Wineglass Recap: My First DNF

>> Monday, October 4, 2010

Well, we're back from our marathon weekend in Corning, NY! Unfortunately, we couldn't find our not-so fancy camera, so we didn't snap any photos ourselves. However, we did receive a couple from our friends of before and during the race. My parents also got a few after the race, so when I get those, I'll post them ASAP.

The weather was excellent. Around 40 degrees at the start . . . and no showers like the forecasters had anticipated all week. The skies were mostly sunny and there was only a gentle breeze. Seriously perfect racing conditions! Stephen earned a new PR, finishing in 2:55:48 -- eight and a half minutes better than his Philly time last year! But he's planning to write his own race recap this week.

This is my story of my first-ever DNF (did not finish).

Like I said, the race conditions were perfect. But let's back up. The day before the race, we got into town early to have lunch with my grandparents and hit up the expo. We finally found a room to stay in (instead of getting up at 4AM to drive to the shuttle [that takes another 25 minutes to reach the start line]).

The room was comfortable and clean. We turned in around 9:30PM (after laying out everything we'd need in the morning) and set the alarm for 5:00AM, but neither of us slept well. It wasn't really nerves (it was nerves in Philly that kept us up all night) -- instead it was the really loud AC unit that kept clonking on and off every half hour. When we had turned it off, around midnight, we thought FINALLY we'd get some rest. Then around 12:30, this loud group (staying at the hotel for a wedding, we think) returned to their room on our floor. Sloppy drunk. AND DID WE SAY LOUD?!?! Yes. We thought they'd quiet down, but over an hour later . . . it seems they only got, well, louder.

At this point, I'd woken up every hour on the hour. Stephen called the front desk to report the issue. They quieted a bit. But still had a few outbursts for the next couple hours. I did end up getting a good stretch of sleep between 2 and 4AM, but then I kept waking up thinking the alarm was about to go off. Long story short: Not a great night of sleep.

We got up at 5AM, ate a few bites of bagel with maple almond butter, and drank a bit of water. Got in the car, drove to the shuttle busses, and finally got to the start. It was cold. But we thought ahead and wore our space blankets. We visited the Port-a-John line a few times, and before we knew it, the race was starting!

I placed myself just before the 4:00:00 pacing group. As I wrote in last week's post, my ultimate goal was to finish around 3:50:00. I started off slow. Kept with the pace group for the first mile, then just kept going at a comfortable rate. I felt like I could talk the whole time. I felt confident and strong. The course wasn't flat, but a good mix of gentle up- and downhills. And then flat. And then a couple more gentle up- and downhills.

  • 5K time was around 26:48 (8:38 average pace -- thanks to a downhill start).
  • 10K time was around 53:55 (8:41 average overall pace)
  • 15K time was around 1:21:30 (8:46 average overall pace -- there was a hill in there)
  • Half Marathon time was around 1:55:20 (8:48 average overall pace, see how I'm slowing?)
  • 16 mile time was around 2:20:00 (8:45 average overall time)
Now, around the 14 mile mark, I started to feel hot. I took off my long sleeve and tied it around my waist. Then a few minutes later, my back began to bother me -- I don't know if I've written about my left piriformis muscle problem before, but it was that muscle, tightening. And it seemed that my whole pelvis area was sore and worsening with each stride. Kind of early to have these sorts of pains, I kept thinking. I took a moment to slow down and walk at a water stop. I also took a gel.

Around the 25K mark (15.5 miles), the pain was worse. And it seemed I was hitting the wall. I drank some Gatorade because I thought it'd help wake my legs up. The mix of gels and Gatorade made me sick to my stomach. It tasted toxic and was just sloshing around in my stomach. Ick. I didn't abide by the "nothing new on race day" rule. Though I had brought some homemade energy chunks, I somehow thought I'd NEED the gels. Everyone else was taking them. So, by 16 miles, I had consumed two packets.

When my legs and back just felt like they needed a rest, I thought I'd walk until the 4:00:00 pace group caught up with me. This was around mile 16.5, I believe, and I ran with them for a few minutes (maybe 3/10 of a mile) before I realized I just couldn't keep up. I had reached 17 miles and just couldn't see myself continuing on. I was even feeling dizzy. Totally zapped of energy. And -- again -- this is way too early to hit the wall. Especially with how many 20-milers I ran in my training this time around.

My back was killing me.
My energy was super low.
My morale was in the dumps.
I just wasn't having a good day.
At all.

I debated continuing on by walking and then running the rest of the way. But with 9 miles left to go, I just couldn't see that being any fun. (Maybe if I had only 5 to go, I kept thinking.) At the next water station, I stopped. I drank some water. And I made one of the most difficult decisions I've had to make in a long time: I was not going to finish the race. I was going to add a DNF to my otherwise impressive racing history. I sat down behind the water station and one of the volunteers asked me if I was OK. I was OK, my condition wasn't some sort of emergency, but I just couldn't go on feeling the way I felt.

The race didn't exactly have a great system in place to get injured-but-not-critically-awful runners back to the start. The course was relatively closed to traffic. Unless I needed an ambulance, I was out of luck. Thankfully, the volunteer (his name was Bill) said "Screw it!" and just got me in his car and drove. We reached the next relay entry point (18 miles -- where I had started the 3rd leg of the course 6 years ago when I did the relay), and then talked to some race officials. They gave us a hard time. They said it would be almost impossible to pass through the bridge to get to the highway and then asked me if I needed an ambulance. Uh, NO. All of this made me feel like I wasn't "truly" injured. It made me feel like I had made the wrong decision and should have just toughened up and finished the race.

Oh, the mental anguish I felt.

I was also extremely cold at this point. I was shivering out of control despite having the heat on full-blast in the car. Eventually, the race officials decided to let us pass. However, it was in one of the most embarrassing moments of my life! They called out on their megaphones: "INJURED RUNNER, COMING THROUGH. INJURED RUNNER, COMING THROUGH" -- EVERYONE -- runners, volunteers, spectators -- looked at me. Oh, goodness. Anyway, we finally reached the finish line, I got out of Bill's car after thanking him 1,000,000 times for all his help (I mean, the guy was just a water stop volunteer -- he didn't need to drive me 9 miles to the finish!). This was all around 3:36:00. So, when I saw Stephen, he was utterly confused. So were my parents!

The rest of the day, I can't explain it -- but my back felt better after laying flat on the ground for an hour or so. My legs felt like I didn't run a race. However, I did get completely sick. My nose won't stop running and I am sneezing like crazy. Usually my allergy pill takes care of these symptoms. But they are holding strong. I now have a full-on cold. It may explain why I just felt so awful and drained during the race. I've been piecing myself together for two weeks now by taking lots of vitamins and doing everything I could to avoid getting sick (despite how everyone around me has been ill).

Stephen says to just think of it all as a 17-mile pace workout for Philly. I'm trying my best. But let's just say more than one tear was shed yesterday (OK. The floodgates opened wide . . . ) and I'm still feeling depressed. Like the worst I've ever felt, quite honestly. I trained for this race specifically since July. I ran one of my three 20-milers in the pouring rain. There were so many social things I said NO to because I needed to run. Or go to sleep early to run. So much time given . . . and energy and passion expended.

My training was strong. Looking at my splits for the race, I do see that I started out fast. In all honesty, it didn't feel fast to me. I felt like I was holding back. If I do decide to race Philly (I am 90% sure I will, but I'm feeling pretty low right now), I want to find the 4:00:00 pace group and just stay with them for the first half of the race.

The big question remains in my mind: Could I have finished the race and been OK? I really don't know. I hate that I keep asking myself this question. Later in the day, I was sick, but my body felt fine. That nagging muscle and pelvis pain was gone. It made me question my decision. But Stephen keeps trying to remind me that I don't give up easily. If something was really wrong in that moment, if I deliberated like I usually do (and I REALLY do), I did the right thing by stopping. And, I guess once this sadness and these terrible feelings of shame pass . . . I'll realize that I wanted to stay strong for Philly instead of (literally) run myself ragged. Who knows what another 9 miles could have done to my back?

As I wrote the other day, I feel like there's a lot of pressure in the running and healthy living communities to do ultra-distance races. Though I don't sign up for races based on this pressure, the mental seed has been planted that to be "serious" you must run marathons. I know in my heart this isn't true, but every time I set out on a 20-mile training run, found myself at the start line of 26.2, or talked with other marathoners, I feel so inspired. Maybe I'm just having a bad weekend. And this post is incredibly long. So, I'll stop now :)

Have you ever had to stop running a race? Earned the dreaded DNF title? Or have you pushed through when you totally thought you couldn't finish? I'd love to hear your experiences. I'm starting to think that racing the marathon distance isn't my thing. I have so much fun with half marathons. And I like my long training runs. But racing the marathon is just . . . a lot. I do feel I made the best decision for myself yesterday. I listened to what my body was telling me to do. It was so tough. I still can't describe how it feels exactly. It must have been the right to do, though.

At least, I hope.

Anyway, please leave a comment or email us at neverhomemaker [at] gmail [dot] com.

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