After 3 years of long distance running, and a little more than 4 years of running races at all, I DNF’ed my first race yesterday.
12 marathons behind me. Numerous other half marathons, 10ks, 5ks, various distances, and various race types… I dropped out of my attempt at a 13th marathon.
The race? The Topo Trail Marathon. I ran this race last year, but due to… stuff… it was a different course and, really after yesterday’s experience, it felt like a different race.
I stressed a lot leading up to the start because the temperature change for the four hours I expected to be running the race was a 30+ degree change. Temps at 33F for the start, expected to turn up to 50 before the four hour mark, found me shivvering at the start line in a pair of shorts, tall socks, and wearing arm sleeves under my jacket. My fingers and thighs were so cold they burned. During the first mile I asked a few people around me if they wanted to run a little differently and hold my thighs to keep them warm. I offered money, but got no takers.
The race started us on a first loop-only treat of a little over a mile on the roadway before dumping us into the woods.
The morning, along with its chill, was also foggy, with a brilliant-bright sun trying to break through. So when we first entered the woods and got a glimpse of the lake through the trees, fog rising above… it was just … beautiful.
I tried to strike up a conversation with a couple of runners, but no one was biting. There was a series of catch-up and drop between me and two other runners by the half-way point of this loop. Eventually, we fell into pace and ran the remaining loop (and the start of the second loop) together.
The race said they would have three aid stations… containing water, some electrolyte stuff, and “salty snacks”. These, the race promised, would be about 2 or so miles apart. There were two. The aid station at the start/finish/check in and one un-maned around mile 2. This was no good.
Pre-race morning for me was ugly. I had some race jitters the likes of which I had not experienced since my first couple of marathons. I even described this feeling to a friend of mine as a “dread” of the marathon. I dreaded going the longer distance and the amount of time I would have to run it. This feeling of dread is important to remeber later.
I also realized that I forgot my hand-held water bottle. Which, I figured wouldn’t be a big deal. After all, the race had aid stations throughout, right? Nope. Like i said, the race dropped the ball on aid stations, and that would ruin me, it seems. I take responsibiliy for forgetting my gear, but the race forgot thiers too.
My race jitters turned into stomach queasiness. A horror-filled visit to the portta-potties before the start meeting, found me downing two Imodium tabs. By the time the gun went off my stomach was more settled.
During the first loop the discovery that there were no other aid stations pissed me off before it made me miserable. I was getting thirsty, sure, but I was also hungry, and I needed water to take in the cliff shots I brought with me. At the aid station after the check in, I stopped and downed six tiny, tiny paper cups of water. The two runners I was pretty much sticking with also stopped for a while, complaining to the volunteers that the lack of aid station was noted and seriously problematic. Good to know I wasn’t the only one to note the lack, or be bothered about it. The staff sounded shocked that there wasn’t a third station.
By mile 9 on my watch I had dropped too far back from those two runners to ever catch back up, and I was being passed by half marathoners.
Around mile 10 I was forced to sneak off the trail to find a “private space”. Things got seriously ugly. I staggered back to the trail feeling more awful than I ever have during a race. Some walking and light jogging later and I was sending messages to my ultra running friend asking if I was going to seriously hamper my ability to run a 50k in three weeks if I didn’t get 26 miles completed today.
Some advice from her, and serious thought (Hell, I had 4 miles of thinking to do before I could get to the next aid station anyway) I opted to drop out.
I really worried about it just being me wanting to quit. That happens, you know, in races. A thought that “I just don’t want to do this today” will hit me. But usually I also feel no doubts that I could finish and that I just need to suck it up.
I was already dehydrated just from lack of water stations. Add in that now I was loosing fluids in more than one way…. I was walking a dangerous road. I felt sickly. Physically sick. Muscle-wise…running… I felt like I could keep going if only my stomach didn’t feel the way it did.
I trudged on, running until the trail hit a slick spot or my stomach started to bother me too much with the jostling. At one point I was caught behind this guy who ran an okay-ish pace on the flats and tore off on the hills, but all but stopped when the trail went downhill. By the fifth time I almost ran him over, and asked if I could get past (only to get shut down by him again), I was ready to go Sparta on him.
That’s right. I was about to just plant a foot on his back and push him down the hillside so I could, I dunno, just not be stuck like that anymore.
Hey. I wasn’t feeling well. Don’t judge.
Also. To be fair. I’m not a trail runner. I’m a road runner. And we handle people who hog the line a little differently than those trail folks seem to.
I did manage to get around him eventually. As I struggled the last portion of the trail toward the check point / finish line, I chatted with another girl who was also peeved over the lack of promised water stations. She too, was dropping out at the halfway point… because of the aid stations.
I crossed the line and was greeted by a small group of friends from Team RWB running club. They agreed that I was making a good choice based on how I was feeling. Some hugs and congratulations for making it through two of the four loops, and I was left to square things up with the race staff. Gawd, I felt awful. Once I was no longer in a position where I needed to keep going I was able to fully experience exactly how sickly I was feeling.
I dropped to the half, turned in my timing chip, and was handed a medal with congratulations for finishing the half.
I don’t know for sure what my problem was. My theory right now is that I was starting to hit over-training syndrome. I have quite a few of the symptoms, actually…. specifically the weight loss (Which I was celebrating, to be honest…), loss of appetite (I had to admit to my husband that I wasn’t eating lunch because I just wasn’t hungry then and forcing myself to eat dinner because I knew I needed to), I had the GI issues (As extremely proven during the race) and I was seriously lethargic. Remember that dread about racing I mentioned earlier? That’s part of the symptoms as well.
On race day, I felt so awful that I didn’t have any regrets about dropping out. Hell. I got home, showered, and fell asleep for almost three hours, waking up because I was so damn hungry.
Of course, once I was rested, fed and hydrated I felt like a dummy for dropping out. Of course.
And lets not forget this overwhelming negativity that hangs over the idea of being a quitter. After all, image search “did not finish” and you’ll find a ton of stuff that reads like this:
I don’t regret dropping. I did finish a half marathon, even if that wasn’t the plan. This wasn’t my ultimate race. As a friend mentioned, “the stakes here aren’t high”. My race is in 3 weeks. I have to do whats best for that goal.
I’m taking a few days off running, and reading my reference book (The Lore of Running) in order to better understand what’s going on and how to fix and prevent it. Hopefully I’m not in full-blown over-training syndrome, because that sounds like a very, very long recovery time needed…. And I have a 50k in just three weeks.
But hey, isn’t running all about being adaptable in the first place? Seeing and preventing things from derailing you? Moving on when you have to make a call like taking a DNF?
Here’s hoping my run isn’t completely thwarted.
And thanks to my ultra friend who responded super fast when I needed her advice. And to my RWB and running group friends at the race who supported me when I was feeling shitty and indecisive.