Shameful or Exceeding the Limit

"If you don't miss a flight once in a while, then you're wasting too much time waiting in the airport!" In other words, play-it-safe perfection isn't an optimal strategy. It's wiser to take risks, and sometimes fail --- in order to do better overall.

Analogously, for some runners DNF are scary, scarlet letters of shame. They stand for Did Not Finish --- meaning in some minds "Dropped Out", "Quit", "Couldn't Hack It", and the like. Other’s say if you don't get one eventually then obviously you’re not trying hard enough “to win” when you race.

This was to be my last “city” marathon for awhile and I wanted to set a personal best (PB). After diligently training for 18 weeks for my third marathon on March 12, 2006, I DNF’ed. After getting over the initial shock, shame and then anger at mistakes that I made, I decided that I did everything I should have prior to the race, but started the race with a poor attitude and ignored the early warning signs early on.

Getting Over It

It hurts to train so long and not complete a marathon, this is part of the DNF struggle. I was reading in a book by Dan Glover the other night that one of the first reactions after a DNF is to seek a new event to “prove” to one’s self and the world that we are not a failure. There is a marathon in a few weeks that I could run and would have a very good chance of finishing. But I thought about it for awhile and decided that I don’t need to prove anything to anyone and I already know that I can complete a marathon.

I don’t know if this makes any sense to anyone but me, but this is my way of putting a bad day behind me and getting on with my next project. I know my performance cannot be perfect every single day, I have to take the bad with the good and keep going. Like a professional athlete we have to make a concious decision of whether we are going to let a bad experience take charge of our lives or not.

If we choose to retire and hang our running shoes on the hook, there is nothing further we can do. But if we take courage, brush off the dust, and go back to training we have a chance! Maybe not today, or next week, but sometime down the road and each time we cross the Finish line the memory of the DNF will diminish and one day the pain will no longer be there.

My Notes

For my own reference I prepared a list of facts, thoughts, and other information that I can use to evaluate my training and race strategies in the future.

  • On my last training run before race day it was 8C/47F and on race day it was -3C with wind chill factor of -8C/17F.
  • I had a “lets hurry up and get this over with” attitude the last couple weeks prior to the race.
  • I didn’t drink anything the last two hours before the race.
  • I was stressed and irritable from driving on icy roads to the race (my wife’s comment).
  • I had to stand in line for 30-40 minutes for the toilet prior to the race (normally I sit and relax).
  • I warmed up by jogging for 2-3 minutes – no stretching. Normally I jog 10-15 minutes and then stretch.
  • I lined up with the 3:45:00-4:00:00 corral group at the Start, even though my goal was 4:15:00-4:30:00 (e.g. started to fast).
  • I planned on running a 6:00/K (9:39/M) pace, I ran the first 15K+ in around 5:30/K (8:51/M) against a steady wind!
  • I drank 6-8 oz. of sports drink at the 5K, 10K, 15K, 20K, 25K and 30K stations (note: the stations were not exactly at these points). During training I generally start sipping from my CamelBak first after 10K.
  • I ate a piece of apple at the 10K, pieces of banana at the 15K, 25K, and 30K and a sports bar at the Start and 25K. During training I don’t eat anything on the long runs.
  • I started feeling tired by the 22K. I slipped or tripped on some ice shortly after this.
  • I started having urges of taking a short cut by the 25K point – I think this is where I started losing the mental battle.
  • By the 27-28K point I was having a lot of cramps in the left foot and both calves.
  • By the 30K I started limping and could only motivate myself to run about 1 minute before walking.
  • By the 31-32K point I started shivering from the cold.
  • Just after the 32K, I gave up.

I wrote down a lot more notes, but these are probably the most relevant.

I should note that during my 3 weeks of tapering I never really felt rejuvenated and full of energy. I also fought a cold during the first week or two of tapering. This was to be my third marathon in 10 months.

Epilogue - May 16, 2006

Six weeks later, on April 30, 2006, I ran and completed the Northern Black Forest marathon, finishing strong and with restored confidence. I think with each race we learn a little more about what we are made of. I have just completed training for my first 50K race and know that I could have pushed my body to the finish line on March 12th. I also know that I incorrectly read race conditions, particularily the weather, and pushed too hard in the beginning. Once I stopped and started walking for a longer period of time I could no longer produce enough heat and started shivering and freezing. This was the mental point of no return for me.