Well, I experienced my first DNF (did not finish) in the St. Louis Go Marathon this past Sunday. Having recently done a 3:36 marathon (the end of February) and after winning the McKay Hollow Madness trail run (14 miles) a couple of weeks back, I was feeling strong and confident, certainly not expecting this at all. Looking back, I should have seen it coming and hopefully will have the foresight to never start a race when I feel that bad again. There are two things that I learned from this race:
*NEVER judge a person who is walking in a marathon. You have no idea how much pain that person might be going through. Their walking might be the equivalent to your running a sprint at that moment. I walked a ton in this race, but only a month ago I ran on pace the entire time without walking a single step. The situation makes all the difference.
*Respect the distance! I have heard that a lot, and even been told that before (towards the end of a marathon that I was actually winning, but then got leg cramps and was crying and walking). But on Sunday, it took on a whole new meaning. Having a problem pre-race means the race will only make the problem much, much worse. 26 miles is a long way to go with a pain or injury nagging you.
Here is what happened:
We traveled to St. Louis on Friday, plenty of time to enjoy the city with our family, get to the Expo, and then run the race on Sunday. I had been having some calf tightness (cropped up at the Scholarship 8K the week before) so I had a really long taper and actually did not run on my leg all week hoping the tightness would go away (used stretching, massage, elevation, and cross-trained on the elliptical). On Friday night, I was a little stressed about my leg, the drive up, and the tiny hotel room for all five of us (Rick, my mom, and the two children). I have a very nervous stomach, and it was bothering me a little, but I took some Tums and Pepto and figured it would calm down. I had trouble sleeping that night.
The next day, it was still bothering me, but I went out with my family for lunch (have relatives in town also) and ordered a salad and milkshake. In the afternoon, I was feeling very tired (strange, since we hadn't done too much that morning) and I wasn't feeling hungry again. So I told Rick to get himself some pasta for dinner while I ate a bagel and drank some Sprite. Saturday night, I tossed and turned all night (usually sleep badly in a hotel but this was not usual) and my stomach was making all sorts of noise and just feeling hugely bloated and awful. I wanted nothing more than to sleep, but I must have only slept a couple of hours all night.
When I woke up at 5 a.m., I went to the bathroom a few times, and I began to know that I was in serious trouble. I did my best to force myself to eat but only managed less than 1/2 a Powerbar and 2 Sportsbeans. I almost did not make it in time to a Porta-potty before the race started. I was in bad shape already.
The race actually started okay (the 1/2 started at the same time as ours and had almost 15,000 runners to our 3,000, but the crowd moved quickly and was well-spread out). I was disappointed not to see my friend Jane at the beginning of the race, but after a couple of on-pace miles (7:59 and 8:16), we found each other and ran the next 7 or so together (Rick stayed ahead of me the entire race). The beginning of the race ran near the arch and the Anheuser Busch brewery and was very scenic. I was feeling a little off already by this point, tired and just not quite right. Around mile 11, Jane went ahead of me and I wished her luck, knowing that I wouldn't see her again.
My miles slowed dramatically then, going from an 8:30 at mile 8 to an 11:26 at mile 13 and a 14:32 at mile 14. To be walking so early on is a really bad sign. I knew with my stomach acting up that I needed to try to eat and drink when possible, so I took a Gu at mile 8 and a water and Gatorade (one or the other or both) at every aid station. For the next few miles, I did everything I could to hold on to ANY goal I could think of. I knew I wouldn't Boston-qualify so I changed my goal to sub-4, then 4:15, then 4:30, and so on. I watched the pace groups come and go and saw my PW (personal worst) quickly approaching. Some of the miles were okay (mile 16 was 11:13), and others were very slow (mile 15 was 17:16), but it was obvious that I was trying hard to hold on to the ultimate goal--to finish. I stopped at mile 17 (I think?) and borrowed a phone to call my mom (who was at the hotel watching the children for us) to tell her that I was having some trouble but figured I would finish around 5 hours. I asked her to tell Rick (to call his phone--which was in the car) so that he would know too. By this point, I was still thinking that a finish was possible.
As the later miles crept up, things started hurting oddly (my entire back--this is very rare for me), but my calf (that I was so worried about before the race) wasn't really an issue at all. Then, my stomach, that had basically been in a huge knot since the night before, started to act up again. I won't go into too much detail (you can probably figure it out anyway), but things got as bad as they can possibly be, just really frustrating and beyond my control.
In my head, I started thinking that I may have to drop out simply because of this one problem. I wanted a finish so badly because Rick and I are trying to run a marathon in every state, and with young children and tight finances, we both really need to finish each state together when we all make the trip there. But every time I tried to run, knowing that I needed a finish and knowing that people were waiting on me, my stomach would tense up, making walking the only option. Miles 19-21 were around 19 minutes each, and they involved almost entirely walking and stopping to try to relieve some pain. I began to question whether I would make the 6 hour cutoff (which would make it a 2 p.m. finish since the race began at 7 a.m.), and I knew that we needed to be checking out of the hotel and showering too way before that. So in those miles, I was toying with the idea of dropping out. I was just in misery and was not enjoying the experience at all. Mile 22 was a 25 minute mile.
With my stomach continuing to bother me, I was also feeling light-headed, and I was heading into a hill in the sun. I was feeling humiliated my what my body had reduced me to, when usually at this point in the race I am feeling proud and strong. As my stomach began churning again, I asked a woman dressed in yellow (the same colors of the marathon officials) if she worked for the race and told her I needed help. She did not work for them, but she offered to walk with me to find someone and gave me her water to drink.
Shortly after that, a man (police? I remember he said he was not a paramedic?) rode up on a motorcycle and asked if I needed help. I told him yes, and that I wanted to drop out of the race. I then began crying, partially from relief that I was going to get to end this ordeal, but mostly from disappointment. He took my blood pressure and blood sugar and said both were low, and then gave me oxygen while we waited for an ambulance (I was actually thinking, having never dropped out before, that they would take me to the medical tent and then I could go to the finish line and find Rick. It seemed like the fastest way to get there!). My stomach continued to act up while we waited for the ambulance. With the heat (around 80), my low blood pressure, and my dehydration, I began to feel lucky to have decided to drop out before something more serious happened. In the ambulance, I was given a IV (eventually got 2 bags of fluid) and I began to feel some relief. I was still filthy and mad at myself. Then they told me that I was going to the hospital and not the medical tent. I tried to argue with them (I bet they loved that).
Once at the hospital, I only remember a blur of trying to reach Rick and Mom, get my insurance taken care of (of course I had to sign a waiver to pay everything since I didn't have my card on me), and waves of emotion. Finally, Rick made it (he had finished in 3:39 but was waiting on me at the finish line). We both were absolutely shaken up by the whole thing. We've run over 25 marathons and ultras without ever experiencing something like this. He, Mom, and the children were so great and made me feel so much better about the whole thing. I was released from the hospital (maybe stayed there a hour total?) with him, and we headed to the hotel to shower and prepare for the 6 hour drive home.
Two days out, I am feeling fine (stomach was horrible the rest of Sunday and also Monday but I was able to eat today. Sunday I think I ate 3 saltine crackers and a Sprite after the race and that was it all day). I am not sore at all, nor was I yesterday (Rick and I joked that everyone needs an IV after running a marathon but I think it's because I walked so much instead of running, and plus I "only" went 22). So, I am thankful that is over, hungry for a much better marathon experience next time, and trying not to be upset over things I cannot control.