For those who joined me at the start of the 2015 Buffalo Marathon, I hope this finds you with sore legs accompanied with a strong sense of accomplishment. The Buffalo Marathon is now 24 hours in the rearview and it turned out to be an awesome morning. Unfortunately, I was dealt a tough deck leading up to race day and my first ever DNF (Did Not Finish).
The decision to DNF was tough and exponentially more disappointing in retrospect. You spend months preparing through the worst winter with a handful of sacrifices, only to be hit with a technicality. It seems unfair; however, when push comes to shove, there are far worse things in this world than bowing out of a race. The initial cloud of shame that hung around immediately following my decision has since begun to fade. I think there’s an important lesson for all of us as we look sustain a long and healthy running career. Our pride can certainly heal better than the physical damage inflicted by running through injury and sickness.
Friday morning my son woke us up early, say 4am. With a slight strain in my throat I rolled over and mumbled through a raspy voice, “I’m feeling sick.” Naturally, like any loving and supportive wife, she looked at me and said “it’s all in your head.” After all, the race was in three days and taper week is a master manipulator. I made it through training without getting dinged with a single injury and I felt strong enough to cut a few minutes off my 2014 Boston PR.
Work Friday wasn’t pretty. Everything hurt. I was still convinced phantom taper pains were the culprit. Symptoms continued to progress and by Friday night I was voiceless with alternating chills and sweating. Sleeping Friday night was an interval workout (90 minutes on, 20 minutes off). Truthfully, if the race was Saturday I was out altogether. I kept hoping that my immune system could right the ship in the next 24 hours.
Saturday morning came. Still voiceless, I pulled the plug on my speaking engagement for the marathon. (I did have countless offers for people to either mime, lip read, and even interpretive dance my talk for me :-)) The expo was a crap shoot. I had to defer any talking at the RunSmartOnline.com booth to my partners and just stood there and tried to look pretty.
I snuck a nap in Saturday afternoon and tracked down a CVS for some ‘hail mary’ drugs. I went to bed early hoping for the best.
Sunday brought me much of the same: raw throat, which unfortunately was exacerbated by mouth breathing from two clogged nostrils. I came up with a very simple system to signal my wife at mile six: thumbs up (things are good), thumbs down (I’m done at the half or sooner), and halfway between (we’ll see). After passing through mile six I gave my wife the combination of a thumbs up and half way between up and down.
I followed my pacing plan exactly how I would have under normal circumstances. The only difference was the frequent clearing of my nose and throat. I ticked through the first five miles right on my target pace (6:36/mile); unfortunately, it wasn’t as comfortable as I hoped.
I was fearful of giving myself an “out.” Having the option to call it quits at the halfway mark weighed heavy on me the entire time. I was focused on making the right turn for the second loop and not running straight for the finish. I thought if I could avoid calling it quits at 13 miles I could find the finish.
Around mile nine my throat began to progress from slightly too noticeably irritated. I’m sure the somewhat-labored mouth breathing didn’t help. The irritation was accompanied with difficulty getting my fluids. By mile 12 my legs were feeling jello-e and I felt like a bobble head heading up Franklyn. I forced myself to make a right turn and avoided the early exit.
Just One More Mile
I began to take things a mile at a time, assessing as I lapped each one. I felt awkward, almost dizzy around mile 14. My legs felt like trash and I was just bumbling down Linwood. I’ve been here before, but never this early in the race. At mile 15 I thought to myself, “This is stupid. What am I doing?”
Running downhill towards Delaware Park I felt uncoordinated and light headed. I wasn’t convinced I would stop yet, but I wanted to gauge the return on my effort. If I’m working this hard, feeling dizzy, and seeing no return on pace, then what’s the point?
Mile 17: 6:55
I hit the lap button and looked down. 6:55 was staring back at me. Instead of banking a 6:28/mile as planned on a rather downhill mile, I stretched nearly 20 seconds in the other direction. That mile made the decision for me. I pulled over at the mile 17 aide station and borrowed a volunteer’s phone to break the news to my wife.
My initial feelings were overwhelmingly negative. The mixture of failure and embarrassment kept my head low. I wanted to hide, but instead I ran-walked my way back to the city (all awhile trying to not be spotted). More than anything, my pride was hurt. I put so much effort into this race and feel like I was cheated. It wasn’t until I finally returned home I knew I made the right decision. A raging headache paired with dehydration, a throat that could barely swallow, and persistent cough sent me into a five hour deep sleep.
The plan is to put this race behind me… immediately. I’ve made the decision to take a solo trip to Duluth, MN next month to run Grandma’s Marathon. I’ll take this week to regroup and resrtructure my training cycle. In two weeks I’ll be heading right back into taper and taking another stab, using my first DNF as ammunition.
In three weeks this decision will be a non-factor. Swallowing my pride is likely the hardest part. I imagine the overwhelming feeling of failure and embarrassment are normal; however, there’s no doubt that they’ll subside. It’s always easier giving advice than acting on it. We all need to remember that none of us are running to put food on the table. We shouldn’t sacrifice our body for a single race. For now, I’ll spend sometime with my family, regroup, and refocus. I’ll use this light the fire for my next race.
Thank you all for your support leading up to, during, and after the marathon. It was fun to hear runners talk about and thank me for my race guide while we were running.