What do you do when a goal race becomes a DNF? It took me a long time to write this post, not because my life has been crazy, but because that question has been haunting me, hurting me, making me take some time to heal emotionally. Physically, I’m fine. (Thank you to everyone for reaching out to me, making sure I am ok!) I am having a problem with my left hamstring, but that had nothing to do with the race. To make a long story short… on race day I just felt FLAT.
Yes, I went into race day confident, but not “too confident”. I had my share of awesome runs and some failed workouts. I think that’s actually the perfect recipe for a training cycle. Push training to that line where you can’t do everything as prescribed, but keep building and pushing and know that most runs went just how you wanted. During race week, I felt kind of blah, but that’s just how taper can be. On race morning I seemed to feel fine, but by 10 steps into the race, something just wasn’t right. My legs felt like trash. I was fighting my own body. I felt totally flat.
I’ve been running long enough to know that sometimes it takes 5, 7, 10 miles to feel good on a run. Sometimes you just need to work the junk out. But I was feeling worse each mile. At mile 13 I started thinking I should drop out. Not because I couldn’t finish. Not because of an injury. I was thinking of my main goal this year – to qualify for the Olympic Trials marathon and I *knew* it wasn’t happening that day. I have 2 shots this year, a spring and fall marathon. (I’m not a superhuman runner who can do more than one marathon every 5-6 months.) So in order to salvage my spring season, I dropped out at 15.5 miles with a plan to choose another full.
I ran off the course and straight to the ocean. I ripped off my singlet, socks and racing flats, looked out to the sea and cried for a good while. I was 3 miles from my hotel, shivering, and a big emotional mess. Some very kind lady on the beach let me use her cell phone to call my husband. Jeff and I walked toward each other on the sand and met in the middle. He comforted me better than anyone else could, but I was feeling very broken.
What I didn’t anticipate is the toll a DNF would play on me. DNF feels like a black mark on my record; a storm cloud hanging over me that won’t go away. If I wasn’t going for this goal, I wouldn’t dream of quitting (aside from injury) so why is this ok? Could I have started feeling better a few miles later and killed the last 8-10 miles? My mom always tells me to never give up, because things might turn around and something special might happen. While I think it was extremely unlikely in this case, we will never know.
The decision to drop has been weighing heavy on my heart and making running miserable for the first time in a very long time. So I made the decision to just run whatever I want for the time being (or don’t run at all). Whatever I feel like doing until I feel the urge to train like my normal hardcore self is fine. This time was originally supposed to be marathon recovery/down time and my body wants and needs that so I’ve been honoring it.
Thankfully, I’m blowing away the dark cloud a little more each day. Running isn’t a struggle mentally anymore. Three weeks later, it’s time to let it go! All I can do is move forward now. Running is SO IMPORTANT to me. It’s a huge chunk of who I am… but come on, it’s just running! I’m turning the page and getting pumped for my upcoming half marathons! I can’t wait to see so many friends at races this spring.
Some people are probably wondering if I have any idea what went wrong. Can my bad race day experience somehow benefit you? Do I know what mistakes I might have made leading me to feel like poop on race day? Oh, speaking of poop, my stomach felt awesome on race day and that was the one positive part of my personal race story. I think I figured out a good pre-race meal and I’ll talk about it in a future post. I know of 3 things that could have contributed to my horrible race and will put them out here for anyone who wants to know. Hopefully it can help someone! In no particular order:
- Breastfeeding issues. I had been breastfeeding my little guy quite a bit this winter (3-5 times/day). We had a lot of sicknesses going around in my household so he was doing a lot of comfort nursing. I considered weaning him but he was very interested in continuing so I tried to cut back to just 2 feedings a day 3 weeks leading to the race. Then a week out from the race, I went to 1 feeding a day, and during race week I stayed at 1 feeding except one day where I didn’t breastfeed at all. I felt really hormonally out-of-whack. While I haven’t done much research on this, I think it would have been better to stick with what I was doing at least 2 months out from race day.
- Taper issues. I tapered HARD for this race. I told myself as long as I got to the start line healthy, I would be good to go. I did a solid workout 3 weeks before race day and didn’t really put much effort into running after that. I didn’t follow my training plan at all. I just went out and did less mileage and hardly any quality work. I thought I would feel fresh on race day by doing this. That obviously wasn’t the case! I’ve thought back to the week I ran my half PR in January. I wasn’t tapered. I was getting over a week of high mileage and even my first double run of the training cycle 2 days before the race. And I had more than a 2 minute PR. I think a 3 week taper could very likely be too much for me.
- Mental issues. I have a pretty solid mental game, but there are a few things that can “get to me”. I think many people have these things and it’s good to know them, accept them and find a way to fix or avoid them before race day. Instead of having lighthearted conversations and nervous running chatter with my husband (which is my mental power zone), I found myself talking with less positive people about less positive things. I don’t want to sound dramatic, no one was trying to sabotage my race. I was having conversations with innocent people who didn’t know they were bringing me down. I should have ended when I knew it wasn’t good for me but I didn’t. Instead I spent the next few hours (when I should have been sleeping) wide awake in bed trying to visualize my race and think positive thoughts to erase the bad thoughts that were entering my head. I was mentally exhausted on race morning.
I can’t say enough THANK YOUs to everyone who supported me, reached out to me, or gave me positive thoughts during the very difficult last few weeks! You all helped bring the running sunshine back in my life and I appreciate it!