, and then a 25-minute walk to the race start.  She had described this, in her own peculiarly delusional manner, as ‘just across’ from the start line.  I should have checked it myself and asked her to re-book something else, but I didn’t.  We scoped the area on arrival, and determined that we needed to factor an hour and a half to get from the hotel to the start.

On Saturday night we went out for Chinese food.  This was a compromise because neither my father or I wanted anything on the menu at the nearest restaurant, and nobody wanted to spend hours traipsing around town in the deep freeze looking for the plain pasta with tomato sauce that I wanted to eat.  Because I’m stupid, I ordered shredded deep-fried chili beef, some deep-fried vegetable spring rolls, and just for good measure a portion of deep-fried seaweed.  Bring it, I thought, I’m burning 1100 calories tomorrow.  I still had the headache.

Next morning I ate my own oatmeal, had a cup of tea, and sat with my support group as they quaffed full English breakfasts to fuel themselves up for hours of standing around.  I had a banana on the ferry.  My total calorific intake for the morning was around 250.  I burned most of the 250 on the 25-minute walk to the start line, subsequent warm-up and waiting around.

The atmosphere was the bastard child of a professional race and a manic badly-organised full-on carnival, and I didn’t like it: 23,500 runners.  Loudspeakers boomed music and unintelligible announcements.  I went to the corral with the other runners of my slowness around half an hour before the scheduled start.  I had peed four times that morning.

A couple of issues reared their ugly heads as I scratched my arse for half an hour in the corral.  Firstly, I tried to assess the likelihood that I would overheat.  It was around 6C but the sun was warming up fast: I was wearing a breathable t-shirt and luminous jacket, with my number securely pinned across the zip and my chest so I couldn’t undo my jacket at all easily.  I decided to chalk it up to experience.  I also needed another pee, but by the time I realised that I wasn’t going to make it around the course without emptying my bladder it was too late to fight my way back out of the corral, queue, pee, and get back in for the start.

We started late.  I was bursting for the loo, and down to an empty stomach.

In the first 500 metres I remembered the location of a toilet and took the snap decision to leave the raceway.  I pelted in there to find that I was not the only one.  My decision cost me three minutes or so, but meant I was happy for most of the rest of the race.

The first six miles were very comfortable – I started to feel things at about 7.5 miles, and the strength and glare of the sun were getting to me.  I knew I was getting too hot, so I ran through the runners’ shower tent.

Until this point I had been drinking a couple of mouthfuls of my home-made isotonic drink every two miles.  For some reason, I decided I needed pure water and took one of the bottles handed out.  The water inside was ice cold and I could feel that 200mls sloshing around in my belly like anti-freeze.

At 8 miles I entered the wide and long home straight.  Tall flags fluttered in the distance, but the sun was glaring off the sea and things got even more unpleasant as I hit mile 9.  Enormous speakers blared ‘encouragement’ at a decibel level so high my innards were vibrating with the low-frequency thrum.  The noise of the speakers completely drowned out my own music.  So, I’m at my lowest physical point, can’t see a damned thing because of the sun, dodging around many walkers, and someone starts vibrating my very soul with useless announcements that it’s only a mile to go and look!  A man dressed as Tigger is catching up with a man dressed as Eyore!  Oh, the amusement! No, this is not amusing, this is severely fucking annoying and I want over that finish line right now.   Please, make it stop.

During the last kilometre, I decided to give it the beans, partly to get away from that noise and partly to see what would happen.  What happened was that I felt almost instant nausea, and twenty seconds later I was projectile-vomiting.  It was all liquid, thankfully.  At no point did I stop running, which amazes even me.  I was afraid that if I stopped, medical attention would swoop in and demand that I not finish the race, and I was less than 800m from victory.  No way was I not getting that sponsorship for the charity.  No way was I getting marked DNF.

But I didn’t want to end my days there either, so I slowed significantly.   I felt fine after a couple of minutes, and crossed the line in a reasonable state.  I had to bend down to remove my timing chip, and when I stood up I felt dizzy.  Fortunately, my support group found me quickly because I was so disorientated by the vomit and the emotion and the continuing fucking loudspeakers that I would happily have walked in the opposite direction to the one I was supposed to, and been lost and gone forever.

I conquered that ten miles in an official time of 1 hr, 43 mins and 5 seconds.  If I hadn’t stopped to pee then I would have made it under 1 hr 40 for sure.  That’s better than I hoped for in my wildest dreams.

So, what did I learn?

  • I enjoy the process of training and competing (with myself) for a particular event because it really helps me to focus on a goal.
  • I will do this again, but small-scale local races only – there were FAR too many competitors and I had to constantly watch not to trip over other people’s feet, especially at the multiple bottlenecks in the course.  It disrupted my pace and was occasionally very difficult and downright alarming.
  • no charity fundraising – there is stress associated with knowing you would be letting someone else down.  I’ll give to others who run for charity instead.
  • Never trust the judgment of someone who hasn’t run long-distance themselves before.
  • Over-hydrating and mild hypernatremia probably caused the vom and disorientation.  I probably didn’t need that 200mls of water, and I definitely didn’t need it ice-cold.  If I’d stuck with my isotonic I would probably have been fine.
  • I need a visor or proper running sunglasses because I seem to be exceptionally done in by bright sunlight.
  • If there is any direct sunlight at all I do not need my jacket.

But, I did it!  It’s over.

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12 Responses to “The Nine Mile Surprise: What I Learned”


  1. 1 Jen on the Edge October 25, 2010 at 9:53 pm

    WOW! You did it! (Imagine much enthusiasm from the other side of the Atlantic.) Congrats on finishing. The fact that you know you’ll do it again says a lot and now I’m feeling somewhat excited about hitting the 10 mile mark in a couple of months.

  2. 2 kellyg October 25, 2010 at 10:16 pm

    Yay! Congratulations!

  3. 3 Bella Rum October 26, 2010 at 12:05 am

    My hat is off to you. I could never do this. In May, my husband and I were at the finish line when my son ran a half marathon at Coney Island, NY. Like you, he loves to challenge himself. I’m content to watch. Congratulations! Job well done.

  4. 4 Mrs. G. October 26, 2010 at 12:37 am

    Way to go, Nic! Woo hoo!

  5. 5 Naomi B. October 26, 2010 at 12:57 am

    Outstanding! That you kept going in spite of the vomit… you are heroic. Congratulations!

  6. 6 lane October 26, 2010 at 1:58 am

    Running while vomiting! You are tough as nails, lady!

  7. 7 Jenn @ Juggling Life October 26, 2010 at 4:35 am

    What a performance! Congratulations.

    My husband runs 5 or 6 miles several days a week and he loathes races. Races are antithetical to the reasons he runs, he says.

  8. 8 unmitigated me (m.a.w.) October 26, 2010 at 12:11 pm

    Congrats, Nic! I agree about challenging one’s self as a more fun goal that beating others in a race.

    • 9 nic October 26, 2010 at 2:18 pm

      Thank you so much, everyone! I am super-pleased and already looking into small local long-distance events. One or two a year will be plenty though, think.

      @Jen: the ten mile mark is a biggie. The first time I ran it in training I could have wept for joy. It feels like a mountain to climb but the human body is an amazing thing.

      @lane and Naomi: yesterday I commented to K-man that I am toughening up. If you had said to me a year ago that I would run until I puked and keep running without a pause I would have laughed out loud at the absurdity. Now, I’m all ‘I am a warrior! I fight against my lazy fearful self and I win!’. I’m not proud of the puke though; it was undignified and borderline dangerous.

  9. 10 Stacie October 26, 2010 at 4:57 pm

    Very impressive! What an accomplishment!

  10. 11 Suzanne October 27, 2010 at 9:10 am

    Congratulations, Nic! Nicely done…(vomiting and all) Lord knows I couldn’t do it. I can do an hour on the elliptical (or at least I used to be able to) and could probably do more, but running is too high-impact for me.

    Impressive, indeed!

  11. 12 cora October 27, 2010 at 3:46 pm

    Congrats! Inspiring stuff. I was about to quit training for a race mid-November, but I think I will buckle down and get ready to puke :)


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