Hi there! It’s been 5 days since the Wings For Life World Run in Zadar. As you hopefully know by now via Instagram, the race tracking, or RedBull.TV, the race didn’t go super well for me – not in an angry, disappointment way – but rather in a body shutdown way. I ran for 28 miles in 3 hours 20 minutes before being passed by the Catcher Car. I was so relieved when I was caught, and happy to sit in an air conditioned van with food, drink, and my fellow competitors as we were driven back to the start.
The race was HOT. Start time was 1PM local, when the temp was 76F and would reach 80F during the afternoon. I was considerate of the heat ahead of the day, and dialed back my desired pace in order to push deeper into the race, however, my body didn’t respond at all to the heat, and prevented me from feeling comfortable at all.
I began the first few miles with Klaus, whom I’d met via Instagram. We clicked away the first few miles at 6:30/mile and enjoyed chatting. I was feeling fine, and it was nice to be distracted from the heat of the afternoon. Shortly after, Klaus became irritated by a lingering Achilles injury, so that was the last I’d see of him for the day.
An hour into the competition, I began to make my way towards the front of the pack, while still maintaining a steady pace. Eventually, I was swarmed by 4 or 5 local runners. They were talking to each other in Croatian, and seemed to be on my tail and both sides of me. As we approached aid stations, one would leap in front of me almost blocking my access to the water handouts. I know this probably wasn’t their M.O., but I felt like I had a target on my back.
As half marathon mark passed, I jostled back and forth with two local runners. We were still far off the front of the pack, but I assumed last years champion, Robby, had clued his buddies in that I’d be the man to beat. Little did they know that the heat, wind, and jetlag were delivering the knock out punches to me.
I was not in it. There was nothing I could do to “activate” my excitement for racing. Perhaps there’s a curse in the “rolling finish line” course. At any moment I could stop running and walk until the car passed me. My legs were heavy, I was drenched in sweat. I carried four bottles with Tailwind nutrition and two smaller flasks with Honey Stinger Gel. I reminded myself that more calories, or refreshing water could potentially restore my vigor.
Just past 2 hours, and I could hear the projection of music and commentary from a vehicle behind me. Could this be it? The catcher car? Already? Thank God! I convinced myself that my race would be ending soon, despite knowing quite well that the calculations didn’t add up, for my pace and the current location of the catcher car. Nonetheless, I found a sense of urgency and picked up the pace, hoping to salvage what was left in the race.
I made it past the 18 mile mark, when the sports car passed me, a race vehicle, not the Catcher Car. My race would go on. I kept plugging along, grateful for the spectators intermittently cheering along the lonely road. The course was for the most part along a single road that traveled south from Zadar, inset a few hundred feet from the coast. There were tiny villages and campsites along the route, keeping me engaged despite my exhaustion.
Knowing that my race wasn’t panning out as I hoped, I clung on to the fact that these folks were helping me through the day. As I approached them, I let out a “hvala!” (thanks in Croatian) as a means to instigate their supportive chants of Bravo! That was the only thing that kept me going through the struggle.
Around 22-miles, I set a new goal to make it to the marathon distance, 26.2 miles. Each kilometer passed dreadfully slow. There were aid stations every 5km (3-miles), and I made full use of the available water and RedBull. Volunteers were handing out water bottles, which I used to fill up my soft flask of Tailwind, and poured the rest over my head, chest, and back.
I was drenched, feet slogging along, yet I still had a glimmer of hope that the runners ahead of me were facing the same demise. I leapfrogged with a French runner who looked great as he pulled away from me, but then would stop completely for water and aid.
I hit the marathon mark at 3:05. When I raced WFLWR in Denver in 2014, I had covered 25 miles in about the same time. I was pleased to have passed that mark, however, I was more focused on ignoring the monotony of the road and the exhaustion that had taken over my body. I was done, cooked, cashed!
A few glances behind me and I could see the Catcher Car brigade. There was another competitor within reach ahead of me, so I started to sprint. I looked at my watch and saw 27.5 miles. Mini-goal setting took over. Can I make it to that sign? I did it, and I’m not caught yet! Can I make it to 28 miles? Can I catch the guy in front of me? Yes and No.
I made it 28.1 miles (45km) as the Catcher Car honked me off the road. 3 hours and 20 minutes of heat and pavement. Usually this is my bread and butter, but not today. I was thrilled to hop into the van, joining the French competitor, and soon after picking up the Croatian who I had been trying to catch. The air conditioning felt so good. I drank a water and RedBull and ate a granola bar immediately. It felt so good to be sitting down, I didn’t care how long it would take us to get back to the start.
After reuniting with Julia at the starting area and sharing a long embrace of defeat by the heat, we rejoiced in the realization that we were on vacation for the next 3 weeks! We retreated to our hotel where we cleaned up, and went out for dinner.
It was hard for me to come down after the race. Racing so late in the day and with such an unfulfilled outcome, left me a bit wired. After a while, I checked out my Strava to revisit the whirlwind of the day. My heart rate has never run so high for so long. No wonder, I couldn’t muster the ooomph to be competitive. Sure, I don’t pay much heed to heart rate, since I use a wrist based system, however, I’ll chalk this up to no being heat-adapted. The heat, the wind, the jetlag, all put undue stress on my body causing the drastically elevated heart rate which is just not sustainable!
Oh well, back to the drawing board! While it’s disappointing to not have the race you envision, it’s a good benchmark for what adjustments can be made for future success. So onward we go, but first – The beach is calling, and I must go!