DNF, Part II: Moving Forward

>> Tuesday, October 5, 2010

I'm absolutely overwhelmed (in a great way) by the thoughtful, caring, and candid responses you've all had to my very first D(id) N(ot) F(inish) at the Wineglass Marathon this weekend. Your comments, tweets, emails, and other shows of support (including the Edible Arrangement my in-laws sent me!) mean so much. I wish Blogger had a better system in place of responding to individual comments. I took the day off from blogging yesterday because it seemed every post I wanted to link to had some reference to the race in it.

I needed it all out of my mind. If only for one day. But I read each and every one of your words, most of them more than once.

You taught me that DNF doesn't have to be a negative failure weighing on my mind for days, months, and years to come. It happens to elite athletes. It happens to newbies. It happens to, well, ANYONE depending on the circumstances. DNF means so much more than not finishing. Instead, it's something I should be proud of despite how I may have felt at the time, or how I feel today, or how I may feel tomorrow. I listened to what my body was telling me even though it meant giving up a goal I had carried for a long time. I did what was best for me given my situation and for what will contribute to my running in the long term.

Actually, I think that's one of the best points I took away from your messages. Racing doesn't define my worth as a runner. Of course, I know this concept, well, truth in my mind -- it's back there. But sometimes all the build-up to a specific event clouds that way of thinking. I still did all the training. I ran my first 50+ mile week and lived to tell you all about it. I was consistently strong and meeting my pacing goals.

In effect, I did everything right. But my ultimate goal -- one way more important and weighty than running a 3:50:00 marathon on one specific day -- is to be a runner for life. To stay active and fit to live the best life I can possibly live. And in that, I'm succeeding like a pro.

So many factors -- both external and internal -- contribute to performance. Enough said, really. Even on the most perfect weather days, you can be sick. Or you can be feeling your best, and roll your ankle. Or you could have trained perfectly and there could be some kind of heat wave. Just because all my wrongs aligned to make a perfect storm doesn't mean it will happen next time. And there most certainly will be a next time.

I can look at this DNF as an opportunity versus a disappointment. It has taught me that I need to focus on other areas of my training, specifically my cross-training in flexibility and strength. Varying my workouts and spending some days off the pavement in favor of other pursuits (like yoga or even pure rest) would not only be beneficial to my body but also to my mind.

Perhaps what I learned most of all is that I have a ton of people pulling for me. People (you self-titled "lurkers," included too!) that I never really knew cared. When I lace up at the start of the Philly Marathon next month (or at another race in the future), I'll think of ALL of you. Of your stories, your struggles, your wisdom. I'll think back on all the support, advice, and love you showed me in one of my darkest moments as an athlete. Running is about my personal goals and achievements, but it's also very much about community. At least for me. About this intangible, infinite thing. A bond, I guess, that we can't exactly measure in our PR times or number of races finished.

Seriously, if you missed it. Check out all the love and support from our wonderful readers. You guys and gals truly are why we love blogging.


With all this said, I've formulated a new training plan for the next seven weeks. I've also developed four major goals for myself. Things I think will help me as I progress through the next month. Things I think I could have done differently to help me stay healthy and strong.

1.) Stretch and Strengthen. Throughout my training since July, I didn't stretch terribly much. Nor did I do any exercises specifically meant to strengthen my legs/core/etc. I kept up with my push-ups -- but only minimally so (I can do 35 max right now versus the 80 I could do in the summer!). Stephen and I have decided to do at least 30 minutes of yoga on Tuesdays and Thursdays (after our lighter runs of the week). We feel GREAT when we do yoga.

And, since everything is connected, I think working on my core strength, in particular, may help with my piriformis issue. When symptoms of the muscle problem started up last fall (basically, it feels like a muscle cramp I can't stretch because of its location leading to trouble sitting, stiffness in my back/butt, and radiating pain down my leg and in my lower abdomen), I had tremendous pain almost all day. After the Philly Marathon, I stopped running due to another injury and started doing yoga three times a week. The pain subsided and never got back up to the level it was at its height, even when I started running again. Anyway, I know yoga is -- in large part -- to thank for the improvement.

2.) Watch My Diet. But not in the way that you may think. I'm still going to continue to eat . . . a LOT. But I need to fill my plate with the good-for-me foods versus getting lazy and reaching time and time again for refined carbs. I eat pizza all the time. Let me say that again, I ORDER pizza all the time. All that white bread isn't good. All last week for lunch, I ate Taco Bell bean burritos. Yes. That's right: Fast food. And when I make dessert, I eat dessert. But like the entire batch of cookies in two days. Mostly because it's there and I'm hungry for what's most easily available.

My method will be preparing foods ahead of time that I can more easily grab and go. Instead of a candy bar, I'll reach for apple slices. Instead of ordering a pizza, I'll slurp some homemade chili. I'm still going to eat a lot, but just more of the good-for-you things that I know make me feel my best. I am usually pretty good about eating whole foods and preparing my own. It's hard after running 20 miles to feel like cooking, though. I want to make the extra effort because I know it will help me rebound and store the most energy.

3.) Run Slower. On my long runs, at least. That's right. I need to run my long runs at a slower pace. I ran each of my three 20-milers in around 3:03:00. That's 9:09 pace. That's a 4:00:00 marathon. My goal for Philly will be to finish, but my not-so secret goal will be to finish somewhere between 3:50 and four hours.

With long runs, speed is of little importance. It's time on your feet that matters most. I've read these runs should be done anywhere between 30 and 90 seconds slower than goal. I'd like to add at least a little time per mile to get more time on my feet. I may even try to run a 22-miler (Stephen did this during his training and said it helped). We'll see.

Along these same lines: I WILL practice what to eat on the run. Many people have suggested Clif Shot Bloks. But please let me know if you have other suggestions!

4.) Continue to Listen to My Body. I know I may be going a bit overboard with this statement. But after all this new training -- if I don't feel up to racing the full -- I'll go and do the half. Even though officially I cannot change my registration at this point, I'll see what they can do for me at the expo. And even if they can't change it -- tough. I'll run the half and time myself.

But I'm thinking positively. I'm also thinking that there's a reason we randomly signed up for Philly. It may have been the race I'm really meant to run. Who knows. I'm a big believer in fate.

One more thing: I also learned that I'm not alone in thinking the marathon distance might not be for me. I want to give the distance another race a go before I condemn it completely. I love the training. I feel great running 20 mile runs. But the race is just grueling. I love half marathons because I feel I have the most potential to get speedy with them. My very first half was finished in around 2:04:00, my second in around 1:53:30, and my latest PR is 1:46:31. That's significant improvement. If I could race one right now, I'm confident I'd take at least another minute off that time. And eventually even more.

For now, I'm just hoping to have a 2010 edition of this photo to show you late next month:

How have you bounced back after a big disappointment? Did you set new goals for moving forward? Any you may think would be helpful to me? Your feedback, as always, is so incredibly appreciated by me and other readers! Just leave a comment or email us at neverhomemaker [at] gmail [dot] com.

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