The med tent. Not where I wanted to find myself at the end of my first half marathon. All manner of human exhaustion on display: heaving, shivering, writhing, retching. A volunteer was attempting to amputate my arms and legs—that’s what it felt like. He was in fact icing them down. The ice snapped my capillaries shut. And as the blood from my extremities made a beeline back to my brain, the sense that I was going to be an organ donor lifted. Within 10 minutes, I was back on my feet.
The morning had gone well. I’d recorded a personal best for the 10K. I was enjoying the run, powering through the first two hill sections on pace, on plan. Then at mile 12, trouble. I noticed my hands first. My fingers mutated to regulation-sized frankfurters. I couldn’t make a fist. Then my feet—I felt like I was running in wet Uggs. My pace slowed, then stopped. I willed myself to keep moving and pulled it together just long enough to get across the line. The video of my finish is hilarious, one arm flapping wildly and the other clutching my phone so I could stop my Nike+.
There are many online training plans available for first-time racers. I trained to one from a reputable site. I did about 140 miles in preparation. Then I made a rookie mistake. In the final days, I read an article on the same site, “How to Have a Great First Half Marathon.” “Drink at every aid station,” they advised. I know better. On my training runs, I drink very conservatively. But on race day, I rationalized, I’d be going harder than before—the experts were probably right. Nope.
The medics had a simple explanation: I was mildly overhydrated. My water intake was inhibiting replenishment of salt in my body. I had created an electrolyte deficit. To compensate, my cells were swollen with H2O. Basically, I’d made a tactical error: I drank too much during the race.
Marketers have an obligation not only to put out good information but also to contextualize it for athletes. In a rush to get info out inexpensively and in a timely manner, it is easy to forget that there are real people out there who are counting on it’s being well organized and correct. The organization that creates plans that are easy to understand, well contextualized, and experience appropriate can create a very loyal following.
In the end, what I discovered through training for and completing my first half marathon was that most free advice on running is like water: It’s best when taken with a grain of salt, so the electrolytes can keep the swelling down.