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.

Pre-race selfie

Pre-race selfie

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.

After some tears (and beers)

After some tears (and beers)

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!


28 thoughts on “DNF

  1. First off, thank you for sharing your experience with us. I know it could not have been easy but I do hope that it offered you a bit of a vent session and gave you a little peace about what happened. Secondly, I think…actually I know we are all our own worst critiques but I wanted you to know that the rest of us looking in on your blog world are so confident in your abilities and your past and future successes. It’s hard to grasp but this is one stepping stone to your future goal. I know you will get that qualifier!! Also, thanks for mentioning that you only run two marathons a year as well. I feel the same way (wish I was one of those ladies who squeak out 3-4 fast ones a year!) Take care Jen, we are all rooting for you!!

  2. This is such a well thought out, well written post. I pretty sure I could never find it in me to even train for a marathon while managing being a mom and breastfeeding, no less. It’s really hard to time your goal race with your game day when you’re a woman anyway, because of fluctuating hormone levels. With regards to stopping – you stopped because your body/mind needed you to stop and there’s no shame in that! Every race is a lesson learned, which leads to better races in the future. Keep your chin up!

  3. Thank you for sharing! I DNFed a very big goal race for me 2 years ago because I think I had a panic attack from all the pressure I put on myself at mile 4 and then I felt totally flat. I dropped off at mile 8 and was miserable about it. I also didn’t want to wreck my body and not race another matathon for months. It took me time to get over it but I learned from it and moved on! You will achieve your goal – and I’m glad you’re excited to train again!

  4. Aww so sorry to hear this and I hope you are feeling better. I totally think that decreasing breastfeeding played a part. I have heard that if you stop quickly it can really throw your hormones out of whack. Keep your head up and I know that you will reach your goals of the trials!

  5. Aw, you totally made me teary w/ this post. I’m so sorry your race didn’t go as planned, but you’re an amazing runner, and I have no doubt that you’ll reach your goal. Keep your chin up hun!

    • Yes, Heather and thank you for always supporting me! Your kind words post-race really helped me (talking about your husband’s comeback after his bad race) and just the positivity you always send my way is very much appreciated!

  6. I would love to reach through the computer screen and give you a big hug, Jen. Thank you for sharing your ups and downs with us. I’m sorry that this was one of the “downs”. For what it’s worth, I had a terrible time towards the end of breastfeeding when I cut down the feedings. My younger child had taken to biting me and that, along with another few things, led me to decrease feedings rather rapidly with her. My hormones crashed hard and it was a few weeks before I felt like myself. My running definitely suffered. As mentally and emotionally difficult as it was for you to DNF, I think that was smartest call you could have made, knowing that you are aiming to run 2 marathons this year. You saved your legs and gave your body the best chance to recover so that you can get back out there and nab that qualifier. You’ll get it – I know it. Glad you are feeling better and getting back into your groove!

    • Thank you, Jenn! I’m not happy to hear you had to go through the hormone fluctuations as well, but it’s comforting to know someone can relate!

  7. Wow, I am so sorry. But I am also so impressed with your ability to be so focused on your goal and the guts you had to pull out. It was a smart decision for you, but a hard one and takes strength to do what you did. I’m glad you are finding the joy in running again :) I have no doubt you’ll reach your goal!

  8. I was so sorry to hear about your DNF. I had two in the fall and I am still bothered every time I drive through part of the marathon course. Like you said, marathons can be really hard on the body so you did the right thing in preserving yourself for a better day.

    I totally understand what you mean about just feeling flat and not being able to pinpoint anything in particular. In the past, some of those days for me have coincided with the days just before my period — those damn hormone fluctuations!

    Have you given any thought to going after the 1:15:00 half standard?

    • Hi Paige,

      Thanks so much. I’m sad we both went through this, but glad I’m not alone! Yes, I am considering the half this spring instead! I have 2 half marathons on the schedule as buildups and potentially adding a 3rd! What are your plans?

      • You’ll rock those halves! That 1:15:00 is certainly within your reach.

        I’m dealing with PF right now and have taken the last 2.5 weeks off. Booooo. So probably no marathon this spring for me, unless I can get myself together for Grandma’s or possible Seattle. Pretty unlikely though.

  9. Jen – you are always an inspiration to me and I’m sorry to hear you are struggling right now (but I’m glad it’s getting better.) It sounds like you did the right thing, and I wish you the best in getting back to your normal self!

  10. Jen,

    I know this was not what you planned and I think it takes a strong person to write this post. You will qualify for trials, there is no question about that. Honestly I think what you did was smart and I know you’ll bounce back.

  11. Shit happens. You definitely made the smart move by DNFing – it would have been a shame to not give yourself another shot in the Spring… speaking of that… what do you have in mind? (I realize it might be too soon to think about it…) Cleveland? It’s not that far from you, the timing makes sense, fast course, prize money…

    • Thanks Jason! Not Cleveland… thinking more of June racing. Considering half instead because of some travel in May and uncertainty of how training will go.

  12. Aw, Jen I can’t imagine how hard this must have been for you. Maybe it is “just running” to the rest of the world, but I think there’s more than a handful of us who know it’s a little more 😉

    I think your decision was the best for you. Sometimes we lose sight of the big, overall goals. While this was THE goal race, if it wasn’t going to make the essential goal, focus needs to shift to what you’re really trying to accomplish and it’s huge that you made that call.

    Thank you for sharing everything. I’m relieved to know you didn’t drop out due to injury! Even though I know all you elites are human, it’s easy to think you’re superhuman and reading the same fears and struggles is a nice reminder that everyone has been there. But the good thing is, everyone bounces back. I know you’ll do the same and I can’t wait to cheer you on when you’re qualifying for those trials!

  13. Pingback: Time to Race Again! | The Local Elite

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