Confession: I had a panic attack during my last race.
I have not been a runner for very long– about three years now. I’ve completed multiple 5K, 10K and half-marathon races, each being better than the last. Every time I enter a new one, I wonder if it’s the one where I wouldn’t earn a “personal best.” Recently, the Race Roster Spring Run Off 8K in Toronto became that race.
Set in Toronto’s beautiful High Park, I had heard many good things about the race. The thing I heard most: “Watch out for ‘The Hill’ at the end.” I knew I should expect a 375-metre hill right before the end. Other than that, I wasn’t concerned. It was supposed to be a pacing exercise. I would run my half-marathon pace and see how well I could hold it. I even looked at the times in my age category from the previous year and thought that if I ran strong, there was a chance I may even be able to squeeze out a third place finish.
What I wasn’t prepared for was the weather. That morning was sunny, but cold. About -9 degrees. I kept my coat for as long as I could, but at 20 minutes until the start, I took my stuff to the bag drop. By the time I got into my place at the start line, I couldn’t feel my feet. I had done a short warm up run, but clearly not for long enough.
Before I knew it, we were off. I was astounded at how fast the group was going. I accidentally did my first kilometre 15 seconds faster than my already challenging half-marathon pace. My feet were still numb. It felt like I wasn’t in control of my own legs. I felt sluggish and cruelly, I was overheating on top.
Just before the three-kilometre mark, I headed up a smaller, yet demanding hill. To put it simply, I started to panic.
The internal dialogue went a bit like this: “I can’t feel my feet. How am I going to keep my pace up for the rest of the race? I can’t do it. How am I possibly going to run the final hill if this smaller one is a challenge?”
As I crested the hill, I started to feel lightheaded and dizzy causing me to panic more. I saw a medical cart but ran past it. Then, my vision started going black. Something was wrong. It was time to stop. My breath came in gasps as I tried to explain to medical what was going on.
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I stared in desperation at the runners pouring past us. I felt regret. Did I really just stop mid-race? As someone in a banana costume ran past us, I freaked out. A banana?! There was no way a banana was going to beat me. I left one of my layers with the medical team and got the “OK” to try again. The feelings came back. I realized that these must be symptoms of a panic attack. I took deep breaths, stopped focusing on my pace and told myself that I would get to the end.
I managed to finish the race without stopping, even making it up the dreaded hill at a decent clip. Regardless, I was gutted when I finished. It all felt like a bad dream. I ran into one of my regular running buddies in the finish chute. He had placed third in his age category and had run a strong race. I told him about my race. “I’ve been there,” he said. “Just remember : If it’s not a PB, it’s an LE– a learning experience.”