“Yeah, I had some, uh, bathroom problems at 12.”
“Promise me that if it happens again you’ll stop”
“Just promise me…please.”
-A phone conversation between me and Jess somewhere around mile 15
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On Friday night I suffered my very first DNF (did not finish). It was a disappointment to say the least.
I may have been under trained, under motivated and mildly under the weather, but I kept thinking maybe fresh legs would carry me through the day. Man was I wrong.
I’ve had trouble writing this race recap – maybe because it was my first DNF, maybe because once one goes once around the 3.1 mile loop of the course, one has seen it all, maybe because after an hour of running it got so dark there was nothing really to see other than the few feet in front of me. I don’t know, regardless, this has been a tough one to compose.
I initially started at the back of the pack, not exactly sure what my game plan was gonna be. I had set my Garmin’s virtual running partner to run a 7:24/mile pace, figuring that would get me across the finish line at around 3:15. I like to start slowly, but inevitably in a race I always start too fast. This race was no exception, though I did manage to keep it close to what I hoped would be my overall pace. Through the first two laps I weaved my way through the crowd, eventually settling into a pace that had me chasing a pack of runner that I just couldn’t seem to reel in. In retrospect, I wondered whether keeping pace with them (around 7:20 pace) was not such a good idea. In the end though, I doubt the chase had any effect on me eventually dropping out.
I finally did catch the group at around 8 miles, at one point taking the lead in the line and then dropping half of the group 2 miles later.
At that point I was feeling pretty strong. Legs felt good, lungs felt good, mind was focused. Seeing my friends Maddy and Sarah who had come out to cheer me on, every 3 miles was also a great energy boost.
Meanwhile though I would sip at my Gatorade and take a cup or two of “water” every 1.5 miles.
During a daytime race, you can see what it is you are taking in. Water looks like water, energy drinks look like energy drinks. Even if you aren’t looking at what you are taking in, you sure as hell are going to be able to tell the difference between water and say, Gatorade or Powerade when you put it to your lips. At the Around the Lake Marathon/Ultramarathon they were serving water, just like any race, but they were also handing out cups of something called HEED. I had never heard of it before and quite frankly, I hope I never, EVER drink it again.
Initially as I made my way around the lake, I would grab a cup at each of the two stations, pour it over my head, grab another cup, pour it on my face and then grab a third cup and drink it. The problem was that this third cup was not what I thought it was. I downed it every time thinking it was water. It had a little bit of an odd aftertaste, maybe a little sweet, but I thought, hey! I’m in Wakefield. Maybe their water just has a funny taste…or maybe the waxy paper cups just have a weird taste to them. Either way, I didn’t think much of it.
I didn’t even really think about it when my evening started to rapidly unravel.
At around mile 12.5 I suddenly got hit with a massive stomach cramp. It wasn’t the old, I’ve got a little stomach ache kind of cramp – no, it was the GET ME TO A PORTAPOTTY RIGHT NOW!!! kind of cramp. Unfortunately for me, I was still 0.6 miles away from the portapotties. I did the only thing I could think to do, which was pick up the pace. As I flew into the check in station, there was a large crowd of spectators standing in front of the portapotties, blocking easy access.
“Coming through,” I yelled at the top of my lungs. They must have sensed the urgency in my voice because they parted like the Red Sea being commanded by Moses. I’ll spare you further details.
As I resumed the race, Maddy came up to me to ask if I was okay. I told her that I thought 3:15 was now out of the question but that I planned on finishing and finishing strong. She gave me some encouragement, Sarah handed me a cold water bottle and I was off for lap 5 of 8. Somewhere around mile 15 I checked in with Jess on the phone (I love my Oakley Rockr Pros). I told her the situation, told her I was fine and feeling like I could finish strong.
That’s when she made me promise.
At the end of May, when I ran the Run To Remember Half-Marathon, there was a runner who collapsed from pushing too hard and as a result, ended up in the hospital for several weeks with kidney failure. That scared the crap out of me, but even more out of Jess. With that story forever fresh in our minds (one that no runner should ignore – a post for another day), she made me promise that if I had another “bathroom” issue, I would drop out of the race. I hesitated. Since taking up running a few years ago, I had never dropped out of a race. No matter how bad I felt (New York comes to mind) I fought and I finished.
I thought about the speech I had given just days before (see it HERE) where at one point I mentioned that I used an Autism Speaks pin and the thought of my baby girl to give me strength when my legs would occasionally fail me. How could I drop out after that? How could I possibly drop out of a race after giving that speech? How could I let those people down?
But it occurred to me, that this was not a case of running out of energy or legs stiffening up. This was a much more serious condition – with the very real risk of severe dehydration. And so I promised, hoping that it wouldn’t happen again. As I hit the next loop (number 6 if you’re counting), I briefly stopped where Maddy and Sarah were to hand them my sun-glasses. 3 laps to go, a little over 9 miles. Time to gut it out.
Although I was moving more slowly, I was moving steadily. My pace was even and though I wasn’t going to get the time I wanted, I sure as hell was gonna get that Finisher’s Medal. Into the darkness I ran, and despite moving at a slower pace I was passing people – this is one of the nice things about running a marathon on a loop where there are the really crazy runners who were running the 12 and 24 hour Ultra-Marathon – by necessity, they must run at a slower pace so I got to consistently pass/lap them. Even knowing that I was only passing ultra-marathoners, it still felt great to pass people. I slowly tried to bring up the speed. If I wasn’t going to get my 3:15, I was gonna take a shot at 3:20 and a possible PR.
But then it happened again.
First just a slight stabbing at around 18. I tried to ignore it, taking a double-step and then moving on.
By 18.5 I knew my evening was done. I stopped, doubled over. The pain came and went, almost in waves. I tried jogging, but that hurt.
For the next mile and a half I did a combination of speed-walking, jogging, standing, and a little mild swearing. I hobbled across the timing mat, told the timer I was dropping out and made my way as swiftly as I could to the portapotty. Not a great ending to the evening.
Afterward I went over to where Sarah and Maddy had been cheering me on and watched the runners continue to go by…without me.
I was disappointed, maybe even a little bitter, but the truth was, there was no sense in risking my long-term health over finishing a marathon. If I were a threat to qualify for the Olympic Trials, maybe I just let it all go (Caroline White – look it up), but I’m just a middle of the pack runner, really only competing with one runner – me. I also find out later that several runners had needed to drop out due to GI issues they attributed to HEED. I’m telling you, never again.
Jess later tweeted:
@luau sometimes the greatest act of heroism is knowing when *not* to be a hero. far more proud of you for knowing when to walk away 2nite.
Although I understood that in my head immediately (and was touched by it immensely), it’s taken me almost a week to really take it to heart and truly be okay with a DNF.
There will be other races to be sure, other opportunities to get that elusive 3:15, but my biggest fear now is that I wonder, having dropped out of a race once, will it become that much easier to drop out of a race in the future when the going gets tough.
Only time will tell.