I’m going to get back to my Evolution of a Training Plan series, but since I brought up the topic of my DNF, I felt like this was an important post to write. I wasn’t blogging yet in October 2009, so I haven’t really told this story before, except in bits and pieces.
I found out I won a lottery entry into the Nike Women’s Marathon in late March, 2009. It was like a dream come true. This huge, exciting race with its famous Tiffany finisher’s necklace was going to be my very first marathon! I built my base fitness, I raced in the spring and trained for most of the summer.
Training was much, much harder than I expected, for a lot of different reasons. Mostly, the problem boiled down to the fact that I was trying too many new things and couldn’t figure out what was working for me and what wasn’t. I had never intentionally run slow before. I had never gone longer than 13 miles at a single stretch. I had never tried to eat something before going for a long run and I had certainly never taken in fuel while running. So when every single long run was plagued with tummy troubles, I didn’t know how to fix it. Was it the brand of gel that made me queasy or was I not drinking enough water? Maybe I was drinking too much water and not getting enough electrolytes. Maybe it was just too hot. Maybe this…maybe that…maybe none of the above. Could it be that I was simply not capable of running long distances? Race day came and I still didn’t know what my problem was, but I headed to the starting line, ready or not.
This marathon was a Really Big Deal for me. My whole family was there, friends and family were tracking me on the internet and IronHubs was posting updates on Facebook. I had big dreams and big goals and yeah, I had put some big pressure on myself. You can imagine my consternation when, at Mile 5, I already felt like crap. By Mile 10, I was fighting back tears and at Mile 13 I was puking on the side of the road. I tried to fight it. I walked some and ran some and threw up a LOT. My day was ruined. I felt like my life was ruined. When I staggered into the Med Tent at Mile 20, I was pale and shaky and couldn’t even hold down the salt water they gave me. So I quit.
To say that I was sad about the race would be a ridiculous understatement. And I wasn’t just sad, I was embarrassed! And disappointed. And ashamed. And angry – ugh! – I was bitterly angry at myself. What a freakin’ loser I must be, quitting like that! IronHubs was very sympathetic and comforting and kind, but he didn’t exactly disagree with me when I wondered out loud if I should have kept going.
In the days following my DNF, I turned to the internet for some comfort and confirmation that I wasn’t the worst, most horrible, awful quitter in the history of the world. I read story after story of runners facing dehydration, being undertrained, getting injured or finding themselves mentally unprepared for the 26.2-mile challenge and I started to feel a little better. I certainly wasn’t the only person who had ever DNF’d a race.
On the plus side, the only thing injured was my pride. For the love of Pete, I wasn’t even sore! By Tuesday, I had chosen my redemption race and it was just seven weeks away. I trained for it and continued tweaking my fueling. The morning of the race, I met up with a friend and decided on a whim to run with her. I let go of anything resembling a time goal and just ran to finish. My tough friend had stomach problems but kept chugging along like a champion. We weren’t fast. In fact, at one point, we were boosting ourselves up by saying, “At least that guy in the walker hasn’t passed us!” And then the guy in the walker passed us. Seriously. Eventually, though, we saw the most beautiful sight in the world:
You might think the story ends here, but it doesn’t. I mean, I suppose I could leave it like this, with a nice happy ending. Girl struggles and fails, then picks herself up and succeeds – yay, all better! But, you know, real life isn’t all that simple. Finishing another marathon wasn’t a magic cure-all, though it helped a LOT. What truly helped me get over the DNF was time and perspective and, strangely, another failure.
Fast-forward three months: I was fully trained and rarin’ to go for marathon #2. (Or possibly #3, if you count the DNF. Do you count the DNF? That’s one of those race etiquette things that I’m never sure about.) At the starting line I was off like a rocket. At the halfway point I was on-pace for a BQ. At Mile 15? Houston, we have a problem. Yep, the same problem. I’m not going to lie, I was pissed! And disappointed. I called IronHubs and cried and he more or less told me to HTFU. Ha, ha! But I love him for that, because it was true. I stayed on my feet and just kept moving forward.
I finished that stupid marathon and even though it wasn’t even close to the day I had hoped for, it clarified a few things for me:
- I’m tougher than I think
- I can finish what I start
- It’s not the end of the world when things don’t go my way
- There will be other races and maybe they will be awesome or maybe they will suck
Dream big, friends, and don’t be afraid to fail.