The setback: Old port half marathon

Portland Half Marathon

“Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.”
-Haruki Murakami

There is no harm in one more half marathon, right? This past weekend I ran my 10th half marathon, the Shipyard Old Port Half Marathon in Portland, ME. It was a great way to have a great run weekend in another city with a few of my friends and also get a medal from another state. I knew this race would be in June, which made the weather a crap shoot, so I wanted to just enjoy this one and not put pressure on myself for a certain time.

Portland Half 2 hr pace

I’ve been having a pretty good year with my running, meeting my under 2-hour half goal twice. I’ve been working really hard on getting faster and I can feel my legs taking a bit of a beating. There is some inflammation in my left leg which had caused me some pain, but luckily it has not developed into full tendinitis yet. The pain goes away when I run so it’s hard to stop while everything is feeling so good. Never the less, I did back off my training a bit and had been noticing a decline in my speed from this past March. Running my weekly 5K with my running club has been leaving me with disappointment as I realize how far I am from my 24:30 PR a few months back. I don’t know why I’ve been so disappointed when I’m running better than I have in my whole life, but lately I’ve felt I really have something to prove. I’ve improved a lot, but I have this need to keep on improving. As the realization sets in that I am approaching 40, I don’t want to peak.

Waking up Saturday morning, I realize the weather is totally ideal for a half marathon. I was psyched – the previous weekend I had run a 10-miler in some pretty hot weather and it felt pretty difficult to push through. I knew today would be easier.

Running in Portland
Here I am around mile 9 – feeling fantastic!

The race starts at 7 AM and I made my way to the 2-hour pacer, thinking I would at least try to get 2 hours or 1:59. As soon as the race started, the rain started, and these small sprinkles went on for about 45 minutes. I have to say, the rain felt great, especially since I’ve been struggling through some hot and humid races this month. I passed the 2-hour pacer at mile 2. I’ve been having trouble with pacers since they seem to run the first mile way too fast and then have to back off drastically. Also, trying to stay in that group is challenging as people around me keep getting too close and kicking my legs. I charged the first hill and was feeling great and this feeling stayed with me for most of the race. In fact when I got to mile 7, I couldn’t believe how good I was running. At mile 8, I realized there was a chance I could PR. I kept focusing on my running, paid attention to my breathing and charged ahead. I loved the course, weaving through the city then through a park and a long steady bike path. The only negative was there were some narrow spots that caused a few bottle necks and was challenging passing some people. But I was able to keep a good pace, until I felt my first calf twinge, around mile 9.

Somewhere around mile 12 – I definitely could not hide the pain in my face

I don’t usually get leg cramps, the only time I had experienced them was during the Chicago marathon. That morning I had made a last minute decision to not wear my compression socks, even though I had worn them for my last 3 half marathons. I wasn’t sure if they were helping me or not, and I had run without for the 10-miler and had been fine. I thought they might be annoying in the summer heat. However, I wonder if I needed them more than I realized – I’m not really an expert so I have no idea if they can prevent leg cramps or not. But as I sped up, the cramps shot through both my calves causing me to go off balance, as it felt like my leg wanted to seize up. I could feel the pain getting more intense the further I went and the faster I tried to go. Eventually I had to stop for a few seconds to stretch them out, which I ended up doing a few times. I was so frustrated because I knew time was getting away from me. My pace ended up slowing down a lot for the last 2 miles, because my calves screamed every time I tried to go faster. I was really at a loss as to how to solve this problem as this was totally new territory for me. At mile 11-ish, I took in some Gatorade. It didn’t seem to do much as I battled with my legs and my speed the whole way.

At mile 12.75, being so close to the end, I tried to pick up the pace. Suddenly it felt like someone had hit the back of my left calf with a sledgehammer. There was the immense pain like you would get with a charley horse, but it just kept going and spasming. I actually screamed out loud and fell to my knees. I could hear people yelling from the side lines to see if I was okay. Still grunting painfully, I managed to tell people it was just a cramp so that they didn’t think it was anything serious. One runner came over and helped me up along with another woman who just happened to be walking by. It took a bit of time for my calf to stop contracting enough for me to get on my feet. It turns out the woman who happened to be walking by was also a runner and as she let me lean on her asked me how far I had run and if I had any salt or Gu or anything. The only thing I had on me was my Huma chia energy gel. I began to squeeze the last of in my mouth as my muscle cramps started to subside. I needed to finish this race, so I thanked her and limped away. The time on my watch said less that 2 hours still, so I tried to lightly jog, however that calf kept letting me know it was hurting. The final stretch was exciting as there were people on either side, cheering like mad. Then…cobblestones. I curse as my legs clumsily bumped around on the uneven surface. Then I see the 2 hour pacer go by. NOOOOOOOO!

Struggling to manage a bit of a smile for the cameras at the end or very glad to be done

I had to finish slow, even at the last tenth of a mile, and ended up with a time of 2 hours 38 seconds. I didn’t make it. Although this was still not a bad time for me, it was heartbreaking to not be able to keep my pace when I was running so well. I’ve been so focused on improvement this year, it was a huge disappointment to fall short. The worse part of it is I don’t know what the cause was and I don’t know how to prevent something like this from happening again. The temperature was ideal, I fueled the way I normally do and my legs felt strong and well-rested. I may need to do some research on this and consult other runners, as I don’t want to experience that kind of pain again.

Set backs happen, but things aren’t all bad. I finally got a new job earlier this month with a great company and I’m really enjoying it. Maybe the second half of the year will be better than the first and I can put all the bad stuff behind me. A new beginning means new goals – and I will need to figure out what these are.

If you have any advice on leg cramps, please let me know!


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