This is a long post and only slightly food-related!
When J and I got off the ferry in Helsinki last Saturday, I was feeling pretty anxious. It had been cloudy and raining on and off all day on Friday, and the weather for Helsinki on race day was supposed to be about the same. I was excited about running, but the thought of being wet and cold totally discouraged me. And J hadn’t slept well the night before and wasn’t feeling great, so I was anxious for him too.
After a quick coffee in the city centre we made our way to the race office, which was located in the sports centre next to the Helsinki Olympic Stadium. We got our numbers and t-shirts around 12 and then had nothing but time to kill until the start (the race started at 3, but J was in the group starting at 3:20 and I was starting at 3:40). So we walked around, ate the sandwiches and snacks we’d packed, went and got some tea, and then around 1:30 we decided there was nothing left to do but get dressed. That hour and a half seemed like such a long time to fill. Once dressed we went to walk outside and check out the starting areas. Walking around in my running clothes I was a little chilly (it was cloudy and around 8-9 C), but I kept reassuring myself that once the race started I would feel great, not cold at all. And hey, at least it wasn’t raining! But still, the anxiety was building up and for some reason all I felt like doing was crying. I did a little, and it helped to get it out of my system. Finally, at around 2:50, J and I said good-bye and he headed to his starting area. I went inside the race office to make some final adjustments to my shoes and socks and warm up a bit, and before I knew it I was heading to the starting area myself, with the other blue number-wearers. Then the horn sounded and we were off.
Me before the race
I was surprised by how hilly the course was. Finland is an extremely flat country, but on the course that snaked around Helsinki we had some pretty decent ups and downs. We went around some ponds, along some railroad tracks (definitely the ugliest part of the course), and through some beautiful parks, which were my favorite part. It was a great way to see the city :-). When I got to kilometer 5 and my hip hadn’t started to hurt, I felt relieved and happy I had given myself some time to heal before the race. I did feel some tightness in that spot, but I stopped to stretch it at the two middle hydration stops and it helped. At kilometer 10 I was so excited– almost halfway. I planned to really celebrate at the 11-km marker, but somehow I missed it so the next one I saw was 12 km, which was even better. I knew at that point I could do it. The weather kept changing– it started to drizzle twice, then the sun came out briefly. I think around kilometer 14 was when it started to get really challenging. My feet hurt and, well, I was just getting tired. But I kept going, every once in a while walking briefly or eating a fruit-flavored glucose tab for a bit of energy (I also drank Gatorade at 2 of the 4 hydration stops). Every kilometer marker brought a burst of joy– I’m getting closer, I’m almost there. In kilometer 18 it started to rain rather hard and all I could think was you’ve got to be kidding me. Luckily it didn’t last too long, but long enough to soak my sleeves, leggings and hat (not shoes, though). After kilometer 20 I think I was fueled by the pure excitement of being so close to the finish. YES. And then I crossed the finish, scanning the crowd for J but not seeing him, and it was over. I was done. I did it (in 2:26:50).
Maali means “finish” in Finnish
At the finish they handed out bananas, cereal bars, and individual serving-size boxes of soy milk to the runners. I grabbed some snacks and a cup of water and went to the meeting point J and I had agreed on. He wasn’t there and I wondered if he was hanging around at the finish, not aware that I had already crossed it. I looked around but couldn’t spot his hat in the crowd. I stretched a bit. I was starting to get cold in my wet clothes, not to mention nervous. He hadn’t been feeling well. What if he ran too hard and collapsed? Or hurt his knee? I didn’t have my phone with me and was starting to feel a little frantic. I had just decided to wait 5 more minutes, then go inside to warm up and figure out what to do, when the race announcer began speaking in English: “This is an announcement for Marika. J is waiting for you in the first aid area”. I felt simultaneously relieved and terrified– I knew where he was, but what had happened?
It took me a few minutes to find the first aid area. I ran in and looked around but didn’t see J until he began waving at me. I hadn’t noticed him because he had changed his shirt from the one he was wearing earlier, and also, his eyes were swollen shut and he was wearing an oxygen mask. I ran over and of course burst into tears, but immediately J was pulling off the mask to choke out “I’m fine” and there was a medic beside me saying, “Don’t panic. He’s OK, he just had an allergic reaction to something in the soy milk.” OMG. I pulled myself together, but that moment– seeing him with the oxygen mask and an IV in his arm, eyes so swollen I don’t even know how he saw me, not knowing how he had actually gotten to the first aid area in the first place– was so scary. I sat down beside and rested my head on his shoulder. He took off the mask again and asked through his swollen throat, “How was the race?” “It was good,” was all I could think of to say. “How was yours?” “I rocked it.”
The medics wanted to take him to the hospital just in case, since his reaction had clearly been a very strong one, so I sprinted to the race office to grab our stuff (if you had told me that I’d be running that hard to get anywhere right after the race, I never would’ve believed you) so I could get to the hospital in the same ambulance as him. While he was getting checked out I was able to change out of my racing clothes and eat a small snack. Then I was allowed to go back into the room to hang out with him. His symptoms were getting better all the time, but they wanted to keep him until midnight to make sure everything was OK. Of course I finally got to hear the whole story– after he finished (in 2:00:23!!) he’d gulped down 2 boxes of soy milk. After that when he went to change his eyes felt incredibly itchy and his nose started running. He recognized it as an allergic reaction and had already gone to the first aid area when things started to get worse (his eyes and throat swelling). Luckily they acted quickly and managed to give him things to prevent the symptoms from getting any worse. After about 5 hours in the hospital, they let him out and we headed to our friend’s apartment, since we’d missed our ferry back to Tallinn. My body must have hated me because I hadn’t been able to eat or drink anything while sitting with him, so I was very hungry and definitely dehydrated (he, on the other hand, had been on an IV drip the whole time, which definitely helped his post-race recovery!!).
So that’s the story of our first half marathon. A day that we always would have remembered anyway was made even more memorable by an unexpected allergic reaction and a trip to a Finnish hospital. Hopefully that’s one experience we’ll never have to repeat, but as for the race– there will definitely be more of those in our future.
Read Full Post »