Sasha Gollish ran her marathon debut just over a week ago in Berlin. Many Canadian women had amazing days at Berlin: Lyndsay Tessier and Catherine Watkins ran Canadian records, Rachel Hannah had a great comeback from injury, and Rachel Cliff ran a world-class marathon debut in 2:28:53. But unfortunately, Gollish didn’t make it across the finish line. 

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In June she announced that she would be running the marathon with the motto of “testing herself,” and Berlin certainly tested the track-turned-road runner. According to Strava, Gollish made it to 31.04 kilometres before she fell down. The runner says she suffered extreme cramping that caused her to slow to the point of walking, and eventually falling. 

She thinks that her cramping was caused by a disruption early in the race, “My heart rate spiked about five kilometres into the race. We had a pace car that got stuck behind us and was honking to get in front. The driver was trying to do a good thing, but I found it very stressful. I can see on my heart rate data that I didn’t ever recover from the heart rate spike five kilometres in. I was put in an anaerobic state that I didn’t come out of.”

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It’s been a week. Every morning I wake up and wonder if finishing the Berlin Marathon in the hospital was a dream. It was not. • Here is what I reminded myself of: 1. I am not not a failure. This was a failed attempt at the marathon. These small nuances in world create a world of difference in our outlook. 2. This is a setback. This is a bump in the road. And I suspect if I can learn from it then I can come back stronger and smarter. 3. I am not defined by my successes or my failures. I am Sasha and I am a runner. • Race or not no one can take away my love of this sport. Thank you to the magical people that made me smile, the people who really helped coached me back to not crying in the shower, at the bank machine, walking in the sand. I’m not ashamed or proud of those moments, but I celebrate that they are part of the process. 📷: @angrycoffeeguy #headupwingsout

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Gollish learned post-race that cramping happens as your body’s defense to stop it from being harmed. It was this defense mechanism that got her into real trouble later in the race. “I’ve spoken to an expert on nutrition and it wasn’t an energy availability or fueling issue. I was taking in about 90 grams of carbohydrate per hour.”

RELATED: Rachel Cliff debuts the marathon only 53 seconds off the Canadian record

Another possible cause of Gollish’s cramping was her training surface during her build. “I trained primarily at the cottage and I think the surface was too soft. I don’t think I was ready for this race, to be perfectly honest.”

Gollish had considered various scenarios before the race, but most of those included running a blazing fast time or at the very least, crossing the line. The runner hadn’t even considered not finishing the race. “I think going forward I will consider a scenario where I don’t cross the line. I had thought about certain failures happening but I didn’t think about that one. We shouldn’t pretend that failure can’t happen, because it can, and it will be a reality for a small percentage of us. By coming up with a plan you’ll be even stronger if it never happens, but better prepared if it does.”

Gollish says, “I put it all out there. I physically couldn’t go any further. I’m embarrassed and I’m working through that. I am going to run another marathon, but not tomorrow.” Gollish is focusing on learning from her experience, and using it to make her a stronger runner going forward.

Gollish’s sport psychologist reminded her that you can’t make any big decisions after having a bad day. “I wanted to quit racing. I’m an engineer, I have a Ph.D., why am I doing this?” But after a few days to reflect she’s concluded that she’s too in love with running to stop. Oh, and she’s already signed up for another marathon. 

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