The best time I ever took a wrong turn

Alternate titles for this post:

Pay more attention to the finish line.

On the bright side, I’ve got a new 14-mile PR!

Or my personal favorite – Phuck you, Philly.

If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook, you probably already know that yesterday’s 1/2 marathon did not go as planned. In case you don’t feel like reading through this entire post, in short – I missed the turn off for the 1/2 marathon finish, ran the marathon course until about mile 13.5 when I realized my mistake, and then had to double back. Umm, yeah, you don’t have to tell me twice. It really sucks. I ended up finishing approximately 14 miles in 1:36:31, which is about 6:54/mile pace. A good effort, for sure, but not the result I was looking for. 

Here I am around mile 2.5 – hmm, me thinks the casual wave means I was too relaxed.

Things I did not love about this course – the hills at mile 7 and 9 and the many hair pin turns. Things I love about this photo – how jacked my quads look.

Thanks to Brian for spectating, cheering, and snapping these photos!

I suppose if there’s one thing that makes me feel better (well, sort of), it’s that I wasn’t going to break 1:30 anyway. I followed my race plan exactly, coming through 3 miles in 20:50 and the 10k in 43:00, and then started picking up the pace. The issue wasn’t with executing the plan, it was that the plan wasn’t a very good one. I underestimated the hills in mile 7-10 and ended up running close to 6:55-7:00 pace for a few of those miles. This wouldn’t have been as much of an issue if I had a bit more of a time cushion, but since I started off conservatively, I really didn’t have any wiggle room. In retrospect, I should have been more aggressive in the early miles (running 6:50’s instead of 7’s). When I got to mile 10 in 1:09:40, I knew a sub-1:30 probably wasn’t going to happen. In order to do that, I would have had to run a 20 minute final 5k. I can probably do that, but not when I’ve raced 10 miles immediately prior! Let me just say…when you’re 3+ miles out from the finish and you can see your goal time slipping away, it’s not easy to stay motivated. One thing that I’m really proud of is that I didn’t give up. Realistically, I knew I wasn’t going to run 1:29:xx, but I still continued to race. Miles 11, 12, and 13 were about: 6:37, 6:54, 6:50, and then a final sprint to what I thought would be the finish line.

So how did I miss the finish? Ugh, I wish I had a good explanation. The course had signs telling half-marathoners to “stay to the right”, but the problem was – I was running near the front of my wave and there weren’t too many people near me. As we were approaching mile 13, most (if not all) of the dudes I was running with continued on to the left. I had been running pretty fast for 90 minutes, so I guess I wasn’t exactly thinking clearly and I just went with the people around me. I passed the 13th mile marker in 1:30 exactly. Shortly after, I noticed that it was eerily quiet. Shouldn’t I be hearing cheering crowds? An announcer? Seeing the finish line? Something didn’t feel right, but I guess all my energy was diverted to my legs and lungs, not my brain. Finally when my watch read 1:33, I knew something was wrong. I confirmed with a guy running next to me that I was running the marathon course. After loudly yelling F%$*! I turned around and doubled back to where the courses split, and then finally the finish.

I ran through the line and walked in a daze for a few minutes. I was angry, frustrated, and really really disappointed. A few minutes later, I found my Mom and proceeded to sulk on the curb for awhile. Then I yanked off my medal and threw it on the ground. (Hey, Mom – how’d you like the return of 4 year old Megan? Heh) I eventually got my bag and walked back to the hotel. I was trying not to be a brat – my Mom had traveled to Philly to support me – but I really just wanted to stew in my misery. Fortunately, I was able to pull myself together, shower, and get myself to our 11am brunch reservation. I thought I might be too upset to eat, but let’s be real – I don’t think I’ve ever been too upset, nervous, or tired to eat. In fact, I devoured my turkey & grain burger and fries with such ferocity that my plate was clean before my Mom was even half way through with her eggs. Being that hungry reminded me that while I didn’t run the race I wanted, I still asked a lot of my body.

Post-race brunch was a turkey & grain burger w/ lettuce, tomato, pickled onions, and spicy aioli on a whole grain roll from Marathon Grill. Almost positive that yesterday was the most hungry I’ve ever been after a race.

Brunch was followed up by multiple beers and some bacon grease popcorn (yes, really and yes, it was delicious) at Khyber Pass pub. I was able to commiserate/catch up/drown my sorrows with Brian, Kate, and her husband Joe. And it was probably the best part of the entire day. Also Kate brought me a cupcake. Beer + cupcakes + friends + Spice Girls on my ipod = the cure for most bad moods.

I have a lot going through my head right now. One of my first thoughts was to immediately sign up for another 1/2 marathon sometime in December.  But after 24 hours reflection, I realize that’s not the answer. Spending $500-600 on a flight, hotel, and race registration to maybe claim redemption is not a wise idea. Sure, it would feel great if I could run 1:29:xx in Miami or Dallas or Tucson, but it’s a big risk and I can’t justify spending that much money and emotional energy. It sounds a little cliche, but as I drifted off to sleep last night, I realized that one race or my best time for a specific distance does not define me as a runner. I can’t let chasing this time goal affect my feeling of self-worth. By putting so much emphasis on one race, that is exactly what I’d be doing.

I know that someday I will run a very fast half-marathon, but for the time being, I need to re-adjust my focus as a runner. As I was speeding down Chestnut Street yesterday morning, I spotted my Mom at mile 6 and gave her a big thumbs up. I was running fast, 6:5x pace felt nearly effortless, and it was the most fun I had in weeks. That feeling is why I run day after day, why I spend my paycheck on new running shoes and entry fees, why I keep coming back for more, even if sometimes I feel a little lost (bother literally and figuratively).

The plan for now is to take a few days off from running and more importantly, forgive myself for screwing up. I’ve spent the better portion of the past 24 hours berating myself for that stupid mistake at mile 13 and I need to move on. In all seriousness, deep down, I know how lucky I am. I’m grateful for a healthy body that allows me to run, for legs and lungs that can carry me through 14 miles at sub-7:00 pace, and for the dozens of text messages, tweets, Facebook posts, and phone calls that made me feel cared for on race day.

When I’m ready, I’ll get on the starting line again. And hopefully follow directions this time.

Have you ever gone the wrong way in a race? Screwed up in some other way? Now would be the time to share…I could use a laugh!

  • sarah

    Marie always wins. BIG MOMMA!

  • sarah

    I ran a little extra in a 5K once and a little less in a half marathon – which is why my fake half PR is 1:21:XX. But…um…I did flip off a girl when running on the track in a 10K and was later told I was almost DQ’ed for it! 

  • Oh sheesh! How annoying for you. I’d be kicking myself so hard. I think you have a great attitude though! Just leaves more to dream about for the next race or season. And I think you should consider Dallas in the future. You’d really like it–beautiful course, flat, and cool temps. 

  • UGH. sorry to hear. I think packing it in and resting for a couple weeks before you start training for Boston is the good call. I actually haven’t run under 1:30 yet; I’m going to be taking another stab in a few weeks as part of the marathon build. It makes me nervous because the one time I tried (in Jan), I thought it was going to be a piece of cake… then my mom had surgery the week of the race and I had a total blowup + emotional meltdown. I didn’t end up chasing it again, I switched to 5K training and had SO much fun with it. Still, stupid arbitrary barrier!

  • Sorry to hear that. D: It really sucks to take a wrong turn, /especially/ during a race!

  • That is still an AMAZING time! (I know, not what you want to hear…) You will reach that half marathon goal though. I took a wrong turn in the last race I ran. It was at mile 21 and there were cones that made it seem as though I should make a right hand turn. As soon as I did the crowd started yelling at me so I figured it out rather quickly 🙂

  • Anonymous

    Detours suck, period. Sorry you had one during your race, but you did still run a great race and I’m willing to bet you’ll never make this mistake again! 

  • Just finding your blog…sorry you ran long, but you are one speedy lady!  Unfortunately I did not meet you Saturday (I went to the Philly expo Friday night), I think you met the other Amanda blogger mentioned in Kari’s or Kristy’s post- (www.runtothefinish.com)

  • Anonymous

    ohhh, whoops! i think you’re right 🙂

  • Words cannot express the crappiness of this situation. I knew as soon as I saw your splits that something must have gone wrong. I’m so sorry this race wasn’t what you had hoped it would be. I wish I had a funny anecdote to make you feel better. Luckily it seems like Marie already took care of that for me… 

    Anyway, I know a 14 mile PR was not what you were looking for, but wrong turn or not, you still ran a great race. 14 miles at a sub-7 pace is awesome, and shows how strong you are as a runner. I can understand how you can be so in the zone during a race that you’re only vaguely paying attention to your surroundings. It’s an awful mistake, but hopefully that means you’ve gotten that one out of the way for life….and every race will go smoothly from here on out (that’s how it works, right??).

    I love your attitude about the race. One race definitely doesn’t define you as a runner. Hopefully, after you’ve gotten your 1:29:xx, you’ll be able to look back and laugh about the day you unexpectedly ran a 14 mile race. In the meantime, I still think you’re an amazing runner. Get some rest. Can’t wait to toe the line in Boston with you.

  • Rebecca

    hiya, a.m. miles Brooklyn-running buddy! I was thinking about why I loved this post so much, and I realized it is for this reason: I so admire the way that you set ambitious goals for yourself and hold yourself accountable for them, but that you were still able to re-group after things didn’t go as planned. I mean, what it comes down to in the “adult” world, especially with stuff like running, where the motivation/recognition comes most significantly from you — that this ambitious goal setting is to make yourself feel great and accomplished when you meet those goals. So beating yourself up for them is precisely the opposite of their desired effect! I know how disappointed you must have been, but it really sounds like you took it in stride (couldn’t resist) and and handled it as gracefully as possible, despite the inevitable disappointment. 

    Hopefully I’ll see you out there soon — weather and knees permitting! Enjoy your days off 🙂

  • Abby

    Ugh, sorry to read about the faulty finish!  I saw a couple other people do the same thing – end-of-race haze or something.  I’ve never had that experience in a road race but I’ve definitely done it on trails.  So frustrating!

    Great to meet you at the expo on Saturday – maybe I’ll see you back in Philly next year for redemption!

    (Oh, and Sunday was the most hungry I’ve ever been after a race, too – not sure what that was about)

  • Oh I’m so sorry to hear that your race didn’t go as planned! But major kudos to you for finishing in such a great time! I once scored in the last second of a 62-61 basketball championship game..on the wrong basket. It cost us the victory and my coach was seriously reconsidering signing my contract. Yeah, that was a good one..

  • Oh I’m so sorry to hear that your race didn’t go as planned! But major kudos to you for finishing in such a great time! I once scored in the last second of a 62-61 basketball championship game..on the wrong basket. It cost us the victory and my coach was seriously reconsidering signing my contract. Yeah, that was a good one..

  • Katie

    Aw Megan, I’m sorry that happened.  But it makes for a great story!

    And as for reverting into a brat from time to time… try living with your parents.  Happens EVERY freaking day!

  • “Phuck you, Philly” made me crack up so much!!

    You are so awesome. Even though you went the wrong way, you didn’t give up and still got an AMAZING time! You are FAST! Even though you are frustrated, I’m sure it’ll be one of those experiences you look back on and laugh about! You definitely have that sub 1.30 in you 🙂

  • that’s still an UH-mazing time! Be proud! And just remember that it wasn’t your last race…you can redeem yourself! shoooot, if I could run a sub 1:45 half marathon I’d kiss the ground…:)

  • Eileen

    I’m so sorry about your wrong turn! You are an AMAZING runner, and your bad day actually makes for a really gripping race report, but still … it sucks.

    For what it’s worth, I live in Philly, and I find myself thinking “Phuck you, Philly” many days!

  • Absolutely!! Yup, I’ll be in touch. 

  • Ah, Megan…I’m so sorry!!  I ran the full marathon a couple years ago and definitely remember the split off for the half marathoners….but if you’re in the zone, I could see how you could miss it.  It still sucks though.  A crappy mistake, but at least (as you said), you probably weren’t going to hit sub-1:30 anyway, so it’s not like you totally messed that up with the wrong turn.

    Not the best way to look at it, but it’s something.  You still ran a fast race (although no matter how many times people say, “But 6:54 pace is something to be proud of!” I know it won’t REALLY make a difference if it’s not what your ultimate goal was), and you’ll get that sub-1:30 soon.   You run a smart race, which is more than I could ever say, and one race doesn’t define you.

    And I’m looking forward to our Boston training….winter running, here we come!

  • J (morning runner)

    Totally understand.  At the end of longer distance races I seem to be so focused and also tired that I just don’t see things right.  I can’t even think straight! I can’t even do math!  You still great and I am sure you will get your fast half!

  • Anonymous

    yes, so glad we met up at the expo! i meant to tell you – you look very familiar, we haven’t met before, right?? haha, hope that doesn’t sound too creepy!

  • Anonymous

    thank you for such a thoughtful comment 🙂 you always give such sage advice! let me know how the knees are feelin’ – i’ll be back in NYC and ready to run next week!

  • Anonymous

    Thanks Lauren 🙂 If figure, if I have running buddies in Boston, I probably won’t miss the finish line…right? Heh.

  • Anonymous

    you are such a troublemaker Sarah. what are we going to do with you??

  • Anonymous

    oh no!! i hope that someone has gotten back to you about this! in any case, that is a really fast PR – major congrats.

  • Anonymous

    Gina – nice meeting you as well! I am pretty sure those hills (even though in retrospect they were’t that bad) are what made my hamstrings and quads so sore. yikes.

  • Anonymous

    i am glad to hear i am not alone! we shall never make this mistake again, right??

  • Anonymous

    oh man, Carlsbad looks awesome!!! wish i had known about it sooner. ah well, there’s always Boston…

  • I mean think of it this way – you WON the 14 Philly race!!! WINNER. Anyways, good perspective. It sucks, but you’re still damn fast. I like to think of the whole process as the result. You dedicated yourself to your training, you became a better runner, and you ran two great halves this fall. Sure, it wasn’t exactly the sub-1:30 you wanted, but it was still awesome. 

    I liked what you said about shooting for that one time goal. I’ve been thinking of if me focusing on one marathon goal time is, umm, pathologic. I do better when I focus on doing my 100% effort. Usually the times follow. I guess the only issue with not setting a goal is that then you don’t know what pace to train at….

    GOOD JOB, regardless, and TEACH ME HOW TO RUN FAST.

  • omg, you’re right! i am the 14 mile race winner. suh-weet.

  • Corey

    Megan you ran so incredibly welll, congratulations!! I’m sorry the ending wasn’t as planned, but so much of racing is like this. Making mistakes and learning from them, being able to appreciate all the hard work you put into the training and the race, and having confidence that your HM time will continue to improve…those are what matter at the end of the day. I can completely understand the emotional reaction whn you finished. Once I could not find my mom for an hour after a race and was wallking around crying -races bring out intense emotions, especially when you’re disappointed. I’ve had a bunch of running disappoitments lately, and I have to say this post is really inspiring. You have an amazing love for running that always wins out in the end and pushes you to be positive and move ahead to the next thing. Its funny my first reaction when I finished my october marathon was to register for anothr in a few months to PR, but like you said that’s not the answer. The time will definitely come for you to run sub 1:30, and when you do it will feel awesome 🙂

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  • Anonymous

    I’m so sorry, Megan! You said you could use a laugh, so I wanted to send this to you. This elite marathon runner in Japan was in the lead, and with 200 meters to go, he unfortunately took a wrong turn! I think it’s safe to say… this totally happens to the best of us!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IduFxf7ND_s

  • Anonymous

    I recently had an funny marathon fail that I wanted to share… I volunteered to lead the 4:00 pace group, and my Garmin 405 wouldn’t start for the first 4-5 miles! We were supposed to be running 9 min miles, but I had no idea what our pace was for the first several miles. Fortunately, my pace group was really nice, and yelled out mile splits until I could get my watch fixed…I felt ABSOLUTELY terrible, because my group was depending on me. The bezel is SUPER sensitive to moisture, and it kept switching to different screens no mater what I pressed… I felt REALLY dumb, embarrassed, frustrated… It’s a fantastic watch, but it’s NOT easy to get that watch going while holding a 4:00 sign in your hand! It finally started working again, and we ran a FABULOUS race, and finished right on time…

    http://jillchrist.tumblr.com/post/12928222094/2011-santa-barbara-international-marathon-recap

    Have you ever had a GPS watch fail during a race?

  • Anonymous

    ahhh, signal troubles are one of the reasons why I don’t race with a Garmin. Stresses me out. However, I do kind of wish I had worn it last Sunday…then I would know exactly how far off course I actually went. Being a marathon pacer sounds fun – maybe I could do that some day!

  • Know exactly how you feel. I had a similar experience running a new smaller half-marathon too, except I ran too short. I was on pace for a big PR 10-15 minutes, and somehow after mile 11, I turned the wrong way and ended up running about a mile short.

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  • Helen

    I know that this is a year later, but you made me laugh in spite of the disappointment I am feeling. I am 50 years old and trained for the FULL marathon in New York (my bucket list marathon) only to have that cancelled and sign-up for the Miami marathon. Well, my story is similar, but not quite. I realized I was going the wrong way when it was slowing down “after the finish” and found myself with half-marathon finishers. When I realized what had happened, all I could think about was running back to where the volunteer had directed me to turn iff and get back in. Well, I managed to run back there only to have another volunteer tell me the full marathon course was closed off! I was never able to finish my race. Miami is the worse marathon when it comes to race organization and volunteers!

  • runnerskitchen

    Oh no! I am so sorry to hear about your experience. A lot of people couldn’t believe I missed the finish line in the Philly Half, but I think it’s surprisingly easy to make a wrong turn (or be mis-directed). I hope you are able to avenge this race soon!

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