Mix your electrolyte beverage of choice before reading this one, folks, ’cause it’s gonna get sweaty.
In case you didn’t see the splash on running-social-media, hashtag RnRSAV was a sweaty, humid sufferfest for all. In comparison to my mostly-fairytale PR race in Savannah last year, conditions were quite to very unfavorable.
— WTOC Jamie Ertle (@wtocjamie) November 8, 2015
And if the temperature wasn’t oppressive enough, hourly weather measured at the nearby Hunter US Army Airfield showed that the humidity never budged from 100%. Also, as noted in the weather data, the fog was so heavy in the early AM that the visibility was just a quarter mile to a half a mile.This recap is hard to write, and not just because I raced sans phone and didn’t take any photos (as I always do). During the race, I experienced such a wide variety of thoughts and emotions that when I reflect on the race, it’s not a coherent story. I’ve attempted to do my best to capture the experience without going too far off the reservation. That’s no easy task, so bear with me. (or not, that’s fine too 🙂 )
The Heat: What Went Right/Wrong
Around 9:45 AM, race officials made the decision to divert runners to the finish along shorter routes than the full course. This affected full marathon participants primarily. As I understand it, most participants still were allowed to cross the finish line, although on a shortened course. I have also heard of other runners who were not permitted to finish. The heat index at this time was 87 degrees.
Everyone has made up their mind to support the decision or hate it. I support the decision. I won’t repeat the arguments I’ve seen repeatedly on social media, but I do want to highlight something that I don’t think was widely understood. One of our friends who lives in Savannah learned from a local EMT that the race created such an abnormal demand for ambulances, that the emergency services were beginning to struggle to respond quickly enough when called. This, to me, is enough to suspend the race by itself. I hear those who argue that other races were continued in conditions that were as bad or worse, but if the emergency services are so strained that they can’t respond timely, call it off. Savannah is not a huge city. The resources are what they are, and I don’t know how it would be feasible for the race organizers to supplement the emergency resources available.
What IS feasible for the race organizers to do is have enough resources in the way of consumables on the course. Specifically, I learned that the race ran out of cups. Initially, I felt guilty for taking multiple cups at the later aid stations. However, when I reflect on it, it’s perfectly reasonable and predictable for me (and many, many others) to take more fluids on that day than we would in normal weather. Predictable is the key word here. This isn’t the first Rock ‘n’ Roll race, nor is it the first hot, humid Rock ‘n’ Roll race. Surely they’ve seen in past races that extra fluids and cups are needed in these conditions. I don’t know why this went wrong, but the fact that volunteers had to pour water into my friend’s mouth is inexcusable, especially for an organization this large and experienced.
Back to my recap:
We had to leave Atlanta in rush hour because of people’s work schedules, so it took 5+ hours to get to Savannah. We arrived by 10 and were in bed by 11:30 or midnight. Pre-race dinner was an embarrassing assortment of Gatorade, potato chips and other junk food while driving.
As I was laying out my race outfit, I realized that I had left the Gu that I planned to eat at mile 4 on my kitchen counter. One of my friends realized she forgot a sports bra; thankfully, I was wearing a sports bra as casual wear, so I had an extra.
We decided to get up at 4:45, have breakfast and coffee, and leave for the race by 5:30 (we were staying with friends on nearby Wilmington Island and had to drive).
Imagine my surprise when my friend Britt barges into my room and tells me I’ve overslept, and I see the clock says 5:20. I looked at my alarm, and I had in fact set it, but I just didn’t budge from what was evidently a very deep sleep.
Britt’s fiance Ben saved the day by making the coffee while I got dressed. I had brought my standard pre-race oatmeal already made, so that went quickly, and we left for the race around 6:15. The race started at 7, and since we missed the expo (by design), we still had to pick up our bibs.
We got VERY lucky to find a parking meter about half a mile from the start line. We found the bib pickup area (we seem to do this every year, so we now know exactly where it is), and got our bibs without any trouble. I didn’t have time to run the two warm-up miles I had planned, or really do much of a warm-up. I did a half-assed lunge matrix and some leg swings next to the corral, and that was about all I had time to do.
Miles 1-4: 9:09 / 8:51 / 8:59 / 9:04
Official time through 5k: 27:50
My game plan was to take the first half of the race pretty easy, then see how I felt. I got in a comfortable groove during the first mile, and other than dripping sweat, I enjoyed the first 5k of the race. I felt stronger on the one hill of the race – a bridge over the viaduct – than I have in either of the other two times I’ve run this race.
Right around the 5k mark, I started feeling my effort become more labored. I knew that I’d run the first 5k of last year’s race in just under 28 minutes, so I was surprised and a bit worried to come in at about the same time.
I passed a water station around mile 2 and didn’t take anything. During mile 3, I took the tiniest pour of Gatorade I’ve ever had in my life. It was less than a full sip, but I’d already run through the station and didn’t want to go back.
Miles 5-9: 9:17 / 9:24 / 9:40 / 9:19 / 9:53
Official time through 10k: 56:38
The fifth mile of the race was a whirlwind of contrasting thoughts and feelings. I remember resolving to give all I had that day, then becoming lightheaded and briefly considering how I would feel if I decided not to finish the race (not good). I wondered if not remembering my Gu was part of the issue with how I was feeling.
When I hit the half marathon relay exchange point in mile 7, I felt pretty bummed that there were another 6.55 miles left in the race. I knew it was getting hotter and I was getting slower. I was soaked in my own sweat. Ever since the lightheaded episode in mile 5, I couldn’t settle into a pace that felt good. My legs wanted to go faster than the rest of my body could handle, so I was in a seesaw of feeling good, picking up a bit, then having to back off.
When I got to the mile 7 aid station, I decided to walk through aid stations from then on to make sure I didn’t shortchange myself of fluids. I had two cups of Gatorade filled to a normal level, a sip of water, and splashed the rest of the water on myself.
The mile 8-9 stretch happens after the course runs through the heart of the city during miles 6 and 7, and there are a few long straightaways. I had a Gu and water just after the mile 8 marker – I remember getting very concerned once I saw the mile 8 marker and no Gu station, because I was sure the course map said it would be before the end of mile 8.The first time I saw an ambulance on the course was during mile 9. I wasn’t surprised, because it was getting so hot, and the humidity wasn’t letting up one bit.
Miles 10-Finish: 9:56 / 9:50 / 9:42 / 0.11 in 0:49 (7:29/mile)
Official time through 13.1: 2:03:59
Halfway through mile 10, I saw another ambulance. I looked to the side of the street where the runner was being treated, and he was getting chest compressions. I’m not a medical professional, and I’ve never seen chest compressions outside of TV or movies. It’s not the same in real life. I won’t describe it out of respect for the guy who was down, but it was a scary scene. For a moment, I wondered if we were being disrespectful by continuing to run, but I realized that continuing to run was the least disruptive thing we could do. I saw people laughing up ahead – I doubt they saw what I saw – but I was a little disturbed by how happy they seemed.
In a race when I was struggling, well off the pace I hoped for, and had been waging an internal debate as to whether or not to “race”, the non-race side of the debate won out. I tried to settle into a comfortable training-run-type groove, but I also wanted to be done and no longer running in the heat and humidity.
Mile 13 was strangely tough from a mental standpoint. Normally the last mile of a race is pretty exciting, there’s less than one mile to go, and that’s nothing! For some reason, that wasn’t the case in Savannah this year. I think the first half of mile 13 is a slight incline, and every stride I took required fighting the urge to walk off the course.
I got a second wind once there was a very gradual downhill in the last half of the mile, then I became almost giddy when I saw the mile 26 marker for the marathon course. I picked up the pace for a quick finish to get the race over with!
The finishers’ chute had all of the normal refreshments I expected: water, sports drink, chocolate milk, Powerbars, bananas, and some unexpected things like chips made from peas (salty, crunchy = GOOD).
The beer line in Forsyth Park wasn’t too long when I got there, but about 45 minutes later, it was slammed. Picking up my shirt (since I didn’t get it at the expo) was pretty easy at the information tent. Our group met up in the park and went to Foxy Loxy for tacos, pastries, and beer. This was a great spot to go as sweaty as we were, because they have a spacious outdoor courtyard where a few people were dining with their dogs. I thought the chipotle chicken taco was quite yummy.
I don’t have strong feelings about how this race went. I could have kept a race effort throughout the race, but I don’t regret deciding to prioritize safety and recovery. I knew going in that it wasn’t a goal race, although I didn’t fully grasp how difficult the conditions would be. Also, I don’t think not racing was a smarter decision than racing cautiously. It was what I wanted to do, so I did it.
I underestimated how bad the heat combined with the 100% humidity would be. Running the first 5k just under 28 minutes felt comfortable at the time. So I’m unsure of what to learn from how much harder it became to maintain that pace: is it best to start out slower than comfortable? Or is it just a given that as the heat rises, one’s performance will drop? If I ever race in similar conditions in the future, I’m going to go with option A. But I’ll have to have some short-term memory loss before I ever pin on another bib in 70s+100% humidity weather.
While the design of the race shirt is better than last year’s (not a high bar), I probably won’t run in a black short-sleeved shirt. I liked this year’s medal better than last year’s – it actually had a design on it rather than a standard-looking RnR logo with music notes.
I’ll probably run this race every year because I enjoy going to Savannah with my friends. However, I have serious concerns with the way the race organizers handled the fluids on a hot, humid day, and the course is too crowded for a smaller-city race.
In normal weather, it’s a flat, PR friendly course. But as we saw this year, weather can be an issue. If I had to make a recommendation, go for it if this race is convenient for you, but I wouldn’t suggest that anyone go too far out of their way to run this race.