“DNF” – the worst possible letters

Today I set out on the quest I began two years ago: to run the Boston Marathon. After hundreds of miles clocked in sneakers, injuries and victories, the weekend I had been waiting for and counting down to was finally here. This time last week, I felt ready and excited for the experience of a lifetime. Little did I know that quite everything that could possibly go wrong on race day was about to happen.

Last Tuesday I began coming down with a cold. I took every precaution to kick the cold before the race. I focused on sleep, rest, vitamins, and did everything by the books. I knew I could still run through a cold, though the race would involve more snot and effort than usual. As the cold began to finally clear on Saturday, while I was in Boston, I was suddenly slapped with some stomach issues. At first I thought that perhaps I had eaten something bad while out on a family dinner Saturday night, but the stomach problems lingered far longer than food poisoning.

Long story short, I almost decided to pull out of the race at 4:15am this morning, when I awoke feeling clammy and on the verge of vomiting. When my alarm went off at 6am, I felt a bit better, and decided to give the race a whirl. After all, what did I have to lose?

At this point it is important to note the weather forecast for today in Boston: a high of 89 degrees. No, that is not a typo. When I stepped up to the starting line of the Boston Marathon at 10am, it was already 80 degrees, with a blue sky. There was not a cloud to be seen, and there’s very little tree coverage on the race course. I was already sweating before I began to run.

As I left Hopkinton on my race journey, I reminded myself to take it easy and to not risk my health. The first 5K felt pretty okay, considering my stomach was a mess. I clocked a 7:45 mile pace for the first 5k, which was right on par for a conservative marathon for me. However, things soon went terribly wrong.

Between miles 3-9, I stopped FOUR times at porta-potties (stomach, I hate you!), and once at a medical tent. The heat magnified my stomach problems, and the gatorade and water I fueled with about every mile didn’t help – though I knew I had to keep hydrating or I’d be in serious trouble. Around an hour into the race, I took out my first Gu and almost spit it back up immediately. I forced it down in one gulp, afraid that if I didn’t, I’d never be able to stomach it. My pace plummeted, and I had to walk a few times due to heat cramps in my ribs. Then, the final straw occurred: I began suffering minor chest pain on my left side.

When I spotted the next medical tent on the course, I knew I had to call it quits. It was about 12pm, and I had made it 10.75 miles in just under 2 hours. (That’s anything but normal for me.) I was ushered into the tent, and the medics asked me questions and quickly checked my vitals. Nothing seemed dangerously off, but I knew the Boston Marathon was over for me. I sat there in shock. I still don’t think the reality has fully hit. I have a DNF (did not finish) for my first Boston Marathon.

About 2 and a half hours later, I finally made it to Copley Square on the bus to retrieve my baggage I had checked at the start of the race. My wonderfully supportive family was still at the top of Heartbreak Hill, waiting for me to run by, and Chris was still waiting at Copley Square for me to finish. None of them had been informed where I was or what had happened.

When I finally reunited with Chris, I couldn’t hold my emotions in anymore. I was a mess. My dreams for that day were crushed. Though I know I made the smart decision, I still feel like a failure. And my stomach still hurts. Not a great day for the books. It killed me to sit in the medical tent and watch hundreds of runners run by. Then en route to Copley Square, the bus passed the race course. Getting off the bus, I had to walk through the sea of thousands of runners who had finished, wearing their beautiful medals and congratulating each other. Then every volunteer I passed congratulated me, not knowing I didn’t finish. The salt was rubbed good and deep into the wound.

It’s too soon to feel at peace with the experience, though I have some comfort knowing I’ll be back in Boston next year. You better believe I will be at that starting line with a race to prove to myself – and perhaps even a quest for a PR. The only wisdom I can learn (and perhaps any readers can learn) is that sometimes things just go terribly wrong. No quest or goal is worth risking serious consequences, though making the smart decision is often difficult and painful.

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~ by Elizabeth on April 16, 2012.

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