I’ve had all kinds of running experiences out on the roads and trails. These were the worst.
I have been an enthusiastic runner for over quarter of a century now. Even though I’ve recently scaled back my weekly running mileage, the sport is still my favourite way of getting in my cardio and staying fit. I still love the thrill of a race and it’s an essential tool in keeping my mood positive and stable too. In short, running is an indispensable part of my life and I love it.
Over the years, I have covered thousands of kilometres in all weathers in countries from Canada to France to New Zealand. And I have been through all sorts out on the road and the trails. Most of it has been wonderful, scenic and exhilarating. Other stuff — not so much.
Here is a run-down (pun not intended!) of my worst running experiences.
1. Putting my back out during a race
It was one of the regular winter series runs which are held every year in Vienna in the big inner city Prater park. These informal races are nice little running experiences which runners can use as motivation to keep training through the winter. Which, in Vienna, can be pretty grey and depressing and not very conducive to going outside in lycra. The races also make a good addition to a training programme for the Vienna City Marathon, held in April each year.
I’ve done the series several times over the years. The route is boring and never changes, but it’s nice to get out in a group and be part of a race atmosphere. Plus, you can track your own fitness and training progress.
I’d usually do the 14km race: 2 laps of the 7km track. All was going well on this day and, at the 11km mark, I was shaping up to run a great time of just over one hour. Then, out of nothing, I felt a nasty little “twang” in my lower back.
Uh-oh, here we go again…
Oh no, not this! I’d had these episodes before. I’m not 100% what is happening to my anatomy, but it feels like a nerve in my lumbar spine region getting trapped or nipped. In the days afterwards, it continually “catches” when I move myself in a certain way, giving me a kind of electric shock. I can feel my legs — they don’t go numb — but I don’t feel like I am fully in control of them.
And I knew that was the case here. I guess I should have stopped, but I was not in pain and I really wanted to finish that race! So I just kept on.
It was such a stupid thing to do. The continued impact of running ensured that the next few days were highly unpleasant while the nerve/muscle/whatever healed and righted itself. I do believe I risked proper nerve damage by pressing on with that run. No amateur race is worth that risk.
2. Getting spat on
People have spat on me several times during my running career — both unintentionally and intentionally. Of all my bad running experiences, the spitting incidents are the most disgusting by far. I HATE spitting. It is so uncivilised.
Now, it is quite a common thing to get nastiness in your mouth while running. Either because you accidentally breathe in some of the local wildlife, or because you haven’t drunk enough and your saliva gets tough and thick in your mouth. (I know this is gross, but all runners will know precisely what I mean.)
The worst in running experiences
So yes, there are some situations where you just need to jettison the contents of your mouth. But, if you do need to spit, then please, PLEASE, do it carefully and make sure that no one is about to run past who will get hit by the flying products of your saliva glands as you sail on towards sporting glory.
People simply turning their heads and letting fly without looking is the reason I have been gobbed on several times during a race. It makes me feel sick every time.
3. Being sick
It was not a good idea to do the Mondsee Half Marathon in 2012. I had been under severe stress at work for the month prior. I also managed to get a really painful crick in my neck and had been swallowing ibuprofen tablets like they were going out of fashion to try and keep the work show on the road. That had, in turn, messed up my stomach. As if that wasn’t bad enough, I was in the throes of some kind of emotional turmoil too. Suffice to say, these were not ideal conditions for running a half marathon — let alone in the June heat. Cue the next of my bad running experiences.
By about 10km, I was suffering like a dog. My entire gut seemed to be on fire and I had a monster stitch. I hadn’t slept at all the night before so I was tired and the slight, but continuous incline of the course was killing my legs. It was also hot, and all the rain from the previous days was evaporating, creating suffocating humidity.
All of a sudden, I was bent double, retching into the grass at the side of the road. Because I had already fully digested my breakfast, all I could bring up was rank stomach acid which made my throat and mouth burn. Some kindly gentlemen runners stopped to ask me if they could help. But what could they do? I already had water and, with no refreshment stations or first aid staff in sight, all I could do was slow to a walk and try and regain control over my insides.
Which I managed to do after about 5 minutes. I soon started up again at a trot, gradually speeding up as I saw that no further waves of nausea were forthcoming. As I passed the gentlemen who had asked me how I was in my moment of need, they clapped me on the back and cheered me on. A silver lining to the dark and bilious cloud that was the Mondsee Half Marathon in 2012.
4. Thinking I was getting attacked
Like a lot of people when they are young, in my 20s, I was not that great at appraising risk and understanding that I was not invincible.
I used to go out running late at night in areas without a lot of street lighting. And I didn’t really think about what risks that might entail for me as a young woman out on her own. Vienna is generally one of the safest cities in the world and I don’t have any serious qualms about moving around the city on my own. But like any other large city, bad things can and do happen there. Everyone should apply a soupçon of common sense and, for me, not intentionally seeking out the dark corners of the city for lone runs is common sense.
Or at least it is now — when I was 24 it wasn’t. And so it came to pass that I was running down by the Danube Canal at about 9pm, close to Schwedenplatz. At that time (2006/7), none of the modern bars or going-out attractions on the canal were there. During the winter, it was still very dark and lonely down by the water at night.
As I approached the staircase back up to the road and underground station, a group of young Turkish boys came in the other direction. They were walking 4 or 5 abreast, almost entirely blocking my path. I moved rightwards to run around them. But when I was about 2m away from them, one of the group moved quickly sideways, blocking my way. Unable to stop, I collided bodily with him. His arms went around me, pinning mine down at my sides.
I was so freaked out! In that moment, I really thought that I was going to get attacked, beaten up, maybe raped. The group totally outnumbered me. Five fit young men would have no trouble overpowering me and holding me down. This serves you damned well right for running in dark places at night, I thought to myself, panicked.
“Oh, eine schöne Umarmung für die Läuferin!“ („Oh, a nice hug for the lady runner!”) the guy said, squeezing me and laughing, before letting me go.
Thank God, I thought. It’s just a joke and he’s not being aggressive — just trying it on for laughs in front of his mates. I disentangled myself from his “embrace” and sprinted up the steps back to civilisation like greased lightening.
But what an idiot! Randomly hugging a stranger in a big city — that is not normal behaviour and he should have known it would cause me fear. Young lads can be so bloody daft.
Even though it all turned out to be a harmless prank, it certainly made me a bit more careful about where I went running on my own in future.
5. Getting dumped
Sticking with the inconsiderate assholes theme (because that really is where the majority of these bad running experiences are coming from, amirite?), I bring you to the story of a minor affair I had back in 2007 with a guy just coming out of a serious long-term relationship. (I know, I should have sensed impending disaster from the off, but as I said, I was still very young and as daft as the proverbial brush.)
During this mini-rebound-romance, we’d quite often go running together after work. One of these after-hours workouts (that isn’t an innuendo by the way) took us out along the Danube Canal towards the north end of Vienna. The path is dedicated to runners and cyclists, but it is not well lit and is full of the kind of shady corners I learned to avoid after incident №. 4.
So, we’re running along under the motorway flyover at a cheerful sort of clip when the guy suddenly blurts out that he thinks we shouldn’t see each other any more. At the tender age of 25, I did not yet have much experience with men and I wasn’t flush with emotional maturity or stability either. My first instinct was to burst into tears and run off home.
Neither of which I did. I didn’t cry (because, you know — PRIDE and the British stiff upper lip and all) and I didn’t turn round and run on home alone because of incident №. 4 which had preceded this incident №. 5 by about a year and a half. So there I am, having an inner meltdown and feeling very vulnerable and embarrassed and like I really don’t want to be there at all. But having to keep on going — one foot in front of the other. Bam, bam, bam.
Poor young me
Sitting here, writing this at age 40, my heart breaks for that 25 year old. And I’m so cross with that guy! Why he couldn’t have just waited until we got back, or told me before we were right out in the darkness I have no idea. Perhaps the logic was to be somewhere quiet and secluded and that that would somehow be the kindest thing. He wasn’t a nasty person at all, so I do want to think charitably of him. But whatever his logic was that evening, it was 9 kinds of wrong. It felt cruel and inconsiderate and humiliating. We stayed in touch, but I sure as hell never went running with him again.
Guys — if you are reading this, let me tell you: of all the ways which you can tell a girl that it’s over, this is not one of the good ones. Don’t do it.