Yesterday I experienced my first DNF (Did Not Finish) in what was supposed to be my 9th marathon. In all of the 53 races I have done, I have never not been able to complete one. I am still processing it all and spent most of yesterday upset, disappointed and confused. How did this happen, when I had my strongest training cycle ever? I should have been able to blow this race away according to all of my training runs. What happened to me at mile 21, when the race was going pretty much perfectly up until that point? These are questions I am still trying to answer.
I’ll start at the beginning…
Everything was normal leading up to the race. Like every other marathon I have done, I made sure to drink a lot of water & Nuun all week, got at least 7 hours of sleep every night, rested as much as possible and ate more carbs. I was sick at the beginning of the week with a sore throat, cough and congestion, but was feeling pretty much 100% better by Thursday. I’m not sure if this played into what happened or not, but I think it may have been a factor.
The day before the race went to the expo to pick up my race packet, then we went to dinner at Mellow Mushroom, where I ate pizza with vegan cheese since dairy before a race does not agree with me.
We were finished eating by 5:45, and I went home, showered, wrote out my dedications and was in bed by 9:00.
I slept well and woke up at 4:15 to start my pre-race routine. I had to get up so early because the race started at 6:30 AM! I drank my coffee, ate peanut butter and honey toast, took care of my “important business” (LOL- fellow runners get it), got everything together, and we were out the door by 5:30. It was a little hard to finish my breakfast but that’s normal the morning of a big race when I am nervous.
It was raining when I got up and was still raining when Kevin and I arrived at the start. This wasn’t originally in the weather forecast, but I wasn’t too worried about it since it was supposed to stop by 7. Kevin dropped me off around 6:00, I kissed him goodbye then he went to find a place to park and nap for a bit. He wasn’t planning to meet me until mile 12 so he had some time to kill. His mom and the baby were at home and were coming up later to meet me at the finish. I used the porta-potty one more time then lined up in the 4:00 corral. It was cold and wet and I couldn’t wait to start running.
Miraculously, the rain stopped right at 6:30 when the gun went off and we started running. The first 5 miles were a little rough. The rain had left big puddles that I was trying to avoid, and we were running straight into a strong wind. We eventually turned right into a shopping area and the direction change took some of the wind away, but it never completely stopped. Looking back now I think fighting against the wind the entire time used a lot of extra energy. But I was able to cross the 10K mark in 52ish minutes, about an 8:30 pace. I had my splits automatically uploaded to Facebook, and we actually ran over the “10K” mat at 6.5 miles, so it was a little slower than it says here. The rest of the time though the mile markers aligned perfectly with my Garmin’s mile splits. Things were looking good!
At around 8 miles we came out of the shopping area and turned completely around to run back the direction we came on the road that goes along the beach. Most of the time the wind was at our backs which felt awesome, and the sun was just beginning to rise behind the ocean. It was beautiful!
I knew I would be on this stretch of road for 9 miles (a LONG time), but luckily I was able to break it up a bit by thinking about how I would be seeing Kevin at mile 12. I continued following my nutrition plan, eating half a pack of Clif Shot Bloks every 25 minutes. They gave me a little boost every time and I was still feeling strong. Finally I heard Kevin’s voice and saw him on the side of the road. He took a quick picture then jumped in to run with me for about a mile.
We talked about how it was going, he refilled my water and gave me an extra pack of Honey Stinger Chews for later. While I was with him we crossed the halfway point, which I ran in 1:51:43, an average pace of 8:31. What’s crazy is that last year I ran a 1:51:38 in the half marathon here. I probably would have gotten a big PR if I was only doing the half that day!
I was sad when Kevin had to leave just after mile 13, but I knew I’d be seeing him again later. I counted down the miles until I was off of this long stretch of road by the beach, and we finally turned left at mile 17. By that point I was more than ready for a little change in scenery. I ran over my next timing mat at mile 18.3. At this point my average pace was 8:37. It was here that I started feeling a little weaker. I always do around mile 19-20 before getting my second wind to the finish line, and I attributed it happening a bit earlier than usual to me running faster than I have in past marathons. I started eating my chews every 20 minutes instead of every 25, and made sure to drink plenty of water and Powerade at aid stations. I kept my mind on the people I was dedicating my miles to, and thought about how I would be seeing Kevin at mile 24.
Mile 19 and 20 came and went. I actually stopped to walk for about 30 seconds here because the ‘weak’ feeling wasn’t going away like usual, despite my fueling and hydrating. I wasn’t worried at this point because I passed the 20 mile mark around 2:53, about an 8:40 pace. I knew I had about 1 hour and 7 minutes to run the final 10K and still make my goal- plenty of time! I was actually on track to finish around 3:47 if I could keep my pace there.
Then, just as I passed mile 21 everything changed. All of a sudden the ‘weak’ feeling became overwhelming, I got lightheaded and my body became freezing cold. It was pretty windy but I had been comfortable the whole time in my tank top and shorts until then. I started not being able to run in a straight line and couldn’t take a full, deep breath. I got intensely nauseous and started vomiting up all the liquids I had consumed. I was so confused- what was happening? Why was my body shutting down? Mentally I was fine but physically something was wrong. I tried to run again and it wasn’t happening. I tried drinking more water but nothing would stay down. Eventually I was just dry-heaving and nothing was coming out, so I thought I must be dehydrated despite my best attempts to hydrate the whole time. I knew at this point that my race was over. I couldn’t continue in the state I was in and if I couldn’t keep any liquids down. I would never risk my health and safety to finish a race.
I walked until I saw a police officer at mile 21.5. I knew the next aid station wouldn’t be until mile 22 at least, so I asked him to call the medics for me. I was shaking uncontrollable from being so cold and all I could think about was lying down. The cop called on his radio for the EMTs and while we waited him and another police officer gave me their jackets and hats to help me get warm. I told them my husband was at mile 24.5 waiting for me and that I didn’t have a phone with me to contact him. They asked for his description and one went off to find him on his motorcycle.
The EMTs showed up in an ambulance and I felt like I was in the twilight zone. I couldn’t believe this was happening. They took me inside to help me get warm and gave me some oxygen, because I was still having trouble taking a deep breath. They took all my vital signs and told me my blood pressure and oxygen levels were low and my heart rate was high. They asked me my running history, if this had ever happened before, if this was my first marathon, etc. Every time I stood up I would feel lightheaded, nauseous and become freezing cold again, so I laid down to rest on the stretcher. Eventually I started feeling a little bit better, so when they asked if I wanted transportation to the hospital I declined. I was just anxious to see Kevin. The EMT talked to another police officer outside who told us that his colleague had found Kevin, and a van had picked him up to bring him to me. The van was coming to where we were and would take both of us to the triage area at the finish line.
I’m not sure how much time passed but eventually I was told that the van had arrived. I slowly got up and they helped me walk over to it. My muscles were super tight from stopping so abruptly and not stretching them out. As soon as I saw Kevin I burst into tears. I had been crying on and off the whole time, but seeing him made me let it all out. He gave me a huge hug and didn’t let me go until we got to the finish line. He told me I made the right choice, he was so glad I was okay and that’s all that mattered.
The van dropped us off by the finish and we got on a golf cart to ride to the triage area. We rode past everyone with their medals on, smiling and so proud of their accomplishments- as they rightfully should be. We rode right by the finish line too, which was extremely difficult for me to see. It was about 10:30 by this time, which is right around the time I would have finished if I had run a 4 hour marathon. I started crying again. I had never been on this side after a race and it was heartbreaking for me to be with all the other finishers without a medal of my own, especially when I had such high hopes for this race.
We went right inside the building where the medical team was. It was all set up with cots, and they led me right to one. The lead doctor came right up to me and asked me the same questions as the EMT did, took my vital signs (which had now improved greatly), and rubbed my back. The volunteers got me blankets because I was shivering again, and they started getting me set up to get an IV because I still felt a little nauseous when I drank liquids. The woman tried to insert the IV in both my arm and my hand, but my veins are very small and were even smaller now because I was dehydrated, so they couldn’t get it in. It was SO painful and they actually blew out the vein in my hand (I have a big ugly bruise there today), so I said I didn’t want an IV and would just try to drink instead. They offered me chicken broth but since I am a vegetarian, I just took some hot water and sipped it. It stayed down and I started feeling a lot better.
After about 30 more minutes I was stable enough to leave. I thanked everyone and made the long and slow walk back to our car, past the finish line once again, and past people who congratulated me and said good job, not knowing I didn’t finish the race. Cue the waterworks once again. On the drive home I finally looked at my phone and saw all the texts, Facebook comments, and questions from people asking how I did. Once again I cried. I sent out an update explaining what happened and the messages of support came rolling in. The tears started falling for what felt like the 100th time that day. I was so emotional.
Once we got home I finally was able to see my baby boy and give him the hug and kiss I was supposed to give him at the finish line. They had gone home once Kevin told them what had happened. Holding him in that moment reminded me what was really important at the end of the day.
I spent the rest of the day trying to drink water, eat what my stomach could handle, and rest. I did a lot of reflecting and had a lot of conflicting emotions afterwards. I went back and forth between confidence and relief that I did the right thing, disappointment after having such high hopes, feeling like a failure and a quitter, sadness over not getting to run my most important miles- the ones I dedicated to Meg Menzies, Boston, my mom, my husband, my baby and myself- never wanting to run again and wanting to do another marathon tomorrow. I kept thinking about how hard and how long I worked for this goal. At first it was difficult for me to not see it as a failure and months of wasted time and training, and that I worked hard for nothing. But Kevin reminded me it wasn’t for nothing. All of those early mornings, all of those workouts that pushed and challenged me past what I thought I could do, they all made me stronger. I had so many victories during my training that I am proud of. I shouldn’t let what happened at this race take precedence over the last 10 weeks of work (or over 7 months if you count my OBX marathon training that helped me build up to this point) that I put into it.
Do I regret putting myself and my goals out there for the world to see, only for everyone to see me not make them? At first I did. But I quickly changed my mind when I saw the outpouring of support I received. I realized that maybe it could be a good lesson to others. That it’s okay to fail, because trying and failing is better than never trying at all. It’s definitely a lesson I NEEDED to learn myself.
This was also a lesson that there’s a difference between pushing yourself and pushing yourself too far, and that it is so important to listen to your body. The medics told me my body was most likely still feeling the effects of being sick earlier in the week, and it just hit a point where it shut down as a result. I am not sure if that’s what happened or not, but regardless of the reason, I will never risk my health and safety for a race. I have come close to that point before (the Air Force Marathon a few years ago is a good example), but now that I am a mother I have an entirely different perspective on what is important. There will be more races, but there will never be another me. I know 100% that I absolutely made the right choice to stop.
Finally, it reminded me that that despite how well your training goes, and how much you have improved as a runner, it all comes down to the conditions on that day. There are so many things that go into race day- the temperature, the wind factor, whether it’s raining or skies are clear, whether it’s cloudy or sunny, how your stomach feels, how the rest of your body feels, the balance of salt and water in your body, your attitude… I could go on and on. Sometimes everything comes together and gives you a perfect race, like in the Outer Banks Marathon, and sometimes it doesn’t. There are so many factors that are out of our control. I needed to realize that yesterday there were things that happened that were out of my control and I need to let it go and move on.
I don’t really know where to go from here. Part of me wants to try again in a few weeks and call yesterday a 21 mile training run. But a bigger part of me wants to take some time off from training and give myself a break from it all. I’m still not sure what I will do, but I do know one thing- I will not let this defeat me. I let myself be upset about it yesterday but now it’s time to look forward.
I want to finish this post by saying thank you to the police and medical team at the Myrtle Beach Marathon. The police officers, the EMTs out on the course, and the medical staff at the finish line all went above and beyond their calls of duty. They took amazing care of me, as well as the other patients in the medical area- including many who were much worse off than I was. I also want to thank everyone who was supporting and cheering for me as I ran, and then afterwards when I wasn’t able to finish. I was truly blown away by everyone’s love and support. Thank you all for making me smile and cry happy tears at the same time on a difficult day. Special thanks to my amazing husband who like always, continues to be my rock and is the ultimate example of someone who keeps a positive attitude no matter what. I love you!
I definitely have some unfinished business to take care of, whenever that may be. I am not finished with the marathon distance and I am DEFINITELY not finished with the Myrtle Beach Marathon. I’ll be back for that sub-4 hour marathon someday!